Not only was AJ Woodson (aka AJ Rok) part of the JVC Force – the group responsible for the classic L.I. anthem "Strong Island" (before which, many groups from that area used to front like they were BK or BX residents to be accepted by New Yorkers) – but he’s also made his mark in the journalism game as a member of the On The Go crew and as a freelancer. I kicked it with him over the phone in November 2004, and he mentioned that there was a third, never-released JVC album recorded for Big Beat in 1992. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to hear it one day, but until then, keep an eye out for AJ’s numerous magazine pieces. He’s currently promoting Mr Complex’s new single “Emotional”, featuring Dave from De La Soul.
Robbie: You’ve spoken before about how B-Boy Records was pretty shady. The distributor – Rock Candy Records – were some hustlers running that?
AJ Woodson: Actually, from what my understanding is, Rock Candy Records was the label. Scott La Rock approached them about doing a label, and B-Boy Records was supposed to be – on paper – the joint venture between Scott La Rock and Rock Candy. That’s originally how it started. But what happened is, the people that owned the label – I think it was two Jewish guys, and a black dude – because Scott never put no money up, they let him say you’re an owner…but the paperwork didn’t reflect that. One thing people didn’t know is that KRS was never signed to B-Boy Records. KRS was signed to Scott La Rock. So when Scott La Rock died, he could just walk.
R: So he didn’t owe them any albums?
A: He really didn’t. But they still owned the masters for the Boogie Down Productions Criminal Minded album.
R: Because they ended up putting out the Hot Club Versions and about four different albums.
A: Yeah, they tried to milk it when Scott died. So they had the Scott La Rock Man and His Music, they had every DJ do a remix…the "Club" mix, all it was – and this is where I got it from – Scott made them press-up instrumental albums. Because before that, people like Shan and them were rhymimg over their lyrics! They would rhyme literally over their lyrics when they performed. What they [Rock Candy] did is, they just put a different label on the album and called it a "Club Mix" for the fans. When he died, they sold that instrumental album to.
R: I see. Kinda how Nervous did that with Black Moon – they just put out all their unreleased stuff, just to juice it.
A: Right. It was nothing more than an instrumental album of Criminal Minded. Instead of a blue label, it had a red label.
R: What was the atmosphere like, because there were some interesting people that came out on that label…like Jerry Levi 167, Waxmaster Torey – who had that "Duck Season" record, which is a classic jam. Did you used to hang out with those guys?
A: In the office, a lot of us were around each other, but I really didn’t know everybody because I wasn’t from the Bronx. Not to be all funny or nothin’, but when BDP basically left – Scott died, and Kris left and signed to Jive – we were the franchise. It was just us now.
R: Because you had the hit record with "Strong Island".
A: Yeah, so everything was about us. But I met a lot of the people. I went on tour with Soul Dimension, Kay Gee from Cold Crush – he was a solo artists – and a few other people. We seen each other in the office but I can’t really say that we were all like one big family. They may have been, but we weren’t.
R: Oh yeah, because you guys are from Long Island of course.
A: I’m originally from Mt. Vernon but I was living in Long Island. I had moved to Long Island when I was seven, I went back to Mt. Vernon for high school. I went to school with Heavy D and Al B Sure and all of them. Then I went back to Long Island, and that’s where I hooked-up with Bill and Curt. So we was representin’ for Strong Island, yeah.
R: Speaking of that song, did you hear Chris Lowe‘s remake?
A: Yeah… I heard it, I have a copy of his album. I spoke to him a little bit. According to him, he means it as a tribute.
R: That’s how I took it.
A: He was actually trying to get in touch with us. Charlie Marotta – who’s the engineer – didn’t know how to get in touch with us, so he let Parrish hear it and Parrish wanted to do it…so that’s how it got back to me. I look at it as that this cat wanted to give us a little love. He thought enough of it to use a part of our lyrics, use the music and kinda update it a little bit.
R: I’ve also got this record with the Blue Mix of Strong Island. Was that some European guys that did that?
A: No, we did that too. The U.K. was giving us mad love, so we did something just for the U.K. It ended up going other places, but it was just for the U.K. It ended up coming back out to the States, eventually. They were giving us love so we gave them something extra.
R: Another thing I noticed is that on Big Trax you guys had that DeBarge sample, which ended up coming out on…Big L used it, and then Biggie, later on, obviously blew it up.
A: Yeah, and then Ashanti used it.
R: So that must be weird – I suppose breaks are breaks – but is that strange for you?
A: Well, the first time I heard that question…?uestlove from The Roots, when I first met him – and the record had just came out not too long ago, and he was asking me "How did I feel about it?", because we were one of the first people to use that record. I said I just look at it as a tribute, almost. I wasn’t mad at it or nothin’.
R: As a journalist, you’ve been putting in a lot of work. You did all those pieces for On The Go, and I think you did some stuff for Stress?
A: I was the Associate Editor of On The Go, and I did a lot of the old school stuff. I did a piece or two for Stress. I’ve done some stuff for The Source, as recently as this July. I did the Fat Joe and the Terror Squad cover – I did a feature on the Goodie Mob – when they were coming back out, ’cause I live in Atlanta now, so they called me up to do a feature. I’ve done the Village Voice, I’ve done Sonicnet – which is a website owned by MTV and VH-1, or whatever their parent company is – I used to do the entertainment news for them. I’ve held it down for every major magazine, and most of the little ones that are not around no more. Magazines like Underground Railroad out of Maryland, I’m the Senior Editor of a magazine from out here in Atlanta called Holla, another one called Crunk. The underground magazines, I like to do those because I can pretty much write whatever I want, how I want. Where as The Source calls me, and tell me want they want.
R: The say "Terror Squad’s hot, do a piece on them".
A: Yeah, something like that. So I really don’t have a lot of input over what they put in. But these little magazines, they look more to me for guidance. Just say I like a record, and it’s not really big – it’s an underground record – and I want to give this record some love, I can always get in one of these underground publications. That’s why I like those. If you really want to scream on the industry, or you just really want to keep it real, you can really do that in those publications. Like On The Go – I’ve had the most fun in my life, as a writer.
R: Just total freedom.
A: Freedom, and just the whole concept. I mean these cats – Espo, Steve Powers, Ari Foreman – these cats were graffitti artists out of Philly. They were hip-hop heads to, so they wanted to put more hip-hop in the magazine. Wendy Day of the Rap Coalition introduced us, and I was a former graffitti artists to, so it was just fun. Putting the stickers up, running around and just covering the streets – really holding it down. Even the name "Stress" – the magazine Stress – the lettering for their magazine, they actually got from On The Go. We did an issue with Redman, Method Man and Lord Finesse – who went by the name of Funkyman – and it said "What is the cutting edge MC wearing in 1995? The look of stress". And the bottom of it looks like the same lettering that they used for Stress. That’s where it came from.
(Image source: Cosmo Baker)
R: I don’t have that issue.
A: They actually made their logo out of that lettering.
R: They bit it?
A: Yeah, so they had a lot of hate for us. They playa-hated a lot of On The Go. They would mention us in their articles, like if they had to wait for us – you know how they have press days and you’ve gotta wait for another magazine? They’d be like "We’re waiting for those suckers from On The Go to finish", this, that and the other, and half the article about that artist would be about us – interviewing the person first. They used to really blow us up like that! I mean, there was no need to, but…they were trying to create something. I did a lotta Ego Trip stuff to. Ego Trip and On The Go were down with each other.
R: I’ve always bought a lot of magazines, and I’d have to say that On The Go and Ego Trip are probably the best magazines that have ever come out. Stress had some nice bits in there too.
A: They had their moments…this is not a diss to them, but a lot of their concepts and everything came off of what On The Go was doing. We kinda paved the way for there to be a Stress.
R: I really liked that track off the first album, "The Move". That doesn’t get mentioned a lot as far as DJ tracks but that was one of my favourites.
A: That was Curt’s own invention. That was him putting a lot of elements of what he wanted to put out there on a record. That was all Curt. I heard it before you did, but I heard it after it was done. Like "Yo, what you think?", I was like "Oh that’s hot!". I wasn’t in the studio for that. B Luv, at one point did most of the writing, even my parts. I did most of the business part, that you don’t get your name in writing for. I was our unofficial manager, I was our promoter before I knew what a promoter was, I was our radio promoter before I knew what that was, I was our promotion person before I knew what that was. I was making our own stickers and sticking them up, anything to get our name out there. I was the one going to record stores trying to find out why we weren’t in the record stores, taking the records from B-Boy Records, getting them on consignment and selling them to the stores. All those things that you don’t have your name on the back of the album cover for. At one point, I got so frustrated with the business, I couldn’t even write. B Luv wrote – at that point – a lot of my parts. A lot of MC’s won’t admit that they didn’t write that rhyme. I wrote my rhymes, but a lot of the songs B Luv wrote both parts. Credit where credit is due.
R: Yeah, ’cause on the Forcefield album it says "Written by W. Taylor"
A: Yeah, I had three songs on there where my name just didn’t show. As long as my name showed on the cheque, I didn’t care.
R: [laughter] Word.
A: That’s how I was. I really didn’t care about none of that. I cared more about the group being in the stores, I cared more about the group getting shows, I cared more about the name of the group getting out there than my name personally. When the group broke up, that’s when I started concentrating on the name AJ Woodson. Before that, it was "AJ" or "AJ from JVC" or just "JVC", that was all I cared about.
R: Warlock records. Was that another bad experience or were they any good with promotion?
A: We weren’t directly on Warlock, we were on Idlers. Idlers was distributed through Warlock. The guy’s name was Tony Dick – he lived up to his name to. The best thing about him was that he introduced us to his lawyer, and his lawyer helped us get off our contract with B-Boy. And then his lawyer became our lawyer and helped us get off our contract with him. The bad thing about it was, he put out that Jungle Brothers "Girl I’ll House You", and then hip house started coming in he wanted us to get into that. And we did kinda listen into him, but I never felt it – it wasn’t me. They were trying to push us into areas that really wasn’t us.
R: You wanted to make records like Tear The Show Up.
A: Right. “Tear The Show Up” is my all time favourite record.
R: That’s killer man.
A: I consider that my best moment on record with JVC. My personal, best performance on record. I wrote that up in no time, Curt put the scratch’s in there right on time with the name….I always loved "Strong Island" and "Doin’ Damage" and all of those joints, but “Tear The Show Up” is one of my favourites.
R: Are there any groups from that era that you feel were slept on?
A: One of the groups that got slept on, and they were on B-Boy with us, was called Soul Dimension. They had that raggamuffin type of thing, when that hip hop/reggae thing was coming out, they really did that well. They were some dope cats. A lot of the dopest stuff, that people consider classics, never went platinum. Brand Nubian‘s first album was 300,000 peak. Tribes’ greatest album was 300,000 peak. These albums never even went gold, and they was classics!
R: Was that because of bootlegging? People were buying bootleg tapes?
A: Yeah, there was a lot of bootlegging going on. This person was telling me the other day…people will name their top ten, they’ll name Rakim, they’ll name all the dope artists – the young kids – but they don’t wanna be that. They wanna be Nelly. Nelly sold ten million of his first record. They’ll name Rakim still, they’ll name KRS – but they don’t wanna be that! Just like Jay-Z said on "Moment of Clarity"…"Lyrically I’d probably be Talib Kweli, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense, but I sold five million and I ain’t been rhymin like Common Sense." YouknowwhatI’m sayin? When you cents have more in common, that’s the bottom line. Everybody wants to be like that. There’s a lot of MC’s that wanna be that Talib Kweli, that wanna be that Rakim, they respect that, but Nelly sold ten million. You want to get paid now. It’s more about the dollar bill now, than it’s about the respect. For me…I really got into this and said "I just really wanted me records all over the radio, I just want to go everywhere and do lots of shows, I just want the repect of my peers"…I got all of that. But you know what? I never saw that high-end dollar, and there’s a lot of emcees who never saw that high end dollar bill. I see these cats now, and they’re not really taken care of. They’re starving now, because hip-hop is kinda fickle. You don’t reach back in. So I respect Eminem reaching back to Craig G when he did 8 Mile. He wrote all the battle rhymes for the battles. He respected Craig as one of the dopest battle MC’s, so brought him back. Not a lot of Eminems are out there now – people who are making money, going back and bringing these cats out there like that. Ice Cube came out – he brought WC. WC was a veteren, been out way before him, but he brought WC back.
R: Yeah, Low Profile was classic.
A: Yeah, WC and The MADD Circle, all of that. He dug down and brought him back, and then WC had to play his hype man for a year or two, then they had their group together [Westside Connection]. He introduced WC to a whole new set of fans. The dopest cat now is not reaching back. Jay-Z at least, when he mentioned Kane in the record you saw Kane in the video. A lot of people are using elements of peoples stuff, but they don’t call them to be in the video.
R: But Jay-Z should be getting Kane on a record with him. He’s got enough clout.
A: Right, cause he brought Jaz in a record…that’s what I’m saying. He should go back and bring somebody like that. Don’t get me wrong, I make a good living. I do radio promotions, college radio promotions, I did all of Groove Attack, I did a lot of Landspeed. I did Phife‘s first album, Grand Agent, Lone Catalysts, J. Rawls, there’s a long list…I promoted all those records. I always have my hustle on, I’m always gonna eat. I’m going to do something that’ll be back in the mainstream and everybody will see it again. I don’t want to sound disgruntled – nobody owes me nothing – but it’s just that respect I don’t think is there now. Back then, when I met Flash, when I met Grandmaster Caz, when I met Kool Moe Dee…they were like my older brother or somebody to me. Like that older cousin I didn’t get to hang out with much. Man, there was so much love for these cats, cause those were the cats who made me wanna rhyme! It was like "Oh man I’m a big fan!". Even when "Strong Island" was out, we was all over the place and getting mad love – I used to be a big Salt ‘N Pepa fan – when I first met them, I asked them for an autograph. They thought I was kidding!
R: They were looking pretty fly back then.
A: I had it bad for them! I had a wall when I was growing up with every Salt ‘N Pepa picture that Word Up and all these magazines had out. People are scared to be fans like that. That’s what’s missing in the game.
R: Everybody’s trying to be a rapper now, so they’re not interested…
A: That’s the other thing – everybody is trying to be a rapper. Everyone wants to be a deejay, everyone wants to start a record company. The internet was a beautiful thing, it was a great equalizer. It made somebody in the smallest city be able to get his music to he world, without having to go to a major. But – a lot of cats can’t get contracts with labels, then they call themselves "underground" and they put out albums and they taint was is underground. The average person doesn’t want to look for underground records, ’cause a lot of it is trash! So the J-Live‘s, the Grand Agent’s, Talib Kweli before he made it, Planet Asia…all those cats get lost in a sea of bullshit, because everybody now with a few dollars and a drug dealer friend can put out a record.
R: There’s no quality control.
A: There used to be a point where a record contract was a priviledge, not a birthright. Back in the days – and I hate hearing this from other people but I have to say it – but back then, cats like Flash and them had to be able to entertain. They had to be able to rock a crowd before they were given the privilege of making a record. You have artists – and I will not call out names in this interview, ’cause I have done it – that have sold five million records, ten million records, who can’t rock a crowd. So that’s where ya lost. You sold all those records but nobody wanna see you! Your show is wack! Now, if you sign with Universal, you ain’t gotta do nothin’ but give them your record. You have a whole bunch of people that do stuff for you, so you don’t appreciate it.
R: You just wait to get on MTV Cribs or something.
A: I saw the Ying Yang Twins on MTV Cribs…they don’t have crib that should be on MTV’s Cribs. That’s not disrespect, they have a decent crib….Lebron James, he’s making al that money, I wanna see what his crib’s like. A lot of these football players and athletes, they’re making a million in guaranteed money this year, plus endorsements. I wanna see Shaq‘s crib, I don’t wanna see Ying Yang Twins. They had regular cars…you on that, you’re supposed to have the fly rides. I thought it was a joke. It was good to see ’em, but they’re house ain’t too much different then the house I’m renting!
R: There’s a lot ordinary stuff [music] out there at the moment, to put it nicely.
A: They’re doing what they’re doing, but I don’t blame the artists as much as the people putting it out. Since Nelly sold ten million, every label is looking for ten Nelly’s to sign. 50 Cent made all that noise, now every labels looking for a 50 Cent. Alicia Keys got all those awards, now there’s like ten artists that play instruments – but they don’t really play ’em. The labels are gonna try to teach people a few notes because that looks like it’s selling!
When Kane got on stage, you knew it was Kane. When Rakim got on stage, you knew it was Rakim, or if you just heard his record, you knew it was him. Or when Public Enemy or NWA or 2 Live Crew made a record, you knew it was them. You could tell. Before I left New York, I could listen to Hot 97 and hear ten records that sounded like The Lox – none of them were The Lox!
R: I liked that group that was around the same time as you on B-Boy….Tall, Dark and Handsome.
A: I liked their records, I liked that group. One of the cats used to run with Cold Crush after a while – ’cause JDL, I think, was in jail – so he used to run with Cold Crush. Matter of fact, I think he died. I forget what name he was going under then.
R: Is there anything else you want to add?
A: Me and B Luv have been talking about doing some stuff together, ’cause he’s in Atlanta to. We’ve been on the phone a lot. He’s been very busy, he’s done some production for a few people. There was a guy on Gee Street who’s name was Yankee B, B Luv did three tracks on his album. He did some stuff with an underground cat from Cali called Mean Green. So he’s doing a little production, he’s still deejaying, so we’re supposed to link up.
R: And Curt did a track on the last M.O.P album.
A: Curt’s doing his thing on the production tip. I understand that he bought the room that he used to work in at D&D, when they went under, and had all the equipment moved to his house, so he’s got a big, fat studio now. Me, I’m just staying active, staying on the hustle, staying on the grind. I’m working on some books, which I won’t get into too much right now ’cause I’m still writing them.
R: What’s it like in Atlanta? The weather’s better?
A: The weather’s better, the money lasts longer…in New York, things are more expensive. It’s cheaper here. Sometimes I have so many assignments that the moneys coming in left and right, sometimes it’s slow…the slow points you can live a little easier out here. It’s still an everyday grind, I’m not balling outta control like a lot of these cats, I don’t front like that, but I’m making a good living, B Luv’s making a good living, Curt’s making a good living, so we’re all eating. I just want to thank all the fans, anybody who still remembers and loves JVC. Me and B might do something soon, even if it’s not for sale, just might do something for MP3 and give it away for free to the fans or something.
I just want to shout out B Love and Curt Cazal, because I got into this game with them. We had our creative differences, but it’s JVC forever.
R: Thanks for your time, AJ.
A: No doubt.
JVC Force (Justified by Virtue of Creativity For Obvious Reasons Concerning Entertainment) – left to right: AJ Rok, Curt Cazal and B Luv, 1990.
JVC Force Audio:
Strong Island [Blue Mix] (Strong Island [Blue Mix] 12″ single, B-Boy/RAP [German Pressing], 1988).
Tear The Show Up (Forcefield, Idlers/Warlock, 1990).
Big Trax (Big Trax 12″ single, Big Beat, 1992).
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