Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Big C - Look Alive - 1995

Everyone should remember this dope female emcee named Big C who featured on the D&D Project released in 1995 on Arista. This great various compilation features her debut single entitled "Look Alive", first track of the B-side which was produced by the legendary Diamond D.

I was curious, so I've decided to contact Camari Tomlin a.k.a Big C to get more info about how she fell into hip-hop, how everything first started for her and how she was introduced to the D&D AllStars Project LP. Here is what she told me :

Big C :  " I grew up in Montclair NJ. I first heard of a thing called Hip Hop when I was 11. There used to be an underground radio station coming out of NY, WHBI that you could barely get reception for in Jersey. I used to listen to the music through the static of the radio. I was in love T La Rock "It’s Yours" was mind blowing to me. But then I heard a song named "Marley’s Scratch" and it featured a female mc Dimples D. Once I heard that it was official I wanted to be an MC. My first rhyme was super corny but I managed to write an entire song from the perspective of Charlie Starkist the Tuna of the Sea if your old enough to remember that. As I practice and started writing my stuff down in composition notebooks  I took note of the other mc’s that were around. There were quite a few mc’s that were local and around making names for themselves so I knew I had to be tight before I started to debut my little raps in the street. I have an older brother who was into graffiti and popping so thankfully he didn’t mind his little sister tagging along when he went to various parties. I watched the other mcs battle started understanding different flows and different approaches and by the time I was 12, I was ready to get into the cypher. With my brother I had a home made crew. So I battled one night cleaned the whole spot out and at that point I wasn’t the little Tomlin that was playing around I was an official MC. After that I joined a couple different rap crews, I was always the youngest and always the only female. And then came Roxanne Shante. She was the closest thing to me although I think she was a little bit older but not much. I would hear her scratchy ass voice on the Mister Magic Show and she became my target. Every rhyme I wrote every punch line I thought of was to prepare for the day I would come across Shante to battle. I would sneak into local clubs when she came to town to try to step to her, I was pretty much like a Shante super fan but if I was lucky enough to ever catch her I was ready to put up or shut up. I continued writing and performing in local talent shows but by the time I was 15, we moved from Montclair down to Princeton NJ. An ultra white area hip hop became the thing that grounded me and really helped me survive coming from a very diverse area to the extreme of predominantly white. I was a good student so I would use Krs One lyrics in my European history class challenging the curriculum. Being in the boonies in South Jersey it was getting difficult to get the new York radio stations on Friday’s and Saturdays so I would have to listen to Philly radio. Philly was putting out some hip hop at that time but it wasn’t resonating with me like the boom bap from the South Bronx. So I continued to scroll up and down the radio dial hopping to find something that was more my speed. During the summer of 1987, I stumbled across the local university radio station WPRB. One night me and my best friend listening to the radio this station was rocking but something was missing. They played more familiar music but just the general banter of the show was kind of corny. We were used to the word play of Mister Magic, Red Alert playing drops done by his young son so the guys on this station just didn’t have the same swag. So we called the station started critiquing them and they were pretty much like if you think you can do a better job come through so we did. I started with answering the phones getting on the air to do the shouts and now I have an outlet to drop freestyles once a week. Not too long after that I was introduced to Tony D who was the producer for Poor Righteous Teachers who were down in Trenton. Tony became my first official producer and he gave me my first shot in the recording studio. Father Shaheed who was the DJ for Poor Righteous Teachers was also around, he used to come over to my house and just kick it and listen to me rap. DJ Juice who ultimately became a big mix tape DJ from Trenton used be around as well. He and I would work on performing, he would DJ for me and we did a couple local shows. But you know at this time although some of us are getting deals now I was still young and in high school. By the time I graduated, I went to St. John’s University in Queens and had one foot in trying to be a rapper and one foot in trying to be a college student. By my second year so now it’s 91-92, I had befriended another girl from Jersey. She and I became thick as thieves and one night hanging out on 125th street, we run into a Tribe Called Quest in front of the Apollo theatre. Ali the DJ started talking to my friend and from that point on I got a front row seat to everything ATCQ. Because my friend started dating Ali I was able to now have access to some of the biggest names in hip hop. I learned from watching "The Low End Theory" be made. I was in the studio sessions I was soaking up the experience but I never told any of them I rapped. I never wanted them to think I was hanging around trying to get on. Because of my friends relationship I shared a lot of intimate spaces with them so I never wanted them to question who I was so I kept my lyrics to myself but enjoyed the experience. At the album release party for "The Low End Theory" I met Diamond D. Diamond was also getting ready to release "Stunts Blunts and Hip Hop". He had a guest appearance on Low End Theory, was one of the producers for DITC and was on his own trajectory. He and I became cool but I made sure to let him know I was an MC. I really don’t remember the first time he heard me rap but I do know the end result was Diamond was co-signing me and wants to work with me. At that point Tip and Ali are like holly shit you rap? All this time you knew how to rap? So it became a running joke but now that I was working with Diamond I was official on my own merit."

Big C & Diamond D - Photo courtesy of Big C

Big C : "So Doug and Dave or D&D pulled in the various producers who were fixtures in the studio at that time and Diamond was one of them. I was probably the last artist that D was focusing on at that time because I was one foot in the studio one foot in the regular world of the 9-5 hustle. I didn’t need hip hop to rescue me from life so it was kind of hard for me to do the starving artist thing when I could use my education to make money. So Diamond submitted tracks from most of the other acts he was working with but Arista passed on them for one reason or another. So the last one up to bat as usual the female MC I got the call to come to the studio..."

Unfortunately, Big C didn't released a solo album after the D&D project. Kamari became her new moniker and she formed the group called The OMEN with Diamond D and Sadat X in the early '00s.

Mad props to Camari Tomlin, thanks for your time.

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