DJ JS-1 – The Unkut Interview
Rocksteady member DJ JS-1 has been putting it down in the DJ, mixtape and production game for years, as well as getting busy with the paint as JERMS since his school days. We caught up last November to discuss the sorry state of modern rap, the trials of making compilation albums and tips copping vinyl on the sly.
Robbie: How did it start for you?
DJ JS-1: Growing up in Queens, New York – I was born in the mid 70’s – so by the time I was old enough to look around and know what’s going on, you’re six, seven, eight years old. It’s early 80’s and hip-hop culture was everywhere. My grandmother lived near Lefrak and I first remember them doing a mural on the side of pizzaria there when I was really young. I always loved to draw, and I got into graff from watching these guys do that. By third or fourth grade I was trying to draw my name and do stuff, and in sixth grade we stole some spray paint and went to the schoolyard to try and write our names. That was 1986. I was always listening to hip-hop and started buying vinyl as soon as I was old enough to get on the bus or the train by myself to get to the record stores. Then I saved up to get turntables.
Non-Rapper Dudes Series: Freddy Fresh Interview
This morning I had a quick chat with DJ, producer and record collector Freddy Fresh about B-Boy Records, Breakbeat Lenny, The Rap Records book and the correct storage of 45’s. Freddy’s latest album, Play The Music, is out this March.
Robbie: How did you get involved in remixing a track for BDP’s Man and His Music album?
Freddy Fresh: That was ‘88. My first recorded work was that remix with one button pause switching and broken turntables. That was me hanging out at the offices in the South Bronx of B-Boy Records. The plaque on the Criminal Minded album – there’s a plaque between Kris and Scott – I made that plaque. If you look at the back of the album it says, ‘Freddy Fresh, thanks for the plaque.’ I got name-checked on a lot of those albums – Public Enemy thanked me, MC Lyte, Audio Two – all those guys said ‘thanks Freddy Fresh’ on their album, because I was engraving name plates and sending them out to my favorite hip-hop artists in the Bronx and Brooklyn and stuff in 1985, 6 and 7.
Hannibal Buress – Funkflex Rant Parody
Hannibal Buress – who has been putting in work as the co-host of the The Eric Andre Show, a stoner dentist on Broad City and the dude who cracked that particularly poignant Bill Cosby funny – has done his own take on the fuckery that Funkmaster Flex subjected radio listeners to the other night.
DJ Too Tuff – Part Time Rap Star, Full Time Drug Dealer
My second piece for Cuepoint tells the story of DJ Too Tuff‘s life after Tuff Crew as he turned to the drug trade to survive, and barely made it out alive.
DJ Too Tuff – Part Time Rap Star, Full Time Drug Dealer
The Mighty V.I.C. – The Unkut Interview
Photo: Alexander Richter
Not sure how my extended interview with The Mighty V.I.C. from 2008 slipped through the cracks, but after using a couple of parts of it I never got around to transcribing the entire three hours that we spoke over a couple of days while Vic ran errands. As before, the full version will be in the Unkut book, but here’s an edited version which covers the major points in his career. V.I.C. discusses how he began interning as a recording engineer at Power Play in the late 80’s, before joining The Beatnuts and working with Godfather Don under the Groove Merchantz banner and later recruiting Mike Heron to create the Ghetto Pros.
Robbie: How did you get started in music?
V.I.C: I started deejaying when I was fifteen years old. I was at the local bagel shop and one of the local kids who worked at the bagel shop showed me a mixer. I was in the tenth grade and I remember being home, sick at the time, and the guy came over after school – and after he was done at the bagel shop – and showed me how to DJ. From there, I found out you can actually go to school for engineering. I was like, ‘You can go to school to edit?’ So I did that a short time after. I went to an engineering school in the city, which I learned zero from, and I started interning at Power Play. That’s where I met Ivan ‘Doc’ Rodriguez, I met Norty Cotto, Patrick Adams – the guy that used to play on all those Eric B. & Rakim albums. At that time there were guys like Just-Ice recording there, you had KRS-One, you had EPMD. Hurby Luvbug used to record there too, Salt ‘N Pepa, Dana Dane, Kid ‘N Play.
The Triumphs and Tragedies of Larry Smith
Please head over to Medium where you can read my first piece for Cue Point, a collection of long-form music features curated by Jonathon Shecter aka Shecky Green.
The Triumphs and Tragedies of Larry Smith
‘Best of Larry Smith’ playlist:
Non-Rapper Dudes Series: Brian Coleman Interview
At one point liner notes were nearing extinction on rap albums, but thanks to the fine work of people like Brian Coleman and the crew at Get On Down, they’re currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts, giving aging, bitter rap fanatics such as myself the perfect excuse to bang on about the first Ultramagnetic album in day-to-day conversation. Most of you would have read Rakim Told Me/Check The Technique by now, so you know that copping the Mr. Coleman’s third tome is mandatory at this point. He took some time out last weekend to trade war stories from the trenches of the hip-hop interview battlefield and discuss the trials and tribulations that go along with such in-depth work.
Robbie: Was the ‘Classic Material’ column in XXL your first published work?
Brian Coleman: I started that column in 1999, that was Elliott Wilson’s idea. I had been writing for XXL before that. I started, I think, in the second issue. I wrote for them until 2004. That Ultramagnetic chapter in Rakim Told Me started as a piece I did for XXL and then I expanded it greatly over the years. In ‘98 Ultramagnetic was supposedly reforming so everyone was like, ‘Oh, we should talk to them about that!’ I had been writing a little bit before that, I’d been writing for URB, The Boston Phoenix, I wrote for this magazine called CMJ, it’s basically the trade publication for college radio. I was a hip-hop columnist there, it was cool because you could write about a lot of indy stuff.
Stream: K-Def and The 45 King – Back To The Beat Album
Two of New Jersey’s finest beatsmiths, The 45 King and K-Def, have teamed-up for this new instrumental project. Orange vinyl is available here. Spotted at GRNDGD.
Non-Rapper Dudes Series – Akili Walker Interview
The always under-appreciated role of the engineer, both in the studio and on tour, is always a fascinating one. Akili Walker, who has worked with everyone from hip-hop production legend Larry Smith to James Brown, Eddie Kendricks, Kurtis Blow, Prince, George Clinton and LL Cool J, took some time out after the release of his new book, Turn The Horns On, to recall some of his best memories behind the boards.
Robbie: Where about did you grow up?
Akili Walker: I grew up in Freeport, Long Island, right next to Chuck D and Flavor Flav. We were like a mile from each other, they grew up in Roosevelt, but they’re a little younger than I was.
Are you a recording engineer by trade?
I’m an audio engineer, I switch between the studio and on the road. I was a musician at an early age – I was a drummer when I was thirteen. I won the ‘Battle of the Bands’ with my band and we was in the Musicians Union of New York at the age of thirteen. My father was an audiophile, he loved music and he had a large jazz collection and an expensive stereo. My drumming career ended when I was sixteen. I stopped drumming to join the hippy generation and do drugs.
Bobby Simmons [Stetsasonic] – The Unkut Interview, Part One
Bobby Simmons is best known as a member of Stetsasonic, the original “Hip-Hop Band,” but during an extensive conversation with him last week he also shared some classic memories about Melle Mel trolling new rappers in the late 80’s, a two-year stint as a DJ at the Latin Quarters and the escapades of Eric B. and Rakim‘s main muscle, the original 50 Cent. This is part one of a three part interview, so get comfortable…
Robbie: Did you study drumming at school?
Bobby Simmons: I self-taught myself drums, I was six years-old. My brother was in the music business too, he was a session guitarist for groups like Sister Sledge and Dan Hartman in the mid-70’s, so I kinda self-taught myself listening to a lotta the records that he would play and trying to figure out the drum – what does what. The first record that I actually learned how to play – that took me from when I was six to when I was seven – was the Ohio Players. The drummer, Diamond, I was so fascinated how he played drums on ‘Skin Tight’ and ‘Fire,’ I wanted to learn to play how he played. The drum sounds were heavy, the snare was fat, the kick was fat, and Diamond used to do all this fast foot [work] on the pedal.
From there I played in my brothers local band and just kept myself active doing that. Deejaying also helped me how to play drums too, cos in the early 80’s it helped me how to blend timings and beats, with the disco records and the Chuck Brown records and the James Brown records helped me keep great timing. Knowing how to keep timing and knowing what the kick and snare and the hi-hat do, I self-taught myself. I kinda wish I was taught and went to schooling to read for it, but my father took me to drumming school and I never went back. It was taking too long! “I wanna get to this part!” [laughs]
Domingo – The Unkut Interview
Domingo‘s latest album, Same Game, New Rules dropped this week, featuring a mixture of veteran MC’s (AZ, Kool G Rap, KRS-One) and new jacks (Chris Rivers, Kon Boogie, Joey Fattz), so I took some time out to discuss some of the highs and lows of his long career in the music game, and found out some amusing trivia about some LL Cool J and G Rap songs in the process.
Robbie: What sparked you off to start making beats?
Domingo: My uncle used to go to radio personality college and he started deejaying for a radio station in Chicago as an intern and then became a radio personality there. He would send me cassettes back of him deejaying and I was always fascinated. When he finally came back home to Brooklyn, he threw his equipment in the basement of my grandma’s house where I was living and he would DJ down there and play the drums. My uncle was very multi-talented, I would just sit there and watch him. I always remember him playing “King Tim” and then he played “Rapper’s Delight” and Kurtis Blow. When “Rapper’s Delight” came out, that’s when I was hooked. One day I started deejaying and then it transcended into me wanting to do demos and write my little raps and do battles in the street. I did my demos with two tape decks, back and forth how it used to get done, then I went on to four tracks.
What was it like growing up in East New York back then?
East New York was homicide central, like Jeru said. I grew up with Jeru, Lil’ Dap – childhood friends. A good friend of mine, his nickname is Froggy, and he’s like family to me. We always say that we “graduated.” We were lucky to live to 21. I could take you to the cemetery and show you a row of all my friends who are dead. East New York was a very rough neighborhood, man. Early childhood memories is gunshots, trains running past my house – the L train, cos my house is right near the corner on Sheppard Avenue. Growing up with my friends – my friends are still my friends to this day! And the fact that one of my good friends named Edison, who I grew up with, if it wasn’t for him putting me in his father’s Chevy Caprice Classic and telling me, “Domingo – this is you all the way! Let’s go see Marley at ‘BLS, he’s looking for people.” If he didn’t drag me there, I would’ve never met Marley.
Video: Crate Diggers – Tim Westwood’s Vinyl Collection
Clearly need to send Mr. Westwood a properly fitted Conservative Rap Coalition polo in the near future.
Non-Rapper Dudes Series – Matt Fingaz Interview [Guesswhyld Records]
Matt Fingaz is living proof that unpaid internships can be more than just slave labor for record companies, as he was able to parlay his connections into an independent record label with Guesswhyld Records before he made the move into project co-ordination with the B.O.C (Business of Coordination) management company with Stat Quo, which handles with music, sport and fashion. Matt took some time out to kick it about those idealistic days when making an underground rap record was as simple as knowing the right guys in the neighborhood, as he helped everyone from Mos Def and Talib Kweli to Sha Money XL get their feet in the door of the music game.
Robbie: What led to you getting involved with starting a label?
Matt Fingaz: In 1994 I was a DJ for college radio and I interned for Blunt Records – Mic Geronimo, Royal Flush and Cash Money Click – Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Tuesday and Thursday I was interning at Relativity, when Common and the Beatnuts and Fat Joe and Bone Thugs was popular. I just loved vinyl, I loved collecting records – I didn’t even want to be in the music business! One day my friend Brandon put out this record called The Derelicts, and I said, “Wow! You put out your own record?!” He said, “Yeah, and I put it out in Japan!” He had this check and it said “$1,000”. I was like, “Oh, you’re rich!” Cos we were just kids. I was nineteen years old and I was really good with the college promotions and marketing, but I was terrible in the mail room. Basically I didn’t know how to tape up packages, and they hated me so they complained. I used to work under Irv Gotti – he was DJ Irv at the time – and I worked under this guy Chappy. Chappy was like, “I’m sorry but we can’t use your services anymore.” I’m like, “You’re firing me? I’m working for free!”
Is Aaron Fuchs Really The Ultimate Bloodsucker of Hip-Hop?
The wolves are out. Irate rap fans everyone are calling for Aaron Fuchs‘ head on a pike following with the recent news that his publishing company Tuf America was suing singer Frank Ocean for unauthorized use of Mary J. Blige‘s “Real Love,” which he sung a portion of in the track “Super Rich Kids.” Predictably, this resulted in responses such as ?uestlove‘s tweet: “when i speak and reference the bloodsuckers of hip hop only ONE person comes to mind” despite the fact that Frank Ocean is technically an R&B singer. Aaron Fuchs seems to have provided a convenient scapegoat as the stereotypical “evil Jewish record label owner” who’s only purpose in life is to exploit black musicians in order to fill his own coffers. Based on the testimonies of some former Tuff City artists and a peanut gallery of online writers, this may seem to be the case. But things are never that cut and dried, so I thought it was time to investigate a little deeper than the first page of results from a Google search.
DJ Stitches – The Unkut Interview
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.
Stream: The ARE – Here, My Dear
Just stumbled across this debut release from the Rappers I Know blog’s new label, which is the latest instrumental project dealing with the breakdown of his relationship with his daughter’s mother, based around the Marvin Gaye album of the same name, from former K-Otix’s producer The ARE, who’s previously blessed us with Manipulated Marauders and Dem Damb Jacksons.
Non-Rapper Dudes Series – Spencer Bellamy Interview
After coming up with Howie Tee as DJ and then producer, Spencer Bellamy started East Flatbush Project and released a series of quality records on his own 10/30 Uproar label at the beginning of the mid 90’s independent hip-hop vinyl movement. Best known for being the man responsible for the legendary “Tried By 12″ instrumental, Spencer talks about the ups and downs of his experiences in the rap game.
Robbie: Can you tell me about how you started off with Howie Tee?
Spencer Bellamy: He used to have a crew called Count Disco. We were a local crew – myself, his brother and Howie would DJ – and then he had the MC’s, the Sureshot 4 MC’s, so they would do their routines. I hooked-up with him when I was around eleven years old. We played together for a few years and then we just became cool. After he cut-out of deejaying and went more into the production side of it, I would just watch what he would do. I was kinda like an apprentice, so to speak. From there, I tried my hand at production.
NPR Microphone Check – Marley Marl Interview
Picture: Photo Rob
Stumbled across this NPR interview with Marley Marl from last year, conducted by ATQC’s Ali Shaheed and Frannie Kelley. Covers the usual ground but contains some gems as well, such as the fact that A Tribe Called Quest is Marley’s favorite hip-hop group. Also provides yet another variation on the story about how his drum sounds were used on “The Bridge Is Over”, which KRS-One told me was made by jacking the drums from the “Eric B. Is President” 12″.
Download: E.Blaze – For The Luv Of It, Vol. 2
This is the second collection of E.Blaze instrumentals, who has worked with D.I.T.C., D-Flow, Smiley The Ghetto Child and Screwball in the past.
Video: The Tuff City Records Story, Episode Four
The final part of my interview with Aaron Fuchs at the new Tuff City offices, which covers competing against Def Jam, his work with Funkmaster Wizard Wiz and the infamous “Crack It Up”, Freddy B and The Mighty Mic Masters and The Maximus Three, amongst others. Also features a random Bob Marley anecdote for good measure.