Tag Archives: Duke Bootee

Old To The New Q&A – DJ Cheese (Part Two)

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Part One of this interview with turntable pioneer DJ Cheese found the New Jersey native discussing his introduction to Hip-Hop, hooking-up with Word Of Mouth and signing with Profile Records. In this concluding instalment Cheese remembers winning the 1986 DMC World Championships, hanging-out with Biz Markie and paying for his time spent hustling in the streets.

So how did you get involved with 1986’s DMC competition?

“Well, I didn’t really choose to enter the DMC, the DMC chose me. How it happened was through me being in the New Music Seminar battles in New York. I won the New Music Seminar battle in ’84 and then came back in 1985. I really won that battle  as well but I was cheated out of it. Tony Prince from DMC was there at the time and everyone knew I won that battle which is how I ended-up going to England for the DMC. At the time New York was always about New York, so you couldn’t really go there then and get a fair battle. I was lucky enough to get one in ’84 but they weren’t about to let me win two times in a row. Now the winner of that 1985 battle was going to go to the UK to represent the United States in the DMC World Championships, that was announced at the beginning of the battle. Now, even though I didn’t win that NMS title that year (note: NYC’s DJ Easy G Rockwell won) in the books they know who really won that battle because I was told right there that night that I was going to the DMC event. I remember Kurtis Blow coming over to me and telling me it wasn’t right what had happened and that it was clear who’d really won the battle.”

You won the DMC event with a ground-breaking routine made-up of various turntable tricks – were you aware that what you were bringing to the competition was so different to what the other deejays would be doing?

“Nah, not at all. I thought the other deejays there were going to be doing the same thing that I came to do, which was battle. I didn’t think the competition was going to be that laidback. I thought everyone knew why every other person was there, but obviously not. I didn’t go there to mix. I went there to battle.”

At the beginning of the routine there was that slight glitch when you started cutting the Hashim record – what went through your mind at that point when the needle skipped?

“I was always used to things like that happening. I never panicked in a situation like that because that was just Hip-Hop back then. If you were good at what you did then you already knew that the crowd were going to love it. So I didn’t panic at that point. That’s why I got right back to it so fast because I knew where the routine was going to go from there and what I was going to do.”

Dutch deejay Orlando Voorn famously shouted “What is this, a mixing competition or a scratching competition?” after your win was announced and he placed third – what was your response to the reactions you were getting?

“I didn’t really get any negative feedback about my routine other than from the other deejays who were involved in the competition. I remember I could see the fire coming out of Orlando Voorn’s face (laughs). Chad Jackson (note: 1987’s DMC Champion) was definitely cool about it. I got a lot of positive feedback from people saying that they’d never seen anything like that before up close and personal. Back then we did two sets over two days and I remember the attention I got from other deejays being upset after the first day just made me want to go even harder, because they hated what I’d done but the crowd loved it. The first day they weren’t ready with what I came with so I took everybody off guard with the handcuffs, the blindfold, spinning around, using my elbows. But then the next day when we came back there were guys there with pool sticks, bike tyres, one dude even had the kitchen sink! It was crazy (laughs). Suddenly it was like a magic show and everybody had to come up with some new tricks.”

How did it feel to win that DMC event?

“That was definitely another highlight for me to take the title of world champion deejay at the time. I didn’t think I was going to go over there and win that. I mean, it was a world championship, so I figured I was going to go over there and be up against all these deejays from all around the world and have more competition than I really had at that event.”

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So with 1986 being such a huge year for you with the success of “Coast To Coast”, the DMC win and headlining UK Fresh, what was the plan moving forward?

“The plan moving forward was to do the album with Word Of Mouth on Profile, but as I said we started to understand what was happening with our management so we let Duke Bootee know that we didn’t want to be a part of his label anymore. We didn’t want anything else to do with him. When he picked us up from the airport after we came back from Europe he was basically telling us that we didn’t have no other choice. I remember him saying that he had contracts and that even if we were reincarnated we’d come back and he’d still own us. He basically told Word Of Mouth that he didn’t give a f**k about them. He told them, ‘You two can leave today and I wouldn’t give a f**k but this guy here ain’t going nowhere.’ Duke was like, ‘Finding a deejay like Cheese is like finding a needle in a haystack but you rappers are a dime a dozen.’ I think Word Of Mouth were shocked when he said that because he was real aggressive with it. Duke pulled over on the highway and was like, ‘You two can get the f**k out now or we can go back to my house and we can split this money out and we done.’ Like I said, we didn’t really have access to the business side of things and that was then the group really fell apart because I still wanted to do music but the other guys were hesitant on how we were going to do it on our own. I felt there were ways we could’ve gotten it done but they weren’t as motivated about it as I was. So I actually walked away from them afterwards. I mean, looking back, we really should have made a group decision and fought it out more than we did. Even though we were being robbed we should have stuck it out a little longer and used the situation to make other connections in the industry so that we could move on. I mean, I remember hearing bad talk about Duke Bootee from Tom Silverman at Tommy Boy and then I went to the DMC and Tony Prince was in my ear telling me to watch the dude. So I’m hearing the same story from two major industry dudes, which let me know that Duke was already known as a slimeball in the business. But being young at the time, I didn’t know any of that before we got involved with him. I mean, I looked up to Duke because he was the one who put me on and got me to do my first record. But on the other side of the coin, he was a bad businessman and it seemed that the industry knew it already, it was just me who didn’t know that.”

What was your involvement with Tom Silverman?

“Tom Silverman was trying to sign me to Tommy Boy and he told me like, ‘Duke’s not a good dude. He’s going to get you for your money.’ I was working from Tom’s studio at the time when Keith LeBlanc was doing the “Lipservice” record (note: released on Tommy Boy in 1984 under the name Beatmaster). Back then in Hip-Hop if you f**ked with a crew then you were loyal to that one crew. So I made Duke aware of what Tom had said to me and he was like, ‘Well, that’s the last time you’re working there.’ So when Tony Prince told me the same thing that was when I kept it to myself because I wanted to see where it was going to go. So when Word Of Mouth started to see what was going on, that was when I told them what had been said to me and that was when we decided to walk away from the label.”

So was Tom Silverman trying to sign just you to Tommy Boy or Word Of Mouth as well?

“We really didn’t get too much into the conversation but I believe he just wanted to sign me as a deejay because he really didn’t speak on the group. He was impressed with me as he was involved in setting-up the New Music Seminar and had seen what I was capable of doing.”

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I understand that Biz Markie also approached you about being his deejay when he first started putting records out in the mid-80s?

“Yeah. At that time it was me, Biz, Big Daddy Kane and TJ Swan who were all running together at one point. They used to spend the night at my house and go to parties with me. At the time, I was doing two or three parties a week so they used to travel with me. It was towards the end of our run with “Coast To Coast” when Biz first asked me to be his deejay. I still didn’t know where things were going to go with Word Of Mouth, so I was like, ‘I’m down with these dudes already’ and I didn’t want to just walk away from them at that point. Then Big Daddy Kane came along and he was the second one to ask me to be his deejay. Biz and Kane would freestyle at all the parties I was doing in Jersey and the way I was rockin’ with them it was as if we’d practiced routines together, but we never had practiced. They’d just be hanging out with me coming to the parties. Kane would be like, ‘Let me get the mic’ and I already knew he was hot even though people didn’t really know who he was at that time, but he would turn the party out. He’d be rockin’ and I’d drop the beat out on his punchline or throw a cut in there and he’d look back over his shoulder like, ‘How the f**k did you know I was about to drop that punchline?’ So after that he wanted me to be his deejay as well.”

So did you turn Kane down as well because you were still with Word Of Mouth?

“Yeah, right. I was also approached by Queen Latifah and Shakim of the Flavor Unit to be her deejay as well. At that time, I wasn’t even with Word Of Mouth no more, I was in the streets hustling. But I was so caught up in the streets at that time that I turned them down, which became the third biggest disappointment of my career. First I let Biz go by, then Big Daddy Kane, and then here comes Queen Latifah. I let all three of those opportunities go by.”

What was your connection with Biz Markie?

“Biz at the time basically lived in Jersey. You used to see Biz walking around Jersey on a Tuesday (laughs). I mean, Biz was already hot even before his records came out and hit radio because he was known for doing his human beatbox. So he’d already established himself and Kane was running with Biz at that time. As far as Kane, anyone who came from New York to Jersey, the crowd was already looking forward to seeing them rock because they were expecting them to be dope. I mean, that wasn’t always the case, but Kane obviously was a real dope emcee so he definitely left a big impression on people. From time to time people will remind me, ‘You remember that time you brought Kane out at such and such a party? You remember when you brought Biz?’ People still remember that.”

Did anyone ever try and battle Kane at any of those Jersey parties?

“Nah, not at all (laughs). I mean, after Kane got on the mic didn’t nobody else wanna get on it. If he was the first one on, then Kane was the last one on. A person would be a fool to try and go in behind that (laughs).”

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Were you involved with any of the other Flavor Unit members aside from Latifah?

“Nah, but I knew all of them. I knew Mark The 45 King. I mean, when Shakim approached me about working with Latifah it was because Mark was busy with other projects so he couldn’t be her deejay as well. This was around the time that “Wrath Of My Madness” was being played on the radio which was a hot single to me. But part of the reason I turned them down was because I really didn’t want to relive the experience I’d had with Word Of Mouth and the music business.”

So at that point you were burnt out with the business side of the music game?

“Yeah, I was definitely burnt out with the business side of the game and that was when I got caught up in the lifestyle as far as being in the streets was concerned. Basically my addiction in the streets was the lifestyle and the money. I never had a drug habit which is what some people think. I’ve never used drugs, had a drink or smoked a cigarette in my life. So it wasn’t what a lot of people thought it was in terms of them thinking I had a drug addiction because everytime I came home from jail I went right back. No, I had an addiction to money. I mean, when I was touring the UK and making records my addiction was Hip-Hop and it was always about the love of the culture for me and at that point it wasn’t about the money. But that addiction to money came later once I got into the streets.”

How long were you in the streets for?

“I would say from about 1987 through to 2002. I was in and out prison and my mindset during that time was all about getting out to go straight back to the streets. I knew exactly what I was going to do. Today, that’s not my mindset. I’ve prepared myself for it this time. Today my mind is back to the music and I’m back to where I was in ’83, ’84. I know there are people out there who think it’s just a matter of time before I go back to jail but I’m looking to prove them wrong. I’m not upset with anyone for thinking that, because I know I let people down, but now I have to work hard to get that respect back.”

What did you serve time for?

“Distribution of cocaine. There’s nothing else on my jacket other than that.”

Were you still dabbling with Hip-Hop while you were in the streets or did you completely disconnect yourself from the music business?

“I was still doing parties inbetween all that and I did a couple of shows. I did a couple of shows with Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick when I was in the streets. I opened up for 50 Cent while I was in the streets. But for the most part I just walked away from the music even though I would still practice on the turntables at home. I remember I did a show with Kane at The Apollo one time around ’88 / ’89 and he gave me a cold shoulder and treated me like I was a stranger. I don’t know if he was disappointed because I turned him down when he asked me about being his deejay or whether he was disappointed because he knew what I was doing in the streets. I remember we were in the green room and he was standing in the doorway. He was looking at me and I was looking at him, but he didn’t give me a head-nod or nothing. So I approached him like, ‘Remember me?’ and he was just like, ‘Yeah’ and that was it. In my mind I was like, ‘Wow! You used to sleep on my floor and this is how it is now?’ I went and sat back down and I was kinda upset but now when I look back at it I know I disappointed a lot of people with what I was doing. I mean, I’ve talked to Kane since I last came home and we didn’t speak about that particular incident but he was just happy that I’m home and doing what I’m doing.”

How long were you locked-up for before the last time you came home?

“I was released in 2011 and I’d been away for almost nine years.”

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So are you still in touch with Word Of Mouth today?

“Yeah, we did a single called “Life Without Hip-Hop” a little while ago. Like I said, I’m not going going back to the streets again whether this music thing goes my way or it fails. I’m so motivated right now and I keep telling Word Of Mouth that all the old-school crews are still touring and we’re one of the few groups that aren’t out there touring. I understand I was away, but I’m home now so let’s drop the single and let the people know we’re back. But this has been going on for about fifteen months now and I told them flat-out either we’re going to do it or it’s over for good. I’ve got the studio right here at home so we don’t need to pay for studio time or anything like that, we can do it all right here. But it’s just not getting done, so regardless I’m going to keep moving how I’ve been moving. I’ve had quite a few deejay sponsors come along who’re backing me right now because they see what I’m doing and I’m moving right now.”

What’s your opinion on the current state of turntablism?

“I mean, to me everyone is doing the same thing. Everyone’s using their laptops now with Serato. I mean, there’s nothing really wrong with that but it’s just sounds like you’re using one turntable and just doing a lot of scratching. Where are the skills at? Where’s the technical part of being able to do something with that turntable? To me, it always used to be about how you used those turntables and that mixer. It’s moved away from that now and it’s need to get back to what that word turntablism really means. It used to be about the funk. It used to be exciting to watch someone on the turntables and see how nice they were. There are some people out there who’re slowly bringing it back.”

Has it surprised you being on social media and seeing how much people still remember the impact you made the first time around?

“Oh yeah, definitely. Coming home and seeing all the activity on Facebook with people sending me stuff from events that I didn’t even remember doing or pictures that I didn’t even remember taking, to me all that stuff is big.”

How would you sum-up the contributions you made to the golden-era of Hip-Hop as both a deejay and with Word Of Mouth?

“Back then we never even looked it at in terms of what contribution we were making. We were just in the scene doing what we did. Looking back on it now, it’s a decision the people have to make when it comes to how much of a contribution we made. Me personally, I can’t make that decision. That’s something the people have to decide.”

Ryan Proctor

F0llow DJ Cheese on Twitter @KingKutDJCheese.

Footage of DJ Cheese’s 1986 DMC routine.

Old To The New Q&A – DJ Cheese (Part One)

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Born in West Virginia but raised in the New Jersey of the 1970s, a young Robert Cheese discovered Hip-Hop early, combining his love of the new culture with his already-established passion for music to begin turning out local parties as DJ Cheese around the same time as the 1980s rolled around.

By the time the new decade had reached its mid-way point, Cheese had firmly established his name in the world of Hip-Hop. Having won 1984’s New Music Seminar deejay battle, Cheese then teamed-up with New Jersey emcee duo Word Of Mouth to release 1985’s classic “King Kut” single on Duke Bootee’s Beauty And The Beat imprint, before being signed to then powerhouse rap label Profile Records and going on to win the 1986 DMC World Championships with a ground-breaking routine that would have a profound impact on the way many deejays viewed their two turntables.

Following the release of their speaker-busting 1986 single “Coast To Coast”, label wrangles, money issues and the lure of the street life prevented the crew from building on their strong musical foundations, with Cheese becoming involved in the drug game and spending the following years in and out of prison, largely detached from the artform he once played such a big part in.

Having now put his past troubles behind him, DJ Cheese has returned to his first love of Hip-Hop, keen to reclaim the respect and admiration he once received from both fans and peers alike.

In the first instalment of this two-part interview, the man who once shocked the world with his deejay skills discusses working with Sugarhill Records affiliate Duke Bootee, meeting Run DMC in the early-80s and appearing on Mike Allen’s legendary London-based Capital Radio Hip-Hop show during his first visit to the UK.

What was your introduction to Hip-Hop?

“Well my initial introduction to the music was hearing early emcees like the Cold Crush Brothers, Treacherous Three, the Fearless Four and then “Rapper’s Delight” came out. I was living in New Jersey already by this time. So there were tapes being passed around of freestyles and that’s really how I got wind of the music. When I heard those tapes I knew that Hip-Hop was going to be something big.”

What initially interested you in becoming a DJ?

“It was really through listening to the radio and hearing what the deejays on there were doing. That was really where my interest started. The first deejay that really caught my interest was Frankie Crocker on WBLS. This was before I heard Hip-Hop and started to get those tapes I mentioned, but I was already listening to Frankie Crocker on the radio. People often ask me that question and I guess it kinda shocks them when I say Frankie was a big influence on me (laughs).”

They’re probably expecting you to say someone like a Grandmaster Flash or a Jazzy Jay…

“No doubt (laughs). It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to be like Frankie Crocker, it was more about the fact that he was on the radio playing all the hot new music at the time. I mean, at that time Parliament Funkadelic were blowing-up and I was a huge fan of theirs and I’d hear Frankie playing their music and it just grabbed my interest.”

When did you get your first turntable set-up?

“Well, I didn’t actually get my first set-up when I first started deejay-ing. I was rockin’ on someone else’s equipment who was also trying to learn at the same time as me. It was a guy from my neighbourhood called Brian Cox. I guess I was more of a fast learner than he was so then it got to the point where he just enjoyed watching me practice. He was like, ‘You can use my stuff anytime just as long as you’re down with me’ and I was like, ‘Bet!’. So it was around 1980 when I actually got my first set. Before that I was rockin’ with Brian Cox, John Brown and this guy from a crew called Sound On Sound who’s name was Carl Burnett. I already had it in my mind then that I wanted to be a Hip-Hop deejay and it was at that time that I really started to learn about Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jay and guys like that. I started out on Technics SL-D1s and then upgraded to 1200s real quick. I mean, you had to try and keep up back then with the new equipment because everthing in Hip-Hop was moving so fast. We’d see stuff that other deejays had and be like, ‘Yo! We’ve gotta get that.'”

What was the New Jersey Hip-Hop scene like back then?

“Well, living in Jersey we’re only like maybe twenty, twenty-five minutes away from New York. So everything New York were doing back then, we were doing. We copied the whole style. So there was nothing too different between New York and Jersey. I mean, we had the graffiti, the break-dancing, freestyling, the battles, we were really doing the same thing they were doing in New York. I mean, I was still too young to travel to New York myself at the time. But in New Jersey we had people like the True Brothers from Asbury, there were a couple of guys from Plainfield coming up like Ken Doo. As far as deejays we had DJ Sky, who was further north and closer to New York than I was, but at that time there really weren’t too many deejays who were known to me. I always remembered Sky because his name always stood-out to me.”

Were there any particular battles back then that you remember?

“I mean, there were so many battles back then and everybody was doing them. We used to have battles at the Falcon Casino in Jersey. But like I said, we were basically doing everything that New York was doing so almost every party we had there was a battle between crews with emcees and deejays. But there were so many battles back then that it’s hard to really think back to any particular ones that stoodout.”

What type of records were you playing at your parties?

“I would always play a variety of music and what the people wanted to hear. But I would play a lot of breakbeats. I mean, at my parties people definitely partied but then you’d also have a lot of people who would just stand around and watch me. I would have my own show that I would put on that would catch their attention. I was deejay-ing with the handcuffs back then, using the blindfold, spinning around, scratching with my sneakers, so all that stuff really caught people’s attention.”

So a lot of what was seen in your winning DMC routine in 1986 were tricks that you’d been using for years before?

“Yeah, exactly”.

So at that time in the early-80s would artists from New York regularly come to perform in New Jersey?

“Yeah, New York was definitely coming to Jersey back then. I remember seeing Stetsasonic before they came out on record here in Jersey. That was actually the first group I did see when I was young. Stetsasonic were out performing at a school in East Orange and even back then they had the whole live band thing with the drum machine. That was definitely cool to see how they were rockin’ at that time. I remember seeing the Force MCs before they became the Force MDs, they used to be over performing in Jersey. The Cold Crush Brothers came over to Jersey to rock a few times as well.”

Were those artists who came from New York treated respectfully by upcoming New Jersey artists or was there an element of competition involved as well?

“There was definitely a respect thing. I mean, you did have people in Jersey who did feel that they were better than the artists coming from New York but for the most part they were definitely welcomed over here.”

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So how did you hook-up with the Word Of Mouth emcees KMC and Ali-G?

“That happened when I met up with Ed Fletcher and this is where the story really gets interesting (laughs). Ed was also known as Duke Bootee and I’m sure you’re familiar with who he is. Ed was a ghost-writer for Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. He wrote for “The Message”, “New York New York”, “Survival (Message II)” and also produced and rapped on those records. I guess because he was a little older than those guys and because of his look he didn’t really fit into the group. But it was Ed who brought me and Word Of Mouth together, as he managed us both and Word Of Mouth were from Elizabeth and I was from Plainfield. Now as I said, Ed at that time was involved with the Sugarhill label and Sylvia Robinson which was based in Jersey. I mean, the first rap record that came out “Rapper’s Delight” really came from New Jersey and that’s not something that New York ever really gives New Jersey its props for. But Ed introduced me to Word Of Mouth with the intention of putting a group together. I heard them and thought they were hot at the time. We definitely sounded good together so I knew we could do something. At the time Duke Bootee was the man from all the hit records he’d had out and I was so young back then. So I was really just following his idea to put us together as a group.”

Was 1985’s “King Kut” the first track you recorded together with Word Of Mouth?

“Yeah, that was the first track we recorded together. The name King Kut had been given to me by the True Brothers from Asbury who I used to deejay for back in the day. Back then, Hip-Hop was all about the deejay and we were still in that era where the deejay was the main focus of a crew. So that’s the reason why we went that route and made “King Kut” a deejay record.”

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“King Kut” initially came out on Duke Bootee’s independent Beauty And The Beat label and really took off – were you expecting that single to become so big?

“Nah, I was surprised by it. I definitely wasn’t expecting the record to be as big as it was. I mean, I had hopes for it to be that big but I was definitely surprised when it happened. I believe it was actually bigger than even we thought it was back then, but after Ed started robbing us for our royalties and everything, I had no idea of really knowing exactly how big that record was. To this day, I couldn’t tell you how much that record even sold. I mean, at the time we made that record I was still in high-school and in the era I came up in Hip-Hop wasn’t about money, it was about the art, doing shows and having fun. So at the time I was just happy to have a record out. The money aspect came later when one of the guys in Word Of Mouth felt that something wasn’t right because at the time they weren’t really seeing any money and I was seeing a little bit of money. So that’s when we started looking into it and realised that the label had been robbing us. Before that we didn’t really know that the record had been making money like that.”

How did the crew end-up getting signed to Profile Records?

“Profile originally wanted to sue us for the samples that I used in “King Kut” which were from Run DMC’s “Jam Master Jay”. But then after they actually listened to the song they realised it was a hot record and decided that they wanted to sign us instead. So Profile brought the record from Beauty And The Beat and gave us a deal for another single. Then they told us that if that second single did well they’d let us do an album. I mean, “King Kut” was definitely getting out there on Beauty And The Beat but Profile really took that single around the world.”

It must have been a good feeling to get signed to a label like Profile at that time considering they were already working with some big Hip-Hop artists…

“Oh yeah, that was real big because Profile back then were like what Def Jam became in the 90s. For me to see my music and my name on that label was huge for me. I mean, we were on the same label as Run DMC!”

Which was ironic considering they namechecked you a couple of years before on their 1983 single “Here We Go (Live At The Funhouse)”…

“Yeah, I opened up for Run DMC in 1983 at The Ritz in Jersey and I was onstage doing my routine. The crowd were going bonkers. From what I was told, Run came out of his dressing room first and he came downstairs and was watching. By the end of my routine all three of them were standing on the side of the stage and from what I understood they never ever used to come out of their dressing rooms to watch someone perform back then. But they came out because they heard the crowd and they wanted to know who was onstage. I remember Whodini were there as well and some other groups. I was onstage rockin’ and then when I looked up Run DMC were stood there watching me. That was the night I learnt that Run was a deejay before he was an emcee when he used to be with Kurtis Blow. So he was giving me his story on deejay-ing and I took a couple of pictures with them. Then from there they put my name in their “Here We Go” single.”

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Was Jam Master Jay a hero of yours?

“When Jam Master Jay came into the game he was just always so cool with it. That’s what I liked about him. I took some of his style as far as the way he had his equipment with the flight cases and the GLI mixer. Seeing Jay with that GLI is what made me get that mixer as well. Later on I actually had a chance to work on Run DMC’s “Raising Hell” album when I came back from Europe. I was approached at the airport to go straight to the studio but I’d just come back off a two month tour and I was tired so I said I couldn’t do it.”

What did they want you to do on the album?

“I don’t know what they actually wanted me to do on there. I just knew that I was scheduled to work with them when I got back but I didn’t know that they wanted me to go straight from the airport. I mean, I wanted to do it but I was just too beat from the tour. I was just mentally exhausted.”

You became known for having your turntables next to each other rather than having the mixer in the middle – where there any technical reasons why you decided to do that?

“The reason I put the turntables side-by-side was because back then Hip-Hop was all about being creative and having your own style. So I just decided to put the turntables next to each other to standout. I mean, I started out with the mixer in the middle and the turntables on either side, but then I just made a decision to put the turntables next to each other because I hadn’t seen anyone doing it at that time.”

How would you describe your scratching style back then because to me you always sounded very clean and precise compared to some other deejays at the time who weren’t quite so refined…

“Back then, I’d have to give credit for that to Duke Bootee. One thing I could say about him is that when we were doing a record, everything we were doing was live and he had me approaching everything I did in the studio like we really were in a band. So I had to do my cuts over and over until they were really on-point. Duke was something of a perfectionist in the studio so he definitely helped keep me sharp on that. Even today, when I do mixes and blends I’ll still do them over and over until they’re on-point.”

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What was your involvement in some of the other records to come out on Beauty And The Beat like Z-3 MC’s’ “Triple Threat” and Point Blank MC’s’ “What The Party Needs”?

“It was really the same role I had with Word Of Mouth. I was the deejay on those records doing all of the scratching. I also did the production on Point Blank MC’s. I’ve probably got about twenty-five records under my belt I was involved in that came out that people are only really now starting to pick up on as I wasn’t given proper credit on a lot of them.”

Do you have any personal favourites out of the records you worked on?

“Yeah, “King Kut” and “Coast To Coast” obviously. The record I did for Triple Threat MC’s and also the Fats Comet “King Of The Beat” record I did with Keith LeBlanc from Sugar Hill. The Masterdon Committee’s “Get Off My Tip” on Profile is another favourite and also K-Rob’s “I’m A Homeboy”. What a lot of people actually don’t know about “Coast To Coast” is that that record was created and recorded while we were touring Europe and over in the UK in 1986. “King Kut” had been out for awhile and we were out on tour but Profile wanted a second single from us. The deal was that if the second single we dropped did well, which it did, then they were going to give us an album deal. At the time we realised this guy was robbing us and that was when we walked away from the label and the music. We didn’t even really think about the larger label we were signed to in terms of Beauty And The Beat being under Profile and seeing if we could work with them without Duke. We were just so young and we were kept in the dark about everything in terms of the business, so we really didn’t have any access to Profile because it wasn’t us who’d been dealing with them.”

k-rob pic

You mentioned K-Rob’s “I’m A Homeboy” which is still one of my favourite singles from the 80s to this day…

“That was Duke Bootee’s work. See, what happened is, once Profile ran with “King Kut” and then “Coast To Coast” did so well, they basically appointed Duke to be like an A&R and get involved in some other projects that I guess were on the shelf at the time to see what he could do with them. So they gave him K-Rob and he put his touch on it and he brought me on that particular record. But again it was all about the money with him.”

Were you and Word Of Mouth performing regularly in New York around this time?

“We did all the famous spots in New York except for The Rooftop and The Fever. We performed in New York quite a few times. We performed at the Latin Quarter. I think for me though the biggest spot we performed in was The Roxy. That was actually the first time I saw Slick Rick because he was in a talent show there. He won the talent show doing “La-Di-Da-Di” before he ever recorded it with Doug E. Fresh. I can even remember the way Slick Rick was dressed with the long trench coat on and Kangol hat. He had some shades on at the time and wasn’t wearing the patch yet. I mean, there’s actually nothing wrong with Slick Rick’s eye. He’s just cock-eyed and started wearing the patch as a gimmick and it definitely worked for him. I remember LL Cool J was there as well. It was a good night. But that was a big deal for me to be up in the Roxy at that time seeing all the break-dancing and everything.”

“King Kut” was a big record in the UK and you visited here in the mid-80s – were you surprised to see such a vibrant Hip-Hop scene in London when you toured?

“The very first trip to the UK was exciting for me and it was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. I was surprised by the amount of people that knew about me over there. I mean, being young at the time and still in high-school, the furthest I’d ever been before was to New York City. Then to go almost to the other side of the world and have so many people knowing about me was incredible. I mean, we were getting so many articles and interviews, people were approaching me telling me how much they loved the music and wanting to take pictures with me, it was just mind-blowing. Hip-Hop was just so big out there. Plus, what y’all were doing at that time, with the graffiti and the break-dancing, we weren’t doing back home like that anymore. It was like going back into time for me being in the UK in 1986 because y’all were still in that era of Hip-Hop that nobody ever wanted to let go. It was like “Wild Style” all over again (laughs). I tell people all the time that I’ve always respected the UK because they respect the culture of Hip-Hop more than the US does. I loved it over there back then.”

mike allen pic

You were also featured on Mike Allen’s Capital Radio Hip-Hop show – what are you memories of that experience?

“When we were on Mike Allen’s show that was the first time someone had really given me full access to do what I wanted to do at a radio station. That was huge to me back then. Plus, it was big to me to meet Mike Allen. I mean, at the time I didn’t realise exactly how big he was in the UK back then until after we’d left the station and people were telling me more about him and what he was doing at the time with his radio show. But even before that, I was still excited to meet Mike because that was the first time I’d ever deejay-ed live on a radio station. So I was excited about being given that opportunity. Then when we were on air and I started to see the phonelines lighting-up and saw the amount of people that were calling in, that was another mind-blowing experience for me. Those moments on Mike Allen’s show were some of my best moments in Hip-Hop. I remember when we were being interviewed on the show I really didn’t have that much to say because I was this young, shy dude at the time.”

What do you recall about headlining both of London’s UK Fresh ’86 shows at Wembley with Word Of Mouth alongside other artists like Mantronix, Roxanne Shante, Just-Ice etc.?

“That was another highlight of my career to be able to perform with all the artists that were on that line-up like Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. It’s crazy because back then I couldn’t remember people like Jazzy Jay being there, but then when I see the pictures I’m like, ‘Aw man, I didn’t realise Jazzy Jay was there. I didn’t realise Howie Tee was there.’ There were just so many well-known artists that performed on that bill that at the time I didn’t even know were there (laughs). I do remember Lovebug Starski being there though because I had an issue with him during soundcheck. He didn’t want me onstage while he was doing his soundcheck which I didn’t have a problem with as I was only sitting on my equipment at the time, but it was the way that he said it to me. I was only a little dude back then and some of the members of the Furious Five snapped out on Lovebug Starski. The police had to get involved but thankfully nobody got locked up. At the end of the night, Starski had police officers outside watching his door as he was scared for his life afterwards. I mean, we’re friends on Facebook and that now and sometimes I’ll remind him of that time and he’ll just laugh.”

Lovebug Starski was riding high in the UK pop charts at that time with “Amityville” so he was probably playing that rock-star role to the fullest (laughs)…

“That’s exactly what he was doing. Lovebug Starski was definitely acting like he was the star of the show at that time (laughs).”

Ryan Proctor

Check out Part Two of this interview here.

Audio of 1986 DJ Cheese / Word Of Mouth / Duke Bootee interview on London’s Capital Radio with Mike Allen.