Philly legend DJ Cash Money picks some choice gems from the catalogue of UK label Chopped Herring for this mix featuring the likes of Godfather Don, Tuff Crew, Stetsasonic and more.
Philly legend DJ Cash Money picks some choice gems from the catalogue of UK label Chopped Herring for this mix featuring the likes of Godfather Don, Tuff Crew, Stetsasonic and more.
DMC Magazine interview with Philly legend Cash Money discussing his introduction to deejay-ing, inventing trademark techniques and winning the DMC World Title in 1988.
Footage of NYC-based turntable titan Rob Swift interviewing Philly’s legendary Cash Money this week in order to introduce the ‘transformer’ technique to his class at the Scratch DJ Academy.
Philly turntable legend Cash Money offers his opinion on today’s mixtape game and the role of the deejay in Hip-Hop.
Philly’s legendary DJ Cash Money has uploaded the first of his classic 90s “Old School (Need To Learn-O)” mixtapes for your listening pleasure – catch a flashback with the likes of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Busy Bee and The Russell Brothers here.
In the second part of my interview with golden-age favourite DJ Tat Money, the Philadelphia-bred scratch mechanic talks about how he first met Steady B, his late-80s appearances at New York’s New Music Seminar and the history behind the infamous ‘transformer scratch’ – check Part One here.
When did you first meet Steady B?
“Steady already had records out when I met him. He’d put out stuff like “Take Your Radio” and “Bring The Beat Back” as singles when we first connected. Oddly enough, we connected at Funk-O-Mart, at the record store I was working at. He came to the store to meet me. A mutual friend of ours had told him about me. Like I said earlier, I would make tapes for myself and keep them at my house to listen to. But the crew that I was with, T.F.D., they would come over and be like, ‘You’ve gotta let me hold one of those tapes!’ I’d been quiet about what I was doing on the turntables and I hadn’t really been trying to show people. But they were amazed by it and I was shocked that they liked it. I was like, ‘Really? You think it’s that good?’ Well, they would take the tapes, go back home and practice off them, which was crazy to me as they started out before me (laughs). That was pretty flattering because I always thought they were pretty good and I actually learnt a few tricks from them. So Steady had heard about me through people hearing those tapes.”
Were you surprised when Steady approached you considering he’d already been recording with Grand Dragon K.D. as his deejay?
“See what happened was, Steady and K.D. had some internal issues. Lawrence Goodman, who was Steady’s uncle and manager, he basically used to run the camp. He was kinda like a Suge Knight type (laughs). Not as much brawn, but he definitely had the takeover mentality (laughs). We used to hear it all the time, like, ‘You might think you know, but I know!'” So K.D. and Lawrence bumped heads…
Was K.D. known around Philly as a deejay prior to coming out with Steady?
“Really, I didn’t know much about him. He was picked up by Steady and, like I said, they had some internal issues. Grand Dragon wanted things to go his way and Lawrence wanted them to go his way (laughs). But that was the mentality back then. It was about the deejay and the emcee. Your music didn’t have anything to do with the manager! So Grand Dragon felt like, ‘Okay, well if I’m the deejay then I’ve gotta run the crew.’ But he wasn’t given that chance and him and Lawrence bumped heads, so then it was like, ‘Okay, we’ve gotta get someone else.’ I mean, Steady and Lawrence had put the thing together originally, so I guess they felt nobody was going to tell them how things were gonna be.”
Steady must have been building some nice momentum as well with the attention that his LL Cool J diss “Take Your Radio” had got…
“To be honest, the way things came together with that was kind of on a whim actually. A guy had brought a tape to them originally and then something happened to this guy. His name was Jimmy…”
Was this Jimmy The Jawn?
“That’s him (laughs). From what I understand, he had this great idea to do a song dissin’ LL Cool J who was huge at the time. Lawrence had obviously been doing songs already with artists like Major Harris and Eddie “D” who had the song “Cold Cash $ Money” which was hot around Philly. So Jimmy The Jawn had this little vibe going and everybody was talking about him and Lawrence really wanted to make something pop off in the rap game. So Lawrence heard about this guy and Steady went to the same school as Jimmy, which was Overbrook High School. So Lawrence was looking for him to record this song and they just could not locate him. So beings that they couldn’t find him, Lawrence just decided to bring Steady in and told him to do the record instead. I mean, LL was the man at the time and the crazy thing was that Steady actually loved LL (laughs). I mean, he loved LL. But it was just a business move early on and it was really just a way to try and get into the game even though some people might have thought you were coming in on the wrong foot.”
What impact did “Take Your Radio” have locally?
“It had a nice impact in Philly because when people heard it they were like, ‘Wow! You’re going against LL?!’ Of course people are going to support their own, and that’s what they did. I mean, it wasn’t enough to put Steady on the same level as LL obviously, but it definitely made an impact. There was a little bit of a backlash, so obviously Steady had to come with some back-up records, which is when he dropped “Do The Fila”…”
That was such a great record…
“Steady originally made that record under the name MC Boob because Lawrence was afraid of legalities and whatever. But people definitely took to the record and The Fila was a big dance out here in Philly. But they were definitely worried about the legalities of using the word ‘Fila’ in the title and also the fact that they pretty much took the whole record from Joeski Love who had “Pee Wee’s Dance” out. So they were basically like, ‘Ah, let’s just put it out under a nom de plume and keep it moving.’ But locally, people were definitely feeling Steady.”
So when you came onboard Steady was already in the process of recording his debut 1986 album “Bring The Beat Back”, right?
“That’s right. When Steady came down to find me at Funk-O-Mart he didn’t ask me on the spot to be his deejay, he asked me to audition. He wanted me to audition for his manager, Lawrence Goodman. Steady was like, ‘I’ve already heard what you can do. I want you to show my manager what you can do because I need a deejay.’ So they both came to my house and I cut up Run-DMC’s “Peter Piper” for them and Steady was like, ‘See, I told you he was fresh!’ So I was like, ‘Oh you like that? Watch this…’ and I started doing some tricks and they were like, ‘Okay cool, can you come to the studio and cut up a few records?’ So that was the beginning of it all. I was on four tracks from the “Bring The Beat Back” album, which were “Nothin’ But The Bass”, “Surprise”, “Stupid Fresh” and “Hit Me”.
You entered the New Music Seminar deejay battle in 1987 – what do you remember about that?
“Here’s how it went down. Basically, the first time I entered we were recording the “What’s My Name” album, which was Steady’s second album. I mean, I’d got my feet wet doing those four tracks for the first album, but now with the second project, we were going to construct an entire album together. So we put a lot into the second album and we really felt like we’d made some great songs and I’d learned a lot about the whole recording process. Now, when we got to the end of recording that album, we got told that we were going to New York to the New Music Seminar. I was like, ‘What is that?’ I mean, I’d heard that Jazzy Jeff had won it the previous year but I didn’t really know all about it at that point. I knew that it was about having cut routines and stuff like that, but I was an artist now and all my time was being spent in the studio rather than practicing routines. I mean, I was with Steady almost every day back then, so the days of me practicing for six hours a day were over now that I was spending ten hours a day in the studio. So anyway, we go up to the Seminar and I cut up a couple of records in the deejay battle, still not really knowing what it was about, and I got taken out in the preliminaries by Mr. Mixx from the 2 Live Crew. He was up there cutting up Run-DMC’s “Hard Times” and I was just like, ‘Wow! I’m not prepared for this.’ We’d just finished putting “What’s My Name” together and I had no kind of routines (laughs). But the next year I went back and I was prepared for it because now I knew what it was all about.”
So the second time you actually went with the intention of winning the deejay battle?
“The second time I went in 1988, I had routines now. I understood what the whole Seminar thing was about so I made sure I was prepared the second time. I was a little bit nervous because of getting taken out that first year, but I’d practiced so much that I was also confident. Now, the thing to remember is that the year before I first went to the New Music Seminar, Jazzy Jeff had won the deejay battle. The first year I actually went and got knocked out, Cash Money had won the battle. Now, this second year I went there, you had Jazzy Jeff and Lady B on the judges panel and they were the only two judges from Philly, everyone else was from New York. Red Alert was on there, Mixmaster Ice and a bunch of different people from New York. So I get up there and I thought I did okay during my first two rounds. Even though I won the rounds, I thought I’d just done alright, but it definitely built my confidence up. I mean, I remember they had a huge mixer which obviously I’d never practiced on before and it really tested your talent to be able to perform your routines on equipment you weren’t really familiar with. I remember I beat Vandy C. in one of the early rounds and he was complaining about it. I can hear him now walking around saying to everyone, ‘Man, I can’t believe it!’ I remember Jazzy Jay was there and he was hyping me up after those early rounds, telling me how I was going to win the competition. Now, the third routine I did was my “Rock The Bells” routine. I’d been practicing over Cash Money’s house and he’d done something while we were over there which I borrowed for the routine, which was the ‘record-stop’. So it was like, ‘Rock the burrr…’, ‘Rock the burrr…’ and nobody had ever seen that before. The crowd went wild and I won another round.”
You must have been feeling pretty good at that point?
“Yeah, I’m climbing my way up. So I’m in the semi-finals now. At this point, they told Jazzy Jeff and Lady B that they didn’t need them on the panel anymore. Which I thought was really weird. So they took them both off the panel and you could tell there was some shady stuff going on. So anyway, I went up against this guy from Holland called All Star Fresh. I get up there and did this crazy routine with this wool-cap on my head like you wear in the winter with a ball on the end of it. It was blazing hot, I had on shorts and everything with this winter hat on my head and people were looking at me like, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ So I get up there and start cutting up Public Enemy, ‘Bass! How low can you go?’, Bass! How low can you go?’ and as I’m cutting I pulled the hat down over my eyes, spun around and the crowd just blew-up (laughs). I mean these were early tricks, but people were still excited to see them. So the crowd went crazy for that. Then All Star Fresh gets up there and basically did Cash Money’s routine from the previous year, cutting up Run-DMC, ‘Not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good…’ That was really it. Then I went back up and did another trick using “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” and I really did some crazy cuts. Then All Star Fresh comes back and he did a blend, mixing Rob Base’s “It Takes Two” with a Roxanne Shante record or something. Next thing I know, they said he won and I was out of my mind! I was just sat there like, ‘You’ve gotta be f**kin’ kidding me?'”
How did the crowd respond to that?
“Man, let me tell you how it happened. The announcers for the New Music Seminar that year were Daddy-O, Flavor Flav and Biz Markie. What they would do, they would have the deejays go on and then whilst they were tallying up the votes the emcees would go on and then afterwards they’d tell you who won that particular round of the deejay competition. So, Biz was like, ‘Do we have the results for the deejay battle?’ He got the results, turned around, looked at me, then said ‘We have the result…and it’s real f**ked-up.’ He said the second part kinda under his breath (laughs). Then he said, ‘The winner is All Star Fresh…’ and he said it really fast (laughs). The crowd were just silent. There was like a sea of people in there and it was quiet for about five seconds. There wasn’t a sound. Then all you heard after that were just monstrous boos coming from everywhere (laughs). Then this chant started, ‘Tat! Tat! Tat!’ The person who started the chant was Jon Shecter from The Source. He’d done an interview with me years ago, before he even did B.M.O.C. I saw him in the crowd and he was the one who started the chant. But after that day, I got my respect in New York and I was happy. But the final that year was All Star Fresh and DJ Scratch and, of course, Scratch beat him. But I think it came down to the fact that Philly deejays had won for the previous two years and they felt it had to go to a New York deejay that year so they wouldn’t let me get through to the final.”
Philly deejays were really setting the standards back then though…
“Yeah, definitely. I mean, Miz was in that Seminar as well but he got knocked out because of that big mixer I mentioned. He tried to get up on the turntables, put his knee up there, he hit the wrong button and all hell broke loose (laughs). It just didn’t work for him that year. He actually battled DJ Scratch during the rounds. But from what everyone was saying afterwards, the final should have either been me and Miz, or me and Scratch. After the announcement was made, I walked over to the judges and I was so angry. I just waved my hand, like, ‘Whatever! You know who won that round!’ I walked away and Red Alert stopped me and was like, ‘Yo! You won that, man!’ He wasn’t afraid to say what was real. I was about to get real frustrated and start saying some stuff, but then I saw this camera in my face and it was Ice-T’s video camera. He recorded the whole thing. From what I remember, there was only two people with video cameras in that place and that was Ice-T and Hurby Luv Bug. So I saw the camera in my face and I paused because I was thinking I’m an artist on Jive Records now and I’ve got to be careful about my public persona because I was being introduced as ‘Jive Records’ own DJ Tat Money..’ and I didn’t want to do or say anything that might have damaged my career back then (laughs). But that was my experience of the New Music Seminar.”
On the subject of the influence of Philly deejays, let’s talk about the ‘transformer scratch’ for a moment. Many people consider DJ Spinbad to be the person who invented it, Cash Money to be the person who named it and Jazzy Jeff to be the person who first came out with it on record. Agree or disagree?
“Everything you said is true, except for the last part. Jeff was the first person to put it on a record with the name attached to it. The first transforming on record was actually on Steady B’s “Bring The Beat Back” and that was done by Grand Dragon K.D.. He was transforming on that record back then, it’s just that people outside of Philly didn’t know what it was called at that point. But the transformer scratch was already poppin’ in the streets. Now, when Spinbad first did it, he was doing it using the ‘It’s time…’ part from Hashim’s ‘”Al-Naafiysh”. I think he did that scratch for the first time in public at the Wynn Ballroom and everyone was like, ‘Whaaaat?!’ Then the tape of that party went around the streets and people were going crazy when they heard it. This was around 1985. Like I said earlier, there was huge competition in Philly as far as being a deejay was concerned, and if you couldn’t do all the different types of scratches then you really weren’t worth anything to anybody. You had to earn your stripes. Plus, deejays from different areas cut a little differently to one another. Now, when the transformer scratch came out, Spinbad came from the Mount Airy / Germantown area which is North Philly. So he cut a little differently then guys like us from West Philly. So, when he first did his interpretation of what became known as the transformer scratch at the Wynn Ballroom, spinning it back so it made that particular sound, Cash Money heard it and decided to speed it up. Then Cash did his version of it at a party, but he actually named it. His emcee at the time was Kool Breeze Steve and he got up there like, ‘Cash Money watches “Transformers” everyday at four-o-clock and this is what he learned…’ Cash gets on the turntables and does the scratch, but he’d sped it up and really made it into something special. Then the tape of that party got around and now you had all these different deejays in Philly hearing it and trying to do it, which is how Grand Dragon K.D. then ended up doing it on “Bring The Beat Back” and then Jazzy Jeff did it and actually used the name ‘transformer scratch’ on record a little afterwards with “The Magnificent…”.
Check Part Three of this interview here.
Steady B – “Bring The Beat Back” (Pop Art Records / 1986)
A product of Philadelphia’s diverse Hip-Hop scene of the 1980s, turntable maestro Tat Money made his name as a local deejay before going on to achieve worldwide acclaim alongside fellow Illadelph resident Steady B, contributing both cuts and production to classic albums from the Philly emcee, including 1986’s “Bring The Beat Back” and its 1987 follow-up “What’s My Name” (which featured Tat’s timeless solo track “Rockin’ Music”).
An integral part of the infamous Hilltop Hustlers collective, which also counted Cool C and Three Times Dope as members, Tat Money stood alongside the likes of Jazzy Jeff, Cash Money and DJ Miz as yet another highly-skilled example of Philadelphia’s notoriously competitive deejay community.
With his contributions to Hip-Hop’s golden-age still remembered by many today, Tat has never stepped away from the turntables, currently performing alongside Special Ed, Chubb Rock, Kwame, Dana Dane and Monie Love as part of true-school crew The Alumni.
In the first part of this interview, the Philly legend discusses his early determination to master the craft of turntablism, famous family music connections and being introduced to a young Will Smith.
Were you already listening to a lot of music as a kid before you were introduced to Hip-Hop?
“Well, basically, the way my whole situation evolved I would have to say was through my parents, man. My parents used to have these parties at the house, like family gatherings, and they were really into that. Now, my pops is from Jamaica and my mother is from America. So I have a heavy influence as far as reggae goes. I mean, my dad had Bob Marley eight-track tapes (laughs). Back in the 70s I used to play those in the car. Now, at all these parties, I would act as the deejay, putting on all these old-school records like James Brown and Funkadelic. I would put on all these records and then go out and dance to them with my cousin. I’d get all those 45s, stack them up on the turntable, like ten of them, and then they’d play one after the other in the sequence that I wanted them to play in. It was just such a fun time back then. So that’s what actually sparked me to want to deejay…”
Just seeing the reaction that the music was getting from people?
“Yeah, it just really got me. Now, I got re-introduced to it by chance when I was around ten-years-old. A friend of mine lived around my cousin’s area as well and I was dating his sister as a young kid. So I walked in his house looking for her, we go into the basement area and her brother, who was like two years older than me, he was like, ‘Come here for a second.’ He’s playing songs and I’m like ‘What’s he doing?’ Now, this was around 1979 / 1980 and the two records he had on his turntables were Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “Superappin'” and Jimmy Spicer’s “Adventures Of Super Rhyme”. Those were the first two records I touched as far as Hip-Hop goes and that was my first awareness of the music. I’m listening to the guys on the records rapping and it was literally blowing my mind. I was like, ‘This is incredible!’ But this guy had the BSR turntables and I can’t even remember what mixer he had. Everything was brown and really old-school (laughs). But it was still two turntables and a mixer and I got on there and started playing around. I’ll never forget that moment. Then not long after that the trend started picking up and there were little deejay crews around my area. Actually, I should say in the city because originally we lived in the city and then we moved to the suburbs. But I would be in the city mostly every weekend and I’d see the guys I grew-up with and went to school with starting deejay crews….
What were some of those crews called?
“There was one called the Funk Boys who used to be around my old area and then there was one called T.F.D., which stood for Treacherous Funk Disco. They lived one street away from my old house in West Philly in an area called Wynnefield. Now, the Funk Boys were from 58th Street, which was around where Will Smith is from. Will lived about four or five blocks away from where I lived. But T.F.D. were only about a block away from where I lived, so obviously they were closer. I knew them, they knew me, so I basically started practicing with those guys. Seeing all these deejay crews popping up I knew it was what I wanted to do. So I’d go over to the basement that T.F.D. would use and they already had their whole set-up in there already. I didn’t have any turntables or nothing, but I wanted them so badly.”
Were T.F.D. playing a mix of music at that time or straight Hip-Hop-inspired sets with break-beats etc?
“They were playing more Hip-Hop and R&B. You’d hear all the stuff that was influencing the rap songs of the time. So you’d hear “Heartbeat” by Tanya Gardner and then you’d hear the Treacherous Three’s “Feel The Heartbeat” which had obviously used that. You’d hear all the party songs by people like Teena Marie and Earth, Wind & Fire with some Hip-Hop mixed in there. I mean, at that time, there wasn’t a slew of Hip-Hop records that had come out or that were popular. So you only had a few here and there. So the crews had to mix it up and throw in stuff from Parliament, Earth, Wind & Fire and the songs that would get people up. But just being around those T.F.D. guys really helped me a lot. I mean, I was already into the music but I learned a lot more about actually putting records together. Then slowly but surely I brought a turntable, I brought a mixer and then I brought another turntable and started practicing some more. Then I started sneaking into parties (laughs). I was under-age at the time but I learned how to get in…”
Were these local house parties or events at actual venues?
“We were doing house party stuff but then there’d be an event every now and that would be at a local hall or something and I would sneak in. I was like fifteen-years-old at the time and you needed to be a little older to be able to get in. So I would just talk my way in at the door and I learned how to do that (laughs). Those were fun times.”
What was your first actual turntable set-up?
“I had a Technics SL-B101 which was a curve-arm turntable and an SL-B20 which was a straight-arm turntable. Then I had a big ol’ Gemini mixer that was huge and brown (laughs). I didn’t know any better at the time, but I heard that it had a great crossfader. That crossfader slid so easy like you’d poured grease down into it. I mean, you could blow it across (laughs). So what happened was, I really started to excel. I mean, I’m the type of person that when I get into something, I really throw myself into it and want to do everything I can to really master something. It’s just about proving to myself that I can do something.”
How much time would you spend practicing back then?
“At least six hours a day. As soon as I came home from school, I’d walk through the door, drop my books and go straight to my room to practice. I’d deejay from about 2:30pm until say 7pm, then I’d go eat dinner, then I’d go back and deejay some more. So I was definitely practicing for at least six hours a day. I used to have that Malcolm McLaren & World Famous Supreme Team record cover with the Technics 1200s on it up in front of me when I used to practice as inspiration (laughs).”
How much awareness did you have at that time of what else was happening across Philly as far as the city’s Hip-Hop scene was concerned?
“At that time it was very young. A lot of the songs that were coming out were made in New York obviously, but some of them were being made in Philly unbeknownst to us because there were different labels that people were coming out on and different studios that people liked to use. I knew nothing about the music industry at all so all I could do was read the labels that were on these records and try to understand from that what was going on. Not living in New York and being a young kid, I really didn’t know a lot about what was actually happening in the industry itself. But then I’d hear different things because I had an uncle who was in the music industry before me. His name was Frank Alstin and he was a singer and guitar player. Actually the first record I ever made was with him, we did a record called “Super Lover” on the label WMOT and my rapper at the time was on there as well, Meka. We did that song in 1985 and I was scratching on that record, cutting up ‘F-f-f-fresh’ which was popular at the time (laughs). So my uncle was the person who first took me to a studio which really introduced me to how things worked from that standpoint. So I had the love of music already from being a deejay and now I was going to the studio with him and he had already actually made records. He actually co-wrote “Who Can I Run To” by The Jones Girls. I can still remember the day he brought that record home when I was over at my grandmother’s house, which is where he was living at the time. He was so excited but the record didn’t really take off even though we all thought it was going to work. But then years later, Xscape covered it and I remember him calling me to tell me that he’d been asked for clearance to use the record. So I was telling him, ‘They’re a platinum selling group. You’re about to really get it…’ and sure enough the cheques started rolling in. But then sadly not long after that he died. That’s such a crazy story.”
So your uncle really introduced you to the business side of making music back then…
“He really gave me a lot of insight into the music business. I remember him introducing me to people like McFadden & Whitehead, Teddy Pendergrass who used to stay at his place sometimes to write songs. I just missed meeting the Jackson 5 when they were recording in Philly which would have been ridiculous back then. I remember my uncle was taking me to the studio as a surprise and we stopped off at a deli and bumped into McFadden & Whitehead. We were right by Sigma Studios and, although I didn’t know it, the Jackson 5 were in there working with Gamble & Huff. I remember, my uncle was having a conversation with Whitehead and they were talking real low so I couldn’t hear them even though I actually could. So my uncle was saying how we were going to the studio and I heard Whitehead say, ‘You’ve just missed the Jacksons, they’ve just left.’ I was sitting there like, ‘Arrrghhh’ (laughs).”
Where were you hoping your passion for deejay-ing was going to lead to back then?
“I always knew that I could do something with it, but exactly what I didn’t know. I wanted to be in the game real bad and I felt like I was so close to it that I could almost reach out and touch it. So it was frustrating in a sense even though I always felt like I could make it happen. So to make it happen, I got my myself a job in a local record store because I’d read that Mantronik had used to work in a record store when he was trying to get into the game. So I got myself a job at the best record store in town, which was Funk-O-Mart downtown. I went down there two times and brought a ton of records. It must have been about a hundred and fifty dollars worth of records. It was a whole lot of records. I could barely even carry them home (laughs). The second time I went in there the owner saw me and was like, ‘You know a lot about records. Do you want a job?’ and I said ‘Yes!’ It happened just like that which was exactly what I wanted to happen. So I started working there every day.”
That must have been a dream job?
“Yeah. I mean, I was running into a lot of like-minded people and different artists. I saw DMC there one time when the Fresh Fest came through Philly. Run didn’t make it down, which at the time I was disappointed by because I didn’t realise the power of DMC at that point. I mean, the whole group were incredible to me but Run was my man! But then overtime it actually shifted to DMC when I realised how he was just so chill with it (laughs). I bumped into Grandmaster Dee from Whodini who came down to the store and I remember him telling me about Rakim before Rakim was even popular. So I really put myself in the middle of it all working in that store. Before the internet, social networking and everything else you really had to keep your ear to the street to keep up with everything and by working at Funk-O-Mart I was really in the trenches and could see exactly what was selling, what people were asking for and what was happening on the street. I remember people would come in with tapes and play me songs they’d heard on the radio asking if we had it in the store and if we didn’t then I’d order it because overtime I was in put in charge of that side of things because I always knew what was going on. Working in Funk-O-Mart was major because I was able to learn so much more about different genres of music from soul and jazz to salsa and reggae, plus different artists like Bob James. I’d listen to all this different stuff and there were these Spanish cats who worked there who really put me up on all the different merengues etc. I even learnt how to speak Spanish from working there with them (laughs).”
So were you still just practicing your deejay skills in your bedroom at this point or where you performing in public?
“To answer your question, yes I was still a bedroom deejay at that point and I was practicing heavy, heavy, heavy. I would do a tape every now and then at that time, but I really didn’t feel that I wanted to let my talent out at that point because I still didn’t really know that I even had a talent. So I didn’t want to really showcase it in anyway and then have people say, ‘Well, you messed up there’ and things like that (laughs). So I wouldn’t really make a lot of tapes. I would just make a few for myself to listen to. Now, in Philly at that time, the way that people gauged whether you were a good deejay or not was how well you could cut up a few different records. One record was “Dance To The Drummer’s Beat”, another record was Hashim’s “Al-Naafiysh”, another was “Superappin'” and also “Good Times” by Chic. Now, if you could cut those records up and you could do it well, then you were considered a great deejay.”
So those records were some of the early staples of the Philly Hip-Hop deejay scene…
“Oh yeah, oh yeah. If you could chop those records up well, particularly the faster ones like “Dance To The Drummer’s Beat”, if you could really catch those records then people would validate you and start telling everyone else that you were a good deejay. So you always practiced with those records. Then you’d go back to the slower records like Masterdon Committee’s “Funkbox Party (Live)”. But those faster records, they were the true test of your talent. Plus, back then, if you made a mistake, there was no Serato or anything to cover your back. If your needle skipped people were going to hear it, so that was a big part of how people decided how good you were back then as well; how fast you could catch the record without the needle skipping (laughs). I mean, if people thought you could cut those records well, you would get booked for gigs off of that. Now, once people gave you that title of being a good deejay you wanted to keep that title, so that was why I was really careful about letting people hear what I was doing while I was practicing.”
Were you aware of other Hip-Hop deejays in Philly at that time?
“Yes I was. I mean, we had guys like Grandmaster Nell who was one of the big pioneers in Philly. He’s actually where Jazzy Jeff got a lot of his smoothness from as a deejay because Jeff was definitely watching what Nell was doing back then. Jeff was in a crew called the Network Crew and I used to hear about those guys. Now, this was around the time when Cash Money and I first became friends, although he wasn’t called Cash Money back then, he used to be called Lite Brite.”
So this is around the early-80s?
“Yeah, definitely around 83 / 84 because I was still in high-school at that point. I used to hear that Jazzy Jeff was the best deejay in Philly and then I’d hear his tapes and be like, ‘Man, is this all it takes to be the best?!’ I’m not downplaying what he was doing at the time, it was just that back then I felt I could do what he was doing as well. So it was just that spirit of competition. Now, remember, back then I still couldn’t get into a lot of the hotel events that they used to have where you needed to be over twenty-one to get in. Jeff and Cash are both four or five years older than me, so they were ahead of me at that time and had already been out there doing it. So I was just shooting for being great at what I did so I could be recognized. I actually partnered up with Jeff in the beginning and that’s actually how I got on and learnt who the different promoters were because Jeff was doing all these different parties at the time.”
Was he already rolling with the Fresh Prince at that point?
“Jeff was on his own at that time. Actually, I was at Jeff’s place when the Fresh Prince came over to his house for the very first time. I was in Jeff’s basement when he first came there. It’s probably something that neither one of them remember now, but we were all in the basement at Jeff’s mother’s house. Jeff was telling me that this emcee was coming over and he was like, ‘This guy’s so good! He’s dope!’ So Jeff is building it up and I’m hyped to see who this person is and then Will comes walking down the steps and I’m like, ‘You’re talking about this dude right here?’ I knew who he was because Will was from Wynnefield and was just around the corner from my parents’ house. I didn’t know him, but I knew of him. I’d actually seen Will in a battle prior to that and the battle hadn’t really gone in his favour because the dudes he was going up against were pretty hardcore (laughs).”
Who was the battle with?
“Well, the Fresh Prince was rolling with a crew called the Hypnotic Crew and the name of the crew they went up against was the Poison Clan. It was a tough battle, man. It was at this place called the Wynn Ballroom which was on the corner of my grandmother’s block and I remember not many people were there at the time because it was a day-time battle. But I got in there and my man Eric from Poison Clan was killing it. He was going at the Fresh Prince so hard, saying that he got his name from a fa**ot R&B artist and stuff like that. But he said it in a freestyle rhyme and the people there went crazy. Will had these parachute pants on and these boots and Eric started going at him about those as well, saying that he didn’t know if he was going to fly away and things like that (laughs). But that was a tough battle for Will and that’s why I remembered the name Fresh Prince. So when he came down the stairs into the basement, I was on Jeff’s turntables because I used to go over there to practice. I look up and I’m like, ‘Oh my god! This is the guy from the Wynn Ballroom. This is that Fresh Prince guy.’ So Will comes down the stairs, like ‘Oh my god! I’m over Jazzy Jeffrey’s house! My god!’ He’s all jolly and he had a Polo shirt on and I was like, ‘Polo? I can’t afford Polo! What kind of rich kid is this?!’ (Laughs). But we started talking and we’ve been friends ever since that day. We were always really cool. It was Will and Steady B that had the problem.”
Check Part Two of this interview here.
DJ Tat Money cuttin’ up LL Cool J’s “Rock The Bells”.
In Part One of this interview with DJ Woody Wood, the Three Times Dope member reminisced on his early introduction to the Philly Hip-Hop scene. In this second instalment, Woody remembers signing with Lawrence Goodman’s Pop Art / Hilltop Hustlers label and recording the group’s debut album “Original Stylin'”.
So was it easy to get your music heard by Pop Art’s owner Lawrence Goodman considering the label was based in Philadelphia?
“Man, Lawrence’s office was all the way up in West Philly on City Line Avenue near the skating rink. I had a car back then and no matter the weather, rain or snow, me and Chuck would drive up there. But Lawrence Goodman would never come out. We never saw this dude (laughs). But there was this lady, Miss Joanne on reception, and we would give her the music and she’d be like, ‘Okay, I’ll let him hear it.’ Then she’d call us back like, ‘Well, Lawrence said go back to the drawing board. He didn’t really seem too impressed.’ So we’d go back to the drawing board.”
So is this around the 1985 / 1986 period?
“Yeah, this was in 1986. By that time Lawrence had more cats on his label who’d come out from both New York and Philly who were really starting to make some noise like Craig G and Steady B. We had these big concerts in Philly around that time like the Fresh Frest and Philly Vs. New York. You’d see some of the Philly guys who I was telling you about before battling the emcees and deejays from New York at these events. It was at those events that it really became apparent to me that the deejays from Philly were so much better than the deejays from New York. It was like the New York dudes hadn’t had enough practice when they came here (laughs). They really couldn’t mess with the dudes in Philly when it came to deejay-ing. When it came to the emcees, that was more of an even battle, but as far as the deejays were concerned, it definitely felt like we had more deejay power here in Philly. I mean, I was always impressed by the cats from New York, but I was more impressed by the deejays I could physically see in Philly. That was also around the time when I started hearing about people like Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money who did things differently to everybody else. I’m listening to the tapes and Cash Money was doing stuff like taking the ‘It’s time…’ part from Hashim’s “Al-Naafiysh” and just cutting between the two copies so quickly, like ‘It’s t-t-t-t-t-t-time…’ and then he started transforming and I’m like, ‘What’s that?’ That changed deejay-ing in Philly at that point. Jeff, Cash Money, Grand Wizard Rasheen, those dudes just had something that was so different that really caught the attention of everybody.”
So at what point did you make something that Lawrence actually liked?
“Lawrence kept telling us to try something else and we kept going back with more music. We kept working with different emcees. We did something with a guy called Bay Ray Boogie who sounded like LL and Lawrence was like, ‘Try something else.’ So we went back again and that’s how we met EST”
How did EST become part of the group?
“Well, EST was still in high-school at that time. We met him and he started coming around. Rob (EST) was definitely pretty thorough and had his own little style. He was a creative dude. He’d carry this book around with him and doodle all the time, drawing stuff. So we did something with EST, sent it over to Lawrence and he was like, ‘Wait a minute, let me talk to you guys.’ So we went up to see him and that was how we met Lawrence Goodman. He’d just signed Steady B to Jive at that point and had all these connections and that was when he started the Hilltop Hustlers. He signed Cool C first and we were like, ‘Damn! We’ve been waiting, why’s he not signing us?!’ Eventually he did sign us and that’s when I really started to see how the music scene worked.”
How familiar were you with Steady B and Cool C at that point?
“Well, Steady had already had records out like “Bring The Beat Back” so I was very familiar with him because it was actually through looking at the back of his records that we found Lawrence Goodman. I didn’t know Cool C at the time. I mean, he was there but I didn’t know him until we got with Lawrence. Cool C didn’t have records out before like Steady B had. I think what Lawrence saw was that they had MC Shan out in New York at the time and Cool C sounded a little like Shan. I think Lawrence was smart enough back then to understand how the music game worked and he used that to mimick what some popular artists were doing and diss them which was a big thing in Hip-Hop at the time. I mean, if you dissed somebody back then it was huge.”
Steady B dissed LL Cool J with “Take Your Radio” and then Cool C went at Shan with “Juice Crew Dis” – what was the reaction on the streets of Philly when two local artists went at two of the biggest Hip-Hop artists out of New York at the time?
“I mean, I think all of that was really down to Lawrence. I think he had relationships with those guys in New York and I don’t know what happened with those relationships or if he was just capitalising off the battle scene that was in New York at the time with the whole BDP / Juice Crew thing. I think he was smart enough to think of doing some of the same thing in order to get some attention. But at the same time, although some people in Philly might have been surprised to see local artists dissing big New York artists, there was also a sense of ‘Yeah, give us our space to.’ I mean, MC Breeze had already made the song “It Ain’t New York”. It wasn’t like we were some know-nothing dudes down in Philly. We wanted our respect to. But I mean, back then, if you dissed somebody, it wasn’t like now where it’s like you’re trying to kill them, it was about going for your reputation. It was healthy competition.”
So getting back to EST, what were your first impressions of him as an emcee?
“What ES brought to the table with his lyrics and the kind of stuff he was writing was just very creative to me. I mean, we all had a mutual respect for what each member brought to the group. I’m about four years older than EST and Chuck is a year or so older than me, so we definitely had more experience than ES in terms of what we’d been doing with the deejay-ing, but we just came together so well as a group. ES definitely had his own style. He was left-handed. He always wore K-Swiss. He had his own style with his clothes and his dancing. But remember, EST was still in high-school when we got together. I mean, when our first album came out he was in twelfth-grade (laughs). But to me, EST didn’t sound like anybody else who was out at that time and that was definitely one of things I really liked about him as an emcee.”
It’s crazy to think EST was so young on those early records because he had this big voice and always sounded so self-assured and confident…
“I agree. You saw that to when we were doing shows. I mean, when we started doing shows it was new for all of us, so we were all learning as we went along. But EST definitely had that presence. I remember when we started out, Lawrence used to package Steady B, Cool C and us all together for shows, so if you wanted to book one of us, you got all three of us, and that’s how we got a lot of our early exposure. Steady was already out first, but although Cool C got signed before we did we kinda came out around the same time with records. So we would sit down in Lawrence’s basement and do all three shows together. We would go first, then Cool second and Steady B last. So when you came to one of our shows, you’d see 3-D doing our stuff, then we would stay on the turntables and the beat machine and Cool C would come out and do his show, then Steady would come out with no intermission. We would just go straight through and it was bangin’. The only thing we would switch was a Hilltop Hustlers sign we had when we were onstage because Steady had his own sign and everybody also had different dancers. But performing all together like that was definitely beneficial for everyone.”
Where did the Hilltop Hustlers name come from?
“Well, Lawrence had his label Pop Art and then at some point he decided he was going to change it to Hilltop Hustlers Records. Steady B was from the Hilltop, which was 60th and Lansdowne in West Philly. So with Steady, Cool C and us they probably just decided it would be good to put us all under one name, the Hilltop Hustlers. The original Hilltop Hustlers were a gang back in the 70s in Philly, so he just took that name and used it.”
Was there ever any feedback from any of the gang’s members about the name being used by you all?
“I don’t think so, but then I wasn’t from Hilltop so I probably wouldn’t have heard it as much as someone like Steady would have done. But they probably didn’t think it was a bad thing because it was positive to take a name that had been used before and use it again in a way that was showing respect for where it came from. But you see, 3-D, we came from Hunting Park in North Philly, which is why you would hear EST say on records, ‘From Hunting Park, the Hilltop…’ so that we were giving respect to where we were from. We wanted to let people know the neighbourhood we were from, but we were also respectful to the Hilltop because we were under that name Hilltop Hustlers and we were all working together at that time.”
Radio always seemed like it played a big part in the Philly scene back then…
“It was crazy. We had two big stations here in Philly, WDAS and Power 99. Now you had Lady B on Power with “The Street Beat” and Mimi was on WDAS with “The Rap Digest”. All these cats from New York used to come Philly to get on the radio and I was trying to understand why they would do that. I used to ride with Lawrence back and forth to New York to drop off our music and that was when I realised that those dudes in New York were battling so hard. You had Kiss and WBLS with DJ Red Alert on one and Mr. Magic on the other station and they had beef with the whole KRS-One / MC Shan battle. So if you were affiliated with one you couldn’t get on the other station. So you had some of those dudes coming down to Philly, which was a major market with two large stations, and getting a lot of air-time. We’d see this as we bounced from station to station and that’s when it became apparent to me that we were really onto something as a group because we sounded just as good as them. In fact, when we first started getting heard outside of Philly around 87 / 88 people actually thought we were from New York because of our sound.”
That time around 87 / 88 seemed to be a real break-out period for Philly artists…
“That whole era was crazy. I mean, if they’d have had reality TV back then (laughs). There was so much stuff going on up at the radio stations and it was just so much fun. On any given Friday night, either on Mimi’s Rap Digest or Lady B’s Street Beat, you’d have Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, 3-D, Cool C, Steady B, Malika Love, DJ Bones, Tuff Crew, everyone would be up there.”
Now just to clarify, you weren’t the same Woody Wood who was a mix deejay for Lady B in the mid-80s?
“Nah, there was another guy who used the name Woody Wood from Jersey so that wasn’t me.”
Were there ever any memorable battles at either of the stations considering the amount of artists who used to congregate at each spot?
“Yeah, yeah (laughs). Steady B and the Fresh Prince went at it one time on-air. This was about 87 / 88. I mean, for the most part everyone had mutual respect for everyone else, but of course everyone wanted to be seen as the best. Steady had more street credibility at that time, but that was maybe one of the first times that people outside of those who really knew him saw a different side to the Fresh Prince, like, ‘I may sound a certain way but don’t play me, I’m from Philly to!'”
At the time you would have been recording 1988’s “Original Stylin'” project there were a lot of classic albums coming out from Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B. & Rakim, Biz Markie etc – what was your mindet going into making that debut album considering what else was happening in Hip-Hop back then?
“At the time, for me, I was just thinking that we wanted to sound different. Hip-Hop was just so creative back then and we really wanted to just sound like us. I felt like what we came up with on that album was a good mix of stuff that did make us stand out. We didn’t sound like anybody else and each one of us in the group brought something to the table. We all had an input on that album. But that was the case from the very beginning. I mean, our first songs, “On The Dope Side” and “Crushin’ & Bussin'”, I felt took sounds from that era, like “Funky Drummer”, but we were trying to do different things with them. We also had some creative input from Steady B early on as well as he produced “From Da Giddy Up”. The track was originally for Cool C but it was a little too fast for him. But that beat was something that Steady had come up with and DJ Tat Money actually cut on that record. So yeah, it was too fast for Cool C to flow to, so EST sat down and wrote something that became “From Da Giddy Up”.”
I remember at the time being impressed with how much of a really solid, clean sound that first album had to it, particularly on tracks like “Believe Dat” and “Straight Up”…
“Yeah, that sound came from Chuck and Lawrence and the studio we were using at the time. We were working in Studio 4 in Philadelphia at the time with Joe ‘The Butcher’ Nicolo as our engineer. I definitely give those guys credit for what they did when it came to the overall sound of the album. I can’t take credit for any of that (laughs).”
I think the vinyl album came out here in the UK on the City Beat label a little earlier than it did in the States on Arista…
“Yeah, we were signed through City Beat in the UK. I mean, Lawrence was the business person behind what happened on that side so I’m not really sure why that was that we were signed to two different labels like that. To be honest, that was part of our challenge with some of the other stuff that happened on the business side. But we were signed to two different labels, had two different versions of our first album, and some of the tracks that were on the US version weren’t on the version that came out in the UK through City Beat.”
Yeah, “Funky Dividends” wasn’t on the UK pressing and “Once More You Hear The Dope Stuff” came as a bonus 12″ with initial copies of the vinyl version…
“I mean, we weren’t privy to a lot of the business stuff back so we didn’t really know what was going on.”
What was the impact of the album both in and outside of Philly?
“Good question. I mean, the album actually came out a little earlier in Philly. In fact, from what you said, I would say it came out in Philly the same time it came out in the UK. So people in Philly had the single “Greatest Man Alive” before everyone else had the single. That was also the first video we ever did which really opened up a lot of doors for us. Even though we were going through some internal things with the label that video still got made. When I first saw that video I was shocked because they’d done a really good job for the amount of money that was actually spent on it. But when it dropped we started realising that people outside of the Philly area, New York area, Virginia and D.C. were also picking up on the music. We could see it, because right away we started getting more fan mail (laughs). We used to have a PO Box in Hunting Park and we would open these letters and there’d be girls sending pictures and stuff like that (laughs). It was crazy to me. We used to sit there and laugh and be like, ‘Damn, people really like us.’ I wouldn’t say I was totally shocked at the time but to see people from other areas liking our music was definitely a positive thing. I still have some of the fan letters today (laughs). I’m telling you, I keep all that stuff. I’ve still got receipts for equipment, I’ve got pictures from back then, I didn’t throw anything away (laughs).”
You mentioned that there were some internal problems between the group and the label when you were making the “Greatest Man Alive” video – so things were coming to a head with Lawrence Goodman that early on?
“Oh yeah. I mean, we were cool, but it was hard at that time because we were starting to have different views on things. I mean, Lawrence was doing a good job, but he was both our manager and our record label at the same time. So we started to see there was a conflict there. I think he meant well, but we felt that some of the things that were happening weren’t in our best interests. We found out about some things and had somebody look at our contracts. Now, as I said earlier, EST wasn’t eighteen-years-old when we were first signed and his mother never really signed his contracts and stuff. So he got pulled out the group someway and then we got signed directly to Arista. There was just a whole bunch of stuff going on.”
Read Part Three of this interview here.
Footage of Philly’s legendary DJ Cash Money dusting off some classics as part of this year’s Tools Of War-arranged Park Jam event series in NYC.
The legendary DJ Scratch chooses his top five Hip-Hop deejays of all-time for AllHipHop.Com.