The History of Shadez of Brooklyn

The brief story behind a New York hip-hop crew.

by Rob Stiles

Shadez of Brooklyn was an underground rap crew representing the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, whose members included rappers Chocolate Tye, Tee Black, Reverend Al, and Rambo.

Shadez of Brooklyn’s debut single.

The crew was closely affiliated with Mr. Walt and Rich Black of production crew Da BeatMinerz, both of whom handled the production on Shadez’s debut 12-inch, Change / When It Rains It Pours. The record was released on the Pandemonium Wrekordzlabel run by Mr. Walt and fellow BeatMinerz member DJ Evil Dee, who previously founded the seminal hip-hop group Black Moon in 1992.

As a crew, Shadez came together in part because of a chance encounter between DJ Evil Dee and producer Anthony Scott, better known as Tone Da Backbone. The son of a physician, Tone was a multi-instrumentalist who interned at Power Play Studio in Queens before opening up his own studio, DuKey Recordings, in his friend’s basement.

Clients included the likes of Large Professor and Onyx.

“I bumped into DJ Evil Dee at a store, and he asked me to sell some of his tapes,” explains Tone. “I took his tapes to a graffiti artist who designed crazy covers for each one, and started moving them. I always made sure to come correct with the money, and eventually I was asked to go on tour with Evil. Evil liked how I handled things our first few times out, and asked me to be his road manager.”

Tone’s business partnership with Evil Dee would eventually lead to a creative one with Da BeatMinerz crew. “They were hired to do a remix for which no sample could be used,” says Tone. “They knew I played a few instruments and asked if I could recreate the sample. This led to them incorporating my production skills on many of their records. I earned my first Platinum plaque for the ‘Return of the Mack’ remix we did for Mark Morrison.”

A unique crossing of paths would end up involving Tone Da Backbone in the creation of Shadez of Brooklyn. As Chocolate Tye recalls, “Me and Mr. Walt created [Shadez] while in the back of Tone’s van on our way to the studio. Walt was like, ‘Let’s make up a crew of some dudes just spitting their life story over dope beats!’”

It was Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon’s solo debut album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx that was playing in the van and inspired the formation of Shadez of Brooklyn. Speaking to Red Bull Music Academy, Mr. Walt further distilled the ethos behind the group down to a simple mantra:

“We were like, if Wu-Tang can do it, then we can.”

“Tye brought in his cousin Tee Black and the Reverend Al while I brought Billy Flames — all guys from the neighborhood that we grew up with.”

“When It Rains It Pours” is the second single of Shadez’s debut, which was pressed as a double A-side record. “Change,” the Mr. Walt-produced lead single on the A-side, features a relaxed jazzy beat that stands in stark contrast to Rich Black’s rugged boom-bap production on the AA-side. Shadez of Brooklyn’s aggressive cadences and indie hunger on “When It Rains It Pours” would also be further echoed by their peers on other mid-’90s releases such as Capone-n-Noreaga’s The War Report and O.C.’s Jewelz.

While an in-depth history of the group is hard to come by, Danish filmmaker Jesper Jensen recorded footage of Mr. Walt working in-studio with Shadez of Brooklyn in 1997. Now part of Jensen’s documentary film Beat Diggin’, the footage shows the crew working on material for their debut full-length album, which unfortunately would never see a full release.

After a handful of 12" releases, Shadez of Brooklyn disbanded in 1998 following disputes between Chocolate Tye and Mr. Walt.

Five unreleased tracks of album material from the 1997 sessions would eventually see release on a limited 300 vinyl record run in 2010 as the Pandemonium EP. The tracks were selected in collaboration with Da BeatMinerz and former UK-based DJ Chubby Grooves of Chopped Herring Records.