THE VERY LONG STORY OF HOW I BECAME A DJ

This is an extremely long winded account of just about every thing that ever happened in the last few decades which contributed to me becoming a DJ. I don’t claim to be anyone of significance in the grand scheme of things. I was merely a working DJ who made people dance and got to cross paths with some very talented individuals. Through my mixes, I’ve been fortunate enough to make connections with people all over the world. I’m not sure why anyone would want to read all of this, but I feel compelled to write it anyway. I think I just want to get it all down while I still remember it, if only to have some sort of record of my experiences. How I got from there to here. Perhaps some of it will be relevant to somebody, somewhere. Maybe someone with a similar dream of being a DJ. Maybe even you.

KICK IT LIVE FOR 85

The first 12″ I ever bought was Just Ice‘s “Latoya” (Fresh Records, 1986). This was the very first piece to the puzzle.

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I had no idea how to DJ, nor did I have any equipment other than a Sanyo belt-driven turntable, but I knew that one day, some day, I wanted to be a DJ. 

I’m not sure where I even got the idea to be a DJ. At the time, I was mostly in to hardcore punk and a bit of heavy metal. Big Misfits fan. Metallica. Poison Idea. Minor Threat. Negative Approach. Etc. I sang for a Hard core band named Sluggo and I published my own punk fanzine. Black music was barely even on my radar. Let me rewind a bit.

I guess I started to get bored with hardcore punk around 1985. It felt like it had lost its edge. Too many doofus kids at my school were walking through the halls carrying Clash albums, and there were even punk rockers on Quincy for god’s sake. My band was breaking up. Lee Ving from Fear guest starring on CHiPS may have been the last straw. I’m not sure. Being a doofus kid in my own right, I had firmly established myself as a contrarian. So I suppose I was looking music that scared people and made them want to cover their ears.

It was around this time, in about January of 1985, my good friend Neil Aquino appeared on my doorstep. He had just walked 3 miles from his house to share with me his new LPs, Run DMC’s “King of Rock” and the Fat Boys first album. “Julian, my friend” he declared “These are the two of the finest albums you will ever hear, and you have to tape them right now!” And so it began.

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My inspiration for wanting to be a DJ came from two people: Jam Master Jay (RIP) and Mix Master Ike.

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Jam Master Jay was all over MTV, and he seemed like a cool fucking dude. A brother that clearly understood the power of loud guitars.

Mix Master Ike (aka Gary Miller) was pretty much the only DJ in my high school. He was more goofy than he was cool, but he was a DJ. He started throwing parties and performing at school talent shows with his crew around 1985 or so. I used to stand off to the side and just watch with amazement, hoping that one day I could do what he did. I suppose I roller skated to Sugarhill Gang in the late 70s, but so did everybody else. This new Hip Hop was something very different. What little Hip Hop I could hear was via MTV, BET, and local radio. Run DMC, Whodini, LL Cool J, etc. The biggest underground jam to reach the midwest was probably Slick Rick’s “Lad Di Da Di” – and you best believe that was my shit.

There was only one record store in Cincinnati that specialized in dance 12″s. Can’t remember the name of it, but it was up on Vine Street near the University, next to a Gold Star Chili. I would go in there to browse, but I had no idea what to buy, as there was very little hip hop being played on the radio and I didn’t know one other person who liked it besides Neil.

With no underground Hip Hop conduit to be found in Cincinnati, I just started randomly buying records on hunches. I knew “Fresh” was a “hip hop word”, so I bought “Fresh Is the Word” by Mantronik. I knew “posse” was a hip hop word, so I bought some record by Mikey D & The L.A. Posse. It was very hit or miss. This is how I ended up with that Just Ice record, because the label was called Fresh Records, so I figured it must be good, by which I mean it must be FRESH. Lo and behold, it was STUPID FRESH. As you can imagine, I soon discovered there wasn’t always a guaranteed direct correlation between the title of a song and how good the music actually was – but I was getting hooked nonetheless. 



I started practicing scratching in my bedroom at night with the handful of records I had acquired. I sucked. I sucked big time.

I even tried making mix tapes with my cassette deck, before I even knew what a “pause tape” was. I also had this weird dual cassette deck. For some reason, it only had one record head, so when you recorded on to a cassette that already had music on it, it simply overdubbed on top, like a double exposed negative in a camera. I would record a beat, then rewind and record scratches on top of the beat. Problem was, you couldn’t monitor what was already on the tape, so you just kind of had to guess where the beat was and hope it came out great. It never did. It came out absolutely awful. Still, I used to do this for hours and hours, as I simply didn’t know any better, and I was too shy to go up to Mixmaster Ike and ask him to teach me.

After I graduated high school, I decided I simply had to move to New York so that I could become a world famous Hip Hop DJ. As luck would have it, the only art school that accepted me was Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. The only thing cooler and more Hip Hop than New York City was Brooklyn itself, so off I went.

BROOKLYN 1987

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Pratt was located in Fort Greene – a beautiful tree-lined section of Brooklyn that had been a black middle class enclave of sorts since before the turn of the century. This was 1987, and the city was reaching the peak of the crack epidemic. Drug dealing had taken its toll on the neighborhood. Some streets remained beautiful stretches of Brownstones, while others were littered with dilapidated tenements, with crack heads and hookers in plain sight. Some of the city’s more notorious housing projects bordered the neighborhood on all sides. Crack vials filled every crevice of every sidewalk on every block. Street battles were being waged nightly on Fulton and Myrtle. Drug dealers fighting over turf. Robberies. Murders. The rattle of automatic weapon fire was commonplace after sundown, with Uzis and 9mms handguns the weapons of choice. Yet during the day, it was still sort of a great place to live.

This was an odd place for an art school filled with predominantly white, middle class kids, that’s for sure, but there we were anyway. Most of the students came straight from the burbs, and most had no clue how to navigate an urban environment. Muggings were rampant. A freshman was shot in the face and killed in September (see above). The murder happened 30 feet from the main gate. The post headline read: “Slain Student Not In Arkansas Anymore” or something clever like that. She was from Little Rock and had been in NY less than a week. Dudes used to line up and to take turns mugging Pratt students outside the neighborhood’s only ATM. One guy was famous for his skill at concealing a rather large sawed off shotgun in his jacket. A friend of mine was shot at point blank range because he forgot about a crumpled up $20 bill he had in his pocket during a robbery. Shit was mad real, son!

As for me, I escaped pretty much unscathed. Got chased a few times, and robbed on the train once, but overall I was OK. I had grown up getting chased by kids for my bike or my skateboard or being white or whatever, so I already had a sixth sense about such things, and a prerequisite 2 block stare in all directions to spot incoming hoods.

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Despite all that drama, Brooklyn was everything a young aspiring DJ had hoped it would be. Fulton Mall had a handful of record stores with all the latest jams. NY radio was alive every Friday and Saturday night with live mix shows from Chuck Chillout, Mr. Magic, and Red Alert. I started taping radio shows religiously, especially Red Alert. 

This was right around the time Public Enemy was breaking. I had listened to “Public Enemy #1″, their first single, about 1000 times that summer. I think the first PE 12″ I bought on vinyl was “Rebel w/o a Pause”. I distinctly remember sitting in my dorm room one day, blasting that track, and having my Resident Advisor storm in to my room screeching “THIS IS THE WORST POSSIBLE SOUND I HAVE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE!!!“



“Eureka!” I thought. Finally I had found the music that average Joes hated even more than punk rock. Surely I was on to something.

I didn’t get my hands on real turntables until my second year of college. The school had a makeshift AM radio station with equipment from the late 1960s. I signed up for a radio show as soon as I could, under the moniker DJ Mixx Fixx. I had amassed about one crate of records by that time; a mix of hip hop, dancehall reggae, P-Funk, Go-go, and James Brown.

I had been listening to Hip Hop DJs so much that I thought I had pretty much had the DJ thing figured out. All I needed was access to equipment and I would be GREAT. You can imagine how wrong I was.

I remember proudly marching in to the radio station for my first show. My big lead off was going to be a spellbinding blend of Zapp‘s “More Bounce To The Ounce” and EPMD‘s “You Gots To Chill”. I knew the latter sampled the former, so surely this would be an easy blend. I had no idea that pitch control even existed, or any notion that a sample might not be kept at its original tempo. This was all moot, as the 1963 radio station turntables didn’t even have pitch control to begin with. I set it off with the Zapp record. I soon let the EPMD disk fly. WTF is that galloping sound? Why does this mix sound so incredibly WACK?? Oh shit, I’M ON THE AIR! My first train wreck. Egads! So embarrassing. I realized I had A LOT to learn. Little did I know just how much. 

Despite my disastrous debut, I kept doing the radio show; putting blending on the backburner for the time being.

A friend of mine offered me a work study job on the school Tech Crew (basically, the fucking AV squad from high school). They did sound for all the school events: lectures, comedy nights, and DJ parties. They had a really sweet Bose sound system with huge bass cabinets and 1200s and the whole nine. So I all of a sudden found myself with easy access to real equipment.

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I started practicing like mad. Within a few months I was borrowing the school’s sound system for blow out parties in my dorm room. The theme for the parties was “FREE JAMES BROWN”, as he was doing time for almost killing a guy that used his private bathroom. 

 

I was playing all sorts of shit. Trouble Funk‘s “Pump Me Up”. Salt N Pepa‘s “Shake Yo Thang”. Parliament‘s “Aqua Boogie”. Funkadelic‘s “Knee Deep”. Audio 2. De La Soul. Public Enemy. Classic rock like Hendrix‘s “Third Stone From the Sun” and Janis Joplin‘s “Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)”. Lots of Shabba Ranks, Admiral Bailey, Supercat, and other dancehall. Bob Marley. Whatever. The crowd was mixed (a rare thing at that school), and everybody was incredibly drunk, so they were open to just about anything.

The parties were a huge success and my roommate and I soon moved them off campus, sneaking the sound system out at night and setting up in neighboring brownstones and backyards in Fort Greene & Bed Stuy. 

As a result of the Free James Brown parties, I built a little rep for myself and I started meeting the other DJs on campus. There were about 4 or 5 of us. We started getting together to practice scratching and blending and other tricks of the trade. Everybody was in to Hip Hop, RnB, Reggae, and house. You really couldn’t DJ in Brooklyn without repping all four.

My boy K-Groove turned me on to house music. He was from Bridgeport and had been DJing since high school. He would play me Marshall Jefferson and Joe Smooth and whatever other Chicago house he was buying. All the Trax records. New stuff coming out of NY. We started doing parties together here and there for the Black Student Union and the West Indian Student club, and other school functions. 

It was around this time, 1989 or so, that I started collecting records. I had an old friend from high school, Valentine, who had started collecting funk and soul records in high school. He started sending me cassette tapes compilations of P-Funk and Zapp and Stevie Wonder and The Ohio Players and all sorts of shit. One time he sent me 14 Sun Ra albums on 7 cassettes that he had painted all white with no titles. Imagine hearing 14 Sun Ra albums for the first time at the age of 19.

I started digging around the local stoop sales and finding tons of great records. This was before digging was really a phenomenon, so you never paid more than $10 for anything. Usually less. I also started hanging around this used record store on Myrtle Ave. called B-Side Music. I struck a deal with Estefano, the owner, in which I would do his graphics and he would pay me in vinyl. He turned me on to a lot of old breaks and all kinds of interesting shit. At the same time the other Pratt DJs and I were constantly hanging out and expanding our knowledge in all genres of black music.

TRIGGA HAPPY MEETS FRUITPIE THE MAGICIAN

During the summer of 1990 I hooked up with some other students to form a rap group, Trigga Happy. We were on some straight up gangsta type gun lyrics. The group consisted of me, Tec 9, Kas Nice, and Smooth Germ.

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Tec 9′s real name was Kelly Glusovitch, the half-black half-Serbian son of a well known 60s Jazz singer named Terri Thornton.

Kas Nice’s real name was Mateo Mulcare (RIP). He was a huge kid from St. Thomas who basically scared the shit out of white people. His name was originally an acronym for Krushing All Suckas, which suited his 6’2″, 275 build just fine. Then he changed it to Kas Is Nice, which later got shortened to Kas Nice. Hanging out with him was a real eye-opener for me, as you would literally see people cross the street a block away, just to avoid being in his path.

Smooth Germ was a crazy-ass buckwild kid from Crown Heights. His name was Jermel and he was the first cat I ever knew to use that “shiznit” type of speech. This was about 5 years before Snoop Dog even appeared, mind you. He put an “IZ” in the middle of almost every word. Basically, he was just bugged the fuck out.

I was the DJ and also the producer (if you can call it that), since I had access to not only a kick-ass mobile sound system, but also a rudimentary sampler and a 4-track cassette recorder that the radio station owned.


 

I had been going by the name DJ Mixx Fixx since sophomore year, but I was looking for something more original. One day I was at the corner bodega and I got the bonehead idea of calling myself FRUITPIE THE MAGICIAN, after the animated spokesman for Hostess fruitpies. In our next Trigga Happy studio session, I boldly declared my name change, mostly as a joke. I was trying to get a reaction from my boys, thinking that they would not stand for such a silly fucking name in such a gangsta fucking rap group. This plan backfired, big time. They thought the name was so hilarious that they INSISTED I keep it. Oops. Not only did this name stick with me for the next four years, but I also quickly discovered that absolutely NOBODY got the Hostess Fruitpie reference. I might as well have called myself DJ FAGGOT, for all intents and purposes. Oh well. I had a sense of humor, I suppose, so I lived with it. To this day, every time I see Bobbito Garcia he yells out “FRUITPIE!.

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We put some demos together and started trying to get gigs and get noticed. We did some local parties, and amateur night in Queens, and a handful of memorable gigs in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The first was opening up for KRS One at Wetlands (see above), a Manhattan nightclub that I was actually working for as a busboy The gig was a party that KRS’ brother ICU was throwing. ICU was a cool dude. Pretty fucking crazy, but a nice guy. He always hung around this real tall guy named Tree. They were permanent fixtures at every downtown reggae or hip hop party. We used to call them “ICU and Tree Get In Free” because they never wanted to pay there way in to anything. Kas got us the gig, as he knew KRS from spitting a verse with him on another rapper’s track (this up and coming dude named Larry-O, from the Bronx). Kas had also built a solid street rep in Brooklyn, battling kids on corners and in ciphers throughout the borough.

The gig went great, and we were immediately approached afterwards by some strange character named Jerome, who offered to manage Trigga Happy. He was really loud and aggressive, dressed kind of like a pimp, and had a demeanor that was not unlike some kind of gangster. He took Kelly’s number and told us he’d be in touch. We all thought “Wow. It’s really happening! We’re gonna be superstars!”

A couple of days later, Jerome calls Kelly and requests a meeting at his office in East New York. Kelly takes the train way out to the middle of nowhere and ends up at the address given, in some weird run down storefront space that, according to Kelly, looked more like a hideout than a place of business. There is nobody there but Jerome. He escorts Kelly back in to his office, which is almost pitch black except for a few scented candles. This is in the middle of the day, mind you. He tells Kelly that, lo and behold, he had already procured us a gig. A gig at The Palladium no less, for the following Thursday. “THE PALLADIUM? You gotta be kidding!” Kelly blurted out. The Palladium was a legendary NY club. They even shot MTV’s “The Grind” there LOL. Jerome insisted it was true, but then added that all the details were top secret, and we should just show up at 3pm. The top secret thing was a bit odd, but whatever. Who’s going to turn down a gig at the freaking Palladium?

Then things took a turn for the strange. Jerome hands Kelly a tube of skin lotion and insists that he rub some on his hands. Kelly is like WTF, but didn’t want to offend our new manager who seemed quite adamant about the use of hand lotion. So Kelly starts lubing up as Jerome starts asking him all kinds of weird questions about how often he works out and what his girlfriend is like. You can see where this is going. Kelly gets all freaked out and promptly makes up an excuse for having to leave. He leaps up and practically runs out the door. Jerome seemed annoyed, but let him go, reminding him tat we are to show up at the Palladium at 3pm on Thursday. 

Kelly relayed the story upon his return. It was so weird, we really didn’t know what to think, yet the gig sounded incredible, so we agreed to show up and see what happened.

BUM RUSH THE SHOW

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We arrive at the Palladium that Saturday, not knowing what to expect. All we knew was that 3pm was a really weird time for a Hip Hop show. Then we saw the marquee. It read:
Special benefit performance:
Run DMC
Whodini
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Lord Finesse
Spiderman
The Secret Garden
Special guest Vice President Dan Quayle

Dan Quayle? The Secret Garden? Spiderman? WTF?

We get inside and find Jerome. It was soon revealed to us that the event was a free show for homeless kids from New York City shelters. Dan Quayle was the guest speaker, which was the reason for all the secrecy. The FBI had dogs and bomb teams sweeping the entire club. There were people and dogs running around everywhere. It was chaos.

We were dumbfounded. I guess we were thrilled to be performing with Run DMC and Whodini. But Spiderman? The Secret Garden? It was all too weird.

They showed us the schedule. There were a few other no-name acts like us. We were going on 3rd, right after Spiderman. Jerome then casually points out that, since this is a show for kids, we cannot curse or mention guns of any kind. Huh? Cursing and guns was pretty much our whole act. WTF! We were in a panic. We ran in to Lord Finesse and asked him if he had been given the same restrictions. “Ahh yeah, man, my manager told me weeks ago. My show is tight. No cursing or none of that mess”. He seemed quite relaxed. We felt like idiots.

We huddled together in a panic trying to do a last minute re-write of the lyrics as packs of wild-ass homeless kids started filing in.

Whodini / 3rd Bass/ Lord Finesse

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These kids were out of control. They ranged in age from 5 to about 15. As soon as they got inside, they started running around, hooting and hollering like crazy and badly in need of some Ritalin. Clearly, these kids didn’t get out much.

To make matters worse, the event was sponsored by Skittles candy, so there were gigantic oil drums filled with Skittles every 30 feet, and kids were practically diving in, face first.

The show begins with a long speech by some city politician. Dan Quayle hadn’t shown up yet. The kids were loud as hell, running around like mad and paying almost no attention to their guardians or the people on the stage. Then some R and B act goes on. The kids feigned interest for a moment, then quickly returned to their former unruly state. Then a rap group performed, and got a slightly better reception. We were next.

As we were walking towards the stage, the stage manager blocks our path and tells us they are behind schedule and we’re being bumped until later. WTF? 

Lord Finesse goes on and gets a warm reception. Third Base is next, and they turned it out.

Next is a guy in a Spiderman costume. He comes out on stage and just stands there making Spidey-like motions as a recording tells the story of Spiderman. It was really bizarre. He was standing in place, kind of crouching, pretending to be shooting webs up in to the air. He kind of out of shape and the costume was a bit baggy. He looked like a really shitty mime. It was pathetic. The kids booed him. Harsh.

Then Whodini comes out and rocks it. I had never seen them live, so I was loving it. The kids went crazy. Yet it was getting later and later.

We kept bugging the stage manager about going on and he kept telling us to sit tight and wait. He was also being pretty damn rude about it, too.

Then they announce a special performance by some kid from the Broadway musical “The Secret Garden“. This little 10 year old white boy comes out dressed like a little fancy lad - with a big ribbon around his neck. By this time, the kids in the audience were just an angry Skittle-fueled mob.

As soon as one high note from this kid’s sweet voice filled the air, it started raining Skittles. Half the audience was booing loudly and the other half were beaning him square in the head with a barrage of colored candy. It was fucking HILARIOUS. For the first verse or two, he kept his composure, trying to sing his heart out while Skittles kept bouncing off his face and body. He looked really scared and he was about to cry. We were all on the floor laughing. It was wonderful. He cut his song short after the second chorus and ran off stage in a relentless hail of boos and Skittles. Wow.

Dan Quayle was a no-show, and it was getting late, so by this time we were getting really nervous that we were just gonna get completely dissed and not perform at all. We kept bugging the stage manager, who was getting more and more annoyed with me.

Run DMC goes on and kills it. They had the kids jumping up and down, singing all the lyrics. It was hot. They do about five songs and they’re done.

The stage manager tells us we’ve got 10 minutes. 

This was it. Our big moment. I was to the right of the stage, running the DAT player from the soundboard. My boys took the stage and started doing their thing. I don’t know if it was us, or if the crowd was still so hyped from Run DMC, but they were really in to it. It was amazing. We finish one song and go right in to the next. Everything’s perfect. Yet the soundman kept getting orders on his walkie talkie to cut the show, because they were out of time. There was all sorts of walkie talkie chatter about time being up, and union rules, and the banter was starting to get heated. I was pleading with the soundman to let us complete our three songs.

Finally, he’s had enough and he tells me he’s pulling the plug any second. We were just starting the third song and the crowd was with us. The soundman finally says “screw this!” and kills the power on the soundboard. Immediate silence. My crew is left standing on stage, looking like idiots. The kids start booing. The Skittles are next.

KAS looks over and yells “WHAT THE FUCK, DUKE?!” (we called everybody Duke back then). He goes crazy and throws his microphone to the ground, smashing it to pieces. The sound guys freak out. KAS starts rushing over to the soundboard to give the soundman a beating. As I mentioned before, Kas was a big mother fucker. Dude like him starts running at you, you better get to stepping. The soundman does just that, trying to get out from behind the board while he’s yelling “SECURITY! SECURITY!” Now it’s a full on incident.

Bouncers and FBI agents come running from all sides and everyone is yelling. Kas is all up in everybody’s face and the three of us are trying to restrain him. We were all about to catch a serious beatdown from the bouncers, and maybe even the FBI. Probably get arrested to. Bad scene.

From the corner of my eye I notice an EXIT sign 15 feet away. We rush Kas to the exit, which leads to a fire escape on Thirteenth street. We all go barreling down the stairs with the bouncers close behind. We reach the street and the bouncers get called back. “You fuckers come in here ever again and you’re fucking DEAD!” Okay then.

Our gay manager Jerome stopped calling after that.

We spent the rest of the year making demos and trying to get a record deal but nothing was happening. We did one more gig in Bushwick Park, that was even more of a disaster and more of a life threatening situation than The Palladium, but that is a long story. Maybe I’ll post it in the future.

Eventually the group fizzled and we went our separate ways. KAS went on to ghost write for other rappers before he started a car magazine called PLUSH. Tec 9 had 4 kids and became a school teacher. He also has a barber shop in West Hollywood. I ran in to Smooth Germ on the street this year and he was working some kind of 9 to 5.

WETLANDS 1990

During all of this time I was going to school and working a few nights a week as a busboy at Wetlands. I slowly weasled my way in to a few last minute DJ gigs there, thanks to Walter Durkacz, who booked the club. Walter is a NYC DJ perhaps best known for his days at places like Danceteria and The World. He had a vast knowledge of music and he was kind enough to give my first big break, the opening set for Brand Nubian‘s first Manhattan show. Brand Nubian, at the time, were RUNNING the streets in NY, so this was an incredible opportunity.

Brand Nubian, Wetlands 1991 / Jay Z, Clark Kent, DJ Scratch
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I set up on stage and had just about every famous DJ in the Hip Hop staring me down as I played. Two of my personal heroes, Clark Kent and DJ Scratch (pictured above with Jay Z), stood 2 feet in front of me, arms folded, frowning silently. The pressure was fucking intense, but I made it through. After the opening act, I got back on and played Kenny Dope’s “Blood Vibes” which was my new shit and pretty much thee brand new underground tune of the moment. Clark Kent came running up to me from the other side of the club and exclaimed “that was the PERFECT record for you to play right now, B!! You KILLIN’ EM!!” . I was fucking THRILLED. After that he stopped frowning – and is mad cool with me to this day. I also remember doing a blend of the dub from JVC Force’s “Strong Island” and the stripped down version of Eric B and Rakim’s “The Ghetto”. I had practiced it at home, so the both choruses lined up perfectly. This way, one record would say “Strong Island”, then Rakim would answer “nobody’s smilin’”. Dope.

I really felt like I had accomplished something that night: going from a complete nobody, know-nothing, white kid in Cincinnati to opening up for Brand Nubian in New York City, the Mecca of Hip Hop. I gotta say, it felt fucking great.

Meanwhile, the Sub Zero partiesKelly & I were throwing in Brooklyn were going so well that we decided to try our hand at doing them in Manhattan. We found a club, Bar Room 432, that offered us a trial Thursday night thanks to a mutual friend. The club was a divey joint in the Meat Packing district, which was pretty much deserted at night in those days, except for a handful of gay clubs. It was best known for a party called Jackie 60, which was full of trannies, like the neighborhood.

The party got off to a great start and I started inviting other DJs to play with me. People like Goldfinger, a mix-tape DJ from Brooklyn, and Rob Kenner, a white dancehall DJ from Chicago with a downtown following of reggae heads.

The parties fizzled out in less than a year, but I learned a lot about promoting, and I finally felt really comfortable DJing for any kind of crowd.

DEEP HOUSE AFTER HOURS DISCO CLASSICS 1991

A bouncer at Wetlands hired me to DJ Saturday nights, playing deep house, at his new after hours club, Japan. I barely knew anything about house besides Soho‘s “Hot Music”, Ce Ce Peniston, Ceybil, and the old Chicago stuff we used to play at Pratt. I started going to Vinylmania on Carmine St. in Manhattan and buying as much house as I could afford. Bobby Konders’ “the Poem” was the Brooklyn house anthem at the time, so that was the sort of sound I started digging for. Dubby. Instrumental. Not a lot of vocals. Lots of Nu Groove records. Strictly Rhythm. Masters At Work.  This was right around the time that Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” came out. So I was mostly playing the underground house from New York and New Jersey that would later come to define that sound and frame the golden era o Deep House.

The club itself was a seedy, coke-infested, den of sin run by my bouncer friend and his shady-ass partners, some gangsters from the Brooklyn Jewish mafia.

We opened at 3am and closed around 10am, Thursday – Sunday. The crowd was a bizarre mix of drugged up club kids, west village gay boys, trannies, strippers, hookers, and drug dealers.

Despite the mob paying off the local cops as much as possible, the club still got raided all the time. This was right after the Happyland Social club fire, so the city was really cracking down. This was when things got really difficult for clubs in NYC. They remain that way too this day.

Japan had a weird system for dealing with Police raids: There was a small, un-used table lamp next to the turntables. When the lamp all of a sudden illuminated, the DJ knew the cops were rushing the door upstairs. I had about 8 seconds to rip off the dance record that was playing, and put on a slow jam that would immediately bring the dance floor to a screeching halt.

The Bartenders had the same amount of time to dump their one bottle of vodka down the drain, grab the cash out of the drawer, and leap out from behind the bar, blending in with the crowd. The bar only had one bottle of vodka because vodka was all they served. They charged $10 for a screwdriver. The whole bottle of vodka cost $6.99, so they were making a killing. The club would keep a case of vodka in the trunk of a car parked down the block. The bus boy would fill up the 2 Litre with vodka on the street and bring it inside to the bar. When it was empty, the bar would be on pause for 10 minutes while he went back outside and filled it up again. This way, they could usually dump what little liquid there was in the club before the cops got downstairs.

The cops would rush down the stairs to find a club full of people standing around listening to slow jams, with no drinks being served, no dancing, and virtually no employees other than the bouncers and me, the DJ. For some reason the cops always let me walk, while the bouncers got arrested.

The other DJs who played Thursdays and Fridays were way out of my league. Mark Kamins (RIP), a NYC vet who produced Madonna’s first record, the first Beastie Boys, Our House by Madness, among many others), and Keoki, the superstar house DJ from Limelight. Somehow I managed to keep up with them and learn what I could listening to them spin. This place was not only my first introduction to seedy after hours clubs and the house music they played, but also my first real introduction to what NYers call “disco classics“.

Mark Kamins
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The owner’s brother had been a DJ in the 80s, and he kept a crate of dusty old classics in the closet that he would drag out for me to play with. When he wasn’t doing blow in the bathroom with strippers, he was sitting in the booth with me, handing me Cerrone records and Lime records and Roy Ayers records. This is when I first came to realize that disco had never really died.

Living in the Midwest, it was easy to think otherwise. The “Disco Sucks” movement, that culminated in the blowing up of thousands of disco records in Chicago’s Cominsky Park in 1979, seemed to mark the official end of disco. And even though there were plenty of R n B groups making uptempo songs in the 80s, long after disco’s official demise, a lot of that ever really got much radio play where I lived. Thanks to my exposure to some of these records at Japan, I started gradually expanding my collection. More pieces to the puzzle…

Meanwhile, Wetlands was a great place to work. Once I got bumped up to bartender I started meeting a lot of other DJs and local promoters and I really got to know the whole downtown scene a bit better. They were hosting a Monday party called “Soul Kitchen“, which was pretty much the best party in the city at the time. It had started at Brothers BBQ on Downing street, then moved around to a few clubs before settling in at Wetlands. It was full of hot chicks and cool celebrities and tons of DJs and MCs.

In my efforts to make friends with the cool kids, I got a little too liberal with giving away free drinks to every rapper on earth, so they fired me. This was in the Spring of 1991.

I got a new bartending job at Sybarite, a down-low, under the radar, underground club that had just opened on Wooster Street in Soho. You may know it from the Diggable Planets’ “Cool Like Dat” video. The building was owned by two Italian gangsters in the garbage business. They would come by occasionally with their mistresses, and we’d all have to make nice and stay open as late as they wanted. I began to understand that, despite being out of the headlines most of the time, the mafia still had their hand in most of NYC’s nightlife in one way or another. Real estate. Liquor. Garbage. Paying off the cops. Whatever. Any place there was room for corruption, you will find the mafia.

As luck would have it, Sybarite soon became host for a lot of cool downtown parties like Giant Step, Sugar Shack, and Vodu 155.

I started DJing there on occasion, first as a last-minute replacement, and later in regular rotation on the schedule. This is where I first met DJ Jules Gayton, who I would later DJ with for years and years.

One of the bouncers, Thiam, took a liking to my skills and was kind enough to get me a DJ gig at Lucky Strike, a neighborhood restaurant/bar that was a downtown staple and all-around great hang-out spot. The Lucky Strike gig lead to more and more restaurant and club gigs in Manhattan. Slowly, my DJ career was starting to take shape. 

The people whom I met at both Sybarite and Lucky Strike turned out to be the same people I would run in to in the downtown scene for years to come. Bouncers, bartenders, promoters, DJs, scenesters, you name it. Everyone came through these two places, and everyone always made sure they knew the DJ.

After Sybarite got closed by the city, I decided to try my hand at a day job. The night life was starting to wear on me a bit. Between DJing, bartending, and drinking excessively in bars and after hours clubs on my off nights, I barely saw any daylight whatsoever.

CHUNG KING HOUSE OF METAL

My good friend Spange told me she could get me an internship at Chung King studios, where she worked. Chung King was a recording studio on Centre street that had been rightfully dubbed “the Abbey Road of Hip Hop”. Almost every great Def Jam record ever made was recorded there, as well as tons and tons of other music. I was thrilled just to be around Hip Hop peoples.

My boss was John King, probably the closest thing to Kevin Spacey’s character in “Swimming With Sharks” that you can imagine. Totally fucking crazy and constantly screaming at everyone within earshot. Yet, despite all the yelling, I learned so many real, fundamental life lessons from this man. He was intensely smart and a ruthless business man. On top of that, I got to hang out with Wu-Tang Clan and Onyx and Leaders of the New School and Redman and Diamond D and Showbiz and Dres from Black Sheep and Diggable Planets and LL Cool J and Joey Ramone and just about every other East Coast rapper you can think of.

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OLD DIRTY BASTARD LIVE & UNCUT

Of all the groups that came through Chung King, Wu Tang was by far the most entertaining. This was a year or so after their debut album, so each of them was in the process of recording his solo record. I think Method Man  went first, then ODB. Whether all of Wu Tang showed up, or just one of them, they never arrived without an entourage of less than fifteen people. And not just fifteen normal people, mind you. Fifteen crazy fucking gangster kids from Staten Island. ODB and his whole crew were just a fucking train wreck.

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ODB’s manager was Buddha Monk, a loud, fat, obnoxious, just-don’t-give-a-fuck type kid from Brooklyn. He liked to eat. He liked to eat A LOT. He would order 5 pizzas for his whole crew, and when they arrived he would grab the first one and spit all over the pizza, so that nobody else would want a slice. Charming, really. They used to order chicken wings from Pluck U on Third street, then send their boys down to the lobby to rob the delivery man when he showed up. After the second robbery, Pluck U stopped delivering altogether.

ODB was the craziest of all. He was usually drunk or dusted or both and was just totally fucking insane. He was fond of threatening producers and engineers and other rappers in the studio. 


One night he was recording a guest verse on LL Cool J‘s “I Shot Ya”. Since he was crazy, and a dust head, and an egomaniac, he got all offended that LL hadn’t show up for the session. He got really belligerent and insisted that the engineer erase LL’s vocals entirely, so that he could record the whole song from scratch. The Producer, one of the Trackmasterz, tried to reason with him for about an hour. ODB just kept telling him he was gonnna kick his ass if he didn’t erase the track. Eventually, the producer was like “fuck this noise, I’m outta here!” and walked.

The engineer, fearing for his life, pretended to erase the tape and recorded ODB on a new track. ODB proceeded to rant incoherently for about 30 minutes. How I wish I would have saved that recording. Talk about priceless. It was like the angel dust-induced ghetto version of Jim Morrison’s “American Prayer”. After he was done, he ran out in to the lobby and started ripping LL’s gold albums off the wall, throwing them to the ground, and spiting on them. The entire staff literally hid in the office with the door locked until his tantrum subsided and he left the building. This was a normal ODB evening.

Working at Chung King, I learned a great deal about the music industry. Most of important of which was just how awful and ruthless it is. I watched group after group pour their hearts in to their entire album, only to have it shelved, and their careers forever frozen in contract limbo. For so many of these kids, rapping or singing was pretty much their one shot at a a decent life. Their one ticket out of poverty. And to see their dreams built up so high and then smashed to bits, simply for some record label’s tax break, was really heartbreaking. This happened more times than I can count. It really made me realize that the record label career I had been considering for a moment was definitely the wrong path. The music business has very little to do with music, and everything to do with business.

Back to DJing. While working at Chung King, I ran it to Lionel Bernard and his brother Constant. They were the two Haitian brothers from Brooklyn who had thrown the Vodu 155 parties at Sybarite. They had just recently started their party up again on Bond Street, and they were looking for another DJ. The party was a great mix of Haitians, other West Indians, and a smattering of downtown hipsters. The DJs were playing Hip Hop and Reggae and little bit of Haitian Ra Ra. They’d often bring in Haitian drummers for live performances and Lionel’s mother would cook traditional food for each event.

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I got down with them, dropping the Fruitpie name for good, and just going with “Julian”. By this time, my skills were really tight, and I could really destroy a room with Dancehall reggae inna Brooklyn style. Finally, I started to make a name for myself as a DJ in Manhattan.

Their band was also called Vodu 155, and they had a record deal on Island Records (see above). Same Bayer even directed their first video. Lionel was already an accomplished front man, having been the lead singer of NYC ska legends The Tosaters, and later with Unity 2.

I joined the band as the DJ, backing up 12 Haitian drummers, 2 lead vocalists, and 3 back up singers. Island records had promised us a big tour, opening up for a major act (U2 was mentioned), but that was never to be. Instead we rehearsed for 6 months and played a handful of gigs around NY, which included opening up for The Fugees at some college upstate, opening up for Biggie Smalls in Virginia Beach Coliseum, and doing Summer Stage in Central Park with Haitan super stars Boukan Ginen.

The band fizzled out within a year, partially from a lack of momentum, partially because the lead drummer was sleeping with all of the other back up singers except his wife, who was lead backup singer and a voodoo priestess. She started seriously putting Voodoo curses on mutha fuckas left and right. I discovered that there is no drama like Haitian voodoo drama. Shit is mad REAL to them.

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The Vodu155 party was an underground success and it managed to get me the attention of a few other promoters including Thiam, my bouncer friend from Sybarite a few years earlier. Thiam was now doing a party at Rebar on Sunday nights called “Soul Sunday Lounge” and he asked me to come by and check it out. 

The DJ for Soul Sunday Lounge was my Jules Gayton, who I also knew from the Sybarite days. I really liked the party, so I started hanging around the DJ booth every week, giving Jules breaks from time to time. We really hit it off, and eventually he was kind enough to put me on as a partner. The party moved around a bit, eventually settling at Don Hill’s on Greenwich Street. It quickly became one of the best Hip Hop nights in the city, and I was finally in a great position to showcase my skills and build a rep among the downtown clubbing elite. Every week was packed with downtown scenesters, breakers, skaters, actors, DJs, rappers, and night owls of all flavors. Jules and I were breaking new records and getting mad props, and the crowd was totally open to just about anything.

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Jules has amazing taste in music, and one of the greatest record collections I’ve ever seen. He turned me on to so much music I wouldn’t even know where to begin. His selections betrayed a true love of great music, and he was not afraid to take chances and bring the crowd up to his own vibe. He also taught me what I consider to be the single most important DJ lesson of all time: PLAY FOR THE WOMEN. Get the women on the dance floor, and everything else will work itself out. This is essential to being a great DJ in my opinion.

The big tunes at Rebar were stuff like Biggie Smalls’ “Dreams”, Brand Nubian‘s “Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down”, Grand Puba’s “Check It Out”, Method Man‘s “Bring The Pain”, Buju‘s “Walk Like a Champion” and Shabba Ranks‘ “Respect”.

Jules would always throw in some curve balls like Shirley Bassey‘s cover of “Light My Fire”, Womack and Womack‘s “Baby I’m Scared of You”, or War‘s “Flying Machine”. Stuff that other Hip Hop DJs simply would not play.

In the Don Hills’ days, some signature tunes were Smif n Wessun‘s “Sound Bwoy Burial“, Grand Puba’s “I Like It”, Mary J Blige’s “Be Happy”, Tracey Lee’s “The Theme”, Busta’s “Woo-Hah!”, and Capelton‘s “Wings of the Morning”.

There was a really thriving scene downtown in those days. A large extended family of promoters and DJs and parties that all fed off of each other. Parties like Sheets-n-Pillows, Soul Kitchen, Blow Pop, Giant Step, Bell Cafe, etc. DJs like Jules, Hiro, Stretch Armstrong, Jazzy Nice, Nastee, Cosi, Mateo Ruzon, Kaori, Chillfreez, Stormin Norman, Frankie Inglese, Mighty Mi, Nicodemus, Camelo, Derick Corley, Qool Marv, Eric Lapeau, Jeff Brown, Belinda, Greg Poole, Soulfinger Sam, Frank Delour, a young Mark Ronson, and a bunch of cats I know I’m forgetting. Everybody knew everybody, and we all went to each other’s parties when we weren’t DJing ourselves. I suppose there was a some competition and hateration here and there, but that was mostly between promoters. As DJs, we were all cool with each other. We had a fucking ball, and everybody made a little bit of money in the process. Some folks, like Mark Ronson in particular, made A LOT of money.

The Don Hills gig really put me on the map. After that, I could DJ just about anywhere. I played at just about every club in Manhattan, did tons of fashion shows, restaurants, lounges, movie premieres, promotional events, Howard Stern’s movie premiere at Madison Square Garden, all sorts of record release parties, corporate events, etc. etc. I was DJing about 4 nights a week and working days at EyeballNYC, doing graphics for television.

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Jules hooked me up with Vibe Magazine, and I kind of became their house DJ, doing a lot of Vibe events all over the country and touring with them throughout the East coast. They even had me DJ Quincy Jones’ birthday party one year, which was an incredible honor. I played nothing but Quincy joints all night and I got him to sign my copy of “Walking In Space”.

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Going on tour with Vibe magazine was a real trip. Three weeks on the road hitting colleges up and down the East Coast and a bit of the midwest. We had a few hip hop groups and bands rotating in and out during the tour, people like Supernatural (NY freestyle king) and Dionne Ferris & her band (from Arrested Development). Some gigs were great, some of them were complete disasters.

The tour was sponsored by The Discovery Card, and it was basically a scam to sign up college kids for credit cards they could never afford. As a result of the sponsorship being credit-related, Vibe had booked each gig through the “accounting club” of the specific schools. Not the black student union. Not some student events organization. It was the nerds. Sadly, these nerds had no idea how to throw a party. Sometimes we would show up to some campus and pull up near the quad, where thousands of kids were hanging out, and we’d be like “Wow, they really have a crowd for us here! This gig is gonna be great!” Then the accounting club nerd would show up and say “Oh, you’re not gonna set up here. See those tennis courts waaaay on the other side of that pond? yeah, you need to park over there behind those trees” We did a gig in Oswego where the audience was ALL ducks. I Swear to God. It was a bit pathetic at times, but some of the gigs were actually fun. Temple University in Philly, a tailgate party at Howard’s homecoming, etc.

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The funniest thing about the whole tour was the surreal sleeping arrangments. Vibe had cut some deal with Red Roof Inns, so we stayed in a different Red Roof Inn every night. The thing about Red Roof Inn is that almost every one of them is exactly identical. They have some basic layout that they implement whenever possible. And most of them are out in middle of nowhere, on the outskirts of town, right off of some highway exit. So every single night we were staying in the exact same room as the night before, in the exact same motel. To make things even weirder, all Red Roof Inns had HBO, and the movie playing that month was Groundhog Day. So every single night you would go back to your room and turn on Groundhog Day, which is of course about re-living the same day over and over. It was fucking surreal.

Despite all that, the tour was a lot of fun, and it was very good money for the time, at least for me. It also gave me a taste of what touring was really like. I met some cool kids too. I brought tons of mixtapes that I had planned to sell, but I ended up giving most of them away, cuz so many of these kids were so clearly starving for hip hop I felt bad charging them money for it.

I returned to NY and continued DJing for Vibe almost monthly for the next few years. Their parties were often after-work promotional events, so quite often I would go to work until 6, DJ a Vibe gig until 10pm, then DJ at a club until 4am.

AND THEN IT STARTED SUCKING

Towards the end of the 90s, the music began to shift, at least from my perspective. Hip Hop, that was once something cool and underground and shunned by the big clubs, became WAY too popular. The parties that were once filled with people you’d actually want to hang out with were now getting over-run with outer-borough thugs, low-level gangsters, knucklehead bridge and tunnel types, fake-ass promoters, and cheesy fucking celebrities.

I’ll never forget DJing at The Tunnel and watching some stupid suburban kid standing on a speaker, with his crew of Jersey white boys, miming the lyrics to Tupac’s “Hail Mary” like he was some kind of gansta. It was embarrassing. The genie was definitely out of the bottle. Hip Hop was now main stream, and the new Hip Hop generation was pretty fucking scary from where I stood. 

We were all making more money, I suppose, but the parties and the crowds just started sucking. Jules’ Monday night at Cheetah, which was thee party for years after Don Hills had fizzled, was now mostly just a nightmare.

The crowds were just getting angrier and angrier. Everybody wanted to be a thug, and nobody could afford the champagne Jay-Z had convinced them to buy, so they were angry, and fights became constant. Trifling chickenheads came out of the woodwork to mooch off of broke-ass mutha fuckaz and things just started going downhill, fast.

Crowds also kinda stopped dancing in New York. They would dance, I guess, but only to the top 25 radio tracks. It was getting harder and harder to play a diverse set as a hip hop DJ, so it was getting harder and harder to remain enthusisatsic about being a DJ at all, at least for me.

BOTTLE SERVICE: TWIST THE KNIFE DEEPER

To make things worse, the whole champagne bottle service/VIP bullshit was just starting to catch on. If I had to blame one guy for this, it would be Steve Lewis, formerly the GM of The Limelight during their heyday. After Limelight closed, he became the GM of the new club LIFE that opened on Bleecker Street in 1998. He was the first guy to pair VIP rooms with Hip Hop. Other promoters like Noel Ashman were also doing this, but I recall Steve being the first. So he put Hip Hop DJs in the VIP room at Life. Mark Ronson did Fridays and I did Saturdays. The money was good, but the crowd was mostly awful. It was 24/7 douche bags and the entourage they rode in with. In the summer, he would move the party to the Hamptons on the weekend. There, the truly rich got a taste of what hip hop and bottle service tasted like. Clubs across the country soon followed suit and the rest is history.

To add insult to injury, even the music started to suck. From the late 80s thru the mid-90s, being a Hip Hop DJ was great, because you never had to play a bad song. There was so much great music. And since Hip Hop was still not quite mainstream American pop culture, your crowd still had relatively good taste. They weren’t in to top 40, they were heads.

Once Hip Hop became top 40, everything changed. Everything changed because the masses, in general, have lousy fucking taste. Yet it was the masses that were now dictating what hip hop song was popular, and you only have to tune on the radio on any given day to see what kind of results that has yielded us.

BACKPACK IT UP PACK IT IN

There’s another factor worth mentioning, and that is the great schism between mainstream Hip Hop and indie Hip Hop, also known as “underground Hip Hop” or “backpacker Hip Hop”. Prior to the late 90s, indie Hip Hop was not really even a separate genre. Indie Hip Hop was simply Hip Hop on an independent label that hadn’t quite hit it big yet. Yet it always had that potential. And it had potential for club airplay because it was still dance music – just as Hip Hop had always been.

Then along came Wu Tang Clan. I blame Wu Tang as the root cause of the great schism for two reasons:

1) They made totally weird, original music; with unorthodox flows that bordered on freeform conspiracy rants.

2) They really wore the term “underground” as a badge of honor. They bragged about it constantly.

 None of those things are a bad thing, mind you, but it was their legions of inspired (mostly white boy) followers that took those two elements to heart, whilst disregarding one of the founding principles of Hip Hop: IT’S PARTY MUSIC. At least it used to be.

Wu-Tang, however, struck the perfect balance. They made banging fucking tracks that were truly like nothing anyone had ever heard before. These kids that followed in their footsteps didn’t care if anyone ever danced again. They wanted to be hard. It seemed like the Wu’s successors just wanted to find the craziest sample they could, and cram as many fucking words in to a sentence as possible, while bragging about being underground. My #1 example of this would be Company Flow. Maybe the schism is technically their fault. Don’t get me wrong. They made some interesting shit, no doubt, but did anyone want to hear that shit in a club? Not really. Were those party records the way “Eric B Is President” was  party record? Hellz no.

And from there, it was all downhill. If you wanted to stay in the bigger clubs, where women actually danced and DJs made decent money, you left the indie shit at home and you put the top 40 shit in your crate and you called your cab. And thanks to Hip Hop now being top 40, what was left in your crate was Jermaine Dupri and Jay-Z and DMX and the sleeping giant known as “dirty south” music. It didn’t help that Swizz Beats and Master P were determined to bring the tempos back down to 72 bpm either.

RETIREMENT #1

This is right about the time I said “Fuck this, I’m done”. I had a good run, but once I stopped enjoying the music and the people, I figured the writing was on the wall. So I decided to do one last gig and go out with a bang.

As luck would have it, Mark Ronson (who by this time had seriously blown the fuck up) called me up with just such a gig: The Millennium New Year’s Eve at Studio 54 with Grace Jones. Holy Shit. That was perfect.

The whole city of New York was in a mild state of panic in the weeks preceding. Not only was the local media convincing us there would almost certainly be some large scale terrorist attack, but the whole world was half convinced that the Y2K bug was going to bring civilization to a grinding halt at midnight. “Fuck it” I thought. At least I’ll be DJing when the whole ship goes down.

The party was truly off the hook. Jimmy Iovine, head of Interscope records, had booked the event. He was coming off his huge year in which Eminem had taken over the world. He really wanted to out-floss every other party on planet earth, and he spared no expense in doing so. It was by far the most decadent display of wealth I have ever been witness to. Table upon table piled high with lobster and caviar and oysters and chocolate-covered strawberries and cheesecake and you name it. As much Cristal champagne as you could drink. Whenever you went to the bar, they simply handed you as many bottles as you could carry, free of charge. It was insane. He hired the actual FBI to do security, and he had the city shut down the entire block. There were velvet ropes on 8th and 9th avenues and if you weren’t on the list you couldn’t even get on the block. Every other person in the room was a celebrity.

Playing my last gig to people like Dennis Hopper and Harvey Keitel and Diamond David lee Roth and Grace Jones ,in Studio 54 no less, was just too fucking cool for words. Mark and I turned it out. Grace got on about 4am and tore the place down. Danced with us on stage behind the turntables. Anne even spanked her. On top of all that, it was my birthday. Not a bad night. Not bad at all.

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So that was it.

I retired.

Or so I thought.

I laid low for a few years, focusing on my new day job and my new life with Anne, my (now ex) wife and one of the most wonderful women to ever walk the earth.

Now that I was finally no longer working four nights a week, Anne decided we should start going out dancing. Dancing? DJs don’t dance! Or so I thought. Sadly, I had basically never danced in my entire life. Maybe a little bit in college, but I sucked. When you’re a Hip Hop DJ, if you’re in a club, you’re either in the booth working, or you’re in the booth hanging out with your friend who is DJing. Nevertheless. I agreed that it was high time that I got my ass on a dance floor to see how the other half lived. We started taking salsa lessons, and within 6 months we were going out salsa dancing at least once a week. This was a dramatic improvement in my social life and overall happiness. To think I had waited until I was fucking 31. Hard to believe, even for me.

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Around this same time, I kept running in to an old DJ friend of mine, Eman, who lived around my way in Fort Greene. We had met back around 95 or so. I was DJing at Rebar one night, playing classics. He came up to the booth, all bold and grinning and shit. I think I was playing Grover Washington‘s “Hydra”. He said “yeah man…you aiight and shit…but…to tell you the truth…I could take you!” Them’s battling words, son. He was a funny dude. I recognized him from my hood. He also used to do the door at Car Wash, a party at Wetlands. We hit it off, and remained casual friends after that. He kept telling me about this party he was doing at 205 Chrystie called Bang The Party. I had been hearing good things about it for a minute, but kept missing it. Then they moved the party to Brooklyn, and it was one block away from my crib at Frank’s Lounge on Fulton Street. One night Anne and I finally committed to checking it out to see what all the hype was about.

HOUSE MUSIC ALL NIGHT LONG

WOW.

Bang The Party was a real revelation for me.

The party was packed. And I mean PACKED. The place was about 120 degrees and steamy and sweaty and everybody was dancing. And the crowd and the crowd was amazing. So open. So welcoming. SO in to dancing. SO in to the music. The contrast between this place and the Hip Hop thuggery I had abandoned 2 years previously was night and day. Nobody beefing with you for stepping on their shoes. Nobody flossing. No champagne. No VIP. No stupid-ass Mariah Carey asking you to play her wack single. No velvet rope. No attitude at the door. No attitude from anybody. And the MUSIC…OH MY GOD…the music! Remember house music? HOLY SHIT. That’s right! I seem to recall that I used to like house music! They still make that stuff? Who knew?

It had been literally 10 years since I was in a house club. Now all of a sudden it all felt like the gods were whispering directly in to my brain. Like I was wandering in the desert for 10 years and had miraculously found my way back home. It was mind blowing. The music. The people. The vibe. And I saw so many faces I knew. Old club heads from my Brooklyn days I hadn’t seen in a decade. It was wonderful. So THAT’S where all the people I used to like in clubs went. Again, who knew?

I was home.

Frank’s Lounge had two floors. Bang The Party was upstairs, and they played Hip Hop and Reggae downstairs. Eman insisted that I come through and play downstairs, as a lot of their crowd was spilling over in that part of the club and he knew they were my type of Hip Hop crowd. Like me, they had all been Hip Hop heads a decade earlier, and like me, they were pretty sick of the new Hip Hop that was soiling their memories of Rakim and Chuck D.

I was reluctant to get sucked back in to DJing, but the party was just SO good, I couldn’t pass up the offer. And it was fun. I was playing the same shit I was playing in 1995 and the crowd was eating it up. And why shouldn’t they? It was an older, 28+ Brooklyn crowd. So they were basically people my age who had grown up listening to the exact same music I did. Same Hip Hop. Same reggae. Same disco classics. I didn’t have to water it down, as I had been doing for years towards the end of the 90s.

So all of a sudden I was DJing again. And I must admit, it was really fucking fun.

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I played downstairs once a month. This satisfied my itch for spinning, and left me the other three Fridays to hang out upstairs and listen to Eman and the endless string of great DJs from all over the country and the world who were coming through and playing with him. I was rediscovering house music and dancing my ass off every weekend. I hounded Eman for track IDs every night I was there, and I started buying as much house as I could. Within a year, I was making my own house mix CDs and bugging Eman to let me play with the house heads upstairs. I saw this as the ultimate challenge: to leave the safety of Hip Hop and Reggae and play house for the most die-hard crowd of Brooklyn heads. Eman kept telling me to bide my time and keep practicing, which is exactly what I did.

SHELTER SUNDAY 9AM 2001

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At the same time, Shelter was re-opening on 39th Street in Manhattan. Shelter was one of thee foundation house party of all New York house parties throughout the 90s. It had inherited a large portion of the old disco heads from the Paradise Garage and The Loft and it really set the standard for New York house. I had only been there once or twice in about 1991 when they first opened. Shelter was next door to Wetlands on Hubert Street, and some of the Wetlands staff would occasionally go out to clubs after we got off work at 4am. I remember walking in and being totally amazed at how loud the sound system was. I think Sounds of Blackness was performing on stage or something. We stayed for a few minutes and then split. Clearly, I wasn’t ready.

Now it was 10 years later. 2001. The first time I walked in to the new Shelter on 39th street, my jaw fell on the floor. It was like Bang The Party times ten! Same smiling, welcoming faces. Same vibe. Same energy. Same music. But the sound…OH MY GOD…the sound was one of  the cleanest, crispest, loudest sound system I had ever heard in my entire life. The DJ was Timmy Regisford, the same DJ from 10 years earlier, and he was beating that shit to death.

The music was wonderful, but it was the classics this dude played that really got to me. All this amazing disco music. Every single person in the club seemed to know all the words, and I knew maybe one tenth of it. This was astounding. Thirteen years I had been DJing, and the DJ was playing to a crowd that looked pretty much like the exact same black and brown faces I had been playing to for years. A bit older maybe. But still, he was playing songs that I had never even heard.

How could this be?

To tell you the truth, I was actually kind of embarrassed.

I honestly thought that I already owned practically every disco classic from the 70s and 80s that was worth owning. Good GOD was I wrong. This was such a humbling experience. Such an inspiration to discover that there was an entire world of disco out there that had somehow been secretly redacted from the Hip Hop DJs’ repertoire.

To put this in perspective, you need to understand: We Hip Hop DJs play classics, but in New York at least, this was an incredibly limited list of classics: All Night long, Catch The Beat, Outstanding, Just a Touch Of Love, Running Away, Bra, Got To Give It Up, I Wanna Thank You, The Glow of Love, Apache,It’s Just Begun, I Found Lovin, Genius of Love, and whatever was on the Ultimate Breaks-n-Beats compilations. But who the fuck is Brainstorm? Idris Muhhamed made disco records? Johnny Hammond? Coke Escovido? Trussel? Talk about opening my nose. Wow. Not only did I have hundreds of house records I was trying to catch up on, but I now had thousands of deep disco classics to dig for.

Dance music was all of a sudden NEW again.

What a shock!

What a gift!

JUST WHEN I THOUGHT I WAS OUT… 2002

Eman soon gave me a chance to get down with Bang The Party when they moved to their new location at 667 in Brooklyn. I had been studying and practicing for almost two years and I was chomping at the bit. The party was great, and I was thrilled to be playing house to a real NY househead crowd. Everything was new again. New crowd. New standards. New singalongs. New when-in-doubt-you-can-always-play-such-and-such-records. New regulars. New politics. New Everything. I managed to play there about once a month for the next year or so. We moved the party to the old Caviar space on Washington Street, down by the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The party eventually fizzled out, mostly due to the remoteness of the location. Still, I learned so much about how to work a househead crowd and I made a lot of connections within the New York house scene. These connections have lead to more and more gigs ever since.

Being a house DJ (the black kind of house, I mean) is most definitely a labor of love, as there is little opportunity to play and very little money to be made. But who cares? Once I stopped thinking of DJing as a job and preserved it as a hobby, I fell in love with it all over again.

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So I’ve spent the last fourteen years as a reborn student of house and disco, with countless hours on the dance floor under the expert tutelage of New York’s true masters: David Mancuso, Francois K, Danny Krivit, Timmy Regisford, Louie Vega, Kenny Dope, Tyrone Francis, Eman, Timmy Richardson, Kervyn Mark, Herb Martin, Wil Milton, Sting International. Not to mention Chicago cats like Jaime 326, Rahaan, & Richie Rich. Detroit heads like Theo Parrish, Moodymann, & Rick Wilhite. International playas like DJ Harvey and Gilles Peterson. The list goes on and on. These DJs continue to inspire me, and I am truly proud to carry on their tradition to the best of my ability.

RETIREMENT #2

I barely play out at all these days. Maybe a few times at Burning Man each year, and the random impromptu vinyl nights in my apartment when friends come over and lose their minds for a few hours while I work out some dormant DJ itches on the turntables. But fans of the mixes on this site know that I stay deep in it, in my own way.

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I finally designed and etched into my skin the DJ tattoos that have been swimming around my head for 20 years (see below). “LOVE” on the right forearm. “MUSIC” on the left. Both intertwined with Technics turntable needles. I wear it every day as a call to action, reminding me that I’m not done. I’ll never be done.

It’s been a long, winding road, but the best part is realizing that whether I’m DJing or not, there is always new music to discover. Always more pieces to the puzzle. So the search continues.

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6 Comments

  1. by Monte on February 12, 2015  7:15 pm Reply

    Fantastic and inspiring read! A remarkable story for such a humble DJ. Thanks for sharing my friend. -Monte

  2. by Chip Boulder on June 5, 2015  11:21 am Reply

    I can't remember what i was searching for when I came across this. Its one of the most unique and honest insights, a purist providing a an unadulterated insight ... a splinter into the epicentre of a subculture compressed into a few streets but resonated globally.

  3. by Jeff on May 15, 2016  4:49 am Reply

    This was a magnificent article. I was searching for something on the web and seen a picture of Just Ice which led me to here. I grew up in 80's living in Philly in the hip culture. You had a very unique experience for many in the hip hop community to envy including me.

  4. by Glen on May 31, 2016  8:08 pm Reply

    Holy Shit Julian! What an awesome write up that answers a hundred questions I've had for decades. Glad the crew at 32 St. James got to host one of the Free James Brown parties, including a brief Trigga Happy set (the boys tore it up and got the apartment bouncing so bad the 2nd floor ceiling was cracking below) and if my memory serves me, that was right around the switch to DJ Fruitpie the Magician. Growing up near a Hostess factory, I knew exactly what the reference was - and I too was shocked the name "stuck".

    Looking forward to digging through what you've got cataloged here, and wish you another awesome 30 years!

  5. by Leif Rivera on July 22, 2016  2:52 pm Reply

    Julian, I read your story but admittedly, had to do it over several days. Not because it was long...but because it is steeped in truth and a chronology of exactly what was going on. Growing up in NY, as well, the themes and patterns that you discussed became evident and I just got disgusted and turned to academia and soul-searching via books. Anyway...we know a lot of the same heads (your later years) and they've turned me on to your art. You have a gift, man, and I hope your "itch" never dissolves b/c a lot of peoples' ears and spirits' would be crushed! Keep doin the damn thang! To date, I have d/l ALL of your artwork and boast about your music to whoever listens to me. Anytime DJing comes up (I live in Atlanta now...the home of the shittiest music!), I mention your name and website and they all come back like "daaaaamn...he mixed Leo Sayer with Brand Nubian..." or sum shit like that. Listening to your music has made me think of some creative ideas for mixes. I appreciate that. Keep lovin, keep mixin and keep livin...maybe in that exact order, bro.

  6. by phyllismo4 on August 28, 2017  10:41 pm Reply

    My novel folio
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