Real Rap Stories

S1 E4 | FULL EPISODE

Stezo

Hosted by James Billings, Real Rap Stories is a five part mini-series delving into the origin stories of some of hip-hop's most influential characters. Follow along as these hip-hop pioneers, family and friends discuss how they obtained success in a music genre that was still in its infancy. From the lyricist to the dancer, this series shows how each artist contributed to the hip-hop genre.

AIRED: July 22, 2020 | 0:12:29
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TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

♪♪

What's up, everyone?

And welcome to another episode of "Real Rap Stories."

I'm your host and hip hop historian,

James "Kraze" Billings.

In 1988, Steven "Stezo" Williams

was affiliated with supergroup EPMD.

In the beginning, he came aboard as a dancer

that launched a dance

in the music video "You Gots to Chill"

that took the hip hop culture by storm.

Later on, he ventured off on his own

only to release a hit single called "It's My Turn."

This episode highlights some of the career

and contributions of Steven "Stezo" Williams.

Let's take a look.

♪ Extra, extra, read all about it ♪

♪ It's me, Stezo, that has been doubted ♪

♪ I came to make ya move and groove and get down ♪

So, Chris and Dooley, they used to work together,

my deejay and Dooley.

They used to work together on beats and stuff.

I said, "Yo, bring that joint up to the studio.

I need that. I'mma mix that with the 'Atomic Dog.'"

And so I kind of gave it...

You know, I knew that beat was hot,

and we put that joint together, man, and people went crazy, man.

♪ That you never heard, protect my rhyme ♪

♪ Because my rhymes are preserved ♪

♪ I'm your hero, not no zero

♪ Just call me Stezo the Fly Negro ♪

♪ It's time for me to earn, so get up ♪

♪ 'Cause it's my turn

♪♪

Billings: In 1988, a young Steve Williams, known as Stezo,

had a chance encounter to meet, at the time,

one of the biggest acts in hip hop, EPMD.

Well, I was living at these projects in Brookside,

and there was a college right around the corner

called Southern Connecticut State University,

and Parrish was gonna school there at the time.

And it was a song on the radio, "You're a Customer."

♪ Do-do, do-do

♪ Time keep on slipping

I used to love that song.

I used to always be dancing to that song.

So I heard they was coming to this club

in New Haven called Brick 'n' Wood,

and I said, "Yo, I'm gonna go there. I want to..."

I'm a fan of theirs, so I said, "I'm gonna go there

and check that joint out and watch them do that song."

And when we went there, them dudes,

they had some dancers

that I guess was from around their way,

and they were dancing, but they wasn't really into the song.

They started performing,

and they wasn't really into the song.

They was just like... [ Humming ]

And me and my boy Divine,

we jumped out there and just started dancing,

and EPMD let us, like, let us rock.

Billings: Before meeting EPMD,

Stezo was a part of a local rap group,

which included friend and cousin Dooley-O and Chris Lowe.

Me and Chris Lowe was down with...

We had this crew called the KGB.

We started this crew called the KGB,

and we was doing our thing, and at this time,

Stezo was doing his thing with his crew.

Also, you know, there was a spot called Montego Bay

where they had rap contests,

and I believe Stezo won the first joint.

Lowe: Steven was...

Steven was a star of the town first.

Steven was a real good break-dancer around New Haven.

And before I even met Steve,

I used to see him at the clubs

in all the rap and dance contests,

you know, and winning them.

You know, Steve was slick.

He would...

Steve would write...

He would make up a dance

and then write a rhyme about the dance.

So when the average contestant is, you know, doing his song,

you know, it's over.

But Steve would do his song and drop the mic

and then do the dance to the song,

so that's how he used to catch them.

When I started writing rhymes, I said...

'cause I had my boys, these dudes,

Doc Terror and Scotty O and Ray Hicks.

These cats, they were like

the Treacherous Three in the projects.

I grew up in this projects called Brookside.

Big up to Brookside out the way, you know,

and the joint, these cats used to be spitting verses.

I mean, they're like...

♪ Lyrical, lyrical, hypothetical, medical ♪

They was, like, them lyrical-type cats,

so I used to be like, "Man, I ain't trying to rhyme.

They know all them crazy words.

I ain't trying to learn all them words," you know, so...

But being around them, that made me want to rhyme.

Billings: Steve, better known as Stezo,

caught the attention of Parrish Smith.

After the show,

Parrish was so impressed with Steve's dance moves,

he invited him out on tour with EPMD.

For Steve, this was the big break he was looking for.

Stezo met EPMD that night we all went to this spot

called the Brick 'n' Wood in New Haven,

and EPMD was performing.

And they dancers was getting loose,

but then Steve started dancing.

Yeah, we jumped right on the floor.

They were performing on the floor,

and we just, like, kind of pushed them cats out the way,

and me and my boy Divine was like...

We was going sick with the routines.

And they were at the party performing it,

and I thought Parrish was from New Haven

for a minute, and I was like...

But then I remember on the record, they said,

"From New York, straight talk,

America's best, cold wild Long Island."

So, but they was performing that,

and they had they dancers there,

and Steve and this dude named Divine...

Divine was from Brooklyn. We met Divine in the quarters,

and, you know, we brought him up to New Haven.

And Steve and Divine tore they dancers up

to the point where Parrish fired them dancers on the spot

like, "You're fired!"

Stezo started getting real ill on them,

you know, saying he was tearing they ass up,

and while, you know, Parrish was rapping,

I saw him look at him like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah,

we need him on our team."

Killing it, I mean, and Parrish and them was like,

"Yeah. Alright. They killing it. Alright."

♪ Relax your mind, let your conscience free ♪

♪ Get down, da da da

They doing they show, and then, after the show,

Parrish was like, "Yo, man, give me your number, man."

And so happened

I lived right around the corner from his college

where he was going to school, so he put me down, man.

He put me on.

Billings: Soon after that, EPMD would take Stezo on the road

on a 2 1/2-month Run's House tour,

which included Run DMC, EPMD,

Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, and Public Enemy.

Steve and Divine was on tour with EPMD after that night,

and that was the beginning of, you know what I'm saying,

his climbing of -- you know, climbing to success.

Billings: EPMD's popularity would grow tenfold,

causing their songs, sales, shows,

and videos to skyrocket to new heights.

Luck would have it that Stezo would be at the right place

at the right time.

As the group's success would take off,

Stezo's real recognition would come during the taping

of the "You Gots to Chill" music video.

Stezo was phenomenal.

Now, first time I saw Stezo,

this was in the Latin Quarters, man.

Watching Stezo dance was phenomenal

with the whole crew out there,

and I remember just how crazy his...

and limber he was doing his thing, man.

Steve was phenomenal with that dance, man.

But the craziest thing is when I saw Steve in the EPMD video.

And that's the dance you see in the video with him

and my man LG 56.

He's doing that yellow bounce. Bang, boom, bang.

And, you know, for those that know that dance,

you know, and it's crazy how that dance went worldwide, too.

But then the second single came out, "You Gots to Chill."

Now, this was a whole nother level

because "You Gots to Chill" had a video,

and once again, Steve was in the video.

He lit the video up.

And he started moving his legs in that video, man.

When I tell you, when I tell you me and Casanova Rud

rewind and watched it again and rewind it, watched it again,

and we both trying to do it, man...

Yeah, well, we did the video.

They said, "Steve, we gonna do this video,

'You Gots to Chill.'"

I was like, "Word?"

I said, "Alright, cool."

"We gonna do it in this ice factory in Brooklyn."

And I was like, "Alright, bet."

Now I was just happy to be in the video.

I ain't know this dance was gonna be, like,

worldwide like it was, but we...

I did that dance in the video, and I made the outfits.

Producer: And so what dance did you do and what did you call it?

-It was... -Name for it?

Stezo: Yeah, it was called the Steve Martin.

It was the Steve Martin.

I got the idea from "The Jerk," the movie "The Jerk."

And it's crazy because the dance that I did in the video

isn't really the Steve Martin.

Erick Sermon was doing the Steve Martin

when he was doing the wiggle legs on one of the shots,

but they automatically thought that was the Steve Martin,

so it kind of, like, stuck, that hop I was doing.

I was just freaking.

I ain't even gonna front. I was just like...

I was just rocking, like, doing stuff,

and I guess it looked good on camera, so...

Billings: According to Stezo,

he would learn a lot about the business.

But as fate would have it,

Stezo and PMD had some differences,

and after 2 1/2 months on the road,

Parrish would kick him off tour and get new dancers.

Lowe: Now EPMD is picked up by Rush Management,

so now they on bigger tours.

He's calling, coming back home, you know,

telling bigger stories.

You know, he hanging out with DMC and all kind of,

you know, Public Enemy and them, Flavor Flav and them,

all kind of people.

So for a while,

you would see Steve maybe once or twice a week.

And he out on tour, but then it came to a point

where we start seeing him every day.

Billings: Steve's success on tour would be short-lived

after being kicked off the tour,

but Stezo had another plan unfolding at the time,

and this time, it was for rapping.

Unbeknown to EPMD, while on tour,

Stezo was sharpening his rhyming skills.

And once at home, he created a demo

and took it to an executive at Sleeping Bag Records

named Virgil Simms.

And Virgil kind of brought the marketing to me, too.

When he seen me, he's like, "Yo, you was dancing with EPMD."

He said, "They already know you, you know?

You make a good demo. We can, you know"...

He said, "I like the demo, so we could"...

Or actually I made the demo, and he said,

"You like the demo. I like the demo.

I'm gonna send it to Ron Resnick and Juggy Gayles."

They was the -- and Will Socolov.

They were the owners at Sleeping Bag.

And they said, "Well, Virgil, what do you think?"

He said, "Yeah, I think it's good,"

and they signed me, and, I mean, that's what...

It kind of bugged me out because I went on tour dancing

with these cats a couple of months after I met them,

and then we with all of these famous cats,

and then, all of a sudden, I get off tour,

then I get a record deal.

Billings: At the end of 1988,

Stezo would sign a recording contract

with Sleeping Bag Records

and in early '89 release his debut album "Crazy Noise"

that Stezo and his deejay Chris Lowe

share production credit.

Stezo had a few hit singles to boost his notoriety --

"To the Max," "Freak the Funk," and "It's My Turn,"

which would increase his appeal to the masses.

Stezo was an innovator with style of dress, also.

The now-famous MC Hammer pants was originally worn

and created by the rapper in the mid-late '80s

where MC Hammer can clearly be seen

wearing his version in the '90s.

Sadly, on April 29, 2020,

Steven "Stezo" Williams died in his sleep

at the age of 51

from heart complications.

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