A Day in the Bronx: Remembering the Black Spades & Their Connection to Hip Hop

Karate Charlie & Bam Bam

Karate Charlie & Bam Bam

The notorious Black Spades was once the largest and most feared gang in New York City. Hailing from the Bronx, the Spades had as their warlord, Hip Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. They were the precursors to Hip Hop.. We caught up with many of the members including original leader Bam Bam who gave Bambaataa his name. We spoke with Hip Hop legend Popmaster Fabel who is finishing up a documentary on early gang culture called ‘The Apache line’. We also hear from Karate Charlie who was the President of the Ghetto Brothers which was another large street organization highlighted in Jeff Chang’s book ‘Cant Stop Wont Stop’..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nwsdYU4yKM

We talk with Hip Hop legend Popmaster Fabel who talks to us about the important role early gang culture played in bringing Hip Hop to life. We also talk about how pop culture is exploiting gang life and leading people astray. Fabel explained that early Hip Hop got people out of the gangs.. Today’s rap music gets people into them..

We hear an impassioned Bam Bam, original leader of the Black Spades speaking to young gang bangers in New York, Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings etc and explaining the direction they should really be taking.. powerful words..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGYTeRUWK5k

Popmaster Fabel

Popmaster Fabel

At the 40th Anniversary of the Black Spades we see Bam Bam, original leader of the Black Spades re-uniting and talking with Karate Charlie of the Ghetto brothers. They talk about how the two gangs merged together to stop the Hells Angels from coming into the Bronx.

We chop it up with Popmaster Fabel about his new documentary The Apache Line from gangs to Hip Hop.. We also talk to him about the current move to try and pit Black against Brown.. Fabel gives a history of why that happens and talks about how the gangs came together.

We also speak with Karate Charlie who is featured in Fabel’s documentary about the legacy of the Ghetto Brothers. He talks about how the Black Spades the Ghetto Brothers united and became a family. He also talked about how they protected the community against the police… Charlie also explains how he taught martial arts throughout the community and had Ghetto Brothers patrol the subway years before the Guardian Angels under Curtis Sliwa came into being..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ufPt8g617I

Charlie Rock Original Zulu King

Charlie Rock Original Zulu King

We caught up with original B-Boy and Zulu Charlie Rock who hails from the 22cd division of the Black Spades up on Gun Hill road in the Bronx.. He talks about how the Black Spades evolved and became the Zulu Nation..He talks about Disco King Mario and the founding Spade chapters at Bronxdale Housing project which was known as Chuck City…

He also talks about how the early gangs were organized and became targets to corrupt police.. He talks about how three members, Wildman, Soulski and Meathead Ron were murdered by police. He noted that because the Black Spades were organized many of them were targeted by the police who tried to break them up and shrink their numbers…

Charlie Rock also talks about how New York was segregated and runs down all the racial unrest and white gangs the Black Spades and later Zulu Nation had to fight.. He talks about the Golden Guineas and the Ministers up in Parkchester.. He talks about the White Assassins and the White Angels..

Rock also explained how the police used to work in concert with some of these white gangs to try and defeat the Black Spades which was the largest gang in NY.. He talks about how the police hung him over a rooftop and threatened to kill him..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycREFrL6-RA

The History of Hip Hop And Funk.. Bay Area Style

james_brown_funky_president-2066520-1294602262When all is finally said and done , there will be quite a few things that folks will be able to say about hip hop music. First it was born out of the African-American community and in many ways has managed to serve the role of the modern-day griot. It has managed to be a reflection and statement of who we are and what we were about and like the West African griot who was charged with passing along the village history, customs and mores through songs and narratives [African Oral Tradition], hip hop has also managed to link generations and keep some of customs and mores alive..especially on the music tip.

Folks may recall how rappers brought artists like James Brown and Donald Byrd back into the forefront of Black music during the mid 80s when their music was freely sampled in every which way, shape and form by literally hordes of artists. Back then folks may recall the commonly expressed sentiment that many ascribed too..”

if it wasn’t for the rap artists James Brown would be unknown to the younger generation

“And to a large degree there was a lot of truth in that statement, after all, at that time Black radio wasn’t aggressively promoting a format in which they would highlight “classic” artists like Brown while maintaining their appeal to younger listeners… The result was many young white listeners being able tell you all about pop icons like the Beatles and Elvis while artists like Brown were relatively unknown to the young Black listener, at least until hip hop came along. It”s important to note all this because another facet about hip hop is that it allowed folks and still allows folks to build upon their musical past…

James Brown

James Brown

The Brown sampling phenomenon in the mid-late 80s was the result of younger people reflecting their musical past. Most of the artist putting out records at this time were from New York and James Brown was not only an artist that mom and dad grooved to, but it was an artist that their older brothers and sisters grooved to in the late 70s when block parties were common place and hip hop was still in its embryo stages… The break beats that could be found within the grooves of James Brown records were the sounds that really set off these early hip hop jams.

So what does all this have to do with p-funk and its relationship to hip hop? Well one of the great things about hip hop is that it has always been an easily accessible form of expression with each participant being able to bring into the fold their own experiences and musical background So while brothers back east during the late 80s were building off their musical experiences involving James Brown and hip hop culture dating back to the late 70s, brothers out west who were just starting to release hip hop records were bringing a whole other set of musical experiences to the table. Much of it centered around artists like George Clinton, Bootsy Collins George Duke and Roger & Zapp to name a few. Simply put, brothers out west brought p-funk to the hip hop round table.

Now upon reading this there are a lot of folks who are immediately gonna reach back into time and point to the p-funk style hip hop music of EPMD, especially since they dropped the ’88 classic tune “You Gots To Chill” which looped the now infamous “More Bounce To The Ounce” by Zapp and Kool and the Gang‘s Jungle Boogie.. Many rap fans consider this jam to be the first record to incorporate a p-funk sample.

In addition, these same rap fans may be quick to point out that cuts like “Knee Deep” and “More Bounce To The Ounce” were staple items in a b-boy’s record crates. Back in the days, many a dj cut up these tracks while an emcee flowed. And while it’s safe to say that Erik & Parrish earned their spot in the history books with “You Gots To Chill“, they weren’t the first to use music from the p-funk treasure chests… In addition, EPMD’s usage didn’t reflect the special relation and love the San Francisco / Oakland Bay Area had for funk.

Ricky Vincent better known as the Uhuru Maggot is a Bay Area music historian who earned his stripes during the 80s for his radio work on KALX, UC Berkeley’s college station… and can now be heard every Friday on KPFA 94.1 FM… Vincent has not only chronicled funk music through his History Of Funk radio shows, but he has written his doctorate thesis on the genre..and has now just penned a book for St Martin’s Press with an intro from George Clinton himself.

This work will undoubtedly be a definitive and comprehensive work on this facet of Black music… In a recent interview where Vincent was asked about the Bay Area’s love for funk and its relationship to hip hop, he broke things down and explained that there has always been a deep seeded love affair with -funk ..He noted that George Clinton has always claimed there was something ‘heavy’ about the Bay Area funkateers.. Vincent noted that so involved was that relationship that Clinton recorded part of his live album “P-Funk Earth Tour” right here at the Oakland Coliseum.

This [The Bay Area] was probably the only place that he could capture that strong P-funk vibe

Dr Dre

Dr Dre

If that wasn’t enough, Oakland was city where the mothership first landed. This took place in 1976. For those who don’t know the mothership was brought back into the forefront when Dr Dre landed it in his video ‘Let Me Ride‘. Vincent elaborated by noting that the landing of the mothership was a major turning point. It could be interpreted as the second coming of Christ. And furthermore, Vincent explained that there are many facets of the funk as prescribed by George Clinton that are based upon ancient African religion. It encouraged folks to move in a spiritual direction. In fact many of the songs Clinton performed were nothing more than modern-day spirituals that were ripe with metaphors that held religious connotations. For example the song ‘Flashlight‘ was really a gospel song which called upon the Lord to shine some light on the ‘funk’ [hard times] that Black people here in America were experiencing.

Al Eaton

Al Eaton

The Bay Area’s Al Eaton, a veteran producer established himself by being Too Short‘s early producer. In addition Al had a hand in the production end back in the days for such well-known Bay Area acts like Dangerous Dame, Rappin’ 4 Tay and E-40 & The Click who were than just starting out their careers. Eaton expounded upon Vincent”s assessment by noting that while p-funk had a strong hold in the Bay Area it wasn’t the only funk kicking’ up dirt. “It wasn’t just p-funk, but it was the whole musician scene that put the Bay Area on the map, ” Eaton noted. Groups like Tower Of Power, Cold Blood, Maze going all the way back to Sly Stone in the late 60s all had big names and helped shape the Bay Area music scene.

“There”s always been a funk thing going on in the Bay Area-It’s always been funk base central. There’s always been lots of musicians on the crest, who didn”t make it to the big time but yet had names around town.” , Eaton pointed out. Funk bands like Johnny Talbert and the Thangs, 2 Things In One and Marvin Holmes and The Uptights were some of the funk bands that immediately came to mind.

Eaton pointed to several factors that may influenced the Bay Area to embrace the funk. First off, many of the musicians who played for these bands back in the late 60s now have kids who are now into hip hop. He also made it known that when he was coming up there was at least 2-3 bands on every block. “Each one was trying to get to the next level and hence it made for a very competitive situation.”, he noted

Rappin' 4Tay

Rappin’ 4Tay

Eaton’s last reason for the Bay Area’s embrace of funk focused on a famous movie entitled The Mack. “It seems like all the Bay Area rappers at one point or another were influenced by The Mack. ” , Eaton said. The movie depicted lots of characters real life players and pimps who many Bay Area artist have directly or indirectly tried to emulate try to emulate. Eaton went on to add that phrases like ‘Player’s Club‘ and ‘Pimp Of The Year‘ which were borrowed by SF rapper Rappin’ 4 Tay and Oakland artist Dru Down reflected the raw gritty attitude street vibe often associated with funk. “Funk is here because it’s always been here”, Eaton concluded, “And there’s been a lot of musicians laying down the groundwork for years”.

Eaton made mention of Sly Stone and spoke about how important he was in developing the funk scene here in the Bay Area… Vincent took it a step further by noting that artists like George Clinton were influenced by Stone who once upon a time ruled the city of Vallejo back in the late 60s-home of funky Bay Area artists like E-40, Potna Deuce, Khayree, Young Lay, Mac Dre and Mac Mall to name a few..Vincent gave Sly props for being the first musician to come out and dress in freaked out ostentatious outfits. This of course was later picked up and mimicked by Clinton and his p-funk mob..”Sly managed to package all the energy of James Brown while embracing the hippie vibe which was pervasive because of the summer of love among other things taking place about that time”.

When speaking on the subject of funk and hip hop Bay Area style, no discussion would be complete without talking about the work of Shock G lead rapper and producer for Digital Underground. In late 1987 several months before EPMD hit with their track “You Got’s To Chill” Digital Underground made a lot of noise with a hard hittin’ song entitled ‘Underwater Rimes‘. Here Shock incorporated sampled riffs from the Parliament classic ‘Aquaboogie’ and cleverly weaved all sorts of p-funk like characters and elements into the song, including MC Blowfish. For the most folks it was hard to believe Clinton himself didn’t have a hand in the production. Eventually Clinton did come aboard and lend a helpin hand in Digital’s second lp ‘Sons Of The P’. It was on this lp that Shock felt DU was a head of its time because of their liberal use of the moog synthesizer.. Nowadays artists like Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube have been on hit with songs that utilize this device to provide that buzzin’ bassline…

ShockG-posterShock G pointed that funk was heavy all around the country except New York where he spent a lot of time growing up. He went on to explain that there were two things going on in New York City..”First of all, disco had taken off in a big way and hip hop was starting to become big among the younger people. The result of this activity was that New York missed out on the P-funk”.

Shock explained that he made a deliberate attempt to bridge the gap between hip hop and p-funk. He noted that while a lot of his buddies in New York were true to the game with respect to hip hop however, they constantly fronted on George Clinton. Shock’s exposure to funk came when he moved down to Florida to stay with his dad. Folks in his house and school were fanatical about p-funk. He began fusing hip hop with George’s music out of necessity. “We would try and play some NY based underground break beats like ‘Love Is The Message‘ or ‘Dance To The Drummer’s Beat‘ and it they would scare folks off the dance floor.” He eventually won them over when he started cutting up p-funk songs…

As Shock became engrossed with p-funk he found himself heading out west to the Bay Area because he had heard the vibe for p-funk was not only strong but supportive of the style of music he was trying to create. “One of the reasons I decided to move I to Oakland was because Oakland was putting p-funk on way back…and the vibe was strong..plus it was the only place in the country where they had a radio show dedicated to the funk”. Shock of course was referring to the Uhuru Maggot’sHistory Of Funk Show‘.. Eventually Digital’s first singles were dropped on the Uhuru Maggots Show. The first hip hop based show in which Shock dropped DU material was mine on the same station… KALX.

An interesting aspect that Shock brought to light was the fact that he felt that George Clinton was heavy on the Black side with both his concepts and lyrics… “George’s music was unselfish and promoted brotherhood… It reminded people of Black festivities and celebrations”. Shock also noted that George was very conscious and all about the upliftment of Black people. Originally Digital started off the same way.. In fact their original name was Spice Regime and they were attempting to experiment and become the Black Panthers of hip hop complete with barets and all that. Two things happened that forced DU to switch..One was the emergence of Public Enemy and their baret wearing S1Ws. The second was the overwhelming popularity of Humpty Dance and the character ‘Humpty Hump‘ which force the group to momentarily move away from the conceptual p-funk style vibe that eventually emerged on their second lp ‘Sons Of The P’.

Another longtime player in the Bay Area p-funk hip hop scene is actually Flava Flav‘s cousin, the SupergroovalisticalfunkuponablackC-Funk. OGs of the Bay Area hip hop scene will recall that C-Funk an East Palo Alto native started out with the name Captain Crunch, but a certain cereal company came forth with some court orders forcing him to change. However, C-Funk along with his partner Mozilla the Funk Dragon have definitely made some noise around town.

In 1989 under the group name Rated X, they released a funky track entitled ‘Law Of Groovity‘. Two years later under the name Funk Lab Allstars, C-Funk came with it a p-funk style lp entitled ‘Music From A Motion Picture Rap Funk Track‘ Included on that was a slamming track entitled ‘La Da Da‘. His big hits came in ’92 with the release of the lp ‘Two Stoags’ in which C-Funk did as so many other Bay Area hip hop producers have started to do..abandon sampling and start playing the music.

C-Funk spoke candidly about the funk, “Funk is not a fad..I’ve been with the funk before rap kicked in ..I’ve been with the funk when it died down, I’ve been with when its in hip hop and when people decide to go away, I’ll still be with the funk”. C-Funk pointed out that he feels there are a lot of players who ain’t true to the game when it comes to funk. He noted then when its time to go the next step, musically, a whole lots of folks are not gonna bring the funk with them. “I won”t abuse the funk like brothers did James Brown..When its time to go to the step, I’ll go but with the funk”, he asserted.

Like so many other Bay Area folks C-Funk noted that his history for the music goes back to when he was 8 years old and his Uncle Chief who was a die hard funkateer would take him to Parliament concerts. For C-funk its more than just a music but a lifestyle that’ll keep on evolving. C-Funk’s most recent lp was released on the independent label Scarface records which was owned by Paris. Entitled “3 Dimensional Ear Pleasure”, the underlying message to this lp was to ‘Tune In now because you won’t know funk until you C-funk’… He also collborated with Shock G on a few projects…

Paris the Black Panther of hip hop, CEO of Scarface Records and producers for the hit group Conscious Daughters , is himself no stranger to the funk. On his last album… ‘Gorilla Funk‘ is just that a reworking of the Funkadelic classic ‘Knee Deep‘ and a derivation of George Duke‘s ‘Dukey Stick‘. Paris assessed the Bay Area”s music scene this way, “Funk for the most part has always been a west coast thing..

In other parts of the country people have been more in tuned with other types of music..jazz and dance hall seem more prominent back east, but here in the Bay Area it’s all about the funk”. Paris went on to explain from a producer’s stand point that funk has found an increased resurgence in popularity due to the fact that many folks are into hearing jams that have fuller and more complete production.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-hYc_Lf_j0

Funk music allows one to dig deep and present a high gloss more complex type of sound. Back east the high gloss end of production is personified by the works of artist like US3 or Justice System while here its all the funk players. ‘Gorilla Funk’ certainly stood out on the high gloss end. Here Paris went out of his way to hire studio singers for the harmonies and session players for some of the instruments. Paris explained that for a while people moved out of the era of song writing and into the era of track making.. When trying to recreate funk via live instruments one learns to pay close attention to the song and consequently incorporate those elements of music that you really love.

Khayree

Khayree

Khayree, producer of two of the Bay Area”s hottest artists Young Lay, Mac Mall and Ray Luv has been in the game dating back to the time when there was a female group called New Choice who dropped a record back in the mid 80s called ‘Cold Stupid‘. Khayree of course produced them.. He summed up the funk situation this way, “My involvement with music goes beyond George Clinton, I grew up on the musicians that taught George, like Sly Stone, Donny Hathaway and Jimi Hendrix“.

Khayree went on to say that he tries not follow trends and hence if his music sounds like something that could classified as funk, it’s not because he attempted to be a part of the band wagon, but because he did things from the heart. Khayree like everyone mentioned in this article is an accomplished musician who has long learned the value from not sampling. When you play you can come from the heart” he noted. In addition he doesn”t have to pay for use of samples. The funk elements found in songs like Ray Luv’s ‘Get My Money On’ and ‘Mac Mall’s ‘Sick With This’ Perhaps the most important feature about funk was that much of the music when initially introduced appealed to folks in the hood. This was crucial because funk landed at a time when so much of Black music was either being diluted or in some cases avoided altogether by Black music radio stations.

Afrika Bambaataa

Afrika Bambaataa

Afrika Bambaataa once noted that hip hop was the result of Black music radio not keeping funk alive in New York City… Author Nelson George confirmed that statement in his book the ‘Death Of Rhythm & Blues‘ in which he spoke about Black radio stations diluting the music from the hood with some other stuff that was ultimately designed to appeal to a downtown, hipper, more affluent, [whiter audience] and not the young black and Puerto Rican audience that listened to a radio more than any other ethnic group.

By the mid 70s Black music radio in New York wasn’t kicking a lot of music across the airwaves that was hitting on point in other parts of the country.. In the late 70s I recall a whole lot of disco songs being played… Brothers from around the way were doing block parties and playing old James Brown, Sly Stone and break beats…while outside New York in places as close as New Haven Connecticut, brothers were jamming to groups like Fat Larry’s Band, The Barkays and Mass Production

For example, I recall hearing jams like ‘Fire Cracker‘ by Mass Production outside the Big Apple, but never really hearing too much if at all within the city’s five boroughs… Mean while in places like the Bay Area where hip hop had not really surfaced the grooves put out by these types of groups were the ‘ phat buttahs ‘ of the day.

Khayree, Al Eaton, Paris, Shock G and C-Funk are just a few of a long line of artist/producers who have helped keep the funk a strong force in the Bay Area and begin to influence the rest of the hip hop nation. There are still lots of others in these here parts that are making lots of noise with their new brand of funk including E-40 and The Click“s producer Studio Tone, Oakland rap duo/producers, Easki and CMT, En Vogue producers Foster & McElroy, George Clinton collaborator and long time funkateer Dave Kaos and SF rap start JT The Bigga Figga. All have come to the hip hop roundtable with funk in their back pocket.

Funk is a Bay Area tradition, loved and embraced amongst a population which is only one or two generations removed from their southern roots. The Bay Area is also a music market place that has long encouraged folks to let themselves go and explore… It has encouraged folks to buck the trends and follow their own musical path. It is no coincidence that the first funk hip hop records have come from the Bay Area.

Props out to DJ Slice and Kool Rock J for sampling” Knee Deep in their 1986/87 classic “Slice It Up“.

Props to Hammer for incorporating the p-funk in his original version of his 1987 hit “They Put Me In The Mix“.

Props to Digital Underground for bringing the funk fully back on the scene with “Underwater Rimes“.

Also props to Dave Kaos cause back in the days.. he did a little cutting and scratchin on some of George Clinton”s records. Props to the die-hard funkateers of the Bay Area like Rickey ‘The Uhuru Maggot Vincent for documenting the funk and keeping the spirit alive . Keep in mind , while there are lots of acts that use funk in their music, in the Bay Area folks live and breath p-funk… from now until the end of time.

written by Davey D c 1996Go Back To Davey D Corner Home Page

One Night at the Executive Playouse: Kool herc vs Pete DJ Jones

As Hip Hop continues to evolve and becomes more of a corporate thing, many of its landmark, golden moments get lost. In this article, veteran writer and longtime DJ Mark Skillz unearthed one of Hip Hop’s pivotal moments when an emerging Kool Herc squared off with well-known popular DJ Pete Jones.

This battle was symbolic on many levels. For Kool Herc to go up against Pete DJ Jones meant that Hip Hop had arrived and there was no denying it. It was Student vs Teacher, Young vs Old, and Hip Hop vs Disco… It’s a moment in time we should not forget.

Props to Mark Skillz and Wax Poetic Magazine where this article first appeared

http://markskillz.blogspot.com/2006/07/one-night-at-executive-playhouse.html

Logo Kool herc vs Pete Jones

Pete DJ Jones vs. Kool DJ Herc:
One Night At the Executive Playhouse

By Mark Skillz

Mark skillz brown-225Back in the good old days of 1977 when gas lines were long and unemployment was high, there were two schools of deejays competing for Black and Latino audiences in New York City: the Pete D.J. Jones crowd and the devout followers of Kool D.J. Herc. One group played the popular music of the day for party-going adult audiences in clubs in downtown Manhattan. The other played raw funk and break-beats for a rapidly growing, fanatic – almost cult-like following of teenagers in rec centers and parks. Both sides had their devotees. One night the two-masters of the separate tribes clashed in a dark and crowded club on Mount Eden and Jerome Avenue called the Executive Playhouse.

The First Master: The Wise Teacher

You can’t miss Pete D.J. Jones at a party – or anywhere else for that matter, he is somewhere near seven feet tall and bespectacled, today at 64 years old he is a retired school teacher from the Bronx, but if you listen to him speak you immediately know he ain’t from New York – he’s from ‘down home’ as they say in Durham, North Carolina. But no matter where he was from, back in the ’70’s, Pete Jones was the man.

“I played everywhere”, Mr. Jones says in a voice that sounds like your uncle or grandfather from somewhere down deep in the south, even though he’s been in New York for more than thirty years. “I played Smalls Paradise, Leviticus, Justine’s, Nells – everywhere.”

“Looky here”, he says to me in the coolest southern drawl before he asks me a question, “You ever heard of Charles Gallery?”

“Yes”, I said, as I tell him that I’m only 36 years old and I had only heard about the place through stories from people who had been there. “Oh”, he says in response, “that was one helluva club. Tell you what, you know that club, Wilt’s ‘Small’s Paradise’?”

“Yep”, I said, “that place is internationally known – but I never went there either.”

“That’s ok”, he says still as cool as a North Carolina summer breeze, “When I played there GQ and the Fatback Band opened for me.”

“No way – are you talking about ‘Rock-Freak’ GQ, the same people that did ‘Disco Nights?’

“One and the same”, he says. He suspects that I don’t believe him so he says, “Hey, we can call Rahiem right now and he’ll tell ya.” As much as I would love to speak with Rahiem Vaughn I pass, I believe him.

pete dj jones-225In his heyday Pete DJ Jones was to adult African- American partygoers what Kool Herc was to West Bronx proto- type hip-hoppers, he was the be all to end all. He played jams all over the city for the number one black radio station at the time: WBLS. At these jams is where he blasted away the competition with his four Bose 901 speakers and two Macintosh 100’s – which were very powerful amps.

At certain venues he’d position his Bose speakers facing toward the wall, so that when they played the sound would deflect off of the wall and out to the crowd. The results were stunning to say the least. His system, complete with two belt drive Technic SL-23’s (which were way before 1200’s) and a light and screen show, which he says he’d make by: “Taking a white sheet and hanging it on the wall, and aiming a projector that had slides in it from some of the clubs I played at.” These effects wowed audiences all over the city. He went head to head with the biggest names of that era: the Smith Brothers, Ron Plummer, Maboya, Grandmaster Flowers, the Disco Twins, “Oh yeah”, he says, “I took them all on.”

On the black club circuit in Manhattan at that time – much like the Bronx scene – deejays spun records and had guys rap on the mike. “I ran a club called Superstar 33, ask anyone and they will tell you: That was the first place that Kurtis Blow got on the mic at”, says a gruff voiced gentlemen who, back then, called himself JT Hollywood – not to be confused with D.J. Hollywood, whom JT remembers as, “An arrogant ass who always wanted @#%$ to go his way.”

“I wouldn’t call what we did rappin’ – I used to say some ol’ slick and sophisticated @#%$ on the mike”, said a proud JT.

“We spun breaks back then too”, Pete Jones says, “I played “Do it anyway you wanna,” ‘Scorpio’, ‘Bongo Rock’, BT Express, Crown Heights Affair, Kool and the Gang, we played all of that stuff – and we’d keep the break going too. I played it all, disco, it didn’t matter, there was no hip-hop per se back then, except for the parts we made up by spinning it over and over again.”

There have been so many stories written about hip-hop’s early days that have not reported on the guys that spun in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the early and mid ’70’s, that many crucial deejays of that time feel left out.

Kool-Herc-the-father-300“Kool Herc and guys like that didn’t have a big reputation back then”, explains Jones, “they were in the Bronx – we, meaning guys like myself and Flowers, we played everywhere, so we were known. Their crowd was anywhere between 4 to 70. Mine was 18-22. They played in parks – where anybody could go, no matter how old you are you could go to a park. We played in clubs.”

With a sense of urgency Mr. Jones says, “I have to clear something up, many people think that we played disco – that’s not true. There were two things happening in black music at that time: there was the “Hustle” type music being played – which was stuff like Van McCoy’s “Do the Hustle” – I couldn’t stand that record. And then there were the funky type records that mixed the Blues and jazz with Latin percussion that would later be called funk. Well, hip-hop emerged from that.”

He places special emphasis on the word ’emerged’. He says that because “If you know anything about the history of music, you know, no one person created anything, it ’emerges’ from different things.

The Second Master: The Cult Leader

Kool Herc drivingThere must have been a height requirement for deejays in the ’70’s, because like Pete DJ Jones, Kool DJ Herc is a giant among men. In fact, with his gargantuan sized sound system and 6’5, 200 plus pound frame, the man is probably the closest thing hip-hop has ever seen to the Biblical Goliath. Today, some thirty years since his first party in the West Bronx, Kool Herc is still larger than life. His long reddish-brown dreads hang on his shoulders giving him a regal look – sort of like a lion. His hands – which are big enough to crush soda cans and walnuts, reveal scarred knuckles, which are evidence of a rough life. During our conversation, Kool Herc, whose street hardened voice peppered with the speech patterns of his homeland Jamaica and his adopted city of New York made several references to ‘lock up’, ‘the precinct’ and the ‘bullpen’, all in a manner that showed that he had more than a passing familiarity with those types of situations.

As the tale goes Kool Herc planted the seeds for hip-hop in 1973 in the West Bronx. Along with his friends Timmy Tim and Coke La Rock, and with the backing of his family – in particular his sister Cindy , the parties he threw back then are the food of urban legend. In the 1984 BBC documentary “The History of Hip Hop” an eight-millimeter movie is shown – it is perhaps the only piece of physical evidence of those historic parties. In the film, teenagers of anywhere between 17-20 years old are grooving to the sounds of James Brown’s “Give It Up or Turn It Loose“. Young men wearing sunglasses and sporting fishermen hats with doo rags underneath them, are seen dancing with excited young women, all while crowded into the rec room of hip-hop’s birthplace: 1520 Sedgwick Ave.

As the camera pans to the right, the large hulking figure of Kool Herc takes the forefront. Sporting dark sunglasses and wearing a large medallion around his neck, Kool Herc is decked out in an AJ Lester’s suit. He isn’t just an imposing figure over his set; he looms large over his audience as well. His sound system – a monstrous assemblage of technology, was large and intimidating too, so awesome was it that his speakers were dubbed the ‘Herculords‘. When Kool Herc played his gargantuan sized sound system – the ground shook. And so did his competition.

Afrika Bambaataa & Kool Herc

Afrika Bambaataa & Kool Herc

Legend has it that with his twin tower Shure columns and his powerful Macintosh amplifiers, he is said to have drowned the mighty Afrika Bambaataa at a sound clash. “Bambaataa”, Herc said with the volume of his echo plex turned up and in his cool Jamaica meets the Bronx voice, ‘Turn your system down…”

But the mighty Zulu chief was unbowed.

So once again Herc spoke into the mike, “Ahem, Bambaataa…turn your system down!” And with that, Herc turned the volume of the echo plex up, and bought in the notorious break-beat classic ‘The Mexican’ all the while drowning Bambaataa in a wall of reverberated bass and funk drumming. According to Disco Bee, “That was typical of Herc – if you went over your time, hell yeah, he’d drown you out.”

In his arsenal Herc had the mighty twin speakers dubbed the ‘Herculords’ and his crew, a mixture of high school friends and neighborhood kids called the ‘Herculoids’. The squad consisted of the Imperial Jay Cee, LaBrew, Sweet and Sour, Clark Kent, Timmy Tim, Pebblee Poo, Coke La Rock, Eldorado Mike and the Nigger Twins. According to Herc, “Coke and Tim were friends of mine, it’s like I got the Chevy, and I’m driving. You my man, so you roll too. So when Coke wanted to play – he play, you know what I mean?”

Coke La Rock

Coke La Rock

Although the core crew was Herc, Timmy Tim and Coke La Rock, many of the people that frequented these parties could also be dubbed Herculoids as well. Even though they weren’t members of the crew, many of these people would become disciples of a new musical gospel. They would help spread the musical message and further build upon the foundation that Herc had laid down. Much like the early Christians, who endured all manner of harassment, the early followers of Kool Herc, would lead what would later be called hip-hop, through the parks and rec centers of New York and then onto the international stage. These devotees’s would be active figures in this new genre from the late 70’s into the mid-80’s.

“Man, Herc was a monster”, remembers D.J. AJ Scratch, who Kurtis Blow paid homage to on the classic record “AJ”. “I wasn’t even on back then – I was trying to get in the game back then”, reminisced AJ, “I was a nobody, I was like a regular dude, you know what I’m saying? I was a Kool Herc follower – I was a loyal follower, I would’ve followed Kool Herc to the edge of the Earth.”

“Yo, Herc was unstoppable back then”, said D.J. EZ Mike – who alongside Disco Bee, were Grandmaster Flash’s left and right hand men, they helped Flash develop his quick-mix theories and rock shows back in the day. “Back then, no one could touch Herc and his system – it was just that powerful.”

Disco Bee

Disco Bee

Disco Bee concurs, “The first time I heard Kool Herc, I used to always hear his music, I used to live in these apartments and I would hear this loud ass music. We used to go to the park and we would hear his @#%$ from three or four blocks away! We would hear this sound coming out of the park. You’d be like ‘what is that sound?’ You’d hear (Disco Bee imitates the sound of the drums) ‘shoooop, shoooop, donk, donk, shooooop. You wouldn’t hear any bass until you started getting closer. But you could hear his music from very far. And you’d know that Kool Herc was in the park. We used to go to Grant Ave. where Kool Herc would be giving block parties. We’d hear him while we’re coming up the street, we’re coming up from the 9 and we’d be coming up the steps and you’d hear his music on Grant Ave. It used to be crazy.”

“Herc had the recognition, he was the big name in the Bronx back then”, explains AJ. “Back then the guys with the big names were: Kool D, Disco King Mario, Smokey and the Smoke-a-trons, Pete DJ Jones, Grandmaster Flowers and Kool Herc. Not even Bambaataa had a big name at that time, you know what I’m sayin?”

According to Herc’s own account, he was the man back then. “Hands down the ’70’s were mine”, he said. “Timmy Tim is the one that bought me ‘Bongo Rock’, and I made it more popular. He bought me that album, and after I heard that album I said to Coke “Listen to this @#%$ here man! We used that record and that was what kicked off my format called the ‘merry go round”.

“Pete D.J. Jones was basically a whole other level”, says AJ. “He played disco music, and Herc played b-boy music, you know what I’m sayin?”

Mark Skillz: “So, when you say he played ‘disco’ music what do you mean? Give me an example of a record that Pete Jones might play.

AJ: Ok, he played things like ‘Love is the Message’ and ‘Got to Be Real’ – stuff like that; he played stuff with that disco pop to it. He didn’t play original break-beats like what Kool Herc was on. He played like a lot of radio stuff. That’s what Pete D.J. Jones did – that’s what made him good. I mean he had a sound system but he played a lot of radio stuff. Kool Herc played the hardcore @#%$ you ain’t ever hear: Yellow Sunshine, Bongo Rock and Babe Ruth – a whole variety of stuff; James Brown ‘Sex Machine’, you know the version with the ‘Clap your hands, stomp your feet?’

Before hip-hop was a multi-billion dollar a year industry, it was a sub-culture. All of the elements were coming into place, sort of being cooked like a stew, in a melting pot: a spoonful of funk, a fistful of bass, a heap of raw energy, all cut up on a platter with a dash of angel dust.

The Battleground

Deep in the heart of the Bronx located on Mt. Eden and Jerome was one of the first indoor hip hop spots. The owners of the venue probably gave it other names over the years but the two most popular ones were the Sparkle and the Executive Playhouse.

AJ Scratch

AJ Scratch

“It was real dark [in the Executive Playhouse]”, remembers AJ, “it wasn’t really like put together, it had a little stage, it had like a little miniature light show, you know what I’m sayin’, it was like a low budget venue. Right around the corner from the Executive Playhouse was the Parkside Plaza – that was a disco. The Executive Playhouse was something that maybe the guys went into the Parkside Plaza and got the idea to open up a club. So they went right around the corner on Mt. Eden and Jerome and opened up the Executive Playhouse – maybe they had the idea, but it wasn’t comparable with the Parkside Plaza. You go in there [the Executive Playhouse] and would be looking around, and you probably wouldn’t wanna go to the bathroom, because of the lighting, you know what I’m saying? There were lights but it was dim. That was hip-hop back then everything was dimmed out.”

The drug of choice back then was weed sprinkled with PCP – the ‘dust heads’ and the stick-up kids were all over the place, “That was the vibe back then”, declared AJ “and you wanted to be a part of that. The lights, the breaks, the dancing, them talking on the mike with the echo – that was hip-hop back then. You would go through anything just to hear Kool Herc’s performance. Kool Herc was special back then. It didn’t matter what the venue was like. It was what he displayed the night of the show; he did his thing.”

The Protégé

By day Pete Jones was an English teacher in Brooklyn. However, at night, Pete taught another set of students a whole other set of skills.

“I had several young guys that came around me trying to learn the deejay business”, explains Mr. Jones, “Magic Mike, Herby Herb and a lot of others, but none of them could figure out how to hook my system up. Except for one guy: Lovebug Starski. He went everywhere with me.”

Lovebug Starski

Lovebug Starski

Lovebug Starski was one of the few deejays of that time that could play for either a hard-core hip-hop crowd with an underground deejay like Kool DJ AJ or for the adult audience’s downtown with Pete Jones or in Harlem with D.J. Hollywood. His original mentor was his stepfather Thunderbird Johnny, a man who ran after hour spots uptown in Harlem. Starski was one of the few cats that could rock the mike and the wheels of steel at the same time.

But Pete had another protégé whose talent was immeasurable. In fact, he would forever change the skill set necessary to be a deejay. He was one-part scientist another part electronics wizard who possessed a sense of timing that was not of this world.

“One of the baddest deejays I ever saw was Grandmaster Flowers”, Jones says, “He could blend. He was a mixer. The things he did with records were incredible. He could hold a blend like you wouldn’t believe. He was the baddest thing I had ever saw.” That was until he saw a young man that had grown up in the Hoe Ave section of the South Bronx.

He was named Joseph at birth, called Joey in the neighborhood but would later gain fame under another name, a name which was partly inspired by a comic book hero. E-Z Mike, his best friend since childhood remembers it like this, “He got the name Flash because he was fast at everything he did. When we played basketball as kids, none of us could keep up with him. No matter what we did, he was always faster than the rest of us. He could outrun us all.” Later a local guy named Joe Kidd gave him the title of Grandmaster.

Before he became the Grandmaster Flash of legend, he was a student of Pete DJ Jones’. Friends described him as being intense, “When that guy caught the deejay bug real bad around 1973, we didn’t know what was happening”, said E-Z Mike, “He had a messenger job”, Mike continues, “He would get paid and by the next day – he would be broke. We’d be like, ‘Yo, where’s all of your money?’ He spent it all on records.”

From 1973 to 1977 Flash and his crew which first consisted of Mean Gene, Disco Bee and E-Z Mike and then later Cowboy, Mele Mel, Creole and Scorpio, were struggling to gain a foothold in the Bronx scene. But they could not get around Kool Herc. He was a giant.

“We’d try and get on Herc’s system”, Mike recalls, “But Herc wasn’t going for it. Flash would ask, “Could I get on?” and Herc would be like ‘Not”. You see back then”, Mike explains, “Nobody wanted Flash to touch their system. They’d be like, “Hell no, you be messing up needles and records and @#%$.” Both Disco Bee and E-Z Mike agree that Herc used to publicly embarrass Flash on the mike by talking ‘really greasy’ about him.

There have been many stories told about Flash’s early sound system, both EZ Mike and Disco Bee confirm that although Flash was an electronic wizard (E-Z Mike says, “Flash could build a TV from scratch”), his first system was the technological equivalent of a ’75 hoopty.

Disco Bee recalls that, “Flash built his own cueing system. Anything he could think of Flash would try to invent it”, Disco Bee laughs, “His system looked so raggedy, awww man, we had some raggedy junk. We were soldering stuff together right before we’d get ready to play, because he just built this thing, and he didn’t finish it. We used to get to a spot early and set up everything and he would be soldering stuff trying to get it to work. Man, we had some raggedy stuff.”

“Awww man this is gonna make you laugh”, E-Z Mike says, “Flash had these two speakers that he built from scratch, they were about six and a half feet tall, they were wood, he had three speakers in each one and on the top he put a piece of plastic with Christmas lights on the inside of it, so that when he deejayed the top of the speaker would be lighting up. Then he took white plastic and wrapped it around the wood – so that the speakers wouldn’t look like they were wood. We didn’t have any bass – there was no bass whatsoever. Just mids and highs”, Mike remembers.

The only person willing to give Flash a break was Pete Jones.

“The first time I met Pete was when I went with Flash to ‘Pete’s Lounge’. Like I said, Flash had gotten real serious about this deejay stuff and he would hook up with Pete and learn a lot of @#%$ from him.”

It must’ve been on one of these meetings at Pete’s Lounge that Flash and Pete plotted against Kool Herc.

A Sound Clash on the West Side of Jerome Ave.

Pete DJ Jones

Pete DJ Jones

“When I battled Pete, it wasn’t even a battle, it was telling my audience, what you think you gettin’? And you tried disrespectin’ and all that; let’s see what the other side of the spectrum sound like by a guy by the name of Pete DJ Jones”, said Herc.

Jones remembers it a little differently, “I guess he was somehow down with the club, he was like the resident deejay [at the Executive Playhouse] and they wanted to get a big crowd, so I guess it was his idea to battle me.”

It was inevitable that the two masters would clash.

The way Herc describes Pete’s audience is as “The bourgeoisie, the ones that graduated from the little house parties, you grown now you out your momma’s house. You puttin’ on Pierre Cardin now, you wearing Halston, you getting’ into the Jordache and Sassoon era, you down there where Frankie Crocker hangs out at, places like Nell Gwynn’s, or the big spot, whadda ya call it? Oh yeah, Leviticus, you down there. ”

“I’d say it was a week before the battle”, Pete remembers, “When I was out one night, and I ran into the twins. They must’ve had some kind of falling out with Herc, cause they were real mad at him. They said, “I’ll tell you all of the records he’s gonna play”. And he wrote all of them out for me, right there on the street.”

The twins he was referring to were the Nigger Twins, a couple of dancers who were a part of Herc’s crew. “When they wrote out his playlist for me, they said, “He’s gonna play them in this order”, Pete recalls.

The night of the battle Pete had a few cards up his sleeve so he went on first. ‘I broke out all of the records that the twins told me about, and I played them in the order that he would play them in. The next thing I knew I saw him walking around talking on the mike saying, “It sounds like I’m listening to a tape of myself.” He sounded real frustrated. I figured if I went first and played what he was gonna play, it would look like to the crowd he wasn’t doing anything different. That was the edge I had over him that night.”

But Herc’s followers were a devoted bunch.

After Pete played Herc went on and he dug deep into his playlist for the rarest of records.

“That was Kool Herc’s venue, the Executive Playhouse was a place that he played at constantly, so maybe they was using Pete to get a little extra audience. But Pete had notoriety. Kool Herc was big back then, he was probably number one in the Bronx.” Remembers AJ. “No matter if he took his playlist or not that doesn’t matter.”

AJ – a man who is well into his 40’s is still a devout practitioner of the ‘keep it real’ mentality. “Nah, Pete didn’t get the edge over Kool Herc”, AJ says, “You know why I think he got the edge over Kool Herc to be honest with you. This is only my opinion: Pete DJ Jones was a deejay but he was mad lazy yo. Pete DJ Jones used to hire dudes to come and play for him. The Executive Playhouse was not Pete’s kind of crowd. It wasn’t that he was a lazy dude it just wasn’t his crowd. It wasn’t Nell Gwynn’s or Nemo’s, it wasn’t downtown, so he wasn’t comfortable, so he put on the people that could rock that kind of crowd.”

After Herc played it was Pete’s turn again, this time he played his R&B and funk records – but the crowd wasn’t feeling it. So he pulled out a couple of ringers, in the form of his protégés: Lovebug Starski and Grandmaster Flash.

“Flash tore Herc’s ass up that night”, remembers E-Z Mike. “When it came crunch time to see what was what: Pete put Grandmaster Flash on”, remembers AJ. That was the first time I ever saw Flash play. The people were amazed. You see, Flash was a deejay, he was doing all that quick-mixing and spinning around and stuff – the Bronx lost its mind that night because we had never seen anything like that before.”

To the crowd of hundreds it looked like Pete Jones was winning. No one knew who Grandmaster Flash was that night. He was an unknown deejay playing on the set of one of the most popular jocks of that time. People yelled and screamed because it was the first time that they had seen a deejay with a magician’s flair for showmanship. Nobody played like that before. Kool Herc would haphazardly drop the needle on the record – sometimes the break was there, often times it wasn’t. Pete Jones could mix his ass off – but he wasn’t entertaining to watch. Both men had huge sound systems, but they weren’t charismatic spinners. Flash was.

On this night, the crowd at the Executive Playhouse was entranced with Flash’s spinning techniques, which were really revolutionary at this time. He had perfected a new technique called the ‘backspin’.

E-Z Mike remembers the first time Flash did the backspin: “He spent the night at my house, he woke up out of his sleep and turned the equipment on, it was like 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. The first record he did it with was Karen Young’s “Hotshot” and he backspun it a bunch of times, and then turned to me and said “Yo, remember that and remind me about it when I wake up.” And he jumped back in his bed. When he woke up the next morning, he did it again.”

One could only imagine that night at the Executive Playhouse in front of hundreds of stunned spectators Flash cutting ‘Hotshot’ to pieces:

“Hot shot, hot shot, hot…hot shot hot shot hot…hot shot. Hot shot. Hot shot…hot…hot…hot.

“You know what at that battle, Flash showed the Bronx that he was for real”, said AJ. By Herc’s own admission by 1977 he was on the decline. Whether or not it had anything to do with him getting stabbed at the Executive Playhouse is open to speculation. What is a fact though, is that after this battle between two of the biggest stars of the era the name Grandmaster Flash was no longer relegated to a small section of the Bronx. His fame spread like wildfire throughout the city. According to more than just one person interviewed for this story, the long-term effects of the battle on Kool Herc were not good. In the weeks proceeding the battle Herc’s audience got smaller and smaller. They were leaving the Executive Playhouse for another hotspot: The Dixie, which was the home of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Four.

Soon The Dixie would become so crowded that by 4 a.m. when the house was still packed the only way they could get people out of there was by playing Jackie Wilson’s “Work Out”, but the fly girls and b-boys would still want to party, “We’d put that record on”, said Disco Bee, “And you’d look out on the floor and folks would be doing the Twist”.

The battle between Kool Herc and Pete Jones was also a pivotal moment in time because previous to it battles were all about equipment, records and who moved the crowd – Grandmaster Flash added the next dimension: showmanship. This was at a time when the sound system was king. Breakout and Baron had Sasquatch. D.J. Divine had the Infinity Machine, Kool Herc had the Herculords and Grandmaster Flash would later have a system called the Gladiator. Today’s deejays know nothing of sound systems; even fewer know how to hook one up.

Mark Skillz says peace, respect and special thanks to Jeff Chang, Davey D, Christie Z Pabon, Cindy Campbell, Kool Herc, Kool DJ AJ, E-Z Mike, KC the Prince of Soul, JT Hollywood, Pete Jones, Charlie Ahearn for the photos and Disco Bee.

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