Updated: Feb 16
How did you guys first meet?
Damage: It’s a great story. I was working at North Carolina State University’s college radio station, WKNC. I was a late night DJ there and worked the graveyard shift, because at night around 10PM ,the format switched from college rock to hip-hop. I loved the radio station because in NC it was one of the only sources for hip hop music that wasn’t mainstream. I was inspired by a DJ named Waxmaster Torrey who had revolutionized mix shows in my area. One night I got a call from someone I thought to be him and he said he was coming through to mix live. It turned out to be Spin-4th, whose real name sounded like him and I was like “…who are these guys?” Jingle, whose name was Brother Black at the time, was with him. Spin did a mix of the Substitution Break and the “Imperial March” from Star Wars and I was immediately impressed at their creativity.
Spin-4th: Jingle and I met in College. We both were Communications Majors at a historic black College in Raleigh, NC. Saint Augustines. Damage (he was going to NCCU) and I met about 6-7 months later at WKNC. I had my FCC license and was trying to do a hip hop show on late night radio and Damage was well on his way to doing that.
When did you start recording together?
Damage: Spin and Jingle were already recording before they met me and had put out a record on wax. That night in Spin’s car after the session at the radio station I had a vision we would get a record deal. We immediately started working on writing and recording tracks in the area, and recorded a song called “Keep On (Don’t Stop)” which we played on the station. That’s when we began to take things seriously. We wanted to decide on a new name and I came up with the YAGGFU acronym (You’re Gonna Get F***ed Up) and my roommate Perry Jones added the “Front” to it and it clicked.
Spin-4th: We started in maybe 1990 in a REAL studio Virginia Beach (Jingles hometown) called Mid-Ease Recording Studio owned by Randy Melton. But before that we recorded at a few places in Raleigh (mainly peoples basements and living rooms) including up at NCSU’s new radio station that had some multitrack reel to reels.
How did you get the Mercury deal? Were you pushing a demo or was it a management thing? If management, how did you hook up with the manager?
Damage: At the beginning, it was a slow but fun process. We played the tracks we recorded on the show. We enlisted my uncle to help us as a manager. We gained traction through my radio show, and Spin and Jingle regularly came back as we made moves toward gaining a following on air. My uncle, Cedric, helped us to do shows in the local area. Others started taking notice. Ced wasn’t into the hip hop scene so Jingle stepped up and began to send out demos to record labels from the addresses on the back of the promo records we got through the station.
Spin-4th: Mercury was a deal through luck and exposure. We were in talks with Elektra Records and even had Super A&R Dante Ross (De La, Leaders of the New, Brand Nubian, etc….) come down to NC and check us out. In the mean time there was a Hybrid Rock group from Raleigh called the Veldt that was already signed to Mercury.
Damage: Danny and Daniel, two twin brothers who were in the Veldt were friends of mine since we were kids. Growing up, we sang in church choir together. I knew they were popular in the local scene and asked if we could open for them and we did several frat parties where we would freestyle with the band. People loved it. We went on to do shows in the area, even at the famous Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill. The Veldt also performed there and were instrumental to us getting a record deal at Mercury Records.
Spin-4th: We knew these guys and did shows with them BEFORE they even got signed and they were LEGENDS in the Triangle Area (Raleigh, Durham, and especially Chapel Hill). They were also great fans of ours. One day they were in their A&R’s office rocking our demo. Kenyatta Bell, who was Mercury’s hip hop A&R, walked by and heard it.. He started asking questions and later we formed an alliance with Kenyatta and got the deal. At the time we really wanted to be on Elektra, but they kind of froze up what Dante was doing and we were like “Mercury it is!” After we got our single deal, we went on tour with the Mercury artists on the urban roster at the time, and our road manager hired for us was Garnett March. After the tour we ended up signing with his Tsunami Management.
Were you accepted in NY [as a “southern” act] at the time?
Spin-4th: Actually, it’s funny. NY thought we were from LA, and the LA people thought we were from NY.. it was odd.. our style was so different and bizarre that no one knew what to think. And at the time there weren’t many down south acts to identify with or compare to, I think only Outkast at the time. and our music was decidedly NY Hip Hop influenced along with Jazz and way-out hip hop. We got compared to the Pharcyde mostly..LOL.
Damage: I know many artists in NY at the time appreciated our production style, though…it was cool to hear them praise our production. We got great responses and support from many well known LA and NY artists and producers like De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, DJ Premier and others.
Did you want Diamond D producing and featuring, or was that just the label’s idea?
Spin-4th: It was the “Diamond D remix” but he was just rapping on it. We reached out to HIM I think. We were on that college tour with him and we forged a great bond. I just actually spoke to him a few months ago. He did teach me a lot about producing and was a fan for real.
Damage: Yeah, Spin did that beat. We usually collaborated on tracks but that one he laid the sample and the drums on the Ensoniq ASR-10 we had at the beachfront hotel suite we had while recording the album in Norfolk/Virginia Beach. I did the scratches and Jingle laid the baseline and it was magic.
[Edit: it is testament to the Yaggfu Front that I always thought [was it the b-line?] that Diamond produced that joint – what a classic!!!]
Did you have much say in which tracks were gonna be the singles?
Spin-4th: Yes we did, Mercury gave us a lot of room. We were VERY unique and they were like “…just do your shit!” I think we made a bad choice of Looking for a Contract as a first single, in hindsight. We used the song “All Around The World” scratched on the hook…Lisa Stansfield got ALL the publishing…LOL but Busted Loop was all us.
Damage: The samples on Busted Loop were so obscure we never had a problem with clearing them. That experience with Lisa Stansfield also heavily influenced our next single, “Left Field”.
The album did really well sales-wise and was accepted as a critical success [certainly to heads] – so why did the deal fall apart and why didn’t they pick up on a 2nd album?
Spin-4th: Actually Polydor (Mercury’s parent company), bought Def Jam and moved them into the building. After that they shut down the Black Music Dept (they call it URBAN now..LOL). and we were out there along with Black Sheep at the time. We were in the middle of the second album when this happened and everyone we knew at the label that had our back was gone shortly after the closing. We tried to get some other labels interested,but hip hop was switching hard over to the Street Gangster phase and we got lost in the sauce.
Damage : I think at the time we really wanted to bow out early. We had more opportunities to get another deal but we wouldn’t have been able to be as original as we were. Mercury did advance us more money to work on a second album, but with the change of climate in music we were more odd than what labels were seeking. We would have had to compromise our sound. I think it was a good decision even though some fans might not understand it. We didn’t sell out.
How come you guys hooked up again in the late 90s to record some of these newer joints?
Damage: We never stopped recording.
Spin-4th: We have always been trying to record some new stuff, plus at the time Damage and I were working on a few project individually and together (TekSpecialists / TeamLUCCI). It was a natural thing. We got with our longtime friend PhatBoy and made it happen.
Damage: I think at the end of the day, you as a hip hop artist have to decide If you make music to become famous, get money and for longevity, or if you do it because you love it and it’s in you. I’m proud to be a part of a collective that makes great hip hop that people appreciate for its authenticity from years ago and today. That, after all these years, has made a tremendous difference.