In the final part of this interview with Philadelphia’s DJ Woody Wood, the man behind the turntables for golden-era favourites Three Times Dope talks about splitting with the Hilltop Hustlers crew, recording the group’s 1990 sophomore album “Live From Acknickulous Land” and touring across the US – check Part One and Part Two.
Was that a difficult time for you when things started to go wrong with Lawrence Goodman’s label and you had Steady B and Cool C both dissing the group?
“Well, I can only speak for myself. But yeah, it was difficult for me because although I hadn’t grown-up with those dudes we’d definitely come up together in the music thing. So, for like two or three years, we’d all been working together in some type of way. Then all of sudden all of that happened and it felt foreign to me. I was like, ‘What do I do here?’ I felt that my relationship with Lawrence was strong and I trusted him in a lot of ways, so that situation was definitely difficult for me. As a group it was also difficult because we didn’t have a manager for awhile. That first album “Original Stylin'” sold around 420,000 copies on the Arista side with just two videos. That’s why I never understood why Lawrence split it up the way he did with the other label over in the UK. It might have made financial sense to him at the time, but to me, that could have been a gold album.”
How much of a negative impact do you think it had on the Philly Hip-Hop scene when the Hilltop situation fell-apart in terms of the label and crew being a possible outlet for other upcoming artists?
“To be honest with you, I never even looked at it that deep back then. My thing was, we didn’t have no money. Before that first album came out we were doing a lot of shows but not really making any money. But when we got out of that deal with Lawrence we owned our publishing which was important for us. Our royalties and everything came directly to us and we were also able to do a lot of shows. Every weekend we were on the road doing shows after we got out of that deal. We signed to a booking agent and just did a lot of travelling. But to answer your question, in terms of the Philly scene, I think we did a lot to rep Philly on MTV, BET and places like that where we would talk about where we came from. That I think helped other artists coming out of Philly. And it wasn’t just us doing that. Schoolly D, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Cash Money & Marvelous, we were all talking about Philly and showing people that the city had a rich diversity of Hip-Hop so that hopefully they’d give other artists coming up a chance as well.”
How did the group cope without having any official management for that time?
“It was tough for us. From the “Greatest Man Alive” single (released in 1988) through to “Funky Dividends” (released in 1989) we didn’t have a manager. There was a lot of stuff during that time that we had to deal with that a manager would have been able to help us with. That probably hurt our record sales somewhat and also our development as artists because when you have all this different business stuff coming at you it’s difficult to know what you’re doing unless someone explains it to you. So that time was hard for us.”
Did it put pressure on whether the group would stay together?
“Nah, it was never a problem with the group continiung. We all knew that we wanted the group to continue at that time, we just didn’t have a manager. So we were doing a lot of things ourselves at that point and working it out with the label.”
So how did the group approach the second album, 1990’s “Live From Acknickulous Land”?
“I mean, we were trying to work out what we were going to do. Were we going to diss Steady? Were we going to diss Cool C? Or were we going to stay away from that? I mean, we were going on big arena tours with artists like Public Enemy, N.W.A., Heavy D, the MC Hammer tour, and people were screaming at us to diss them (laughs). But we decided we really wanted to steer clear of that. I mean, I never got a chance to really speak to them about what happened so, personally, I don’t think they really knew at the time what was going on with our situation. So at that point we just wanted to work, get out there, make money and continue to show people who we were and prove that we were a good group coming out of Philly. That was really what we were trying to focus on.”
There were definitely some more radio-friendly tracks with the second album like “Mellow But Smooth” and the remix of “Weak At The Knees” which leant towards the New Jack Swing sound of the time – was that down to pressure from Arista?
“I have to say that it was partly down to everybody. It was partly us, partly the label, and partly looking at some of the groups who were out at that time in the late-80s / early 90s. I don’t want to blame it all on the label or anything because we definitely had a say in that. But at the time, I think our mentality was that we had to do things a certain way and we did it. There were things on that album we could have done differently and it would have probably been better, but you live and you learn.”
So where was Acknickulous Land exactly?
“Acknickulous meant something was better than dope. That word was something that EST and Larry Larr came up with and I give them much respect for being creative like that. So when you heard the title “Live From Acknickulous Land”, Acknickulous Land for us was a place to go to that was different and where everything was dope (laughs).”
You also had some involvement in Larry Larr’s 1991 album “Da Wizzard Of Odds”…
“Chuck did a lot of his production and I cut on some of his songs, but Larry had his own deejay. He was a very creative artist though. Larry was from right next to us at Hunting Park in a place called Logan which they used to call Logan’s Alley. Again, everyone outside of Southwest and West Philly probably had the hardest time coming up, and I believe Chuck enabled Larry to come out by being involved with his production and getting him signed. Larry was a few years younger than me but I knew him through his relationship with EST.”
Did you notice a big difference being signed directly to Arista in terms of how the second album was promoted?
“Well, Arista really spent a lot of money on setting that second album up which at the time was unheard of to me. They set a promotional tour up that went through Los Angeles, Texas, Atlanta, D.C. and other places. But they were very smart and they took us to Boys & Girls Clubs in those areas to talk to the kids so that we could open up and they’d really be able to see who we were as people. So they got to see a side of us beyond just being recording artists, they also got to see that we cared about what was going on in the communities. We’d actually just lost a good friend of ours Terence, who was Larry Larr’s deejay at the time. I wasn’t on the corner when this happened, but Chuck was out there with a bunch of people and someone had come and held the corner up and shot Terence at the same time. Tee ran about a block to the top of my block and that’s where he died. So what we did, we were going to these places and talking to these kids about violence and things that were going on in the community, like peer pressure, teenage pregnancy and things like that. But the record label was smart because at the same time they were working with a booking agent who was getting us shows at different venues everywhere we went.”
Did you experience any regional resistance when you were visiting these different places?
“Nah, but I think that had a lot to do with our approach. I mean, we would set the turntables up in the gym, there’d be about two or three hundred kids there, we’d talk to them, I’d deejay a little, we’d perform, we’d play basketball with these kids, so it really gave them the opportunity to see that we were just regular people. We were spending a week at a time in some cities so it really gave us a chance to explore and see what was going on in places like Compton. It really was a learning experience.”
Are there any memories of meeting particular artists while you were travelling that still stand-out to you?
“Yeah, I remember Dr. Dre telling us that he wanted us on the N.W.A. tour because he wanted people to know that there were other artists outside of New York who were good. That really stood-out to me. Meeting Too Short was another moment that stood-out. Now, in Philly, Too Short didn’t really get a lot of respect as an artist, but when I saw him perform I was like, ‘Yo! These people love Too Short.’ I was shocked (laughs). He’d come out onstage like, ‘My name is Too Short…’ and the crowd would go crazy. He was like God to people in the Midwest and down South. That was amazing to me (laughs). I mean, we did shows with MC Lyte, Cash Money & Marvelous, Slick Rick. I liked being on shows with singers because that gave you a chance to be exposed to a different audience, like when we were on the Guy tour with Heavy D. I remember there was one show we did on that tour when we were in Chicago and we got our records off the bus and they’d melted or something and they were warped. Now, back then, we were working off turntables in our shows and we would perform using the instrumental version of the records and I would cut. Now, this record was so warped that it just wouldn’t play, so we were like, ‘Chuck, you’ve got to load up “Greatest Man Alive” on the drum machine.’ So Chuck had to play that live (laughs). We just had so much fun back then.”
So what happened after the second album had run its course?
“We were recording a third album. I thought the third album was good because it was more like the first album. But what happened around that time was the record business started changing and Black music divisions at labels were being phased out. So it was a transitional period for music and we were trying to figure out how we were going to carry on when the people who originally signed us weren’t at the label anymore. So after that album was actually done I remember Arista did a big ad on us in the The Source around 1993, where one page was Chuck, the second page was me and the third page was EST. So I’m thinking, ‘Great, we’re about to come out.’ Then all of a sudden we just got put on hold. I couldn’t understand it. We just sat there waiting and that third album never materialised.”
Was any of the material from that third album on the “Sequel” project which came out some years later?
“Nah, that was something that EST and Chuck did after we split as a group. The third album that never came out was called “Major Flavas” and really was a return to the sound of the first album. We had “Da Giddy Up 2″ on there, Larry Larr was on the album, Kwame, another emcee from Philly called D-Born was on that album. It was a good record.”
Does anyone have that now?
“It’s sitting in a label vault somewhere.”
What prompted you to step away from the group?
“It was the thing where we reached a point where we had a chance to mutually do other things. I think it was around 1994 when Arista finally let us go and at that point I think EST and Chuck connected with other people and were able to do other things. That’s something you’d need to ask them but even to this day I don’t have anything against those guys.”
What were your thoughts on the Steady B / Cool C bank robbery incident in 1996?
“I was shocked when I heard what had happened. I mean, those guys were just regular dudes, man. They weren’t bad dudes. I was sad to see that go down and there was nothing I could really do to help at that point. I mean, once I heard the names being mentioned on the news I knew straight away who it was, although a lot of people didn’t realise straight away because they used their real names and didn’t mention their recording names. I was like, ‘That’s Steady B they’re talking about’ and my friend I was with at the time was like, ‘Naaaah!’ But I knew who it was. Even though we’d been through our stuff in the past I didn’t have any anger for anyone, so it was just a really sad situation to see.”
Looking back who would you say are some of your favourite Philly artists?
“I’ve gotta say Schoolly D because I loved “Saturday Night”. Steady B for “Bring The Beat Back” because I used to cut that song all the time and even to this day if I make a mix of music from that era I have to include a Steady B song. You’ve gotta love Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince for what they did with songs like “Summertime” and I’d also have to say MC Breeze because without Breeze I wouldn’t have had a chance because he really helped open the doors for Philly artists. I loved Tuff Crew’s “My Part Of Town”. I mean, those songs are classics and they bring back so many memories for me.”
So, finally, what would you like Three Times Dope to be remembered for as a group?
“I’d like people to remember us for our creativity and what we contributed to Hip-Hop in Philly. Everything we achieved was great to me, getting signed and being able to put our music out. I was a part of history and I’ll always be glad about that.”
Follow DJ Woody Wood on Twitter (@DJWood3XD) and Instagram (DJWoodyWood3XD).