There are some songs that come along and define an era and Audio Two’s, “Top Billin” definitely sum up the first golden age of Hip Hop. Not only did it become one of the most recognizable and sampled songs in history; it became an anthem for b-boys and b-girls across the world.
Audio Two was a Brooklyn born duo of brothers that consisted of Kirk “Milk Dee” Robinson and Nat “Gizmo” Robinson. They released two albums, What More Can I Say and I Don’t Care: The Album, in addition to producing a slew of hits for MC Lyte, who is also their younger sister. Although Audio Two helped usher in a new age of sound during that golden era, they disbanded due to creative differences and seemed to fall under the radar. Even though the two brothers went there separate ways, the mark they left on the culture was uncanny.
Through the years, Gizmo continued to work in the music business but remained low-key. Milk Dee released a solo EP under Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label, Never Dated in 1994 and still serves as a producer well into present day, even producing the hit single, Eamon’s “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back),” that sold well over six million copies.
AskHipHop had the opportunity to catch up with Milk Dee and find out the truth behind the split with his brother, what the culture was like in it’s early stages and what he thinks of the impact of “Top Billin.”
AHH – Describe the definitive moment that you met Hip Hop.
Wow! Well, I’ve been dealing with Hip Hop my whole life. I can’t remember the first day but my first impression was probably in 1979. I heard the Kool Moe Dee/Busy Bee battle on a mix-tape that had the Cold Crush Brothers on it. When I heard that, I knew I had to do it. I was always a ham, so I used to act and do a lot of plays and off Broadway stuff, so the stage wasn’t anything new for me, just the rap part.
AHH – I always thought you had an interesting moniker…tell me how you got the name Milk Dee?
One day I was in the car with my uncle and aunt and he jumped out to get some milk. He took the keys so my aunt couldn’t roll down the window and she started banging on the window screaming about milk. So every time I saw them after that, we’d start yelling milk (Laughing). And when I was looking for a name, I wanted something unique that would stand out. The D part…I liked Kool Moe Dee but also on the milk container, it says milk with vitamin D so I added that.
AHH – Tell me about the formation of Audio Two.
Me and my brother used to DJ parties and we were in a group called the Scratchmasters. It was about seven DJ’s but when I decided to really rap, we just broke off and we were looking for a name so we just came up with Audio Two. I named him Gizmo because he is like a scientist and he could fix anything and deal with gadgets and gizmos.
AHH – Once you all formed the group and released “Top Billin,” did you ever think it would become what it has?
Actually I didn’t. I had been working on a remix for Lyte’s song “Take It Lyte,” and came up with that beat. I just decided to write something to it and I laid it down in a half an hour. I didn’t really know or understand until I let Daddy-O (Stetsasonic) hear it and he was like, Yo that’s it right there! That’s the one! So we put it out. But let me say this for the record…. “Top Billin’” was our third record, not our first. Our first song came out in 1984, which was called “The Christmas Rhyme,” and we had another song in 85 called “Chillin.” “Top Billin’” was the third single.
AHH – Wait a minute, wasn’t “Top Billin’” the b-side to “Make It Funky?”
Yeah it was. We thought “Make It Funky” was the joint but Daddy-O was so enthused about “Top Billin’,” we put it on as the b-side.
AHH – So how do you feel about the new crop of fans that are getting familiar with your music from the eighties?
I know people that don’t even know it’s me on the record. It’s cool. I feel honored. The fact they sample it so much makes me feel blessed. The 50-Cent one was big because he is so important this day in age. That was cool. The R-Kelly, Mary and so many others…I wish they would do it more (Laughing).
AHH – Take me back to creating the album, What More Can I Say.
It was crazy. We recorded most of it at home and mixed it a studio called INS in Manhattan. Going to the studio was a big deal to us. We were learning while we were doing it. And back then I tried to do something different…something ill. Anyone that knows that album knows there is a lot of crazy stuff on there intentionally. Not like now where it seems like everyone is trying to sound the same. Back then we wanted to sound different.
AHH – Tell me what the culture and vibe was like back in the eighties?
It was very exciting. I talk to people about this all the time. Back then it was a culture thing. It was a movement and you could fill it in your bones. I ask these kids now do they feel these songs that are out now, like we felt them back then but I don’t think they do. Back then it was new, it was ours and it was innovation. We weren’t doing it for the money but for the culture and the love. It’s just different. It really meant something back then and you got that from everybody rather it was Eric B. and Rakim, BDP, Biz Markie or Audio Two. We all did our own thing and when you listened to it, it sounded like they really meant and felt what they were dong from the beats to the lyrics to the performance. It wasn’t something we were just doing but it was competitive. You were trying to make a better song than Rakim and you were judged by your ability and not how much money you made.
AHH – That is very interesting and I agree with you. With that being said, what are your thoughts on Hip Hop then compared to now?
I think now it has progressed but it’s more commercialized and that’s great because you can make more money and back then we weren’t making the money like the artists are making now. That’s wonderful. And now it’s international and worldwide. Some people think that’s bad but I think it’s good. There is a lot of room for greatness. I don’t think these artists compete at the same level and these kids that listen don’t know the difference. It gave a lot of opportunities to cats like me to show something different. I think music is a sign of the times and these kids couldn’t possibly understand what it was then. Nothing is constant but change so it’s not going to be the same. It is what it is. If you asked me if I think the music is better I would say no but there are a lot of other things about it that are better like the money.
AHH – Soulja Boy was on Rap City speaking to KRS ONE about the older generation and the newer generation. He mentioned that KRS was the first to reach out to him rather than come at him. With that, do you think our generation bridged the gap properly for the newer crop of Hip Hop heads?
Yes, but I think that happens in history. It’s the same history. My daughter goes to private school and one day I started talking to her about black history. I didn’t realize they didn’t teach her that in her school. She knew who Martin was but they weren’t teaching her about Malcolm or any of them and I didn’t realize it. And I am paying big money and its bugging me out. So unless you take it upon yourself to teach the kids, there is no way they will know. How can we expect them to understand what Hip Hop is? A lot of the cats back then were to busy trying to make a living to explain what Hip Hop was to every kid and you have to remember, kids don’t want to hear it. We didn’t want anyone to explain to us what the music was. Our parents were telling us scratching was noise and asking why were we messing up the record. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to sound like my mother because the more you do that the more they resist. And they say you are old school and you don’t know what you are talking about. Although I don’t think that’s solid but that’s how it looks. I don’t understand why people attack him though. I don’t think there is anything wrong with what he is doing. He is who he is and he does what he does. It isn’t a representation of what Hip Hop is or isn’t, that’s just him and what he does. I don’t understand why Ice-T went at him like that. But I think Soulja Boy was out of line by disrespecting like that. He should have more respect than that.
AHH – Tell me what it was like to work with your sister, MC Lyte?
I tell her that she is the greatest female emcee of all time. Lyte was like a tomboy. She was so spunky and rhymed with so much force. It’s funny because when we first came out they said she would never work because she sounded like a boy and I sounded like a girl. And this is when we were shopping around. But that spunkiness she had…I haven’t seen it since. She was spunkier than a lot of the dudes and we fed off each other. We wrote a lot of songs together. We would sit there and try and figure out something ill we could do. She made me spunkier.
AHH – I know you have been doing a lot behind the scenes over the years but what are you working on now?
We are re-launching First Priority and we are doing different genres with new artists. I just finished a rock album for an artist called Johnny Black and I have some joints on there with him. I am also working on some new Milk stuff. I am not trying to make a comeback. I am doing it for the love. I hope people will recognize it and love it. A lot of people don’t know that the last big project I did was the Eamon album, I Don’t Want You Back. That was the most played song in the world in 2004 and we sold six million copies. I produced that song so I stay busy. I’m getting paper. I stay in the studio.
AHH – What happened with Audio Two and will we ever see a reunion?
I think it’s the nature of groups in the music business. I would say ego and money had to do with us going our separate ways as a group. That’s how it is. Giz is still in the business. You know, you just move on and get to that point and want to do different things. I doubt if you see a reunion though. It’s been to long and we have our own things going on.
AHH – What is your favorite memory of Hip Hop?
The moment I realized that I was a star. We had a show at this school in Harlem. It was me, my brother and father. And when we got there it seemed like a million people were outside and they wouldn’t let us in. That was the first time anyone asked for my autograph. And everyone was going crazy when we did the show. And the second show was in the Bronx with Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie and the people went crazy again. I felt like we made it as stars. That was a crazy night. Girls were grabbing my legs and I was trying to stay on the stage and my sneaker came off. I look back on it and it was only 1000 people but still.
AHH – Describe Hip Hop in one word.
Innovation. That’s what it comes from and that is what’s missing now. It was cats that didn’t have anything but records and making something out of nothing which is the reason why the songs came out the way they did. That’s why there was so much passion. It was about the performance. Now it’s like every other musical genre. It’s hard to be innovative because everything is available. It’s all commercial now.
AHH – Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you Milk. Thank you.