With its use of sustained kick sounds from the Roland TR-808 drum machine and giddy embrace of wanton sexuality, 2 Live Crew’s 1986 single “Throw the D” (or “Throw the Dick, “ as it is known in uncensored form) was a watershed moment for the rise of Miami Bass and Southern rap.
Fans might find it surprising, though, that the distinctive beat originated from the West Coast. California’s David Hobbs, known as Mr. Mixx formed 2 Live Crew with rappers Chris Wong Won (AKA Fresh Kid Ice) and Yuri “Amazing V” Vielot while stationed at Riverside’s March Air Force base, programming the music for “Throw the D” after he was exposed to Miami’s bass fetish – and the song’s titular dance – on an unauthorized furlough to the city facilitated by promoter (and soon-to-be 2 Live Crew member) Luther Campbell, who’d booked the group to appear at his weekly Pac Jam teen party.
Other beatmakers working in Miami at the time (specifically Amos Larkins II, producer of MC A.D.E.’s “Bass Rock Express”) had already begun tapping into the city’s appetite for bass. But with “Throw the D,” Mixx pulled all of the necessary elements together – the boom of the 808; festive, Caribbean-inspired percussion sounds; illustratively slack samples from blue comedian Rudy Ray Moore – to facilitate the rise of a music culture founded equally on the worship of low-end frequencies, and the circular movement of the rear end.
“Planet Rock” was the most profound record I’d ever heard.
Relocating with the group to Miami to capitalize on their success with “Throw the D,” Mixx elaborated on the sound with subsequent 1986 releases “Get It Girl” and “We Want Some Pussy,” further establishing the group’s nasty rep. As Campbell’s Luke Skyywalker Records – a label formed essentially by accident, specifically to release “Throw the D” – quickly became the Def Jam of the South, Mr. Mixx became its in-house producer, crafting the beats for early projects by LeJuan Love, Anquette and Poison Clan, as well as all five albums released by 2 Live Crew’s definitive lineup (Mixx, Campbell, Fresh Kid Ice, Brother Marquis) during its heyday from ’86 to ’91.
Since parting ways with 2 Live Crew in the ‘90s over money issues, Mixx has kept a low profile – much as he did during the controversial group’s volatile heyday, when he rarely participated in interviews, letting his “Mega Mixx” scratch tracks at the end of each album do the speaking for him. Reached over the phone at his current residence in Cleveland, he offers insight into the rise and fall of 2 Live Crew and Miami Bass, the reasons for his silence and explains how his time in California, London and New York helped shape the sound that built the Dirty South.
Tell me about the start of 2 Live Crew and Mr. Mixx as a DJ and producer.
When I was coming up, around 1983, I read this article about how [Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force’s] “Planet Rock” was created. I thought, at the time, that it was the most profound record I’d ever heard. It was the crossover point between electronic dance music and R&B. And when I found out the kind of drum machine that it was made with [the Roland TR-808], and started hearing that same machine in Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets,” I thought, “This is going to be the most universal machine ever.” The Linn drum and the DMX was the machine of choice for the New York cats. The 808 was used in some records, but not too many.
As a neophyte, could you hear the difference in the drum machines that were being used?
I didn’t know what they were called, but yes. One thing that escapes people is that, even though you had scratching going on in New York and some of the northern cities, there was no such thing as a crossfader mixer outside of the tri-state area [in the early ’80s]. Everybody else was way behind with making records. A lot of people outside of New York didn’t know that most [hip-hop] records were remakes of songs that were big in the tri-state area. Nobody else really knew what was going on in that little island of the country.
If you wasn’t exposed to the New York scene, you were guessing at what they were doing. At that time, videos were very scarce. There was no way to really see anything. It wasn’t until I joined the service and got stationed in London, and was over there with other guys from New York and Philly, where turntables were more commonplace, that I started to learn things. I used to think that people was lying when they talked about breakdancers being able to spin on their heads and their elbows. I couldn’t even conceptualize it!
Outside of Bobcat and Egyptian Lover, I felt I was the guy [in Los Angeles].
Before you were in the Air Force, where were you?
I graduated high school in 1981, in a city called Corona, California. And before that I was raised in Santa Ana, right next door to Disneyland.
So your earliest experience as a DJ and producer came during your time in London?
I didn’t know that I wanted to be a producer yet. But I did know, when I read the “Planet Rock” interview, I was interested in experimenting with drum machines. When I was in the service, I went to an exhibition someplace in London where they had brought Afrika Bambaataa and Afrika Islam, and the Rocksteady Crew came out and did their break moves. I saw Afrika Islam scratching, and that is when I got turntables in my barracks in ‘82.
I started a pop locking group when I was overseas on the military base, with younger guys who were going to the American high school over there. We were in a contest in the area, and we won $500 worth of recording equipment. With that, I got my first drum machine, which was a Roland 606, and I learned how to program it. In elementary to high school, I played saxophone, so learning the drum machine was easy to figure out.
Mainly I was just honing my skills in the barracks.
UK artists were fairly early in terms of adopting the techniques and style of hip-hop into their music. You had Arthur Baker [who programmed “Planet Rock”] working with New Order in 1983. Were you exposed to the London music scene when you were over there?
This group Imagination, they had a couple big records over there, and then the whole Lovers Rock scenario was another can of worms that I got turned onto, with Gregory Isaacs’ “Night Nurse” and a couple of English groups that never really made it to the States. That was the thugged out, get-it-in music for the Rastas back in them days. They called them blues parties – they would be up against the wall grinding with girls, playing records with all that bass in it. When I started working on music, I had a lot of things nobody really knew about in my head. I had a lot of different stuff that I could draw from.
And you started to put this all together when you came back to California?
Coming from overseas, you had to fly into New York. A friend I was stationed with had a younger brother who was a DJ. I hooked up with him when I flew into New York. We went down to 42nd Street and I got my first pair of 1200s with the money they give you to come back to the States. That’s the first time that I had seen a crossfader mixer up close. He said, “You gonna have to learn how to crossfader because you’ll be able to control two records at the same time.” This was in the top of 1984. He showed me some tricks and Ultimate Breaks and Beats and said you gotta have two of these records to go back and forth. His DJ name was Treach DJ CB. That’s why I took the name Treach DJ Mr. Mixx, after him.
When I got back to California, I felt I had a leg up on the competition. At the time, everybody was talking about Uncle Jamm’s Army, with Bobcat and Egyptian Lover. I never got a chance to DJ with those guys, but we would ride out to L.A., and I had the opportunity to spin at [early L.A. hip-hop/electro club] Radiotron. Outside of Bobcat and Egyptian Lover, I felt I was the guy, even though I didn’t have a platform. We did a couple parties at the club at the military base, but mainly I was just honing my skills in the barracks.
We didn’t even negotiate a contract to do the damn show. We was in the military – we didn’t know shit about shit!
Tell me about the first music you made with 2 Live Crew in California.
Around 1984, there were magazine articles saying the 808 drum machine can’t stand up to the Linn drum or the DMX machine, and it went from a $1,300 machine to something nobody was buying. I found an 808 machine at a pawnshop for $300, and it programmed in the same way and theory as the TR-606 that I already had.
We didn’t know Luther Campbell at that time. The first recording [“Revelation” b/w “2 Live”] did well in Florida, and that prompted Luke to reach out to us to do some shows. He had artists like Divine Sounds, T La Rock and Mantronix coming down, because they were playing those records also in Miami. It was a flat-out business scenario. But there was no business being handled. He knew we were totally green: “These guys don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, they don’t even know they got a good-sounding song, so let me just fly them out here.” We didn’t even negotiate a contract to do the damn show. We was in the military – we didn’t know shit about shit! “You gonna fly us down there and put us in a hotel? OK!”
At that time they had this airline, People’s Express, where you could pay for your ticket in mid-flight. I think he sent us some money initially so we could get on the plane, and said, “I’ll pay the rest when you land.” So we come down there and the show is real basic. I was scratching and Florida cats had not really seen anyone scratch or any of that stuff. Kid Ice did his song and Amazing V did his song. Luke paid us right in the middle of the street, $200 or $300 apiece. That was damn near two weeks worth of pay from the military, who was gonna argue? This guy flew us down, and we weren’t getting no action anyplace else. Even though Macola Records, who had our record, was sending it all over and constantly sending us invoices, we never saw any money. We were getting re-orders, meaning these things sold out, so there was some money somewhere! That was the atmosphere: Record companies knew nobody knew shit.
We were speaking on the phone yesterday, and you said, if you were more knowledgeable about the business, the whole Miami Bass thing probably wouldn’t have happened. What did you mean?
There was nobody who was a frontrunner of doing anything in Florida. You had this one guy who had a record store, Billy Hines, and he had some records being made by his son Adrian, MC A.D.E. through a vocoder. They had “Bass Rock Express” out, but there was no such term as Miami Bass. Until my records came out. They were doing offshoot records, based on other records that were happening. Amos Larkins did the same thing, over at Henry Stone’s studio. He had an offshoot of [our] first hot record that Luke brought us down there for: “2 Live,” the B-side on our first record. It was called “Bass Is What We Want.”
You mean taking popular records and making new versions of it.
Right. “Bass Rock Express” was based off of [Kraftwerk’s] “Trans Europe Express.” There wasn’t no samples. The type of DJing they were doing in Florida was talk-over DJing. They would start the record up and pull the fader down to say whatever they wanted over the record. There was no “New York” element to it at all.
Miami was such a different place as far as the girls, the attitude.
What were your thoughts when you moved to Miami? Were you thinking of it as a land of opportunity?
It was a great opportunity for me, because I knew that nobody really knew what I knew, based on what I had seen. And Miami was such a different place as far as the girls, the attitude. There was no other place like Miami when it came to that. I was always into comedy records, but there was a dude named Rudy Ray Moore, [who starred in the film] Dolemite. I bought maybe eight or nine of his records in New York and, on the military base, I would actually scratch in the phrases from the comedy albums. The same way I did later, on the 2 Live Crew albums, I was doing that on little cassette mixtapes I passed around the base.
What did you hit on musically with 2 Live that the Miami audience clicked with?
They were into bass. They liked the way records with lots of bass sounded coming through the big speakers they had. But I don’t think anybody tried to make it out to be a genre until “Throw the D” came out. Pretty Tony, with Debbie Deb and Trinere were out of Miami, and they were nationally known. But it was dance or freestyle music. When we came out to do the show with Luke, we called over to see if we could meet Pretty Tony. We were in the studio, and he was playing us the new Trinere.
Luke was trying to get us signed with him, but he didn’t want it. So [Luke] took his own money and pressed up the records and started going hard with the record pools and with the Pac Jam, and that’s what made [2 Live Crew] happen. The whole idea of using [Herman Kelly and Life’s] “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat” in the song? None of the [Miami] cats would have ever did that. Amos Larkins, Billy Hines and 4-Sight had already done records. Shy D had already done records with 4-Sight, before he got with Luke Skyywalker Records. They were doing things in Miami, but they weren’t doing what I was doing.
Walk me through the making of “Throw the D.”
When we went to Miami and saw how the people were dancing to “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat,” we came back to California knowing that was a pivotal time in the party, and they were doing the “Throw the Dick” dance to that track. When we came back, we said we are going to make an appreciation record for these guys. We’ll make a record based off of the dance we seen them doing out there. And we are going to interject “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat” into the beat. That part was my idea.
Chris came up with the lyrics, and Marquis wasn’t even in the equation yet. Amazing V was still around. We did the record in California, and sent it to Luke. He took it down to the mastering place, trying to get it to these different companies, and they weren’t trying to hear it. What also ended up happening was the revelation of the comedy records. I’m watching all of this nasty shit go on, seeing how the Miami dudes were with girls, and that’s where all of the Dolemite bits came in. The attitude he had on the record towards women, with him being a pimp and all that, was similar. You know Ray Lewis, the football player? That was the typical Miami attitude. It all just morphed into one big pot.
What did you do differently with the 808 this time?
Of all of the records at the time, there weren’t many that had the bass sustained throughout the record. In Run-D.M.C.’s “My Adidas,” you would hear 808, but the Linn drum or DMX was the dominant part of the record. There is a knob on the 808 that allows the kick to be a tight kick, or sustained, all the way up where it would ring. To the average person, it would sound like it was over-modulating, like it would be too much. So people wouldn’t do that. But I did do that, with those records.
As we got down there with these other engineers, they were doing some stuff with some different apps, that made it to where it didn’t ask where it was coming out of a machine. I knew it was going to work when I heard certain records on Ghetto Style’s system – and the one that took the cake, which was basically how “Ghetto Bass” came along, was Run–D.M.C.’s “Together Forever”. Rick Rubin had touched on it but, for him, that was another machine to do some shit with. He wasn’t fucking with it like that.
Comedy records was the niche. Nobody was doing that before I showed up.
How did you make the decision to move to Miami?
We first came down in August of ‘85 – that was my separation date from the military. Kid Ice got out in May of ‘86. “Throw the D” came out in January of ‘86, and I was going back and forth to Miami as much as I could. Amazing V had quit the group, and I knew Marquis from parties in Riverside. He would battle people and beat them senseless. I met him in the parking lot of a mall and told him if I ever get a chance, I’m going to bring you in. When Amazing V quit, Marquis was in Rochester, N.Y., and he came down for a show Luke got us on, at the Dade County Youth Fair. I knew we had tapped into something, and the comedy records was the niche. Nobody was doing that before I showed up – nobody was even thinking about that.
A lot of people would never know that the first record 2 Live Crew did was...
...A conscious record! That’s what Amazing V was doing. At that time, “The Message” had been out. That type of rapping was the thing to do. So that is what he was on.
Marquis, on the other hand, was naturally raunchy?
He was always naturally funny. Since the stuff was coming off of comedy records, it went hand in hand with him.
Did you set out to produce other people’s projects, or did Luke just put you to work?
We started hearing around town that someone was going to do an answer record to “Throw the D.” So [Luke] got his cousin [Anquette] to do [“Throw the P”], to make sure nobody beat us to the punch. That was the first record I made when I got down to Florida. And Kooley C and KJ, out of West Palm Beach, I produced a two-sided single for them. Miami was nothing in music outside of Gloria Estefan, KC and the Sunshine Band and a handful of other people. They weren’t known for no rap movement. That’s why I can say I changed that whole situation there. The last thing Luke wanted to do was run a record company. He kind of got trapped into making money when he started seeing checks come in. He had a turnkey operation with the DJ crew and the [Pac Jam]. And then he found out the only way you get paid for a record is to put a new one out to make them pay the old invoice.
Were you a studio rat, or were you enjoying the Miami lifestyle Luke and 2 Live were portraying in their videos?
I didn’t indulge in the Miami lifestyle, because I always made my own moves. I probably did the least partying. That didn’t mean I didn’t do what I wanted to do. I knew early on that I was the glue. But I was so naive about... not necessarily betrayal, but progression. When progression comes, other people can show up and say they could do this and that. I would have never thought there would have been a time where I could be trumped in Luke’s eyes.
So what happened?
The split from him was personal. I had never made any real money before. The money I was getting was all through him. I believed it was based off of my music acumen. But it really was based off the fact that I didn’t know my worth. I wasn’t really stunting my worth because I knew that I was the guy when it came to anything Luke Skyywalker Records put out. I never felt someone like a Devastator or a DJ Spin could be any kind of threat.
The worst thing about it was everyone in Miami knows who Hobbs is, everybody knows that Hobbs is doing this stuff. So I wasn’t trying to be in front of nobody’s face in interviews, because I just thought it was common knowledge. I was living like Miami was all that mattered. When we would do shows, I would hang back and make sure everything was straight for the show and Mark, Luke and Chris would go do the interviews or sign autographs. That’s why a lot of people don’t really visually know me.
If I would have been more up on the business possibilities, me and Luke could have been like an L.A. Reid and Babyface.
What was the last project you worked on with Luke?
I would do stuff here and there that he would bring me down for [after 2 Live Crew split]. But it wasn’t the same vibe. By this time, I was hopeful of getting some shine for myself because I knew better now. And he was not as open. When I first came down there, if I would have been more up on the business possibilities, me and Luke could have been like an L.A. Reid and Babyface. He actually offered me, Mark and Chris to have a percentage of [Luke Records] when we first started. But I said, “I don’t know about no business, all I know is how to make this machine work.” I didn’t want to be responsible for something I didn’t know about. At 22, you’re not thinking it’s a great opportunity to be in an office.
The way Luke was able to make things happen, I used to think it was lightweight magical. I was really naive, thinking that the records was doing all the work. Not the fact that he had to go grease palms, and send some bitches to the radio station to get this one guy fucked to make ‘em talk about you. There was so much he risked personally, not just money. Luke was never scared to bet on himself, even though the deck was tightly stacked against him. The only money I saw for six years was from him. I wasn’t interested in doing outside production until later on. I really felt Luke Records was my home, as long as I wanted it to be. But when we got a big distribution deal with Atlantic, we got the smallest royalty check we had ever got since we’d been together. And I felt like it was a problem.
That was the end of 2 Live Crew for you?
We did an album after that, but it made me think twice about things. If it wasn’t for me being so naive, things would have went different. But Luke saw I wasn’t on the same page as him business-wise, and he let me be who I was. I was green as a pool table and twice as square. I ain’t mad at him. He used to bring me around all the football players he hung out with, but I always felt like it was being on a date and you’re the fifth wheel. I didn’t want people looking at me like a hanger-on.
Were you playing in nightclubs as Mr. Mixx at all?
Nah, could have did it, didn’t do it. I was so caught up into thinking I was the King of Zamunda, making the records, that I thought I didn’t have to do anything else. I was kind of on my own dick. I wasn’t the guy who would shout it from the mountain. I was quietly on my own dick. [laughs]
I look at myself like a musical scientist, but I understand publicity makes all the difference.
What have you been up to since the 2 Live Crew days?
I’ve done some albums with little companies who were thinking they’re gonna gather some of that 2 Live Crew magic through you, but they didn’t do shit with the record. In the late ’90s, I did records thinking they would take off based on where I came from. That let me know even more that the moves Luke was making were the difference [with 2 Live Crew]. You gotta have a whole bunch of parts for the engine to work.
Instead of [doing] something just to show I still know how to work a machine, I’d rather lay and wait for an opportunity publicity-wise. I look at myself like a musical scientist, but I understand publicity makes all the difference in the world for you to be taken serious. Sometimes it’s better not to do anything than something that gets wasted. Even with [Luke Records], we might as well have been on Mt. Fuji as far as everyone else in the industry was concerned. People still don’t know to this day how we did what we did. It’s still a mystery. They don’t know how [Miami Bass] came to be because Luke is the only one who had the mic in front of him for anybody who wanted to listen. But I was a guy from California doing something no one else in Miami was doing before I showed up there. Pharrell, Timbaland, Lil Jon, [they all] pull from what I did. Timbaland said it out of his mouth.
Do you still make Bass tracks?
I got stuff archived in my machine. I feel like Bass music ended with me. What Luke and I did was the measuring stick of having a hot record or not having a hot record. The fact that Luke didn’t want to bet on it anymore, because he couldn’t control it the way he was at one time, is what stopped those type of records from being made. Now, you have Nicki Minaj doing half bass records like “Anaconda” and “Super Bass.” Those type of records let you know that the lane is still there.