Filed under: Features,Interviews,Non-Rapper Dudes,Not Your Average,Steady Bootleggin',Strong Island
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
The story of Charlie Rock aka DJ Stitches is a classic example of how brutal the music industry can be. As a founding member of De La Soul, only himself discarded once they signed their first record deal, he went on to score a contract with Mercury Records for his next group – Class A Felony – only to have the album stuck in limbo for two years after his MC was brutally murdered in a bungled robbery attempt. Having also been involved with records for Uptown and Ilacoin, Stitches shared a number of behind-the-scenes incidents during his extended tour of duty in the rap world, and revealed some untold Long Island hip-hop history.
Robbie: What inspired you become a DJ originally?
DJ Stitches: I’m from South Jamaica, Queens – Southside. The hip-hop scene in Queens – 1978, 1979 – I seen some DJ’s, and my cousin from The Bronx, Mixmaster TC and the Soul City Crew, he used to let me mess around on his turntables. I mighta been like eleven or twelve. Me and my cousin Blinky kinda had the bug since then, and I migrated to Long Island in ninth grade and then came to North Amityville.
Which high school did you attend out there?
Initially my parents moved to Wyandanche , Long Island. We only stayed there six months, it was just like South Jamaica so my parents said, “No way, we outta here.” But in ninth grade I met a good friend, and his name is William W. Griffin, aka Rakim. I went to school with Rakim and we were in the Wyandanche Marching Band together. We kept in contact and I wound up selling some music to Rakim in ‘94 when him and Eric B broke up. A couple of other guys were there – some of the Groove B. Chill dudes, my man Nate Tinsley, who’s a great engineer, did a lotta recording at his house. I moved to North Amityville and Mase lived around the corner from me and Trugoy lived around another corner. Me and Pos and Trugoy, class of ‘86. Me and Trugoy’s brother Mike initially were friends, and he used to tell me, “Yo, my brother can rap!” He was rapping with some other cats but it wasn’t going nowhere, so me and Trugoy started hanging out, tinkering around with music. We started developing stuff – I’ll honestly say, as far production of that first De La Soul album? I was highly influential in most of that stuff you guys heard.
“Plug Tunin’” was actually made in my mother’s house. These guys tell a whole bunch of other stories, and I’m always “the other member” that they mention but never mention my name, because there’s a little bit of bad blood. I felt, “Alright, you guy’s are taking the record deal, Prince Paul is hooking you up,” and me and Paul were never friends. I was friends with the guy he always used to have battles with, Cutmaster Divine. Divine is this real street, thuggish type dude, and so am I, but Paul is the total opposite. I developed all of that shit, Paul got it when it was done. He heard it and was like, “Whoa! I can get you guys a deal!” Stetsasonic had a deal on Tommy Boy and was comin’ up, so he had a little pull. I didn’t have any pull with anybody, I just was making beats! Me and Dave and Pos were making beats, coming up with songs, coming up with concepts. We started buying equipment, little Casio samplers, and coming up with stuff.
Mase was a small factor in it because he was trying to take another deal with another rapper. His name was Gangster B, they had a song, “Cold Waxin’ The Party.” Mr. Collins, who was a music teacher at the junior high school, he was a backup drummer for the Isley Brothers, he had a little pull. So Mase, while we were developing “Plug Tunin’” and all this stuff, he wasn’t even around. I see all his interviews where he claims this, that and the other, but “Potholes,” the original “Buddy,” “Plug Tunin’” – those are DJ Stitches tracks. They can say what they want to about it and I ain’t even mad at it, cos I’ve been through record deals and I’ve always said, “If people are clapping for you guys then they’re really clapping for me too,” and I just kept pursuing my music career. You listen to any of my other production – Class A Felony, Ilacoin, anything that came out after that – you’ll be like, “Wow, that’s some real similar sounding stuff,” cos I actually was the nucleus. My sister’s boyfriend at the time brought his equipment out to my mother’s house for us to do recording. Mike Mitchell, that’s his name.
Back then it wasn’t about money, it was about who’s the nicest, and a lotta stuff was samples. I can’t say, “I made it up!” It was records that I had and ideas I had formulated. But once they got the record deal it was like, “Forget Stitches (they called me Charlie Rock back then), we’re just gonna take everything that he was working on and it’s gonna be on our album.” Everything on there I didn’t have nothing to do with, but the majority of the stuff that people heard? My ideas. Me and Dave are still cool, cos we have a mutual friend – Joe Buck, who did a lotta their artwork – and I ain’t got nothing bad to say about them, everyone grew up to do what they did. Music business makes you do certain things. Back then, North Amityville, money was falling out the sky from drug sales and this, that and the other, so you’ll hear Mase talking about how he was in the streets – he was talking about me. He don’t mention my name because he actually wanted to be me, have the respect that I had. The dudes that I ran with back then and still have connections with? They done wrote books about some of the stuff me and my team done later on in life.
You also worked with Uptown, right?
Uptown used to battle every MC in Amityville and destroy them. He would let MC’s go in with 64 bars worth and then he’d just smoke ‘em with a nice 32. He made one of my MC’s cry! I had another MC named Finesse – he made Finesse cry at a party! Uptown – very great lyricist, and he’s still fucking sharp! Me and Uptown – most of the demos that he had, I made! He wound up rapping in front of Dante Ross at a studio session with Mase and them, and Dante was like, “Ohh, gotta have it!” I’m mentioned on his twelve inch in very small type: “Scratches by DJ Charlie Rock.” Like really? That’s it? That was a whole ‘nother issue. I seen the Dante interview that you got up there, we could go and shoot holes through those interviews or whatever but that was twenty-something odd years ago, I don’t even care, it was it was. You’d get jerked in the music business if you wasn’t smart. Tommy Boy – Tom Silverman, Monica Lynch – they were one of the people that would jerk you to death.
I don’t know if him and Mase are actually cousins, I know they grew-up in Brooklyn together, but Uptown would come up to Amityville and don’t even go see Mase, he would come right to my house. Me and him would hang out and do stuff that Mase wasn’t even allowed to do. There’s a spot, Great Neck and Albany, in Amityville – that’s where all the drugs, all the bad shit was happening. You wasn’t allowed up there if you wasn’t somebody or affiliated with somebody. He was never up there! He talks about how he used to sell some drugs – I’m like, “When was that? You had a record deal in high school!” Mase is two, three years younger than everybody else. We worked at Burger King together and all that, but when I left Burger King I shot up to the block with my other crew, who didn’t do music and they always used to be like, “Yo, what are you doing with those nerdy dudes? They rappers? They never did a party!” They were straight studio rappers, but I made it like that. I’m a perfectionist. So before anybody was hearing anything, we were doing the talent shows in high school. I was the nucleus to that shit.
Even though they had a secret meeting, voted me out the group and took the deal, their first couple of shows I was there yelling the loudest for them. I was happy for them. There was a club called Milky Way, might have been one of their first shows, I damn near broke DMC’s glasses, elbowed him by accident, because I’m yelling for these dudes. He’s like, “This motherfucker almost broke my Cazals!” Mind you, I’ve got some Cazals on too. We just looked at each and I went, “Those are my peoples up there on stage! Pardon me.” And I just kept cheering for them. But as time went on, I was like, “Wait a minute! That’s one of my fuckin’ beats!” Every other release that I was hearing and I’m like, “Holy shit! You guys are gonna rape me like that?” But I figured, “You guys are gonna rape me like, but you’re gonna put me on.” They never, never attempted.
I still had a relationship with them even though they were fuckin’ shitting on me, cos I’m a cool dude! So I come by, Dave’s got the drum track on and he’s like, “Damn, I wanna use the drum track but I can’t find the sample to go with it.” I said, “You know what, Dave? I’ve got a sample right now that will lock right in.” I got on my bike, rode through the junior high, went to my parents house and came back with The Commodores record. They didn’t give me no fuckin’ credit for that! That’s why I used that beat again for a song with Illacoin later on. That De La Soul album was a great album, and I’ll always say that it’s a great album because I had a lot to do with it. I’m the core member! The rest of them are Plug’s Two, Three and Four – I’m Plug fuckin’ One if you really want to put it into perspective. Dave wouldn’t given a fuck if they made one record and it was over, that’s how Trugoy was, and I knew that. I’ve still got love for that brother.
So did they re-record the songs you had worked on when they made the album?
Me and Mase shared a collection of records, so when I knew I was voted out the group we split-up everything. But the ideas that I had, he grabbed the records and was like, “Yo, let’s use this!” If you actually listen to any of their interviews, they give Paul credit for doing it and Paul gives them credit for doing it, so who really did it? It was damn near already hashed-up for most of the ideas. I didn’t have nothing to do with “Say No Go” with the Hall and Oates sample, I didn’t have anything to do with “Jenifa,” but a lotta those skits? That’s me and Dave. When you hear Paul’s production it’s got more comical stuff to it – when you hear DJ Stitches’ production, it’s more cynical, it’s more dark – so what Paul did was take a lotta the stuff I had preset already and put twists on it. Like “Potholes…” how it’s got that stupid spring noise on it. I’d never put that in there cos I didn’t think something like that needed to go on those hard-ass drums with that damn harmonica. Whoever used a harmonica back then?
When I found that War sample out of my father’s record collection, “Magic Mountain” – once I hear something I know I could use it, regardless of what genre it came from. “Plug Tunin’”? I guess the original copy got re-altered once Paul heard it, took it to Tommy Boy and took them into the studio and did it over. I had a 45 and I slowed it on to 33, and that was an accident! You fuck around and put the record on and don’t have it on 45 and start playing it. I’m like, “Oh shit! That’s fucking nuts!” That next week my sister’s boyfriend brought his cassette 8-track out to my parent’s house and “Plug Tunin’” was made right then. No other songs were actually made when Paul heard that. That was enough for him to try to get them a deal, minus me.
Did anyone in De La ever explain why they didn’t invite to to sign the record deal with them?
My man Gary G, who used to throw “cut” parties, he used to spin too. He lived two doors away from Dave, and as time went by we had a conversation. “Yo, I bet you really never knew what happened with that situation. Dave told me they voted you out because so-called Tommy Boy didn’t want another group with two DJ’s because they had Too Poetic already.” I was like, “That’s bullshit, I know what it was. I was in the streets a little bit and I wasn’t no dummy.” See, Paul wasn’t going to have me sign nothing where I wasn’t going to receive the money that I was supposed to get, because for that first album they didn’t get the money that they were supposed to get. They might’ve split-up thirty grand between the three of ‘em – that ain’t no money for a Grammy-nominated album! Paul knew he couldn’t control me, and once cats know you can’t be controlled? They say, “Nah, he’s not good for the industry.”
So you’re saying that it was Prince Paul who ripped them off or was it Tommy Boy?
Both of them! Paul was riding around in gold Corvettes and these guys didn’t have anything, they barely had cars. If you can’t go right now and drop money and buy a car? Then you aren’t doing nothing. It’s like when Paul did the Resident Alien deal – he took a lotta money for that, but he didn’t give out a lotta money! When he did the Horror City deal for Prince Amongst Thieves he dangled like nine grand in front of the guys from our town, but I know he got like $500,000 for that project. Me and Mase have an ongoing friction thing, but he won’t bring it to me because he knows the type of motherfucker I am. Before I had the deal with Mercury Records and me and Dumar were having some tough times. I even humbled myself and went to Mase like,”Yo, I need to borrow a couple of bucks, man,” cos he was like my son, I used to do a lot of stuff for him. When I came out here, he didn’t have his turntables, some other dudes had kinda housed his stuff. I went to they house and was like, “Yo! Those turntables better be back around the corner by the end of the fucking week!” A they sure enough were there, so we could DJ. He puts on this persona like he’s this big tough guy and I’m like, “Yo dude, you’re not that guy. Definitely not.”
As far as music? I’ve edged myself in this game. I’ve done work with The 45 King, he gave us five songs on the Class A Felony album when we got signed to Mercury Records. The reason I was in that group is because there’s an MC named Superstar who’s on the Horror City stuff, him and my man Lord Dumar used to always battle. One night at a party they were gonna battle and Mase was deejaying when Superstar was rapping. When the other guy Dumar said, “I’m about to get on but I don’t want this guy deejaying. I want the dude with the glasses to cut for me,” which was me. Because Mase isn’t the nicest DJ, he couldn’t stay on-time with beats and my man wanted someone to be fine. From then on we became the group Class A Felony.
Dumar Israel, Class A Felony, he was probably my best MC. He was like Biggie before Biggie – he was 300 something pounds, 6’ 3”, deep voice. Our first record we did was “Time To Get The Donuts,” we made that record in ‘87. The original version of it was “Poppa Was A Rolling Stone” [sample]. We winded up not using that, Dumar wound up going to jail for two years, and before he came home he wrote me a letter saying, “Whoever you’ve got as an MC? Cut them off, cos when I come home I’ve got $1,000 and I’m battling anybody who you’re working with right now.” That song “They’re All Gonna Laugh At You” is dedicated to Prince Paul, Resident Alien – all those groups from Amityville who tried to come out and act like they didn’t know who we were! Milo from Leaders of the New School – my man Dumar put it down them. “You guys are gonna get knocked out the box!” Unfortunately he got murdered, but they knew it was coming. When they found out we were signed, they were like, “Holy shit! What we gonna do now? The floodgate has opened, we’ve got two motherfuckers that don’t like us gunning for us!” That was Dumar, like, “Anybody that grab a mic, I’mma destroy them! These guys gotta understand and know that everybody can’t be an MC.” If you’re grabbing a mic? That’s like picking up a sword in the arena – you must wanna challenge.
How did The 45 King become involved with the album?
The 45 King had the dopest beats on the radio back in ‘89, ‘90 – he was the king of production back then. Our friend Lance, told us he was 45 King’s cousin and we were like, “You lyin’!” He calls him in front of us and the first thing Mark says is, “Lance who? I don’t have no cousin named Lance from Long Island!” We were like, “Ahh man! You’re bullshitting us!” He was like, “Yo, I’m Scotty’s little brother!” And he was like, “Oh snap! I know you!” So he said, “I’ve got a group that’s ready to go.” He’s like, “Come out here one day, let me hear some of your stuff.” We had three songs already cocked and ready to go – “I’m Not The Herb You’re Looking For,” “They’re All Gonna Laugh At Us” and a song called “Rita.” He was like, “Wow, this shit is ready to go. You know what you’re doing on production, don’t you?”
One of the friends he went to college with was Lisa Cortez, who just got the job as Head of Black Music at Mercury Records, and he took our stuff to Lisa. We got signed when Black Sheep got signed, Ultramagnetic and I think Bobby Konders and Mikey Jarrett. She sat us down and said, “You know what? I’m signing you two right because I’m sick of all this pussy rap out!” We were like, “Oh yeah!” When me and Dumar signed, Mercury gave us twenty stacks up front. Back then that was a lotta money! You probably wouldn’t have even heard of Black Sheep – see, my man Dumar got murdered maybe six months before the album got released. Some knuckleheads ran-up in his house and thought we had $150,000 cash, cos that’s what our deal was worth. They wound up coming in his house and killing him. So the project was delayed, it didn’t come out until ‘93 but it was actually finished in ‘91.
Mercury put a big ball of red tape on the table and said, “Hey Stitches! Unravel this and we’ll release this record!” As diligent as I was, I unraveled that red tape and I made them release that record with a little bit of promotions – very little, because they didn’t know how to promote a dead rapper back then. It wasn’t like Tupac and Biggie. We had Diamond D and Lakim Shabazz do a song on there [“I Can’t Take No More”], 45 King gave us five tracks – charged us fifty grand, damn near! [laughs] But that’s how it was, I learned a lotta stuff from Mark, he’s a very intelligent person. He showed me a lotta tricks in the game – when to take your money, try to clear the sample or play it over, or take as much money as you can upfront and don’t lose no sleep about it. Those were some of the rules back then.
Did Dumar have a problem with De La Soul or was that you who wrote the liner notes directed at them?
Back then I had vengeance in my heart because Mase is the type of guy he thinks no one else could do what they did. I was like, “Really, dude? Me and Dumar are gonna smash the world.” So on there, I wrote: “To the fake, frontin’ fraud crew – you’re all filthy fucking savages!” I put it in print for them to see. Even if they’ve never read those liner notes, that stuff is there and I stick by that because that’s how I felt. Y’all guys perpetrating, y’all didn’t even represent North Amityville. People from Amityville didn’t even know they were from Amityville! Like, “Who the hell are these guys?” So when me and Dumar got on, the “A” in Class A Felony stood for Amityville. When people say, “Oh, the Daisy Age!” Me and Dave came up with that, D.A.I.S.Y. Age really stands for DA Ill Shit Y’all, not DA Inner Sound Y’all. I guess Paul made ‘em change that. Tommy Boy made them one of those groups that always had to have the funny haircuts; Mase start telling people, “Oh, I drink ketchup all day!” He’s never done that! That was some dumb gimmick shit. Me and Dumar weren’t putting on no costumes for nobody. Class A Felony was ahead of it’s time with the sample bank that I used. The only person I thought had real obscure samples like I was using was Mista Lawnge from Black Sheep. The beats on Black Sheep album were dope! I just think Dres an MC for back then? Yeah, he was alright, they had a hit record, but lyrically? He wasn’t no Dumar. None of them were on the level of Dumar.
A lot of samples that I used, I was the first to use. Uptown did have the “Save Your Soul” sample, we found that shit rummaging through records. He never used it, I used it for Dumar’s 12” but our record label and lawyer fucked us royally and couldn’t clear the sample, so we got Hamilton Bohannon’s number in Atlanta, Georgia, got about $10 worth of change and went to the phone booth and was talking to this man about using his record, and finally convinced him. There’s a line in “Warriors Come Out To Play” that says” “Some say they’re paid in full/but I’m not paid in full so I’m a raging bull.” That was for Rakim, cos that time that we needed some money he went to Rakim and I went to Mase, and neither of them would let us hold five fucking dollars. Dumar was righteous, Rakim was righteous, these guys would see each other at the parliament and build, but when it came down to some real shit nobody really tried to help us.
In ‘93, ‘94 my man S.I.D – Sid & B-Tonn, he’s Rakim’s brother-in-law or something – had heard some music I was doing and said, “You know Ra working on an album by himself, him and Eric B broke up. He needs beats.” I said, “Tell Papo to get at me.” Before he was Kid Splash or Kid Wizard or Rakim or Kid Wiz, I knew him as Papo, because we used to have classes together and hang-out and zone off a bunch of old Cold Crush 4 tapes. I’m coming from Queens so I’ve got every party, every Cold Crush, Fearless 4, Kool Moe Dee on cassettes, he was amazed. Long Island and Queens, even though they’re connected it’s just two different worlds back then. I wound up letting Rakim hear a bit of a music and I got a little money out of it. He never used the stuff. At one point, the dude Broadway at MCA – I guess he was head of A&R up there – had me in charge of the whole damn project. He knew I had an ear for music, and RapPages gave me a little write-up.
Who else from Long Island have you worked with?
Bumpy Knuckles‘ brother was locked-up – Tah, god bless the dead – he used to go upstate to visit his brother on family days, and he would bring some prostitutes and they always needed a DJ to spin music – that was me. Cats that his brother was cool with, they’d get them behind those thick-ass auditorium curtains and the prostitutes would give cats blowjobs and shit! I used to work out of the Firehouse Studios, at one point I didn’t even have no equipment, all the beats I would do were in my head. I would get to the studio and start laying shit down. I used to go to Charlie Marotta’s, he taught me a lot of stuff too, so I guess I ended up getting a degree in engineering, in tweaking sounds, just by going to the studio without having to go to school! [laughs] I’ve never been mad about the industry because I know how it does. I’ve always kept a job, I’ve always made my money in other avenues, so the music money is just extra to me. Once my son was born in 1990 I had to ground-up. I think I did good by putting my family first and not putting the music first.
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