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Some Hip Hop History with Spyder D – Rap Rehab Hollis, Queens Native Duane Hughes, known in hip hop circles as “Spyder D” is a hip hop pioneer that built his career as an artist and producer in the 80’s with notable releases like “Big Apple Rappin” and “Smerphie’s Dance”.  In late 1979 along with a friend (Tito Lewis) Hughes became one of the first rappers to establish and successfully launch his own record label (Newtroit Records). Spyder was a childhood schoolmate of Russell Simmons who later became his manager and mentor and has worked with several artists in the industry including Chuck D of Public Enemy and Roxanne Shante’. As an owner of one of the first independent hip hop labels which is still standing, Spyder recently released an Autobiography titled “So You Wanna Be A Rapper” and is currently set to release a new CD. Spyder sat down with writer Sly Solomon of to drop some knowledge… Where are you from originally?

    Spyder: I was born in born in Peoria Illinois but by the age of 4 had moved to New York City.  I was raised between Hollis and Queens Village. What is the connection between Detroit and New York in the name of your label Newtroit Records?

    Spyder: I graduated from high school a celebrated basketball player and to follow that dream, at 18, I went to Eastern Michigan University which is about 45 min from Detroit. During that time I started experiencing swelling and pain in my knees to the point I couldn’t play. When the doctors looked at me they found a growth above my left knee and were concerned that it might be cancerous.  I got depressed seeing my basketball dreams coming to an end and thinking I might have cancer. I stopped going to class and my grades took a hit. To make a long story short… looking at the end of my basketball career I needed to find something that could replace that dream. I had to find something I was passionate about to get me out of that depression. At the time I was hearing about all the uptown cats rappin and getting deals… but I was also hearing that they were sellin records and weren’t getting paid. At 18 I decided I didn’t wanna get raped so I said I’m gonna set up my own thing and produce and sell records myself. Being in the Detroit area and from New York it just made sense to combine the names tell the story. When and why did you start to do music?

    Spyder: When I was 14 years old I joined a band with a childhood friend (Davy D) as a trumpet player. He eventually broke up the band to become a DJ and I started concentrating on basketball. From 74-78 basketball was everything. Towards the middle part of my freshman year at Eastern Michigan I began to notice how the rap scene was starting to blow up. That’s when I started getting into the hip hop thing and starting my own label was my way in. What were some of your biggest musical influences?

    Spyder: Parliament-Funkadelic, Steve Arrington… any Midwestern funk band. The “Ohio Players” made the first album that I ever bought. I used to watch rock concerts and midnight specials on TV and that really influenced my dream of making it in the music industry one day. On a hip hop level I was listening to Kurtis Blow & Melle Mel… Being from Queens and being pioneers of hip hop they definitely had an influence on me. Where did you fit into the hip hop scene when you first got started?

    Spyder: I feel like I was somewhat of a bridge between the Afrika Bambaataas and Kurtis Blows to the LLs and Run DMCs etc. At one point I had “Smerphie’s Dance” out and me and Kurtis Blow was the only solo rappers playing on mainstream radio. Everyone at that time thought rap would come and go. I was opening up for the mainstream R&B groups like “The Whispers” back then. I helped carry the torch. What are your thoughts on how hip hop has evolved over the years?

    Spyder: Hip Hop is no different from Rock and Roll or any other form of music. As times change the styles and lyrics are gonna change because the things that were happening in the 80s are different from the things going on now. I don’t necessarily like or dislike it… I just recognize change is inevitable. Its 30 years later from when I came on the scene. We did escape raps. We wanted to escape the mundane lives we were living and rap about getting or having stuff that no one had access to in our neighborhoods. That included things like color TVs etc… but no one raps like that anymore because everyone has these things. Rap has evolved as life has evolved. Being older now some of the things I did as a teen in front of other people like smoking, drinking, and being loud… I look back on that stuff as me being wild. It’s the same way older rappers look at younger rappers now… but the same things we say about the younger cats was said about us by older people back then… because that’s how we were living. I feel the same about the dudes out now. Some of them are fakes, but a lot of them are genuine… so who am I to mad at what they write about and wanna rap about? As long as they are going to be successful and keep the hip hop culture alive I can’t be mad at it. In the same vein as the last question… Who are you listening to nowadays?

    Spyder: I’ve been working on an album so I haven’t been listening to other music too much. I will say that I can’t help but hear Drake and Lil Wayne. I like Drake even though he has a lot of detractors. I think he’s courageous for doing his thing and not worrying about what people think. They call him soft because he doesn’t want to talk about the typical things that we are used to in hip hop, but that takes courage. Lil Wayne was a genius because he jumped on everyone’s record and grew his fan base that way and I respect that. I appreciate what those guys have done without question because they took chances. The Playaz Circle record “Duffle Bag Boy” got blown up by Wayne and the other dudes (2 Chainz and Dolla Boy) were virtually unknown at the time. Wayne didn’t have to do that record… and for him to do a song with dudes not as popular as he was showed that he’s down to take risks and I applaud that. When you’re at the top people shoot arrows at you but Drake and Wayne show that they can ignore it and keep doing their thing. I respect that. How has the business side of hip hop changed over the years for an independent label owner such as yourself?

    Spyder: In the beginning people thought it would be a fad. Music business is sort of like the drug game. It’s like you buy a crack ball and all of a sudden you can be Nino Brown. The majors who are like the mafia don’t believe in the little guy until they see you doing your thing, and then they want to jump on board. The problem is that once the majors start to influence what you’re doing it leads to them over exposing and cheapening the product. I feel like this has led to the decline of the quality of hip hop. The artistry itself is not the issue… it’s the major labels affecting the art. I also think that when things became digitized it was like the genie was out the bottle because people could now bootleg. Now everyone is scrambling trying to figure things out. You have internet, TV, social media etc. and everyone is trying to figure out what the next big thing is… or find out if the music game will die a slow death. I’m trying to figure it out myself. What is the most important thing you would tell an up and coming independent artist in the game today? What do they need to know?

    Spyder: Learn as much as you can about the business. I encourage young artists to start their own label. Be your own boss. Control your own publishing and control your own everything. If you do that right you can still get the big record deal. This will help to give you more leverage because you will have your own momentum as well as the knowledge of what it takes to succeed in the business. You won’t get signed to that bullshit contract. Watching the TLC documentary was heartbreaking because you see them sign a piece of paper and get robbed and its nobody’s fault but their own. That’s why I think in the rap genre you’re career is considered to be over by 25 in some instances. I think that the older you get the more educated you become and the harder it is to rob you. Instead of doing good business with you they paint you as old school so that they can keep this game full of the young and ignorant that they can take advantage of. They want you young and dumb. They put you over the hill after three years in this business so they can keep screwing the game. The Rolling Stones are legends, but in the hip hop genre? I dropped a video with Chuck D last week and I was reading through the comment section. It was like a war between the old school and new school. One person would say “Chuck D is too old to be rapping” and then another would say “this is how rapping is supposed to be done”. It’s only in our musical genre that this takes place. I think it’s all because we let others dictate our culture. Rap is one of the few things left that’s actually ours but we let other people dictate. I don’t know the answer but it’s an issue we can’t ignore. We saw that Russell Simmons was a former mentor and wrote the forward for your autobiography. What was your relationship like with him? Did he help form your perspective on how to do business in the game being that he was your manager at one point?

    Spyder:   I used to spend a lot of time around Russell and study him. We sometimes had our differences but his vision was always clear. He always saw hip hop taking off and lasting the way that it has. I used to sit down and listen to him turn down deals because he had a vision on where he wanted to take things. He eventually took that Def Jam deal and went to the next level. At the time he already foresaw hip hop being a part of the Grammy Award ceremony and seeing commercial success. His perspective helped to shape mine. I learned to learn from people’s mistakes more than from their successes. Russell wasn’t afraid to fail. I see a lot of people quit because they don’t want to be ridiculed as failures… but when I fail I get right back up. Russell was cautious about what he did, but made mistakes… and I learned from some of those mistakes. Can you tell us a little about what we can get from reading the autobiography you recently released?

    Spyder: The main reason I wrote this was to let people know that all that glitters is not gold. I have self inflicted wounds and I don’t hide them. I let people know the mistakes and issues I created. There is a political and seedy side of this business where no matter how good you are there are certain things out of your control. These decisions that happen behind closed doors can have a heavy impact on your career. This is why I say to be in control as much as you can, because no matter how talented you are you can still get shelved and never see the light of day. Some people get signed just to stay on the shelf. I seen it happen with my own two eyes and heard it happen with my own two ears. People off the street don’t understand that someone can sign them just to keep them out the way of something else that might be going on. This is why you learn as much as you can so you can stay in control of your career. The autobiography has a lot of those lessons.  Be in control of your career and be careful with the ladies (laughs). It’s a mixture of life lessons and music industry lessons that anyone can take something away from. These lessons can be cross applied. Tell us a little more about the music you’re working on now…

    Spyder: I did an album in 2000 called “True Dat” which had Peter Gunz on it hot off his uptown record. There was a major label situation at that time that was out of my control but affected that albums release. I had Mr. Cheeks, Doug E Fresh and others on that album as well. I plan to take some of that music that no one has had a chance to hear yet and add some new music to the mix for this album which will come out early next year (probably mid march) and be called Spyder D’s Greatest Hits”. “In Case You Didn’t Know” is the new single featuring Chuck D & David Ruffin Jr. We plan to release an EP next week called “Big City Rappin”. The “In Case You Didn’t Know” remix with Marley Marl will be on that EP. How can people find you?

    Spyder:  You can find me on,,, and which is the label.