Dynas ft. DJ Jazzy Jeff – “Thai Food” (@Dynas / 2020)
The veteran Florida-based emcee flexes his bravado-fuelled lyrical wit on this Jazzy Jeff-produced single from the forthcoming album “i LeveL”.
Dynas ft. DJ Jazzy Jeff – “Thai Food” (@Dynas / 2020)
The veteran Florida-based emcee flexes his bravado-fuelled lyrical wit on this Jazzy Jeff-produced single from the forthcoming album “i LeveL”.
Dynas ft. DJ Jazzy Jeff – “Thai Food” (@Dynas / 2020)
The ever-consistent Florida-based emcee drops a new dope Jazzy Jeff-produced single from his “i LeveL” album.
DJ Muggs & Roc Marciano – “KAOS” (SoulAssassins.Com) – Following the 2018 release of both “RR2” and “Behold A Dark Horse”, Roc Marci teamed-up with Cypress Hill’s Muggs to put together what resulted in being arguably the best of the three projects. Whilst Muggs’ dark trademark production style may not have seemed the first choice to fit with the Strong Island emcee’s laidback, conversational flow, the pair brought the best out of each other here, with the West Coast music man largely supplying Roc with a string of 70s soundtrack-style samples to lay his lyrical pimp-hand down on.
Evidence – “Weather Or Not” (Rhymesayers.Com) – The third solo album from Dilated Peoples member Evidence, this project found the West Coast emcee capturing an almost melancholy vibe, an observation which isn’t meant to sound negative at all. As down-to-earth as always, Evidence delivered his usual high-standard of blue-collar beats and rhymes, expertly mixing personal reflection with claims of lyrical dominance over production from the likes of The Alchemist, Nottz and DJ Premier. Let it rain!
Shay D – “Human Writes” (ShayDMusic.Com) – London-based emcee Shay D’s growth as an artist over recent years has been inspiring to witness, culminating in this project which is arguably her finest body-of-work to date, effectively blending spoken-word and rap, at times blurring the lines between Hip-Hop and grime with bold confidence. Painfully personal, proudly feminist and undeniably street-savvy, “Human Writes” stood as an artistic triumph which refused to be squeezed into the usual boxes female artists often find themselves confined to. Ladies first!
Knowledge The Pirate – “Flintlock” (Treasure Chest Entertainment / FXCKRXP.BandCamp.Com) – The Roc Marciano-affiliated Pirate has been moving behind-the-scenes within the music industry for years now, with the brilliant “Flintlock” finally giving the East Coast emcee the opportunity to captain his own sonic ship. Detailed hustler tales were delivered here with an understated suggestion of menace, matched perfectly by the soulful, drama-laced production of Elemnt, Roc Marc, Mushroom Jesus and Knowledge himself. Vivid, cinematic crime rhymes. Ahoy!
Juga-Naut – “Bon Vivant” (JugaNaut.BandCamp.Com) – Nottingham’s Juga-Naut is a craftsman with words. Next level talent. This impressive album showcased the UK emcee in all his larger-than-life lyrical glory, masterfully weaving confidently delivered verses with style and finesse around high-grade production from the likes of Cappo, Joe Buhdha and Jugz himself. There are some individuals who were just born to rhyme and “Bon Vivant” proved that Juga-Naut definitely falls into that category.
Ty Farris – “No Cosign Just Cocaine 2” (TyFarris.BandCamp.Com) – Street-wise swagger and lyrical dexterity collided on this project with memorable results, as Detroit’s Ty Farris navigated his way through beats from Trox, Stu Bangas and Foulmouth (to name just a few) with focus, purpose and a razor-sharp tongue.
Coops – “Life In The Flesh” (HighFocus.BandCamp.Com) – A thoroughly captivating and engrossing listening experience, this concept-based project from UK emcee Coops was a weighty mix of both style and substance. Produced entirely by the talented Talos, the album documented the London resident’s unique perspective on the struggles and challenges of modern-day life in Britain, showcasing the voice of an artist who is as spiritually-aware as he is socially-aware.
Benny The Butcher – “Tana Talk 3” (GriseldaxFR.Com) – Griselda’s Benny upped the ante on this epic project, following in the footsteps of artists such as Jay-Z and Scarface as he gave listeners the full spectrum of the street life experience, including the losses, betrayals and regrets. Backed by fittingly sombre production from Daringer and The Alchemist, Benny delivered a true masterpiece here.
Recognize Ali – “The Outlawed” (Greenfield Music / GourmetDeluxxx.BandCamp.Com) – Possessing a tireless work ethic, Ali has blazed his own trail through the underground in recent times with a string of consistently strong releases. This album found the Greenfield emcee once again demonstrating his formidable rhymes skills over production from the likes of Farma Beats, Big Ghost Ltd and Frank Grimes.
Daniel Son & Futurewave – “Pressure Cooker” (BrownBagMoney.BandCamp.Com) – Two of Canada’s finest Hip-Hop talents joined forces to craft this raw-yet-creative example of hardcore Hip-Hop, with the pair sharing an undeniable chemistry which ensured this album remained engaging throughout, as Daniel Son used the drum-heavy production of Futurewave for lyrical dart target-practice.
The Diceman – “The Power Of Now” (KingOfTheBeats.Com) – As a member of veteran Bronx crew The Legion, Dice’s Hip-Hop credentials are unquestionable. On this dope solo album, the Rotten Apple rhymer delivered rugged, witty rhymes over speaker-shaking boom-bap beats, resulting in an album that was grounded in golden-era traditions without sounding stuck in the past. The Bronx keeps creating it.
DJ Jazzy Jeff – “M3” (DJJazzyJeff215.BandCamp.Com) – Presenting the third and final instalment of his “Magnificent” album trilogy, Philly legend Jazzy Jeff gave listeners his usual high-quality trademark blend of Hip-Hop, soul and jazz on a project which was life-affirming, thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining. With The Trinity (Rhymefest, Dayne Jordan and Uhmeer) bridging the generation gap on mic duties, “M3” offered sonic sustenance in today’s troubled times.
Black Thought – “Streams Of Thought Vol. 2” (Passyunk Productions / Human Re Sources) – Illadelph icon Black Thought is one of the greatest of all-time. That shouldn’t even be up for debate at this stage in his career. Showcasing his always on-point blend of street knowledge, social observations, life lessons and emcee bravado over loose, funky Salaam Remi-orchestrated soundscapes, Thought continued to set the standard for anyone claiming to be a lyricist.
Apollo Brown & Joell Ortiz – “Mona Lisa” (MelloMusicGroup.BandCamp) – Detroit producer Apollo Brown has made a career out of working with already impressive artists and being able to bring just that little bit more out of them (Skyzoo, Ras Kass, O.C. etc). Capturing Brooklyn’s Joell Ortiz at a potential crossroads following the Slaughterhouse split, “Mona Lisa” was the sound of an emcee taking stock of both his career and his life, world-weary but not bitter, experienced but not jaded, realistic but looking for a better tomorrow.
Nowaah The Flood & The Architect – “Trill Life Mathematiks” (NowaahTheFlood7.BandCamp.Com) – Texas-based wordsmith Nowaah was one of a crop of upcoming emcees who put their stamp on 2018 via a strong work ethic, quality music and genuine rhyme skills. Produced by the Bay Area’s Architect (of Homeliss Derilex fame), “Trill Life…” found Flood dropping street-based science and righteous rawness over a strong selection of impeccable beats.
Chuck D As Mistachuck – “Celebration Of Ignorance” (ChuckDAsMistachuck.BandCamp.Com) – Public Enemy’s Rhyme Animal returned to burn on this C-Doc-produced project with assistance from P.E. 2.0’s Jahi. Speaking his mind as always, Chuck D took the opportunity to address numerous political and social issues impacting Trump’s Amerikkka and beyond, proving that after thirty-plus years since his debut on wax, the Strong Island legend still doesn’t rhyme for the sake of riddling.
Hermit & The Recluse (Animoss & Ka) – “Orpheus vs. The Sirens” (BrownsvilleKa.Com) – Brooklyn’s master craftsman Ka took listeners on another lyrical odyssey with this concept-based project. Packed with rich imagery, Ka’s verses here were delivered with incredible skill, woven together by life experience and creative genius, complimented by the dramatic, emotionally-charged work of Cali producer Animoss.
Habitat – “617 Black Label” (HeavyLinks.BandCamp.Com) – Heavy Links member Habitat came correct on his second solo album, pulling together a number of talented producers (including Giallo Point, DJ Severe and CrabbMan) to deliver the boom-bap backbone he was looking for. Full of forthright rhymes and true-school attitude, this was another strong outing for the UK emcee.
Codenine & Grubby Pawz – “Auerbach’s Garden” (CityYardMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Backed by some of the smoothest production to be heard in 2018 courtesy of Grubby Pawz, Massachusetts-based microphone fiend Codenine cut through the mellow mood music on offer here with consistently impressive displays of sharp, intricately-woven wordplay.
Stanza Divan – “Poetry In Motion” (StanzaDivan.BandCamp.Com) – Although it was billed as a mixtape rather than an official album or EP release, this impressive offering from Leicester-based artist Stanza Divan needed to be included here, as the lyrical skill, content and conviction contained within “Poetry In Motion” doesn’t come along every day. Definitely an artist to watch in 2019.
DJ Jazzy Jeff ft. The Trinity – “Where You At” (@DJJazzyJeff215 / 2018)
Dayne Jordan, Rhymefest and Uhmeer trade rhymes on this dope cut off Philly legend Jazzy Jeff’s latest album “M3”.
DJ Jazzy Jeff – “It’s June Already” (@DJJazzyJeff215 / 2018)
Animated visuals for a mellow interlude off the Philly legend’s recently-released album “M3”.
DJ Jazzy Jeff ft. Rhymefest & Dayne Jordan – “Skaters Paradise” (@DJJazzyJeff215 / 2018)
Funky, feel-good flavour from the Philly legend’s new album “M3”.
Jazzy Jeff and Mick Boogie drop their annual mix of seasonal feel-good flavours, with the latest edition of their “Summertime” series featuring throwback classics from the likes of The SOS Band, Chubb Rock and Troop, plus a new De La Soul exclusive.
The UK deejay pays tribute to one of his greatest turntable influences with the help of former Def Tex lyricist Chrome.
Spin Doctor presents a live Q&A with Philly legend DJ Jazzy Jeff following his recent London performance for The Doctor’s Orders.
Jazzy Jeff and Mick Boogie hit the turntables together for the fourth year running to drop a quality selection of cool-out favourites to enjoy in the summer heat – download their latest mix featuring the likes of Erykah Badu, Camp Lo and Main Source 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)
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.
Philly legend DJ Jazzy Jeff reworks a number of his favourite Hip-Hop classics from the likes of Biggie, Wu-Tang Clan and the Juice Crew on this entertaining free project – listen here.
Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London Date: 9 May 2012
It’s a true sign of the times when a deejay can simply walk into a packed club, plug his laptop in, check his headphones and then five minutes later be launching into his set. Gone are the days of power-lifting bags of records around and worrying about damaging treasured white label singles and having to work with worn-out needles. Some would say recent advances in technology have diluted the abilities of many new deejays, but with a veteran like the magnificent Jazzy Jeff you get the best of both worlds; an old-school deejay who came up rocking house-parties with vinyl on makeshift equipment who uses new technology to enhance his talents rather than hide any shortcomings.
Joined onstage by VA’s (formerly Mad) Skillz, who acted as a lively and entertaining host for the evening, Will Smith’s former recording partner took the sold-out crowd on a two-hour musical journey that encompassed everything from golden-era Hip-Hop and classic breaks to vintage soul, funk and disco.
With Skillz prowling the stage and working the crowd like a true professional (at one point performing his own 90s classic “The Nod Factor”), Jazzy Jeff remained silent behind his laptop set-up, speaking only with his hands and flashing a wide grin every time he played a track that drew a particularly enthusiastic response from the crowd.
Pacing his set to near perfection, the Illadelph deejay dropped in snatches of familiar samples before segueing into the Hip-Hop cut the audience knew each original track from. So R. Kelly’s “Your Body’s Callin'” made way for Biggie’s “Unbelievable”, whilst Bobby Caldwell’s quiet storm favourite “Open Your Eyes” was effortlessly blended into Common’s Dilla-produced “The Light”.
The Beastie Boys’ 80s classics “Paul Revere” and “Hold It Now, Hit It” drew particularly large cheers given the recent passing of group member MCA, whilst a West Coast medley featuring 2Pac’s “California Love”, Snoop’s “Gin And Juice” and Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” had Skillz encouraging everyone to throw up their Westside hand-signs.
Familiar crowd-pleasers such as Pharoahe Monch’s “Simon Says”, Gang Starr’s “Full Clip” and Biggie’s “Hypnotize” were all given an airing, whilst some early Jackson 5 had Skillz doing the two-step and a short snippet of the “Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air” theme raised laughter from the crowd.
Keen to show that, party-rocking aside, he’s still no slouch on the turntables, Jazzy Jeff went back-to-back with Bob James’ “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” break-beat and sliced the intro of LL Cool J’s brilliant “Rock The Bells” to pieces, using the transformer scratch that became his trademark back in the 80s to whip the audience into a frenzy.
With timeless tracks from the likes of Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock, Slum Village and the Incredible Bongo Band all finding their way into the mix, not even Uncle Phil would have wanted to throw the hard-working Jazzy Jeff out of his house following a set as impressive as this.
Footage of DJ Jazzy Jeff and Skillz at The Jazz Cafe.
The Philly turntable legend flicks through his record collection and reminisces on some vinyl memories for Fuse.TV’s “Crate Diggers” series.
AmobrosiaForHeads.Com interview with Philly’s legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff speaking on a variety of topics including the first album he ever purchased and his favourite old-school artists.
Mick Boogie and Jazzy Jeff follow-up their first “Summertime” mixtape with this new varied batch of classics to blast at your BBQ featuring joints from De La Soul, The Gap Band, Mos Def, Jill Scott etc – download here.
1) Intro: Summer Breeze
2) Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince: Summertime
3) Smif–n-Wessun: Bucktown
4) Jagged Edge: Where The Party At?
5) R. Kelly: Summer Bunnies
6) Gap Band: Outstanding
7) Steve Winwood: Higher Love
8. Redman & Method Man: Da Rockwilder
9) De La Soul: Buddy
10) Slick Rick: The Show
11) Jill Scott: Golden
12) Mos Def: Brown Sugar
13) Norman Connor: Invitation
14) Grand Puba: I Like It
15) DeBarge: I Like It
16) EPMD: Never Seen Before
17) Le Pamplemousse: Gimme What You Got
18) Alkaholiks: Daamn (Mick’s In My Bed Blend)
19) Q-Tip: Let’s Ride
20) PM Dawn: Set Adrift On Memory Bliss
21) Spandau Ballet: True
22) Talib Kweli: Hot Thing
23) Stevie Wonder: My Cheri Amour (Jeff’s Sucker Blend)
24) Common: I Want You
25) Musiq: For The Night
26) Jocelyn Brown: Somebody Else’s Guy
27) One Way: Cutie Pie
28) Method Man: Release Yo’ Delf
29) James Brown: The Grunt
30) Public Enemy: Night Of The Living Baseheads
31) Main Source & Donald Byrd: Lookin’ At The Front Door (Jeff’s Twice Edit)
32) Koffee Brown: After Party
33) Stevie Wonder: Love Light In Flight
34) Tom Browne: Funkin’ For Jamaica
35) Stan Getz: Saudade Vem Correndo
36) Pharcyde: Runnin’
37) Bahamadia: Uknowhowwedo
38) Big Daddy Kane: Smooth Operator
39) Mary Jane Girls: All Night Long
40) LL Cool J: Around The Way Girl
41) De La Soul: 4 More
42) The Turtles: I’m Chief Kamanawanalea
43) The Blackbyrds: Rock Creek Park
44) Pete Rock: Take Your Time
45) Slum Village: Fall In Love
46) Suite For Ma Dukes: Fall In Love
Download Skillz’ new mixtape here – album “The World Needs More Skillz” is out October 25th.
Mr. Smith’s right-hand man Jazzy Jeff on the ones-and-twos in Paris with Skillz.
I don’t care what anyone says, back in the day even the most hardcore Hip-Hop fan liked a little JJ & FP at some point or another.
Looking at this 1989 Arsenio Hall footage now it seems like the most obvious thing in the world for Will Smith to have become the superstar he is today, but back then who knew the charismatic kid from Philly would go on to reach Hollywood royalty status??!!