Magoo Interview: Connecting With Timbaland, Reflecting On Da Bassment & Leaving Music Career Behind
After almost a decade of trying, we finally found Magoo! The mysterious rapper is most known for his collaborations with his friends Timbaland and Missy Elliott, but his story is much deeper than just the songs he’s created. In this interview, we talk to Magoo about his early days in Virginia with Timbaland and Pharrell. We also talk about his time under Devante Swing’s Bassment clique and what really happened in that situation. He also talks about some of the personal battles he had when he was having huge success with the “Welcome To Our World” album as well as why he’s no longer doing music now. Lastly he shares memories about his time with his friends Aaliyah and Static Major.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You started out in a group called “S.B.I. (Surrounded By Idiots)” with Timbaland, Pharrell and Larry Live. Talk about those early days in Virginia.
Magoo: Larry was the first person I met. He was from Virginia Beach initially and he ended up moving to where I went to high school in Chesapeake. Me and him hung for awhile and three months into me knowing him as a friend and having two classes together, he told me about a guy he knew from Virginia Beach who was this fantastic DJ. This was before I knew Tim as a producer. I was like “It’s impossible for somebody to be that good!”. One day he drove us over to Tim’s house and Tim was better than what Larry had told me. Tim could have been Kid Capri, Funkmaster Flex or Jazzy Jeff. He was that good. Now was he better than Jazzy Jeff? I wouldn’t say that, but he was elite. People would use his name to say he was a DJ at a party he was not at. This was before the music. You can see going back to when I first met Tim, he was already the dude. Larry was cool in his own way too. They had flavor and they were thorough dudes. Then Tim let me hear his beats that he was making and I was like “He makes beats too? What else does he do?!”. At that point, I had never met anybody in person that was serious about the art and that was that talented at the art. Tim was a grown person when it came to his responsibility with DJ and music. He was selling mixtapes back then. We’re not talking about New York City, Atlanta or Miami here. We’re talking about Virginia. It was not a Hip Hop area. He was miles ahead of everybody though. I heard people DJ and rap before him, but it was like he was from New York with his level of ability. It was ridiculous when he was 16. He was also a beatbox champion too!
YouKnowIGotSoul: How were you guys introduced to Pharrell after?
Magoo: Early on when Larry and I worked with Tim, our friend Glenn was also part of the group. One day Tim was like “I know this dude named Pharrell. He’s on another level, but he’s in another group”. Pharrell never wanted to leave Chad and Shay of The Neptunes, but he was intrigued by what we were doing. He wanted to be involved in it but not necessarily leave his group. Tim told us about him and we went over there the next day. It’s funny looking back, but Pharrell was miles ahead of everyone. The Pharrell the public sees now, that’s what he was then. This isn’t an act. I wouldn’t consider him a nerd, but I can see why they called themselves N.E.R.D. They were different. Chad, Pharrell and Shay were all cool dudes, but they weren’t trying to beat people up. Street cats loved them though. Pharrell’s musical ability was out of space and he was in his own world. The first time I heard him do a rap, I was like “This dude already sounded like he was ready for the mainstream”. He must have just been born with it. It was like Tim, I never heard anybody that had that kind of understanding of what it was like to write a song.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What did you take away from being around with Pharrell?
Magoo: What I got from Pharrell was to not be afraid to just do it. I had comparisons with Q-Tip because of my voice, but people don’t get that this is just how I sound. I’ve always sounded like this even before I started rapping. I was in a singing group and I was singing Ralph Tresvant. I was winning talent shows singing before I was rapping. I’m not joking either! I didn’t come in second or third, I was winning talent shows singing New Edition songs. I hate the Q-Tip comparisons because I’m a big Tribe Called Quest fan, but there was nothing I could do about my voice.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Did you know The Neptunes would be so successful in the future?
Magoo: When I heard what Pharrell was doing with Chad and Shay, I was like “These dudes are just different”. I always had the upmost respect for them because I saw them being themselves. They were unapologetically being themselves. It wasn’t an image. I was like “That is what a great group does”. Sometimes it’s not good enough, but when it is then it becomes N.E.R.D. They set the bar really high and I learned that from hearing what Pharrell and Chad did. It made me realize “Just say what you feel and don’t be afraid to try new things”.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your early days with Missy Elliott.
Magoo: One day we were in a record store and a song called “First Move” by Fayze (later renamed Sista) was playing on the radio. We didn’t know who Missy was at the time, we just knew that this song was playing on the radio and they were a local group. That was the only song on the radio that was from a local artist on regular rotation in Virginia Beach. I picked up the 12 inch and I told my guys that we have to meet these girls. Two months later one of my boys I worked at Olive Garden with, his name was E and he was a producer. He pulled up in a car with Missy’s group Fayze and it’s crazy because Missy was already great then. She just didn’t have the resources to get the production that she needed. When I met them, I was like “Yo, you guys need to meet my boy Tim”. E was a producer and he didn’t like that too much. I understand why he was mad at me, but at the time Tim wasn’t the great Timbaland. I just thought I was introducing her to somebody else that could do production that would fit with Missy’s style. I was just making a suggest more than taking them away from their producer. It was an innocent mistake, but looking back I understand why he was mad. He had every right to be mad because he thought it was going to be his break, but I think God did all of that for some kind of reason if you look at the results. We went to the crib and Tim put on the first beat and Missy was in. It was almost like God was putting pieces together from Larry introducing me to Tim and then us meeting Missy. This is going to sound corny, but I believe that our lives are like the yellow brick roads like in “The Wizard of OZ”. When you stay on the yellow brick road, your life turns out how it’s supposed to turn out. When you get off the yellow brick road, that’s why people are miserable sometimes because they get off the path they’re supposed to be on. I look back and think about it, who can say in their lifetime that they are friends with one of the greatest female artists of all the time in Missy Elliott, three of the greatest producers of all time with Pharrell, Chad and Timbaland and some of the greatest groups of all time like N.E.R.D. and Clipse? All of us rode in the same circle and we would see each other at different events and this was before the fame. We all ended up making it because we were serious.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about joining Da Bassment. Take me back to that era.
Magoo: Missy’s group went to a Jodeci show and then they got on. When they got on, they told Devante Swing specifically about Tim because he was the producer of the group. Devante didn’t really want to deal with it. He thought Tim was talented, but he was going to use Al B. Sure! Missy was like “Nah, my man has to do work on this too”. Missy has always been a rock and she’s been the toughest business person I’ve ever met. She will tell you that won’t work and it literally won’t work. She knew Tim would work for what she was doing. She was like “I love Al but Tim fits with what I want to do”. She saw the future for what Tim’s production could do. I have to give Devante credit because he actually listened. Missy then told him about us and then we went for an audition. Devante pulled me to the side and was like “I want you. I don’t want the rest of the group”. I was shocked because I didn’t think I was a great rapper. I think Devante heard something he could mold. I asked if he could keep the rest of the group. Devante agreed to keep Larry and Elmo, but the last dude he didn’t want to keep. I was like “Well if you’re not going to keep him, I’m going to leave” but it wasn’t a diss to Devante. I just couldn’t leave my boy like that. I ended up leaving and then two years later, Devante told me what happened. He was like “I did want to sign you anyway, but Missy told me that you were the star because you’re a nice dude and you have the right attitude.”. Missy could see things in people as far as their gift. I always look back to when she rode with Tim because how did she know? That was a big chance because Devante could have said “If you don’t want to work with Al then you’re done!”. She put it out there and probably risked her opportunity because she believed in Tim so much that she was willing to put herself out there. Don’t get me wrong, Tim’s talent speaks for itself but I want you to understand the significance and importance of pulling other people up. You can pull other people up and also still have your opportunity. Once you show someone that’s helping you how great you believe somebody is, you’ll still have your opportunity. Missy wasn’t going to lose her opportunity because she was too talented. I’m forever grateful for Missy and God really did that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take us back to Da Bassment era like. Other members like Playa, Ginuwine and Tweet have all said it was like college.
Magoo: When I first got around all those cats, they were the most talented group of people I’d ever been around. When you’re in the moment, you don’t appreciate it as much but all those people pushed me. They never pushed me because it was a competition though. Nobody ever competed against each other and there was no animosity, but when you see Playa or Ginuwine, Missy’s group Sista or Tweet’s group Sugah recording, it was so much talent. Devante had a fantastic eye for talent. I never looked at it like it was a school, but they are right. You learned from each person. Static and his group Playa introduced me to Rap from the South. My city was strictly East Coast rap or that DC Go-go music. Playa introduced me to 8Ball & MJG and UGK. Those rappers would have a different flow on every song and sometimes they would have a flow on each verse. I ended up concentrating more on flow than words because that gave you the rhythm of the music more than anything. I owe Black, Static and Smokey for the influence that they gave me when they introduced me to that type of rap.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Do you think working under Devante Swing helped sharpen your tools as an artist?
Magoo: Absolutely, Devante was essential. I always thought that if Devante followed me a whole career, I would have been a better artist. What he did that was unique is that he wasn’t the guy that was going to put you down, but he wasn’t going to pat you on the back when it wasn’t good enough. He pushed us through us understanding that if you’re going to get credit from him then it was dope. He wasn’t there to hurt our feelings and he never made me feel self conscious. He is why Missy, Timbaland, Playa, Ginuwine and Tweet ended up getting to some place. I think everyone else could have, but certain things don’t get you there like management. Everyone there was extremely talented and Devante knew how to push our buttons to get us to do what we needed to do. One time I was going off about how dope this artist was and he went off on me. He was like “Magoo that’s why you ain’t shit and you ain’t going to be shit because you’re sitting there jocking the next motherfucker, you need to be on your own dick”. He wasn’t trying to diss me, he was telling me to be proud of how dope I was. From that day on, I started to improve as a rapper. The artist I was admiring was Biggie. *Laughs* He made us want to retire! Puffy was letting us listen to snippets of Biggie’s music. He gave Jodeci a CD and every song was dope. The original version of “Me & My Bitch” was so dope. They couldn’t get the sample cleared, but it was so dope. I learned so much from that experience and I really appreciate that he was that honest.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You didn’t necessarily have food to eat everyday when you were in Da Bassment. How did you remain so patient during that time?
Magoo: Back then, it was different and it was all we had. When you spent three or four years under Devante, that was an honor. There was no instant gratification, it didn’t exist. There was no reality TV or internet. When you met somebody, that was how you got on. You couldn’t pick up the phone and talk to anybody that could help you. You literally had to run into people, so if you got that situation, why would you leave? You would do anything to make it during that time period short of killing somebody. Remember in “Making The Band” when Puff asked them to get cheesecake? People thought it was cruel, but it wasn’t about the cheesecake. Puff was trying to find out how badly people wanted to be successful. In the entertainment business, you have to have more than just talent. You have to have the tenacity and they wanted it more. The guy that had the most talent, he didn’t want to get that cheesecake. If that was me, I would have brought back cheesecake, pizza and a steak. It would have been with my money and I didn’t have any. You have to be more than just about the fame. Instant gratification for this generation is more about the fame. We didn’t care about the fame. The dream then was hearing yourself on the radio because Michael Jackson was on the radio. You wanted to be on the radio with those people that influenced you. I remember the first time I got an ASCAP check, I thought it was a mistake. My first ASCAP check was five figures and I was like “They play you for airplay?”. So when you’re talking about us staying in Da Bassment the whole time, there was nothing to think about. When people aren’t used to something, they don’t know they should be complaining. People used to wait an hour for their food before McDonalds and they sat right there and waited. We didn’t have any option, so either we had to deal with the consequence to get to where we had to get to or quit. I know a lot of people that quit. They hated me when I made it because everyone that quit was better than all of us. The most talented people never make it. There’s a golfer out there better than Tiger Woods, but he just gave up.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You always had those memorable one liners like “The bird is the word”. Talk about your creative process.
Magoo: It was intentional. I was a little rougher around the edges before, but as I got around Jodeci and learned more about the music industry along and then we got with Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson, I started to understand something about the music industry that I never would have got the opportunity to experience if I came out immediately. People always remember when you say certain things like “Whatchu talkin bout Willis?”. Gary Coleman was a child actor, but his career is remembered because of that one line. Biggie even put that line in his lyrics. Me and Timbaland had a conversation and he was like “You can either sell 200k or we can sell a million records, but you have to decide what that’s going to be”. If I just did that Hip Hop that I was doing that was just doing for the cats on the block, I don’t think anybody would know me at all. That’s what people don’t understand when they talk about me and I’ve heard about what people say about me. Just because a person comes out with a record a certain way, that doesn’t mean that who that person is. I chose that lane because I understood the industry. I would say stuff like “Wiggle a bit stop drop get up snake freak” because I wanted something kids could remember. I wasn’t trying to be a dope emcee. I could have been because when I was under Devante, I was getting so much better. Devante didn’t mind that because he loved the realness of Hip Hop. He didn’t care if you got in trouble because he was a street kind of dude in his mentality. It was okay to be like that in Da Bassment, but once I left that situation I realized “Maybe we would have been something like Death Row” but I didn’t feel like that was going to be a good lane for me with my light voice. I had to figure out where I fit and that’s where you got the catchphrases. I tried to have something in there that would make people remember what I said because I knew people forget rappers all the time. There are some dope rappers that were ten times better than me, but nobody knows they exist. I know they exist because I’m a Hip Hop head. My favorite rappers are not megastars. They aren’t as 2Pac or Big Daddy Kane. My favorite rappers are Joel Ortiz, Mad Skillz and Black Thought. KRS One is my favorite emcee of all time, but he doesn’t have a two million selling album. Very few emcees do numbers because Hip Hop was never about selling records. Hip Hop was about making songs you wanted to make so that your people could understand and relate to it. Hip Hop wasn’t about gold chains, that came as an after effect. I was always about that, but if I wanted to have some fans with my light voice and Barry Hankerson was like “I want every kid in America to like that”. I understood that because it was a business. Thank god I was around Jodeci and saw what record labels do to artists. The biggest mistake most artists make when they come into the game is they think this is for play. No, this is for real. If you don’t have a “bird is a word” that can last for 20 years, you’re in trouble. I remember when we did “Drop”, Tim didn’t really feel it. Me and his brother Sebastian felt that record and I did a verse on it first. He was like “Okay I see!”. I knew that record that had that thing about it. The only reason that song is successful is because of that track and Fatman Scoop on the hook. *Laughs* But you can hear when I said my line, I just wanted people to have a good time and party. That’s what my intentions were. If I wanted to be a dope emcee, I could have bodied a lot of people. I always had the lyrical ability, but I knew that is not what everyone needs to do. Everyone can’t be Black Thought. If everybody was like that, we would have a million Black Thoughts. He has that lane and I couldn’t do that because my voice was light. Somebody has to make the fun records and I knew I couldn’t go a certain way because of Q-Tip, I tried to find a way to get away from it as much as possible. I literally was trying to get away from that because I had so much respect for Tribe, so I had to be the happy rapper. It would have backfired if I tried any other way. The commercial success that Tim and I had allowed me to do three albums. We made fun records, but they weren’t corny. I don’t have any regrets. I liked the reaction I got from people that were fans. I didn’t get the street credibility that I got into Hip Hop for, but I felt if I could make people happy and have a good time, that was contributing to Hip Hop too but in a different way.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your debut album “Welcome To Our World” ended up selling over a million records . What was that time in your life like?
Magoo: To be honest, I never really got a chance to enjoy the success because it came at a cost. I remember going to see my nieces one time and I had seen how big they had got, it was all just a blur. The video shoots and the flying, I never really got the chance to digest this success. Still to this day, I can tell someone we sold 1.6 millions and I have a platinum single too. A lot of people go their whole career without having 25% of that and I’ve been blessed to have it, but I never got a chance to enjoy it. I’m going to keep it real, I didn’t enjoy any of that. I never felt like me and Tim got a chance to enjoy our early years and it never even felt like we were this million selling group. Not just from a financial standpoint, but more so because you’re always working. You go from that album and then they want another one and then you have people trying to rip you apart. I didn’t get a chance to enjoy that. I enjoyed it more once it was over and I still didn’t enjoy it. That’s why I walked away from it. The music business is a promise that can’t be kept and that’s fame. When I had a number one song, I realized I may have been better with my 9-5 before I left Virginia. It’s hard to be happy because you’re fighting for everything you earned and you just don’t have time to enjoy it with your family. You aren’t as close with friends anymore and people are treating you different once you have that hit record. I lived two different lives and being a celebrity wasn’t fun.
YouKnowIGotSoul: When you look at the plaque on your wall, what are some thoughts that come to mind?
Magoo: I don’t give a shit about those plaques. The times I enjoyed most were during S.B.I. and whenever me and Tim were in the studio. I loved the creative process of making the songs with my friend. Those were the special times. I hated video shoots and everything that had to do with celebrity. I remember I went to a drive through and someone gave me free food. I was like “When we didn’t have money, they wouldn’t give us anything”. It was a wake up call because fame shows you what’s good and terrible about us. We treat people that are famous better than people that actually need help. They’ll give a millionaire food and walk right over a homeless person. I never dreamed about being famous. I just wanted to make the songs. I didn’t think about the money or fame. I wanted to have a song on the radio like my heroes and I wanted to work real hard at it. Was I successful? Yes, but there’s a difference between happiness and success. Success is when you get what you ask for whereas happiness is when you like what you get. I don’t think Missy and Timbaland even know how I felt, but I didn’t like being around the entertainment industry because it had an opportunity to bring positivity, but brought more negativity into people’s lives. I didn’t like that the fans were showing more love to the people that didn’t need their love and ignoring the people that do need your love whether it’s a kid that’s being bullied or poor people. Girls on the road would judge me based on a record, but not the person or the character I might have. The hardest thing to find when you become famous is finding someone who really loves you. I have no regrets though about being in a group with my friend though. That was the best time for me when we would make those songs together. That’s the only thing I miss. I don’t miss the fame, I just miss making songs with my homeboy. That was the fun part. I never talk to the people from the record company anymore that told me how great I was and they don’t call on Christmas. The friends and family I had before are the same one I had after and that’s what matters most.
YouKnowIGotsoul: Share with us your favorite Aaliyah memory.
Magoo: Aaliyah was funny and a good spirited type person. If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have been on Blackground. She spoke up for Tim and me and Barry ended up signing us. Of course he had a lot of respect for Babygirl and I’m sure Barry would have worked with Timbaland as a producer anyway. Aaliyah vouched for us and I never forgot that. I remember one time she called my hotel room back in LA, she called the phone and she was singing “All Good” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. She did it six times and I was going off. I didn’t know it was Aaliyah and I was cussing that person out. Then Aaliyah actually called and she was like “You want to go hang out?” and I was like “I’m a little upset right now. Somebody keeps calling my phone singing that Bone Thugs song” and she was like “Like this?” and she started singing it the same way. I never forgot that. I forget where we ended up hanging out but she was just a funny individual. I never got over her death. I never discussed this with Tim, Missy, Ginuwine or my family. I never got over that. I think it would be traumatic for anybody and to lose somebody that was so young and promising like that. I have to give her family members a lot of credit because I’m not blood related to her, but it was so hard on me. I couldn’t fly or watch Aaliyah music videos. I lost a piece of myself not because me and Aaliyah were close like she was with other people like Tim, but I had a love and respect for her just because of how humble she was. I have some hood friends and I introduced her to my boy Troy Mitchell. Aaliyah was just like a normal person and he was like “She was just a regular chick. She wasn’t on that star stuff. She was so genuine!”. She was just like that. She didn’t deserve that man, that wasn’t for her.
YouKnowIGotsoul: What about your favorite Static Major memory?
Magoo: That’s my man right there! I shared an apartment with Playa. They might not realize it, but I still play their record in my car. People get tired because it’s like 20 years later, but they’re one of my favorite R&B groups of all time and I’m not saying that because they’re my friends. Living with them and them saying “We blazing!”. *Laughs* They were just some good Southern dudes from Louisville. They had the kindest hearts and I love all three of them. My heart was heavier when Static died because I was roommates with that guy. I slept in the same area in the apartment we had. Our beds were all in the living room and we just did the young guy stuff with chicks and had fun. He was like my college classmate but he was my man. To this day, I’m like “Why did they have to put the needle in the wrong place? He should still be here”. The world lost an entertainer, but Black and Smokey lost a friend. His family lost a good dude. That was an influential dude and he was wise. He could kill you with kindness and he was just a good due. I love Stephen Garrett as a person. I respected him as a person and I still love Jawann Peacock or Smokey and Benjamin Bush or Black. We grew up to be really close. When I had a bad breakup, I went to stay with Playa. They helped me get over that and I ended up getting on the Playa album and doing some songs with my homeboys. I always think about the group when I think about Static. I always think of them as a group because I never met those kind of people together. They were so humble and they introduced me to rap I had never heard before. I owe part of my success to Playa. They were an influence on me because of their hard work. Static, Black and Smoke always worked hard. They inspired me so much. When I heard Static had died, I went to his funeral and I’m not a funeral type of guy. I left a studio session I was in with B.o.B. in Virginia and I went to the funeral in Louisville and came back the same day to show my respect. That’s how much I loved Static. Sometimes the record labels would pay for it, but I took my own dime and I paid for my flight, rental car and my respect for my man. I think about that dude everyday. Playa made me happy because I never saw those dudes not happy.
YouKnowIGotsoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Magoo: I don’t want to talk about what I’m doing now. I’m in the business, but I don’t want people to know what I’m doing. I used to have a production company and they worked with Madonna and Justin Timberlake. I did that after Timbaland & Magoo. I signed a few producers and they did very well.