Of all the people I’ve met in my 17 years as a journalist, one of my absolute favorites has to be Pete Nash.
How would I describe the man? Smart. Determined. Wise. Detailed.
Yup, dope. Before Pete became one of our country’s top baseball historians, he was best known as Prime Minister Pete Nice from the rap trio, 3rd Bass (the other members were MC Serch and DJ Richie Rich). If you’re my age, or around my age, and you dug the genre, odds are you spent a large chunk of time listening to Pop Goes the Weasel, the greatest Vanilla Ice-bashing song in the history of humanity (really, it’s the video that does much of the bashing). Hell, at the University of Delaware we wore that thing out. In their prime, the members of 3rd Bass were everywhere—sitting on Arsenio’s couch, touring Europe with PE, gracing magazine covers. On and on.
Nowadays, Pete has his hands full. He has written myriad books, and recently completed the first draft of Hauls of Shame: The Cooperstown Conspiracy and the Madoff of Memorabilia. He owns a tavern, McGreevy’s 3rd Base Bar, in Boston, and has been heavily involved in efforts to clean up the sports memorabilia business. His website, Hauls of Shame, is here.
Here, he talks Flavor Flav, Joel Youngblood and why rap will never be as good as it once was.
Prime Minister, welcome to the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: You strike me sorta like Superman. Clark Kent—Pete Nash, baseball historian/collector. Superman—Prime Minister Pete Nice, New York MC/rollin’ with the blunts and hos/Vanilla Ice slayer. Is this a fair analogy?
PETER NASH: Perhaps in the old days that would be a fair assessment, and my radio-show DJ was DJ Clark Kent (of Dane Dane fame). Having hung up the mic, though, I doubt I be displaying any super-powers in MC battles. I never was a blunt roller. That being said, try to drive around on tour in the same van with Redman and Cypress Hill for a few weeks.
One might call it bizarre, the whole change from rap to what I do now. I have to say, when I was doing the music it was always the real me. But when you are spitting lines to crowd and performing, you are basically, not a character … but if you’re doing a song, obviously you’re gonna have some flair or charisma that you might not bring to everyday life. Most MCs, if you see them on the street, outside of the way they physically look, they’re not entirely the same people from stage. I mean, I’ve clearly changed. It’d be strange if I haven’t changed—I’m 44 and I hung up the mic a long time ago. There’s a lot to be said for MCs who hang it up at the right time. But back when I was the Prime Minister in my prime, I was still the same closet baseball nerd I am now.
J.P.: When was the last time you rapped before an audience?
P.N.: Off the record, it was a short freestyle I did at a neighbor’s birthday a couple of years ago. You can use that, actually. But the actual performances were probably … Serch and I did Woodstock 1999 in Utica, N.Y. … I think we played before Kid Rock and Funkadelic played. That was probably our last official show. Oh, and we did Tommy Hilfiger’s birthday party around that time. His brother [Andy] knew Serch, and somehow he asked us. We got some free suits out of the gig. Which I still have. The last tour we actually did was a European thing … a couple of festivals in Norway and Sweden.
J.P.: How did you know it was time?
P.N.: Well, one is when you’re not making new music. And when you’re married, and Serch at the time had one or two kids. It’s very hard to maintain that life on the road in a group and have a family. You reach a certain point when you become more mature and you have to move on.
J.P.: I recently spoke with the drummer for Blind Melon, who dismissed his band’s legacy as tiny. What about the 3rd Bass legacy?
P.N.: I mean … we definitely, for the genre we were in, we definitely could have done more albums and made more of a mark. But for the short time we were in the studio and performing, in terms of race relations … you can argue that the Beastie Boys were the first white group before us. But you can also say we were the first legit white group and the first integrated group. Those are feathers in our cap, in terms of race relations. And maybe it’s egotistical, but I believe we’re much more than a footnote.
J.P.: Do you listen to rap now?
P.N.: I do, but not to the extent that I’d know the album tracks. A lot of the stuff is just so … safe. Easy. The chorus with the singing … it all seems very plastic. But every once in a while I hear a hit that would stand out in any time period. Jay-Z clearly has those types of songs. I hear good work all the time, but I’m generally much happier listening to old-school hip-hop.
J.P.: You spent a lot of time touring with Public Enemy at the height of their popularity. What was that like?
P.N.: Amazing. Just amazing. We toured all over Europe at least twice with P.E. The crowds were absolutely ridiculous—people passing out, the places so jammed. Just nuts. The irony was that, at the time, P.E. was getting a lot of attention for the comments made by Professor Griff, and some of that drama that was turning some whites off—and here we were, white rappers on the road with them. And you know what? They were great guys. Great. I remember having a conversation with Chuck D in a hotel lobby. We were sitting on our bags waiting for the bus. He was asking about our new album, and this was when cassettes were still big. And he said, “You’ve gotta remember to make the A side of a single the same length as the B side, because when that happens the tape flips over at the end of the track and immediately plays the other song. It doesn’t give the kid listening any time to hear silence and get another tape. He was right on top of things—promoting, marketing. Just very smart and way ahead of his time. But at the same time he had to control Flavor Flac, who was all over the map. Man, did I love that guy. He was just … superb … would give you the shirt off his back. But he was also had this little problem called crack, and that’ll fuck anyone up. I remember one time, we were in a hotel in Scotland, and Chuck D got the phone bill for the trip and he couldn’t believe it—Flav had spent something like 10,000 pounds calling his different baby mama’s for two-straight days. He was nuts. He’d knock on our hotel door at 6 a.m. and ask me and Serch to follow him around town. He’d take 40 random kids to McDonald’s for breakfast. Just … because. When we were in an airport in Germany, Flav fell to the floor near the security check and went into convulsions on the floor and started spitting up loads of blood like he was dying. Chuck and the S1W’s were coming to his aid and all of a sudden Flav jumped up on his feet, and said “Fake blood, G! From the magic store with Pete and Serch! Yeah BOYEEE!”
PE had this strong social message, and it was rooted in black self-reliance. But it was also entertainment. We got along very well.
J.P.: Do you feel like you were in the heart of rap’s golden age, or did it come before or after you?
P.N.: I’ll have to be the grumpy old rapper and say it passed already—from the early-to-mid 1980s up until 1992-93. There were just so many innovative groups, in terms of creativity and things done with sampling, which you don’t see now. The things done with beats, the DJs so intertwined with music, vinyl records. On and on. Computers are great, iPods are great—but they can’t replace what once was.
J.P.: You guys had a pretty good beef going with Vanilla Ice, no?
P.N.: Nah, not really. We dissed Ice in Ace in the Hole, but that was the worst of it. A funny thing happened, though. A friend of our producer lived across from John’s Pizza in New York. When Vanilla Ice was in town for the Grammy’s, he—coincidentally–stopped at John’s Pizza. He got out of his limo, got a slice, waved to the press. Well, this kid opens his window and, from across the street, shoots Vanilla three times with his bb gun. Ice jumped back into his limo and drove off.
Really, our beef was with MC Hammer. He had dissed Run DMC in an interview. We were managed by Russell Simmons, we knew Run and Jay and DMC well. They took us under their wing when we were first coming up. Obviously they’re the godfathers of rap. So we were in the studio recording, and when we did the Gas Phase I said, “Hammer, shut the fuck up.” Then in The Cactus I said, “The Cactus turned Hammer’s mother out.” It was just a play of words on his song, not meant to literally offend his mother. But Calvin, his brother, called Def Jam, just flipping out. He started threatening us over the phone. Well, we went out to Los Angeles for an album party at the Ritz, and Russell comes to our hotel and says, “Hammer has put out a hit on your guys with a gang.” He was serious. They assigned all sorts of security for us, and we had to meet with a guy who had gang concoctions, and he called the hit off.
J.P.: So if Hammer shows up at your bar now, do you greet him warmly?
P.N.: Vanilla Ice—without a doubt. But Hammer put a hit on me. That’s sorta big.
J.P.: It seems like nowadays people accept white rappers as rappers—period. There’s not nearly as much quirkiness or, “Whoa, He’s white!” to the whole thing. What was it like when you were coming up? And do you think 3rd Bass being led by white MCs helped or hurt your music careers?
P.N.: I really don’t think people could relate nowadays to the landscape back then. When we were coming up in the game there was really no one else, anywhere. Serch and I were preceded by the first white MC, Lord Scotch aka Kid Benneton. I was in a group with Scotch called the Servin’ Generalz before I hooked up with Serch to start 3rd Bass. Serch and Scotch (whose brother is writer Jonathan Lethem) went to Music and Art and used to rhyme with Slick Rick and Dana Dane. Sure there was a “whoa” factor seeing a white kid rhyme, but that only lasts so long. Hits are hits. Being the mighty whiteys actually worked against us getting a record deal for a while.
J.P.: In 1994, you released your only solo disc, “Dust to Dust.” I’ve had two of my four books sorta flop, and it crushed me. How did it feel to have a CD not sell well? And, looking back, how would you rate the disc? In fact, how would you rate yourself as a rapper?
P.N.: Daddy Rich and I were very happy with that record and the critical acclaim it got, but in the record biz its all about moving the product. I’m not sure Russell Simmons really pushed our solo records—I think they just wanted a quick 3rd Bass reunion that never happened.
It’s good to have at least one record show up in the rare record bin. I’ll rate that record a straight B. Miss Crabtree gave me a B+ as an MC.
J.P.: I’m not just saying this because you’re here—you’re a helluva baseball writer. Great detail, rich analogies. To you, is writing writing? Is lyric writing and book/essay writing the same boat?
P.N.: Thanks. Writing definitely is writing, but writing rhymes offers a bit more of a creative release than my writing nowadays. I guess I’m putting the English degree to good use. Writing rhymes also requires less proof-reading. Baseball historian Dorothy Seymour Mills is nice enough to proof a lot of my articles, and her mark ups show that I should probably go back to school Dangerfield-style.
J.P.: Why the love of baseball? How do you explain such devotion? It’s just a game, isn’t it?
P.N.: Born in Queens and having a father who grew up close to Ebbets Field as a Dodger fan, it was hard not to get sucked into all the nostalgia and history—plus its just such a great game in its simplest form. Plus I had some early experiences that got me hooked. My Uncle Roger took me and my Dad to Shea for my first game against the Cubs in 1973. Uncle Rog was friends with Fergie Jenkins and I ended up in the visitors clubhouse with Fergie standing in his jock-strap giving me a Cubs team signed ball. Need I say more?
J.P.: You own a Boston bar, McGreevy’s 3rd Base Bar, with Dropkick Murphys’ band member Ken Casey. Operating bars/restaurants always strikes me as great idea/nightmarish reality. Agree or disagree? And do you permanently smell of Budweiser?
P.N.: We have managers who run the day to day, so I’m not pouring the ale. My problem is more in the weight department, eating too many Beckett-Burgers. We offer a huge burger with Josh and money goes to his charity, and the pounds on me.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH PETER NASH
• MC Serch and you agree to a 12-round boxing match: Who wins, and how?: How could I hit a guy with glasses?
• Same question, only insert “Vanilla Ice” for search: Can I use a Louisville Slugger
• How much would you pay for a Ken Griffey, Jr. Upper Deck rookie card?: I’ll give you five bucks for one with nice rounded corners. Card grading is the biggest scam in history.
• Any chance—ever—of a rap comeback? Why or why not?: I almost thought you were asking if rap as a music form would come back. Yes, I will come back when hip-hop does.
• Would you rather spend two weeks in isolation with an eternally singing Celine Dion or a seven-headed cow who can’t control his bladder?: You could still milk the cow, right. Throw in two weeks worth of Lucky Charms and Capt. Crunch and I’ll take the cow.
• Best five rappers of all time?: Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Biggie Smalls, Grand Puba, Just-Ice (honorable mention: Sir Ibu)
• Is it true 3rd Bass had a reunion with a fake you?: No, it was Serch’s 40th Birthday Party in Brooklyn and I couldn’t make it. And, yes, a fake Pete Nice was in the house, but no performance.
• You’re starting a baseball team—who do you take first: Joel Youngblood, Bobby Meacham or Wayne Krenchicky?: I’ll go with Youngblood, but I was really hoping you were going to say Steve Henderson. Now he had potential.
• What song do you approach the plate to?: Bucktown by Smif-n-Wessun.
Quaz 1: Wendy Hagen
Quaz 2: Chris Burgess
Quaz 3: Tommy Shaw
Quaz 4: Russ Ortiz
Quaz 5: Don McPherson
Quaz 6: Manny Mota
Quaz 7: Geoff Rodkey
Quaz 8: Meeno Peluce
Quaz 9: Karl Mecklenburg
Quaz 10: Amra-Faye Wright
Quaz 11: Phil Nevin
Quaz 12: Jemele Hill
Quaz 13: Drew Snyder
Quaz 14: Roy Smalley
Quaz 15: Michael Shermer
Quaz 16: Kathy Wagner
Quaz 17: Travis Warren
Quaz 18: Scott Barnhardt
Quaz 19: Chris Jones
Quaz 20: Cindi Avila
Quaz 21: Crystal McKellar
Quaz 22: Dan Riehl
Quaz 23: Prime Minister Pete Nice