A&R Kookie Gonzalez Talks 'Paid In Full'

A Conversation With 'Paid In Full' A&R Kookie Gonzalez

Published Sun, July 10, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT

The story of 4th & Broadway Records' Kookie Gonzalez and his role in signing one of the greatest and most influential duos in Hip-Hop's history is a great example of being in the right place at the right time.

In 1986, Eric B. & Rakim released their debut single "Eric B Is President"/"My Melody" on Robert Hill's Zakia Records which was home to King Sun & D Moet and Brooklyn's rhyming DJ Cutmaster D.C.

"I actually did A&R on Eric B & Rakim," D.C. told The Foundation in 2014. "I was DJing at the Red Parrot and Eric gave me their demo with 'My Melody' and another song. Robert Hill listened to it, they went into the studio with Marley Marl and that was it." The structure of the recording industry is totally different today, but in 1986, the job of an A&R (artist & repertoire) was to go out and find talent. "Whether they were going out to watch people perform, or seeing talent at the office or listening to demo tapes, the A&R sought out new talent by any means," Gonzalez told ROCK THE BELLS. "We also gave feedback and once an artist was signed it was our job to find producers for the artists."

Gonzalez reveals that the job of A&R rep was the furthest thing from his mind. "I was at 4th and Broadway doing national radio promotion and I did regional radio promotion for Island Records, because we had two separate promotion teams. That was my job. A&R wasn't on my list of things to do then."

At the time, he reported to Greg Peck, who was Vice President of Black Radio at 4th & Broadway. Robert Hill came to meet with Peck to promote a new single called "Do Me Right" on Zakia by The Main Ingredient (a long-running R&B group which included famed lead singer Cuba Gooding, Sr.) Gonzalez sat in on the meeting, and this seemingly-routine gathering would lead to him being involved with the record that rap legend Kool Moe Dee once described as "a paradigm shift in Hip-Hop."

Everything about PAID IN FULL was rushed, even the back of the record cover. There's just a picture of the crew, barely any credits or anything. There was no time."

- Kookie Gonzalez, 4th & Broadway A&R Rep

"Robert was like 'By the way, I have this Hip-Hop group that we're pushing,' but Greg wasn't really into Hip-Hop—so he told Robert to give it to me so that I could listen. He gave me the record and I'd never heard of it before; but usually, all of the records that I got during the week I would listen to over the weekend. It was a Friday when he came by the office, and I was listening to Red Alert on KISS on Saturday night and I heard this song: 'Eric B. make 'em clap to this...'"

Gonzalez really liked "Eric B. Is President," which he didn't realize was right there on the floor next him. "I finally got around to listening to the record on Sunday and I hear 'make 'em clap to this...' and I'm like 'This is what I heard Red play!' It was late, but I didn't care. I called Greg and said 'That record that Robert Hill gave me. We have to sign them, I don't care what we have to do.'"

According to Gonzalez, promotion people didn't do A&R and vice versa, but Peck said that since he was so passionate about it the ok was given, and that's how "Eric B. Is President/"My Melody" went from Zakia to 4th & Broadway.

"Eric B. Is President"/"My Melody" was a regional underground hit on Zakia Records, but with 4th & Broadway's Island records affiliation, the record became a major mover, putting the name Eric B. & Rakim at the forefront of the kickoff of rap's "Golden Era." "You had different tiers of independent labels. You had the ones like Zakia and B-Boy, then you had the next more established tier—like 4th & Broadway, Select, Profile and Def Jam at the time," Kookie explains. "Some of us were distributed through majors, or we dealt with independent distributors throughout the country to get our records in the stores. 4th & Broadway went through independent distributors, but Island went through a major which was WEA—Warner-Elektra-Asylum."

Gonzalez explained that the transfer from Zakia to 4th & Broadway not only expanded the reach of the single, but created demand for a full length album.

"Now, we were under the gun, because retail and promotion are on two separate planets. Promotion wants to build up the momentum, while retail doesn't care about the momentum if there's a buzz on it. The stores want it in stock right away." And there was a process of building a full album on the strength of the gargantuan momentum of the hit single.

Zakia and 4th & Broadway is our record company"

- Eric B., Paid In Full intro

"The clock was ticking, so Eric & Ra would go into the studio, come back and play some songs for us. At the time they came back with 'Paid In Full,' 'Move The Crowd' and 'I Ain't No Joke.' At this point I knew that it was time to do the album, and it had become my project. I went to the legal department and told them that we needed to to the album and they checked with the owner, Chris Blackwell, who approved it, and we were ready. The thing is that the clock was ticking and Rakim is a perfectionist, you don't rush Rakim. But my retail department is beatin' me down asking when the album will be ready, and I have to explain that Ra is still working. It got to the point where we couldn't wait, we had to release the album."

Paid In Full followed the template of almost every full length rap album at the time. The previously released singles would be included on the album (sometimes as a remix), and many times instrumental versions or "mega mixes" were included. The rap album was not quite at the point where there was a plethora of new and unheard music on a full length rap release. "If you notice, Paid In Full is technically eight and a half songs," says Kookie. "We made it happen, but it really wasn't complete. Eric had to throw on some instrumentals which were 'Chinese Arithmetic' and Eric B. is On The Cut' [there was also 'Extended Beat' which is an instrumental version of 'Move The Crowd']. We had to do that because I couldn't fight our retail department any more, and even Chris Blackwell was saying that we had to put it out."

"The song 'Paid In Full' was one of the first ones that the guys did after we switched the first single from Zakia to 4th & Broadway. Things started moving so quickly that Eric never got a chance to get back to it, and Ra never really finished writing it. There's the long outro with the beat and scratching to make it appear like a full song."

Another issue was the album cover. Because Eric and Ra were insistent on using real money, a small hurdle was created. "They wanted to use real money, so we had to go the treasury department to get permission to use money on the cover," Kookie shared. "I'm not sure how it is now, but if you were capturing a photo of money and reproducing and distributing it, you had to get approval from the treasury department. We also had to rush to get sample clearances, even though there were no real rules to sampling yet. Sometimes guys would use a sample where somebody sampled something else. That happened with 'Pump Up The Volume' when we put that out. It was a huge record, but we didn't make a dime from it due to lawsuits."

Rakim and Kookie

Many people wonder why Eric B. & Rakim only released one album on 4th & Broadway, Gonzalez explains that it was a contractual technicality.

"When we signed Eric & Ra from Zakia, our legal department was still kinda new to this. They thought that the agreement and option period started once we put "Eric B. Is President"/"My Melody" out on 4th & Broadway. The option period started once Zakia signed them, so we were behind from the beginning. We didn't want to get stuck with artists that cant produce more than one single, and artists don't wanna get stuck with a label that keeps them on the shelf until who knows when. We always did a two single, full album option with six months in between - after six months if we don't make a move you're free to go wherever. That period started once Zakia signed them, and by the time we noticed it other labels were already invested in trying to get them. MCA was the biggest bidder. There was no way that MCA was gonna let us outbid them, we couldn't compete with MCA and their money. We had to let them go.

"Paid In Full went gold and ten years later I was at Palace Records working on the Crucial Conflict project and I received a call from Pat Monico who used to do distribution at 4th & Broadway. Pat was now at Universal Records and he was looking for contact info for Eric & Rakim because the album finally went platinum".

Reflecting on the legacy of Paid In Full and its influence on Hip-Hop and music in general, Gonzalez shares that they had no idea that the album would have such cultural impact. "When I hear great artists like Nas say how big the album was to them, it's kind of surreal," he says. "We were just putting something together and doing what we had to do to meet a deadline."

"Who knew that thirty years later, people would still be talking about this album?"

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