Interview: The Awesome 2 on LL Cool J, The Real Roxanne, and Hip Hop’s Early Days

Rap radio royalty Special K and Teddy Ted reminisce about hip hop’s earliest days.

Special K and Teddy Ted are rap radio royalty. After teaming together as the Awesome 2, the duo’s 105.9 WHBI rap show broadcast late night hip hop sounds with an underground bent from 1982 to 2004, making it the longest continuously-running rap radio show in history. Residing in New Jersey, Special K and Ted would take the bus into Manhattan, network and record the show, and then hang out in the city until the first bus back across the Hudson River was ready to roll.

After cultivating a reputation for breaking songs (including Audio 2’s anthemic “Top Billin’”), the cousins quickly took advantage of their unique position. The radio studio’s midtown Manhattan location meant it was a quick stroll over to the fabled Latin Quarter club where they ran the Celebrity Tuesdays night, while their burgeoning book of connections saw them taking on artist management and consultancy roles for revered golden era icons like Big Daddy Kane, Nice & Smooth, and Edo.G and Da Bulldogs. Having clocked up over 30 years as hip hop ambassadors, here’s Special K and Teddy Ted reminiscing over their radio days.

When was the very first show on WHBI broadcast?

Teddy Ted: We know the date, it’s May 18th 1982.

What was the first song you played on air?

Special K: I don’t remember.

Teddy Ted: It was so long ago.

Special K: Who was out there at the time?

Teddy Ted: CD III was a big artist at the time and had a big record [“Get Tough”] and there was Rockmaster Scott and the Dynamic Three, which was Jerry Blood Rock’s group – he also sort of took us under his wing when we started and showed us the ropes, as he had a radio show on WHBI in New Jersey.

Special K: We’d play Sugar Hill records like the Fearless Four, Grandmaster Flash – all the first generation really. Then we started to get into the Fresh Fest artists like Fat Boys, Whodini, Run-DMC, and LL Cool J. When we first started it was the Cold Crush Brothers and those guys, and then we moved on.

Did you notice any resistance to the change of sound from the Sugar Hill era of artists to the harder Run-DMC style?

Teddy Ted: It was a natural progression and we definitely didn’t resist it. I didn’t feel any resistance. [pauses] Well, not true, there was resistance: It was against the guys I mentioned like the Treacherous Three and the Fearless Four to LL Cool J, ‘cause he was the new flashy kid and they had beef – T La Rock had beef with him, everyone did. So there was beef. But we didn’t have that beef – it was the previous artists looking at the next guys.

Did you have LL Cool J on the show?

Teddy Ted: Yes. We’d kinda seen LL come up, so before he got to the show we already knew about him. He was arrogant when he first came up.

Arrogant in a good way?

Teddy Ted: Not really. He was kinda an asshole. I love him and he’s my dude, but I think for a lot of guys... Would you say it happened quick for him?

Special K: Yeah, I’d say it happened quick for him. I think at the time there was the arrogance, but they’re artists and I don’t think they meant it like that. But suddenly LL was on the top of the hill.

Teddy Ted: He was a different person. We were all kids. So we were all coming up, and it’s one thing when you’re known in the neighborhood and another when people all over the world are admiring you. It can play on your mind, so you can’t blame them – you have to learn to adapt and deal with it.

Did you end up having any friendly rivalries with other rap radio shows yourselves?

Teddy Ted: Well, not us per se ‘cause first of all we were the underground guys and the underdogs and everybody kinda loved us. There was nobody who was against us, except maybe [Hank Love and] DNA...

Special K: Yeah, we were on air before them and we’d kinda make a little noise, like we’re the new guys in town up against ya’ll.

Teddy Ted: That was the only thing though. But like Red Alert would shout us out, Chuck Chillout would shout us out, Afrika Islam who used to come on after would give us love.

Were there any artists you were always really excited about playing new music from?

Teddy Ted: De La Soul, they was always a treat, we’d always wait for something from them, and LL too.

Special K: I think Rakim kinda had me like that during that time, because he was so different and so edgy – you’d always want to hear what he was going to come with next.

So once the radio show was established, how did you move over into artist management?

Teddy Ted: Here’s the thing: All the things we do now, we were already doing them. We just didn’t know we were. It’s the same with a lot of artists; you have a conversation with an artist now and they’ll tell you they had an idea for a video, but the video director got the treatment credit, you know? So we were already dealing with artists and booking shows, but we didn’t know we were booking agents! We’d just call up Audio 2 or call up Kid ‘n’ Play and be like, “Yo, we got a show, wanna go to Canada?” It was a natural progression.

Who was the first artist you officially helped manage?

Teddy Ted: I guess back in ’85 it was the Real Roxanne. UTFO had that record [“The Real Roxanne”] and it became one of the biggest crazes. There’s not been a craze like that in hip hop music since. It’s like 20 other artists that made answer records – “Roxanne’s Revenge,” “Roxanne’s A Bitch,” you know. So they saw that happen and they got their own girl and we recorded the Real Roxanne record. Our very first show was in Florida with Uncle Luke. That was about ’85.

What was the show like?

Teddy Ted: It was crazy. First of all, I had never really been anywhere at that point so I had these leather pants on – ‘cause it was cold in New York in the winter. I get to Miami and I’m in the airport and I’m still good but when that door opened and I stepped out and the heat hit – it was like, “Ah, man!” Luke and his boys were laughing at me. But we did a lot of shows with Luke ‘cause he was a promoter before he made music.

What’s your favorite Roxanne record?

Teddy Ted: Shit, the first one! I like the second Real Roxanne’s record with Howie Tee too, with the go-go [“The Bang Zoom Let’s Go Go”]. I thought that was pretty innovative at the time.

You also mentioned working with Audio Two. How did that come about?

Teddy Ted: Nat Robinson was the group’s father and they made a record called “I Like Cherries” but the Awesome 2 flipped it and played the song “Top Billin’” instead. You want to talk about records we broke? That was one of them. That became a super huge record and they asked us to do a remix of it.

Special K: Yeah, that record was just different, it was something catchy, it was hip hop. That beat just popped!

Teddy Ted: We were DJing at the Latin Quarter at the time and we were playing records like that. We also broke Eric B and Rakim in the Latin Quarter.

How did that come about?

Teddy Ted: I first met Eric B and he brought us this record [“Eric B Is President”] and he asked us to help him and I listened to it in the headphones and was like, “Alright, I’ll play it now,” ‘cause it sounded dope. So when Rakim later said, “Teddy Ted and Special K was the first ones to play it,” [in “Remember That”] that’s what he meant. We played it on the radio too, but we played it first in the Latin Quarter.

What was the crowd’s reaction like when you played it?

Special K: It wasn’t a reaction like, “What is that?!” People were trying to understand it.

Teddy Ted: That was the time when you could play a brand new record and people would still rock out. You could play a brand new Jay Z record in the crowd today, but if they’ve never heard it, they’re not giving you anything. It was different times. It was a time when we broke records in the club – you don’t break records in the club any more, like when we had the Roxy and the Funhouse. We broke [Big Daddy Kane’s] “Set It Off” in the club.

Special K: Yeah, I remember at the Funhouse the sound system was amazing.

Teddy Ted: When you talk about systems, they took some of my hearing in that club! Then you think about the people there, like Madonna was in there – she wasn’t Madonna then, but her boyfriend was Jellybean Benitez and he used to DJ at the Fun House. Hip hop was still a new thing at the time, so we got to be a part of it becoming something.

“What’s your worst night?” “Tuesday.” “Can we do a night then?” That’s how we started Celebrity Tuesdays.

Special K

Special K: You’d hear a certain song [in the club] and you’d get hyped on the idea to play the record next week. A lot of people said once we played a record and put our stamp on it, that was legit. We are the guys who took the Latin Quarter from a dance club to a hip hop club. It was on 48th and Broadway and the radio station was on 53rd and Madison, so we’d be walking around, we’d go to the club and have a conversation with the owner, “What’s your worst night?” “Tuesday.” “Can we do a night then?” That’s how we started Celebrity Tuesdays which eventually made the Latin Quarter.

Teddy Ted: At the time we got a lot of demos, so we thought by doing Celebrity Tuesdays we could showcase some of the better guys that we thought were hot along with artists that came through – we had Freddie Foxxx, Super Lover Cee, and Casanova Rud. A lot of those guys would perform and people like Andre Harrell and the managers were there, and would pick ‘em up and try to get ‘em signed. At that time we just wanted people to be heard and be seen.

Special K: That’s how we got to work with Nice & Smooth, at the Latin Quarter.

Teddy Ted: Yeah, we were gonna form a group, but it wasn’t gonna be Smooth B it was gonna be a guy called June Love but he got shot and got killed. So Greg [Nice] found Smooth, who was involved with Maurice Starr who had Bobby Brown and New Edition at the time. Greg thought that was a good move.

Special K: Throughout all this, we were the underdogs though, whatever we were doing. I remember when we first came on the air, once we started coming on at midnight our competition was Red Alert, Chuck Chillout and Marley Marl who all came on at 9 PM to midnight. They’d play all the good shit already! Why would you want to listen to us? So we had to find a way to play abstract, like with album cuts and b-side tracks, so that’s kinda what made our name.

Did you enjoy the challenge?

Teddy Ted: Yeah, like if Public Enemy was out, Chuck Chillout would be playing “Rebel without a Pause,” and Red would play something else, so we’d play the little part in front of “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got.” We had to be different to be relevant.

Special K: And the phones was non-stop, sometimes until four or five in the morning and they’d still be calling. We’d walk down the street to take the bus home and someone would say, “You made my night!” That gives you the inspiration to keep doing it.

Did any artists ever call up the show?

Special K: We had Chris Rock call up one time. He was cool, he was in Brooklyn. We had Malcolm-Jamal Warner, he was another one who called up a lot, and the guy from Krush Grove who played Russell Simmons, Blair Underwood.

Teddy Ted: Our show was underground but people knew it. We didn’t know Malcolm-Jamal Warner, but he knew us through the radio show. He invited us to the Cosby Show and everything. That cemented it – the radio show was really important.

By Phillip Mlynar on August 15, 2014

On a different note