When did you get into DJing, and who inspired you?
A lot of the inspiration came from Afrika Bambaataa and people like Kool D that used to play at the Bronx River Projects back in the days. It was around ’72 or ’73 [when] I started DJing.
How’d you meet Bam?
I grew up in the Bronx River Projects and Bam, I think he was [Black Spades] 13th division chapter leader. Everybody knew Bam. How I got down with Bam was a different story, cause I played with Disco King Mario. I never really had money to buy equipment but back in the days we had big console stereos where everything [was] built into one. The eight-track came later and you were high tech if you had an eight-track in your console. If somebody threw one of those consoles out, I’d go rip the turntable out, get a piece of wood, cut a couple of holes and make a box for it. Later…you could actually buy separate turntables. The first speaker I made, I just got a box, cut some holes in it and threw like ten, fifteen speakers that I took out of anything that had a speaker in it. I was eleven or twelve at the time, and I had a friend that lived down the hall from me and we kinda teamed up. He’d buy a record one week; the next week I’d buy a record. My uncle was a DJ and he gave us 45s…Then my uncle gave me my first mixer--a Radio Shack mic mixer. We started doing little jams… One guy had a turntable, one guy had a mixer, one guy had some wires, the other guy had some speakers and it was all mix-matched but when we were outside nobody cared about distortion.
As time went on, Mario heard about [me]. Mario called up and I started playing with him. Bam had Zambu who was his right hand man on the DJing tip, so they didn’t need anybody else down with them. Mario, he didn’t discover any records; he’d just wait to see what everybody else was playing but Mario had that sound system of life! One day Mario was doing a party up in Rosedale Park in the Bronx and Bambaataa was playing on Mario’s system and actually started passing me records! He’d be like, “Play the fourth cut…the middle break is right there…” Me and Bam became kinda tight that day and a [few] weeks later Bambaataa’s turntables broke and he had to do a party in Yonkers. One of the cats that used to live in my building…Aziz, he came upstairs and said, “Bambaataa’s turntables are broke and he’s wondering could he borrow your turntables.” Before he could get the words out his mouth I had them in the box and was standing at the door like, ‘You want to use my turntables?’ I not only lent him the turntables but he let me play that night, then he paid me for playing! Then I had a little falling out with Mario and I started playing with Bambaataa. This all before my thirteenth birthday.
Didn’t you start out as a b-boy?
Everybody did. Before it was even called B-boying we used to go to parties and just go off. That’s what the dance was called— ‘the go off,’ ‘the get down,’ ’the boi-oi-oing’…whatever kind of crazy names [we] would think of. Red Alert, my cousin, he was famous for doing a move called ‘the sleep.’ We used to go to parties and everybody would be like “Sleep Red!” and Red would do his little dance step and hit the floor, do a quick sleep move and jump back up like ‘Yo, he’s awake!’ We had fun doing our thing. We never laid down linoleum like a lot of the b-boys do today, or really had the acrobatics involved. It was a smoother thing. You would do a whole routine standing up before you’d ever hit the floor.
Were you ever part of the Zulu Kings or the Black Spades?
Bam’s B-boys…yes, I was always down with the Zulu Kings. I was supposed to be part of the Baby Spades but…my mother was very deep in the religious movement. My father was a straight up thug. It was like, you see Cliff coming down the street you didn’t start no bullshit cause he would lay you out. But those two different elements is what raised me and I couldn’t get down with no gang cause if I [did] I would have to deal with more wrath than any gang member could ever put on me when I got in the house.
A lot of people mix this up, but there was later on a Zulu Kings group produced by Afrika Islam that had Melle Mel, Bronx Style Bob and Ice-T.
Bam just adapted that name as far as his rap group.
What was your creative input on “Planet Rock”?
Planet Rock was actually a routine we used to do with “Super Sperm,” “Trans-Europe express” by Kraftwerk and “Numbers” by Kraftwerk. We put the routine together and gave it to John Robie who did most of the programming and that later became “Planet Rock.”
What was Arthur Baker’s input?
Arthur Baker was like the conductor. He had less to do with our stuff than anybody but he took more of the credit and money. When you got a bunch of guys that’s not really involved with this business and you put them in a situation where they’re exposed to money, you think getting four thousand dollar checks is big money but you don’t realize he’s getting fifty, sixty, seventy thousand dollars.
The music you’re playing in Beat Street, did you have a choice in selecting that? I noticed you played some Arthur Baker stuff. “A.E.I.O.U.” and all that kinda stuff.
All of that stuff was whatever they could clear, and a lot of it was actually done in the studio. When they were syncing the music to the video, I was in there with a turntable and a mixer adding stuff so it was an experience.
What's the origin of Soul Sonic’s costumes?
Bambaataa was always into the funk. He looked at George Clinton and Parliament and that was the basis for all the costumes. I was like, “I’m not gonna argue with it--I’m just not gonna wear all that bugged out shit you want me to wear, but come up with a costume I like and I’ll wear it.”But it was a different thing cause a lot of the groups we performed with like the Gap Band, Cameo… They dressed up in costumes. They were the groups on the charts and that’s where we got our music influence. We didn’t get it from other rappers cause there weren’t other rappers out with records besides Kurtis Blow.
Along those same lines, I think it was G.L.O.B.E. who told me that you would do shows with Zapp or whoever and people would constantly sabotage your set.
Oh yeah. We were doing a show with Cameo and one of their roadies stole one of our keyboards. By the time we finished whipping up on those cats we never cared if they were inspirations cause they never liked us anyway. They used to get in interviews talking about rap music ain’t real music…it’s bullshit and this and that, so when they took the opportunity to help themselves to a piece of our equipment, they helped themselves to a quick ass whipping too.
Referring back to what you said about Arthur baker and money how much would you say Rick Rubin owes you?
Every penny that Def Jam makes, half of that should be mine from ‘85 ‘til now. Def Jam is a concept we thought of in a club. He came up to me and said, “Listen, I’m thinking about starting a record label. You wanna start a record label with me?” At that time I was playing in every club in the city so he saw that as an avenue like, “If I got Jazzy Jay down with me, whatever he’s playing all the DJs are gonna want to play.” My mentality was like, ‘Hey, I like making records. Why not?’ We went to Rick Rubin’s dorm room and put the concept down. We made “It’s Yours” and the proceeds from “It’s Yours” were supposed to come [so we could] start making [more] records. Of course Arthur Baker got his hands on that too. I saw 600 dollars from “It’s Yours.” Arthur Baker robbed all that money, then the rights reverted back to Rick, but when they reverted back to Rick he put himself down as the writer, producer…everything.
So who wrote “It’s Yours” and did the programming? There are conflicting stories.
Rick came to me and was like, “I want you to teach me how to program some beats.” I was using the DMX [and] when we did “Planet Rock” we used the Roland 808, and I had a couple other drum machines so everything I had, he went out and bought. Then we went through the tedious process of trying to teach him how to start making beats. [Later] I came back to his dorm and he said, “I just made a beat. I want you to listen to it.” It was the rough draft of “It’s Yours.” I was like, “Yeah, it’s alright.” I started fooling around with it, put in a drum roll here, a little tap there. He was like, “I’m thinking about going in the studio with this. Special K wrote the lyrics and his brother’s gonna do the lyrics cause [K’s] still signed to Sugar Hill Records so he can’t do it, but his brother’s a good rapper.” I hadn’t met T La Rock even though I knew Special K for years, then I met him and we clicked.
We went up in the studio and put it down. At that time I had a ‘79 Chevy Caprice Classic and the system was unmatched. It’s not like today where they make systems for cars. I had to actually go in with a saw, cut out half the back deck, put in four 8-inch woofers, two 5¼’s in the door, mid range tweeters, three amplifiers bolted into the trunk, a three-way crossover in the glove compartment, a Passaic equalizer, and a tuner in the front… That was the criteria of whether “It’s Yours” had enough bass because my car system at that time…it was the epitome of bass! We’d go upstairs in the Power Play, make a rough cassette, Rick would run downstairs and throw it in the car and it had to have enough bass. That’s one thing he was meticulous on, (imitates Rick, sounding as scruffy as Rick looks) “Yo, it’s has to have more bass!” He’d go upstairs like, “Nope. Not enough bass” and the guy would be like, “There’s too much bass as it is! Look…the meters are peaking!” That’s how “It’s Yours” got that crazy bass ring to it. We put out “It’s Yours” and it did nothing for a full year. Then Arthur Baker put it out with a little promotion behind it and it became a hit.
Before Arthur Baker touched it, what label was it on?
Straight up Def Jam. It was burgundy with the Technics tone arm. I think I still got one of the original pressings. I ran across one when I was in London. A guy [there] had one and he treated it like it was gold.
Whose idea was it to use the Uncle Louie break in the [intro]? That “Da-na Da-na Na--?”
It was mine. Every bit of scratching was done live--no takes or punch-ins or whatever. Everything other than the beat and the rap, I put in it. There’s so many tracks… The scratching on that is meticulous. Louie Lou was supposed to do the scratches, because when I first met T he told me, “I got my own DJ. He’s supposed to do it” and I’m like, “Rick, let his DJ do it” and Rick’s like “Oh no, you have to do it.” After I put down the scratches T forgot about that Louie Lou situation. He was like, “Well, Jazzy Jay did his thing on here” and that was it. Louie Lou had done a draft on a cassette… Rick gave him the beat and he did some scratches, but it wasn’t full orchestration like the way I did it, where you had scratches coming in and I’m complementing everything. He just had a couple of scratches going in and out and that was about it.
How involved where you in LL’s first project?
Well LL was a replacement for T La Rock… I introduced Rick to Russell at the Danceteria and Rick was like, “Oh Russell’s so cool.” At that time I didn’t see the writing on the wall, that he was getting ready to step over me and make Russell his partner. So Rick came to me like, “I’m thinking about replacing T La Rock cause he’s a pain in the neck and I don’t think he wants to record with us anymore.” I was like, “Let me talk to T.” Rick was like, “Nah, I want you to listen to this guy.” That’s how they got that scene in Krush Groove. LL came in, he put on the music and “Har-Rar-RARRR!” (imitates LL peeling paint off the walls). I was like, “Yo, let’s record him! We’ll deal with T La Rock later.” So Rick [and] LL started doing some beats and I came in and did most of the scratching, all of the arrangements and some of the mixes.
All of this time [Rick] was in negotiations with Russell to get the first deal that they had got from Columbia for the million. The only thing Rick was telling me was, “We might have something in the making.” We, we, we. He was speaking French at the time, then as soon as the deal started going through he started clearing his throat: Meee! Me-Me-Me-Meee! (laughs) Russell had Kurtis Blow on Mercury, and Whodini on Jive, so Russell’s got a track record [but] at that time they wasn’t gonna give me [or] Russell no million dollars. I ain’t gotta tell you how this industry works, but you know if you ain’t got the right color sometimes you ain’t gonna get that green and that’s definitely the way it was [then]. Rick, because his father was corporate head of Kinney Shoe Corporation or one of them big corporations, he had connections and that was all they needed to give them that type of money. Meanwhile I was in the studio with the LL album.
Where did the Def Jam/Cold Chillin In the Spot single fit into all of that?
Oh, that was right after “It’s Yours.” We made it to introduce the company Def Jam to the public
JDL from Cold Crush says the beat for “Cold Chillin In the Spot,” I don’t know if they were at Power Play or wherever, but they had left a beat in the drum machine…
That’s an old folk tale and let me tell you how it went down! “Heartbreakers” or whatever the Cold Crush did, they guy that programmed that beat, Ray Cerrano, was one of our keyboard players. Ray borrowed my DMX and made a beat that was part of that beat, and it was part of some other stuff that I added too. So [later] I got my drum machine back and I programmed some stuff then flipped to another channel and I hear this beat. Bambaataa liked it so he started going “Beat Street breakdown” on the vocorder cause we were doing music for the Beat Street movie. We presented it to Harry Belafonte but he didn’t want to add it to the soundtrack or to the score so we trashed it. I was riding around one day with Rick. He hears it and he’s like, “That is so cool. What is that?” I was like, “It was a demo we did for Beat Street but they ain’t gonna use it.” He said, “Yo, lets put it out!” We went in the studio and I did a couple of modifications. I did another alternate beat and threw a little vocorder on top of it, some scratches…
That’s when Aaron Fuchs (CEO of Tuff City) comes up to me: “You stole my song! You came into Power Play studios and stole my beat out of the archives!” I was like, “What the hell are you talking about? You ain’t never programmed a beat in your life! You don’t come telling me I stole something from you!” I pushed him over the balcony at the Ritz! Ray called me like, “Jay, that was a beat I had left in the drum machine.” I was like, “Ray, it’s not the same beat!” He said, “Yeah, I tried to tell these guys that but one beat that’s in there, that’s one of [my] beats and they think you stole it.” I met with the whole Cold Crush and we straightened everything out like months after the record came out. I told them, “Listen, I didn’t know it was your beat, but if there’s anything to be made I’m definitely gonna hit you off.” They was like, “Yo, Jazzy we ain’t got no problem with you” and that was the end of that.
What led to the founding of Jazzy Jay studios?
In ‘85 when Rick wanted to go full force into doing this label that “hasn’t been selling any records.” I was like, “Rick, we wasting all this money going to everybody’s studio. I wanna be able to work at my leisure. I got some money from Beat Street, you give me some and we’ll setup a studio together.” Of course he was all against that so I took my own money and [did] it. I got a little two-bedroom apartment. One bedroom I slept in; the other I converted into the studio. That’s where I recorded a lot of the first Slick Rick album, all of the Masters of Ceremony stuff, the Busy Bee stuff, all of the Strong City stuff, and a lot of the underground stuff that came out at that time.
Your name was on so many different things from ‘81 up. Were you under any kind of management where this person said you can’t do that…
Nah. Tom Silverman was trying to get me kicked out of the Soul Sonic Force cause I was the only one that didn’t sign a contract. At that time I was like, ‘I’m gonna do whatever I want. I ain’t gotta check with nobody.’ I was hopping around doing a little bit of everything with a lot of companies.
I know. I even have this joint on Silver Screen Records. A group called The Dynamite 2.
Dynamite 2. “Can’t Stop ‘Til I Reach the Top.” That was actually one of the first, if not the first record to have scratching on it.
Yeah, and I bought it cause I could see your name at the bottom… You were cutting that Uncle Louie on that too.
I had several firsts, or almost firsts. Before that everybody was either doing stuff with the Emulator to emulate scratching, but that was the first record to actually have it. I was the first Hip-Hop DJ to ever play on NYC radio. I was breaking ground in a lot of things in that era.
Have you ever thought about pursuing a lawsuit against Rick Rubin or Russell Simmons?
Yeah, but a lot of these so called lawyers, if you ain’t got a lot of money to put behind it and all the press…they don’t want to mess with it. Then you have some lawyers [who are] scared of the Def Jam legal team. It’ll be best for Rick and Russell to get together and try to settle something because one of these days a lawyer is gonna come to me who’s got some balls and they ain’t gonna be afraid to say, “Let’s take ‘em.”
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