Tag Archives: Steady B

Old To The New Q&A – DJ Tat Money (Part Four)

tat money 20

In the final installment of my interview with DJ Tat Money, the Philly Hip-Hop legend discusses his reasons for leaving the Hilltop Hustlers crew, being involved in the 90s Kwame / Biggie beef and visiting Steady B in prison – check Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

What were your thoughts on the beef that developed between Steady B and Three Times Dope after they left the Hilltop crew?

“I just thought it was pretty misguided. I mean, Lawrence Goodman was a business guy and he pretty much puppeteered everybody. So when Three Times Dope broke away, he was saying, ‘Okay, they’re not with us anymore. They’ve abandoned the crew. You’re not supposed to be friends with those guys anymore.’ It was that whole thing now. So Steady was just like, ‘Okay, f**k ’em.’ He was basically following orders. In reality, he liked those guys. Cool C was the same way but he was also being told what to do. But to turn another page on that, the same thing happened with me once I got with Kwame in 1990. We were doing a show in Philly and they all turned up on the floor of the hotel we were staying in. There must have been about twenty guys…”

Was this actually Steady and Cool C or just Hilltop Hustlers affiliates?

“They were all there. All of them. We came off the elevator and walked straight into a bunch of these people. Now, I’m talking about people that I used to roll with all the time. They looked, nobody said a word, we all looked at each other and I just kept walking and walked straight into my room. They knocked on the door a couple of times and I think there was some stupid stuff said like, ‘You’d better not come out’ or something. But it wasn’t really that deep. It didn’t go that far.”

So what actually led to you making the decision to leave the Hilltop camp?

“Stuff started happening around 1988. What happened was, with the “Let The Hustlers Play” album, Chuck Nice from Three Times Dope produced three records on that project. See, Steady and I were kinda tired and exhausted at this point because we’d put a lot into our second album and nothing really happened. We were disappointed. We felt like the “What’s My Name” hadn’t really got off the ground and we were looking at all these other artists blowing up and doing tours and everything. Now, we’ve gotta start thinking about where we were going to go with our third album and Lawrence could see that we were a little bit relaxed about it and obviously he had a schedule that he needed to get the record out by. So he decided that to keep things going he was going to bring some other producers on-board, which is when Jive approached him about working with KRS-One and he also decided to get Chuck Nice involved because he was a great producer.  So I went up to Chuck’s house one time and we spent the whole night in the studio just working on music. But what started with us working on music led to us talking about certain things which developed into a conversation that went on until the sun came up. We must have talked for about three hours and I was telling him that I thought we weren’t being treated properly and that nobody was making any money. Chuck was looking at me like he couldn’t believe it (laughs). He was like, ‘Yo, I just came into this situation and this is the dream I’ve been looking for and now the person who helped get me here is telling me it’s not what I thought it was.’ He was flabbergasted. So he called Woody Wood up and he came over. This must have been about six-thirty in the morning. So Chuck is like, ‘Yo, Tat, tell Woody everything you just told me.’ So I told him. I was just frustrated, man. But I could see in Woody’s face that what I was telling him was hitting him hard because he had really befriended Lawrence…”

I know when I interviewed Woody earlier this year he told me how he would regularly travel to New York with Lawrence on business etc…

“Absolutely. I mean, Woody really couldn’t believe that Lawrence would betray us like that. He was hearing what I was saying but he couldn’t believe it. But then he heard the same thing from Lady B as well, and once he heard it from her, that was it. When Lady B validated everything I’d told him, that was when Three Times Dope got ready to leave and stepped away from the crew. Once that happened, that was when Lawrence was telling everyone, ‘Man, f**k those guys. We showed them everything and they’ve left. You should hate those guys now and not be cool with them anymore.’ Now, I’m my own man. I was still going over to see the Three Times Dope guys. I didn’t give a s**t. I mean, we made records together, we came up together, and now I’m supposed to cut them off because of some business s**t and because someone else wasn’t paying them properly? That wasn’t happening. I was just being real. Lawrence was kind of leery about me because he knew that I was an independent thinker. Now, once Three Times Dope left, suddenly all these contracts came up that Lawrence wanted us to sign locking us in for, like, twelve years. That was the point when I decided it was time to go.”

So the last Steady B project you were involved in was 1989’s “Going Steady” and then you started working with Kwame, right?

“Yeah, absolutely. That album came out in 1989 and I’d left by 1990. It was actually EST from Three Times Dope who hooked me up with Kwame. When I first got down with him it was almost the same situation as when I first got involved with Steady because Kwame had pretty much wrapped up the “A Day In The Life” album that he was working on, so I was featured on four tracks from that album doing cuts.”

tat money 23

Were you rolling with Kwame when Biggie dropped the infamous line ‘Your life is played out like Kwame and them f**kin’ polka dots’ on 1994’s “Unbelievable”?

“I was actually (laughs). Kwame was pissed. He couldn’t believe it and was like, ‘Where did that come from? I don’t even know this guy.’ I remember Kwame called me one day saying, ‘Did you hear about this guy Biggie Smalls dissing me on a record?’ I had all these records at my house and he told me the name of the song and I pulled the record out. So I put the record on and I didn’t hear it the first time. Then I played it again and was like, ‘Oh my god!’ Now we’ve got a problem, because that record was hot (laughs).”

Was there ever any interaction between Kwame and Biggie in response to that?

“We did a show in Philly that had been put on by this guy named Joe. He told us that he’d had Biggie Smalls performing there some time before us and that Biggie had told him he’d just said Kwame’s name on “Unbelievable” as something to say on the record and that it wasn’t a real serious thing. Apparently, Biggie told him he just said it and that it wasn’t really anything that Kwame should take to heart. But this is Hip-Hop and it’s very competitive. You don’t say someone’s name in a rhyme and just say it frivolously. You say it and you mean it or you don’t say it all. So, now, with Kwame being a competitor, he’s pissed. I mean, you can’t take something like that sitting down. So Kwame made “? It Like” and put a dude who looked like Biggie in the video. The record wasn’t that big because we were on a jacked-up label at the time, Ichiban, which was a bulls**t label. They really were full of s**t. Kwame had signed to them in 1994 for one album, “Incognito”, but it really didn’t get any light.”

notoriousbig

Did Biggie ever respond to that record or was it under-the-radar?

“So this is what happened. This is stuff that nobody really knows (laughs). This was around the time when cell phones started to become more popular. They used to be about a dollar a minute to use and I had one, Kwame had one, and there used to be this hook-up guy that we used who would hook the phones up so that you didn’t have to pay as much (laughs). So, Biggie actually used to go to the same guy and somehow he got my number from this hook-up guy. He called my phone and it sounded to me like he had the phone in his lap or something because his voice sounded like it was on speaker but this was before people had speaker phones (laughs). This was after Kwame had put the diss song out and we were supposed to be on a show together. So Biggie was like, ‘Look man, we’ll come through that show and blow that s**t up!’  I was like, ‘Oh s**t, this is that Biggie Smalls dude. How the f**k did he get my number?’ My number changed a lot so I was really surprised when he called so I knew he must have got the number from our cell phone guy. So I told Kwame about the call but then Biggie never did come through the show, although we did actually end-up having a run-in with him on another occasion around the same time…”

What happened?

“This was a crazy situation (laughs). We had this show with Kwame in mid-town Manhattan. We got booked to do this show by this lady promoter and we ripped that s**t down. I mean, we really ripped it down. I did my routine and was cutting-it up and the promoter was like, ‘Oh my god! We need an encore from the deejay!’ So I went on again and did my thing. It was a great night. There was about six of us there including myself and Kwame. So at the end of the night, we’re signing autographs and relaxing. It was quite a small club but there was definitely a good amount of people in there, plus, at that time, we were performing everywhere else but we weren’t getting booked for a lot of shows in New York, so it was a great feeling for us to be performing in NYC. So at the end of the night, we’re hanging out with the promoter and our dancers and everybody else left because it was late. So it was just me, Kwame and this promoter left in the club. Then, you see one dude pop in through the door. Then another dude. Another dude. Another dude. There was like thirty dudes who popped through the door at the end of the show (laughs). I mean, it’s late and everybody had left. So I’m sitting there like, ‘What the f**k? This don’t look too hot.’ It just looked really weird (laughs). As they were coming in each dude was literally sitting in the first seat they could find, almost like they were trying to be slick and not really be noticed or something. But I could see the whole thing happening like it was in slow motion. Then, here comes Biggie walking in. I can see him walking in now, wearing one of those Kangol caps he used to have on, he had on the Timberlands, and he looked big as ever (laughs). I’d never seen him before in person, so I was like, ‘Oh s**t, it’s Biggie Smalls.’ Now by this point, Kwame had dissed him on record, he’d dissed him in the video and he’d also dissed him on Video Music Box with Ralph McDaniels. So now, Biggie is angry and he’s turned up at our show. So he walked directly over to Kwame and immediately starts to go at him like, ‘What the f**k is up with you?!’ and started coming at him like that, throwing his hands up and everything. He was angry. Kwame was going back at him. So the promoter came over and dove in-between them both and she was like, ‘Hell no! This ain’t going down at my gig!’ She pushed me and Kwame into the kitchen area and the next thing we knew we were out of the club and on the street (laughs). So she basically got us out of the club.”

It sounds like Brooklyn was definitely in the house that night…

“Man, that would not have been pretty. There was like thirty dudes in there with Biggie and just me and Kwame on our own. We’d have been stomped up in there and in a hospital somewhere if something had happened. Or maybe even worse. But this exit we went out of put us right on the other side of the building, so we just went straight to my car, jumped in and took off.”

Taking it back to Steady B, what was your initial reaction when you heard about him and Cool C getting arrested in 1996 for bank robbery and killing a police officer? 

“Crazy as it was, I was actually on my way to New York that day. It was January and I remember I was excited about starting off the new year because I was doing mix-tapes at the time. So I’d taken the bus up to New York to go and meet with some of my contacts at various labels who would give me new music for my tapes. I fell asleep on the bus and when I woke up my pager said ‘Overflow’ because I’d had so many pages. I saw multiple pages from the same number and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ So I got up to Arista Records and asked if I could use the phone real quick. So I called the number of this girl I knew who had paged me who kinda always new everything that was going on (laughs). So I called her up and was like, ‘What’s going on?’ Straight away she said to me, ‘What do you know about Steady B and Cool C robbing a bank and shooting a cop?’ My mouth hit the floor. I said, ‘I’m gonna have to call you back.’  I put the phone down straight away because she had just told me everything I needed to know in one sentence. I was just like, ‘Really?!‘”

You’ve visited Steady in prison since he was given his life sentence, right?

“I did. I’ve been up there to see Steady three times. The last time I went up to see him was about three years ago now. I actually want to go back up again. I mean, we weren’t tight when he went into prison but we still had a lot of history together. Actually, one part that I missed out, Steady B and Kwame did a show together in North Carolina. I guess the promoter thought he was being smart and told us that he was booking them both together because there was the connection there with me being the link (laughs). So Steady went on first and it was a really rowdy crowd. I remember he’d only done a couple of songs and people were throwing bottles and there was glass smashing all over. It was not safe. Then a fight broke out in the crowd. So we left. We got paid but we didn’t do the show because it just wasn’t safe. Now Steady and Cool C were arrested in 1996 and this show would have been the year before in 1995. What happened was, I actually had a conversation with Steady that night, which would have been the first conversation I’d had with him since I left the crew in 1989. We hadn’t talked in a long while and Steady was like, ‘Look man, I don’t care anything about records no more. I don’t care if I never make another record.’ I was looking at him like, ‘What is he saying?’ I just didn’t understand. Then when they were arrested and I found out what they’d been doing, what Steady had said to me that night made sense to me.”

tat money pic 7

Was it a difficult visit the first time you went to see Steady in prison?

“Yeah, it was pretty bad, man. I mean, I was so used to seeing him in a different light. Steady was the type of dude who used to change his clothes three times a day, so to go up there and see him as an inmate was not a good situation. It was pretty bad. I mean, he’d lost a lot of weight, so he looked healthy, but to see him in there as a lifer was a crushing blow.”

Bringing things up-to-date, you’ve been performing recently with Chubb Rock, Special Ed, Kwame, Dana Dane and Monie Love as part of The Alumni – what’s that experience been like?

“It’s so much fun doing those shows and spinning for a bunch of different golden-era artists at one time. After deejay-ing for just a couple of artists for so long, it’s great to be working with such classic artists. I mean, the songs that people like Chubb Rock and Special Ed made are just timeless. I’m throwing on tracks like “I’m The Magnificent” and Special Ed comes out and even now, I’m like, ‘Wow!’ (laughs).”

Finally, does it surprise you that years later your contributions to Hip-Hop are still remembered by so many fans?

“It’s just such a great thing. In the mid-90s I started travelling to places across Europe on my own as a deejay and it just amazed me that people over there knew who I was and remembered my contributions. Really, when we were all part of the Hilltop situation, we were sheltered from all of that. It was like we weren’t really allowed to see how popular we were outside of our own area because then people might start asking for more money (laughs). But to me, it’s amazing that people are still talking about what we did back then to this day. It’s beyond belief, y’know. It’s a wonderful thing.”

Ryan Proctor

Follow Tat Money on Twitter – @DJTatMoney. 

80s footage of Steady B & DJ Tat Money performing “Believe Me Das Bad”.

Old To The New Q&A – DJ Tat Money (Part Three)

tat money pic 5

In this third part of my interview with Hip-Hop legend Tat Money, the Philly deejay continues his trip down memory lane and remembers working with Three Times Dope, on-air 80s radio battles between Steady B and Will Smith, plus being in the studio with KRS-One recording Steady’s 1988 album “Let The Hustlers Play” – check Part One and Part Two before reading on.

What was your connection with Three Times Dope?

“Woody Wood and Chuck Nice used to come down to see me when I was working at Funk-O-Mart. They would ask me what I could do to help them out with their music. I used to tell them to pass me their demo and whatever they had, because I’d actually told them to go up to the Pop Art offices and gave them the address and Woody used to tell me that Lawrence Goodman was never there. So I took the demo from them and we played it when we were driving up to New York one day, me, Steady and Lawrence in the Benz. We all liked it and Lawrence was talking about putting a crew together, the Hilltop Hustlers, so he was like, ‘Should I sign them?’ and me and Steady both gave him the say-so, like, ‘Yeah!’ Plus, Three Times Dope were from a different part of town and we figured we could shape them and really teach them how to make records. So that’s how they got down with the crew. Then obviously you had Cool C who was already tight with Steady.”

I asked Woody Wood this same question when I interviewed him earlier this year, but was there ever any friction from anyone involved with the original Hilltop Hustlers street crew when you all started putting records out under the name?

“Nah, not really. Quite honestly, it was a bit of a contradiction for me because I’m from Wynnefied and back in the day Wynnefield and Hilltop actually used to be rivals. There’s a bridge that separates the two areas and back in the 60s when Philly had its gang wars there used to be a big rivalry between Wynnefield and Hilltop that started. I mean, there used to be drive-bys and all of that in Philly back then. There’s actually a book out called “Black Mafia” which I’m reading right now which contains a lot of stories from back then that some of my older guys have told me about over the years that I knew nothing about. There was a lot of different gangs who used to do a lot of bad stuff in Philly. But to answer your question, no, there was no real friction as far as us using the Hilltop name was concerned.”

tat money pic 2

You’re credited as doing cuts on Three Times Dope’s classic 1988 single “From Da Giddy-Up” but weren’t you also involved in the production as well?

“I came in to the studio one day and was like, ‘We should use this loop. I’ve found this great loop.’ Steady was working on something and I put it on and kept playing it over and over on the turntable. Now at that time, Big Daddy Kane’s “Raw” was huge so we were trying to get something that was kinda uptempo that could play alongside that. So Steady had heard me, but he kinda ignored me. Now, the way that we worked, I would find loops and play them on the turntable and Steady would be on the drum machine and he would sample them to use. I’d be like, ‘Get this kick right here’ or ‘Get this snare’ and stuff like that. Then we’d start formulating a track from there. We’d get everything together like that. That was how we worked back then, as a team. So Steady was on the drum machine this particular day when I was playing this loop, but he just kinda ignored me, so I was like ‘Whatever.’ Now, a lot of my stuff, my turntables and records, stayed at Lawrence’s place because we would be there every day in the studio. So, I come to the studio the next day, I’m walking up the drive-way to the back of Lawrence’s house and I hear this beat playing. I’m like, ‘What is this beat?!’ Then it hit me right before I opened the door and I was like, ‘You’ve gotta be f**kin’ kidding me? He sampled that s**t from yesterday!’ So when I walked in I had the crazy look on my face like ‘Are you serious?!’ and Steady and Lawrence were looking at me like they’d stole something but they didn’t want to admit it (laughs). Their faces said everything. But I was heated. Lawrence could see my anger and he tried to take control of the situation and was like, ‘Let’s find some cuts for this, man. Let’s make this a great track. We’re going to give this to Cool C, man.’ I’m looking at him thinking, ‘Find some cuts? You find some cuts!’ I already know what’s going to happen, that I’m not going to get any credit for the production even though it was my idea and I’m just going to be credited for doing the cuts. So anyway, I went and found some cuts because, ultimately, I’m competitive and I wanted to see the track take off and not just get left to the side. So I found a James Brown cut that I thought would really go with it and it was a perfect marriage. So I kind of got away from the anger of the situation because I was just so into the music. But instead of Cool C the record ended-up being used by Three Times Dope and EST really came with it on there…”

EST had such a distinctive voice and unique style that instantly made 3-D standout when they first started dropping music…

“I really worked hard alongside EST when they were putting that track together. Because the original loop was my idea I really felt like it was my record, so when EST got given that track to work with, he and I used to be on the phone for hours and he would just be rhyming to me. I’d be like, ‘Give me another one. Okay, I like that. Make sure that one gets used on the record…’ So I really helped him put those rhymes together for that track. I mean, I was already working with EST lyrically because I really thought he was a dope young emcee. We used to jump in my car and drive around the city and he would be like, ‘Oh s**t! I’m with Tat Money! This is crazy…’ because I was already out on record and popular and he was just starting out. I mean, we’d been working together on Three Times Dope’s other records like “Crushin’ & Bussin'” but once EST got to “From Da Giddy-Up” that was when he felt he’d really arrived.”

tat money pic 16

You mentioned earlier in the interview about problems between Steady B and the Fresh Prince. Do you remember a couple of on-air situations that happened between them on Philly radio?

“I sure do (laughs).  I was there for every one of those situations. There’s actually still recordings of those incidents floating around thirty years later (laughs). In a nutshell, Steady just had this thing and he just kept going at the Fresh Prince. I don’t know if you could call it jealousy, but Steady just had this vibe about him that he did not like Will Smith. Steady would make little jabs and say things like, ‘I’m from Philly and I represent Philly one hundred percent.’ I mean, we would always have our Philly gear on and we had personalised Phillies jerseys made when we went to London for the first time in 1987. We had those made for the photo shoot for the “What’s My Name” album cover but they ended up using the pictures of us in sweatsuits. Anyway, we used to have the Philly gear on all the time. So what Steady was referring to was that Will would be wearing New York Yankees gear with the caps and everything. So Steady used to make light of that and would be like, ‘These guys are going around and they act like they’re from New York when they’re really from Philly but they don’t represent Philly.’ So Steady was saying things indirectly which Will caught wind of.”

Where did that rivalry originally come from in your opinion?

“Well, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince were originally managed by Dana Goodman. Steady and I were managed by Lawrence Goodman along with Cool C and Three Times Dope. So obviously they’re brothers and let’s just say there was competition between them. Dana would say things like, ‘Well, Will is better than Steady’ and ‘Jeff is better than Tat.’ It was really fierce competition and that’s kinda where the problem between Will and Steady started from. Steady was always like, ‘Well, I was the first one here, so where are you guys coming from?!’ and there was always that friction. Dana was always kinda smug (laughs). Me? I didn’t feel that way. I’m cordial to everyone and I was kinda like, ‘Whatever’ (laughs).”

tat money pic 18

So what happened between Steady and the Fresh Prince on the radio?

“Both times it happened was on Mimi’s Rap Digest show.  The first time it happened, we’d gone up to the radio station and Will showed up. Steady had already been on air saying all this stuff about Will and probably a couple of his people had told him what Steady had been saying. So now Will’s got a beef. “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble” was just taking off so I guess Will was feeling pretty strong and confident at the time. So we’re up at the show and Will just pops in and it caught Steady by surprise like ‘What?!’ Will was like, ‘Steady, I hear you’ve been fat-mouthing and saying this and that about me. You wanna battle me? Let’s get to it right now.’ It really caught Steady off guard. We’d literally just finished recording the “What’s My Name” album and had gone up to the station to promote it. So Steady had all these songs written but wasn’t really prepared for a battle (laughs). So Steady started saying rhymes from songs that weren’t actually out yet, but the Fresh Prince had come prepared and his plan was to say some rhymes, crack a few jokes on Steady, make the people laugh and leave. Which is exactly what he did. But from listening back to the tape, I’d have to say that first time was really a stalemate and I couldn’t really say that anyone actually won. But the second time it happened…”

Was it a different story?

“The second time it happened when we were up at the station, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince had sold double platinum so Will was really on top of the world at that point. So he showed up at the station again with a rhyme ready and everything. Do you remember the song Jeff and Will had called “Numero Uno”? Will had an ill rhyme on there and he actually said the rhyme that ended up on that track in the battle against Steady that second time. Then at the end of it he started saying some things like, ‘Well, I’m about to be going on tour in Japan. Where are you going to be? You’re going to be at the Hilltop.’ I remember he said some other stuff like, ‘Well, basically Steady, I sold over two million records. What did you sell? Let’s say, two hundred thousand.’ People were laughing and basically it almost ended in a fight because Will said something about Steady’s girl or something and it had to be broken up and everyone got escorted out of the building (laughs).”

tat money pic 1

Speaking of battles, do you remember the battle Steady had with Mikey D?

“I was there (laughs). Mikey D was known at the time as a battle rapper and as you can see on the flyer it says Steady B Vs. Mikey D, so we were looking at it like, ‘Okay, I guess this is for publicity.’ I mean, Mikey came out with his freestyle stuff and we just went out there and did our show (laughs). We entertained the crowd. I mean, the freestyle stuff is cool, but it isn’t always going to go down well with a crowd. We went out there with our dancers, I had a solo set as a deejay, Steady had some popular records, so the crowd really dug what we were doing. It was at a skating rink out in New Jersey. Mikey’s a good friend of mine and I recently saw him and he reminded me of that battle and was like, ‘Man, the only reason you guys won was because you had a tight show.’ Lyrically, Mikey didn’t feel that Steady was better than him, and I get that part, but we didn’t go there to beat him verbally. We were paid to do a show, so we decided we would go there and do a proper show for everyone who’d paid to see that, get the crowd on our side and then everybody would be like ‘Who the hell is Mikey D?’ (laughs).

Steady’s 1988 album “Let The Hustlers Play” contained outside production from your then label-mate KRS-One. Was that something that happened organically or did Jive make the suggestion for you to work with the Blastmaster?

“It was suggested by Jive directly because KRS was just starting his production thing. I mean, we loved KRS-One back then as well and thought he was a really innovative artist and a great mind. I think Jive just wanted to try some different things with us, partly because Lawrence Goodman and the label really weren’t getting along. Lawrence was so used to running his own show with Pop Art, but it wasn’t that way anymore and he was signed to Jive as a label imprint, so when you’re in that situation you really have to listen to what the label are saying, particularly when they’re putting the money behind what you’re doing. So Lawrence had rubbed Jive the wrong way numerous times over the years, which Steady and I felt led to them not really backing us on certain things. I mean, we felt the “What’s My Name” album should have been gold, but we didn’t have any videos for the album. We did some creative things on that album and we felt it got overlooked. It didn’t get a lot of radio-play. We felt like we’d made some great records which could rock on the radio and that we’d be able to tour off of. But it didn’t happen. Instead Jive put their money into Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince,  Kool Moe Dee, Schoolly D and other artists like that. Jive didn’t put their money into us as far as we saw. We felt like we were just along for the ride really and with good reason because when your label is beefin’ with your management, what do you think is going to happen?”

So there was a constant struggle between Jive and Lawrence Goodman?

“Let me give you one example. We were supposed to go to London to record the second album. Lawrence gave Jive hell over that. He was like, ‘Why would I go to London and have to pay all this money to do something I can do right here?’ I mean, from what I heard we were going to be over there for thirty days to get the album done. I think from the information I was given, including the studio time and everything else, it was going to cost about a thousand dollars a day for us to be there. So Lawrence didn’t want to go. But the way Jive worked was that they used to send all their artists to London to work in their studios there with Bryan ‘Chuck’ New and their engineers. Lawrence is telling the label that we’re an in-house operation and that we do everything ourselves but that he still wanted Jive to invest money in our project the same way. Anyway, Jive said we were going to London and he was arguing with them about it every step of the way, which really created a bad atmosphere and Steady and I were caught in the middle. I mean, Jive loved us, they just couldn’t stand Lawrence. It was like, ‘Well, you’re two good guys but too bad you’ve got that manager.'”

So what happened when you got to London?

“Well, we get to Heathrow, get to customs, Steady and I cleared customs, but Lawrence couldn’t make it through. I can see this picture in my head right now of all these lines at customs (laughs). I’d put all my stuff on the conveyor belt, it had all been checked through and they asked us all the questions about why we were coming to UK. I think we told them we were there on vacation or some bulls**t because we didn’t have work permits or anything. I mean, the Zomba / Jive people were downstairs waiting for us with signs and everything (laughs). So what happened was, they must have scanned Lawrence’s passport, and it came up that he had a police record or whatever. Now, I’m seventeen-years-old at this point, so I don’t really fully understand everything that’s going on but I’m trying to make sense of it all. I’d told my parents I was going to be in the UK for a month and they’d been telling everybody that I was going to be in London recording and working on music. I’m thinking this is going to be a great experience. Now, Steady and I have cleared customs, the agent dealing with Lawrence had asked who he was travelling with, he pointed us out and this agent comes over to us, tells us we can’t go through and we all end up in this interview room.”

At that point you must have been thinking that something was seriously wrong?

“So we’re all in this room and Lawrence is trying to not alarm us but also not make light of the situation at the same time as well. I do remember he made a joke though saying that we were under arrest but they just didn’t put handcuffs on you in the UK (laughs). I was like, ‘What?!‘ But then this customs guy came in and I remember he took Lawrence’s wallet, his phone book and then starts calling everybody in Lawrence’s phone book! He was calling Lawrence’s credit card company and really going through it. Lawrence was trying to make out it wasn’t his fault, but I’m thinking ‘Well, me and Steady got cleared so it must be a problem with you.’ Anyway, they had us sitting there for a long time and we were starving. So they ended up putting us on a bus to take us somewhere else to get some lunch. We got on this big ass bus and they took us to this detention centre place and I remember everybody in there had on these white outfits (laughs). We just had on our regular clothes and I remember everyone else in there was just looking at us. We were all in the kitchen and they pulled out these ice blocks of food, threw them in the oven and within minutes they were piping hot. I hadn’t seen anything like that before. I remember just how hot the food was because I went to take a bite of this little dinner that I had and burnt the s**t out of my mouth (laughs). So we ate our food, they put us back on the bus and took us back to the airport. By this time Lawrence is getting kinda uppity like, ‘I’m a grown man. This is some bulls**t.’ So the customs guy comes back and is like, ‘I don’t believe one thing you’ve said to me. I think you’re a liar.’ I couldn’t believe how this guy was talking to Lawrence because nobody talked to Lawrence like that (laughs). So this guy was like, ‘I can give you two options. You can either wait until tomorrow for me to try and verify everything you’ve told me or you can get on the first thing smokin’ back to Philadelphia.’ So Lawrence being Lawrence, he was like ‘I’m out of here.’ So we jumped on the next plane back to Philly after being stuck at the airport in London for about twelve hours. That was the worst, man. So we got back home, brushed ourselves off, and went straight into the studio to record “What’s My Name”. But Jive records were pissed! At that point, I was like ‘Yo, we’re really the step-kids of the label now.'”

tat money pic 17

So was their friction between Lawrence and Jive about you and Steady working with KRS?

“Nah, Lawrence was wide open to that situation. He actually brought it to us after being told about it by the label. When me and Steady heard about it we literally jumped at the opportunity. We we’re like, ‘KRS is the hottest thing going right now. Yes! Yes! Yes!'”

What do you remember from being in the studio with KRS?

“Basically, KRS ran everything through me, which was incredible. We just had that whole emcee / deejay relationship. I remember he just had so much energy and was like a kid in a candy store when we were in the studio. KRS was just so excited and brought so much energy to everything he was doing. We worked on three records together with KRS for the “Let The Hustlers Play” album, which were “Serious”, “Turn It Loose” and “The Undertaker”. The way those records were made, it wasn’t about having to concentrate on finding loops and things like that. KRS already had a whole bunch of loops ready and he basically just asked, ‘Which ones do you like?’ I remember KRS pulled me into the studio room and was like, ‘Do you want this one or that one?’ I told him which ones I wanted him to use and then he basically just made the beats right there on the spot. It was instant. I mean, that wasn’t how Steady and I were used to working because we were used to making all of our beats at home and then taking them to the studio to record. But the way those tracks with KRS were put together was definitely very spontaneous. I mean, KRS made the track for “Serious” right on the spot. I remember he had this other track which sounded like Big Daddy Kane’s “Raw” which I didn’t like, so I told him to go with the Turtles loop and the “Serious” beat was born.”

Plus KRS did the “Ceereeus BDP Remix” for the “Serious” single release which took the track to another level… 

“The other thing about that as well was that “Serious” was our first video. With the presence of KRS-One, he really pumped life into that “Let The Hustlers Play” project and also pumped life back into us, because at that point, our records really weren’t getting played in Philly. We weren’t getting played in our hometown. Lawrence rubbed a lot of people the wrong way so people started taking the position that they weren’t going to play anything that had anything to do with him. I got tired of being blackballed and being guilty by affiliation, so I started going up to radio stations myself to get our records played. I went up to Power in Philly and the first day I went up there we got “Serious” played that day and every day after that based on the relationships I was making. We ended up in the countdown because everyone was calling the station saying they wanted to hear the Steady B and KRS-One song (laughs). I mean, that really was a big deal back then to have done a song with KRS. It’s the equivalent today of someone doing a song with Jay-Z. People were going nuts for that record. So “Serious” definitely boosted our stock a lot at the time.”

Ryan Proctor

Read Part Four of this interview here.

Steady B – “Serious – Ceereeus BDP Remix” (Jive / 1988)

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

tat money pic 4

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.”

tat money 16

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”.

tat money pic 15

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.”

tat money pic 6

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…”.

Ryan Proctor

Check Part Three of this interview here.

Steady B – “Bring The Beat Back” (Pop Art Records / 1986)

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

tat money pic 3

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.”

tat money pic 11

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).”

tat money pic 13

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.”

tat money pic 9

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).”

tat money pic 10

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.”

tat money pic 12

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.”

Ryan Proctor

Check Part Two of this interview here.

DJ Tat Money cuttin’ up LL Cool J’s “Rock The Bells”.

Old To The New Q&A – DJ Woody Wood / Three Times Dope (Part Three)

woody wood pic 4

In the final part of this interview with Philadelphia’s DJ Woody Wood, the man behind the turntables for golden-era favourites Three Times Dope talks about splitting with the Hilltop Hustlers crew, recording the group’s 1990 sophomore album “Live From Acknickulous Land” and touring across the US – check Part One and Part Two.

Was that a difficult time for you when things started to go wrong with Lawrence Goodman’s label and you had Steady B and Cool C both dissing the group?

“Well, I can only speak for myself. But yeah, it was difficult for me because although I hadn’t grown-up with those dudes we’d definitely come up together in the music thing. So, for like two or three years, we’d all been working together in some type of way. Then all of sudden all of that happened and it felt foreign to me. I was like, ‘What do I do here?’ I felt that my relationship with Lawrence was strong and I trusted him in a lot of ways, so that situation was definitely difficult for me. As a group it was also difficult because we didn’t have a manager for awhile. That first album “Original Stylin'” sold around 420,000 copies on the Arista side with just two videos. That’s why I never understood why Lawrence split it up the way he did with the other label over in the UK. It might have made financial sense to him at the time, but to me, that could have been a gold album.”

How much of a negative impact do you think it had on the Philly Hip-Hop scene when the Hilltop situation fell-apart in terms of the label and crew being a possible outlet for other upcoming artists?

“To be honest with you, I never even looked at it that deep back then. My thing was, we didn’t have no money. Before that first album came out we were doing a lot of shows but not really making any money. But when we got out of that deal with Lawrence we owned our publishing which was important for us. Our royalties and everything came directly to us and we were also able to do a lot of shows. Every weekend we were on the road doing shows after we got out of that deal. We signed to a booking agent and just did a lot of travelling. But to answer your question, in terms of the Philly scene, I think we did a lot to rep Philly on MTV, BET and places like that where we would talk about where we came from. That I think helped other artists coming out of Philly. And it wasn’t just us doing that. Schoolly D, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Cash Money & Marvelous, we were all talking about Philly and showing people that the city had a rich diversity of Hip-Hop so that hopefully they’d give other artists coming up a chance as well.”

funky dividends cover

How did the group cope without having any official management for that time?

“It was tough for us. From the “Greatest Man Alive” single (released in 1988) through to “Funky Dividends” (released in 1989) we didn’t have a manager. There was a lot of stuff during that time that we had to deal with that a manager would have been able to help us with. That probably hurt our record sales somewhat and also our development as artists because when you have all this different business stuff coming at you it’s difficult to know what you’re doing unless someone explains it to you. So that time was hard for us.”

Did it put pressure on whether the group would stay together?

“Nah, it was never a problem with the group continiung. We all knew that we wanted the group to continue at that time, we just didn’t have a manager. So we were doing a lot of things ourselves at that point and working it out with the label.”

So how did the group approach the second album, 1990’s “Live From Acknickulous Land”?

“I mean, we were trying to work out what we were going to do. Were we going to diss Steady? Were we going to diss Cool C? Or were we going to stay away from that? I mean, we were going on big arena tours with artists like Public Enemy, N.W.A., Heavy D, the MC Hammer tour, and people were screaming at us to diss them (laughs). But we decided we really wanted to steer clear of that. I mean, I never got a chance to really speak to them about what happened so, personally, I don’t think they really knew at the time what was going on with our situation. So at that point we just wanted to work, get out there, make money and continue to show people who we were and prove that we were a good group coming out of Philly. That was really what we were trying to focus on.”

three-times-dope-live-from-acknickulous-land-lp

There were definitely some more radio-friendly tracks with the second album like “Mellow But Smooth” and the remix of “Weak At The Knees” which leant towards the New Jack Swing sound of the time – was that down to pressure from Arista?

“I have to say that it was partly down to everybody. It was partly us, partly the label, and partly looking at some of the groups who were out at that time in the late-80s / early 90s. I don’t want to blame it all on the label or anything because we definitely had a say in that. But at the time, I think our mentality was that we had to do things a certain way and we did it. There were things on that album we could have done differently and it would have probably been better, but you live and you learn.”

So where was Acknickulous Land exactly?

“Acknickulous meant something was better than dope. That word was something that EST and Larry Larr came up with and I give them much respect for being creative like that. So when you heard the title “Live From Acknickulous Land”, Acknickulous Land for us was a place to go to that was different and where everything was dope (laughs).”

You also had some involvement in Larry Larr’s 1991 album “Da Wizzard Of Odds”…

“Chuck did a lot of his production and I cut on some of his songs, but Larry had his own deejay. He was a very creative artist though. Larry was from right next to us at Hunting Park in a place called Logan which they used to call Logan’s Alley. Again, everyone outside of Southwest and West Philly probably had the hardest time coming up, and I believe Chuck enabled Larry to come out by being involved with his production and getting him signed. Larry was a few years younger than me but I knew him through his relationship with EST.”

larry larr cover

Did you notice a big difference being signed directly to Arista in terms of how the second album was promoted?

“Well, Arista really spent a lot of money on setting that second album up which at the time was unheard of to me. They set a promotional tour up that went through Los Angeles, Texas, Atlanta, D.C. and other places. But they were very smart and they took us to Boys & Girls Clubs in those areas to talk to the kids so that we could open up and they’d really be able to see who we were as people. So they got to see a side of us beyond just being recording artists, they also got to see that we cared about what was going on in the communities. We’d actually just lost a good friend of ours Terence, who was Larry Larr’s deejay at the time. I wasn’t on the corner when this happened, but Chuck was out there with a bunch of people and someone had come and held the corner up and shot Terence at the same time. Tee ran about a block to the top of my block and that’s where he died. So what we did, we were going to these places and talking to these kids about violence and things that were going on in the community, like peer pressure, teenage pregnancy and things like that. But the record label was smart because at the same time they were working with a booking agent who was getting us shows at different venues everywhere we went.”

Did you experience any regional resistance when you were visiting these different places?

“Nah, but I think that had a lot to do with our approach. I mean, we would set the turntables up in the gym, there’d be about two or three hundred kids there, we’d talk to them, I’d deejay a little, we’d perform, we’d play basketball with these kids, so it really gave them the opportunity to see that we were just regular people. We were spending a week at a time in some cities so it really gave us a chance to explore and see what was going on in places like Compton. It really was a learning experience.”

Are there any memories of meeting particular artists while you were travelling that still stand-out to you?

“Yeah, I remember Dr. Dre telling us that he wanted us on the N.W.A. tour because he wanted people to know that there were other artists outside of New York who were good. That really stood-out to me. Meeting Too Short was another moment that stood-out. Now, in Philly, Too Short didn’t really get a lot of respect as an artist, but when I saw him perform I was like, ‘Yo! These people love Too Short.’ I was shocked (laughs). He’d come out onstage like, ‘My name is Too Short…’ and the crowd would go crazy. He was like God to people in the Midwest and down South. That was amazing to me (laughs). I mean, we did shows with MC Lyte, Cash Money & Marvelous, Slick Rick. I liked being on shows with singers because that gave you a chance to be exposed to a different audience, like when we were on the Guy tour with Heavy D. I remember there was one show we did on that tour when we were in Chicago and we got our records off the bus and they’d melted or something and they were warped. Now, back then, we were working off turntables in our shows and we would perform using the instrumental version of the records and I would cut. Now, this record was so warped that it just wouldn’t play, so we were like, ‘Chuck, you’ve got to load up “Greatest Man Alive” on the drum machine.’ So Chuck had to play that live (laughs). We just had so much fun back then.”

So what happened after the second album had run its course?

“We were recording a third album. I thought the third album was good because it was more like the first album. But what happened around that time was the record business started changing and Black music divisions at labels were being phased out. So it was a transitional period for music and we were trying to figure out how we were going to carry on when the people who originally signed us weren’t at the label anymore. So after that album was actually done I remember Arista did a big ad on us in the The Source around 1993, where one page was Chuck, the second page was me and the third page was EST. So I’m thinking, ‘Great, we’re about to come out.’ Then all of a sudden we just got put on hold. I couldn’t understand it. We just sat there waiting and that third album never materialised.”

da sequel pic

Was any of the material from that third album on the “Sequel” project which came out some years later? 

“Nah, that was something that EST and Chuck did after we split as a group. The third album that never came out was called “Major Flavas” and really was a return to the sound of the first album. We had “Da Giddy Up 2″ on there, Larry Larr was on the album, Kwame, another emcee from Philly called D-Born was on that album. It was a good record.”

Does anyone have that now?

“It’s sitting in a label vault somewhere.”

What prompted you to step away from the group?

“It was the thing where we reached a point where we had a chance to mutually do other things. I think it was around 1994 when Arista finally let us go and at that point I think EST and Chuck connected with other people and were able to do other things. That’s something you’d need to ask them but even to this day I don’t have anything against those guys.”

What were your thoughts on the Steady B / Cool C bank robbery incident in 1996?

“I was shocked when I heard what had happened. I mean, those guys were just regular dudes, man. They weren’t bad dudes. I was sad to see that go down and there was nothing I could really do to help at that point. I mean, once I heard the names being mentioned on the news I knew straight away who it was, although a lot of people didn’t realise straight away because they used their real names and didn’t mention their recording names. I was like, ‘That’s Steady B they’re talking about’ and my friend I was with at the time was like, ‘Naaaah!’ But I knew who it was. Even though we’d been through our stuff in the past I didn’t have any anger for anyone, so it was just a really sad situation to see.”

Looking back who would you say are some of your favourite Philly artists?

“I’ve gotta say Schoolly D because I loved “Saturday Night”. Steady B for “Bring The Beat Back” because I used to cut that song all the time and even to this day if I make a mix of music from that era I have to include a Steady B song. You’ve gotta love Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince for what they did with songs like “Summertime” and I’d also have to say MC Breeze because without Breeze I wouldn’t have had a chance because he really helped open the doors for Philly artists. I loved Tuff Crew’s “My Part Of Town”. I mean, those songs are classics and they bring back so many memories for me.”

So, finally, what would you like Three Times Dope to be remembered for as a group?

“I’d like people to remember us for our creativity and what we contributed to Hip-Hop in Philly. Everything we achieved was great to me, getting signed and being able to put our music out. I was a part of history and I’ll always be glad about that.”

Ryan Proctor

Follow DJ Woody Wood on Twitter (@DJWood3XD) and Instagram (DJWoodyWood3XD).

Old To The New Q&A – DJ Woody Wood / Three Times Dope (Part Two)

wood wood pic 3

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.”

pop art logo

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.”

hilltop hustlers pic 1

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!'”

original stylin cover

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.”

Ryan Proctor

Read Part Three of this interview here.

Old To The New Q&A – DJ Woody Wood / Three Times Dope (Part One)

wood wood pic 1

Bursting out of the rich Hip-Hop scene of Philadelphia in the late-80s, Three Times Dope (originally known as 3-D) made their name as part of the infamous Hilltop Hustlers collective alongside fellow local artists Steady B and Cool C.

Initially signed by Lawrence Goodman of Pop Art Records fame (and Steady B’s uncle), the trio of EST (emcee), Chuck Nice (producer) and Woody Wood (deejay) quickly gained themselves a dedicated fanbase following the release of early cuts such as “Crushin’ & Bussin'” and “From Da Giddy Up”.

A falling-out with label-head and manager Goodman around the time the group dropped their impressive debut 1988 album “Original Stylin'” found Three Times Dope being dissed by their former musical allies as they began recording 1990’s sophomore effort “Live From Acknickulous Land”.

The threesome finally went their separate ways in the mid-90s, but not without having left an indelible mark on the landscape of East Coast Hip-Hop and beyond.

In this three-part interview, DJ Woody Wood talks about his early recollections of Hip-Hop in Philly, being part of the Hilltop Hustlers and touring with the likes of N.W.A and Too Short.

So how did you first become involved in the Philly Hip-Hop scene?

“When I was coming up in high-school I got involved in music by trying to listen to these tapes that would be passed around. At that time in Philly we had a number of really big deejays who would throw block parties like Cosmic Kev, DJ Thorpe, people like that. There was Parry P who was an emcee. I wanted to be like those dudes. They had cliques and groups like the Black Knights Of Funk and Cosmic Kev was from the Grandmasters Of Funk. So I would get these tapes of these guys, listen to them and want to be them (laughs). So I asked my mom if she could get me some turntables and then I started playing records, listening to what all these other guys were doing, and really just trying to be like them. So that’s really how I first got involved in the Philly music scene.”

What sort of music were you hearing on those tapes at that time?

“Back then everything was breakbeats. So they would play stuff like Brothers Johnson and then when it got to the break part just play that over and over. Then that’s when the emcees would start rapping and I’m listening to this like, ‘Damn! What is this?!’ That’s back when the deejay was still the frontman and the emcee was the hypeman for the deejay. So you’d hear these breakbeats like “Dance To The Drummer’s Beat” and also some of the records that were out at the time from, like, the Treacherous Three. The deejays would play the breaks and then mix it into some of the records that were out at the time.”

Were you actually going to the parties at this point or just listening to the tapes?

“Nah, I was still too young to go to the parties in the beginning. I was about thirteen-years-old at that time so I wasn’t allowed to go to stuff like that. I could hear it on the tapes but I couldn’t see it until some of those deejays would come around my way. Now, I lived in Hunting Park, which is North Philly. So sometimes they used to come around the way, Disco Red, Cosmic Kev, Grandmasters Of Funk, Sex Machine, they would come out with these big giant speakers and it would be loud! You could hear it from up the block and the music would just draw you in. I would go out and just stand there and watch those dudes. I’d be right there in front of the turntables. So that was really how I learnt to deejay, I would just watch those dudes.”

So what were your first turntables like?

“Man, my mom brought me some belt-driven turntables when I was in the eighth grade. She gave me two turntables, a mixer and a stereo set-up with two speakers. I got on those two belt-driven turntables and I just used to play the hell out of the two records that I had (laughs). So I was just watching these other deejays and listening to what they were doing and eventually it got to the stage where I though ‘I can do this.’ Back then people like Cosmic Kev were huge and they had such a big following. This had to be around 1983. Eventually I started doing parties in my neighbourhood and I started to get a reputation as being a deejay in Hunting Park.”

Were these parties you were putting on yourself or as part of a crew?

“Nah, they weren’t my parties. These were house parties that  people would have and sometimes they’d charge like a dollar to come in. They’d be jam-packed with people from the neighbourhood. So I wasn’t part of a crew at this point, I would just do parties for people. There were about two or three deejays in the neighbourhood and that’s actually how I met Chuck Nice initially because back in the very beginning he was also a deejay before he got into the production. We used to call him Grandmaster Blend back then (laughs). He used to blend the hell out of two records. So we used to throw parties like that and I was in demand to do a lot of cutting and scratching and Chuck was doing his thing as Grandmaster Blend.”

Was it a Hip-Hop-orientated set you were playing at those early parties?

“It was mainly breakbeats and the Hip-Hop records that were out then back in 83. You’d play records that you knew people would dance to and then you’d also play records like “Planet Rock” and others that were coming out of New York. I mean, they were real long records that you could keep a party going with from like nine at night through to maybe one in the morning.”

PlanetRockSingle

That’s back when you’d get ten minute long 12″ versions of tracks…

“Oh yeah (laughs). You could play the hell out of those records back then. Some people would stand in front of the turntables and just watch what you were doing but most people would be dancing and having fun. Then as time went on we started messing with these guys in the neighbourhood, Les and Disco Red’s cousin Vadar. Now Disco Red’s cousin had all these big speakers which meant he could battle against some of the bigger deejays and that’s how we got good with him. He could stack his speakers up and sound way louder than them. He had the concept of using the double-scoops and the horns and all of that and the music would be so loud that it would draw people into the park. So I used to set-up with them when they were doing a party and they’d give me a chance to spin as a part of their crew.”

So were you aware there was an actual Hip-Hop scene in Philly at this point or was it just a neighbourhood thing for you back then?

“That’s a good question. So what happened is, there were a bunch of different promoters who would have parties at different places like Hotel Philadelphia and Fantasia or the different ballrooms that were around. They would bring in deejays from the different areas of Philly. So you had Grandmaster Nell who was from South Philly. Cosmic Kev was from West Oak Lane. Thorpe was from that same area. Then you had Sex Machine who were from North Philly.  So these promoters would bring all these different guys together to deejay at different venues and that was the whole thing back then. It would cost you something like ten dollars to get in and there would be like two or three thousand people there. It was crazy. So it was the deejays in Philly who really made everything click in the city when it came down to Hip-Hop. It was all about the deejays, the dancing and the clothes back then. Everyone used to wear what we called a Joe Palmieri in Philly. Joe Palmieri was a tailor and he used to make these custom jeans and things like that which everyone had.”

joe p pic

So you’re seeing people from other parts of Philly who’re involved in Hip-Hop but how much awareness did you have of what had been happening in New York in terms of the origins of the music?

“For me, it was back to listening to those tapes (laughs). I don’t know where people got them from, but there would be these tapes of people like Grand Wizard Theodore. So you’d listen to the parties that they were doing on these tapes. You would hear someone like Theodore cutting a breakbeat and his crew would be rapping and you’d just be like ‘Damn!’ Or you’d hear someone like Grandmaster Flash. Man, if you got a Grandmaster Flash tape! You’d hear rumours at the time that Flash was blind but still mixing and doing all this crazy stuff (laughs). So, back then, the only thing I had to go on was those tapes. So I was listening to Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, Busy Bee and people like that. So that was really what put me onto what they were doing in New York. I mean, I was so young back then I had no way of actually going there or anything like that. So, for me, it really all came from listening to those tapes.”

In our digital world of social media etc it’s almost incomprehensible for today’s generation to grasp the fact that back then you might not even know what was happening in another neighbourhood musically let alone another city…

“Exactly. Then after the tapes came the records and we had these stores like Sound Of Market and Funk-O-Mart and I would go from store to store looking for records. So what you’d do is build an alliance with these guys who worked in these stores and were selling breakbeats and the other records that were coming out. So they would tell you about stuff when you went in there and you could also see the wax and the pictures of different artists and that’s how I visually started to see Hip-Hop. I mean, I didn’t know any of those cats back then, I just knew of their reputations. So going to the record stores was how I started to visually see what was going on in Hip-Hop at that time.”

Who were some of the earliest emcees from Philly that you heard about?

“In the early days, each deejay had his emcees. So a Cosmic Kev might have had a Parry P who was a legend back then. All those guys were legends to us back then because they were that bit older than me and had these big reputations. Sex Machine had MC Sport, Thorpe had his emcees. Everyone had their emcees (laughs). And they would be rapping over the breakbeats and sometimes they’d do these story raps and just keep everything live so the crowd would stay energized. So my first recollections of hearing emcees was hearing the people that would be with those deejays. Now, as time moved on, you started hearing about other people like DJ Jazz and Robbie B. who had one of the first records I heard that came out of Philly. Then you’d hear other records from other Philly artists like MC Breeze, Schoolly D and that was mega-huge to me back then. I was like, ‘These cats are from Philly and they’re making records?!’ That was around 85 / 86 and these were cats that I’d heard on the tapes and now they’re making actual records. So, me and Chuck started thinking that maybe we could do something. Now, everyone at that time seemed to be coming out of West Philly and me and Chuck were out in North Philly and we didn’t have any connections to what was going on. EST wasn’t a part of the crew at that time and we were still just deejays trying to find emcees and put some stuff together. Around 85 I started doing this carpentry thing. My dad was a carpenter, my brother was a carpenter and when I was in high-school I did carpentry. So I started an apprenticeship programme and that’s when the music thing really got real for me because the money I was getting from the carpentry I used to buy equipment. I still had my belt-driven turntables (laughs). I never owned a pair of 1200s until I could afford them. My mom couldn’t afford to get me anything like that.”

So were the Technics 1200s the first thing you brought when you started looking at equipment?

“See, the other crews out there already had big equipment because they were getting paid a little bit. They did it for the love of the music and all that with the block parties, but they were also making some money to be able to buy equipment. I didn’t have big equipment like that. It’s funny thinking about it now, Cosmic Kev and people like that had other turntables, like the 1800s, and I would look at what they were using like, ‘Yo!’ I didn’t really understand about all the different models of turntable in the beginning (laughs). But their turntables were so much smoother than mine. I mean, when you pushed my belt-drives to start a record you had to push them hard. But with those 1200s you could just let ’em go and they’d pick right up like, bam, bam, bam! I was like, ‘Woohoo! I like that.’ So when me and Chuck started buying our own equipment, the first thing I did was buy some proper turntables, the 1200s, a mixer and a four-track. We used to go to a store called Cintioli Music and that was where we would see all this technology that was out there. Back then all these drum machines were coming out and there were people like Mantronik who were making beats. You might hear someone mention an 808 or something like that, but we didn’t know what that was back then. We’d be like, ‘An 808?! What the f**k is an 808?!’ So me and Chuck learnt the names and then we’d talk to all these guys at the music store who would give us all this information. They’d be telling us, ‘You want to buy this’ or ‘You need to upgrade to that’ and that’s how we first started buying little bits of studio equipment.”

808 pic

So basically you were studying the records that were being made to point you in the right direction?

“Exactly. In fact, it was the guys from the music stores I was telling you about like Sound Of Market who would talk to us about what other people were doing and then say ‘You could do that.’ Me and Chuck would be like, ‘We could do that? Nah…’ and then they’d pull out a record and show us the address on the back and be like, ‘That address right there shows you who’s in charge of this. Look, there’s the office address and there’s a phone number’ and we were like ‘Ahhhh, okay.’ Then we’d go to the equipment store and tell them that there were artists making music using certain sounds and that they were using drum machines. The guys in the store would be like, ‘Well, look, here’s a drum machine. Let’s plug it up.’ They’d set it up and then play it so we could hear all the different sounds.”

So you’d be listening to them playing the equipment until you heard something that matched the drum sounds you were hearing on people’s records…

“Yeah. Then when they told us you could actually put sounds into it and sample we were like, ‘You can do what?’ When they showed us how to sample we really were like, ‘Are you serious? Show me again! Man, we got to get that!'”

So was that when Chuck Nice started to get into the production side of things?

“As I said, Chuck was known more as a blend deejay, so when he got the chance to do music with the whole sampling thing, he jumped right on that. So I brought all this equipment and we kept a lot of it at Chuck’s house. He only lived about two blocks from where I was. So we had our speakers and everything for the house parties over at Chuck’s and as we got more stuff we put it in his basement. His mom was so nice, God rest her soul, and she let us keep all our equipment down there. So we had everything down in Chuck’s basement, our little drum machine, our four-track, our turntables and all our records were over there. So that basement is basically where we started making music and learning how to use the different equipment we had. As I said, at that point I was an apprentice carpenter, so I would be at work at 7am, home by 3pm, over at Chuck’s house by 4:30pm and then I’d stay over there working on stuff and be back to work the next morning. That’s when we started making songs and sending them to different people who were already making the music we were listening to.”

Were these instrumental tracks you were sending out at that time?

“Nah, they were proper songs. The first emcees we worked with were called the Deuce MCs which was Rick Slick and this other guy we used to call Cosmic C. Me and Chuck thought they were good so we started working with them. Chuck would take some loops and come up with the music, I would cut on it, they would rap on it, we’d mix it down with the four-track, put the songs on cassettes and then give the music to people to see what they thought. We took the tape down to the record store and they were telling us about someone we should get our music to who had a lot of people out already like Super Nature, who were Salt-N-Pepa, Roxanne Shante and others. That person turned out to be Lawrence Goodman and his label Pop Art.”

Ryan Proctor

Read Part Two of this interview here.