Interview with Mike Nardone

Updated: Mar 17

Mike hosted We Came From Beyond, one of the longest running Hip Hop radio shows on American college radio. Starting in 1988, the show ran until 2009. He has also hosted other shows such as The Joint with King EMZ, on 92.3 FM The Beat, a commercial radio station based in LA, and more recently he has been presenting Essentials with Mike Nardone on the community radio station KZAX 94.9 FM, which is also available to hear on his Mixcloud. Mike is cited in the Endtroducing thanks section for "wading into Shadow's early tapes and hearing potential".

Mike Nardone in his recording studio
Essentials with Mike Nardone

Mike

Morning. How you doing Jon?


Jon

I'm doing fine, and you?


Mike

Good thanks.


Jon

I'd like you to tell me about your early passion for Hip Hop music, and how you got your show We Came From Beyond.


Mike

I guess my passion started in middle school, junior high. I was 13-14 I guess, and I lived in Northern California. I came across a station called KSOL, an urban station out of San Mateo, and then on top of that, where I lived there was a high school station called KSPB 91.9, and they used to do something called Super Soul Sundays. There was a guy on that station who used to exclusively play whatever hip hop records were available at that time, you know the Enjoy stuff and the Sugar Hill stuff, at least what we could get on the West Coast.


So, in 1983, I started DJing on KSPB, the high school station, and it had like a 1000 watt range, and that was like the itch that needed to be scratched for me, so to speak. Once I was in, I was all in. So, I did that through my remaining years of high school, and then went to Loyola Marymount University, and I wanted to do what I'd done in high school, but on a bigger level. Finally, in 1988, I got my opportunity to do the show. And initially, it was on super late, I think it was on Monday nights from midnight to 2am.


The good thing about being in LA is people are up at all times, so some people definitely noticed the show, but I think the biggest break for me was when the AM station 1580 KDAY, went off the air because then there was no one playing hip hop apart from my show really. So that's when I guess more doors started to open and the labels definitely encouraged the show and helped by sending promos or whatnot, and then I was lucky enough to get some artists early on.


Jon

And this was still at the university radio station?


Mike

Yeah, this was at KXLU at We Came From Beyond. The great thing was, being in Los Angeles, you had lots of access. I met DJ Muggs at one point, and then he and I became tight and he started playing me Cypress Hill demos and he'd bring Cypress up. Ice Cube came up after he left NWA and did an interview.


I think hip hop at that point was, in my eyes it wasn't accepted. It was still sort of a Black music thing. People didn't get it yet, and that was sort of the idea for the name [of Mike's show], because it wasn't like Hip Hop or Rap wasn't understood, people just didn't get it and give it its due.

Mike with Lifesavas at KXLU, year unknown.

Jon

You mentioned that people thought of Hip Hop music as a Black music, so how was it for you to be involved in this world so early on, being a white guy? Did it make any difference?


Mike

I think there were times where you could say I stood out for sure. I started DJing pretty early, not only radio, but I would do gigs and there were times where I was probably the only white person there and I was DJing the event. There are a couple times where I think I was challenged because of what the perception was, right? But never anything violent, and most people were super gracious, and color didn't matter generally. It was just the music.


Jon

I've heard you played some DJ Shadow mixes early in his career. How did you meet him in the first place? Did he send you mixes?


Mike

Well, I worked at a record label called Poetic Groove, this small label that was distributed to Interscope, before Death Row was part of Interscope and whatnot. So I worked there in either ‘90 or ’91 and I was doing college promotions, sort of learning the industry. I had my radio show, and I wanted to do A&R and find the next big thing.

So, I got to go through tapes, and Josh had sent a tape to that label, and it had a letter with it sort of explaining who he was, and not necessarily what was on the tape. And then it said at one point, "Stop, don't read any further until you've listened to side one." So I listened to side one and I was blown away. I read the rest of the letter and he explained he'd done it all pause-tape style.


So that was sort of my introduction. I think I probably called him soon after that. We started talking, and then I would continually get tapes from him and we became friends, but it was such a different era. The communication was a lot more difficult than it is now. But I honestly don't remember what I played from him because I was getting so much stuff.


Jon

Did you start playing his mix on air at that point, or did you meet first?


Mike

I didn't play anything until after I'd spoken to him. I don't even know if that was off the first tape that he did. I mean, I might have taken pieces of the mix he did for KMEL that Alex Mejia played. For me, radio was like a free for all and you just try to find some things that are different and unique. You know, at that point in my life, that's what I was really striving for, to build a niche and finding those different little pieces of gold, and that's what he was able to deliver.


Jon

If it was ‘91 Josh might already have released Lesson 4 on Hollywood Basic?


Mike

I definitely met him before Hollywood Basic.


Jon

What about the rest of the Solesides Crew, how did you meet them up?


Mike

Well I met Josh first and Jeff [Chang] soon after that. I actually helped them in promotions on some of their early records too. I had Swan Lake [Blackalicious] and I started playing that, and I've been a huge fan of Gab, and Xcel, all of them. Lyrics Born, Lateef, and obviously Josh.


Jon

Apart from We Came From Beyond, you had another show with King EMZ and Jeff Chang, right?


Mike

Yeah, I kept doing that college show forever, for like 20 years, but in 1993 I got a show on 92.3 The Beat, which was a commercial station in Los Angeles. We did that show for two and a half years, every week. Originally with Jeff. But what happened was Jeff went away for the summer, and EMZ and I's chemistry sort of grew, and we sort of relegated Jeff to a segment. But we had the Solesides Crew up at that show. I was definitely a fan of what they were doing.


Jon

I've read that the Wu Tang Clan came on your show, and you and King EMZ asked Josh to make a mix for them on air.


Mike

That sounds accurate, because we always wanted to showcase different DJs. If it was when Wu Tang was there, then I know Lyrics Born was there as well, and I'm sure the whole crew was there too because when I saw Lyrics Born last, he was retelling the story about Wu Tang, so he was obviously there.


Jon

I've seen that you made a number of remixes for the Beastie Boys. How did you meet them?


Mike

There's a magazine called The Flavor out of Seattle, and I interviewed Mike D. I think what happened was, there were three people doing interviewees, like one person did Ad-Rock, one person did MCA, and I think I did Mike. And I wouldn't say we were friends, but we were cool. So then in 94-95 I get a call from their assistant and she calls me like "Oh the guys are gonna play basketball at this park.” So, I go get Jeff because we lived in the same apartment building, and we go to this playground where MCA, Adrock, and Mike are there playing basketball. I think there were five of us, and then there was like a kid that just happened to be there, so I think we just grabbed him and threw him in the mix. I don't think it was us against them. I think it was just three on three, but not the Beastie Boys Vs The World.


Then I remember they came up to The Joint, the show on The Beat, and they did something there, but I didn't talk to them a ton.


Jon

You also worked at Quannum Projects around 2005, what was your job for them?


Mike

Yeah, I was A&R. I was trying to find artists, I was trying to get Aloe Blacc before Stones Throw got him, so that didn't work out, and then for Lifesavas I was really just helping them with those connections they needed. I went back and forth with Jay Dilla for a track that never happened. Then I hooked up with Camp Low for the Lifesavas record [Spirit In Stone, 2003] and helped facilitate the remix of Calling Out with E-40 on it.

Mike with his daughter, Gift of Gab, Chief Xcel, Lateef the Truthspeaker and Jumbo The Garbageman, circa 2018

Jon

You have a 30 years history with the Solesides guys, do you have a favorite memory with them?


Mike

I had Blackalicious perform live on air at KXLU, and it was fucking amazing! That was probably one of the best memories because I'm in the control booth and they're in a studio right next to me just doing their set. It was freaking amazing. It's like those Tiny Desk things that NPR does. It was similar to that. That was pretty amazing! There was another time when Josh and Cut Chemist came up and played a bunch of stuff. They were doing a show the next day so they came up and played a bunch of breaks. I think it was for one of the 7-11 mixes.


Jon

Brainfreeze


Mike

Yeah, Brainfreeze, right. So they came up and played a bunch of stuff that was pretty crazy. I mean, it was pretty cool.


Jon

Okay, Mike thank you so much for your time.


Mike

My pleasure. Thank you.


All photos kindly provided by Mike who can be followed on Instagram and Mixcloud

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Conducted by Jon (eikimono) on September 19, 2020

Transcription and editing by James Gaunt

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