In the final installment of my interview with DJ Tat Money, the Philly Hip-Hop legend discusses his reasons for leaving the Hilltop Hustlers crew, being involved in the 90s Kwame / Biggie beef and visiting Steady B in prison – check Part One, Part Two and Part Three.
What were your thoughts on the beef that developed between Steady B and Three Times Dope after they left the Hilltop crew?
“I just thought it was pretty misguided. I mean, Lawrence Goodman was a business guy and he pretty much puppeteered everybody. So when Three Times Dope broke away, he was saying, ‘Okay, they’re not with us anymore. They’ve abandoned the crew. You’re not supposed to be friends with those guys anymore.’ It was that whole thing now. So Steady was just like, ‘Okay, f**k ‘em.’ He was basically following orders. In reality, he liked those guys. Cool C was the same way but he was also being told what to do. But to turn another page on that, the same thing happened with me once I got with Kwame in 1990. We were doing a show in Philly and they all turned up on the floor of the hotel we were staying in. There must have been about twenty guys…”
Was this actually Steady and Cool C or just Hilltop Hustlers affiliates?
“They were all there. All of them. We came off the elevator and walked straight into a bunch of these people. Now, I’m talking about people that I used to roll with all the time. They looked, nobody said a word, we all looked at each other and I just kept walking and walked straight into my room. They knocked on the door a couple of times and I think there was some stupid stuff said like, ‘You’d better not come out’ or something. But it wasn’t really that deep. It didn’t go that far.”
So what actually led to you making the decision to leave the Hilltop camp?
“Stuff started happening around 1988. What happened was, with the “Let The Hustlers Play” album, Chuck Nice from Three Times Dope produced three records on that project. See, Steady and I were kinda tired and exhausted at this point because we’d put a lot into our second album and nothing really happened. We were disappointed. We felt like the “What’s My Name” hadn’t really got off the ground and we were looking at all these other artists blowing up and doing tours and everything. Now, we’ve gotta start thinking about where we were going to go with our third album and Lawrence could see that we were a little bit relaxed about it and obviously he had a schedule that he needed to get the record out by. So he decided that to keep things going he was going to bring some other producers on-board, which is when Jive approached him about working with KRS-One and he also decided to get Chuck Nice involved because he was a great producer. So I went up to Chuck’s house one time and we spent the whole night in the studio just working on music. But what started with us working on music led to us talking about certain things which developed into a conversation that went on until the sun came up. We must have talked for about three hours and I was telling him that I thought we weren’t being treated properly and that nobody was making any money. Chuck was looking at me like he couldn’t believe it (laughs). He was like, ‘Yo, I just came into this situation and this is the dream I’ve been looking for and now the person who helped get me here is telling me it’s not what I thought it was.’ He was flabbergasted. So he called Woody Wood up and he came over. This must have been about six-thirty in the morning. So Chuck is like, ‘Yo, Tat, tell Woody everything you just told me.’ So I told him. I was just frustrated, man. But I could see in Woody’s face that what I was telling him was hitting him hard because he had really befriended Lawrence…”
I know when I interviewed Woody earlier this year he told me how he would regularly travel to New York with Lawrence on business etc…
“Absolutely. I mean, Woody really couldn’t believe that Lawrence would betray us like that. He was hearing what I was saying but he couldn’t believe it. But then he heard the same thing from Lady B as well, and once he heard it from her, that was it. When Lady B validated everything I’d told him, that was when Three Times Dope got ready to leave and stepped away from the crew. Once that happened, that was when Lawrence was telling everyone, ‘Man, f**k those guys. We showed them everything and they’ve left. You should hate those guys now and not be cool with them anymore.’ Now, I’m my own man. I was still going over to see the Three Times Dope guys. I didn’t give a s**t. I mean, we made records together, we came up together, and now I’m supposed to cut them off because of some business s**t and because someone else wasn’t paying them properly? That wasn’t happening. I was just being real. Lawrence was kind of leery about me because he knew that I was an independent thinker. Now, once Three Times Dope left, suddenly all these contracts came up that Lawrence wanted us to sign locking us in for, like, twelve years. That was the point when I decided it was time to go.”
So the last Steady B project you were involved in was 1989′s “Going Steady” and then you started working with Kwame, right?
“Yeah, absolutely. That album came out in 1989 and I’d left by 1990. It was actually EST from Three Times Dope who hooked me up with Kwame. When I first got down with him it was almost the same situation as when I first got involved with Steady because Kwame had pretty much wrapped up the “A Day In The Life” album that he was working on, so I was featured on four tracks from that album doing cuts.”
Were you rolling with Kwame when Biggie dropped the infamous line ‘Your life is played out like Kwame and them f**kin’ polka dots’ on 1994′s “Unbelievable”?
“I was actually (laughs). Kwame was pissed. He couldn’t believe it and was like, ‘Where did that come from? I don’t even know this guy.’ I remember Kwame called me one day saying, ‘Did you hear about this guy Biggie Smalls dissing me on a record?’ I had all these records at my house and he told me the name of the song and I pulled the record out. So I put the record on and I didn’t hear it the first time. Then I played it again and was like, ‘Oh my god!’ Now we’ve got a problem, because that record was hot (laughs).”
Was there ever any interaction between Kwame and Biggie in response to that?
“We did a show in Philly that had been put on by this guy named Joe. He told us that he’d had Biggie Smalls performing there some time before us and that Biggie had told him he’d just said Kwame’s name on “Unbelievable” as something to say on the record and that it wasn’t a real serious thing. Apparently, Biggie told him he just said it and that it wasn’t really anything that Kwame should take to heart. But this is Hip-Hop and it’s very competitive. You don’t say someone’s name in a rhyme and just say it frivolously. You say it and you mean it or you don’t say it all. So, now, with Kwame being a competitor, he’s pissed. I mean, you can’t take something like that sitting down. So Kwame made “? It Like” and put a dude who looked like Biggie in the video. The record wasn’t that big because we were on a jacked-up label at the time, Ichiban, which was a bulls**t label. They really were full of s**t. Kwame had signed to them in 1994 for one album, “Incognito”, but it really didn’t get any light.”
Did Biggie ever respond to that record or was it under-the-radar?
“So this is what happened. This is stuff that nobody really knows (laughs). This was around the time when cell phones started to become more popular. They used to be about a dollar a minute to use and I had one, Kwame had one, and there used to be this hook-up guy that we used who would hook the phones up so that you didn’t have to pay as much (laughs). So, Biggie actually used to go to the same guy and somehow he got my number from this hook-up guy. He called my phone and it sounded to me like he had the phone in his lap or something because his voice sounded like it was on speaker but this was before people had speaker phones (laughs). This was after Kwame had put the diss song out and we were supposed to be on a show together. So Biggie was like, ‘Look man, we’ll come through that show and blow that s**t up!’ I was like, ‘Oh s**t, this is that Biggie Smalls dude. How the f**k did he get my number?’ My number changed a lot so I was really surprised when he called so I knew he must have got the number from our cell phone guy. So I told Kwame about the call but then Biggie never did come through the show, although we did actually end-up having a run-in with him on another occasion around the same time…”
“This was a crazy situation (laughs). We had this show with Kwame in mid-town Manhattan. We got booked to do this show by this lady promoter and we ripped that s**t down. I mean, we really ripped it down. I did my routine and was cutting-it up and the promoter was like, ‘Oh my god! We need an encore from the deejay!’ So I went on again and did my thing. It was a great night. There was about six of us there including myself and Kwame. So at the end of the night, we’re signing autographs and relaxing. It was quite a small club but there was definitely a good amount of people in there, plus, at that time, we were performing everywhere else but we weren’t getting booked for a lot of shows in New York, so it was a great feeling for us to be performing in NYC. So at the end of the night, we’re hanging out with the promoter and our dancers and everybody else left because it was late. So it was just me, Kwame and this promoter left in the club. Then, you see one dude pop in through the door. Then another dude. Another dude. Another dude. There was like thirty dudes who popped through the door at the end of the show (laughs). I mean, it’s late and everybody had left. So I’m sitting there like, ‘What the f**k? This don’t look too hot.’ It just looked really weird (laughs). As they were coming in each dude was literally sitting in the first seat they could find, almost like they were trying to be slick and not really be noticed or something. But I could see the whole thing happening like it was in slow motion. Then, here comes Biggie walking in. I can see him walking in now, wearing one of those Kangol caps he used to have on, he had on the Timberlands, and he looked big as ever (laughs). I’d never seen him before in person, so I was like, ‘Oh s**t, it’s Biggie Smalls.’ Now by this point, Kwame had dissed him on record, he’d dissed him in the video and he’d also dissed him on Video Music Box with Ralph McDaniels. So now, Biggie is angry and he’s turned up at our show. So he walked directly over to Kwame and immediately starts to go at him like, ‘What the f**k is up with you?!’ and started coming at him like that, throwing his hands up and everything. He was angry. Kwame was going back at him. So the promoter came over and dove in-between them both and she was like, ‘Hell no! This ain’t going down at my gig!’ She pushed me and Kwame into the kitchen area and the next thing we knew we were out of the club and on the street (laughs). So she basically got us out of the club.”
It sounds like Brooklyn was definitely in the house that night…
“Man, that would not have been pretty. There was like thirty dudes in there with Biggie and just me and Kwame on our own. We’d have been stomped up in there and in a hospital somewhere if something had happened. Or maybe even worse. But this exit we went out of put us right on the other side of the building, so we just went straight to my car, jumped in and took off.”
Taking it back to Steady B, what was your initial reaction when you heard about him and Cool C getting arrested in 1996 for bank robbery and killing a police officer?
“Crazy as it was, I was actually on my way to New York that day. It was January and I remember I was excited about starting off the new year because I was doing mix-tapes at the time. So I’d taken the bus up to New York to go and meet with some of my contacts at various labels who would give me new music for my tapes. I fell asleep on the bus and when I woke up my pager said ‘Overflow’ because I’d had so many pages. I saw multiple pages from the same number and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ So I got up to Arista Records and asked if I could use the phone real quick. So I called the number of this girl I knew who had paged me who kinda always new everything that was going on (laughs). So I called her up and was like, ‘What’s going on?’ Straight away she said to me, ‘What do you know about Steady B and Cool C robbing a bank and shooting a cop?’ My mouth hit the floor. I said, ‘I’m gonna have to call you back.’ I put the phone down straight away because she had just told me everything I needed to know in one sentence. I was just like, ‘Really?!‘”
You’ve visited Steady in prison since he was given his life sentence, right?
“I did. I’ve been up there to see Steady three times. The last time I went up to see him was about three years ago now. I actually want to go back up again. I mean, we weren’t tight when he went into prison but we still had a lot of history together. Actually, one part that I missed out, Steady B and Kwame did a show together in North Carolina. I guess the promoter thought he was being smart and told us that he was booking them both together because there was the connection there with me being the link (laughs). So Steady went on first and it was a really rowdy crowd. I remember he’d only done a couple of songs and people were throwing bottles and there was glass smashing all over. It was not safe. Then a fight broke out in the crowd. So we left. We got paid but we didn’t do the show because it just wasn’t safe. Now Steady and Cool C were arrested in 1996 and this show would have been the year before in 1995. What happened was, I actually had a conversation with Steady that night, which would have been the first conversation I’d had with him since I left the crew in 1989. We hadn’t talked in a long while and Steady was like, ‘Look man, I don’t care anything about records no more. I don’t care if I never make another record.’ I was looking at him like, ‘What is he saying?’ I just didn’t understand. Then when they were arrested and I found out what they’d been doing, what Steady had said to me that night made sense to me.”
Was it a difficult visit the first time you went to see Steady in prison?
“Yeah, it was pretty bad, man. I mean, I was so used to seeing him in a different light. Steady was the type of dude who used to change his clothes three times a day, so to go up there and see him as an inmate was not a good situation. It was pretty bad. I mean, he’d lost a lot of weight, so he looked healthy, but to see him in there as a lifer was a crushing blow.”
Bringing things up-to-date, you’ve been performing recently with Chubb Rock, Special Ed, Kwame, Dana Dane and Monie Love as part of The Alumni – what’s that experience been like?
“It’s so much fun doing those shows and spinning for a bunch of different golden-era artists at one time. After deejay-ing for just a couple of artists for so long, it’s great to be working with such classic artists. I mean, the songs that people like Chubb Rock and Special Ed made are just timeless. I’m throwing on tracks like “I’m The Magnificent” and Special Ed comes out and even now, I’m like, ‘Wow!’ (laughs).”
Finally, does it surprise you that years later your contributions to Hip-Hop are still remembered by so many fans?
“It’s just such a great thing. In the mid-90s I started travelling to places across Europe on my own as a deejay and it just amazed me that people over there knew who I was and remembered my contributions. Really, when we were all part of the Hilltop situation, we were sheltered from all of that. It was like we weren’t really allowed to see how popular we were outside of our own area because then people might start asking for more money (laughs). But to me, it’s amazing that people are still talking about what we did back then to this day. It’s beyond belief, y’know. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Follow Tat Money on Twitter – @DJTatMoney.
80s footage of Steady B & DJ Tat Money performing “Believe Me Das Bad”.