Chris MJohnson of Prime Supreme
Chris M. Johnson a.k.a. Powerlord CJD [Prime Supreme 30th Anniversary]Written by Aaron Robinson - Editor
Left to right: Aaron “The Hitman” Pittman,
Chris “Powerlord CJD” Johnson,
and Andre “D.J. I.C. Dre” Gray… (1989)
Growing up in an era where there wasn’t any commercial hip hip, writing lyrics and rhyming became a passion for Johnson. Nonetheless, his craft was looked upon as wasting time and hip hop was described as junk and that it would never go anywhere. Eventually, the genre ascended from a million dollar industry during the 80’s to becoming a billion dollar industry in the 90’s. Insightfully, Johnson was able to witness the growth of the genre over the years. He speaks about his interest for the art. “That was kind of the spark for me…just hearing old school rhymes put together and taking an interested in rhyme schemes. And who knew it was going to be a 31 year trail and it was going to lead me to starting up one of the earliest underground hip hop groups in Kankakee that would start doing a lot of things later on in life; influencing the Midwest!,” proudly says Johnson.
Prime Supreme originated during the year of 1984. They were known as one of the hottest unsigned groups in the early 80’s. The group also consisted of Andre Gray (DJ I.C. Dre, known for DJing for the rapper Twista) and Mark O’Neal a.k.a. Little Boo. In addition, Aaron “The Hitman” Pittman (Industry Producer) and Douglass ‘Rapper D’ Willingham a.k.a Sub Zero would later join the elite team.
“I think for us, [it’s the fact that] what ever we chose to be, we were. We tried to be well-versed in the craft; we wanted our skills to show. Although, we went through some trendy things, you had that Fresh Prince type of Jazzy Jeff type of era; I was kind of on that. And you had the era when it was about that hardcore gangster. We knew that trends can change and fashions can change. We knew that our artistic abilities and skills would never change. The music business and the artist integrity are two different things. Sometimes, the greatest rappers don’t get the accolades I think they should. And sometimes the trashy rappers make all the money because they got the business down and the folks behind them,” says Johnson who explains the technical aspects of the art form and its unfairness. He begins to speak about the early success of his group member Doug. “Doug and a gentleman from
by the name of James Taylor, Jr. wrote the song “Jam On It” by Mewcleus. They
entered a contest but Nucleus ended up using the first half of their song that
they sent in,” testifies Johnson. Kankakee
Prime Supreme has opened and shared the same stages with many celebrities and artist who eventually became hip hop legends. Unfortunately, the group would slowly diminish due to disagreements and creative differences from industry elites and executives. “Later on confutations came up, some disagreements and things when we were getting into the profession realm. They [agencies and A&R’s] start kind of putting in our mind to do things separately, which was a time I went to the military and got married and the dynamics changed. But we continued to do shows with a rapper by the name of Fred Lee a.k.a. Cool Lee,” excited explains Johnson as he speaks about the group. “Around that time Andre Gray met up with some folks and won some DJ contests. He got with a gentleman by the name of NoID, who introduced him to Twista. I stayed on it and did shows around town, here and there. I also had some production deals for doing studio engineering perfection.
Johnson has no regrets, moreover, he voices what he would have done differently in the past if he could have done it all again. “Getting married and having a family…since the group and I were still cool and they were doing their own thing, I continued in my basement [with production], being married and working hard. I was doing things in Chicago with music groups. I also ended up being on the board of Chicago Association of Musicians and Song Writers at Columbia College Chicago.
From having a tremendous amount of experience in the music industry, the respectful performer shares his thoughts on the digital world of today’s underground music. “The music industry for an underground artist has changed and technology has basically changed the game. You almost have a ready made blueprint of how to run a record company at home at your computer; but some things there are no substitution for: hard work, getting out there with the people. I think in marketing, it’s great! I think in practicality and work ethic it cheapens the quality. They [artist] use to go out and do their own A&R; they would go out and do their own advertising; they would work on their performance and their song…the old school method, more hands on. You’re trying to make that transition in a digital sense but all you are doing is sitting on your computer.”
The pioneer ends the conversation on a positive note disclosing where he anticipates hip hop is headed. “I think you’re going to start seeing older hip-hop artist come out because I think they [the masses] got it described as only a youthful art form. That’s about to change. You’re going to see that era of people from the 80’s and 90’s coming back as grown people that have been tested in life with more things to say, with more clever beats, orchestrated arrangements, topics that are grown folk topics, rhyme skills and battle rapping, and all of that with a sense of maturity to it.”