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.

markskillz.blogspot.com/

DJ Eddie Cheeba & DJ Hollywood-The Disco Side of Hip Hop

dbanner1newparis

DJ Eddie Cheeba & DJ Hollywood-The Disco Side of Hip Hop

Cheeba, Cheeba Y’all!
“Let’s take a trip,
Back into the past,
When the rappers had no records
And the deejays were fast.
When the great Kool Herc lead the Hevalo pack,
And Hollywood and Cheba rocked the Diplomat…”

‘AJ Is Cool’ by Kurtis Blow

 

Cheeba, Cheeba Y’all: Original House Rocker Eddie Cheba

By Mark Skillz
MarkSkillz@aol.com

http://hiphop101a.blogspot.com/2007/09/cheeba-cheeba-yall.html

T

he Fishtail Bar in the Bay Watch Resort in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is right out back over looking the beach. Dozens of families are crowded in several swimming pools trying to beat the heat. Overhead the sound system is playing the dancehall reggae classic ‘Level the Vibes’ by Half Pint. On the surface it appears to be the most unlikely place to meet a former ghetto celeb and rap innovator. But then again it is.

Decked out in a white and green short set with matching jersey, is a middle-aged man that many would find likable. His easy-going personality mixed with his affable charm makes him the kind of guy you’d want to share a drink and swap stories with. But it’s the stories that this man with droopy eyes and a raspy voice would tell that could make you look at him cross-eyed while sipping your Long Island Iced Tea. That is unless you’re up on your hip-hop history.

Way before the bling era and rappers rubbing shoulders with the likes of Donald Trump and Paris Hilton in the Hamptons, and definitely before multi-million dollar deals, ring tones, clothing lines and sneaker endorsements, rap was the music of ghetto Black New York. That means you didn’t hear it too far beyond the infamous five boroughs.

Almost jumping out of his seat he says to me, “Most guys back then, only got $175 or $150 with a sound system to play a gig. You know what I’m sayin’? We got $500 for an hour – without a sound system.” All the while he’s tapping me on the shoulder in between sips of a Heineken. “And you’d be happy that you got that hour!” He says to me with the cockiness of a used car salesman. “We’d do one hour over here, jump in our cars and head out to Queens or Hempstead, Long Island and do an hour out there.”

That was in 1977 when the cost of living was different and so was the cost of the best deejay in New York.

Ladies and Gentlemen: meet, Eddie Cheba, who along with Mele Mel, Cowboy, Creole, Coke La Rock, Timmy Tim and DJ Hollywood is one of the founding fathers of rap.

In his day Cheba was a legend. At hot night clubbing spots like Small’s Paradise, Charles Gallery, Hotel Diplomat and Club 371, Cheba would shout into the mic: “Who makes it sweeter?” And the crowd of hundreds would shout back “Cheba, Cheba, Cheba!

He is credited with creating the old school rhyme: “It’s on and on and on on and on like the hot butter on the what?” And if you were in the club and ‘in the know’, you knew to holler back: “Popcorn!” “We had a book of ’em”, he told me in reference to the call and response tactics that he and his friend, partner and sometime rival, DJ Hollywood came up with.

The call and response style (back then called ‘house rockin‘) that MC’s/DJ’s like Busy Bee, Kid Capri, Doug E Fresh, Kurtis Blow and Biz Markie are notorious for can be traced back to the smooth style of guys like Lovebug Starski, DJ Hollywood and Eddie Cheba.

On this day Eddie is in an upbeat mood because Tuff City Records is re-releasing the only recording Eddie ever did, a disco rap work out called ‘Looking Good (Shake Your Body)‘. A song which was originally recorded for Tree Line Records in 1980, and was backed by the owners of Club 371, it will be a part of an old school rap compilation.

Cheba’s raspy- voiced, call and response style made a special impact out in Long Island, with some college kids that called themselves ‘Spectrum Sound‘, the group would later be known as Public Enemy.

“Eddie Cheba was as important to hip-hop/rap as Ike Turner was to rock n roll”, Chuck D front man for Public Enemy informed me, “nowhere does he get his due credit for spreading it from the BX to [make it more] accessible [to] heads [outside of Harlem and the Bronx]. Cheba and Hollywood simply infiltrated the over 18 college adult bracket that simply hated on the art form. They put a bowtie on hip-hop at that time to get it through. Cheba commanded the audience with voice and a great sense of timing. These cats used rap to set up records like no other. His synergy with Easy G his deejay was simply… telepathic.”

“Now mind you”, says an emphatic Kurtis Blow, a rap pioneer in his own right, ‘let’s not get it twisted okay: Cheba was before DJ Hollywood. On that side of the family tree we have Pete DJ Jones who was the first real disco street deejay with emcee’s JJ Disco the King, KC the Prince of Soul and JT Hollywood – these guys were just announcers…the next level was the crowd response which was Eddie Cheba’s thing, he was the master of the crowd response. He had routines, he had girls – the Cheba Girls, he had little routines and he did it with a little rhythm ya know: ‘Throw your hands in the air, everybody now, we don’t need no music, come on y’all say it, so just clap your hands everybody and everybody body clap your hands! If you’re not too skinny or not too fat everybody say and ya know that!” Eddie was mad sick with the crowd response he was a master!”

As I think back on other names that rung out loud on the streets back then I ask Eddie about:

Ron Plummer: “Awww man, Plummer gave Pete Jones hell with those refrigerator sized speakers.”

Maboya: “He used to play reggae. He was one of the first ones out there to play reggae. At that time rap and reggae were not accepted – you’d play that stuff and people would turn around and look at you.”

The Smith Brothers: “They were older than us, they had an older clientele, but their sound system was good.”

But it’s the name DJ Hollywood that Cheba’s name is almost synonymous with. For many their names are almost linked together like Salt and Pepper, Butch and Sundance or Martin and Lewis. Can’t have one without the other. They were Uptown royalty when Cam’ Ron and Jim Jones were in Pampers.

Back Like Cadillac’s and Brim Hats

Edward Sturgis was born and raised in Harlem, New York’s Douglas Projects, home to such alums as Kenny Smith, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and fellow deejay Reggie Wells. Originally a music major Eddie got involved with funk and soul bands, but soon grew tired of the instability that goes with being in a group. He soon found that his love for music could be expressed another way: with turntables and records.

“My sister’s boyfriend Thomas was one of the first people I ever saw really mix music in a smooth way. I mean he knew how to keep the beat going, you know what I mean?” Eddie says to me while taking a drag off of his cigarette. “I said to myself ‘I wanna do that!”

Soon the Brandice High School student was spending hours a day practicing on his turntables. “I was completely locked into it. My girlfriend, who is my wife now, a date for us back then was, her sitting on my bed reading her books while I practiced.”

By 1974 he got so good at spinning records that he was able to quit his job at Bankers Trust and really concentrate on deejaying, “The money was flowing in.” He says to me with a sly smile.

On the way down the path to being a ghetto celeb he played in Uptown’s hottest spots: Charles Gallery, Hotel Diplomat (which on some nights attracted a white audience and was called LeJardin) and Wilt’s Small’s Paradise. “In 1972 when Joe Frazier beat Muhammad Ali at the Garden, he came to Small’s Paradise after the fight to hang out. I have a picture of me and him at Small’s.”

The Sound Systems in the Park

At the same time that Eddie was perfecting his craft in Harlem there was a whole other scene jumping off in the Bronx. This crowd was younger, rougher and rowdier.

“There were two different crowds”, says Kurtis Blow, who’s classic recording ‘The Breaks’ was the second 12′ inch record to be certified gold. “Grandmaster Flash calls them the shoe people and the sneaker people.”

Blow, a Harlem native, is a student of both the R&B style of guys like Pete Jones and Hollywood and the hardcore b-boy approach of the Kool Herc followers. In fact with his deep, booming bass voice and crisp enunciation Kurtis’ style was the perfect blend between Harlem’s smooth R&B chic and Bronx b-boy cool.

At the parties that guys like Eddie, Grandmaster Flowers, Pete DJ Jones, the Disco Twins and the Smith Brothers would play at, songs like ‘Do it Anyway You Wanna‘, “I Got My Mind Made Up‘, ‘All Night Thing‘, ‘Pipeline‘ and ‘Soul Makossa‘ would rock crowds of hundreds of the 21 and over crowd. Men came to the party wearing dress shoes, suits and slacks and women wore dresses.

Kool Herc, Flash, Breakout, Kool DJ AJ, Disco King Mario, Bambaataa and others rocked the teenage b-boy crowds. Their crowds would come in packs of 15 to 20 strong, wearing sneakers, jeans, hats and silver chains. They couldn’t wait to hear their favorite deejay play obscurities like ‘Give it to Me‘, ‘Champ‘, ‘Mardi Gras‘, ‘Synthetic Substitution‘, ‘Hit or Miss‘ and many other unknown records that were worshipped by this cult following.

The slight exception was in Harlem at the Renaissance Ballroom, or the ‘Renny‘ as it was called, where a promoter named Willie Gums had a thing called the ‘Rolls Royce Movement‘, “That was Lovebug Starski’s thing right there”, says Kurtis Blow. “It was the Sapphire Crew: Donald Dee and B Fats that was their thing. That was hip-hop with class. They were young people but they got dressed up for these parties. I think D.J. Hollywood might’ve played there once.”

“Kool Herc and them played in the park. We were blessed to be able to play in clubs,” Eddie says to me. “If you think about it anybody could play in a park; little kids were in the park. There was no money playing in parks. Either the cops was coming to tell you to turn it down or they were gonna unplug you from the light pole or there was gonna be a shootout or something. I played in clubs where people drank champagne and came to have fun. Besides, the park was dangerous”, Eddie says to me while looking from side to side. “You got five niggas over there drinkin’ talkin’ ’bout fuckin’ you up. Would you wanna be there?”

The Man With The Golden Voice

Before anyone could claim the title of King of New York, there was the original ‘King of Rap’: DJ Hollywood. On the streets of New York in the 70’s, Wood (as he is sometimes called) was the quintessential man. He was the first deejay to play multiple spots in one night and collect a fee of $500 per appearance. According to Cheba, “Hollywood would call ahead to Club 371 [after playing at other spots around the city] and say, “I’m on my way, have my envelope ready.”

He was a rap star before there were any records. The history of the mixtape game can be traced back to him. He used to sell 8 track tapes of his mixes for ten or fifteen bucks a pop way back in 1972. He sang, he rapped, he did vocal impressions and crowd participation. On the rap tip in the 70’s no one could touch him.

“Hollywood was ‘all city’ he could play anywhere he wanted in the city back then”, says Kurtis Blow. “Hollywood, had a golden voice, he had a round and fat voice, he had tonality, tonality almost like a singer – he had singing routines where he would sing, “Got a word from the wise, just to tranquilize, your mind your body and soul. We got a brand new rhythm now, and we’re gonna let it take control. Come on y’all let’s do it. Let’s do it’… that was Hollywood, he was the master at the crowd response but his voice…” Kurtis pauses excitedly looking for the right words and when he finds them he says, ‘his voice was golden like a God almost – that’s why I wanted to be an MC!”

“If you went out to a club – you had to go to Club 371 to hear this cat. Hollywood was the talk of the town”, an animated Kurtis Blow says to me. “Everybody was losing their minds, he had skits like ‘Throw your hands in the air, and wave ’em like ya just don’t care. And if you got on clean underwear, somebody say ‘Oh yeah!’ And the crowd would shout back: Oh yeah! Hollywood had the golden voice, the chants the rhythm. The first rhythmic rhymes I ever heard …a cat say during the hip-hop days – we’re talking about the ’70’s. I’m not talking about the ’60’s or anything before that because rap has been around for a long time. We’re talking about the first rhymes that I ever heard DJ Hollywood say were:

 

“I’m bonnified, I’m celitified and I’m qualified to do,
I say anything your heart can stand,
It all depends on you.
I’m listed in the yellow pages,
All around the world,
I got 21 years experience with loving sweet young girls…”

During an early morning phone interview Hollywood related the story of his discovery to me. “One day in 1975, I was at home playing records, and one of the records I pulled out was the “Black Moses” album. It was not popular at the time. So, there I was listening to this album, and I put on a song called “Good Love 69969”. Isaac Hayes was singing this part that went “I’m listed in the yellow pages, all around the world; I got 30 years experience in loving sweet young girls.” That record stopped me dead in my tracks. You see, before that record I had been doing nursery rhymes. But after that record: I was doing rhymes. And not only was I doing rhymes but I was talking about love. This was another level.”

In a reflective mood the one time King of Rap recalled the next events.”I thought to myself, what if I take what he’s doing and put it with this? What would I get? I got fame, that’s what I got. I got more famous than I could ever imagine. Everybody bit that rhyme. I would go to jams and people would be saying that rhyme, and none of them, not one of them, knew where it came from. It blew my mind.”

“I knew of Hollywood cause we were both from Harlem.” Eddie remembers. “Back in the day when Hollywood would play at the Apollo Theatre the marquee would say: “The Spinners, Black Ivory, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and D.J. Hollywood”. He was that large.”

But Eddie wanted the spot light too.

“I was sitting in my room one day when I came up with my rhyme. I wrote it out in a notebook it went.

About a while ago and I want you to know, just who you been listening to. Just listen to me now, while I tell you how, who I am, and what I do. I’m 5’9 and a half, bow legged as you ever wanna see. Just look up on the stage baby doll, I’m talking about little old me. It’s Cheba girl and I’m so glad that you came around. So we can spend some time together maybe even mess around.

Very quickly, like Hollywood’s rap, Eddie’s rap was eagerly consumed by other deejays, whom very soon, had no knowledge of the raps origin either. ASCAP and BMI were not looking for rappers back then, and rappers were no more aware of ASCAP and BMI then they were about words like ‘publishing’, ‘writing credit’, ‘points’ and ‘royalties’. This was before records.

“Before Club 371 I was playing at a spot called “A Bunch of Grapes” this was on the East side of 125th St. You see back then, the only people that were hip to my shit were the hustlers that went to the after hours spots. That’s where my rep started at was with the hustlers.” Said DJ Hollywood.

Every other rapper today fantasizes about knowing or being somehow connected with a notorious gangster, back in the day – Nicky Barnes was that gangster. Wood played for some of the most notorious figures of the ’70’s and ’80’s, chief among them was Guy Fisher. It was Fisher who owned and operated the Apollo Theatre as a legitimate front. It was at the Apollo that Hollywood gained his rep for providing entertainment between acts for some of the biggest stars of the era, and often times he overshadowed them.

Guy Fisher was no stranger to the hip-hop set back then. Many an old timer tell stories of the days when Fisher, Bats Ross and other members of Nicky Barnes’ old crew would frequent hip-hop spots like the Hevalo and check out Kool Herc and Coke La Rock.

At the very mention of Fisher’s name Eddie becomes visibly uncomfortable. “Yes, Wood worked for Guy Fisher and them, those were Nicky Barnes’ people. I didn’t want to have anything to do with those people.” He tells me. “Yeah sure, we did parties for them, but that was it! They were nice guys outside of their business, but I didn’t want to play for them that much.”

“Why is that?” I ask.

“Because see, Hollywood might show up to Club 371 at two, three o’clock in the morning. Sometimes he didn’t show up at all. You couldn’t do that kind of shit with people like that because they would come and get you – and throw you in a bag or something.”

Havin’ Fun at Club 371

Sometime in 1978 a group of gentlemen called the Ten Good Guys wanted to expand their Bronx disco. It was called Club 371. They got DJ Hollywood to play there after seeing the impact of what he was doing in 1975 at the club ‘A Bunch Of Grapes’. Hollywood had been playing at 371 for at least three years before the owners decided to expand the club.

“Hollywood was packing em in, they had lines around the corner. They built a part two, which was called the ‘House of Glass’. They talked to Reggie Wells and we made a deal and they came to get me.”

It was at Club 371 that Eddie Cheba would meet Hollywood.

“It was Hollywood and his deejay Junebug downstairs and me, Reggie Wells and my deejay EZ Gee upstairs. I’m telling you, we had them people running up and down those steps all night long.” Eddie recalls. “My deejay EZ Gee played with me when it was time for me to rap, [that’s when] he’d take over. I used to rent out a loft so that we could practice our routines. God sent EZ Gee to me.”

“371 was one of the greatest clubs of all time in the Bronx, New York, it was the first black owned club in New York to gross over a million dollars in one year and this was back in 1979, when they charged six or seven dollars to get in the door.” Eddie asserts. “They cleared a million dollars at the door – not to say how much they cleared under the table. This was one of the greatest clubs of all time: Eddie Cheba, Reggie Wells, Junebug and DJ Hollywood at Club 371 that’s where all the fame and fortune came from.”

“Everybody came to Club 371”, Hollywood recalls, “If you came in from out of town, people would be like, you gotta go here – it was like no other!”

Any old time Club 371 regular will tell you that the original chant that Big Bank Hank from the Sugar Hill Gang used in ‘Rapper’s Delight’ went: “Hotel/Motel/Holiday Inn, if you don’t tell then I won’t tell, but I know where you been!” 98.7 KISS-FM mix master Reggie Wells told me the origin of the chant had something to do with the Courtesy in New Jersey and people sneaking around after the club let out.

The club did so well that the owners went to great lengths to take care of their deejays. Reggie Wells remembers the money being so good at 371 that “all of the deejays had caddy’s back then.”

“Hollywood needed a car and didn’t have a license, so they bought him a Caddy and got him a license by sliding somebody at the DMV some money.” Eddie laughs while recalling the time. “They really took care of us.”

Reflecting on his heyday Eddie told me, “I had everything I shopped at AJ Lester’s. I was walked into any club in the city – I always got in free. Champagne? I got bottles of it wherever I went. If I walked down 125th St. in Harlem, people would see me and walk up to me and want to shake my hand or ask me for an autograph. If I had someplace to go I called a car service [Godfather’s, Touch of Class and OJ’s] and they would be there to pick me up. I’d say wait here until I’m done and they would. I used to sell my tapes for $20 a pop. People would be reserving tapes weeks in advance. Godfather’s and OJ’s and them used to sell my tapes. They would have a customer in a car and would be playing my stuff, the customer would be like ‘Who’s that?’ They’d say that’s Eddie Cheba. I was one of the top deejays in the city.

Like Butch and Sundance

“Me and Hollywood became really good friends. We worked together as well, but we were also friends. We used to go to after hour’s spots all over the city together and sit, drink and talk into early in the morning. We were close man.” Eddie said to me.

Soon a partnership was born. “At one point they were called DJ-Eddie-Hollywood-Cheba”, laughs Kurtis Blow.

“Let me tell you how large I got.” Eddie says as he leans back in his seat and exhales a cloud of cigarette smoke above his head. “One night we were playing in Queens at the La Chalet on Hillside Ave. Anyway, these brothers were outside shooting at each other. I mean it was a real shootout. Me and my crew, the Cheeba Crew, pulled up when all of this is going on. We were like, ‘Shit, we ain’t getting’ out of the car!’ Somebody went inside and got on the mike and said, ‘Yo y’all stop all that shit. Eddie Cheba is outside right now and he says he ain’t coming in until y’all stop that shit.” Well, the next thing we know, they drop their guns and go inside.” Eddie says to me with an amazed look on his face, “these niggas stopped shooting at each other because they wanted to hear us play.”

The partnership of Hollywood and Cheba made them the two most popular Black deejays in the city. And the best paid. “Hollywood had no problem asking for whatever he wanted.” Eddie remembers. “He could be really arrogant. He had no problem at all blowing people off. I mean Wood was really arrogant. When we first started to play together, I was afraid to ask for more money. Wood would say ‘Say you want $500.” I’d be like, “I don’t know.” Wood would say that he was getting $500, so I’d go in there and say I wanted $500 too.”

As close as the two were they didn’t play everywhere together. Eddie played in midtown clubs such as the Pegasus, Captain Nemo’s, Nell Gwynn’s, Leviticus, the Tunnel, Cork and the Bottle and the Executive Suite. But it was at Charles Gallery that Eddie started to earn his rep.

“Charles Gallery was on some other shit”, Hollywood recalls, “Those guys in there were announcers, they would get on the mike and announce the next record and shit like that. I came in there with my rappin’ – they never heard anything like it before – they threw me out of there!”

Kurtis Blow described the Charles Huggins owned Charles Gallery as a classy spot for the 21 and over crowd. Men and women were dressed to the nines. Kurtis – and his then manager Russell Simmons first saw Eddie doing his thing there on a night called ‘Wild Wild Wednesday’s‘.

But Hollywood didn’t like those kinds of clubs. Nor did he like ghetto type clubs such as Disco Fever. “The Fever was a fuckin’ drug store”, Eddie shot back, “you could get anything you wanted at the Fever. Drugs were all over the place. Hollywood did not play the Fever – and he was arrogant about it too.” Eddie says while taking a drag off of his cigarette. “We used to say, ‘Yo Wood, you need to play the Fever.’ He would brush it off and say, ‘them niggas ain’t my kind of crowd.” Hollywood’s crowd were places that catered to an older black clientele such as the many clubs in the Bronx, Harlem and Queens.

“Me on the other hand I liked playing anywhere.” Eddie tells me.

It was while playing in clubs in Queens that Hollywood and Cheba would bump into an eager young promoter that called himself Russell Rush. “Every time we played in Queens in some place like… the Fantasia, Russell would be right outside waiting for us. He was a big fan of ours. He used to beg me, he’d be like “Yo Cheba, I’m throwing a party at so and so place, could you stop by and do a little something?” Hollywood would be very arrogant and would say things like ‘tell that nigga to go away’. I couldn’t do that. I’d say ‘Russell; I’m a little too expensive for what you’re trying to do. I’ll see what I can do.’ I couldn’t blow people off like Wood could.”

Out in Long Island, Hollywood and Cheba were the rap equivalent of the Beatles. According to Chuck D, “In 1979 the whole cowboy look was in [cowboy hats and boots] and Hollywood and Cheba pimped that!”

..at-brown-225.gif” width=200 align=right border=0>One night Eddie bought Furious Five lead MC Mele Mel with him to play a gig in Roosevelt. “When he brought Mele Mel with him it was like two voices from heaven,” Chuck D says, “back then, if you didn’t have a good voice you couldn’t ‘cut through inferior sound systems. These cats were flawless. Hearing them sold me on hip-hop as being a wonderful thing for my life.”

“The night I took Mele Mel with me, out to Long Island, I dunno, he was more reserved than usual. I had to give the nigga the mike and say, “here do your thing.” I knew the nigga was bad as a motherfucker. This was just before their record ‘Superrappin’ came out.” Said Eddie.

It was also during this time that he was introduced to a young man who was trying to make a name for himself on the rap scene.

“DJ Hollywood had a ‘disco son’ named DJ Smalls, we figured a way for me get my name out there was if I was the disco son of Eddie Cheba.” Said Kurtis Blow. Although Kurtis, who would later be known as the ‘King of Rap’, would see his own career eclipse that of both Hollywood and Eddie Cheba’s, is to this day still clearly a devoted fan.

At it’s root hip-hop is a competitive art form whether its MC’s going head to head on the mike, or deejay’s crossing swords on turntables, “I was the one that did all of the battling.” Cheba tells me, “Hollywood would not battle anybody. I battled everybody. I didn’t give a fuck. Wood was not into battling. The only person he battled was Woody Wood from Queens. And me and Lovebug Starski had to push him to battle that nigga to do it.”

“Why’s that?” I ask.

“Because that nigga was stealing everything that Wood was doing. Not only did he sound like Wood, but also he got his name from him and all of his rhymes too. I told him ‘Fuck that shit, you got to battle that nigga.’ The way Woody Wood was stealing from Hollywood was a damn shame.”

In any other business imitation is considered to be a form of flattery, but in the rap game even as far back as 1976, it was almost the equivalent of stealing a brother’s hubcaps.

“At one time there were about thirty to forty me’s out there”, Hollywood says to me sounding almost as irritated today about it as he was thirty years ago. “Everybody was saying the rhymes and when it would come time to say my name – they would take mine out and put theirs in. Woody Wood was one of them people.”

“So you battled him?” I asked.

“Yeah, I stepped on him too”, Wood said as confidently as Muhammad Ali in 1975, “at that time there wasn’t nobody that could get wit’ me. I was top dog back then. I had control of everything.”

The battle took place at the Hotel Diplomat, “It wasn’t really what you would call a battle”, Wood interjects, “He did his thing first and then I did mine. No one could beat me with the crowd response thing. Woody Wood was an imitator, his voice, his rhymes he did his pronunciations just like me.”

“We were on top.” Eddie says coolly, “I had battled everyone. But as much as Wood didn’t like to battle he’d always tell me: “Eddie, whatever you do: Never battle me.”

“I thought to myself, ‘What kind of shit is that for him to say?’ I had my own ego too you know. Little did I know…”

One night the two friends went head to head in a sound clash.

“I pulled out all stops this night at the Parkside Plaza. It was a battle for the title.” Eddie remembers. “Wood’s title was on the line. Wood did his thing, but even his people weren’t really feeling him on this night. And then I went on. I rocked the hell outta them people. At the end of the battle even Wood’s people were cheering for me, you know like his main man Captain Jack and all of them people. It took 45 minutes for the judges to make a decision. And they came back and gave the trophy to Hollywood. And that’s when it hit me: No wonder he said to never battle him, it was because he had it set up for him to win regardless. Hell, the trophy already had his name inscribed on it!”

“Nah, nah, nah, nah, it didn’t quite go down like that, Mark”, Hollywood tells me in between laughing.

“You see, it’s like this I was the top dog, couldn’t nobody touch me back then. Eddie did all of the battles. One night he kept going on and on saying, ‘I’m the king battler’ and this and that. He must’ve forgot who I was. He made that happen.” Wood said to me.
“Made what happen?” I ask.
“Yo man, he wouldn’t listen. The shit was already done. I didn’t know it was done. I told him, “Ok, but whatever you do never battle me. He wouldn’t listen.”

What Hollywood meant by it being ‘done’ was that at the time he got major love from all of the promoters back then, these were people that for many years had made good money from billing Hollywood all over the city. It was in their interest for Wood to emerge as the winner in any battle. Hollywood remembers the crowd response that night being about even, but to this day swears that he had no knowledge of the fix being in.

One Night at the Jamaica Armory

One day in October 1979 Eddie and his peers heard the sound that would forever alter the course of their lives: ‘Rapper’s Delight.’

“Hollywood and Starski, you would always hear them say ‘hip-hop-da-hippit-da-hibbit-to-da-hip-hip-a-hop ya don’t stop’ and shit like that, they started it. I heard the song on the radio. I was mad when I first heard it. These people came from out of nowhere. We didn’t have the vision to see that records were the next level.” Eddie said as he thinks back to the time. ‘We were making so much money from deejaying that making records just wasn’t our thing. We couldn’t see it.”

What he didn’t know was that the first person that Sylvia Robinson approached to record ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was Lovebug Starski. Then she went to DJ Hollywood to see about he and Eddie making the record.

“One night and this was after ‘Rapper’s Delight’ had long been out and making money, Hollywood and I were at an after hours spot called ‘Poppa Dee’s‘ in Harlem. It was on 130th between 7th and Lenox Ave. I mean this was an exclusive spot. Only the hustlers could get in there – people with money. Anyway, so there we are drinking and talking and shit at like 3 o’clock in the morning when Hollywood turns to me and says, “Yeah man, she wanted me and you to do that record, but I turned her down.”

“I must’ve looked at him and said, ‘what record are you talking about?”

He said, “Yeah, Sylvia wanted us to do Rapper’s Delight first.” I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to knock him out of his seat. If I had done that record do you know what my life would be like today?”

‘Rapper’s Delight’ changed the direction of the rap movement forever. The days of guys running sections of the city or dominating the club scene were over. All you needed was a record to make a name.

It isn’t a stretch to believe that the Robinson’s wanted Hollywood and Cheba for their landmark recording, especially when you consider that both of the groundbreaking rap recordings The Fatback Band‘s (a group for whom Hollywood used to open for at the Apollo Theatre) ‘King Tim III (Personality Jock)‘ and the Sugar Hill Gang‘s ‘Rapper’s Delight‘ stylistically bore a serious resemblance to Hollywood and Cheba. Although Big Bank Hank got his rhymes from Grandmaster Caz his delivery was much closer to Hollywood’s than the Cold Crush Brothers lead MC.

One night at the Jamaica, Queens Armory the best deejays and emcees of that time got together for a jam. In some ways it was the end of an era. To this day cassette tapes of that night still circulate the streets. It was a star-studded affair; on the bill were DJ Divine and the Infinity Machine, Grandmaster Flash and his MC’s Mele Mel and Kurtis Blow, Lovebug Starski, DJ Hollywood, DJ Smalls, Eddie Cheba and DJ Easy Gee.

“…Like Earl the Pearl has got the moves, ya see Cheba Cheba has got the groove. Now ya heard the best and you’re ready to go, with the baddest deejay of all disco…”

Easy Gee bought in MFSB‘s classic ‘Love is the Message‘, cued up from the point where the sax and violins are building up to the point of climax. This was a record that guys like Hollywood, Eddie Cheba, Kool Kyle and many others knew well. It was a staple of their act. In some ways it was the main part. This was the song that showcased their skills the best. They could do their crowd participation thing, free style rhymes and party chants; all of it came together best over that song.

“Get ready now you might’ve heard on WBLS tomorrow night we gonna take the sugar out the hill at Harlem World. Sugar Hill and Eddie Cheba tomorrow night. But first we have some unfinished business to take care of right here in Jamaica…we’re gonna rundown a few of the things that we know we made famous…”

As the sax squealed and the organist rocked Eddie went into one of the many routines that made him a legend at that time.

“Go down go down go down go down, owww, go down… Get up close on the freak and shake like Jones is at its peak. Ya say who makes it sweeter? (Cheba, Cheba, Cheba)…You don’t care if I’m the one – cause all you wanna do is have some fun…”

At least for that one night it didn’t matter if there was a record selling in stores all over the country because it was the guys on the stage that night that were the real stars. It could almost be said that ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was what changed the relationship between deejay and MC. For years it was the deejays that the crowds of thousands came out to see, now because the MC’s rap could be heard on a record, the balance of power was about to change.

One by one each crew went up onstage at the Armory that night and showcased for the crowd in Queens the reasons that they were better than any group of upstarts, especially ones from across the Hudson. These guys were the originators of a new phenomenon; they were kings of a sub-culture in a time of innocence. Every empire has its time in the sun, but the sun sets on every kingdom.

Welcome Home

As we walk outside to the front of the hotel, Eddie tells me some funny stories about the club Disco Fever. If only I could print those stories. We sit on the steps and talk some more while I wait on my ride.

“I rocked the shit out of the Sugar Hill Gang that night at Harlem World”, he told me. “I pulled out all stops, I made it difficult for them to come .. me. All they had was that one record – I had books and books of rhymes – they couldn’t fuck with me.”

In the mid-80’s to everyone’s surprise hip-hop started its ascent to becoming a dominant force in music. But Eddie was nowhere to be found.

“France was some shit”, he tells me “I was the man over there.”

Sometime in the early 80’s while he was the resident deejay at the club Broadway International, Eddie got the call that would change his life. He went over to France to compete in deejay competitions and spin at clubs. Judging by his descriptions of the clubs and the audiences it sounds like he spun for the jet set crowd. “These people drove Ferrari’s and wore tuxedo’s and expensive jewelry”, he said. All together he stayed in France for eight years.

“I was a New York deejay in Paris. I was a rare commodity over there. They were so far behind what we were doing over here – I beat all of them. I did TV commercials, I spun at the biggest clubs in the country.” Eddie says, “I was a celebrity. I lived in a nice house and drove a custom made Mercedes Benz.”

“So why did you leave?” I ask him.

“Because”, he says as he frowns up his face, “I got bored over there. My daughter was growing up not knowing any of my family. I had done everything I could over there. I won the world competition; I spun at some of the chicest clubs. I got tired of it all.”

But coming back home to New York was not easy. Everything had changed. “Hollywood was over”, Eddie said looking out at the clouds, “he was on 8th Avenue messing up. Kurtis was over, he was in L.A.; Club 371 was over. Just about all of the clubs that I had spun at were over. And rap was different. I couldn’t relate to it anymore. I had been in France, I wore French clothes, and I had been living in a nice house. I couldn’t relate anymore.”

As my wife pulls up we say our good byes. I give him CD’s of the Queens Armory Jam in 1979 and mix tapes from the boat rides that he, Hollywood and Lovebug Starski had done together in the late 90’s.

“Eddie”, I ask him, “one more thing, did you know that JB Moore and Rocky Ford wanted you to do the Christmas Rappin’ record?”

“Yeah, I heard about that”, he says to me with a touch of regret. “If I had done that record do you have any idea what my life would be like right now?”

Not that the man is starving: he owns a funeral business as well as a limousine and deejay service. By no means is the man hard up for a dollar. But who among us couldn’t use a nice little royalty check every now and then?

Eddie Cheba wants to send a special shout and a big fat ‘I love you’ to all of the fans that supported him from 1972 until this day. He can be reached at EYMUSIC21@aol.com. Special thanks to Van Silk, Kurtis Blow, Chuck D, Dianne, Reggie Wells

and DJ Hollywood.

This feature originally ran in Wax Poetics please contact author for permission to use any part of this story.

Breakdown FM-Going Back in the Days w/ DJ Kool Herc pt1

Article-Sunday, November 20, 2005

Going Back in the Days w/ DJ Kool Herc
by Davey D and Mark Skillz of Breakdown FM

Stream or download this interview by going here:
http://www.swift.fm/mrdaveyd/song/56812/

In celebration of Hip Hop History month,we sat down with the father of Hip Hop music and culture the legendary Kool Herc.

He gave us an indepth run down of Hip Hop in the early days. He speaks about the early party scene and talks about how he and sister Cindy made history when they threw a back to school party at 1520 Sedgwick Ave in the Bronx.

He talks about how he used to be a grafitti artist and how his sister had his back and sheilded him from the wrath of his strict father who would’ve whupped that butt if he knew his son was defacing New York City property.

Kool Herc also lets us know that Hip Hop did not start in the South Bronx as is often erroneously reported. Herc never lived in the South Bronx, he lived in the West bronx which is a totally different area.

In this interview Kool Herc talks about his Jamaican background. He talks about how he grew up in the same township as Bob Marley and he explains how and why Jamaican culture is an important root within Hip Hop.

One important aspect of Jamaican culture Herc speaks to us about is the sound system. In this interview he talks about the type of equipment he used and why he named it the Herculords.

What was really fascinating in this sit down, was hearing Herc go into detail about the different clubs and parties he threw. He describes the clientele which ranged from some of New York’s most notorious sharp dressing mob type gangstas to high school kids from the projects around the way.

Herc gives us a run down of his playlist and talks about his approach for keeping the crowd satisfied. He speaks about his early deejay battles most notably with Pete DJ Jones. He also talks about the importance of funk music and bands like the Incredible Bongo Band.

Herc cocncludes this first segment by talking about Hip Hop’s early emcees including his own crew member Coke La Rock. Herc also talks about his other crew members including Timmy Tim.

He talks about the role DJ Hollywood played in Hip Hop. He also gives major praise to Mele-Mel and his brother Kid Creole for inventing the style of rap we all embrace to this day.

You can stream or downlaod this Kool Herc interview
by going here:
Stream or download this interview by going here:
http://www.swift.fm/mrdaveyd/song/56812/

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner