Filed under: Features,Interviews,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
This one’s been sitting in the stash for a long time. I actually got into contact with Todd Ray after he dropped a comment in defense of DJ Ivory of the P Brothers, who had upset a few Outkast fans during my interview with him way back in December of 2004. By the time I got to speak to T-Ray, it was mid 2005, which makes this conversation over two years old, but no less entertaining. It’s actually so long that I’ve decided to run it as a three parter – but rest assured, I won’t keep you waiting long for the next two installments. From spinning records in South Carolina, to working with Big L, Artifacts and Cypress Hill and eventually working on Carlos Santana‘s duet album that sold millions of copies worldwide, this dude has seen some shit.
Robbie: You went through a very prolific period in hip-hop production in the early nineties, working in some really good records, but you were originally a DJ, weren’t you?
T-Ray: That’s how I started out, as a DJ. When I heard “Planet Rock” I just said “Yo, that’s it right there. That’s my shit.” It was on some cosmic shit, it had a beat that was crazy. After a minute, I just started saying “Fuck it, I’m gonna just DJ this shit.” I started getting more into straight hip-hop, more into rhymes, instead of just the uptempo beat type stuff. It just kept escalating from there, man. I just kept deejaying, got up my equipment and kept building. I was in South Carolina, so I started drivin’ up and flying up to New York, and I would just go to Music Factory, near Times Square, and just buy two of everything. Everything that was on the wall. I would come back down South and I started deejaying with only underground New York hip-hop that people in New York didn’t even know about.
And obviously people in South Carolina didn’t have any of that stuff.
They didn’t know shit, man. They were listening to 80s rock and shit like that, and even just pure 80s pop, depending on who you were. When I came back and started deejaying just that, I created a movement down South. I mean really, I tell a lot of people that I’m – in some ways – one of the Grandmaster Flash‘s of the South. Everyone’s real big about the South now, but in the early 80s I was like a needle in a haystack. You couldn’t find me. There was no hip-hop down South. No one even knew what it was. So at that time I was just so into it that I was just trying to create my own scene, so basically I could DJ what I loved. And that’s what happened. I started gettin’ hundreds of people showing up at the clubs just to hear hip-hop, and they didn’t even know the records!
Who would of thought, twenty years later you’ve got guys like Bubba Sparxx rolling around in the mud, wrestling pigs in their filmclips.
Yeah, and the funny thing is back then, if you were white, it was bugged out and people didn’t know what to think. They didn’t even know about the black artists that were doin’ it, so to have a white kid doin’ it was like “What the fuck is this?” Now, I have an accent, but back then I was super-country. I came straight outta the woods! I lived in the middle of a hundred acres of woods, in a shack. No heat, I chopped wood every day, that’s how I made my heat. I didn’t have no money, I was a broke hillbilly. I got a full scholarship to college, the first person in my family to go to school – I just put my mind to work. After I while, I said “Fuck this! I wanna go to school, but really I wanna be a hip-hop deejay”. So I quit college just to continue to be a hip-hop deejay. It’s crazy when you see it now, people love the South, and the racial barriers are definitely breaking down more and more, which is really the concept of hip-hop. Even hip-hop itself is growin’ and accepting more people. Even though it’s lost in its direction right now, it’s still the top game in the music business.
So where you doing production back in South Carolina?
I was doing production, but I didn’t know that’s what it was. At that time, the DJ was the king. The DJ was really more important than a rapper, at that time. I was doing production, but it seemed like it was just part of my “being a DJ” job. When I would DJ, I’d have drum machines and shit…basically it just like a ‘rock the party’ kinda thing. It was just a super-old school vibe, it was just for the club, it wasn’t about a record. Then I started thinking about “I could do this bigger”. I took over my home area – about a hundred miles circle around my home – I owned it. I defeated all the deejays, I battled everybody. Anybody that was good, I battled ’em, I took all of ’em out. So I just felt like I’ve already proved it, I’ve introduced hip-hop to the South – at least my part of the South – and I’ve dominated the whole area, so I felt like now it’s time to go to New York and tell them what’s up. They don’t really know. This kid, who was basically a friend of mine, started rhyming at the shows, and finally I just made demo, me and him, and I went up to New York and tried to get people to listen to it.
Was that the White Boys?
Yes, but we weren’t called the White Boys. We were called Double Trouble at the time, and we didn’t know about New York’s Double Trouble. So we were calling ourselves Double Trouble, but every time we would do a show as Double Trouble they would advertise us as “The White Boys”, just ’cause people had never seen white boys doing it, you know what I mean?
So it was a bit of a gimmick almost…
It started becoming a gimmick. What happened was that the clubs…we would draw so many people that they couldn’t get ’em in. These clubs would be packed if 500 people showed up, and we had 800 people before the doors opened. People couldn’t believe that some white kids were doin’ somethin’ like this, and visually it was just very odd. So everybody was just calling us “Yo! That’s the White Boys! That’s them White Boys!” and that kinda started to stick, ’cause we found out that there was another Double Trouble. I went to a few competitions on my own. There was a battle in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I won this competition – and I won it rhymin’, my partner couldn’t make it – so I just freestyled. I kept doin’ that, and there were some record people in the audience, and it led to people talkin’ about me, and all of a sudden people like Kurtis Blow was calling me down South, trying to see who I was. So then I got down with this guy who was doing promotion at Polygram records and I flew out to New York to talk to him. We ended up hangin’ out with the Fat Boys and all these guys, ’cause his friend happened to run the label that the Fat Boys was on. At that time, the Fat Boys were actually a big group. It was like a kid group, it was for very young kids, but that’s what we were at the time.
Their first records were good though, before they started hanging out with Chubby Checker.
Yeah, the time when we got down was just before that time. When I met ’em, they were just cool people, and it was funny after seeing them on TV and you’re like “Oh, shit! It’s the Fat Boys!” Talkin’ about it now, it seems kind of corny, but back then it seemed like “Oh, shit. We’re makin’ it!” We were in the circle with Run-DMC… things like that. So we’re sitting around these people who are like the 50 Cent‘s of their time. As a matter of fact, we ended up getting on the Fresh Fest tour, and I’m not kidding you man, we were playin’ in front of 15-20,000 people a night! It’s hard for a lot of rap tours to even do that now. Back then, sometimes we would do two shows in a day. The amazing thing that I’ve gotten to experience it from damn near the beginning. I’m one of the few people that I know that was really in it back then – and I’m not takin’ ’bout “in it” like I was fan and I’m watchin’ it from the TV screen – I’m talkin’ ’bout I was in it! I was right in the heart of it. I saw the inner-workings of the beginnings of Def Jam and Tin Pan Apple. They were rivals at that time! Even being on the road, I was on the road when LL came out. I saw his whole thing be born. Do you remember in Krush Groove, that guy Beaker? The bald, kinda white guy that was tryin’ to convince LL to sign with him and shit? That was the guy that ended up being my co-manager, so from that point on I was like “Yo! I’m in the fuckin’ big time! This is Beaker, man! This is the guy who was tryin’ to sign LL!”
[laughing] I haven’t seen that movie in a minute, I’ll have to watch it again.
It’s the cheesiest movie, but at that time, if you were a teenager… now remember that I was a fuckin’ teenager at the time. I’ve seen these guys in these movies and shit, and here I am standing with them, and now they’re saying to me what they were saying to LL in that movie! Like “Yo! You’re the new shit. I wanna sign you!” It was a really incredible moment, man. It really showed me how the game worked, to a degree. I was on the road when KRS came out! A lot of times they talk about KRS like “He goes back”, but I was on the Fresh Fest tour right when his 12″ dropped. I remember watching as we were doing a sound check… it might have been DJ AJ – Kurtis Blow’s original DJ – who threw that record on, and all of a sudden “South Bronx! South-South Bronx!” Everybody was just buggin’ out on it. I got to not just witness that moment as a fan, but witness how it affected the artists. Another thing that I was really fuckin’ bugged out on, some shit that had to do with what me and the P Brothers and a lot of other people represent in terms of beats, is the early days of when the Ultimate Breaks and Beats started coming out. You could see – those Ultimate Beats and Breaks would drop, and next thing you know, Eric B. and Rakim has a song with a beat that was on it. I’d start seeing how the breaks were really influencing not only the artists, the rappers and the producers and deejays, but now all of a sudden these breaks are influencing the whole culture. I had been mixing beats, but I really started grabbing hold of the concept of “Oh, shit! This is really the thing right here!”
After that, I moved up to New York with the White Boys. That was in the mid-80’s, going into ’89. I got to experience New York, I was there all the time and I was on tour and things like that, but when I moved to New York, that’s when I really started seeing how it is. I was in Queens at first, this area called Rosedale, Queens. I used to go over behind the Sunrise cinemas – they had a flea market back there – I used to catch records like you wouldn’t fuckin’ believe. Every Saturday I would come home with at least four crates of records. This was at a time when nobody… I mean people knew breaks, but you could count the number of people you could talk to about breaks on one hand.
Most people were just copping Ultimates and stuff at that stage.
Yeah, exactly. People would get the Ultimate Breaks, but they didn’t know about the originals. No one was looking at jazz records, no one was looking at rock records. No one was really even looking at reggae records for beats. No one was looking at easy-listening records with beats. But I would look at ’em all. Most times, the records were really cheap – a quarter, five for a dollar. Sometimes if they were water-damaged or something, you could get a whole crate or two of records for a couple of bucks. I would come home with those, and I could go through a record in a heartbeat, and read the grooves, find the sounds – boom! Boom! Boom! I’d mark my records – move on! Before you know it, I’ve got a house full of nothin’ but beats! Literally – nothing but beats. Not a bunch of extra-curricular records, just pure cream…I mean thousands and thousands of breaks that to this day nobody knows. The day I die – I’m goin’ to live to be an old, old man – but the day I die, when they go through my records they’re gonna be shocked at how many beats I know about that nobody knows. To this day!
That was part of the game back then – finding that fuckin’ beat that nobody knew. Findin’ that little stab beat. I mean, it might be just a kick and a snare in the right place, but it’s that kick and snare that’s so incredible. I got to the point where I would buy a record just ’cause it had a good grunt on it, or someone just went “Uhh!” I’m not kidding you! I paid 25 to 100 dollars for a record that just had a good intro. “Y’all ready to get down? Well c’mon, let’s do it!” and I’d pay $20 just for that. I got to the point where I didn’t give a shit. I didn’t care if I had food money, I didn’t care if I had rent money. If it came between a record and rent – rent’s gonna be late! That’s just how it was, I didn’t give a shit. That’s when I really started realising like “Yo man, you one of the kings! A lotta people just don’t know what you know”. Everyone I would speak to, I would talk to them “What beats you got?” and they’d have maybe one or two crates. They’d have good beats in ’em, but it’d be James Brown or it’d be Funkadelic… you could read any music history book and know about these artists.
Just common stuff.
Everyday bullshit… the standard breaks. All they knew is what the DJ before them had turned into classics. One guy that I met up with in the early days, before I even moved to New York, was Cutmaster DC. Visually, he looked like a corny character. He’d wear suits and dumb outfits and shit when he would DJ, he had the jerri curls and stuff, but the thing was that he was fuckin’ phenomenal as a DJ! His personality was great, but his visual was horrible. He didn’t know how to present himself, he always felt like he had to be dressed-up to DJ like it was a wedding or something. I never forget goin’ to his apartment – he had every fucking drum machine, every fucking break – and he was doing cuts that I’ve never seen at that time. I was just doin’ normal shit, he was doing what he called “animation”, which later they named “transforming”. To this day I trying to make a little history moment for him ’cause the truth is, before transforming ever got on wax, before I ever heard Jazzy Jeff doing all that shit back in the day – I heard Cutmaster DC doin’ it in Spanish Harlem. Yo, he had moves, man! That guy, he really knew what the fuck he was doin’. The drum programming he could do back then was just sick. He was truly in the top ten at that time, even though not many people knew it. One of my great memories was at his place, where I got to meet everybody. Eric B. came over with the test-pressing of “Eric B. For President”. Me, Eric B. and DC dropped the needle on that record for the first time in history. We were the first people to hear that on wax.
That same day I battled Heavy D – Heavy D had never come out on a record yet. Andre Harrell came by, they were just talking about starting Uptown Records, it hadn’t even officially started. I battled Heavy D on the mic and Cutmaster DC on the turntables! At one point I said “Yo! DC – I’m takin’ you on the turntables, and Heavy – I’m takin’ you on the fuckin’ mic!” Those are points in my career, when I look back on the history of hip-hop… teaching Spinderella how to DJ when she hardly knew how to DJ! She’s out deejaying for Salt ‘N Pepa and she didn’t even hardly know how to do nothin’!
You mean the first Spinderella?
No, this was the second one. I was there when… that same day with Eric B, that same day Herbie Luv Bug came by and played the project that was Salt ‘N Pepa. They weren’t even called that, they were The Showstoppers with a rip-off of “The Show”.
Yeah, they were Super Nature.
He came over to DC’s apartment while I was there, to play us the idea for what he was doin’. Later I ended up being on the Fresh Fest with Salt ‘N Pepa, and turned around and showed Spinderalla how to transform, that I had learned from DC. When “Push It” blew up, I got to see… I told ’em that record was gonna be hot. I said “Look, down South where it’s all about Bass music and shit – this is the beat! This pattern right here is the beat that we all rock down South, so this shit’s gonna be huge!”, and they were like “You think?”, I was like “I don’t think, I know! I’m a DJ, I would rock this shit”. And at that time that record was a club jam, that record took-off. It actually became like a pop record.
That was in the pop charts over here.
Yeah! It was a phenomenon, that record. Then I witnessed what was goin’ on in the streets of New York in terms of black consciousness and people really waking up to the concepts that had gone down in the ’60’s and the early ’70’s, but they were reawakening to ’em on the streets. People were really sick of what was goin’ on, I started seeing a lotta people wearing African medallions. And sure enough – boom! Here comes Public Enemy. Man, that was a tough time to be white in hip-hop, I’m telling you. It was fucked-up. I had to get in more people’s faces at that time and just say “You know what? If my shit is funky – it’s funky! And if it’s not, just tell me to fuck off! Don’t fuckin’ get in my face ’cause I’m white. I don’t give a fuck about that – but this is hip-hop!” So many times I had to confront people at that time, but I understood what was going on.
And you weren’t one of those dudes that had like a flat-top or anything like MC Serch, you had long hair didn’t you?
I had long hair! I even grew my hair one time ’til my hair was down to my ass. I wasn’t trying to be anything I wasn’t, I was just trying to be me within it. The one thing I’ll say about Serch – I’ve got a lotta negative stuff to say about Serch, too – but the one positive thing I’ve gotta say about Serch is the first time that I went to the Latin Quarter in New York, my friend got me in. He knew Paradise who helped run the place and was later down with X-Clan, so he got me in. When I walked in the first person I saw was Mele Mel, fuckin’ standing right there with the whole outfit on and I’m like “Oh shit! That’s my fuckin’ hero! I love this motherfucker!” I wanted to run up and hug him! I’m telling you, I loved him like that. I was straight hillbilly, I’m not kidding you, I was in the club with holes in my fuckin’ jeans, worn-out t-shirt… I looked busted. That’s who I was at the time – I was busted!
[laughing] Because you were spending all your money on records!
Well, exactly, that’s how I did it. It wasn’t about me, it was about the beats. Then I walked over to the bar and I’ll never forget, MC Serch was sitting at the bar! The only reason I show that man respect is because he was there. He always did try to be Black, and he always did have a hard time being himself within hip-hop, but the truth of the matter is – and I’ll stand up for him on this – he was fuckin’ there. What’s that record by Just-Ice, back in the days, where he said a line “If I don’t know you then you weren’t there”?
“Going Way Back”.
Well, I’ll tell you somethin’ – he was there. He was trying to be a “black” white guy, but he really was there. He was real. So I respect him for that. Later, I got into problems with him over some business, but in terms of just history of it, he was there damn-near from the beginning. But yeah man, fuckin’ Latin Quarter back then… that seemed like hip-hop, man. I went up and tried to get on the turntables with Red Alert! Red Alert was fucking deejaying and I had the balls to go up to the DJ booth and actually said: “Yo, lemme get on those turntables real quick!”
Ha! How did that go down? Not too well?
He just laughed at me: “Yo, you a wild motherfucker!” I said “Yo, lemme just get five minutes!” Can you imagine rockin’ the Latin Quarter? C’mon man, that’s the shit!
Lord Finesse feat. Big L – “You Know What I’m About (original version)”
Cypress Hill – “When The Shit Goes Down”
MC Serch – “Daze In A Weak”
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