Thursday, June 15, 2006
DJ HOLLYWOOD: STRAIGHT NO CHASER
by Mark Skillz
Every musical genre has its folk hero. In the tradition of the Delta blues men, it is said that the great Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil to give him the power to be the best blues man ever. In the early days of the rap scene, there was one name that was constantly evoked as the prime creator of the new sound of the street called rap, and that name was D.J. Hollywood.
For party-going New Yorkers in the '70's there were certain spots you had to hit, like The Loft, Paradise Garage, Justine's, and Zanzibar's. But for those that wanted to party in Harlem and the Bronx there were places like Charles Gallery, the Hotel Diplomat, Smalls Paradise, and Club 371. If you frequented places like these, you know doubt came upon a young man with crates of records and a golden voice.
Today at 50 years old, the original rhyme king is still doing his thing; he was recently honored on VH1's: "Hip Hop Honors Show". On his latest mixtape he will be spinning house and reggae as well as classics.
"I first made my name in Harlem because of a dance called the "Bus Stop"; I could "Bus Stop" and I could "Hustle". I was nasty at it. I wasn't Puerto Rican nasty at it- but I was good at it. I was making moves - looking good- I was really good at it. Every party I would go to people would say, "Let me see you Bus Stop! Before that, I had a rep as an entertainer; everything I did back then was theatrical. That's how I got the name Hollywood.
I was 14 years old when I left home, my mother and I just didn't see eye to eye. She had a lot of rules. My drive to go to school wasn't there. I wanted to breathe. I used to see the hustlers man, and I would just marvel at the hustlers. That was the world I wanted to be in.
I lived in the after hours clubs around Harlem. It was a whole lot of fun back then too. What they use to do in these places was: they'd cover the windows with big dark sheets, so that it would be dark as hell in there. I mean it was completely dark. You could go in there at night and not leave until like 3 o'clock in the afternoon the next day. Hustlers used to be in there playing cards, getting' high, drinking - whatever…it was an after hours spot.
I used to run errands for them, at 8 o'clock in the morning everybody in the spot would give me their keys to move their cars, they'd be like, "Here kid, go get me some cigarettes, and while you're at it, here's my keys go move my car." I was moving and parking Cadillac's at 14 years old.
When I was 14, maybe 15 years old, I went to a spot on 167th and Amsterdam where this guy named W.T. used to play at. He was my first real inspiration to be a deejay. He had the two turntables and a mike mixer; with no cueing; see, what he would do was, between the records, as one went off and another came on, he would talk - I really liked his delivery.
I started playing at a couple of spots around Harlem; one was called Jet Set it was on 132nd St. and the other was called Lovely's it was on 148th St. I played at these spots 6 nights a week. I was partying all I wanted, and had all the "get high" I wanted too. That stuff later ruined my life.
A guy named Bojangles taught me how to mix. He played soul and disco stuff. Stuff like "Knock, Knock on Wood", "Melting Pot", and Sam and Dave's "Who's Making Love to Your Old Lady", stuff like that.
One of the greatest guys in Harlem though was named "Thunderbird Johnny", he was the greatest guy in existence, and he owned one of the after-hours spots I played at. I learned a lot from him.
I was a singer before I ever became a deejay. I had a natural flair for talking over the records. Before me everybody was just announcing. I had a voice. I used to like the way Frankie Crocker would ride a track, but he wasn't syncopated to the track though. I liked Hank Spann too, but he wasn't on the one. Guys back then weren't concerned with being musical. I wanted to flow with the record. As a singer that's what you're supposed to do. I guess I had a natural awareness of when to start talking and when to stop talking over a record.
Around 1972 I started making tapes of what I was doing in the after-hours spots. I would record them onto 8-track tapes, and sell them for like 12 bucks a pop. I went around to barber shops, restaurants anyplace where there was a bunch of brothers with money- I was there selling my tapes. Back then though; there was no dubbing, so I had to record each individual tape. It got to the point where, as soon as I would come outside, and say "I got tapes!" brothers would roll up and be like, "Yeah gimme one of those!"My tapes would be gone in a flash. People would rush me for them tapes. That was the real start of the mixtape game.
When the Rooftop was hot back in the day, man all them cats that had money was bidding on my tapes right there in the booth; I'm talking about your AZ's, and Rich Porters, and Alpo's and people like that, those brothers were buying the tapes for 150 - 200 bucks right out the booth - and I'm talking about cassette tapes."
People talk about me not being hip hop, well, it's because I spun the whole record, when the "get down" part would come on, I would keep it going. They practiced playing the obscure parts of records. I played stuff like "Paradise" and "Mambo Number Five" and "Scorpio"; but that wasn't a big part of what I did. I played for hustlers. I played for people that came sharp to the party. You really had to come correct at the spots I was playing at. Harlem was on some smooth shit way before the Bronx.
I had heard of Kool Herc and his partner Coke LaRock from a couple of friends of mine named Al and Coop, they used to play at the Hevalo on the nights that Herc wasn't playing there. They would come back and tell me about the obscure records they were playing and people diving on the floor and @#%$.
In 1975 I went to the Bronx and started playing at a spot called Club 371. That's when the Bronx got hip to what I was doing.
Around the time that I first started playing in the Bronx, there was this kid that used to hear my tapes. There was this friend of mine named Gary, he had a 98 Oldsmobile, he used to buy a whole lot of my tapes. I mean he had a lot of them. One day, I can't remember where right now, but there was this kid who was sitting in Gary's car listening to one of my tapes while Gary's car was parked in front of a basketball court. Later, I started hearing about this kid, people would come up to me and be like "Yo, Wood man, there's this kid named Starski, man he gets down just like you do, he sounds just like you and everything!" I call that an indirect influence.
Now there were two guys that I can say that I did teach. One was D.J. Smalls and the other was Junebug, God bless him. Junebug was the baddest deejay I ever saw. Period. He was a Puerto Rican cat that guy could blend his ass off, he could cut, he was the baddest deejay ever, and I taught him.
DJ Smalls kind of reminded me of myself. He was a kid who had a whole of determination; he just wanted to shine. I put a lot of cats down. I guess it was because people like Huey Newton influenced me. I always had a strong sense of black awareness. I was always about unity you know what I'm sayin'?
One day in 1975, I was at home playing records, and one of the records I pulled out was the "Black Moses" album. It was not popular at the time. So, there I was listening to this album, and I put on a song called "Good Love 6969". Isaac Hayes was singing this part that went "I'm listed in the yellow pages, all around the world; I got 30 years experience in loving sweet young girls." That record stopped me dead in my tracks. You see, before that record I had been doing nursery rhymes. But after that record: I was doing rhymes.And not only was I doing rhymes but I was talking about love. This was another level.
I thought to myself, what if I take what he's doing and put it with this? What would I get? I got fame, that's what I got. I got more famous than I could ever imagine. Everybody bit that rhyme. I would go to jams and people would be saying that rhyme, and none of them, not one of them, knew where it came from. It blew my mind.
Had I known that this was gonna be a billion dollar thing - I don't think that I would've been as good at it. God sent someone to show black kids a different way. I never knew saying rhymes over a phat beat would lead to all of this. But God knew it. God used me as a vehicle. It was something for everybody to have. When a lot of people are thinking on the same wavelength, you get a multitude of sounds. It says in the Bible "Let's make a joyful noise unto the Lord", well my joyful noise came as a James Brown record".