Hip-hop’s birth on the streets of the Bronx is a well-documented moment in New York’s musical history. In the late 1970s, DJ Kool Herc isolated the drum break; Grand Master Flash turned art into science with the “quick-mix theory;” stumbling upon the scratch, Grand Wizzard Theodore gave the genre its signature sound, then, in 1982, Afrika Bambaaata took the whole world to “Planet Rock.”
Those are the broad strokes. However, many of the music’s earliest pioneers receive less recognition than they deserve. As a fearsome crate-digger, block-rocking DJ and founding member of the legendary Cold Crush Brothers, Charlie Chase is one such character.
This interview, which took place in 1998, began in Chase’s modest, record-strewn Bronx home. While there, he handed me a tape of his most recent labor of love: a version of Cold Crush’s 1981 battle with Theodore’s crew, the Fantastic Romantic Five. The vocals, Chase explained, were remastered from a fourth – or fifth – generation cassette, and all the music had been painstakingly re-recorded – a process that involved more than 8,000 individual edits. “It took the computer two-and-a-half hours to read the disk,” he said.
Chase called a cab to take us to his favorite local steakhouse, a place where everyone seemed to know him and where he occasionally played records. We settled down in a booth and, in motormouth bursts, he told me about his musical childhood, why hip-hop remains such a potent cultural force, and how he opened the doors for a whole generation of Latinx DJs, rappers and dancers.
So, I wanted to find out your story. How did you get into DJing?
I come from a family of musicians. My grandfather was a songwriter and musician for a lot of Spanish bands. My father was the same thing, and it was passed down to me. I earned my first professional dollar [from music] at the age of 14. At the age of 16, I had produced my first album. I was a bassist. I was already telling a lot of older guys what to do in the studio, and then I was in a band, a Spanish band playing merengue and shit like that. It was a relatively young band, and the keyboard player had just got into DJing. He had bought two turntables, and the mixer at the time was the size of this recorder here [pointing to the Walkman on the table]… just the two plugs in the back and one crossfader, and that was it.
I was getting heat not only from the blacks, but also from the Puerto Ricans.
What year would that be?
We’re talking ’74, ’75, in the Bronx. He was starting to play; he was practicing in his house…I saw him getting into it and I was fascinated with it. At the time, I was a musical sponge, anything music-related, I wanted to know about it, or do it and get into it. Then he and the drummer in the band became a team – a DJ team, they were called Tom & Jerry, and they were always playing the disco, the real heavy club disco. Not hip-hop disco, but just disco.
But me, I was always the R&B guy in the group, always into funk. I was always a major funk fan, so my shit was playing the R&B stuff and the funk stuff. And one day I heard this bunch of kids – really young – from around my way, called the Monterey Crew. There was about five of them. They’d all chipped their pennies together and got the best equipment they could get for the money, which wasn’t much.
This was in ’75, ’76. This all happened around the same time – this is all happening really quick. [I was] in the community center, I’m listening to them playing the beats and I’m like, “This is what I want to play! This other shit is boring, you know…” What made disco DJing fun was the technical side of it: being able to take these two machines and sync them musically. That was the fun and the challenge to it.
What were they playing?
They were just – scratching wasn’t even out then – so they were just taking one record and playing it in, then they’d take another record and blending it in behind it. Sometimes they’d have two copies of the same record – if they could afford it – and try to mix them in as best they could.
Just playing the breaks?
They were just playing the breaks – matching them up and playing them one right behind the other. I was amazed…one of my favorite records of all time was Dennis Coffey’s “Scorpio”, and they took the break in Scorpio and extended it, which was my favorite part of the record… I was like, “This shit is the bomb.” This was in the Monterey Community Center, which is why they called themselves the Monterey Crew. We were all from the same area. I lived across the street from the Monterey projects, and they lived in it.
This is ’75 and they’re just little kids?
Yeah, little kids. Nobodies. I can’t say nobodies but… they’re doing their thing. So, I’m like, “Oh, shit! This is different…” They’re bringing it back again to the beginning of the break, and again, and again. And then they’re playing “Trans Europe Express” [by Kraftwerk] and shit. I’m like, “Oh, man, this this is awesome.” Then they were playing beats I never heard in my life that sounded really fucking cool.
I’m like, “Where did you guys get these records?” They said they got them at this record shop downtown called Downstairs Records. Ellroy was this little kid who worked behind the counter – he weighed about 125lb –who later became one of the biggest bodybuilders I ever met in my life – huge. So, anyway, they said, “Go to Downstairs and go see Ellroy. Tell him we sent you.” Ellroy would sell you beats, but if you were recommended by someone he knew, then he would bless you with the exclusive beats that only certain people could get.
So now I’m playing with Tom & Jerry. Our first gig was over here at Lehman College. I don’t remember the date, a Saturday, still in ’75. They’re playing disco music and everybody’s mostly Hispanic. They’re into the disco hustle thing, which is corny to me. Everybody’s trying to be flamboyant, which was like a major turn-off to me…
Then, all of a sudden, they killed the crowd. The crowd was dead, nobody dancing. So, then it was my time to come and play. “Chase can only do but so much damage, because the floor is already dead,” is what they’re thinking. So, I get on. I must have had like maybe this many records [holds up hand with two or three inches between finger and thumb]. That’s it…that’s all I had. So, I get on and I’m playing these beats, and the floor gets packed. It gets packed, everybody’s dancing, and all of a sudden the guys, they see that and they go, “Step over Chase, it’s time for us to get back in and cut.” They did this to me for a while. Every time we went somewhere, they would keep knocking me back.
What amazed everybody was that [hip-hop] brought everyone together and it was a peaceful thing.
You were practicing at home, right?
I had no turntables! I was just getting my hands on whatever I could at the time.
You would go on cold, with no practice?
I thank God that I was blessed with the fact that I could catch on quick.
And you’re a musician.
So my timing was natural too…I was subjected to that shit for a long time. They’d kill the crowd. I’d get on, I’d play, get them going, then they’d come in and take over and they’d kill the crowd again. Then, one night, I just got fed up with it. I said, “You know what? Fuck this, I’m gonna get my own shit and do my own thing.” And I started doing it. I got my first MC, which was the Cisco Cid. This was going back into ’77, end of ’75, ’76. Matter of fact, it was the end of ’75, because I remember it was a New Year’s Eve party that was coming up, and I had just gotten my first set of turntables.
They were Technics, but they were the Technics SL23s – belt-driven turntables. When the belts collected too much dust, you could see the plate slipping, so you’d have to stop the turntable, remove the plate, remove the rubber band, clear the dust, and then attach it back on. It was some shit, but those little things are what teach you about your equipment, about maintaining your equipment…
I was doing these parties. They were just local, and I had my first MC, another MC called Little Black, and another called T Bone, who was a Grandmaster Caz protégé. He left the camp and came with me a year before Caz came with me. So, we’re doing parties and shit, and I’m doing all these little gigs. I’m promoting and I’m doing whatever I can. I’m personally taking flyers and drawing them, like this, by hand – I’m not an artist, man, with a fucking a ruler and shit – just doing it and going to the printing shop and having them print it up.
So, what’s your style at this stage?
Hip-hop. Straight-up hip-hop. Just cutting and scratching…I mean, I got to the point in my career where me, Theodore and Flash and Bambaataa were all playing the same parties. The thing with me was I was the first Hispanic to break into the hip-hop thing here.
So, your style was very similar to theirs?
Yeah, except that I was a Hispanic. And the thing was, people only heard me on tapes, they never saw me. My name was Charlie Chase, not Charlie Mendez, [so] they were able to relate to it easier, they always thought that I was black, and when they heard me playing on tapes, they said, “This brother’s the shit!”
What were the records you were playing back then?
Back then I was playing “Phenomena Theme,” “I Just Want To Do My Thing,” the Kay-Gees…oh, God…Pleasure...“Dance To the Drummer’s Beat,” the original version. What else? Oh, man, Aerosmith [does the beats from “Walk This Way”] “Toys in the Attic,” beats like that. Straight-up beats, nothing else…just drums.
You would play that all night?
I had a lot of them by then. I had a lot of stuff accumulated, plus, by then I had caught onto the groove and I had my own records that nobody knew about.
With the labels cut out?
One time I was at a party with Flash – I did a party, and Flash turned up – at the PAL [the Police Athletic League – a key Bronx venue in the early days of hip-hop]…I played this beat that he never heard. So, what I did on the record, on one record I put on, “For the name of this record, go to turntable two,” and you see this on the label and it’s spinning, so Flash went over to the other turntable to look and the other record would say, “Get off my dick!” He was laughing, man. Those were the days.
What was the record?
I don’t remember, but I had it and nobody else did. And he caught onto it later on. I know that me and Bam were the first to have a copy of Trouble Funk’s “Pump Me Up.” I had one copy that somebody sent me from Washington. I was playing at this roller-skating rink, so I’m cutting it in with something else because I only had one copy…Bam was on the same card as me, and all of a sudden Bam says, “Yo, I got a copy of that.” He gave it to me and I went berserk…then Bam took his copy back. Bam was the king of records, he had to have his shit.
That’s a very generous thing to do.
Yeah, we always looked out for each other in the past. Sometimes the DJs wouldn’t want to give the names of records up, but at the same time we would always cover them, so it was okay to lend somebody a record because they didn’t know what the fuck it was. We just pointed to where the break was, and that was it…that was your cue.
What was the MCing like back then?
MCing was very simple. It was almost story-telling, like. Just like always, oh like “Ikey, and Mikey, nn-ner-nnn…” or they would go like “One-two listen y’all…to the sound-sound-sounds, of DJ-J-J-J…” You know, really simple stuff.
Just getting people hyped up, not really rhyming…
Right… So, to get back to the story, the way I got into it was I was doing all these parties, then, one of these guys in the booth introduced me to Tony Tone. One of the guys in my group, the Cold Crush [Brothers]. Tony was already connected to DJ Baron and DJ Breakout and the Funky 4 – he was their sound guy. He wanted to be a DJ, but he couldn’t because they already had their crew. He met me, we got hooked up together, and being that he knew everybody, he introduced me to [them all]. I already knew a few people, but he introduced me to Breakout, Baron, he introduced me to [Afrika] Islam, he introduced me to Bam, to all the key people, to Kool Herc. All the people I needed to know, including Kool DJ AJ.
You hadn’t met them before?
No. Only a couple of times. I had heard about them and I had seen flyers. Flash, I had never met either.
You’d never been to their parties.
No. The first time anybody ever caught notice of me was at the PAL. We were doing a party, and Flash was the guest DJ, and me and Tony had just supplied the sound system.
So, were you Cold Crush by then?
No. Cold Crush wasn’t even invented… wasn’t even a fetus yet.
Did you have a name?
For the group? Nah, it was just DJ Charlie Chase and Tony Tone.
We were marketing geniuses and promoters, and we didn’t know it.
So, you’re playing with Flash…
Nah. I’m just doing the sound. So, he’s trying to cut a record on the Jacksons’ Destiny album. The break used to go “Get down, let’s dance, let’s dance, let’s dance, hold on,” and then it would go into a break. But he’s trying to extend the “let’s dance, let’s dance, let’s dance,” [part], but he couldn’t. It kept skipping on him. So, I’m looking at this, and I’m hungry as a motherfuckin’ tiger. I’m like, “Damn, this is so easy to do…why isn’t he doing it?” So, Flash gets up and he says “No, I can’t do this.” So, I go, “Well, why don’t I give it a try?” And I went off! The PAL was holding about a thousand people – the place is packed. I went the fuck off, and they’re screaming, and Flash turned around, he’s like, “What. The. Fuck?” Flash was there looking at everybody, like “Oh, shit!”
So, he just let you go on like that?
It was my set… what the fuck could he say? It was my equipment. I guess I was already adjusted to the way my equipment felt and everything. We were playing on turntables that weren’t 1200s. The plates pitched a little here and there, and you needed a much more steady hand than now. And I was already adjusted to my turntables…that’s what that was.
At the PAL?
The PAL, 183rd and Webster Avenue. So, and that was when people took notice of me.
That was in ’76. It was in the summer. That I remember, because it was hotter than the devil’s nuts…I started making tapes. Everybody heard about Charlie Chase, but I was always running into problems… we would show up at a gig and they would pull Tony by the shoulders and say, “Hey Chase, this is where the DJ booth is.”
He’s black, right?
Yeah, he’s black. And then he’s like, “Nah, I’m Tone – that’s Chase,” And then they turn to me and see this Puerto Rican, all wide-eyed and shit… “He ain’t fuckin Chase. What the fuck are you talkin’ about?” They would not accept it. I was getting heat not only from the blacks, but also from the Puerto Ricans.
I’m telling you, I’m the first Hispanic…no one else was doing it. I’m a Hispanic trying to get into the black music, and they’re like, “What the fuck are you doing?” I’m not lying to you. That’s the way it was. So, I’m getting heat from both sides. And I was not giving a fuck. “This is what I like to do, and I do it well. Fuck you both. Stand in my way, see what happens.” I just did what I did, and that’s how I became the DJ, and then we formed the Cold Crush Brothers.
How did that come about? You just kept adding MCs?
I had MCs already, and Caz and I were very good friends already. I was always after Caz to join my group. I told Caz, “If you join me. I’m telling you, we could blow this up. You and I can blow this fuckin’ thing up.” Because I was in a band, I had stage presence. I had stage experience. Caz… that shit came natural to him.
What was he doing before Cold Crush?
He was always an MC/DJ, so this came very natural to him, and I saw that…I had an eye for talent. I knew I could do something with him. “One way or another,” I said, “I’m gonna get this MC to join my group,” and then I heard that him and his crew had broken up.
What was his crew called before?
The Mighty Force. Or the Disco Force, then he went to the Mighty Force. He had so many “Force” names, I don’t fuckin’ know. Anyway, I said [to myself], “This is the perfect opportunity. I’m gonna hold MC try-outs, I’m gonna call Caz and tell him to come down, be a judge and help me pick out MCs, and I’m gonna fucking finagle my way to getting this motherfucker to join.” And I did. I persuaded him…I made him feel comfortable with the other MCs that was there. That’s how Cold Crush started.
Playing music was more important than our lives.
Where did the name come from?
Tony Tone and I made the name up. It was his and my brainchild. He wanted to call it the Cold Crush Crew. I said, “Nah man. If you and I are gonna form a group – a group that’s gonna be the biggest thing – we’re gonna be tight, we’re gonna be family, we’re gonna be brothers.” And he was like, “I like that.”
We saw a flyer that said: “This is a Cold Crush Product,” and we liked it. It was a flyer for some bullshit party. We liked the words Cold Crush and we added the word “Brothers” to it. That was history, man from then on. We bust everybody in the ass. We never had a hit record, but everybody knew us because of our stage show.
Where did you play?
Everywhere, man. Everywhere. We were the first hip-hop group to be signed to CBS. We were the first hip-hop group to go to Japan… we played all the discos in New York City.
You went downtown?
The Roxy, when the Roxy first hit…the Negril.
With Kool Lady Blue [founder of the Roxy]?
Right. She was the one who put us on in the downtown scene.
How did she find out about you?
Through the Rock Steady Crew. She had found them and she did this big showcase, and then she had heard about us. She heard things about us, but she didn’t know how to get in contact with us, but Crazy Legs, said, “Yo, this is the group you gotta get for this show.” That was how it blew up. Lady Blue went and got the Roxy and…we just took it, that was when hip-hop just skyrocketed.
Can you remember any of those shows?
Yeah, the Roxy, I can remember, The Roseland.
What was the best night at The Roxy?
I remember a night when I was DJing and Bianca Jagger was there. And she was starry-eyed, looking at me doing my thing on the turntable…She was fine…she was gorgeous…and Bam is standing next to me. This is when the turntables were set up in the middle of the floor in the Roxy.
Did you know who it was?
No. I said to Bam, “Who’s that chick down there looking at me?” He says, “Yo, that’s Bianca Jagger.” I said, “Bianca Jagger – you mean Mick Jagger’s wife?” He says, “Yeah.” I was like “We movin’ on up now, kid – this is big time!” Oh, man, and nothing ever came of that. It was special for me though. I mean I met Andy Warhol, I met David Bowie, I met…God, man, there were so many freakin’ celebrities that I met there. Actors, writers…man, it was incredible.
It was an amazing time.
It was an amazing time, man, because hip-hop was new. It was new and it was underground, but what amazed everybody was that it brought everyone together and it was a peaceful thing. We weren’t just there to listen to ’70s and ’80s music; we were there to listen to all eras of music, where you could just mix it together… It was something. It was weird but it sounded good. And it brought so many people together. And the Roxy became the place to be. If you were a celebrity, you had to go to the Roxy, because it was a celebrity status club, like Studio 54 was at one time. Oh, man, it was incredible. Eddie Murphy, all these people…you had to be there.
The Roxy started around 1980/81, but hip-hop had been going on in the Bronx since ’74 ’75, so it took five years for people downtown to find out what was going on?
Because it was always up in the Bronx. People were scared to come to the Bronx, because it was a “dangerous” place to go to. Nobody wanted to know about shit, and a lot of the time – like rock & roll – it was also being suppressed. It was ghetto music. Nobody wanted a part of it. You know, like rock & roll, [some people said it was] communist music…they banned it, more or less.
Right now, hip-hop is the only music where you can politically or socially express your point of view, and still have it played. You can’t do that anywhere else in any kind of music…Hip-hop helped bring that back to it. And the beauty of it is…however much people fucked with it – especially because it was “black” music, and they really hated it more because of all the fuckin’ racist motherfuckers that wanted people not to hear it – it withstood all that bullshit.
All the politicians who wanted to hammer away at it, like Tipper Gore fucking with Luke and everybody else. It stood a lot of shit and hung in there. Not like rock, which had to go underground. Over here, [if] we go underground, fuck it, we still go platinum. So what? It doesn’t matter. It’s fuckin’ amazing.
What were the clubs you were playing uptown?
We did Harlem World, which was the number one hip-hop club in Harlem.
What year was that [venue] big?
That was from ’78, ’79, ’80, ’81, ’82. Disco fever. Up here was also the Hevalo, which was a lot earlier…the Hevalo was ’75 and shit like that.
And that was Herc’s club?
We were flashy man, and the thing that stood out was that 24 hours a day we were onstage.
Do you remember seeing guys like Herc and Bambaataa for the first time?
Yeah, but I saw them after I seen the Monterey Crew.
But they must have been a whole lot better?
Oh yeah, they were, man…they were.
Do you remember, when you first heard…?
Flash! Man, Flash. I remember when I first heard him. And the very same fuckin’ day was when I first heard Theodore.
The same day?
Same day. Arthur Park, not too far from here. Arthur Park on Tremont and 180th, No, Tremont and Arthur Avenue. It was a big park, and Flash had set up in one section of [it]. He set up and he came to play, and he had a massive crowd. This is my neighborhood, and I’m watching this shit and I’m amazed, man. I was seeing the way he was cutting, seeing what records he was cutting, A lot of records I recognized, a lot of records I didn’t. He was playing a lot of rock & roll records.
You were already playing at this stage?
Yeah, I was already playing. I was local. I’m checking him out – Flash had started maybe two or three in the afternoon – then, all of a sudden, at about six, seven o’clock, Theodore set up opposite, on the other side of the park.
Flash had set up in the cement part of the park, where the swings and the see-saws and shit like that was. Theodore had set up on the grass area… I’m saying, “Who’s this kid setting up?” They’re like, “Grand Wizzard Theodore.” I’m like, “What kind of a fuckin’ name is that for a DJ…” They’re setting up – remember I’m a cocky young DJ – and his shit looks shabby. I was like, “What is this bullshit equipment?”
One thing is Tom & Jerry, they hit me on how to look for equipment, how to set up equipment. Tom was an electronics engineer – he was an electronics genius. Tom, today, is now working for Motorola. He’s got fuckin’ patents on half the shit we got. He’s fuckin’ filthy rich. He’s my friend. He used to build my amps, build my shit for me. So, I’m comparing their shit to mine and thinking, this is shabby bullshit.
What? Flash’s as well?
Yes, Flash’s was real shabby shit! I remember Flash had an amp that some Jamaican – some Rasta – built for him. I’ll never forget it. It was called a Gladiator amp. So, anyway, they’re setting up, and Flash is still going. Then, somebody knocks over a speaker and they’re thinking something’s wrong – people are running now. The crowd is running, and they’re thinking it was all set up. They’re thinking Theodore triggered that to get the crowd to come over to him.
Aren’t they cousins though?
I really don’t know; Theodore used to be Flash’s record boy. Scratching still hadn’t been invented, mind you, so Flash was still getting records and cutting them and extending them. Cutting them and extending them, and cutting back and forth, all those little tricks. Theodore had slammin’ records, his system sounded like garbage, but the music was the bomb. He was playing records that I never heard before, plus all the records that I did know. But the amazing thing about Theodore was that he was not backspinning. This motherfucker had the uncanny ability to pick up the needle, drop it and throw it in, drop it and throw it in, cutting four-bar beats that way, without spinning back. Four-bar beats is one-two-three-four, two-two-three four. At that time, we’re talking about records that were fast…records that are going like 108 beats per minute, 100 beats per minute, sometimes 115 beats per minute, and these are four-bar beats, and this guy’s picking them up.
I’m like, “He cut ‘Dance to the Drummer’s Beat’ without touching the vinyl!” He picked it up [imitates the nonstop beat].
With one copy?
No, he had two copies, but he’s going back and forth, the quickest way for you to get back to the beginning of a break was spinning it back and then throwing it in.
But he didn’t do that? He just picked it up?
Picking it up and throwing it in. Beep, beep, beep, beep. I’m watching this the best way I could… oh, God! That was the first time I saw Theodore – same day as I saw Flash, in the summer of ’78.
Was he scratching as well?
Scratching wasn’t invented yet. The first person I heard scratch was Flash.
I thought it was Theodore.
He invented it, but Flash bit it, and he started playing it. Flash was already larger than Theodore. Flash was exposed, so everybody thought Flash did it, thought he was doing it first, but he didn’t. He heard Theodore do it, and then he did it, that’s how he got it. First time I heard Flash scratch was when he took “Apache,” and he went “Vvooo, vvup, vvoo-vup, vooo-vup, voo-vup, bac-a-tak, a-tackle-tac-tac…” That was the first scratch, and every time he did that shit the crowd went berserk, screaming.
What were the parties in the park like? What kind of people went to them?
All kinds. Everybody in the neighborhood. Hispanics, blacks, whites – you wouldn’t see too many whites there, they were always afraid of us. They always considered us to be violent. We weren’t violent, we just didn’t like being looked down on. That’s all.
And the parties would start in the afternoon?
Yeah, they would start early and end at four in the morning, man.
Did people really wire their shit into the light poles?
Yes. Do you know how many times I got stopped by the cops or chased?
Is it dangerous?
Yes. We didn’t give a fuck, we wanted to play music. Playing music was more important than our lives. It was things like that that helped put hip-hop on the map, man.
What about Bambaataa?
I met [Afrika] Islam first. Islam, I met through Little Black, who was my MC. Little Black’s big brother was Islam’s close friend.
He was just B-boying then, he wasn’t DJing?
Who, Islam? I always used to see Islam with Bam, and I wondered who he was. Then I heard him…he used to call himself, DJ Islam, son of Afrika Bambaataa. And he and I hit it off, off the bat. Iz and I hit it off lovely.
People couldn’t stand us, but they always came to see us.
He’s half-Puerto Rican isn’t he?
I think so…we got really close, we’d go to parties. Oh, man, me and that motherfucker got stories, especially from Japan…Japan, California. Those were the days, man. I kind of wish things would get back to that stage, where it was simpler. It was a simpler time.
People talked about how hip-hop was the thing that stopped the gang violence. Was that true?
Kind of. It got to the point where it was kind of contributing to it, but now people are more socially aware of that problem, and they’re trying to do something about it.
Did the parties help end it?
It was all good. Nobody was thinking about [fighting]…they just wanted to party, that’s all they wanted to do. They enjoyed the fact that there was somebody out there playing music for free for people. I was always setting my stuff outside and playing.
Everything was innocent. The other beauty of it was that all the DJs were promoters. We were marketing geniuses and promoters, and we didn’t know it. We didn’t know shit about business; we were kids from the fuckin’ ghetto! But we’re making flyers, we’re making money, we’re selling tapes. We didn’t know that this was what was called promotion, or marketing.
How did you make tapes, loads of them or just a few copies?
We’d make tapes at the jams and sell them as Charlie Chase At So-And-So Park, or Charlie Chase At The Webster PAL with Grandmaster Flash. Our biggest promotional vehicle in getting [the tapes] out there were the cab services…You had the OJ Cab Service and then you had Community Cab Service. They were the first cabs that used to drive luxury cars. And they would always – if they knew you were a DJ –they would come by and buy tapes off you. And then they’d play them in the cars. They’d go to clubs and pick up people…and people when they leave the clubs, they still want to hear good music, so they would pop in the tapes and people would go, “Yo, whose tape is that?” The cab driver would say, “This is so-and-so Charlie Chase,” or they’d give them the number that people would call [to] come by and pick up tapes.
People made a lot of money from them?
Yeah. I used to live on a first-floor apartment, my window was always being knocked on. People thought I was a drug dealer after a while. It was like my apartment is now…I had a ground floor apartment, and they would knock on my window and I would sell them tapes.
How about the battles? How did that come about, was it just a natural thing that people wanted to prove who was best?
Yeah, it was territorial man, it was like a cat where it sprays its territory, just to let people know this area’s been taken. Basically, all this shit stems from us wanting to impress the girls, man…You know, it wasn’t even really a thing of money…then you started meeting other people, and they took it on more aggressively, and took it on more as an art form, then it became to what it is today.
How often did battles actually happen?
It happened to me a bunch of times. It was me, battling against Grand Wizzard Theodore and Disco King Mario at Monroe High School.
Is this something you organized, or did they just happen?
Yeah, we would sometimes schedule a battle, or sometimes the battle would just pop up. Had a few battles. Us and Jazzy Jay, that was out on 118 Park.
When did battling get big?
Hard to say, man, the battle was always a big deal. Flash was always battling somebody. Not the MCs, the MCs never battled anybody with status. The Furious Five MCs never really battled anybody, until they met up with us a few years ago at Madison Square Garden, and we spanked that ass. Flash always battled as a DJ. He battled a lot of people.
What about the breakers, that’s older than the whole battle thing?
Crazy Legs, Rock Steady Crew…all these Bronx crews all grew up listening to my music. I knew Legs before he had pubics...that’s how long I known that motherfucker. He used to come around, and they used to be breakdancing. They were always around; they were very supportive. One thing was that if they knew there was a party going on, they’d tell everybody. They’d be like “Yo, Chase is here, Chase is there, we’re going over there, because that’s where Chase is.” It was still underground and we all relied on each other.
Rock Steady, are they from the Bronx? I thought they were from around Rock Steady Park in Manhattan.
They’re from the Crotona area, where I’m from.
Your stage show was famous for its sense of theatre and costumes.
It wasn’t about making records in the old days. The thing was, we had a show that was…when you saw us perform, it was unforgettable. At that time, we didn’t give a fuck. We were natural on stage…We were the underdogs at the time. We didn’t give a fuck. We had nothing to lose. If you stepped on our face, we would go all out to defend what was ours.
We just used to think [about our shows], man. You’ve got to remember, I’ve got stage experience and Caz was also stage-minded. Everybody chipped in, but when it came to the music, it was me, and when it came to the lyrics and directing, it was [Caz]. We always knew that the element of surprise was something that caught the crowd, and we also knew what people looked for…when you hear a symphony strike, that shit is intense, so we had to match that visually on stage. So, I would take a record and take a strike, and the guys would pose – bam! It was shit like that. That shit was not done in hip-hop. We dressed the part. We played the part. We had a show called Gangster Chronicles. We dressed it. I have 8x10 pictures of that shit. We came on stage with pinstripe suits, the hats and plastic toy Uzis. This is ’81 in Harlem World.
A lot of groups back then would be uncomfortable with the stage. They’d be nervous, you could see them pacing back and forth on the stage, and just mumbling, rattling on, to hide the nervousness. Not us, man. It was natural to us. None of us were afraid to pick up the mic and talk. Me neither… We used to wear sequin suits and lamé suits, leather suits. We were flashy man, and the thing that stood out was that 24 hours a day we were on stage, whether we were on the street or…
You wore that shit in the street?
No. No. We’d carry ourselves that way, and people couldn’t stand us, but they always came to see us. And it got to the point where we’d be battling…there would be prizes, $1,000 prizes for battling and as soon as we walk into the door, other groups would be like, “Damn man, they showed up!” They knew, once we walked through the door, the money was ours.
You know how much money we made in battles? Thousands, man. Thousands and thousands of dollars in battles. We went to Rochester, New York. Did a show, unknown. We were an unknown group in Rochester. Bambaataa had “Planet Rock.” You remember “Planet Rock?” It was a mega fuckin’ record. The fuckin’ biggest record ever made. We’re his opening act, and we bust they ass. Unintentionally. We just did our show. We didn’t battle, we didn’t say anything against them, they were our boys. We just did our thing.
They got on and did “Planet Rock,” and everyone was just [folds arms as if bored]. People were saying, “Are you sure that you’re not Afrika Bambaataa and they’re the Cold Crush Brothers?” It’s an honest story. A true story. That’s why we have such longevity. Even now, people have so much respect for us.
So, what about the battle between Cold Crush and Theodore’s Fantastic Romantic Five…
The battle took place in the winter, ’81. That was when we first introduced the Gangster Chronicles show. We have the pictures from that time. The battle stemmed from the fact that two of the MCs that were with the [Fantastic Romantic Five] were my ex-MCs, so there was always a little bit of shit. Also, the two MCs were Caz’s ex-protégés. For a while they were talking shit and the buzz was growing in the community, in the hip-hop community, like “Fantastic is better,” “Hell no, Cold Crush will bust they ass,” “No, Fantastic is better.” There were little tiffs and arguments in clubs and public. It was like Muhammad Ali facing Joe Frazier at the time, where he would meet him in public just to humiliate him. The promoters at Harlem World got wind of it and they said, “We’ll put up a $1,000 prize, if you guys come here and battle.”
We rehearsed our asses off. Literally, every day. Not just for that show. For anything. Even if there wasn’t a show, we rehearsed every day. And we rehearsed for that show intensely, and the night of the battle came, we got on first. If you listen to the tape, we bust they ass, but the crowd, the girls…the 50 or something little girls that were in front of the stage, made the biggest noise, which was for them. You’ll hear it. Play the tape. Play close attention, you’ll see. I remember, we were broken-hearted because we knew we won. But we were betrayed. We felt like we were stabbed in the fucking back. We made scenes in the street. We were this close to fighting in the street – fist fights with them.
No, before. Afterwards everything was cool. That was a cool battle. But there was another cool battle. The battle at the Garden, which was us and the Furious Five. Oh, God. It was an old-school throwdown show for Hot 97. They were billing it as the battle of the old-school groups, three years ago.
They billed us against the Furious Five. Shan battles KRS1…so and so battles so and so, and so and so and so on… You can’t expect an old-school battler to take that as a dress-rehearsal thing. No fucking way. We take this shit to heart. And Furious did too. But the problem was, we were humble about it; we would show up to the rehearsals and in front of the whole tour – KRS and Shan, Melle Mel and them – they all just poppin’ shit. They were just so obnoxious, so stupid about it, that everybody on tour was like, “Fellas, bust they ass!”
They got real stupid… Kidd Creole [of Furious Five]…I’m sitting next to Easy AD, the guy in my group, and Creole says to AD, “Listen man, this is the way it goes… When we were kids, y’all were bums. During your careers, y’all were bums. You couldn’t make a hit record, and that made you even bigger bums… Now, you’re still bums and we’re gonna make you look like bums.”
And I was like, “You know what motherfucker, we ain’t gonna talk shit. Just be there, motherfucker, that’s all we gotta do.” What we did was this: we gave them the old one-two; the fake and the one-two punch. This was my idea. The fake was, we had to go to rehearsal with the show tape, to rehearse in front of everybody, so they could see the show. We took a fake show tape, put it up and just rehearsed whatever came into our minds, meanwhile, behind the scenes, we had rented a space and were rehearsing the real show. I put together the most slammin’ fuckin intro DAT that you have ever heard in your life.
The beginning of the tape starts with celebrities of all sorts calling us up on the phone, leaving messages…I called them up and told them to say this. And they were like, “Yo, I heard about the battle against y’all and Furious at the Garden, man. Yo, bust they motherfuckin ass. This is Kurtis Blow…this is so and so, This is KRS 1…” I went in the studio and put this beat together just for the show. Every time the MCs run out and stop, a pin spot would hit them… whap, another pin light, wham, another pin light. It was all orchestrated.
Oh, we took that show. We came out with Jackson 5 afros, we did a Jackson 5 routine. Called them out on stage, cursed them out on stage, all that shit. Humiliated them. When they came out to do their show, they came out with some shit. I was looking at them, like, “This is what they wanted to battle us with?” We bust they ass. They were on the air the next week. On Dr Dre and Ed Lover. They let them have it. Everybody let them have it. “You’re supposed to be the Furious Five, what happened?” You know, [they were] humble pie after that. They never fucked with us again.
This interview was conducted in October 1998 in New York. © DJhistory.com