A Day in the Bronx: Remembering the Black Spades & Their Connection to Hip Hop

Karate Charlie & Bam Bam

Karate Charlie & Bam Bam

The notorious Black Spades was once the largest and most feared gang in New York City. Hailing from the Bronx, the Spades had as their warlord, Hip Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. They were the precursors to Hip Hop.. We caught up with many of the members including original leader Bam Bam who gave Bambaataa his name. We spoke with Hip Hop legend Popmaster Fabel who is finishing up a documentary on early gang culture called ‘The Apache line’. We also hear from Karate Charlie who was the President of the Ghetto Brothers which was another large street organization highlighted in Jeff Chang’s book ‘Cant Stop Wont Stop’..


We talk with Hip Hop legend Popmaster Fabel who talks to us about the important role early gang culture played in bringing Hip Hop to life. We also talk about how pop culture is exploiting gang life and leading people astray. Fabel explained that early Hip Hop got people out of the gangs.. Today’s rap music gets people into them..

We hear an impassioned Bam Bam, original leader of the Black Spades speaking to young gang bangers in New York, Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings etc and explaining the direction they should really be taking.. powerful words..


Popmaster Fabel

Popmaster Fabel

At the 40th Anniversary of the Black Spades we see Bam Bam, original leader of the Black Spades re-uniting and talking with Karate Charlie of the Ghetto brothers. They talk about how the two gangs merged together to stop the Hells Angels from coming into the Bronx.

We chop it up with Popmaster Fabel about his new documentary The Apache Line from gangs to Hip Hop.. We also talk to him about the current move to try and pit Black against Brown.. Fabel gives a history of why that happens and talks about how the gangs came together.

We also speak with Karate Charlie who is featured in Fabel’s documentary about the legacy of the Ghetto Brothers. He talks about how the Black Spades the Ghetto Brothers united and became a family. He also talked about how they protected the community against the police… Charlie also explains how he taught martial arts throughout the community and had Ghetto Brothers patrol the subway years before the Guardian Angels under Curtis Sliwa came into being..


Charlie Rock Original Zulu King

Charlie Rock Original Zulu King

We caught up with original B-Boy and Zulu Charlie Rock who hails from the 22cd division of the Black Spades up on Gun Hill road in the Bronx.. He talks about how the Black Spades evolved and became the Zulu Nation..He talks about Disco King Mario and the founding Spade chapters at Bronxdale Housing project which was known as Chuck City…

He also talks about how the early gangs were organized and became targets to corrupt police.. He talks about how three members, Wildman, Soulski and Meathead Ron were murdered by police. He noted that because the Black Spades were organized many of them were targeted by the police who tried to break them up and shrink their numbers…

Charlie Rock also talks about how New York was segregated and runs down all the racial unrest and white gangs the Black Spades and later Zulu Nation had to fight.. He talks about the Golden Guineas and the Ministers up in Parkchester.. He talks about the White Assassins and the White Angels..

Rock also explained how the police used to work in concert with some of these white gangs to try and defeat the Black Spades which was the largest gang in NY.. He talks about how the police hung him over a rooftop and threatened to kill him..


The Master of Records… Our Intv w/ Afrika Bambaataa (Funk and Beyond)

It’s always a pleasure to sit down and chop it up with the Godfather of Hip Hop Afrika Bambaataa. Most of the time when folks get with Bam they wanna pick his brains about Hip Hop history.. Thats understandable considering Bam’s pioneering status.. When we sat down with him, we picked his brain about being a deejay… Here’s what he had to say…Big shoutout to the crew over at Open Line Media for hooking up the filming..


When the Fever Was Mecca-The Legacy of Disco Fever


As we celebrate Hip Hop Appreciation week we wanted to help people get a slice of history by reading about the legendary night club Disco Fever. back in the pioneering days of Hip Hop this was the club of clubs where all the ballers went…


When the Fever Was Mecca-The Legacy of Disco Fever

by Mark Skillz

Markskillzbrown-225If Hip Hop was your thing in the early 80’s there were a few things you understood: The hottest spot in the city at that time was Studio 54 in Manhattan, and you weren’t getting in there; but the club Disco Fever was in the Bronx; and if you wanted to be a legend in hip hop at that time, your ass had to play the Fever.

The Fever wasn’t just a club; it was the club, not only was it the place to be but it was an experience, if you performed at the Fever, and you rocked it, that meant that you were somebody. You were among the elite. For legions of rap fans at that time it was the Mecca of the South Bronx. It was a star- studded time for many in the 80’s. It was a time when fly girls, b-boys, stick-up kids, coke dealers, hookers, thugs, gamblers, home boys and the everyday man could party in style with the ghetto celebs of that period.

The wall behind the stage, emblazoned big red and black with big bold gold graffiti lettering displaying the names of the legends of that time: DISCO FEVER THE HOME OF: Lovebug Starski, Junebug, Grandmaster Flash, Sweet Gee, D.J. Hollywood, Sugar Hill Gang, Eddie Cheba, Kurtis Blow, Sequence, Brucie Bee, Furious 5, Reggie Wells, Kool Kyle, Disco Bee, and Star Child. Those were the names of some of the immortals that blessed the mikes and the deejay booth; that’s where you wanted your name to be.

“When I went there, the vibe was definitely celebratory”, says Fab 5 Freddy, who at the time was the Ambassador between the hard-core underground hip-hop scene and the downtown art and punk rock scenes. “You definitely got hit with the aroma of cocaine burning with cigarettes or weed; you smelled angel dust being smoked once you got in the club. It wasn’t like going to the Dixie or somewhere like the Smith Projects, although that hard-core element was there, the vibe was different. It was more of a celebration.”

“The Fever was way different from Krush Groove” proclaimed Grandmaster Caz, “There wasn’t no Fat Boys and RUN-DMC and LL all in the Fever, it was mother fuckin’ drug dealers man, all they showed was the front room, they didn’t show the back room!”

“We played whatever was hot at that time”, boasts George “Sweet Gee” Godfrey, who was the clubs manager as well as a deejay, and later recorded the classic 12-inch “Games People Play”. “On any given night seven days a week, you’d come in there and hear something like “Catch the Beat” by T Ski Valley, or “All Night Long” by the Mary Jane Girls; “Catch the Beat” was definitely a club classic!”

In the Beginning

“When the Fever first opened up, we couldn’t get in, because we were too young, only Flash and Lovebug Starski were able to get in”, so says rap pioneer Mele Mel of the Furious Five, who, once he was able to get in, was treated like royalty.

sal-abbatiello-225Mel couldn’t get in because initially, the club catered to an older audience. In the 60’s and early 70’s the Abbatiello family owned a jazz bar in the Bronx called the Salt and Pepper Lounge that catered to a mostly adult black clientele.

“Sal’s dad, Ally, was a musician, and he used to have all kinds of people come down to that bar for jam sessions, people like George Benson for instance, he used to come in and jam 3 or 4 nights a week”, said Sweet Gee.

“Every once in awhile, my dad would sit in with the band and play his trumpet”, said Sal Abbatiello who owns and operates Fever Enterprises.

In the movie ‘CasablancaHumphrey Bogart played a smooth, tuxedo-jacketed, cigar- smoking, tough-talking yet sensitive character named Rick, who’s connections with the underworld and cops alike made him the man to go to in Morocco; Sal Abbatiello was the Rick character of the South Bronx.

“People used to come around the clubs and say to each other “Who’s the white kid?” Like I came from somewhere else, when, I didn’t. I’m from the South Bronx; I was born and raised in the Bronx. My family is from the Bronx. We have been involved and owned nightclubs here for years. So all of my dealings have been with black people. At my dinner table, during holidays, there were black people at the table with us. So, you see, I was no stranger to Black culture’, said Abbatiello.

“In 1978, my dad decided to buy a bar down the block from the “Salt and Pepper Lounge”, said Abbatiello.

“When Ally bought that bar, I was there when it was being built, I’m talking literally, I mean I had a hammer and nails and was helping them build that place”, said Sweet Gee.

“So one night we were out at Sal’s dad’s house in New Jersey and a commercial came on for a new movie called “Saturday Night Fever“, and it came on while we were trying to think of a name for the club, and all of a sudden Sal’s mom said, “Hey, why not call it “Disco Fever“? And we all looked at each other and said: “Hey that’s it!” said Sweet Gee.

“So the club is up and going, we had a white deejay there at first playing Top 40, cause you gotta remember, we were still catering to an older clientele”, said Abbatiello.

“Well, this white guy, he used to get tired and want to quit early, it would be 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and he’d be ready to go”, said Sweet Gee adding, “So when he would leave or take a break I would take over. Now, I’m not a great deejay or nothing, but I had watched Flash and all of those guys and knew all of the hot break records from that time like Cheryl Lynn‘s “Got to Be Real“; I would turn down the music and talk between her singing like she would sing: “What you find…I’d say: “Sweet Gee”, she’d sing… “What you feel,” I’d say: “D.J. Junebug”; what you know: “Disco Fever”, and that was my routine”, said Sweet Gee.

grandflashlogbaseyellow-225“Well, one night I’m there at the club and I see Gee go into this routine, and I’m saying, “What in the fuck is Gee doing? He was saying things like “Throw your hands in the air and wave ’em like you just don’t care” and all of this other stuff and I’m looking at the crowd and I’m noticing that he’s bringing people together, and then it clicked: This is what the club needs. So I talked my dad into letting me have a night and after a while he agreed. He wasn’t sure about this rap stuff, but he let me try, so I went out to find the best: and that was a guy named Grandmaster Flash“.

“I tried to promote other nights there before I got Flash, I even had Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes there, but people didn’t come, you know why? Because no one believed that Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes would be in some club in the South Bronx. So when I got Flash to play, we charged a dollar and there were only four of us working the whole club – 600 people showed up that night. I was calling home and the Salt and Pepper Lounge pleading with my dad, “Dad, Dad please, send more people; we’re swamped in here.”

The Place to Be

Flash-Sal_kurtisBlowTo be sure, hip-hop was not born in the Disco Fever, its birthplace is said to have been 1520 Sdgwick Ave. in the West Bronx. What the Fever was was the hot spot where the stars of that era went to chill and be seen in high fashion.

Hip-hop fashion at that time was different from what it is today; there was no specialized hip-hop designer gear, because people in general didn’t have a lot of money back then. Party-goers wore leather bomber jackets, sweaters, mock necks, Polo shirts, leather pants, British Walkers, Calvin Klein or Lee jeans, and Kangol hats; hip-hop fashion has come a long way since then.

Even though it has been said that the Fever had a dress code, according to promoter Van Silk, then known as R.C., “Yeah right the Fever had a dress code. Do you know what the dress code was? It was money. If you had enough money in your pocket then you could get in there regardless how you were dressed. But you knew you were going out that night and you wanted to look right, so you wore your leather pants.”

According to Silk, “I was one of the first promoters Sal let in there do his own night. As a matter of fact, me and Sal were trying to start a video show out of the Fever; it was going to be called ‘Video Fever‘. This was before MTV. We had Nyobe and some other people on that show. Sal has it to this day on a beta tape”, said Silk.

MelleMelbat“The Fever was like a second home to us”, said Mele Mel, “We could be overseas in Italy or Germany or somewhere like that and we would be calling the Fever, right into the deejay booth, and would be talking to Junebug on the phone, we would be like, “Yeah yeah, so what’s going on over there, who’s there tonight? If we were in New York, like say, the Roxy, we would hang out at the Roxy and then leave there at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and then go to the Fever when we were done. No matter where we were we always ended up back at the Fever.”

“People that went there regularly they were called “believers” – “Fever believers”, said Grandmaster Caz adding, “And then the girls that used to come all the time but they ain’t look all that hot, we used to call them “Fever blisters”.

As hot as the Fever was there were certain pioneers that didn’t play there, most notably: Afrika Bambaataa. “Bambaataa did not play the Fever, nor did he play Harlem World,” said Van Silk, “You have to understand something, 125th St. was Harlem, and Bam came from the gang days, there were still groups out there with that kind of mentality. Bam is not a violent man. Now, the people around Bam were violent. So Bam didn’t travel everywhere, anything beyond 225th was Uptown, and that’s when you get into some ‘Warriors’ type shit.”

Unlike other hip hop spots at that time like the Ecstasy Garage, The Dixie, and the T Connection; the Fever had the style of a downtown club – uptown.

“Yo there were three kinds of cats in the Fever: there was the rappers – the emcee’s the hip hop cats, the drug dealers and then there was the regular pedestrians I like to call them”, said Grandmaster Caz, “They would be in there with their eyes wide open, but there weren’t that many of them in there because everybody was pretty much somebody. The Fever wasn’t like a big, big, club – you know what I mean? The regular crowd of people would pack the club alone, it wasn’t about any outside people coming from out of town and shit like that, they wasn’t fitting in in the Fever.”

“The Fever crowd were the type of crowd that liked to sing a long with the record”, said D.J. Rockwell who spun there from 1980 – 1985, “I would mix something like “Do You Wanna Rock” by the Funky 4, and the crowd would be singing along and then I would go into “Before I Let Go” by Frankie Beverly, from there I would go into “I Found Love” by the Fatback Band and the crowd would lose their minds. That’s the way the Fever crowd was.”

“I held down a night, Brucie Bee had a night and Disco Bee had a night too. A lot of times when people thought that it was Flash spinning there – it was really me, because Flash would spin for an hour or so and then stop, and when he stopped, that’s when I would come on”, said Rockwell.

For Sal, the one night that stands out for him that made him see just how popular the club was. “One night, I’m outside looking at the line and there’s this guy out there who wants to get in, he’s a young guy, good-looking guy, somebody taps me on the shoulder and said, “Yo that’s the guy with the hot record out”, I said “Let him in”, turns out, it was Kurtis Blow.”

Junebug the Baddest Deejay Ever

“I could be at the bar sipping a drink or whatever, and all of a sudden Junebug would play the Philadelphia Orchestra’s version of McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”; and that would be my cue for us to get into our thing”, said Sweet Gee.

Out of all of the deejays from that era, the name Junebug is mentioned with reverence. He was a young Puerto Rican deejay from Manhattan, who had a bearded face and a long Afro with a neck full of gold chains and the sort of playful smile that only a mother could love. “Nobody could do what Junebug did. He was the absolute best. Flash was bad, but Junebug was better.”

“I agree”, Sal added, “all the other deejays scratched or just threw a record in, Junebug, mixed records in, and he did it extremely well. He didn’t really need headphones. I used to go to Club 371 and check the deejays out, and Junebug, was one hell of a deejay. He was D.J. Hollywood’s deejay. I stole him from them [Club 371], and made him the main house deejay along with Sweet Gee.”

grandmastercaz-old-225“As far as a club deejay – Junebug was a really nice”, says Grandmaster Caz, “But really, when I went there, I thought all of the disco deejays were the best there: Junebug, Starski, Starchild, but yeah, I have to say Junebug stood out. Sweet Gee was the host, he’d be the voice, he’d be biggin’ up everybody in the spot.”

But that wasn’t all that Junebug was best at; he also made his money on the street. According to Sweet Gee, “Junebug had two apartments: one for where he lived; the other, was where he kept his stash.”

“He was a nice guy,” Mele Mel says. “He would give you the shirt off his back, he was a stand up dude, he just happened to be a deejay who also sold cocaine. You know, he, like the rest of us, we all got caught up in something that was bigger than what we could deal with at the time”, said Mele Mel.

The Other Bronx Disco

“When the Fever opened up there was an immediate rivalry with Club 371, I’m talking about a heated rivalry,” said Sweet Gee, “You have to understand, once the Fever opened the owners of the place started looking around and they noticed that most of their black clientele was disappearing, this became a major problem.”

Club 371 was the spot where four deejays from Manhattan bought Harlem’s smooth style to the Bronx. Deejays: Reggie Wells, Hollywood, Junebug and Eddie Cheeba had all been spinning R&B since at least the early 70’s; two of them: D.J.’s Hollywood and Eddie Cheeba were godfathers of rap.

djhollywood-225“When I was first investigating the rap scene, Club 371 was one of the places I went to. When I went there I was in awe of this big fat guy, with this golden voice and he had absolute control over the crowd. He was the best entertainer ever; this guy rapped and sang, he mixed, he was a star, I mean a real star, even back then: his name was D.J. Hollywood. He had a Spanish deejay that used to spin for him named Junebug; I wanted both of them at my club. At first, only Junebug came over, but Hollywood didn’t; it took a long time to get him [Hollywood] to come over. He didn’t think the Fever was the right spot for him, I guess it was because he was used to playing for older adults who listened to a more R&B type music, he used to tell me “I don’t know man, I don’t think that’s my kinda crowd; but I’d tell him “Yo, all you gotta do is come on down and play for them. They’ll love you”, said Sal.

“When I first got to Club 371 in 1978, the owners were looking to expand the place, Hollywood was so popular at the time, and they needed somebody just as good as he was”, said Eddie Cheba, “So they built an upstairs – but nobody was going upstairs – Hollywood was so good nobody wanted to leave that part of the club, so they got me. So, upstairs it was me and my deejay EZ Gee and Reggie Wells, and downstairs it was Hollywood and Junebug; people were running downstairs and upstairs all night.”

“But eventually I got Hollywood”, Sal says. “I got all of them: Eddie Cheeba, Reggie Wells, Junebug, and Hollywood; we were doing it then.”

“It got to the point where the fire department would show up and we’d have to empty the place out because somebody called and said that there was a fire. After this happened a few times, we figured out what was going on, we found out it was the guy’s that owned Club 371 that were calling the fire department on us, and it was on from then on. For a while there, we played a game of one upmanship with them meaning: they called in and said we had a fire, we’d call the cops and say that there was a bomb in their place. This went on for a while, and got even worse when Sal stole Junebug”, remembers Sweet Gee.

“After a while the two owners made a truce and the beef was over. Their owner came over to our place for drinks; Sal went over there for drinks, everything was good.”

Chillin’ V.I.P. Style

“You have to understand the neighborhood; I’d have a pimp here, a doctor here, a lawyer here, a hooker here and gangsters all over. So, once we started frisking people – as a matter of fact, we were the first with the metal detectors, once we started frisking people, we started turning up guns. People thought I was crazy, they were saying things like, “Sal, what kind of club are you running? Come on, metal detectors?” Now in this neighborhood, certain people needed guns. There were just certain people whose guns you couldn’t take away. So, we started a gun-check policy. Our thing was: Ok, you have a gun. However, you may not bring that gun in the club. So, we would take the gun and lock it – and the ammunition – up in the office”, said Abbatiello.

“People were getting high snorting coke out in the open and shit, so we created a room, the “get high room” for them to do that in, it wasn’t like we could really stop them.”

“This was the cocaine era”, Grandmaster Caz reminds us. “Girls would come in from Connecticut cause they knew all the rap cats was gonna be there, they knew that the drug dealers were gonna be in there, this was the cocaine years baby – pre crack.”

Patterned after the speakeasies of the 1920’s, the VIP areas were an elaborate set of walls enclosed in walls. They also set up red alarm lights behind the bar, in the deejay booth, and in the offices in case the cops raided the place. “When the red light went off, the deejay would make an announcement: Code Red. That meant hide the blow. Code Blue meant the cops were gone, go back to doing what you were doing”, Sweet Gee recalls.

“All kinds of stuff went on back there”, said Mele Mel, “If you were back there, you were royalty. You got the best that the club had to offer. I would leave that place at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning with 2 or 3 females and depending on what was going on: if we were gonna do our thing locally there was the Alps, which was a little roach motel. Or there was the Courtesy in Jersey which had rooms with Jacuzzi’s and mirror’s on the ceilings and all that kind of stuff”, said Mele Mel.

“Things were going so well that after awhile, there was this place around the corner from the club on Burnside Ave. that I made into an after hours spot I named it “Games People Play”, we had gambling and all that kinds of stuff going on over there. That’s where the name of the record that Gee did came from”, said Sal.

“The V.I.P areas were strictly for celebs, we had one room for the artists, where they would be sniffing coke out of dollar bills; or they had a gram of blow or something and they had a female with them, that was the spot for them for all that”, said Sweet Gee, “Now, in the other room we reserved that for the high rollers, I’m talking about guys that were dealing with more than a 8 ball of blow, they were the one’s dealing in some serious weight.”

Sal puts it bluntly, “You’d go back there and everybody would be back there, I’m talking about your Russell Simmons, your Lyor Cohen’s; everybody that was in the rap business back then was who you could find back there with their noses open – including me.”


For close to a decade The Fever had been the Mecca of Hip Hop, it was the place where Mele Mel was king, Kurtis Blow was a star, Flash was a legend and Lovebug Starski, made you a believer. But there was something new on the horizon.

“I was with Run and them all that day when we performed at the Fever”, said Spyder D, whose hit record “Smerphies Dance” was a Fever classic. “I was there every step of the way that day. It was me, Run and D and Larry Smith. It was just like the song said: “Larry put me inside his Cadillac”, that literally happened that day.”

Spyder continues, “To be from Queens and to perform at the Fever was the highest honor. You have to understand, Uptown cats didn’t respect Queens cats, and so for us to be performing there, that was a big deal, because, previous to that, if you were from Queens, you got no love.”

When the three ambitious MC’s from Queens stepped into the Fever at 2 o’clock in the morning, they were immediately in awe of the club, the mystique of the Fever had more than met their expectations. They had all probably secretly dreamed and privately whispered to friends what that moment would be like, and they weren’t disappointed.

They had all performed earlier that day at gigs around the city; their first show had been a disaster: While he was performing, DMC’s glasses fell off of his face and fell flat on to the stage. Run, full of nervous energy could hardly control himself. According to Spyder, RUN DMC’s producer and mentor Larry Smith screamed at them on the way to the Bronx, “If y’all niggas are anything like that tonight at the Fever, you’re gonna get shot. New Edition performed there last week and niggas were turning over tables shooting at them. You mother fucker’s better get it together. I was like, “Yo, yo Larry man iksnae on the guns man.”

Spyder remembers that night like it had happened last week, “”So we get there, and Starchild was the deejay that night, we stepped in there and it was like, “Yo, this is about to go down.”

Performing after a “Smerph dancing” Spyder D, Run and D, were not quite yet the black leather-jacketed, Stetson hat b-boys yet. “You should’ve seen them in those checkered jackets and turtle-neck sweaters”, laughs Spyder, “It was a far cry from the RUN DMC of the future.”

RunDMC“I watched them from early that afternoon when they were like, these two total amateurs who were too scared to be on stage, to that night at the Fever, when they turned that place out. I saw D and Joey become: RUN-DMC, right before my eyes, and I’ll never forget it. They were rookies coming into that night but they were superstars by the end of the night – that’s how fast they transformed”, said an emphatic Spyder D.

Performing “It’s Like That” and “Sucker MC’s” before a stunned late-night, coked- up Bronx audience, Run and D were laughed at by a couple, fronted on by a few, but warmly received by everyone else. A few coked-out Bronx veterans that were there that night peeked out of the VIP section and dismissively said: “Who’s them niggas?”

They were the future. The days of the Bronx being the Mecca were coming to an end.

The Party is Over

As the 80’s progressed the record industry machine rolled closer and closer toward the tiny sub-culture from the Bronx. Deals were being made and labels were being born at a dizzying pace. A new breed of hip hoppers was coming into being. The older crowd was slowly being phased out.

“One night me, Junebug and Mr. Magic were supposed to go to the movies together”, recounts Sweet Gee, “I called Bug’s house all that day, and got nothing. I called Sal and told him, “Man, something ain’t right, I’m worried, I haven’t heard from Bug all day, this ain’t like him. So the next day somebody went around to his stash house to go and check on him and there he was, somebody had killed him.”

“When I was writing ‘White Lines” I was thinking about Junebug”, Mele Mel says, “This was before I got hooked on cocaine. I used to buy it; I used to buy it more than I actually used it. I think I was just hooked on buying it. When I wrote the song I was thinking about Junebug, he wasn’t the inspiration for the song, I was thinking of him because even though he was a deejay he was our little connect. He was the dude that we used to get our little packages from. I remember thinking to myself “Yeah we gonna have some fun when this comes out.” But, a couple of weeks after “White Lines” dropped Junebug had gotten killed”, Mele Mel remembers somberly.

“I grew up around wise guys all of my life, they were in our clubs and everything, so I was no stranger to that kind of element. There was this notorious gangster in the Bronx named Crazy Eddie who used to come around to the club, he had my back against this guy Tommy for a while, and then, Eddie and I had a falling out. Oh man, shit was hectic”, Sal remembers remorsefully.

“I was having problems with this gangster named Tommy; he was trying to shake me down for a whole lot of money. For a year and a half I was walking around wearing a bulletproof vest. It was crazy. I wasn’t able to be around everyday to run the businesses, so things started to go bad. Everybody that worked for me was strung out on coke. Things were really going bad”, remembers Sal.

Things eventually worked themselves out: Eddie shot Tommy, Tommy shot Eddie, and things went back and forth until eventually they both ended up going to jail.

As bad as things were looking, it looked like the Fever was about to get a second life, the movie Krush Groove was being shot there. Hollywood had aimed their cameras at the Bronx. Things were looking up. That was, until the last day of filming.

“We were celebrating Mele Mel’s birthday party at the club, when all of a sudden I get in trouble for not having a cabaret license. It was all a result of that year and a half of being on the run; my paperwork wasn’t being kept up. We finished Mel’s party in the street that night. The cops put a lock on the front door, but that didn’t stop somebody from coming along later and breaking in through the roof and stealing everything. All I did for the neighborhood, and that happened.”

“You gotta understand, there were many nights that people came to me and asked for help paying rent. I’m talking about people from the neighborhood that attended the club, they would come to me and say, “Sal, Sal we’re about to be evicted, can you help us? And I would. I can’t tell you how many abortions I paid for – that I had nothing to do with – young girls would come up to me crying and shit talking about they’re pregnant, and how their mother was gonna kill them. I’d reach in my pocket and give them the money. I cared about the neighborhood. I really did”, Sal says.

fever-discofeverBetween 1976 and 1983, guys like Mele Mel and Lovebug Starski were the toast of the streets. They ruled in the period before trunk jewels and the bling era. They were ghetto celebs at a moment when hip-hop wasn’t fabulous. Time and circumstance cheated them out of the pot of gold that is said to over the rainbow. When their reign came to an end, so did the Fever’s. Every generation has that moment in time when their youth is celebrated, when their child-like innocence becomes the food of legend, before grown-up realities create jaded adults. Today, men well into their forties get misty-eyed when they recall their heyday of twenty-five years before. They weren’t ready to leave the scene, but time dictated that they must.

Mele Mel breaks it down like this: “You know people don’t understand that we came through a rough era back then. Yeah, ok, we would be in the V.I.P. section of the Fever, but we would be back there with cats like Corley and Supreme and Fat Cat and them from Queens. Now these were some thorough brothers back then. We’d be back there with gangsters like that. A lot of us got lost in that era. A lot of people didn’t survive from all that went on back then. If you survived all that and you got it together now, you a strong cat. Because you had to be strong to come through all of that.”

By Mark Skillz
This feature originally ran in Wax Poetics Journal


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MC Lyte is Still Lyte as a Rock Our Intv w/ a True Pioneer (Breakdowm FM)

There aren’’t enough words to describe the importance of one of Hip Hip premier emcees MC Lyte. Nor is there enough space in this column to lay out the long list of accomplishments attributed to her. One thing is certain, if there’s a Hip Hop Hall of Fame, MC Lyte is definitely in it.

If there’’s an official list that lays out Hip Hop’s top 20 Greatest Emcees of All-time, MC Lyte is definitely on it. When we look back and ask ourselves who made a significant difference in Hip Hop? Who changed the game? Again MC Lyte’’s name will be front and center.

We caught up with Lyte not too long ago and spoke to her about all that she has accomplished. We talked to her about the early stages of her career when she introduced herself to the world while still a young teen with a landmark song called ‘I Cram To Understand’ which dealt with the crack epidemic’.

We talked to her about her evolution from rapper to actress to social activism to book author and to business owner. For those who don’’t know, long before P-Diddy, Jay-Z or any of today’s high profile mega-rich rap stars hit the scene opened up businesses, MC Lyte had her own including the Harlem Cafe restaurant and the Duke the Moon management company with former X-Clan rapper Linque.

Today Lyte now owns a female clothing boutique in North Hollywood California. Her social activism has just seen her launch a successful Hip Hop Week at Spelman College in Atlanta where she lead nightly discussions about negative images in Hip Hop and the ways in which women can change things.

She appears regularly on TV shows including on the WB network. She’’s gotten critical acclaim for her work in the movie Civil Brand which focuses on the nation’s increasing female prison population. But most important of all MC Lyte is back on the scene with new music including popular new joints like ‘Juke Joint’ and the popular DJ Premier produced track called ‘The Wonder Years’. A quick listen lets anybody who had any doubts that after rocking the mic for almost 20 years this Grammy nominated emcee still has all her skillz in tact and will put heads to bed if you step to her on the mic..

Here’s a brief rundown of our in-depth interview… We started out by laying out the long list of MC Lyte’’s accomplishments and we spoke about her new book which is aimed at improving the lives of teens called ‘Just My Take’. Lyte noted that it was important for her to set a good example and share words of inspiration with young people who are often overlooked and expected to somehow find answers to important problems on their own.

In part 2 we spoke to Lyte about the negative images found in rap and the way women are portrayed in videos. We spoke about the driving forces behind such imagery. Lyte noted that money is at the root of all this and that many executives are out to make a quick buck, while other decision makers are simply out to keep their jobs with little or no concern about the impact they are having on the community and the rest of the world.

She explained that the exploitation is such big business that when women who wish to show another side and express their intelligence it is somehow perceived as strange and out of the ordinary. She cited the behind the scenes struggles of fellow rap artist Eve who found that her songs which talked about dancing or sex would get highlighted and pushed by the record company while more meaningful songs which focused on important issues like domestic violence would be pushed to the back.

She speculated that such decision making led to Eve focusing her attention on acting. We ended this segment of our interview by asking about her song ‘Georgy Porgy’ which is considered a Hip Hop classic and whether or not the story she raps about was true. She said it wasn’’t, but she understood how one could come to that conclusion. Lyte explained that she came up in an era where it was critical for rappers to talk about something and that she learned to be a good story teller. We spoke about how that is a lost art in today’’s world of Hip Hop.

In part 3 of our interview we spoke about Lyte’’s decision to do the song ‘Ruff Neck’ which talks about her love for the ‘Boyz in the Hood’ and interestingly enough got nominated for her Grammy while her other songs which focused on drug addiction and sexism were by passed. She noted that she wanted to do a song that gave praise to the cats on the block, but she has no desire to actually kick it with Rough Necks. She noted that she hopes that maturity and change of heart and lifestyle has come upon those individuals who she would have applied that label when she first did the song. Lyte concluded that she had no regrets in doing the song even though she understands that it may have been a bit misleading in terms of what she values.

She went on to note that her one regret was releasing battle records like the landmark song ‘10% Dis’ that were directed at other female emcees. She regretted the fact that far too often these verbal conflicts were fueled by men who thought it would be financially viable and entertaining to pit the few females out on the scene up against one another.

We also talked about the tradition of artists causing controversy by releasing battle records when they first came on the scene as a way of getting known. She acknowledged that the battle records was a way that artists like Roxanne Shante and Salt-N-Pepa got their names out there,

Lyte pointed out that up to this day many record labels seem to have a problem putting more then one female on their rosters. She explained that Sylvia Rhone who headed up her record label was the only executive to have more then one female artists. She said YoYo, Missy Elliott and herself all shared the same label, but even in that case the label was careful to spread out the time in which their albums would be released thus ensuring that only one woman would be on the scene at a time.

In Part 4 of our interview we changed focus and spoke to MC Lyte about her acting career and her social/political activism. She went into detail about the movie Civil Brand and why she felt it was important to be part of an ensemble cast that focused on the raising prison population amongst females. She wanted to help change the false perception that being criminal and going to jail was a cool thing and a rite of passage.

She also explained that Civil Brand was produced on a shoe string budget and did not have all the expensive bells and whistles that is often attached to movies. She explained that good substance was driving force behind that movie’s success and that rappers should borrow a page from that philosophy. She noted that over the years the music industry has stopped looking for talent and started focusing image which is not a good thing.

In part 5 of our interview MC Lyte talked about her desire to forma coalition of women to work together within the industry. Currently her and YoYo are working on re-launching The IBWC ‘Intelligent Black Woman’s Coalition’. She also talked about being a role model and the challenges she has when the industry seems to be rewarding and enticing people to go in the opposite direction. She also talked about her new projects including the new albums as well as her businesses and how they came into being.

Below are pts1 and pt2 of our Breakdown FM intv w/ MC Lyte


Hip Hop History: Interview w/ Afrika Bambaataa Hip Hop’s Ambassador

Everyone in Hip Hop owes a bit of gratitude to Hip Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa and his Universal Zulu Nation. Here’s a guy who came out of New York’s ruthless gang culture and succeeded in creating something positive when there was so much negativity around. He took former gang members put them under one umbrella initially called the Organization and later Zulu Nation. He was the one who attempted to bridge the generation gap between a resistant older Black community and it’s innovative young. He along with DJ Kool Herc was among the first use Hip Hop as a way to provide a positive for the local neighborhood thugs.

Bam was known as the Master of Records because of his huge vinyl collection and his willingness to expand Hip Hop’s musical boundaries. He was the first deejay I ever heard take a Malcolm X or Martin Luther King speech and play it over a Hip Hop break beat. He was creative enough to take the ‘Theme to the Pink Panther‘ and rock it over Hip Hop drum beats. Bam was the first to really take Hip Hop beyond the boundaries of The Bronx and Harlem’s Black and Puerto Rican communities and make it multi-cultural. He was the first to take Hip Hop downtown to New York’s trendy Village district. He was also the first to provide a safe haven for folks outside the community to come up and see what Hip Hop culture was really all about.

Bambaataa was the one who gave birth to the Electro-Funk aspect of Hip Hop when he dropped his uptempo landmark record Planet Rock in 1982. True to his moniker Master of Records, Bambaataa used a sped up riff from the German dance group Kraftwerk and their classic song Trans-Europe Express. He’s the one who attempted to keep the soul of Black music, in particular the funk, from being compromised, diluted and watered down during the Age of Disco. Before folks were really up on George Clinton and The P-Funk era, Bam was a full fledged Funkateer. Before folks really developed a deep appreciation for James Brown whose music became a major backbone for early Hip Hop, Bam was making records with him.

DJ Afrika Bambaataa was the one who spread the word about this new style of music and culture thus making him Hip Hop’s first Ambassador. This is the same Bambaataa-The Grandfather of Hip Hop, who recently came to the San Francisco Bay Area [November 1999] to perform at a club with less then 100 people. It was sad to see the man who did so much for this culture wasn’t given the respect from one major radio or video outlet that now makes a living peddling Hip Hop culture. They didn’t bother to seek him out and grant him an interview. No one bothered to build directly from his experience, expertise and wisdom. This is the same Bambaataa who laid down much of the blue print for Hip Hop but now when his name is mentioned to today’s Hip Hopper he/she will arrogantly dismiss Bam and accomplishments and say ‘He’s Old School’.

Over the years I have interviewed Bambaataa numerous times. This particular day was telling because it Bam was on his way to a peace summit of sorts. He was doing his part to quell a growing feud between East and West Coast rappers. At the time of this interview [September ’96] things were kind of hectic because Hip Hop had just lost 2Pac to senseless violence.

Davey D: How did you get involved with Hip-Hop?

A. Bambaataa I am one of the founders of Hip-Hop along with my brothers Kool DJ Herc and Grandmaster Flash. Kool Herc came to the shores of America from the island of Jamaica in 1969. He started jamming these slamming types of b-beats that we call break beats. I knew that as a DJ from 1970 on up that I would eventually come with this sound. I brought out all these other break beats that you hear so much on a lot of these records. It was for this reason I am called the Master of Records.

Davey D: A lot of people don’t realize your reputation. Back in the days you use to shock everybody because you had so many records and so many beats from different sources of music. You definitely earned that title. When we talk about Hip-Hop how would you define it? Is it just one type of music? Is it a way that you present it? Or is it a conglomeration of a lot of different things?

A. Bambaataa People have to understand what you mean when you talk about Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop means the whole culture of the movement. When you talk about rap you have to understand that rap is part of the Hip-Hop culture. That means the emceeing is part of the Hip-Hop culture. The Deejaying is part of the Hip-Hop culture. The dressing, the languages are all part of the Hip Hop culture. So is the break dancing, the b-boys and b-girls. How you act, walk, look and talk is all part of Hip Hop culture. And the music is colorless. Hip Hop music is made from Black, brown, yellow, red and white. It’s from whatever music that gives that grunt, that funk, that groove, that beat. That’s all part of Hip Hop.

Davey D: So is music on the west coast considered Hip Hop? I ask that cause you have a lot of people who keep insisting that artist like Too Short or E-40 is not real Hip Hop. Is that a false definition?

A. Bambaataa Yes, that’s a false definition. Too Short, E-40 and all the brothers and sisters that’s making Hip Hop and coming from the funk side part of it is all Hip Hop. The electro-funk, which is that ‘Planet Rock’ sound which is led to the Miami Bass sound, is also Hip Hop. The GoGo sound that you hear from Washington DC is also Hip Hop. The New Jack Swing that Teddy Riley and all them started is R&B and Hip Hop mixed together. So Hip Hop has progressed into different sounds and different avenues. Also people have got to recognize from Hip Hop music came the birth of House music and Freestyle dance music that is listened to by a lot of Puerto Ricans.

Davey D: Now can you repeat that again. I keep telling people all the time that Latin Freestyle and Hi Energy music is part of Hip Hop. I keep telling people that a lot of the early freestyle producers were original Hip Hoppers. I keep telling them how the Puerto Ricans took the fast uptempo break beats from songs like ‘Apache‘ and developed freestyle.

A. Bambaataa Actually freestyle really comes from ‘Planet Rock‘. If you listen to all the freestyle records you’ll hear that they are based on ‘Planet Rock’. All the Miami Bass records are based upon Planet Rock. So freestyle came from Electro Funk, which as you know came from Hip Hop.

Davey D: How has Hip Hop changed over the years? What do you like about it? What do you think is hurting it? What do you think we need to do to take things to the next level?

A. Bambaataa The thing that’s good about Hip Hop is that it has experimented with a lot of different sounds and music. There’s a lot of people over time who have brought out all these funky records that everybody has started jumping on like a catch phrase… When Planet Rock came out, then you had all of the electro funk records. When you had Doug E Fresh doing songs with Slick Rick like ‘La Di Da Di‘, you had all the people going in that direction. When Eric B and Rakim came out with ‘I Know You Got Soul‘ and all the way up to Run DMC all the way to Wu-Tang…All these people gave little changes that effected Hip Hop music. The thing about Hip Hop today and music in general is that the people who created it meaning Blacks and Latinos do not control it no more. A lot of them have made companies and sold it out to the money devils. Now we act like we have freedom of expression within Hip Hop but there’s actually censorship in Hip Hop.

Davey D: What exactly do you mean by that?

A. Bambaataa Well, a lot of people within government and big business are nervous of Hip Hop and Hip Hop artists, because they speak their minds. They talk about what they see and what they feel and what they know. They reflect what’s around them. That means if you see drugs in your area, your gonna come straight with it. If you see something is going wrong within politics and the world today, then some Hip Hop artist is gonna come along and get straight with it. If they think that there’s a lot of racism going on then there’s another Hip Hop artist who’s gonna come out and speak their mind. A lot of people fear this. So they (big business types) go together in their secret meetings like Warner Brothers and they came down on people like Ice T or Sista Souljah. They came down on the Zulu Nation. They came down on Public Enemy. They came down on NWA and The Geto Boys. All these Hip Hop artists were bold and demanded freedom of expression. But now you see censorship going on.

Ice T made a record called ‘Cop Killer‘ which was really a heavy metal record done by a Black heavy metal band so they came after it because it was Ice T and said it was rap.

Davey D: How are you seeing this censorship coming about?

A. Bambaataa You have to look at the fact that Hip Hop is under attack. It’s not just Hip Hop but Black people, Latino people and all people are under attack for different things. We’re attacked within Hip Hop music. We’re attack within our minds by what they put on television to accommodate you and ‘supe you up’ [tell you lies]. We’re attacked within our bodies and health. They attack our natural food source so that it’s hard for people who want to get into holistic herbs or natural healing. Since the pharmaceuticals don’t make any money and they control the doctors. If the doctors don’t make any money then all hell breaks loose. In communities like LA and New York they are using a lot of the youth for a test sight. By that I mean, they are flooding the communities with drugs. We are under attack in all fields of our life.

Davey D: Today there’s a meeting taking place at the Mosque in NY and I know you’re going to be playing a significant role in this Hip Hop Day of Atonement, Can you explain to everyone what this is all about and what you hope to accomplish?

A. Bambaataa Well basically The Hip Hop Day Of Atonement at Mosque 7 in New York City is basically bringing a lot of the Hip Hop artist together to talk about this East/ West coast mess and to talk about our brother 2Pac Shakur. We want to give him a memorial.

We also want to try and slow down all this foolishness that’s going on between the East and West. We gotta understand that Hip Hop is now universal. Hip Hop is not East coast or West coast. Hip Hop is in the North of America and in the South of America as well as all around the world. It’s in different countries from Europe to Africa to the West Indies to the Pacific Islands. It’s now a universal thing. It’s what you put in your lyrics that makes it a Black or white thing. Or it can speak to all people on the planet. That’s what this day of atonement is about-to bring our people together.

We want you to sit down and leave your egos at home and let’s get an understanding as to where all this is foolishness coming from. There are others who are putting things out there or throwing a stick and hiding their hand and keeping things built up in the media. They’re keeping friction going between people from the East and the West. One thing we all got in common is your color, which is Black and Latino, which is our family.

Davey D: Can you speak on the relationship between Hip Hop and violence?

afrika-bambatta-pointA. Bambaataa Well, the continuation with violence is America itself. They tell you you’re not supposed to have guns or you’re not supposed to have knives, yet they still show guns and all sorts of weapons in all these movies. They allow us to have guns and weapons in our videos. They allow us to disrespect our Black woman. A lot of these things would be considered criminal if it were to be carried out in the streets. That’s like when they tell you after you buy your VHS and you rent movies they tell you not to copy the movies. But here they come with a scrambler that allows you to make illegal copies. Life in the American system is just crazy and ‘wild out’. There are certain things that they say you can’t do, there are all these secret people behind the scenes who make things available for you to do. That’s why you have so much crime and violence.

Black people didn’t come up with the first drive by shooting. A lot of this was taught from watching the movies from the 1920s when they had so called ‘real’ gangsters like Al Capone. All this is played in your subconscious mind. There are people who think less of themselves and don’t know their real self and they tend to fall victim these traps that are being put on television or in a lot of these movies.

Davey D: Any last words…Where do you see Hip Hop going in the next couple of years?

A. Bambaataa If we do not sit down, meaning our people as a whole and unite and form a Hip Hop united front or police our own self and organize, I can definitely see Hip Hop becoming destroyed and a lot of frictions getting bigger. I can see a lot of people going out and hurting each other. Sooner or later we need to wake up and know what’s going on. We need to do what brother Malcolm X, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Minister Farrakhan and many others had suggested–read books. You better know what’s going on with this New World Order cause there’s something serious going down and believe me all of y’all that’s out there with all this foolishness. They got a lot of big concentration camps (prisons) just waiting for you. So get ready for the new age and the next Millennium. In the year 2000. The New World Order.

c 1996