The Egyptian Lover & His 808: Egypt has been there, done that and has the Roland TR-808 drum machine to prove it.
Interview and Foreword by DJ A-L
Since the early 1980's the Egyptian Lover has created his own lane, pushing the pedal down to the floorboard in his 80's sports car and going full speed ahead leaving an echo of bass behind for others to discover decades later. When it comes to the electro-rap style that defined the west coast during the 1980's, Egypt didn't just put the music on the map, he made the map and also wrote down the directions giving some of the most prolific artists in the world today a path to follow in their career.
As the decade of excess would come to a close and the fast past electro-rap style that defined the west coast in the 1980’s would start to fade, so called gangster rap would begin to define the new sound coming from L.A. in the 90’s. At a time when a lot of Egypt's contemporaries adapted by switching up their style and going hardcore the Egyptian Lover could have easily done the same but instead he stayed in his lane.
Today while a lot of artists from both the 80’s and 90’s have allowed their engine's to run idle Egypt is still moving forward, releasing records on his own label, Egyptian Empire, regularly hitting the road and converting new generations of freak-a-holics all over the world.
Where does the name Egyptian Lover come from?
I grew up idolizing King Tut, he was a young king who owned his own empire. I always wanted to be something like him by owning my own business and owning my own empire. That's where the "Egyptian" part came in. The "Lover" part came from an old actor named Rudolph Valentino, he was famous and all the ladies loved him. When he passed away there were hundreds of thousands of women who came to his funeral just to see his body for one last time.
When did you start Egyptian Empire Records?
I started the label in 1984.
Besides Egyptian Empire Records your early releases also bear the Freak Beat label. What's the difference between those two labels?
I started out with Freak Beat. Freak Beat was supposed to be me and co-owner of Uncle Jamm's Army, Roger Clayton. We were supposed to split the label 50/50. It was supposed to be two different labels Freak Beat green, which was my label and Freak Beat gold but the accounts started getting mixed up so I changed Freak Beat gold to Egyptian Empire records.
Rodney O and Joe Cooley are regarded as one of the best and most influential hip hop duos to come from L.A. They also released their early work on Egyptian Empire Records. How did you first meet them?
When I met Rodney O he was in another group called Caution Crew along with Brother Marquis's of 2 Live Crew. At that time Caution Crew had already released a 45. When I listened to their record I heard some voices on it I liked and I needed a keyboard player. Rodney O lied and said he knew how to play the keyboards so I let him join my band Empire. He dropped out of high school, we home schooled him, kind of raised him, and he would go on tour with us. One day I booked studio time and I wasn't in the mood to make a record so I asked Rodney if he wanted to make the record. He agreed, so he took one of my beats and made his first record.
Egyptian Lover is a very distinct name. In the 1980's there was also Arabian Prince of N.W.A who not only had a similar name but his sound resembled the Egyptian Lover sound as he produced some of the only dance records in N.W.A's early catalog. Is there any connection between the Egyptian Lover and the Arabian Prince?
We were friends. I was already known as the Egyptian Lover and we were standing in a skating rink together and this girl walked up and said "Hi, you're Egyptian Lover, right?" I said, "Yes". Then she pointed and said "then your name should be Arabian Prince". He decided that it sounded pretty good and that he'd keep it.
Speaking of N.W.A do you think it's pretty obvious that you had an influence on Dr. Dre's early work?
Definitely. If you hear his first records they sound just like mine. They were calling it the west coast sound but it was the Egyptian Lover sound. I created the sound by using elements of Kraftwerk and Prince's sound and I mixed those two together and came up with the Egyptian Lover sound. Then I heard Dr. Dre make Surgery and some other songs. After that a lot of other people on the west coast started making those kinds of beats and breathing and chanting on records. I was mad at first but then I said it don't matter because pretty soon they'll be doing something else and I'll still be doing my style.
You've mentioned that Kraftwerk and Prince as two of your main influences but what are some of the not-so-obvious ones?
There are a lot of them. I can go all the way back to Dean Martin, he made a song called In The Middle Of The Night Is My Crying Time and I used to love that song so much that I made a song called I Cry Night After Night based on it. Michael Jackson of course, growing up watching him with the Jackson 5 doing his dance moves on stage. When you see my stage performance I also do dance moves, sometimes with my boy Jamie Jupiter, we do the same dance steps together the way we used to do them back in the 84, 85 era. The way he cues his music the way he did his own background vocals, I mean Michael Jackson was a genius at making music, so I got a lot of ideas from him and it goes on. All of the R&B singers and the producers from the early 80's, I love Steve Arrington, Cameo, Bar-Kays, One Way, Con Funk Shun and Rick James of course.
A few years ago you hooked up with Peanut Butter Wolf and Stones Throw Records to put out some records, why was that move necessary?
I did it to release my anthology. While I was in the studio recording my album it took a long time because I record my records the old analog way and all the studios have now upgraded to the new digital format. I went to all the old fashion studios and did it all analog so it took me a long time. During that time my 30th anniversary was coming up and I didn't have time to finish my own anthology album. I was sitting down with Peanut Butter Wolf and he said man I would love to put the anthology out on my label and do it my way, we'll do everything. So we went into the studio and I gave him all the tapes. He had to have them digitally transferred and then he picked the songs that he wanted to throw in the box set, we had a couple of meetings and that was how it all went down.
Speaking of using vintage gear, do you remember the first time you got introduced to the Roland TR 808 drum machine?
At that time there was a club in L.A. called Radio. The first time I went to the club I went to see another DJ who was from New York named Afrika Islam. A lot of people told me that he had a different DJ style than mine and that he wasn't stealing my style like all the other DJs. So I checked him out and he was a totally different kind of DJ. After that night he saw me get on the turntables and he appreciated what I could do as well so we gave each other props. When I met him I asked him, the name Afrika Islam sounds like Afrika Bambaataa, where’d you get your name? His said my dad gave it to me, I call him my dad, his name is Afrika Bambaataa. I said Afrika Bambaataa!? What kind of drum did they use on Planet Rock? He said it wasn't a drum it was a drum machine. I said a drum machine! He said yeah they sell them at Guitar Center. So the very next day we went down to the Guitar Center and found the Roland TR-808. I had one of the employees help me program Planet Rock on it and then I started changing the beat up. People started crowding around. I was like man this 808 already sounds like a record, how much is it? They told me it was eight hundred bucks but I only had $400 on me so I went home and got $400 from my mom and went back up to Guitar Center and bought it. I brought it home, filled it up with beats and played it at the L.A. Sports Arena the very next weekend.
Besides the 808, what are some of the other drum machines you've used throughout your career?
I've used the Roland 707, 909, the Linn Drum and the EMU SP1200.
I was listening to the song "Freak-A-Holic" recently, would that be the Linn drum on that record?
Definitely a Linn Drum, yes.
There are a lot of versions of the song I Need a Freak that exist. Yourself as well as the group Sexual Harassment have performed the song. Too $hort did a version that came out in the 90s and even the Insane Clown Posse covered it as well. What are the origins of the song?
It came out with the group Sexual Harassment. They were the first ones to put it out but at the time a lot of people in L.A. thought it was me. As soon as they heard it they said oh that must be Egyptian Lover. For years they kept calling me trying to buy this record from me so I eventually remade the song myself and put it on one of my albums. It's always been popular from day one so when I made it myself I sped it up a little bit and threw my own little flavor on it. Everybody who was an Egyptian Lover fan always thought that song was me and of course they redid the song thinking of me as well. Even the guy who made the song said man your version is the best version I've ever heard of the song and we became friends behind that.
Would you say your version sounds a little bit more bass heavy?
You’re seen in a lot of pictures from the 1980's posing in front of some expensive cars. Do you remember the first car you purchased with the money you made from music?
At the time I purchased my first car I didn't even have a driver's license. I went to the Mercedes Benz dealership and bought a Mercedes Benz 190E. I gave them my ID, gave them the money for it and drove off the lot. Back then I had pretty much all my dream cars. It was pretty fun.
In the late 1980s the music on the west coast shifted and a lot of your contemporaries, people like Dr. Dre, Ice T, Rodney O and Joe Cooley, kind of switched it up and started making more hardcore rap records. Was there ever a time when you got tempted to cash in on that trend and start making hardcore rap records as well?
No. I do the music that I love and I love the style of music that I create so I always want to stay with that style. Similar to how B.B. King stayed with his style, Fats Domino stayed with his style, Dean Martin stayed with his style, Frank Sinatra stayed with his style... I'm going to stay with my style.
Would you say that's the key to your longevity?
Yeah, because if I was doing other things I'd probably be played out by now.
Dr. Dre has gone on to be a rap's first billionaire while your legacy seems to be more of a labor of love. How have you've managed to create such a long lasting musical legacy throughout the years?
If you do it for the love and not the money then you'll love what you do for the rest of your life. I love what I do. The style I had when I first started is the style I have now. It's not an electro style or hip-hop style or whatever, it's the Egyptian Lover style. I took Kraftwerk and Prince and I put them together and that became the Egyptian Lover sound. The sound I created back then was similar to a lot of other sounds but more bass heavy, more funky, more sexy and that became the Egyptian Lover sound. Going back to Dean Martin you can buy any one of his albums and get that Dean Martin sound. When I became an artist I always wanted to have that sound so people knew that whatever album they pick up it's going to have that. That's what I've been doing and I love what I do. I make good money but I'm really doing it for the love of it. It's not really work for me, it's fun, I'm still having fun with it. Doing concerts and making money from new record sales that's just an added bonus, I'm just having fun.
Speaking of fun it seems like there's a comedic element and a level of irony to your music and your performance. Would you say that's correct?
Oh yeah, you got to have fun. I mean I'm serious and I'm fun at the same time. I want the audience to know that it's all fun, let's have a good time. So I change the words to my songs and do all kind of stuff just to have people laughing and having a good time, getting freaky with them, it's all about having fun.
What else can people expect from an Egyptian Lover show?
I'm bringing the 808, I'm going to be playing live, mixing records, playing records backwards, mixing and scratching, doing my old dance steps, playing all my music. It's going to be a great party. No matter where you are in the world I'll be there one day.
DJ A-L www.futureclassicmusic.com