Paul C. McKasty: the Legend, the Tragedy, the Story of an Era

The little-known rise-and-fall of one of hip-hop’s greatest production pioneers.

Paul C. McKasty behind the boards of 1212 Studio in Jamaica, Queens. (Based on this 1988 photo taken by rapper Kwamé.)

Part I: “Your favorite producer’s favorite producer.”

I n mid-July of 1989, 24-year-old Queens, New York producer Paul C. McKasty was murdered while sleeping in a basement bedroom of the one–story home he shared with his brother and mother. Having just engineered Biz Markie’s soon-to-be mega-hit “Just a Friend” and Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First”, in addition to engineering and producing significant portions of Eric B. & Rakim’s third album Let The Rhythm Hit ’Em, McKasty sat on the precipice of hip-hop super-producer status at the time of his death.

Better known as Paul C to those who collaborated with him, McKasty made his name engineering and producing rap records. Yet it was also his proficiency with bass guitar, the E-mu SP-1200 sampler, and various mixing boards gave that him a unique skill set unmatched by many other engineers. By the age of 24 his ability to manipulate finite elements of sound was already several years ahead of its time. According to an interview with engineer, producer, and frequent collaborator CJ Moore in the 2013 documentary film Memories of Paul C. McKasty, when Paul died, the world lost “a man who was going to input some of the baddest shit that was ever heard on this planet, because he was that serious.”

“Paul C To The Organisms” YouTube playlist. Click play to listen while you read.

Legendary Roots and Tonight Show drummer Questlove seconded this lofty praise on his Instagram in August of 2016, describing Paul thusly as, “The engineer/producer/beatdigger who inspired your fav[orite] producer’s favorite producer. Like seriously–next to Marley Marl Paul was one of the first cats to (sic) try ideas no one thought to ever do on such a limiting machine. Damn near the J Dilla of his day.” Being held in such high esteem also extended beyond his peers and fans, as Complex anointed him as “one of the most important figures in the development of sampling” in 2012.

Although McKasty is revered by several hip-hop elites, he died in a pre-internet era before the advent of social media, a time when rap was still emerging as a cultural force rather than the the global powerhouse it is today. September 20th, 2017 would’ve marked his 53rd birthday, but the general public still knows very little about the motive or people responsible for Paul C’s tragic fate. As a result media attention surrounding his murder was limited, and details about his life and death are scant.

“A man who was going to input some of the baddest shit that was ever heard on this planet, because he was that serious.” –CJ Moore

Little is known about Paul, but for his family, friends, and people who worked with him, the senseless death of such a kind and giving soul left a psychological scar that endures today. “That dude, man, he showed so many people love. He was really unique,” world renowned beatsmith Large Professor said while describing his passing on the Microphone Check podcast. “Someone just couldn’t handle that.”

Whatever the motive, the person or people responsible for Paul’s death were never brought to justice. Despite having his murder featured on America’s Most Wanted and the subsequent arrest of suspect Derrick “Little Shine” Blair in February of 1990, no convictions were made and McKasty’s case remains open today. Adding to the situation’s cruel finality, the beloved 1212 Studio located at 92–32 Union Hall St. in Jamaica, Queens–where Paul made the bulk of his music while he was alive–was ravaged by a fire six years after his murder, further obscuring his place in hip-hop history.


Paul McKasty, Stuart Rifkin, and Lindley Farley (left to right) as Mandolindley Road Show circa 1985. Photo used with permission.

Part II: The Mandolindley Road Show, the Origins of “Paul C,” and the Early Days of Studio Mastery

Paul C’s career began several years before his passing in the early/mid-80s with the pop/rock group The Mandonlindley Road Show. The band’s rehearsal videos on YouTube may surprise scholars of his work, as their recordings sound almost nothing like the music he went onto complete after leaving the Road Show. Their style seems far-removed from the boundary-pushing drum programming McKasty would master just a few years later, but this early era spent with the group were instrumental to his development as a producer. “He was a historian about pop music and soul music,” Road Show lead singer and longtime friend, Lindley Farley explains. “And that’s what informed everything he did.”

Beyond informing Paul’s own sensibilities, his encyclopedic knowledge of music started to influence the group’s sound and style. McKasty wasn’t sampling yet, but he showcased an ability to interpolate the work of others by building songs around riffs from musicians like James Brown. He had a particular passion for funk and soul–to the point that he renamed himself Paul Charles (Paul C) after Ray Charles–but he was also well-versed in many other genres of music. “He knew more about The Beatles than I did,” Farley admits. “And the source of this was not just him, but his older brother John, who had a huge record library in the house. So the resources were there for us, and that’s what Paul was always listening to.”

“He was a historian about pop music and soul music. And that’s what informed everything he did.” –Lindley Farley

McKasty’s focus started to shift towards working behind the boards when the group recorded their self-titled debut album at Hi-Five Studios in 1985. Musician and producer Moogy Klingman–a founding member of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia who also shared the stage with Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, and other rock heavyweights during his career–oversaw much of the mixing and mastering and acted as a mentor to the 20-year-old McKasty. Farley and Road Show drummer Stuart Rifkin enjoyed the studio work, but McKasty showed a willingness to put in the additional hours necessary to acquire true mastery–an early sign of the dedication and work ethic that would become his trademark. Although he still enjoyed playing bass, it was clear he had a special gift for producing and working behind the boards.

Despite landing some impressive gigs at venues like the legendary Max’s Kansas City , Mandonlindley Road Show’s time together was short-lived and the group disbanded after releasing their first album. Farley and McKasty remained collaborators and friends, but Road Show’s self-titled debut was the last time the group as a whole worked together in an official capacity. “Then he went to the Jamaica (Queens) music studio where all the creative stuff was happening in Queens on the hip-hop scene,” Farley says. “That’s when he really took off.”


Black By Demand’s 1989 12" “All Rappers Give Up” — produced by Paul’s close friend and collaborator CJ Moore, mixed by Paul C, featured in the YouTube playlist. (Based on original 1988 artwork.)

Part III 1985–86: From Bedroom Producer to Early Days at 1212 Studio

Before he made his way to 1212 Studio, Paul worked out of a DIY bedroom setup that eventually transitioned into his Rosedale garage. It was here that he caught the attention of the Clientele Brothers, a pioneering Queens rap group known for their high-energy live shows during the early and mid-80s. Impressed with Paul’s mixing and mastering skills, group members Will Seville and Eddie O’Jay started working with McKasty before he’d relocated to his garage. “We used to rap with Paul when his little recording setup was in his bedroom man,” remembers Eddie.

Though the group never put out an official release with Paul, working with The Clientele Brothers led to a another important career transition–his connection with rapper Mikey D. The Laurelton, Queens MC had already earned himself a reputation destroying microphones and was eyed by The Clientele Brothers as a potential group member. When Eddie and Will presented Mikey with an opportunity to work with someone who understood the intricate aspects of post-production, he was eager to meet Paul. “To be honest with you, I was going over there expecting to meet a brother,” Mikey D tells me. “Especially when they said he’s from Rosedale, 147th.”

During their initial meeting Mikey was taken aback when he realized Paul was white. When Paul started playing him instrumentals from his collection, his jaw hit the floor. “The beats that he played blew my mind,” he remembers. “At that time, that was unheard of. To be that dope and be white. That just blew my goddamn mind.”

Mikey D and his DJ Johnny Quest eventually invited Paul to become the third member of Mikey D & The LA Posse, making them the only group he would ever be an official member of. Mikey likens Paul’s work at the time to the legendary Rick Rubin, even hinting that Paul had a superior sound. “Paul C had soul,” he says. “He had the street stuff that cats was looking for. Rick Rubin, his beats were dope but they were something that you would expect to come from a person like that. The beats that Paul C was playing, you wouldn’t expect, especially when you first met Paul.”

Cover art for Mikey D & The L.A. Posse’s 1987 single “My Telephone”/”Bust A Rhyme Mike”.

Though Mikey D and Paul’s earliest sessions took place in Paul’s garage, an unexpected opportunity to upgrade their recording situation presented itself when Paul went to 1212 Studio in Jamaica, Queens, to buy a keyboard voice synthesizer [1]. The aura of the place captivated Paul right away and he asked 1212 employee Mick Corey for a job. Won over by the young musician’s enthusiasm, Corey gave him the green light and made him work his way up from grunt work to mixing. “Paul was green. I showed him a few things. He started doing sessions and generally took off from there,” Corey told the New York Daily News for McKasty’s obituary.

It wasn’t long before Paul was sneaking Mikey D and Johnny Quest in after hours to work on their group project. Although Mikey D had already been impressed by Paul’s skill set, he saw him take things to yet another creative plateau during these sessions. One night Paul recorded Mikey, who was a novice beatboxer, making three separate percussion sounds with his mouth. Then he loaded them into his SP-12 sampler, eventually sequencing the simple sounds into a flawless beat. “He made me sound like I could do the beatbox on ‘Bust A Rhyme Mike’. He put that whole song together from those three little things that I did,” Mikey remembers.

Mikey was impressed by Paul’s creativity on “Bust A Rhyme Mike”, but it was another session with famous beatboxer Rahzel for the group’s “I Get Rough” single that left him in complete awe. After Paul recorded Rahzel making bass tones with his mouth, he sampled the tones into his SP-12, changed their pitch, and replayed a famous bassline with them–a level of sampler manipulation that was almost unheard of at the time. “Rahzel didn’t know that his voice was going to become a bassline,” says Mikey. “It’s not like Paul told Rahzel to play ‘Brick House’. He caught something from what Rahzel did earlier like a bass and then he played it himself. It’s like he programmed him into the keys to become a key on a piano [2].”

Rahzel seconded Mikey D’s amazement with Paul’s vocal sample manipulation in Dave Tompkins’ seminal 2001 article on Paul C for Big Daddy magazine. “He was one of the first to put together a song that was all vocals,” Rahzel said. “The only person who came close to what Paul was doing was Bobby McFerrin. And this is ‘85.”

As incredible as Paul’s early production was, he was only getting started. As he honed his craft during his 1212 sessions he would continue to reimagine what people thought was possible with sample-based music in the coming years.


The original 12" vinyl for “Give The Drummer Some”. People are still deconstructing Paul’s drums, production, and use of panning on this song. (Drawn from 1989 album artwork.)

Part IV: Navigating the Bridge Wars and Next Level Drum Dissection

Whether it was innate talent or a product of his relentless work ethic [3], Paul’s endless string of 1212 Studio sessions started to pay off. A mere two years after his first production credit, opportunity came knocking and McKasty produced Ultramagnetic MC’s “Give The Drummer Some” off their Critical Beatdown debut in 1988.

“Give The Drummer Some” saw Ultramag producer Ced Gee and Paul breaking down geographic barriers in the name of good music, as the recording of Critical Beatdown took place at the height of a legendary Bridge Wars that pitted the Bronx and Queens boroughs against each other. Despite the images of glitz and glamour the Big Apple conjures in the minds of many Americans today, this was a far different and much more violent time for NYC. In 1989 alone there were 1,896 reported murders, an astonishingly high number compared to the 330 reported in 2016. In an interview with journalist Angus Batey, Ultramag MC Kool Keith recalled the environment in the Bronx at the time. “When I was making Critical Beatdown, people was getting killed in my projects. People were throwing other people off the roof. Right then, making that album, I was still living that type of lifestyle: urban centred, in the core of New York City,” he said.

It may sound overly dramatic, but a simple train ride from the Bronx to the rival Queen borough could put you in harm’s way. “The fact that Paul and Ced Gee worked together on all this Ultra stuff is such a fascinating and under-the-radar thing in terms of what was going on in the culture at that time,” says best-selling Go The Fuck To Sleep author, Barry scriptwriter, and Paul C fan Adam Mansbach. “The dominant beef of that era was BDP and the Juice Crew. Behind the scenes of this whole Queens/Bronx shit, one producer is taking the train to the other one’s borough to work [4].”

“My man Paul C, he got the bass pumpin.’” –Ced Gee

As the Bronx’s Boogie Down Productions and Queens-based Juice Crew traded lethal lyrical jabs with songs like BDP’s “The Bridge Is Over” and MC Shan’s “Kill That Noise”, the Paul C/Ultra Critical Beatdown collaboration required long, late night Bronx-to-Manhattan-to-Queens rides via the 6 and E trains from the Ultramagnetic MCs. With each trip the group risked hostile interactions and the possibility of having any gear or records they brought with them stolen. “That’s the greatness of Paul C,” says Boston MC and Almighty RSO member Twice Thou (then known as E-Devious), who worked with Paul C the week before his murder. “Even though there was that type of warish thing going on in New York with those boroughs, to go and get this music by Paul C, in a crazy way, it was worth the risk.”

Despite tension between rivaling boroughs, these late-night sessions paid off, as “Give The Drummer Some” remains one of Ultramagnetic’s most revered tracks and one of Paul’s most impressive production feats. Beyond any broader cultural implications, Ultra producer Ced Gee and Paul challenged the basic sequences and simple drum loops that dominated the day by using sound design to add depth and texture to the song. Their sound manipulation continues to mystify producers today, including the legendary Pete Rock, who praised “Give The Drummer Some” for having “the illest drums I ever heard.” Despite his extensive knowledge of percussion samples, Rock still hasn’t figured out Paul C’s secret sauce on this track. “I thought maybe (Paul C) knew someone at Polygram that had James Brown’s [drum] reels,” he told writer Dave Tompkins in his Big Daddy article [5].

In addition to his reputation as drum sensei, Paul was known for taking meticulous care of his record collection. Every record was encased in a plastic sleeve with a special inner sleeve made of both paper and plastic to prevent dust buildup. According to Large Professor, a close friend of Paul’s who mastered the Emu SP-1200 sampler under Paul’s tutelage, the late Queen’s producer wore gloves while digging through records for samples, something Large Pro continues to do today in his honor. “Paul took it to the next level. His records smelled good,” he told Amoeba Records.

“It sounded like they threw it through the sand, baked it, turned it over, stepped on it, threw it under a truck, put it under a bus, put it behind the exhaust pipe, then put it on a turntable.” –CJ Moore

Although Paul accepted nothing less than perfection from his own records, he was also able to make good music out of whatever resources were available. His willingness to work with flawed sample sources was on full display when Paul turned the drums from Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud’s less-than-pristine copy of “Impeach The President” by The Honeydrippers into their hit single “Do The James”.

Those who witnessed the sorry condition of the record found it difficult to articulate just have rough it was. “It sounded like they threw it through the sand, baked it, turned it over, stepped on it, threw it under a truck, put it under a bus, put it behind the exhaust pipe, then put it on a turntable,” CJ Moore recalled in the Dave Tompkins piece. Despite the ravaged condition of the record, Paul flipped the drum break and several James Brown samples with ease.

It wasn’t long before “Do The James” transitioned from it’s crackly sample source to the radio frequencies and streets of New York. Famed radio DJ and hip-hop pioneer Mr. Magic broke “Do The James” in 1987 and within a week 1212 regulars heard it blasting through the windows of passing cars [6]. Off the strength of “Do The James” and “Girls I Got ’Em Locked”, Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud’s debut Girls I Got ’Em Locked album sold close to 450,000 units and reached #39 on the Billboard R&B/Hip album charts on December 17th, 1988, right behind hip-hop luminaries EPMD’s classic Strictly Business. For many artists, Paul C’s dexterous touch behind the boards helped them achieve a level musical feats they never thought possible.


Cover art for Stezo’s “To The Max”/”It’s My Turn”. Paul’s magic touch on the drums helped ignite a sampling craze.

Part V: Paul, Chris Lowe, and Stezo Ignite a Skull Snaps Sampling Craze

The Paul C magic touch was in growing demand when one time EPMD dancer and rapper/producer Stezo first met Paul. After inking a record deal with Sleeping Bag records through A & R Virgil Simms, Simms directed Stezo to 1212 to seek Paul’s engineering services for his 1989 debut Crazy Noize. “I guess that was like a major studio that Biz Markie was using, Rakim was using, a lot of cats was using,” Stezo explains. “So we went there to record because the label already had a good relationship with Paul C and they had already worked on a few things with Mikey D.”

An avid crate digger since age 14 with years of experience with the Casio SK-1 and Ensoniq EPS keyboard samplers, Stezo was no stranger to making his own instrumental creations with producer/fellow Paul C collaborator Chris Lowe and Stezo’s cousin Dooley-O. With their own extensive history of digging and sampling setting the beats on Crazy Noize apart from many artists of the day, Chris Lowe and Stezo forged an almost instant bond and Paul, who quickly became enamoured with their sound. “When we first went to 1212 we vibed with Paul,” Stezo says. “He was hanging around Large Professor and couple of other cats like that. We had some beats and Paul was like, ‘Yo, where ya’ll get these beats from!?’”

As proud as they were of their production, they soon noticed that Paul had the ability to bring their sound to the next level. “One thing Paul was great at is he could take a drum track and enhance it man,” Stezo says. “And I mean make the track crazy–he’d make it thicker than it originally was. That was his talent.”

“He was really unique. Someone just couldn’t handle that.” 
–Large Professor

Of all the tracks Stezo brought him, Paul was most impressed by the opening drums on “It’s My Turn”. The now-famous drum sample comes from the soul group Skull Snaps’ “It’s A New Day” off their self-titled release, a record Stezo had scored earlier from his cousin Dooley-O. “When Paul heard it he said, ‘Oh my god. This beat is so thick. I don’t even have to do nothing to it. But I gotta touch it, I gotta touch it,’” Stezo remembers.

“Paul C To The Organisms” Spotify playlist. Click play to listen while you read.

Amazed by the drum breaks’ ability to synch with any other sample they paired with it, Paul beefed up the drums and convinced Chris and Stezo to leave open, bare drums during the opening of “It’s My Turn”. Paul’s enhancing of the “It’s A New Day” drum break and the decision to leave it bare set off a sampling craze, as it quickly became an in-demand drum snippet, with many other artists re-sampling directly from Stezo’s song. Though the popular website WhoSampled lists 462 songs that sampled the legendary drums since 1989, Stezo’s track was the first official release to do it. “People were sampling it off my album because they said, ‘Nah, we got the original, but yours is even thicker Steve,’” says Stezo. “We’re like, ‘Yeah, because of Paul!’ We didn’t even know it was going to be a popular beat like it is today.” [7]

As Chris, Paul, and Stezo bonded during the making of Crazy Noize, Paul was also organizing another partnership outside of his work with Mikey D & The LA Posse that seemed as if it would launch him into another stratosphere of success. “Paul, Large Professor, and Chris used to stay at each other’s houses and vibe and just be up in the studio talking about new ideas,” Stezo tells me. “They were getting ready to put together a production company and MCA was gonna sign them.”

The production trio, which sounds akin to something like Diddy’s famous Hitmen producer team that dominated much of the 90s, were on the verge of signing a deal that rap producers weren’t offered at this point in rap music’s evolution. Although they were not an official entity yet, Stezo tells me they were already catching the attention of people like Biz Markie. Unfortunately, Stezo says “he died before they could really put the deal on the table.”


Part VI: Michael Griffith, Mob Violence, and Racism in a 1980s New York City

The stories of McKasty’s uncanny studio abilities could fill a book, but his unique position at a key moment in New York City and hip-hop history adds to his legacy. In addition to working through the geographic boundaries of the Bridge Wars with Ultramagnetic MCs and revolutionizing drum programming, Paul was a young white man who engineered and produced songs for mostly black artists. He was crossing racial boundaries at a time when tensions between the black and white communities in New York were high due to several high-profile instances of racist violence.

On December 20th, 1986, not long after Paul started working at 1212, the death of 23-year-old Michael Griffith in the mostly white area of Howard Beach, Queens sparked public outrage. Griffith, who was struck by a car and killed after fleeing an angry mob of white assailants, died about seven miles southeast of the Jamaica studio where Paul did the bulk of his work. The mob, armed with baseball bats and shouting “N*****s, you don’t belong here” to Griffith and his two friends, chased and assaulted the three men after an earlier exchange.

Mayor Koch didn’t try to subdue his outrage when he held a press conference to address the tragic case. ‘’This incident can only be talked about as rivaling the kind of lynching party that took place in the Deep South–this is the №1 case in the city,’’ he said. Griffith’s death, the ensuing protests, and prosecution of the men responsible all brought national attention to a deep racial divide within the city that would only grow during the late 80s. [8]

“He was a white guy in a street black genre and he was that dudethe best.” –Large Professor

As deep-seated tension and hatred outside of 1212 threatened to erupt into larger incidents of violence in certain parts of Queens, Paul and his collaborators continued to spend countless hours together making beautiful music. McKasty’s ability to navigate his situation during the complicated cultural and social climate of the time was not lost on those who worked closely with him. “His musical IQ was out of this world,” Chris Lowe said in a clip from the Birth Beats of Hip-HopLegend Of Skull Snaps documentary. “To this day I’ve never met nobody like Paul C. Paul was the most elaborate white dude that I ever met.”

Watching a white artist gain acceptance in the hip-hop community also left a lasting impression on Large Pro and showed him music’s unifying power. “Seeing Paul do his thing and get that acceptance, that showed me that this hip-hop shit was bigger than all that,” Large Pro told XXL in 2002.


Part VII: The Final Sessions

By the summer of 1989, word of Paul’s unique skill set stretched from Queens to Massachusetts and caught the ear of Boston rap group The Almighty RSO. Fresh off the release of their ’88 single “We’re Notorious” and eager to further their buzz by working with McKasty, the group trekked south to Queens to work with the esteemed 1212 Studio magician. “We came across Paul C by looking at Ultramagnetic’s album cover,” remembers group member Twice Thou, who later went on to create the Stop Snitchin’ t-shirts and was better-known then as E-Devious. “New York was the Mecca, so we wanted to go down there.”

Almighty RSO’s 1988 single “We’re Notorious”, released shortly before the group’s participation in some of Paul C’s final recording sessions.

The group loved Paul’s unconventional approach to production and wanted a chance to learn from him. “We had basically moved down there to work with him,” says Twice Thou. “He didn’t go by the book, that’s why we loved him so much.”

Renting a hotel in nearby Jersey City, Almighty RSO booked as much studio time as possible to make an entire album with Paul. “We were in the studio with him all day. He wasn’t recording with anybody else,” says Twice. “We’d probably get there around 10 and we’d be there until the wee hours of the night. He didn’t care, he was a studio junkie. Before he passed away we already recorded close to an album, maybe 10 songs.”

“We said our goodbyes and we’ll see you tomorrow.”
 
–Twice Thou

As soon as the RSO members walked into the studio with him, Paul took them under his wing and started showing them tools and techniques for expanding their sound. “Paul was all about teaching man. As soon as he met us, he began teaching us,” Twice Thou says. In an era often associated with a code of ethics that pressured producers to hold trade secrets close to the chest, Paul C was more than willing to pass on what he knew to others. “He wasn’t trying to hold on to it. He was very, very open.” [9]

The group spent so much time at 1212 in a short span that they even fell victim to local crime. “We were there so much our cars even got broken into while we were there recording,” Twice Thou says with a laugh. “People would clock us and know that, ‘OK, those cars, they got Mass plates on ‘em.’ We were pissed off but at the end of the day, it’s the risk that you take to come work with Paul C. And if my car gotta get broken into–oh well.”

After a long day at the studio on the night of Paul’s murder, Paul piled into a car with the members of RSO to catch a ride home. “We took him home,” says Twice Thou. “I remember that clearly. We sat in front of his house for a second. We talked about the next day, what we was going to work on. I think he said he was going into the house to work on some music, some beats and shit. We said our goodbyes and we’ll see you tomorrow.”


Paul C’s obituary published on July 24th, 1989 in the New York Daily News. (source: Dan Greenpeace’s Twitter)

Part VIII: Anger, Fear, Suspicion and Heartbreak

When the Almighty RSO arrived at 1212 the following morning, they noticed that Paul wasn’t there yet–which was unusual for him. Undeterred, they sat around killing time and working on rhymes. But as the minutes turned to hours, they started to sense something was very wrong. “An hour goes by he doesn’t come,” Twice Thou remembers. “We asked the people at the front, ‘Did he call? Is he on his way?’ Nobody knew nothing. Another hour goes by and now we’re starting to worry.”

As time ticked by they decided to go to Paul’s house to make sure he was okay. After they arrived, their worst fears were confirmed. “When we pulled up on his house, we seen a crime scene,” Twice Thou remembers. “We get out and as we get closer we realize it’s his house that all of this attention is geared towards.”

When the group started talking to the NYPD officers on the scene, the situation took a turn for the worse when they became suspects. “They didn’t put any cuffs on us or anything like that, but they were treating us like we had something to do with it,” he says. “They brought us in, they divided us up in different rooms and questioned each one of us separately. Everybody’s story was the same because it was the truth and it was really simple. But they were trying to see if they could pull a rabbit out of a hat.” Once the police realized they weren’t responsible and released them, the group had to deal with the brutal emotional aftermath of the situation. “After it settled in we were really heartbroken. We didn’t know what the fuck to do.”

That same feeling of overwhelming grief and shock rippled throughout Paul’s close inner circle. Large Professor, one of Paul’s closest friends and co-creators, was attending the New Music Seminar the day after Paul’s murder and had not yet heard the news. After a friend at the event told him that the rumor mill was buzzing with news of Paul’s passing, Large Pro hurried to the nearest phone to call Paul. “I was calling. No answer. And then I called the studio, and the studio manager, Mick, answered the phone,” Large Pro told the Microphone Check podcast. “I’m like, ‘Yo, can I speak to Paul.’ And Mick just like wailed, ‘Nooo! No, you can’t! Paul is dead.’ I’m like, ‘Ah, man.’ It just sent chills into my brain.” [10]

Beyond initial suspicions surrounding The Almighty RSO, rumors swirled around Queens and people developed their own opinions about who the responsible parties were. Every artist Paul had worked with was interrogated and the once friendly atmosphere of 1212 grew tense. Though none of the artists who worked with Paul were arrested in connection with his death, some of their reputations were forever tarnished and several careers were never the same.

“We were dropped from our label, our management gave up on us, people that were for us weren’t anymore. To me, it felt like we were blacklisted.” –Casanova Rud

Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud, who were coming off a Billboard charting album and two hit singles, were cast in a negative light despite being cleared of having any involvement in Paul’s murder. “They [the police] had the nerve to implicate us in his murder. Why? I don’t know,” Casanova Rud told Platform 8470 magazine in a 2012 interview. “The truth came out eventually, but it was too late. The damage was done.”

Paul’s mentoring and musicianship helped Super Love Cee & Casanova Rud’s “Girls I Got ’Em Locked” album sell close to 500,000 units.

In the years following Paul’s murder, the once proud Queens’ representatives Cee and Rud were now personas non grata in the eyes of many of their peers. With several top-notch Paul C-produced songs already recorded for their sophomore album, the duo found their career in an unexpected downward spiral after the death of their friend and mentor. “We were dropped from our label, our management gave up on us, people that were for us weren’t anymore. To me, it felt like we were blacklisted,” said Rud.

When Paul died at 24 years old, the reactions from his 1212 cohorts ranged from anger to disbelief, with artists like CJ Moore, Mikey D, and Stezo taking an extended hiatus from music. Many had difficulty accepting the reality of a young man with such a promising career losing his life [11]. Pharoahe Monch, who recorded a demo with Paul and Organized Konfusion groupmate Prince Po, planned on having McKasty handle the bulk of production duties on the their debut album. With Paul’s passing, the album’s trajectory was altered, and more importantly, Monch lost a close friend and mentor. “I just remember having so much anger about the situation and hate and really wanting to go out and fuck somebody up for no apparent reason,” Monch said in the film Memories of Paul C. McKasty. “I didn’t know what to do with the anger, I never experienced something like that.”

And for Stezo, losing someone he had connected with so quickly and planned on working with for the rest of his career was more than he could fathom. “We’d have grown old and been over each other’s houses, playing with the kids and shit. It hurt me man, it definitely hurt me man. It was all cut short. It took me a few years to get my shit together–my mind was fucked up,” he says.

Adding to the emotionally tense aftermath of Paul’s murder, many artists who had once been close with Paul’s family saw the relationship fizzle out and turn cold. “I put ‘In Memory of Paul C’ on ‘Freak The Funk’, the second single that we put out. I put his picture up there and I was the only artist that ever did that. When I did that, I got a call from his family,” recalls Stezo.

Although they expressed gratitude for the tribute to their deceased family member, they made it clear they wanted to sever ties with the artists from 1212. “I can understand why they were feeling like that,” says Stezo. “You just lost your son, you just lost your brother. Of course I would be the same way, especially at first. But it hurt me because the family wasn’t even like that. Paul wasn’t even like that. It made people change their attitude and the way they feel about certain people. And that was the last time I talked to them.”

“I didn’t know what to do with the anger, I never experienced something like that.” –Pharoahe Monch

As the search for the guilty parties continued, a potential lead developed when an eyewitness reported seeing Derrick “Little Shine” Blair leaving the McKasty residence with another unidentified man the night of the murder and later identified him in a lineup. Blair, who was also wanted on a Texas warrant at the time for a narcotics charge, was arrested four months later in Fayetteville, North Carolina in February of 1990 after the McKasty case appeared on New York’s Most Wanted and Crime Stoppers. “It makes a big difference,” McKasty’s sister Patricia said at the time of Blair’s arrest. “Paul was a very loving person and extremely talented. It’s very hard to feel like there’s any joy left in the world.”

The family’s hope for some sort of closure was short lived, however, when Blair was let go due to lack of evidence. Though several of the people closest to Paul have strong opinions about who the guilty parties are, the case remains unsolved today.


Paul started making beats on an SP-12 sampler in his home studio and later upgraded to his beloved SP-1200 drawn above. The sampler now resides in engineer and producer Nick Hook’s studio.

Part IX: The Legacy Lives On- Paul Sea Productions, Posthumous Releases, and The SP-1200

We will never know what other contributions Paul would have made as a person and musician if he were still alive today. Every single artist who had the honor of working with him agrees his career would have changed the game. “The hip-hop community lost a future icon, they lost a leader, they lost an example,” CJ Moore said of Paul’s loss at the end Memories of Paul C. McKasty to emphasize the devastating impact of his death.

Though it can never replace the loss of Paul, those that worked with him continue to keep his legacy alive in different ways. Large Professor, who still marvels at his time spent with McKasty as a close friend and understudy, named his production company Paul Sea Productions. “‘Sea’ was also a way to say that, through me, my namesake Paul would keep going,” he explained on Twitter. Other artists like Kev-E-Kev & Ak- B and Mikey D & The LA Posse have honored Paul by releasing long sought-after material they recorded with him before his passing.

Even members of rap’s newer generation who didn’t know Paul find ways to preserve his memory. Nick Hook, an engineer and producer who has collaborated with 21 Savage, Run The Jewels, Young Thug, and many others, is one such artist. His highly touted New York City studio is loaded with gear, from old school synths to samplers that have been out of production for decades. Tucked away in a back room is a SP-1200 hooked up to a 4-track cassette recorder from the 80s the same 1200 Paul C used many years earlier at Studio 1212.

“All these pieces of gear have stories.” –Nick Hook

Nick, who released his debut album Relationships in November of 2016 on Fool’s Gold records, came across Paul’s 1200 through Merry Jane editor-in-chief and producer/A & R Noah Rubin [12]. Well aware of the weighty expectations that come with owning such a coveted piece of gear, Nick wants people to know that Paul’s beloved sampler is getting some healthy use. “I’m here to use this shit man. I didn’t buy it for a museum piece. I want to carry on that legacy,” he says.

Nick believes Paul’s sampler still carries some of the energy from the esteemed original owner. It’s an energy he honors by putting it into today’s music. “We need to pull that [Emu SP-1200] out to channel certain energy. Not only the energy of the music, but the energy of the person who worked on it. That’s some real shit man. All these pieces of gear have stories,” says Nick.

With an innovative setup that would undoubtedly please the boundary-pushing McKasty, Nick has spent recent months mastering the Akai MPC-60 and SP-1200 by hooking them up to his 4-track cassette recorder and sampling Spotify off of his iPhone to make beats. “I’ve been developing some new sounds. This year is when I got really deep into it. Now I know how to use it with my eyes closed,” says Nick. While the fusion of Spotify and a vintage sampler might cause grumblings amongst hip-hop purists, it was experimentation and coloring outside the lines that made Paul C such a success [13].

“You can go to my house right now and there’s an SP-1200 in there ’cause that’s what he taught me on. It’s like letting my man know I’m still focused.” –Rakim

The belief that the machine Paul used can represent something much bigger is also held by those that worked with him. It’s for this reason that Rakim, who rhymed over Paul’s “Run For Cover” and “The Untouchables” on Eric B & Rakim’s Let The Rhythm Hit ’Em album, keeps an SP-1200 at his house as a remembrance of his mentor. “You can go to my house right now and there’s an SP-1200 in there ’cause that’s what he taught me on. It’s like letting my man know I’m still focused,” he said in Memories of Paul C. McKasty.


Stuart Rifkin, Paul McKasty, and Lindley Farley (left to right) joking around as Mandolindley Road Show circa 1985. Photo used with permission.

Part X: Paul C–The Story of Queens, The Story of an Era

Paul C worked with artists like Kool Keith, Large Professor, Pharoahe Monch, Rakim, and Rahzel before they became venerable rap icons. His drum programming, production, and use of panning inspired many iconic producers to rethink their beat making practices. Although he started out with lesser-known acts early in his career, artists like Biz Markie, Devo, and Queen Latifah were knocking on his door in the late 80s. Even Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones reportedly wanted a McKasty remix–though there is no evidence they ever recorded any material together. In just 24 years, he left an imprint on rap music that will last forever.

Beyond his contributions to rap music, Paul C McKasty’s story represents a very specific and unique time in the history of New York City. “It’s the story of that era,” says author Dave Thompkins, who wrote the definitive Paul C article for Big Daddy magazine in 2003. “It’s a story about Queens as much as it is a story about this guy and his records. It’s a story about New York at that time.”

“His musical IQ was out of this world. To to this day I’ve never met nobody like Paul C.” –Chris Lowe

As much as Paul’s biography captures the intersection of rap music’s emergence, race, and violence in a pre-sanitized New York City of the 1980s, he was also a beloved brother, son, and friend. It is important for those who were touched by his music and story to dig for information, document what they find, and help preserve his legacy. As Twice Thou tells me, “We must never forget Paul C. We must not forget what his full contribution would have been if he still was with us to this day.”

Many documents, photographs, and unfinished tracks are sitting in people’s attics, basements, and studios that can tell us more about Paul and his work. Mikey D recently unearthed a recording of Paul C playing his SP-12 live in 1987 during a Boogie Down Productions, Stetsasonic, and Mikey D & The LA Posse show. CJ Moore and several other artists have spoken in interviews about Paul C tracks that exist somewhere in the archives. Memories of Paul C McKasty director Pritt Kalsi also says that a video of Paul C making beats exists and is buried amongst hundreds of VHS tapes somewhere in New York City. And a police file full of documents from Paul’s murder case sits somewhere in a Queens police station.

Large Professor reunited with Paul C’s beloved SP-1200 in 2015. (source: Recloose’s Instagram)

It’s unlikely that all the fragments of McKasty’s life will ever be compiled into one central collection, but there are undoubtedly countless other pieces of his story awaiting rediscovery. With many remaining questions surrounding his life, death, and catalog of work, this tale does not have a convenient ending that ties all the loose threads together–there are still endless layers of complexity to uncover. And given the dark and tragic end to his life, there are likely people who would rather leave certain details and memories buried in the past. For these reasons, let it be known that this is only a partial telling of the Paul C McKasty story. Whether or not his full story is ever told–and his unsolved case is closed–remains to be seen.

In the meantime, his legacy and impact grows for those closest to him. On August 26th, 2015, Nick Hook collaborator Recloose shared a moving photo of Large Professor sitting with Paul’s SP-1200 for the first time in many years. You can see the former Paul C disciple lost in thought, staring at his teacher’s favorite piece of gear, a melancholy look on his face–perhaps pondering what might have been if Paul were around today. What kind of life would his mentor be living? How might hip-hop have evolved differently? He adjusts the volume on the SP’s 8th channel, almost as if he’s back at 1212 Studio working on a new project, ignoring the fact that the sampler isn’t even plugged in. ■

Paul C. McKasty (Sept. 20, 1964–July 17, 1989)

Listen to more of the “the illest drums I [Pete Rock] ever heard” by checking out the Micro-Chop Paul C. McKasty Spotify and YouTube playlists.


by Gino Sorcinelli 
with illustrations by Ariel Rudolph
edited by David Ma and Ariel Rudolph

If you enjoyed this piece, please consider following my Micro-Chop and Bookshelf Beats publications or donating to the Micro-Chop Patreon page. You can also read my work at HipHopDX or follow me on Twitter.

Footnotes

1. Though 1212 was an emerging studio during Paul’s years there, it would later become an industry hotspot. The studio, which incorporated six floors of recording space, was full of activity, with everyone from soon to be famous rock bands to early rap groups sharing the space. “1212 was like a college dorm with everyone hanging out in each other’s sessions and partying,” Mikey D said in an interview with Old To The New. “There were six floors of studios in that place. There’d also be a lot of rock bands practicing in there as well. Metallica used to work in that building.”

2. According to Mikey D, it appeared as if music was pre-programmed in Paul’s DNA. “Doing those beats was just natural for Paul. He didn’t even really have to try that hard, it just came so naturally to him,” he told Old To The New.

3. For further reading on the debate of innate talent vs. achieving mastery in a creative field through deliberate practice, check out Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated or Robert Greene’s Mastery.

4. Though the Bridge Wars never resulted in any deaths of the artists involved like the feud between Biggie and 2Pac, Queens group Screwball’s 2001 song “The Bio” indicates that violence was just around the corner throughout the multi-year beef. With from Blaq Poet like, “Niggas tried to diss the Bridge I came bustin’/Even quoted Doug E Fresh sayin we was nothin’/You don’t believe that, you know I called his bluffin’/Made ’em go buy a click and put ’em on patrol,” one gets the sense that cross-borough travel wasn’t something to take lightly.

5. Pete Rock isn’t the only one who remains in awe of McKasty’s deft drum programming. His ability to string drum sounds from different records into cohesive rhythms still stands out, and his extensive use of panning — using only the left or right side of a stereo recording to isolate specific instruments in samples — inspires wonder in an era where everything about production has been demystified by the internet. “He was a damn genius. Him, Pete Rock, and Timberland all revolutionized drum programming,” drummer, producer, and rapper J-Zone told Platform 8470 magazine in reference to Paul’s remix of Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud’s “Gets No Deeper”.

6. “I heard “Do The James” right outside of 1212 and I’d just heard the record in the studio, sounding like shit a week ago. It was such a big New York record,” 1212 employee Mick Corey recalled in the Tompkins piece.

7. Fellow 1212 engineer and Paul C collaborator CJ Moore provided some insight into more of Paul’s drum tricks in a 2014 interview with Unkut that partially explain how he was able to give it the beefed up sound. “Paul wound up putting the record together and the approach that he had was a little eclectic,” Moore said. “He started with the snare, then the hi-hats and then put the kick drum in. Then went around and got the hi-hats and re-sampled them and did all kinds of little things to it.”

8. There were several high-profile cases in New York City during the 1980s that involved mobs of white men attacking and killing black men. The most high-profile were the 1982 death of William Turks, the 1986 death of Spencer B. Spencer 3d, the 1986 death of Michael Griffith, and the 1989 death of Yusuf Hawkins.

9. Like many others quoted in this story, Twice Thou and fellow RSO members were mesmerized by Paul’s sample altering techniques. Apparently he was so advanced that he could take a sample and keep it somewhat close to the source while altering it enough to make it unrecognizable. “We had producers in our crew,” he remembers. “He used to tell us, ‘You guys sample? You want use a sample without having to clear it? Let me show you how to hide it.’ He would show us shit. We learned a lot from him man. And that will never go unnoticed.”

10. CJ Moore described another equally devastating scene pain and anguish with 1212’s Mick Corey, who had given Paul his start at the studio in 1985. “He comes down stairs and he just leans on the wall, opens the door and he ran and just hugged me,” Moore told Unkut in a 2014 interview. “I’m like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ Tears all through his face, and he says, ‘Paul is dead.’ He just fell apart. Me and him were sitting there for half an hour — fuck the session — we’re just losing it, together.”

11. Dante Ross, a producer and A&R known for his work with De La Soul and responsible for bringing acts like Wu Tang’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard to Elektra in the early 90s, lamented how McKasty’s life was cut short right before he realized his dreams.“Success was just around the corner for him, He had a unique sound that was totally his own,” he told the New York Daily News at the time of McKasty’s death. “The most tragic thing about this was that his dream was right around the corner.”

12. The 1200 drum machine and sampler, which was discontinued 20 years ago, continues to have a dedicated following due to its unique sonic qualities. Popularized by producers like The Bomb Squad, Easy Mo Bee, Large Professor, and Pete Rock, the the 12-bit lo-fidelity sample quality of the 1200 is seen as positive limitation by many producers, as the lo-fi sound has a certain warmth that is difficult to emulate. The limited sampling time of 10.07 seconds also made producers exercise their creative muscles in ways modern gear doesn’t.

While making a song, each beat could utilize a 10.07 second sample, with beatmakers chopping the sample into smaller pieces to fit on each of the 1200’s eight pads. They would then play the samples in a sequence to create their new composition. “The limited sampling time made you become more creative. That’s how a lot of producers learned how to chop the samples: We didn’t have no time, so we had to figure out ways to stretch the sounds and make it all mesh together. We basically made musical collages just by chopping little bits and notes,” Ski, who produced Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents” with the 1200, told the Village Voice.

13. Not satisfied to merely use Paul’s 1200 for his own music, Nick is also using the machine to help a friend archive a massive cache of SP-1200 disks used by Public Enemy in the 80s and 90s. After an NYU professor gifted the disks to his friend, the two decided to sift through the material and bring it back to life. For Nick, this kind of collaborative effort is the whole point of owning physical gear. “Tangible things bring us together,” he says.