the jOHNNY

The Foremost Poets Interview

jOHNNYDANGEROUs burst onto the house music scene at a time when the music was at its best, its freshest and – if we’re being honest – probably its most innovative. Noble John Ali in Newark, New Jersey, developed a name that signified his creative intellect rather than aggression. He started his musical journey as a trumpeter, trombonist, and a turntable maestro. His lyrical skills set him apart as a street poet in the making. Indeed, it was the combination of these talents that propelled his career. By his late teens, Johnny was spinning records at legendary Newark venues like Club America and Zanzibar. 

One of dance music's key innovators and possibly the maker of the most used acapellas by DJs worldwide, continues to add to his legacy of monumental left-field heaters - like his new EP up on Ross Allen’s Foundation Music. 

Foremost Poets - On My Shoulders
It doesn't matter where God puts you, if you don't know the rules you’ll remain in the same place. ” - Noble John Ali

1. What are you up to today?

I was at my desk talking about a new project for Gene Marvin.

2. You were born in Philly and raised in Newark, New Jersey. Where do you call home?

I’m in the United States, Newark New Jersey.

3. You started your illustrious career back at the Carlton Hotel’s “Club America.” Tell us about that beginning. 

I don’t exactly remember how that came about, but in 1989, I found a way to start working at Club America. Hafiz Farid, Naeem Johnson, Durrell Smiley, and a few others were there to watch me audition to play. I was an excellent trick DJ and a good programmer, but had low experience with what to program a club. That takes years and years of  roadwork to master what’s best to play in tight situations.

Having a club residency (at that time) was absolutely necessary when creating tracks of your own. It was the only way to test if your style of production fits the marketplace with (or against) the current music out there. Berger Hotel Corp. owned the Carlton Hotel, which connecting to Club America, and the Lincoln Motel, which connected to Club Zanzibar. Because we had the same employer, this is how I was able to meet Tony Humphries. Miles Berger was the man we both answered to. 

4. You were dabbling in rap and the poetry of the streets in your early days. Who were your idols?

Schoolly D, Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim, Cool Moe D, Africa Bambatta, Author Baker, John Rocca (Producer), Man Parrish (Producer), Just Ice, Mantronik (Producer), I heard these styles of music together. But from the very outset, “KRAFTWERK” was their own genre; & I was totally inspired by them.

5. All of your early musical experiences – trumpet, drums - paved the way for your multi-faceted career that was to follow. What was your first release as Johnny Dangerous? 

My first release as Johnny Dangerous was the song “Problem #13” in 1992; also known as “I Beat That B*tch Witta Bat.” It was a one-sided white label 12” vinyl (unmastered). A total departure from everyone I just mentioned. I'll talk more about it later. 

Writing new rules comes from not knowing you're the exception to the rule.” - Noble John Ali
Grace will take you where hustle never could. ” - Noble John Ali

6. Do you recall facing any challenges in putting out your early releases? 

As a 20-year-old, I had no business model, business template or basic idea what I was doing. It was all a giant experiment. Back then, I had no understanding who ran the industry, or how easy it was to be bootlegged by a vinyl manufacturer you trust to print your material. I had demos that kept being rejected. But I didn’t care; to me, it was the nature of the business. I just kept going no matter what. 

Without a mentor, decades will pass before you start to see the japanese numbers move within in the walls of the Matrix to get a fuller assessment of what is happening.

7. 'Reasons To Be Dismal’ came out initially in 1989 under Foremost Poets. Tell us the history of this stone-cold classic. 

YES. This is my first release. I was a depressed kid coming out of high school trying to make sense of things. I was a mess. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. But music was a help in getting myself back on track - AND learning how to express myself. 

This song was my first attempt to express a reason to be here. It kept positive messages alive in me - and sharing those messages to enliven others if possible. I showed it to Tony Humphries, then showed it to Nelson Roman & Craig Kallman at Big Beat Records, then Abigail Adams at Movin Records, then finally Judy Russell & Karen Mendez at Nu Groove; then Guy Moot at SBK London, and the rest is history. 

8. How did the Foremost Poets moniker come about? 

In 1989, 'Hafiz Farid’ was my manager right out of High School. I give him credit - he introduced me to “The Last Poets” as I met other artists through him. I met Daddy-O, Jovonn, Chubb Rock, Kool-G Rap, Stokely Carmichael and others. He also had a company called “Foremost Productions.” I was a hip-hop DJ at the time, but my calling was to House Music & Disco Breaks. 

When I started doing tracks in the studio, I came up with the name “Foremost Poets” out of loyalty for the management team, so no one would question my House Music projects; because it was new. I was known as “Johnny Dangerous” for doing hip-hop. “Foremost Poets” was my House Music name. 

Eventually, I would be known for House Music with both names, releasing singles on one label as “Foremost Poets” & releases on other labels as “jOHNNYDANGEROUs.”


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