Pick a random year from hip-hop’s long history and you’ll most likely find Kid Capri‘s fingerprints somewhere within the grooves. Raised in the Bronx, the artist born David Anthony Love fell in love with hip-hop early in his life and started honing his DJ smarts at age eight when his mother gifted him a pair of turntables without a headphone jack. Adopting the performance name Kid Capri at the suggestion of a friend, the aspiring artist graduated from playing block parties to headlining clubs while also helping pioneer New York City’s fertile mixtape scene. Armed with an affable upbeat voice that radiates positive, party-starting energy, Kid Capri’s reputation began to spread worldwide as he relentlessly hustled tapes, dubbing himself “Uptown’s finest” and “the tapemaster” on releases like the breakbeat science class 52 Beats and the crate-excavating Old School series. The Notorious B.I.G. famously honored Capri in 1994’s anthemic “Juicy,” naming him in a roll call of influential DJs: “Peace to Ron G, Brucie B, Kid Capri/ Funkmaster Flex, Lovebug Starski.”
The arrival of Kid Capri’s 1991 Cold Chillin’ debut album The Tape announced his presence as an MC with bona fide chops. Backed by funk-forward, loop-centric production crafted in cahoots with Biz Markie, the project showcased Capri as an assured rhymer with a knack for relaying concepts and stories in verse. Since then, Kid Capri’s personal studio discography has remained deliberately svelte, with 1998’s guest-heavy Soundtrack To The Streets accompanied by the surprise appearance of this year’s new 19-track The Love, a project that’s spearheaded by the lively single “Uptown” and features Capri trading bars alongside his daughter Vina Love. (The album is also the subject of a vinyl crowdfunding campaign on Bandcamp.) His extensive network of collaborations and side projects remains legitimately gargantuan: His sophomore album featured a roster headed up by Jay Z, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Nas, while the DJ’s personal production vault boasts collaborations with Quincy Jones, Mary J Blige, and Slick Rick. When Kendrick Lamar was looking for a voice to add a narration presence to his 2017 album DAMN., he called on Kid Capri.
“I’d done everything in the DJ business,” says Kid Capri from his home base in New Jersey, as he looks back over his career and reflects on why he returned to the studio to reignite his writing and recording ambitions with The Love. “I opened the door for people to make money from this thing and I put style into being a DJ. So it was like, ‘What else can I do? Let me go back to my first album and then make an album 30 years later and let people see how I sound 30 years later.’”
Taking time out from attending to his two attention-craving dogs Pipsqueak and Spice, Kid Capri digs into the details of The Love, peppering the conversation with anecdotes from the archive featuring Biz Markie, Big L, and Grand Puba, and flashing back to the precise day in the Bronx when he first witnessed hip-hop culture.
There’s a line in the song “I Knock Em All Down” from the new album which seems to sum up your career: “Is Kid Capri a DJ or MC, what is he?/ I’m everything, I do what I want.” Do you enjoy the multi-tasking part of what you do?
Absolutely. I’ve always been a triple threat—and now they really get a chance to see it with this album. I’ve always been on the road from 1988 to the pandemic, so this was the first time I had a chance to really sit down and focus. I even had a chance to lose weight—I lost 40 pounds. My focus became very razor-sharp during the pandemic.
On the song “Slap Key,” you make a reference to the old-school radio duo Awesome 2. Were they a big influence on you?
For sure. Teddy Ted and Special K deserve to be put on a pedestal much more. They broke a lot of artists when radio really didn’t play hip-hop across the country. They were on an underground radio station doing it in New York. We would go places to promote our record and that station would say, “We don’t play rap, we don’t play hip-hop.” But these dudes was doing this way before. They definitely should be put on a pedestal.
What’s been the hardest part about promoting a new Kid Capri record in 2022?
Well, for me it’s double hard because I’m not known for putting out a lot of records! So it’s an uphill battle for me anyway, despite the change in music and that I’m older than the generation that’s out right now. I have a lot of things against me. But it starts with the music—if it has enough substance, it’ll be here for a minute.
What’s the significance of calling the new album The Love? Does it refer to your family?
Yeah, my last name is Love and it’s just a love for the music, love for my family, love for my fans. My moms is on the cover, that photo was taken on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. Notice I put the album out on my birthday [February 7th]. I don’t make records all the time, so I wanted to make it special and for people to have a feeling towards it. With all the craziness going on right now, with so many people getting killed and all this nuts stuff going on, we need a little change and something to make people want to party and have a different way of thinking about things. I’m not trying to say I’m going to save the world, but like 2Pac said, I can spark the brain that will change the world.
Did you get any good birthday presents from your family?
Nah! They threw me a big birthday party: Redman came to perform, Melle Mel came to perform, and the new guy Capella Grey with the big record out right now, he came to perform. So I had three different eras performing at the party and we all hung out.
Who’s qualified to DJ at a Kid Capri birthday party?
Somebody that knows how to make a party go off! Somebody that knows about the type of energy I like and I’m good with that.
Talking about family, you grew up in the Bronx. Do you remember the first time you came across hip-hop?
Yeah, I was about eight years old, and I seen this guy on the block named Gerald and he had a pair of dice in his hand and he was shooting the dice against the wall and he was going, “Yes, yes y’all/ To the beat y’all,” and he’s throwing the dice against the wall. I’m looking at him like, “What is he saying? What does he mean by ‘yes, yes y’all?'” Then I went to a party at a community center at the Marble Hill projects, and there was a group called Rockwell Incorporated and the DJ’s name was DJ B-Ward—Bryan Ward was his real name—and he was deejaying and I just stood there watching this guy. Man, he looked like a damn robot! I just stood there watching this dude then ran home to my mother and told her I wanted to be a DJ.
Was your mother supportive of you wanting to be a DJ?
Yeah, my mother bought me a mixer that had no headphone jack, so I had to guess all the spots on the records! That’s how I got better than anyone else in the neighborhood, the other 35 DJs that was older than me. I was the man standing on top of a milk crate bustin’ they ass! Everyone else stopped DJing and I stayed with it.
What were your go-to records when you first started DJing?
We had essential breakbeats that was there automatically: “Apache,” “Dance To The Drummer’s Beat,” “Got To Be Real,” “Take Me To The Mardi Gras,” you know, these were records that was all the time played in parties before there was rap records. It was rappers rapping on top of these breakbeats that the DJs would cut up. We had an echo chamber and that’s what it was. When you push people and they need a voice because they live in poverty, what ends up coming out of that is hip-hop. You give people a voice. I come from the Bronx, hip-hop is from the Bronx. I lived in a good part, but on the other side, it was impoverished. That’s why the music became what it was. James Brown, Kool & the Gang, Jimmy Castor, all these funky breakbeats records. James Brown was the beginning of hip-hop. That’s why James Brown is always supposed to be saluted—without him, there wouldn’t be hip-hop.
Moving on to your first album, The Tape, how was it being from the Bronx and signing to Cold Chillin’, a label associated with so many Queens artists like Marley Marl and MC Shan?
What happened with that, I had gotten big with my mixtapes in the streets and Biz Markie said he was going to get me an album deal. I didn’t really believe what he was saying, but one day he did get me an album deal. It was funny because Cold Chillin’ was definitely a lot of Queens artists, but it wasn’t about that with Biz—it was about who was dope and talented. I didn’t hang with the Queens crowd—they rocked with me when they came to my parties, but I wasn’t hanging in Queens or nothing like that. But me and Biz became good friends.
What did you learn about making music from Biz Markie?
One, to not take things too seriously! Always have fun. Always make a situation a good situation, always see good in everything. Know that it’s about your fans, they always come first. I remember one time this woman asked Biz for an autograph and there was a guy standing around and he said to Biz, ‘Damn, you gave that ugly girl an autograph?’ Biz was like, ‘What are you talking about? That’s a fan, she’s a fan, she gets treated like anybody else.’ That’s how it’s supposed to be carried, and Biz was really good at that. He had big records, ‘Just A Friend’ was out and he could act any way he wanted. But he was always humble and always down to earth.
Not long after your debut album, you worked with Grand Puba on his track “Back It Up.” How did that come about?
So that beat was a beat I played on my mixtapes. I originally heard that beat from Brucie B in [the nightclub] The Rooftop, and me and Starchild used to play it in the S&S club. I put it on one of my mixtapes, Old School Part 2, matter of fact, and it went crazy. Puba wanted to do a record with it, so he asked me to produce and get on the record with him and rhyme on the record. Me and Puba, we have three records with each other, but we’ve never performed them even one time!
Around that time, Puba had just left Brand Nubian, who you also worked with. Because you’ve collaborated with so many artists, do you have to be a constant diplomat?
Yeah, and I have something to do with a lot of people’s careers in a kind of way, some of the big artists right now. But I don’t want to sit here talking about that—people know about the obvious. I don’t need to sit and talk about what I’ve done for people.
You got to work with Big L before he passed away. What did you think when you first heard him rap?
I thought he was tremendous. He was really ahead of his time because nobody was rhyming that hard in New York. He was real street with it, but he was dope with his cadence. He was a cool dude. If you just met him, the way he talked and acted, he wasn’t like that [in real life].
You do the hook on Big L’s “Put It On.” Are you happy to be a part of a record without necessarily being the main voice?
Yeah, I mean I did that on a lot of records. That just became one of the big ones. My voice gives a party feel, and people want that party feeling. Even to the point of me doing Kendrick Lamar’s album [DAMN.], it’s that signature. The mixtapes got really really big and people are used to hearing me a certain way. People want that feeling on their albums and records.
Bringing things full circle, what do you hope longtime fans who know you from the early ‘90s will get out of listening to the new album?
Take the fact that I ain’t put an album out for all those years and put that to the side; take the fact they know me as DJ Kid Capri, put that to the side; take the fact that I’m older, put that to the side; put aside all these things you fabricate and listen to the music, and that’s what you judge from. It’s no gimmicks, no dumb shit just to get attention, no asking all the biggest artists to post my thing and begging for people to support it. None of that. The music is what it is. Somewhere along the line people lost their attention span because you have 60,000 records coming out [on the internet] every day. There’s too much accessibility. Some stuff is good, most stuff isn’t, and most stuff becomes repetitious. I ain’t mad at what people do, but when it comes to making an album, it should be a body of work. You’re always going to like one record more than the others. But when you make a whole body of work it becomes infectious. Like, when you listen to Dr Dre’s The Chronic—it’s a whole body of work. That’s what it’s about: painting the picture for people.