MC Serch Interview

June 12, 2008

MC Serch is living proof that success in Hip Hop outside of the booth is possible—and it doesn’t have to be a clothing line. After a successful rap career both as a soloist and with the group 3rd Bass, the Queens, NY native founded Serchlite Music. As head of the company, he helped prime the careers of rap legends like Nas and O.C., helping craft their classic Illmatic and Word…Life LPs. He also discovered Non Phixion, who would go on to be staples of the underground rap scene.

But Serch’s career didn’t stop with the actual music industry. In 2003 he moved to Detroit, where he hosted Serch In The AM on WJLB; though he got fired three years later, 2008 has seen him back on the airwaves with a show on Hot 102.7, The Saturday Night Serchlite. He’s also been successful on the silver screen, hosting two successful reality series on Vh1: “Ego Trip’s The White Rapper Show” and “Ego Trip’s Miss Rap Supreme.” Homie has been making his way through every facet of the game, knocking out one area at a time. And oh, yeah—he has a clothing line, too.

In an interview with, MC Serch talks about working on the radio, staying true to Hip Hop in an industry that dilutes it, and how wifey’s eye for talent defeats his.

I think a lot of cats might not realize that you live in Michigan now, considering that you grew up in NY. Talk about what it was like for you when you first got out here.
I spend a lot of time out here. Back in the early 90s I shot a movie called “Zebrahead” out here, I was the immediate supervisor and location supervisor for Michael Rapaport, N’Bushe Wright and Ron Johnson. Because I spent so much time in the marketplace with J Dilla, God bless the dead, we used to do a lot of record shopping. I just knew the market, so I was really excited to come to Detroit. I’ve always loved this city, I’ve loved the vibe of the city. I really enjoyed it; even when things went south with WJLB, I wanted to be here.

You had a radio show with WJLB. How much experience did you have before starting over there?
I had started out with a weekend show in Norfolk, VA, which was really, really a lot of fun. I was living in New York at the time, so I was really going from New York every weekend. And they couldn’t even cover my travel, so that was costing more to do the show than I was actually making. Eventually, we had such a big buzz with the show that I started to get club dates and appearance fees, and it started to kind of even out. I actually started making money down there. The program director down there told me that I was doing a morning show, but in the evenings, and it was really working. There was a big buzz on TV, print ads; there was a big buzz, and it was just good. Everything was working really well.

When the program director from Norfolk went to Detroit, he called me and said, “Listen, I want you to do the morning show in Detroit.” I jumped at the chance. There was no looking back: I sold my house in New York, I packed up everything, and moved here. And never looked back.

How would you compare your show then to your show now, in terms of content and in terms of how much your WJLB experience helps your new one?
It’s really apples to oranges. When you do a morning show, talk is very, very important—keeping audience involved, and music takes a back seat. What I tried to do with my new show, and what I did do on the morning show, is I did infuse new music and new artists to the audience by doing New Music Showcase Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, which has never been done in a major market. Ever. Basically, I’d bring in a new artist who has a hot new record in the city, play that record Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and interview them on Thursday. We broke Teairra Mari on our show, we broke Tone Tone on our show… All of the artists that went on to do bigger and better things and major labels and international [success], all did our show, and were all heard by record companies in the marketplace that got involved and wanted to sign the artist. We had a lot of success with doing that. It was a lot of fun. It was something corporate really frowned on, but all in all, we really loved the concept of it, and we had a blast.

Our show now is much different. Back to doing weekends again, and it’s different. It’s more music intensive, it’s more culture and lifestyle intensive. The talk is very little, and when you’re talking, you’re really talking about hyping up the crowd, for the clubs, to go out on Belle Isle, to go hang out at Chandler Park, engage in the different sides of the city, and engage listeners in Ontario. It’s just a different energy, and I love the energy.

So which do you enjoy more?
I like mornings a lot. That was a lot of fun. The main problem with mornings was waking up at 4 o’clock in the morning. It’s a complete different type of lifestyle when you’re waking up that early. Your day starts way early, ends way early. It changes your entire family dynamic. Weekends are easy: you’re already up, you’re out, you know what’s going on in the city. You’re not really on the same level as you are as a morning show. It’s just an easier thing to do. You still have to be focused, and you still have to give the audience a great show. You’re up, you’re around, you’re more active, as opposed to having to wake up and get to the station.

How did the opportunity for the new show come up?
As soon as I was let go [from WJLB], Radio One approached me. As soon as you get let go from a radio station, there’s a thing called a “non-compete” which prohibits you from going right to another station. So literally six months after my non-compete to the day, I got a call from Radio One asking me if I was interested in going over there. At the time, I was knee-deep in television, so I really couldn’t make a move over there because I just couldn’t commit the time. Once I had some more time on my hands, I said, “Listen, I can’t do much, I can commit to weekends.” They said, “We’ll take it,” and I’m doing weekends. I could’ve had pretty much any shift I wanted to on Hot 102.7, but it wasn’t about that. It was about what I wanted to do, and what I was able to commit. And I like being there, I didn’t want to tape a show. I want to be present, I want to be part of the community that I live in. It was easier for me to do weekends.

How’d you hook up with ego trip?
I grew up with the guys in ego trip. I really knew these guys for a long time; back when they started their magazine, my artist Nas was their first cover, and I believe I bought their first advertising space they ever sold [laughs]. So we’ve been friends for a long time. They were doing specials on Vh1 on race; that’s their thing, they like to explore race. Their book “The Big Book of Racism” was a bestseller, and their “Book of Rap Lists” was a bestseller, and they came into Vh1 and did all these “Race-O-Rama” specials. One of the “Race-O-Rama” specials was called “Dude, Where’s My Ghetto Pass?” and that was about Caucasians and white people trying to be down with urban culture. For them, whoever they interviewed, they asked who got a ghetto pass, whether it was Rakim, or MC Lyte, or Cuba Gooding, and my name came up. They brought me in to be the judge, if you will, to who was allowed to get a ghetto pass in the white community. We had a really good time with that, and we had a lot of fun.

About a year later, they called me and they said, “We’re doing this show we want to talk to you about, it’s this pilot called ‘The White Rapper Show.’” When I read the script for it, and I saw the concept was a reality series, I was a little skeptical, but I knew it would be funny because of how good these guys were. I did it, and the rest is, as they say, history. We did that, we had a great run. We did “Miss Rap Supreme,” we had a great run. And hopefully, there’s been some changes at Vh1 since we went into production with this, and we can have a season three. If we don’t, we had a great run.

From the ego trip shows, to the radio shows, you’ve really found a way to show the essence of Hip Hop in an industry that’s known for diluting everything from it. How difficult is it for you to keep that balance, between appeasing to higher ups in the system, and still being able to show that?
This is going to sound a little egotistical, but I mean it in the most humbling way. But I have been able to have such a great career with 20 years in this business that with the level that we’re at and we’re coming at in these meetings, we aren’t talking to someone who has to talk to someone who has to talk to someone. We’re bringing Hip Hop to the VP level, we’re explaining the culture to those who don’t know it. And since, I believe, we have the authenticity and the credibility in the culture, we can do things on TV, and they’d be more credible or most credible because we’re most credible. The things that we do are in true tribute to the culture, and it’s very rare to have that opportunity. No one’s going to really question what we do on TV, because they don’t really know themselves. And when the research comes back, and they see how authentic it was, and how much it was appreciated by the audience, then you have more free reign to do even more in respect to the culture, or at least one part of the culture, which is rap music. We’ve been very fortunate—I mean ego trip and myself—to kind of get in at a very high level, sometimes the highest levels, Viacom and Vh1, and say, “We can’t do the show this way, because it’s not authentic to Hip Hop. We have to do it this way, because this is authentic to Hip Hop.” And they can’t argue with us.

Do you keep in contact with any contestants from the shows?
I definitely speak to Persia all the time, from “Miss Rap Supreme”. We’ve become very close. I want to shout her out and her new baby, Ariel, she just had her first baby. We’re very, very close. I speak to Nicky2States all the time, I speak to Byata all the time, I speak to Rece Steele all the time. And you’re going to have that, especially with a new show. So ask me in a year [laughs], and I’ll give you a more accurate tale of the tape of who I’m speaking to.

What’s the status of Serchlite Publishing?
The company is in a collection mode. We’re not looking to spend the songs we have in our catalog, right now we’re just collecting checks.

You’ve helped produce some of the greatest talents in Hip Hop—Nas, O.C., Non-Phixion. What kind of things do you look for when identifying an artist at the beginning of their career?
It’s called the “goosebump factor.” If I hear an artist and I get goosebumps, I want to work with them. That’s it, it’s literally that simple. It’s very rare that you get goosebumps from an artist. I’ve never been about, “This sounds like a hit, I want to mess with it.” I have to get goosebumps, and all the artists that you mentioned gave me goosebumps. When I first heard O.C. on “Fudge Pudge” I was blown away, that Organized Konfusion track was just classic to me. I knew I wanted to work with him, and I knew I wanted to develop an album with him. To get to Word…Life was a struggle; I had the best of times, and I had the worst of times. Nas literally made 11 songs for Illmatic, and ten made the album. O.C., we made about 50 songs, until he got to “Time’s Up.” I kept telling him, and we would fight and argue, we would almost fist fight. He would be like, “You’re killing my career.” I’d be like, “Bro, please, just trust me. When we have the right record, everything else fall into place. Please believe me. You’re all over the place, we’ve just got to get to the right song.” He walked into my office one day, quiet as a mouse. Popped a DAT in my DAT player, sat at my desk, pressed play, and [hums song]. When he said, “You lack the minerals and vitamins, irons and the niacin, Fuck who that I offend, rappers sit back I’m bout to begin, bout foul talk you sqwak,” I got goosebumps. And the entire album came after that! Every song, and they were all classics.

Same thing with Ill Bill and Non Phixion. Sabac was already rolling with me, he was my hype man as a solo emcee. Again, I was just a huge fan of Sabac’s. When I met Ill Bill through DJ Eclipse, I had already seen tapes of him wrecking parties in Brooklyn with his brother Necro. Once again, Ill Bill just goosebumps; I really felt him. When he introduced me to Gortex and we put this group together…the thing about Non Phixion, we knew what we were. We were the Ramons of Hip Hop—we would have this huge underground following, and we probably wouldn’t sell as many records as other artists, but we would tour forever. Non-Phixion and Ill Bill wound up selling two and a half million albums. La Coka Nostra was on its way to becoming the white supergroup. So I just believe that you’ve gotta give me goosebumps; if you don’t, I don’t care how much I like the song, I won’t mess with it.

The second litmus test, which is even more important, is my wife likes it. Even if I get goosebumps—and I’m not ashamed to say this—if my wife hates it, I won’t fuck with it. Even more important than the litmus test is the Chantel Test. The honest to goodness thing, bro, I kissed a lot of frogs to get to a prince. There were a lot of groups that I loved that I wanted to mess with that I spent time and energy with that never came to fruition. My wife was right about every one of them, and I would argue with her and fight with her. She’d be like, “All right, you don’t want to believe me, watch.” I don’t know anyone who’s a better judge of character than my wife.

Has there been any artist you’ve worked with, and you look at them later and you’re surprised at where they’re at, better for worse?
Nas didn’t surprise me; he had the it factor, he was a superstar. O.C. surprised me, because O.C. was a superstar, and whatever mistakes were made on Word…Life, and whatever mistakes his next label made on Jewelz, he’s a superstar, and he’s had a very tough road in the business. I feel bad for O, because I think O should be a much more respected emcee than just in the underground. Non-Phixion, I’m not surprised. They did exactly what they wanted to do; they grinded out, they do their tours, they do their thing, Ill Bill does his thing. They just grinded out, and that doesn’t surprise me, I knew that was the kind of group they were going to be.

I worked with one other artist signed to Serchlite in 2000 named Stone River, and that surprised me, because that was the biggest flop of my career. It almost destroyed my company. I put a lot of time and money into Stone, and it dropped like a stone, I mean literally lived up to its name. I haven’t really messed, so to speak, with anything that surprised me or not surprised me. When I first met Teairra Mari with Mike Lit, and when Mike Lit brought her to my radio station, I knew she would be a star; I’m surprised at what’s happened to her since then. I’m surprised Mr. Wrong isn’t the new Kanye West—if you don’t mind me saying that, if I had to equate it—that Mr. Wrong isn’t signed and blowing up. Mr. Wrong is one of the most talented emcees I’ve ever been around, that includes Nas and O.C. I’m surprised Mae Day hasn’t gone to the next level yet. I’m surprised Tone Tone hasn’t been signed again based on the success he had at radio. I’m very surprised at how slow the rest of the country has been to pick up on Detroit artists, that’s very disappointing.

That was actually my next question: how do you compare the Michigan Hip Hop scene when you got here working with WJLB, to how it is now?
I think it’s been stagnant in its growth, because the artists in the city don’t leave the city enough and spread their tentacles enough. It is painfully obvious that you cannot blow up just out of this city. The proof is in the Rock Bottom’s. When “No” was out, “No” was playing literally—and this is not an exaggeration—250 times a week on three radio stations in this city. That is unheard of. WJLB, when I was there, was playing this 110 times a week. There’s never been another record that’s even come close; that is a mega hit. That means it’s getting rotation every 38 minutes. Hot 102 is playing that record 96 times a week. Channel 955 was playing that record 70 times a week. That is a bonafide, undeniable smash of a smash. What happened to Rock Bottom? I hate to use that term, but they hit Rock Bottom. Bro, that is unheard of. Even Black Lagoon, there’s never been another artist to even come close, and they consistent success at radio, and can’t get it poppin’. There’s a combination of there’s not the right people in the city to help people navigate outside of the city, but also, the artists in the city aren’t travelling and extending their tentacles and going out of the city, and making relationships that are going to help them grow.

Program directors in the city are very slow to build it. I think honestly, and it’s not because I’m there, but Hot 102 and Smiley do a fantastic job of grooming those artists and getting them to the place they need to be. The problem is there’s no communication between Hot 102.7 and WJLB, because there’s such a visitor’s feud. It’s not like in another city to where there’s relationships between Hot 97 and Power 105 in New York, because Clue still talks to Enuff and Flex, they’re still boys. So Flex got a hot record, he can go to Clue and say, “This record is ignorant.” And Enuff can say to Ed Lover [the same thing]. They’re talking between each other. Even though it’s a competitive situation, they’re all kind of cool. You don’t have that here. I speak to Don Q all the time, because I love the guy, but I don’t think it’s my place to tell him when a record’s hot, I’m not a DJ. It needs to be coming from Gary Chandler. And I don’t want to speak for Gary Chandler—and please, I don’t want this printed as if I’m talking for Gary—but I don’t know, I’ve never asked Gary does he have conversations about records if he has a hit. I don’t know if he talks to Blast, I don’t know if Gary talks to King James and they communicate about records that they love. At least I don’t see it.


  1. June 12: MC Serch x Nas x MichiganHipHop « Speech Is My Hammer… says:

    […] +MC Serch Interview (MichiganHipHop):In an in-depth interview with the emcee-turned radio personality/music publisher/TV host, MC Serch tells how he keeps it Hip Hop in an industry that does the opposite, gives ideas on how Michigan can expand its reign, and why serves as a better eye for talent than he does. +“Nas Won.” (HipHopDX): In a column on Speech Is My Hammer, I review Nas & Green Lantern’s The Nigger Tape, give my new opinions on the axed “Nigger” title, and talk about what could have been. – First the two worked together for Nas’ classic album Illmatic, of which Serch was the executive producer. (We know who Jay paid, god, Serchlite Publishing) Now, the two reunite (sorta) via I’m ill wit it, so deal wit it. ©Dilla […]

    December 20th, 2008 at 3:44 pm

  2. True New Yorker says:

    I think M.C. Serch is someone that knows real Hip Hop talent!!! I mean look who he messed with NAS, OC two hot a$$ M.C.’s!!! “Time’s Up” is still one of my all time favorites!!! And the D is just like N.Y. when it comes to Hip Hop, they have that true understanding of the culture!!! I am also surprised that the “D” have not had more Hip Hop superstars!!! I remember when “BOSS” was blowing up reppin the “D”, and she was hot!!! I heard people flipprd on her because they found out that her back round was suspect!!! But that should not have mattered, because she was still reppin Detroit and doing her thing!!! People in N.Y. was even digging her!!! The “D” is under rated when it comes to this HIP HOP culture, and I don’t think “Eminem” should be the face of Detroit Hip Hop!!!!

    October 6th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

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