CUTMASTER D.C. INTERVIEW
Updated: Feb 10, 2021
“I was born in Harlem, because that’s where my mother happened to be when it was time for me to come into the world. But I went straight from the hospital to Brooklyn”. That was Cut Master D.C.’s response when I asked where he was born and raised. D.C. is Brooklyn to the core. A childhood drummer, D.C. would play his mother’s Motown 45s and he always had a love for music. My first time hearing D.C. was on his 1983 Airport Records release That’s Life – which was very similar to Run D.M.C.’s It’s Like That in subject matter and contained a synthesizer bass line and drum machine beat like most rap recordings of that time. D.C. informed me that in fact his first release was on Peter Browns P&P label under the name Ikim & Barcardi, and it was called Funk Rap. To make things more interesting this record was released in 1979. “I was a D.J. first, but back then people wouldn’t let you get on their equipment if they didn’t know you, and I didn’t have the funds to get a proper set up. I always had turntables but I didn’t have the speakers. I had always written poetry, so I decided to rap to be able to get my little clout around the neighborhood; since I didn’t have equipment to D.J. Once I started to rap I joined a crew, and they let me play on their equipment. A cat from the Bronx named El Fego Page actually taught me how to rap. When I was 7 years old I was writing poetry and getting my poems published in the school newspaper, but when you rap there is a certain rhythm that you have and El Fego taught me that”. D.C. says that when he heard Rappers Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang it blew his mind. “Even though Fatback Band’s King Tim III came out a little before, I see the Sugar Hill Gang as the more official release. They actually took the instrumentation of a break that was popular and rapped to it. They put the street on wax”.
In my quest to clarify the differences between the early Hip Hop sounds of the different boroughs (before rap records), I asked D.C. the accuracy of the often repeated declaration that Brooklyn D.J.’s were spinning more up-tempo “Disco Breaks” in comparison to their Bronx contemporaries who were spinning the harder, drum heavy “B Boy Breaks”. “That’s not really accurate. We were playing break beats that we had in our crates. We were hitting the flea markets and thrift stores and searchin’ for beats just like everyone else! Maybe Harlem & the Bronx found more breaks, or were into it a little heavier- but we were rockin’ Big Beat (Billy Squier) and Yes We Can (Pointer Sisters). Every borough had their own flavor. The Disco Twins from Queens had some of the best breaks, and some of the best Hip Hop that I have ever witnessed was the Force Mc’s (later M.D.’s) vs the Cold Crush Brothers; and the Force Mc’s are from Staten Island!”
When I asked D.C. had he ever seen the legendary Grandmaster Flowers spin, and was he really as good at blending records as his reputation suggests, D gets intense: “I’ve actually played with Flowers, and it’s not that he can just blend well. Flowers was the first cat that I know who made a science of finding which records worked well together. Not just the tempos, but the grooves. He knew which records were mastered with low volume, and which mastering houses had the hottest mastering (hot meaning loud). He was a total scientist with it without question; from the equipment to the vinyl itself”. D had mastered Djing and Mcing, and had 2 records under his belt by 1984, so the next skill to acquire was production. “I didn’t really like either of those first two records. I always had a good ear for what would work, and when I did That’s Life; Run D.M.C. had just dropped It’s Like That/Sucker Mc’s. I knew that was gonna be the new sound, and that what I was doing couldn’t compete with it. I was tired of rappin’ over other peoples wack beats, so a brother by the name of J.P. Edmund that used to manage Salt N Pepa back in the days taught me how to program the DMX drum machine and from that I took off. I took two years off from recording and the first beat that I did on the DMX became You Don’t Really Wanna Battle, but I didn’t have access to the DMX when it was time to record; so I re did the beat on a EMU Drumulator. I hated how that record came out! Chris Lord Alge was the engineer and he gated the kick and snare and it sounded like Let The Music Play by Shannon or On The Upside by Xena. My record is Hip Hop, not pop – I hated that!. I complained to the president of the label and told him that I didn’t want anyone else in my sessions with me. I wanted to mix my own records. He told me that I could, so later that year The Night Before Christmas/ Brooklyn’s In the House 12” dropped”.
To back track I remembered the first record on the Zakia label that I had ever seen was Roxanne’s Doctor by Dr. Freshh. So I asked for a bit of history on how D.C. wound up on Zakia Records. “Back in my P&P days there was a brother named Bernard Thomas at the label who saw my frustration with how my record turned out, and he told me that if I wanted to make another record later that he would give me another shot. After my 2nd release – the one on airport Records, I was searching for a new label. I turned down A&M, Vanguard and West End because they wouldn’t let me do my own thing. I was looking at Roxanne’s Doctor by Doctor Freshh and I saw Bernard Thomas on the credits so I gave Zakia a call. It’s funny because I took two demo tapes up there and they showed a little interest in the first one, and Bernard didn’t even call on the 2nd one – it was Robert Hill; the President of the label. He told his staff that if I left there without a contract everyone was fired. On the 2nd tape I made a pause mix of me rapping over a Boss Dr. Rhythm drum machine”.
For D.C.’s 2nd Zakia release he dropped The Night Before Christmas/Brooklyn’s In The House. “The label felt that a Christmas record was a novelty since it won’t sell after the Holidays, so they asked for another song to go with it. I was at a club in Harlem called Joe Grants, and I took a little survey and discovered that there were more people there from Brooklyn than Harlem! That’s when I got the idea to do Brooklyn’s In The House. The label didn’t like it at all. They felt that a record about a neighborhood won’t sell much past that neighborhood. But the record did well without a video or much New York airplay. I found out much later that I almost went platinum on that record, but because of the way that Zakia was set up, no one was gonna be certified. If you certified a record as gold or platinum that means that artists are gonna start asking where the money is. I sold 850,000 and they told me that I sold 45,000!”
“As far as Zakia artists I actually put King Sun on. I produced and arranged his first cut. I was doing a show at a night club called Zena’s and he was in the parking lot battling some cat and rippin’ him a new one. He gave me his demo tape and me and Robert Hill sat down and listened to it. The 2 joints that we felt were the hottest were Hey Love and Mythological Rappers. I actually replayed the bass line on Hey Love because on the demo he had a loop of Moments In Love by the Art Of Noise. I wanted it to break down in certain spots, so I replayed it. In fact I re did the entire song. KRS One was on Zakia too with the Celebrity 3. In fact the night that I recorded You Don’t Really Wanna Battle, they were in the same studio recording. It was a small label and everyone got along…except for one little issue. There was a little problem with Rakim & King Sun because people said that King Sun sounded like Rakim. But it was a brief problem. I made sure that it was brief. I actually did A&R on Eric B and Rakim. I was Djing at the Red Parrot and Eric gave me their demo with My Melody and another song. Robert listened to it, they went into the studio with Marley Marl & that was it. Eric B was a roadie for WBLS, and I didn’t meet Rakim until after the recording was over. We went on a little mini tour and they were opening up for me. After a couple of weeks we got back and their record was gone! It was over after that…….
D.C. gets amped when I ask him what his 3 favorite break beats are. “Wow that’s a good question…. Dance To The Drummers Beat, Bounce Rock Skate Roll and Get Up And Dance. Those are my 3 favorites from a Dj perspective. As an M.C. I would say Love Is The Message (the Brooklyn Anthem) is my favorite to rhyme to.” When asked what Dj’s he admires D.C. cites Grandmaster Flowers, Disco Twins, D.J. Cash Money, D.J. Scratch and Steve Dee (founder of the X Men). “Those are Dj’s that I admired not just because of their skills, but character as well. These are guys that I know personally, and they are just good people”.
*D.C. has more than 200 mix tapes on the streets under the name D.J.Hakim, and he is the studio preparing a 25th anniversary follow up to Brooklyn’s In The House.