The essential DJs, speaker builders and bass mechanics on Jam Pony Express, Miami Bass and the lost art of regulating
Bins, Boxes, Cabinets, Walls
On Memorial Day 1993, a wall of speakers went up across from Miracle Fry Conch, in Liberty City, Miami. DJ Uncle Al and the Sugar Hill DJs had set up on 15th Avenue in an emergency response to the acquittal of William Lozano, a Miami police officer previously convicted on manslaughter charges for the murders of Clement Lloyd and Allan Blanchard on January 16th, 1989. Lloyd was fatally shot while being chased on his motorcycle, while Blanchard, who rode with him, died in the ensuing crash. The police shooting of an unarmed black man over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday reiterated the city’s long history of civil rights abuses in neighborhoods like Overtown, where the incident occurred, and northwest in Liberty City.
With the retrial four years later, the court would delay announcement of Lozano's acquittal to allow for deployment of police back-up over the Memorial Day weekend. “We knew we had to get out there,” says DJ Captain Crunch, Sugar Hill’s chief of operations who helped build many of the speakers. “The crowd was huge, for a good two, three blocks. We didn’t ask if we could – we just did it.”
Prosecuted by the state’s attorney Janet Reno, the Lozano case amplified tensions across race and class in Miami: Lozano was born in Colombia and came from a family of police officers. The victims, Lloyd and Blanchard, were from the Virgin Islands. It occurred at the end of a decade that saw Miami’s growth and excess wealth mirrored by inequality and an INS “processing center” in the Everglades serving as a detention camp, as well as a punitive model for American immigration policy towards people of color.
In the days leading up to the retrial in 1993, which included five venue changes and a contentious jury selection, Uncle Al, then 24, would be interviewed by the Washington Post: “I heard from people in LA. They were saying, ‘When you all going to do your part?’” Los Angeles was still reeling from the Rodney King protests and rioting a year prior. For Miami, it sparked memories of uprisings in 1980, when five white officers were acquitted in the killing of Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance agent from Carol City. Back then, groups like International DJs mobilized with WEDR, a radio station in Liberty City, and lined up 100 cedar JBL speakers that stretched across Manor Park. “We did what we do,” recalls Jerry Rushin, former EDR station manager and community leader. “The riots – it’s like hurricanes when they come. We’ve been through enough of them.”
That Memorial Day weekend in 1993, traffic was diverted from Liberty City, allowing hundreds to gather near Sugar Hill Apartments, a two-story complex at 71st Street and 15th Avenue. Officers dispatched to the scene would find DJ Uncle Al flanked by 48 speaker cabinets, regulating the calm while speeding up records by Ice Cube and Public Enemy. “Fight the Power” played at a BPM that exceeded the recommended New York limit, putting Flavor Flav’s clock on Miami time. (To be fair, the song had already sped up and hot-pantsed James Brown before arriving in Miami.) Al would drop out the music, call for justice, and cut back in. Drop out, exhort, drop in. These weren’t interruptions but bursts of momentum, the urgency pushed by tempo, as if every drop were building a case, or speaker cabinet. Each time Al jumped back onto the beat, he brought the crowd with him. “That’s when he [Al] pretty much came up with the slogan ‘Peace in tha Hood,’” says Crunch. “He always had that slogan, but that’s when it got its focus.”
That’s when Al pretty much came up with the slogan “Peace in tha Hood.” He always had that slogan, but that’s when it got its focus.
Al’s mantra for nonviolence became his signature drop, whether when directing traffic or running Barry White ragged. Love Unlimited Orchestra’s “Theme From King Kong,” which never appeared in the film, had been adopted as a Miami soundtrack across generations, from older black nightclubs like the Inferno (Resident DJ: “The Insane One,” AKA Benji the Mad Bomber) to Al’s block parties. Miami rap like Poison Clan and Anquette also frequented his mix, with Al shouting the names of people in attendance, making them seen and heard in records by local stars – within seconds, on beat, in the same breath. There’s the girl who snuck out in her parent’s car to bump Keith Sweat up and down 15th. The kid who used his H.U.D. connections to source plywood scrap for building speakers. Mr. Wonderful, Trina’s father’s shop where Al DJed. Anyone who called into one of Al’s pirate radio stations, those lifeline check-ins. Hook-up lines, too. “If you left your number on the air, you were gonna get called,” says Al’s 30-year-old son, Albert Moss Jr., a DJ himself.
As on any day when Sugar Hill set up, Al’s presence that weekend became a rally, a release of pressure systems. Generators that supplied emergency wattage in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew powered the amp racks – Miami DJs found an all-seasonal use for their generators. The low-end covered the promo, its elongated waves propagating through the six square mile area. As Miracle Fry would attest, bass was good for business. Nor did the police try to ticket Sugar Hill for operating a twelve-foot wall of thunder without a permit. Just weeks before the Lozano acquittal, the city had hired Al for a party called “Jammin with the Man,” hoping to improve fractured relations between police and the black community. “We would set up with the police in different neighborhoods,” said Crunch. “They’d entertain kids. When I was a child, I always wanted to be a police officer – most of the fights I got into [in school] was about people bullying someone.”
Crunch would take over Sugar Hill after his best friend Albert Moss was shot and killed on September 10th, 2001, in a case of mistaken identity over pirate radio transmitter theft. “I had just made a promise to Al, not knowing he was getting ready to leave here. We was sitting on the couch and he said ‘Crunch, if something happened to me, who’s gonna take over Sugar Hill? You retired.’ He was laughin’ because I wasn’t going to parties anymore. Actually, I was fixin’ to get totally out of it – I was pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice at Broward Community College. I was going to bring the rest of my speaker cabinets over there and give them to him. I said, ‘For that I’ll come out of retirement. We worked too hard to build this thing.’ We laughed, brushed it on off. A half hour later, this man gets killed.”
The community still feels the loss. Al was a unifier, his parties known to collapse borders defined by turf wars, in areas that had been historically redlined and marginalized. While the mere act of stacking systems could be a form of resistance, memories of personal interactions with Al have a commonality: that he always took time to listen.
“He put a lot into this city,” says Albert Moss Jr. “The people in power – they don’t embrace it [Al’s legacy]. But the grandmas, the aunties, they remember him. Strangers come up to me all the time. A lady at a store said, ‘You look like somebody. She said one time she’d broken down on I-95 in the rain and her phone was dead and a big white truck pulled up. A short dude with a mouth full of gold jumped out, changed her tire and gave her gas money. She later realized it was Uncle Al, the guy she listened to on the radio all the time.”
Crunch tried to absorb the grief along with the shock of the 9/11 attacks the next day. “That [9/11] kind of took some of my pain off of Al. It distracted a little. Everybody’s hurting. It wasn’t just me hurting from Al. I put it in a bundle and dealt with it all together.”
Crunch had been friends with Al for so long, it’s hard for him to locate exactly when they met – maybe at a party in 1982, trying to hear each other over “Mama Used to Say.” He does recall the time Al threw a box of cereal at him in aisle four of the Great Foods on 62nd, where they worked as teenagers. Crunch, 6'4", working in the meat department, Al, 5'6", on stock. “He said, ‘Think fast!’ That’s how I got my name.”
Some of the neighborhood sites from Uncle Al’s parties are in phases of redevelopment, magnifying displacement fears. This includes sections of Liberty Square, the 1930s’ WPA housing where many of Crunch’s DJ mentors grew up. “Liberty City’s been seeing more growth,” says Crunch. Maintaining Al’s legacy has kept the 52 year old busy. He continues to work as an independent bass wall contractor while also doing party rentals and rehabbing a former grocer into an internet radio station. Located on the corner of 58th Street in Liberty City, Statewide Radio will be operational by fall 2019. The day we meet in February, the small one-story building is occupied by 16 speakers, one generator, a lawnmower, stacks of Sheetrock, and approximately one Newcleus song. “Computer Age,” which fretted about screen time 35 years ago, rumbles out into the backyard, joined by an afterschool breeze.
Crunch watches his son wrestle a speaker off a dolly onto the grass. With its dishwasher bulk, the bin appears to be in grumpy resistance to the Echo. “One day we’re gonna have one little box that sound like 32 speakers,” Crunch sighs. “And I’ll be so happy. One bass speaker [now] is equivalent to four bass speakers that we was using back in the days. The wattage is different. You might not need as many but they still gonna stack that wall, because it’s not just the sound. Some stack for the look.”
Recovering from spinal surgery, Crunch sits with his elbows resting on his walker, pointing out speaker designs on his phone. There’s talk of portholes, baffle, flex, wind. The physics of woodgrain and decay. His hand traces along the walker’s crossbar, using its slight bend to illustrate the desired curve of wood. “The bass bin has to reflect. It’s gonna travel. It’s gonna throw.” The flex is nearly imperceptible. The throw, on the other hand, makes you aware of your physiology and presence, requesting, if not demanding attendance.
An inflatable movie screen goes up behind us like a giant raft. Tonight they’re setting up for the debut screening of Music Regulators, a documentary that cogitates on the South Florida DJ life of the ’80s and ’90s. Crunch and his cabinets feature prominently. Another highlight in the film is the appearance of Coochie Crew, a group of middle school girls from Fort Lauderdale who formed a DJ crew in the mid-’80s and hosted a weekly at a packed teen club, Nepenthe. “I got into DJing and got on the mic because guys would say degrading stuff about women,” says Sabrina “Juicy S” Austin. “That’s how the Coochie Crew came about. Like, “OH, you NOT gonna say that about us!” Coochie Crew in battle: teenaged girls building a wall of noise with their voices and a guitar pedal, echo boxing the room. Sabrina’s mother was in full support of this endeavor, as was her older brother, Slick Vic of Jam Pony Express. Because regulators needed to get regulated.
I’d make 8-track tapes for these Rastas. They used to give me their records, vinyl, and I used to make them tapes. I wouldn’t talk over their records… You make their records say shit straight. Or they kill you. That’s the fact, jack.
To the Miami tourist, “regulating” is distinguished by what might seem contrary to DJing: cutting down the music, yelling, not letting the song play through. Disco Rick, a former DJ himself, once told me that it sounds like they’re DJing outside. Live, local, accessible. You had to be there, along with the outbursts of weather, the humid smother, sun blare, egret nod, the high school marching bands, the Bahamian Goombay beats, the sea bottom fritters, once denizens of a low-frequency habitat themselves, before they hit the deep fry, then to the gut, converging with bass resonance in a dance called the Parking Lot. A defiant Southern refrain of “we do things different down here” – which has a malevolent history of liberties taken by law enforcement – runs through, and at times over, the music. Like someone jumped in and commandeered the track and got dunked by a freak wave of echo. As a version of hearing and locating yourself, this Miami sonar could be traced to DJs like Disco Dave. “That’s when Disco Dave-Dave-Dave rode around in the ‘Vert-Vert-Vert,’” says Allan P of Triple M DJs. “He was comin’ in those flea markets with the slow-down tapes. Dave was a trendsetter, the first one doing the Echoplex. One time-time, throwin’ down-down-down.”
Before mixers came equipped with effects, music stores in South Florida might’ve noticed young black kids depleting their guitar pedal stock. Nobody had the King Tubby SpaceXpander, so DJs improvised. Regulating carries a strong Jamaican dub and live dancehall influence, from when selectors dropped out the music – sometimes into a submarine cavern – and then returned to “comment.”
“You answer back to echo what the man is saying,” says Lord Sassafrass, long-time dancehall artist who worked with General Trees. “It’s natural.”
“It was a way to ‘shift gears,’” says Rich Lowe, host of “Night of the Living Dread” for WRUW in Cleveland since 1982, who interviewed Sassafrass. “The timing and approach – it’s kind of like stepping into a jumping rope.” The bass itself is a double-dutch sine wave.
Regulating is also referred to as “mic-checking,” dropping a hip-hop standard on its head. “You check in and out of the music,” says Raymond “Raylo” Hartley, director of Music Regulators and long-time DJ from West Palm Beach. This check-in/check-out status suited the mobile DJ lifestyle when setting up temporary stations in motel rooms and apartments, often switching physical locations while (hopefully) jumping the dial ahead of the FCC. The flat Florida landscape, ever on the move itself, was described by geologist John Hoffmeister as “low as a place can be and still be called land.” It was accommodating for attenuated pirate signals, but as writer David Font pointed out in his essay “Bass 101: Miami, Rio and the Global Music South,” the bass itself suffered in its limited pirate radio medium, due to compression and a “flattening” of sound.
“I told the FCC, the police, it’s good to have us around,” says Calvin Mills, who ran multiple underground stations and produced enough records to fill all of them. “That we can be the voice to help them get to the people. They’ll listen to us. I’m trying to help the community. Everything I did was to better us, not hurt us.” Mills, who helped Uncle Al get on the air, nearly covered the dial with pirate stations all over South Florida, from Florida City near the Everglades to his mother’s house on 55th Street. “I had one above Too Sweet, a rim shop, one above VIP strip club. The one at my mama’s house was up the longest.”
“There were a bunch [of stations] in Miami right off the 79/81st Street exit, off I-95,” adds Raylo. “One time a FCC agent was checking in a hotel when I was checkin’ out with Mystikal. I'm like, ‘What are y’all doin here?’ They said, ‘Here to catch some asshole cussing on the radio.’ I left and shut the transmitter off.”
Regulating is highly unregulated, another Florida contradiction, like the resident tourist. By constantly ducking out the beat, Miami DJs seemed to be taunting the federal agents that wished to shut them down permanently. Regulating may sound like a foot out the door, but it’s less hurried than just motivated and business-savvy. It’s an extreme take on studio-engineered radio commercial drops that crammed blurts of information (and songs) into 30-second spots. One of the innovators was South Miami’s Abraham “Tiny Head” Dupree. DJs would study Tiny Head’s ads, which were recorded at his mother’s house in South Miami then delivered to WEDR, an hour north. Others like Chico the Leo and Chico in Stereo would follow. The lineage can be traced further back to black radio legends like “The Mighty Burner” Sonny Hopson (WHAT AM 1340, Philadelphia, also home to Jocko Henderson) and Joe “Poppa Rock” Louis (WOKJ, Jackson) and Miami’s own Milton “Butterball” Smith (WMBM).
When’s the best time to go on air? Raylo would find a venue with the pandemonium that was appreciative of this ADDJ style: the three o’clock school bus. “As soon as school let out, we turned on the transmitter and the AC in the bedroom and start jamming. We knew everyone was on those busses listening. Like we were in a fucking club. Carry on!” Regulating may not translate to bass-starved earbuds 1,300 miles up I-95, but it’ll rock your kid’s birthday party, suited for sugar-rush and bouncing off the walls of inflatable castles.
Regulating demands your attention by subdividing it, putting DJ and song in the same thought, on a timeshare. It’s a way of reading the audience and, in a sense, speaking its mind. “You had to know the record inside out,” says Disco Rick. “You'd make it up and it’d sound so good it was as if you were doing the record yourself.” Uncle Al’s hyper-interactive approach fills in memory gaps – attachments to song and place. People always knew where to find him, whether on the block, on air, or both at once. Those drops are a way of living in the moment, having a say in tiny spaces that were expanded, heard and remembered.
Another cabinet flattens the backyard on 58th Street. Nudged together, the speakers have a chummy symmetry. Crunch cautions his son – who DJs as Lil Crunch – that only a couple of bins are needed. Traditionally, Miami has operated on a more boom policy, but it’s a Monday. If in need, 16 more auxiliary cabinets are stored in Crunch’s warehouse north in Broward County. Hundreds more are scattered across his recall from building bass boxes for the past 30 years, joining countless others, storage war vets of termite and warp, blown and deactivated, currently inhabiting the South Florida warehouse sprawl, blurring into the collective DJ memory of parties in African Square Park, USA Flea Market, Splashdown at Virginia Key Beach or the Goombay Festival in Coconut Grove. The histories within the mini-storage wasteland along I-95. Some speakers end up in backyards as mosquito incubators, repositories for leftover storm water. Other cabinets, as evidenced recently in an airport in Cairo, have been used for smuggling ancient mummy remains. Kings, queens and the speaker cone of concern. In Crunch’s case, the bass furniture stays in the family.
The laptop and turntables are set up and Lil Crunch refreshes the speakers with Rich the Kid. When he was his son’s age, Crunch had already built a soundsystem in woodshop class, got an A, and rocked the Westview Middle School cafeteria. “You could’ve built a shoe rack. I wanted to build speaker boxes.” His classmates admired the craftsmanship while dancing in the lunchroom to “Fix It in the Mix.” That was 1983.
Four blocks south of Crunch’s station is the former site of Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell’s Bass 91.9. This was the first pirate radio station in Miami to play what was once stickered and dog-whistled as “explicit lyrics.” This twiggy-looking antenna would lead to FCC investigations, concoctions of noise ordinance, Supreme Court battles, federally-funded transcriptions of the then-unprintable, a cop from COPs staking out record stores, appearances on Donahue and Geraldo, concerns for the safety and moral turpitude of America’s youth (the white youth, at least), bibles thumped harder than bass bins, inventive hip-hop production techniques to render clean versions (and the inventions of cuss getting there – by most accounts it was a tedious process in the pre-digital era), L’Trimm refusing to do in-stores wherever 2 Live Crew records weren’t sold, a lopsided power/gender dynamic nearly singlehandedly upended by Trina, white institutions trying to dictate black expression, arrests and redemptions, Luke splurging for pizza for surveillance vans parked outside and Luke’s brother landing planes carrying Flavor Flav and Schoolly D to Miami. Not to mention someone jacking into the Dade County police radio frequency with a song called “Me So Horny.” So, there’s history.
Luke’s Bass 91.9 transmitter was set up by WEDR engineer Steven J. Grey, the MacGyver of Miami Bass (presently flying over Miami in a helicopter doing traffic reports.) Luke’s station once shared the corner of 54th with Luke’s teen disco, the Pac Jam. Crunch remembers his first time DJing there. “The bass vibrating so hard. The only thing I’m looking for was the devil coming up out of the ground.”
Most of the DJs and speaker box builders who appear in the Music Regulators DVD will be at the screening, and most of them, at some point, have lived in Liberty City, and/or at some point have called the Pac Jam home. They remember feeling the throb from that tiny green room while waiting in line outside. These memories – anticipations of future drop – are often accessed with a motion over the shoulder: Just over there. The line wraps around the block, merging with other stories and speaker engagements from the past. Another backyard or corner claimed by another Uncle Al party. Another battle with Chipman at the Carver Center.
A right turn at the corner of Pac Jam, onto 54th, merges with the route of the Martin Luther King Jr. parades, southbound. More speakers went up as Janet Reno marched with her mother and heard her name over a loop of “Get on the Good Foot.” The DJ was playing “Janet Reno,” a 1988 tribute by Luke’s teenage cousin Anquette. Not far ahead, a majorette named Katrina “Trina” Taylor marched with the Miami Northwestern High band, passing the Burger King, a local franchise that sponsored battles and contests for building DJ consoles. One block up: Calvin Mill’s mother’s house, her address on the pirate frequency dial.
Strangely (or not), GPS tried to place Crunch’s station four blocks south and 30 years back, as if the algorithm itself were trying to worm its way into the Pac Jam. Crunch looks up and gives a nod to the powerlines where they used to clamp on in the pre-generator days. Clouds begin to pile up on the afternoon, lowering the sky. The turntables and speakers in the backyard draw interest. A kid in scotch plaid pants and sliders cuts through on a bicycle, ditches it by the speakers, gets on and casually shreds “Pack Jam,” or its virtual approximation. He makes a few jokes and vanishes down 12th Avenue. Just messing around.
Crunch smiles. “A lot of them just like to get a little feel right quick but have other things on their agenda.”
Things move fast down here. In retrospect, this drop-in seemed to happen in the time it takes to knuckle the gnat goo out of your eye, like the kid in plaid had regulated himself into the afternoon and then cut out. “Pack Jam,” a song that was once played all over Miami before he was born, is left hanging in the air in astonished fragments, trying to get itself together before the next Grown Folks reunion.
Raylo gimps by in flip-flops and camo shorts. “Jam Pony Express” is bedazzled in rhinestones across his t-shirt, a gift customized by his wife. Two days ago, an overheated bass amp fell on Raylo’s leg, and in 24 hours he’ll be in ER getting treated for it. In the meantime, he’s here to ensure the neighborhood sees the DVD, because he’s spent the past five months driving all over the state of Florida interviewing middle-aged DJs.
One morning in 1986, as a freshman at Lake Worth High in West Palm, Raylo was faced with the choice of going to English class, or going to Miami to find 2 Live Crew. So he chucked his books in the bushes and took the Tri-Rail 60 miles south to Liberty City. “I told the school we’d moved and gave them a bogus number so they’d stop calling my grandma.” Like everyone else it seems, Raylo wound up at the Pac Jam getting his mind (and ears) blown. His Warriner’s Compositional book is likely still moldering away back in the bushes by the rail station.
Decay, its perpetuation, is a studio-engineered expression of redlined levels, prolonging the waveform’s final thought. In Miami, speakers are referred to as cabinets and bins, migrated from Jamaican soundsystem terms like boxes and wardrobes (the latter reclaimed from its colonialist usage by the Windrush generation). They are units of storage, keepers and transporters of memory. For Albert Moss Jr., it was growing up with a kitchen wall of speakers, or sleeping in the amp rack as a kid, while his father DJed.
Though memory itself can be a function of sustained decay, bass cabinets occupy a space of clarity (“Clear” being a regulator favorite for drop-ins) within the stories generously shared in this incomplete oral history of the Miami mobile DJ scene. All of these DJs, speaker builders and bass mechanics are still active.
In May 1980, five white officers were acquitted in the killing of Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance agent from Carol City. In the wake of what became known as the McDuffie Riots, groups like International DJs mobilized with WEDR, a radio station in Liberty City.
Benji the Mad Bomber, AKA “The Insane One”
Co-founder of International DJs, former resident DJ at the Inferno, had a left-handed hook shot that got him a tryout with the New Orleans Jazz
Benji the Mad Bomber
About a week after the riots we went out in the community with Jerry Rushin. WEDR was trying to get everybody together. We jumped in the EDR van and went on 62nd Street. They – the National Guard let media in. That was the only way we could get in. We had megaphones. They told us to wave our hands out the window, to show who you was. So many people was without electricity, a lot without food. And it was curfew – they couldn’t go out but they didn’t have any power. They lifted the curfew so we could have the rally.
Ain’t shit changed. This was 1980 and I’m still talking about the same shit 40 years later. It [the rally] was a diversion, something not driven by police. It had been a really rough few days. Looked like a combat zone out there. We stacked the “Wall of Sound.” That helps add to the underground economy, whether it was selling ribs, wings, Sno Cones. Everybody got to hustle without paying taxes – a chance to pull up a little bit.
Benji the Mad Bomber
We brought in our International DJ trucks with the generator and search light on top. We needed one truck for the generator. We set up at Manor, played Stevie Wonder “Living for the City,” “Why Can’t We Live Together.” Timmy Thomas was there as one of the speakers, with Jerry J., Betty Wright, Athalie Range [the first black city commissioner]. Her funeral home is still there – with the house up 17th and 58th Street. We had about 50 JBL speakers from Mr. Hank on either side of the console. I still got about 40 in my garage. I got the Bozak mixer. We still use them for the Grown Folks Night Out. I still got my Technic turntables. Still got my 12" of “King Kong.”
72, former station manager for WEDR and various Miami clubs, co-founder of International DJs
There was a park called Manor Park [now Olinda Park] and the mobile DJs would get there with their speakers. It started creating problems in the neighborhood for the residents – the noise, the traffic. So the police shut it down. I went to the city commissioner, Joey Carollo, who was notorious for his dislike of black people. To my surprise he gave me support. And the sheriff gave me maximum support to create Splashdown at Virginia Key, the so-called black beach. Splashdown allowed me to go to the beach. They gave me police and helped clean it up. It was a designated place to go that wasn’t in the neighborhood. Splashdown started in ’78, ’79ish.
DJ Allan P
60, Mothership DJs, South District Miami DJs, Triple M DJs, Goulds/Florida City
DJ Allan P
When I came back from the army in 1980, I got right back in. I went on with South District Miami DJs. They were heavyweights. That was Mr. Bug Merriwether and Pop Young, Trick Daddy’s daddy’s group. They had money to get the equipment. We had about five phases then. We had about 84 speakers then but we don’t use them all. We had five groups and everybody [would] take 12 speakers and we could play fives parties in one night. We were called the Red and White Night Flight.
Tiny Head was one of the biggest mobile DJs. He and I was doing dances in gymnasiums and stuff for kids down south in Richmond Heights and Perrine, Homestead. Tiny Head was from South Miami. So we rent cafeterias, get the National Guard Armory.
Speaker designer, Mr. Hank, Slip ’n’ Slide
I think Tiny Head had worked with Parks and Rec. and had access.
I worked as a custodian for City of Miami. My mother worked there. We started at City Hall and moved to Police Dept., took care of all maintenance and public works – street cleaning, street repair. I always had a job. DJing was a fun thing. But DJing was not giving you insurance. No sir! Didn’t turn into a business until we started promoting shows. It wasn’t like a career. I remember I’d get paid for DJing three or four times more than I’d get paid for working. What in the world? And I’m out here mopping floors!
66, South Miami DJs, South Miami
It became a business when schools started using us to raise money. Because of our clean-cut, no-drugs image, we got involved with a lot of organizations. They saw us as real wholesome. We’d bring down groups like Run-D.M.C., Kurtis Blow, Evelyn “Champagne” King… That’s when the National Guard Armory, places like that we started renting out. When we got saved, we started leaving the church and preaching on the street because we were used to the streets. Back then most churches didn’t go out as much with the soundsystems like we had.
Ghetto Style DJs, 2 Live Crew, high school football coach, Liberty City
Tiny Head could go through fucking 20 records in three minutes and make the records talk to you. Based on what he was talking about. He did it on beat, which is a complete artform. He was using T Connection, Jimmy Bo Horne, “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat,” you name it.
DJ Allan P
I idolize him [Tiny Head]. He was like a role model for all us back then. Tiny Head was unusual, ahead of his time. Tiny Head learned how to re-cone [speakers] by hanging with the late Mr. Hank. He taught everybody else – he didn’t have to go to anyone after that. We learned how to solder wires. The only thing we couldn’t get that good was re-coning [blown] speakers. I done saw him take a speaker out of the cabinet [at a party] and re-cone it right there!
DJ Captain Crunch
52, Sugar Hill DJs, Liberty City
DJ Captain Crunch
Re-coning on the spot – it can be done. According to how fast your glue dry. Only take about 15 minutes to cone the speaker. That’s the length of a good record, especially the ones they was making back then. When you was younger, you played to the point of no return. I was blowing speakers like crazy because I didn’t really care. All I wanted to hear was bass-bass-bass. But after spending money, spending money… Now, you gotta play with a little more sense. That amp will tell you.
These kids in Miami were so innovative. They’d just set up in a median strip and get the power and four of them big ole speakers together and sit there and they jam. All these groups had big followings. They were stars in the ghetto. They became real heroes – their names just as popular as the jocks on the air. It was a thing, with the wall of sound. Everyone had their trailer with big gigantic speakers. A lot of this was just guys freewheeling. Just happened to have that spirit, you know? I told them they may be unknown outside Miami, but they were stars here. We tried to get them organized, to keep us out of trouble, but they were wild. If they could get power – if you were at a gas station and the guy working at the gas station let you hook up – then it’s a commotion at your gas station. It was wide open.
Pure Funk DJs (founded by Bo Da Lover), Liberty City
They [Tiny Head, etc…] were older than us. To me it was how organized they was and how they moved as a team. Everybody play their part. Guys who just tow the speakers. Then you had the actual DJs. I thought it was a free-for-all. But it was real structured. They treat it like a business. Even if there was five people there, they was jamming like there was thousands.
45, Vicious Funk, Graveyard Houses, Little Haiti
The way Vicious Vie had us… Precision. It would take us maybe ten minutes to drop down a 24 pack [of speakers]. Hook everything, music playing within ten minutes. Two, three times a week we had clean-up at the warehouse. Clean-up was hell day. If you fucked up, you had to drop down. Give me 20! You had to do push-ups.
Everything was broken up into boroughs. If you from down south, you really had to get a ghetto pass to come through Liberty City. If you from Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, you still had to get a ghetto pass. We [Ghetto Style] controlled African Square Park.
DJ Allan P
We were down south, below Coconut Grove, in Goulds, Richmond Heights. Back then, you had to call and ask if it was cool to come play with Ghetto Style DJs. Or play with Amazing Jammers. The Moon Funk. CM Express. Space Funk is the ones brought us over [up north to Liberty City]. We had to get permission! They had Heavy Face, Mighty Joe Young, Messy Jessie. They had some weird names, but they were professional. Key to the movement. I made the call. I called the Space Age Arcade game room and talked to P Man Sam. That’s how we got together. They put us into parks. Horace Mann middle school – they didn’t have a gym. They put us in the cafeteria. That night we got down.
There was some Rastafarians that lived next door to us and they were part of this mob. I used to be over there all the time, before I started DJing. My mom was a beautician. She had some big-ass stereo, all the shit in one. One turntable, radio, and you open the motherfucker up like you open up a casket. On the weekend I’d fuck around with my mom’s stereo, turn it towards the window and I start DJing, turning the music up and down. I’d make 8-track tapes for these Rastas. They used to give me their records, vinyl, and I used to make them tapes. I wouldn’t talk over their records… You make their records say shit straight. Or they kill you. That’s the fact, jack.
53, co-founder Jam Pony Express, Fort Lauderdale
I’m a civil rights baby, born in the ’60s [Valdosta, Georgia]. I seen it in the ’70s, when the bass came in – Fort Lauderdale and Miami area, that’s Caribbean. My first experience with a DJ was hearing these Jamaican DJs with those big ole speakers with those big ole horns and shit. They set up at Oswald Park [in Fort Lauderdale]. They have a part with just the bass playing, turn all the highs off… [emulates womble]. Then they have the part where you just hearin’ the highs… sttstststs. “What are they doing?” Then with that low sub, whoomp whoomp whoomp. Then I heard highs playing by they self. Then both of them come on together.
You could hear that music all the way in our neighborhood. I was amazed but I was terrified, too. They looked so rugged with the dreadlocks and how they approached the mic. Everything was hard. I wasn’t used to that. But that’s when people start catching on.
Most of the Jamaicans back then were a lot older. My daddy was Jamaican – grandad was born in Jamaica. Jamaicans always carried bass, having the speakers flopping.
Speaker designer, Pure Funk, Liberty City
King Sporty [producer who wrote “Buffalo Soldier” for Bob Marley, DJed the Jamaican Independence celebrations] used to jam at the pool all the time. Used to go in the park, Charles Hadley Park by 50th Street. I was a little kid. Walls of speakers caught my eye. Caught Uncle Al eye too. It kept a lot of kids our age out of trouble. We was always occupied. We didn’t have to worry about all the gun violence and crazy foolishness going on now. You go find one of those big Pioneer receivers or Yamaha receiver off the trash pile. Get them little Magnavox speakers out of the TV and start our own little thing. Find it over by 61st Street. 13th Avenue. I was all over. Sometimes I go over to Little Havana and hit up my Cuban friend Eddie. He’d call up and say, “There’s an amp on the trash pile that might work.” I’d ride over there on my bike.
A lot of times all that power would fuck up the grid. When Sugar Hill and Vicious Funk came out, they had the generators you had to roll in, not the little ones you had to carry if you’re out camping. These guys had the real deal ones, diesel generators to bring up the power that they needed. They could power a whole neighborhood. Every once in a while the lights would go out in the neighborhood when we had three or four big sets playing. We used to go find electricity. You find different places to plug up, because everybody wanted to jam and have a good time. That’s when I’d say DJing was at its best.
We used to clamp onto the power line. Let that be told – nothing safe about it! Sometimes we climb on top a rooftop and clamp on. Go to a store and clamp on. A lot of businesses were closed – we just clamped on and played music. That was years ago. Before we got into generators. Some people piggyback on other people’s power. Depends on who you know.
Then crack was starting to come around. That’s when it started getting crazy. It wasn’t fun anymore. Some of the groups, the police would say was a front. I was accused of being a drug dealer because I had so much equipment. “You just having these big parties so you could move what you want to move.” Essentially, that’s what slowed it down. Because before, every weekend, you had a place to go. You had a park, somebody’s house, or set up on a street and jam and the police wouldn’t worry about it.
Crack just busted on the scene. I graduated in ’84, the Reagan years. Before that we used to go to the park, the lights be on at night. At the gym, you had all these afterschool activities, park activities going on. And that Reaganomics came and boom, all that shit cut off. We used to play basketball at the park at night and boom, the lights went off and the crack came. Just like that. All that extracurricular activity stopped. Now you gotta be out here slingin’ this dope.
All that shit was choreographed as far as I saw it. I used to get pissed off about that. Because we was going to work experience [high school work program where Vic learned to build speakers]. We was jobbin’, doin’ what we need to do getting our records and equipment. And we used run into DJs that got so much stuff they don’t know what to do with it. And we be like, “Yeah, all that dope money.” They got the equipment and they don’t know what to do with it.
49, co-founder Coochie Crew, first all-women DJ group, Fort Lauderdale
We were known in Fort Lauderdale. Everybody wanted to battle us. They’d come for us – a lot of them had dope dealers in their group, so they had a lot of equipment because they lifestyle was different. We were DJs, but it was from money we got from our parents, what we worked for. So we didn’t have a wall of 50 speakers. We couldn’t afford that. Most of those guys grew up in the streets, grew up as hustlers and also DJs. We didn’t come from a hustler family. We were kids that our parents invested in and bought music. Got our Christmas money and bought equipment.
Located on 7th Avenue, Mr. Hank serviced the mobile DJ scene and clubs like the Bass Station when music stores wouldn’t, providing speakers, consoles and repair, while acting as a bass mentor of sorts. He and his son, Hank Jr., also installed systems in clubs like Bass Station. Born in Baden-Baden, Germany, Henry Kones worked in pacemakers and nuclear missile telemetry before settling into soundsystems. He was also working on ultrasonic insect repellant.
Party Down DJs, co-founder Gucci Crew, Disco Rick & the Dogs, manager/part owner Gfive, Liberty City
Hank and Hank Jr. made the cabinets for the street. Nobody else was doing it like them. The cabinets was cheap: you buy the cabinets for $150 a pop, with the speakers $250. But when we blew the speakers we had to go to them.
Sometimes I dream about cabinets. If I dream about a cabinet, I’ll wait or borrow money. Buy half a stack of wood. In the same dream I draw it out. And I load it up. I have visions of cabinets, mostly all the time. I don’t have no copyright, and see it all over the place. I was thinking of building 48 for the fun of it and just load ’em up.
DJ Allan P
The late Mr. Hank, who made all our speakers, made a lot of money. But he always took time out to educate us how the sound should be set, the equalizer, the type of speakers, from your highs to your mid-bottoms and your bottoms.
The first couple ones we got from Mr. Hank, but it was kind of expensive. Me and my partner’s brother [Ted Marshall], we pretty handy with carpentry, so we go to Mr. Hank and have somebody distract him, then we come out with the measuring tape. Then we duplicate it. Every time somebody go out of business we’d buy their cabinets. Every week we was buying eight from somebody, six from somebody. Altogether we got 145 I think.
Sexy Slim Good Body
48, co-founder, Coochie Crew, Fort Lauderdale
Building bass cabinets, that was sacred to Vic. [Jam Pony member] Loc too. In high school! Woodshop was a course we all needed to take to graduate back then. I was like, “You guys were so smart!” They took that and learned how to build cabinets.
When we got our first four pack, it sound like an eight pack. Got an eight pack, it sound like 12 speakers. Got a 12 pack, it sound like 24 speakers. It wasn’t just about the watts. Everybody was just about watts. We got into the Ohms. [makes Yogi hum] People that was in the army start bringing stuff back from overseas. That German amps. But the only time you could get a mixer was fuckin’ Radio Shack. We had to take Jam Master Jay to Radio Shack because his mixer got lost on the plane or some shit.
In the 1960s, the expansion of I-95 South displaced 8,500 households and 12,000 residents living in Overtown, a historic black neighborhood near downtown Miami. In 1969, M. Athalie Range, Miami’s first black woman to be appointed city commissioner, announced the opening of the Underexpressway Park beneath the I-95 bridge. Florida Power & Light did not provide electricity. The constant hum of traffic above – infrasonic vibrations referred to as “displacement superstructure” – would be later be drowned out by bass from speakers below, as DJs would stack underneath on every Sunday.
There was nowhere to plug in under the bridge. So we brought our own generators.
Overtown “Under the Bridge.” That used to be a very famous spot back in the day. That’s the spot that made you or break you. To this day I never knew what street. The name alone was the address. Tell that to an old DJ. Actually, I’m not gonna say “old DJ.” A veteran DJ. Watch their arms. See the hair stand up.
There were a couple of spots I wouldn’t go, but when it was time to jam, I was there. No matter where you were from, everyone was welcome. How would kids get there? Bicycles, skates, the bus, on back of trucks, getting dropped off. Actually – not getting dropped off, because the parents were there as well. I never remember ever a bad experience going on at Overtown “Under the Bridge.” A lot of things would happen in surrounding areas, but never there, because everyone knew there’s a lot of kids there. Back then, those DJs didn’t play about those kids.
You could jump on the Metrorail, the Brownsville Metrorail station, and the Metrorail actually takes you under the bridge. And if you going south you look over to your right and see everything going on – so now you jumpin’, getting hyped, everybody on the Metrorail getting your little routines down – and when you got there you showed your ass! The Metrorail takes that little dip down. That’s the only spot it dips. It gives you a perfect view, especially at night. All these DJs got lights up. That was the place to be. We reclaimed that space.
45, Dem Dogs, Peanut Butter Jelly co-creator/Music Regulators director, West Palm Beach
I came down one time and Ghetto Style was under there with their green speakers – “Kimbo King” by Reggie Stepper. Vicious Funk, that was first time I seen Cerwin-Vegas. They had at least 12. That shit was soundin’ off, boy. Bass bin is louder, but Vega hit harder. I remember Chipman riding over the Smurf. He was the voice. He was called Dog Nasty Dick ’Em Down.
Just give me one Sunday under the bridge. With some good ole Vicious Funk, Triple M, Sugar Hill. Goddamn Chipman and the Buckwheat Boys. Chipman is one of the top legends. I did some research on Chipman, I heard he played a 16 pack at the Last Supper. That’s how far back he goes.
49, DJ and recording artist, Buckwheat Boyz, Peanut Butter & Jelly co-creator, Overtown
The first time I really was out there [under the bridge] was Vicious Funk. Vicious Funk almost stacked it up all the way up to 95 South. You could look off top of the expressway and see the top of their speakers. If you walked under the bridge, it looked like you could step off the expressway right on top of those end boxes. You young and see something like that?! It was like an illusion.
Because of the poles, and the way they built the expressway right there, the acoustics was amazing. It was a little echo, but if you know how to listen to the second echo, you know which one to regulate the mic off [of]. Some people don’t know how to compensate for the echo. That was the best place to jam. Once it echo off the building and hits the neighborhood, everybody come out. It’s right there at your front door. That’s how the bass was traveling. It’s like you right there. You always knew who was under that bridge.
I lived in Overtown, grew up in Swamp City. I was sneakin’ out. Got my behind tore up when I came back. We walked to the Bass Station. That’s like three or four miles! We walked all the way to 119th and 21st Ave. When they say it [the bass] was heard for six blocks, they was not playin’!
It wasn’t just us sneaking out. It was other kids in the neighborhood. If it opens at 9 PM, we be leaving at eight. If [mom] go out and tell us she going out, we go out! Problem was, we wasn’t home to answer that house phone, the rotary dial. Somebody better be there to answer!
Candyman wasn’t always there [at Bass Station]. But the time he was there and walked across the stage and turned something on the amp rack, if you was back there playing video games, all the games shut off. He hit some button – went vvvvooooom. And they played “Triple M Bass.” Oh lawd, my ears was ringing! It blacked out once the bass hit. When you hear Candyman turn up the bass, stop playing video games because it’s going off.
DJ Allan P
Lil Hank, Mr. Hank’s son, was putting soundsystems in the disco clubs. They did our club – the Bass Station, home to Triple M DJs. His son wired up the whole Bass Station with 48 bass bins. 24 on the left, 24 on the right. Had a stage – all them 48 speakers coming right back to us with the crowd in the middle.
They played “Give the DJ A Break.” George of the Jungle – “HERE I COME TO SAVE THE DAYYYY!!!”
I wish Uncle Al was here to see this. He started those Peace in Da Hood jams on 15th Avenue. Back in the days, 15th Ave. wasn’t the place you’d want to hang around. But Sugar Hill… “Oh, Al’s playin’ there! Or Chipman?” You had to be where those guys were, because where they were was peace. It was peace. It could be two rival gangs. Al out there – they see what’s going on. They stop it before it happens. They do it because they love it. That’s what we know. Seen ’em come and go.
Benji the Mad Bomber
It used to be on Sundays if you went down 15th Avenue, all you heard was three of four DJ systems. You drive through there, it was like Jamaica. You got a chance to go party – free. Anything you wanted, go on 15th. They cut that out because people were getting robbed and all that.
From 61st Street, Northwest 15th Ave back to 12th Avenue, that was the hottest place to be after the Overtown Bridge. If you were somebody, anybody, you was gonna try to jam on 61st and 15th. That was the most hittin’ block, ever. Then Al took it [to] 71st and 15th, because he from the Sugar Hill projects. On any given Sunday, he could bring two speakers and have 500 people out there. We tore out the seats at the Carver Center [former movie theater in Liberty City] and jam there.
We did the MLK Parade [on 54th Street] and E.U. performed off our music, on Vicious Funk system. You remember “Da Butt,” right? My eyes blew up. What could top this? The next year we actually rode in the parade. We had the flyest DJ truck in history! Old International with black crushed interior.
We are the original Vega boys – first DJs to come out with Cerwin-Vegas. No one ever heard of Vegas. No one ever saw Vega. No one could imagine the power a Vega could produce until we brought ’em out. Not the one Mr. Hank built, no disrespect to his legacy. We’re talking direct. We’re in the warehouse and see these boxes. First thing we do after taking off the plastic is we take that silver logo off the front that had that name. FIRST thing we did was rip that off. In black that shit looked wicked. It looked and sound as if it was possessed. When we set up – you know “Devil Went Down to Georgia”? That was “The Devil Went Down to National Guard Armory.” From that night it was get down or lay down.
They used to battle to “It’s Yours.” About ten DJs in the gym and they all playin’ “It’s Yours.” Just so you could hear whose system it sounds best on.
With that record [“It’s Yours”], unlike the other records where I speed it up, I’d slow it down and it [the bass] would drop lower. Some of them – I slow them down so – we had this dance called Ghetto Nasty. I would use that song and slow it down, fucking as slow as it would go.
We had bass enhancers. If a song didn’t have enough bass in it, you mash the bass enhancer. It was a little box you had under your console. You hide it until the time of the battle. You didn’t want to show your whole hand. Manny and Henry Jr. – they’re the ones who introduced me to the bass enhancer. That was the whole key – who was up on the most technology that was available. Some people had more amplifiers than we did, but they equipment didn’t sound as good as our shit. In the beginning we blew a lot of speakers, until we got to know the equipment and the system.
Jam Pony Express and Coochie Crew on the Road
With Miami’s surplus of DJs, groups like Jam Pony Express of Fort Lauderdale would drive north with a U-Haul full of speakers to audiences in central and northern parts of Florida. Originally formed by Slick Vic and his friend Mark B and Hot Rod, members Big Ace (RIP) and Lock Cool Jock would later join. Coochie Crew – which included Vic’s sister Sabrina, Ace’s cousin Serena and Tasha – were their all-girl counterpart. (Ace’s daughter Babygirl represents phase two of Coochie Crew).
On the road, Jam Pony were preceded by widespread dubbing and bootlegs of their tapes, often unbeknownst to them, circulating in flea markets throughout the state of Florida. A tenth-generation dub might leave customers with ghost tapes. Push play and hear nothing but hiss and air, and faintly in the distance, as if counties away, Cybotron.
Mark B.’s father worked for Pony Express – before UPS – a mail carrier. His father used to take us to the jams in that mail truck. So people called us Pony Express, pickin’ at us. That was summer of ’80, ’81. We could’ve been called Bullshit Express, I know we gonna blow up.
We did Winterhaven, Florida back in the day. Winterhaven? I said, “Where Winterhaven? Outside Orlando. Uhh.. OK.” That was the first show we ever did outside our neighborhood, and we were goin’ down a dirt road, cornfields on both sides, had a U-Haul with all our equipment and speakers. No lights now, just dark. And I’m just seein’ lines of people just walking. Where the fuck they goin’? And it’s DARK! They goin’ to the gym. It was a gym downstairs. Had the gymnastics upstairs and the basketball court downstairs and we jam in there, underground.
The city of Fort Lauderdale police – those were some brutal cops back then. Regardless of where we were. They came up with all these noise ordinances and stopped us from having fun. We had to leave our city to enjoy our craft because they were shutting us down. But we had a huge following – they’d [fans] follow us up the road to Tampa. At my age  I was on the road! Dirt roads all the time!
Central Florida was extremely rural and very prejudiced too. Highway 60, it was really scary up there. It was like Rosewood. But that’s how bad we wanted to do our thing. And the people we went through all that to get to, they were so welcoming. They wanted something different. The small audience wanted it so desperately. They wanted that change. They had very little [access]. Mind you, that was a long-distance phone call back then. It was very isolated.
It became Coochie Crew because I’d get on the mic and say crazy stuff at the guys. We had to bounce back and respond to them.
Sabrina was the mastermind at talking the ish. I wanted to tell stories. Sabrina wanted to curse you out. She was hilarious. That song “Naan” [by Trick Daddy feat. Trina] or Cardi B., if I closed my eyes that could easily be Sabrina. That’s how hardcore she’d come. She was the baddest chick back then. At such a young age, she was so respected, she did not care. Anybody could get it!
I became a DJ from hanging out with them [Vic and Jam Pony] and wanting to get in the club for free. So they’re like, “Well, you gotta get on the mic.” No problem! So everybody knew me as Vic’s little sister. I became a DJ to be part of the clique.
In a room full of guys, after school with the music, my sister was always there. She like my second momma. I say, “She the youngest but she the oldest.” Coochie Crew, they were taking everything we were saying and putting the P power in it. Miami Bass music is male misogynistic – used to get away with “shake that ass.” They were putting a spin on it. Flippin’ it onto the men. That took off. That was a phenomena in itself.
Our theme back then was Coochie Power and laying down the P control. And then years later I was, “Wow, we was using that… That’s what’s up.” Pussy power – we in control. We came in and took over Jam Pony once they unleashed the Coochie Crew. When they’d travel we’d be in just as much demand. Our colors were pink and black and theirs was red and black.
We started in ’81. They wasn’t used to girl DJs. Where Vic and them could go in and sell their CD [after they blew up years later] for $35, I could sell mine for $50. They’d be, “Nah, nah,” and I’d be like “NOPE! You give me $50 or you ain’t getting it!”
I remember when they were asking for those more than my tape!
Big Ace came to my grandmother’s house and asked if it was okay [to join the group], saying he’d definitely keep a eye on me. I was real young – from that point on it was head on. I was 14.
Vic taught us how to catch the beat and just be ourselves. That’s one he thing he always wanted – us to be ourselves. He was so supportive. He was training us like a boot camp! He never judged us. On weekends I’d walk around the corner to the house [known as “the Boom Room”] and Vic pull out the speakers and say, “Time to put in work.” If you were there, you were gonna work on your craft. Then Sabrina come in and cuss ’em all out: “I AIN’T WRITIN A MOTHERFUCKIN’ THING.” That girl is hilarious.
I could get on there and say anything. Even though I couldn’t out-jam them I could make more money because of the demand. Guys wanna hear a girl on the mic. They wanna hear that – they want to ride around in the car with the booming sound of that time and hear girls, versus having some guy with his nuts hanging.
I had to become a true DJ. I was all day listening to the music, learning the music. We’d play with the echo box. You can come up with better punchlines learning the lyrics to the song. I was sitting in the house all day listening to records. Like “Peter Piper!” But mainly southern music. I’d drop the beat in and out. Connie “Funky Little Beat,” Gigolo Tony, Fresh Celeste, “Bass Mechanic!” I LOVED THOSE. I rocked over “Smurf Rock” – introduced that to my children. They said, “What??” I say, “Listen. Wait until that beat drop!” Yassss!
The girls tapes started really taking off. We’d do three parties at one time, had enough equipment. Drop somebody off at one party, set up then go to another. That was a crazy time ridin’ around in the back of trucks. It was my sister and her friends. My sister actually was what everybody thought I was. The wild and boisterous. She has a natural high like that. I thought, “I gotta be fucked up to be all like that.” What they think is me – that’s her spirit. I was always the quiet shy person. The DJing part was therapy for me. To get me out my shell. That’s why I was doing that stuff in the beginning. The talk game, to me, came from the old drunk uncles at the party.
When we’d go battle other DJs back in the day, those DJs from Miami, they would always beat us. Not beat us, but they would always have a better soundsystem because they had a wall of speakers. They might’ve had 50 speakers and we jumped off our truck with 20. But we had a different style of DJing and would always win. None of the other DJs had females. So they’d really have to turn their music up on us to drown us out to win. Because we had Big Ace hollering and screaming, and making popping sounds and it gets all ringy. Making mouth-moving sounds. It’s just not normal.
The way we do things is different. Half the time I was in a battle and didn’t even know it! I just wanted to jam.
I had a weekly DJ gig at Nepenthe. I was 15. That was the baddest teen club back then. Every week I’d show up and deliver. My girls and I. I wasn’t getting paid. No idea, at that age, I could be paid to do that. I just knew that when I got there, I was coming with ten to 15 people and the club was gonna be packed. My pay was probably the high from the crowd.
My grandmother didn’t know anything about it. Years later she said, “I can’t go to the flea market or get my dress altered without hearing your voice!” Our tapes were getting out there.
I still DJ periodically. If I go to a function and Vic is there – every time I go somewhere, people be like, “Juicy, get on the mic.” I be like, “Man! I don’t jam no mo’.” But, they hand you a mic and the beast come out. I can not jam in ten years and I go to a club and Vic is at the club jamming, I’m pullin’ at the mic! Gotta get a piece of that! I’m tellin you! You think, “OK, you’re getting older” – I’m 49 now – you’re like, “OK, your lifestyle changed, career changed, your image changed, you not the same person you was” – but somehow the DJ that’s in you is gonna pop out back out.
To this day, we’ll go to high school reunions and homecomings and, lo and behold, we’re DJing. Like, man, we gotta stop doing that! But they always call us and we deliver. When my children were younger I never even talked about that part of my life. I’d never shared that with them. My kids were there, at a wedding one time, and were like, “Ma! WAIT A MINUTE, who taught you that!!!”
The hydraulic screen has been tethered to an oak in Crunch’s backyard, moored to its root crawl. It’s undetermined if the wood is conducive to microflex and bass throw, but the tree does a good job of keeping the movie from blowing away. An evening breeze ripples the screen, causing the montage of speaker walls to do a body wave. A little girl, maybe all of six, invents a flurry of dance crazes in her doorway in the apartment complex next door.
Crunch’s backyard erupts when the Jam Pony reunion appears on screen. There are reverential hoots, a few stretch errrrrggghs. The signature growl of Jam Pony goes a long way in resonant emotion, gut-issued, taxing the speaker’s (human) diaphragm. The errrrrgggh is less vibration than a grinding of inner air, from years of dealing with Broward County police, but it’s also a way of commemorating Jam Pony’s Big Ace, who died of heart failure on February 1st, 2000.
On screen you see Vic, Loc, Juicy, Slim, leaning into the console, in a bar in Valdosta, Georgia. The track is Man Parrish’s “Man Made,” or was. It’s doused in reverb and prehistoric aviary screech (again, Ace). Sparing the subs, Ace’s enthusiasm was known to disable tweeters with a sweeping hiiiiiii, his way of greeting the room. At the southern reach of Georgia, they go word-for-errrggh for the 6'8" kid who blasted gospel from the trunk of his Lincoln with the suicide doors.
Whenever someone shows up in Crunch’s backyard, the energy ramps up a little more. Mr. Charlie from Young and the Restless, in a red Fila track suit with matching red Benz coup. JT Money from Poison Clan. Triple M’s Allan P wears a Gronkowski jersey and red pants, the boom still in his radio voice. Lil C is in a peach polo and a Bass Pro Shop hat. Big Pat, cousin of New York hip-hop radio pioneer Mister Magic and former promoter for WBLS and EDR, talks about his Seminole bloodline and low-freq gator signaling. There are lots of group photos. Uncle Al Jr. DJs a tribute to his dad, regulating over Slick Rick. The younger kids, videoing with phones, nod along. Chipman shows up, just getting off work, restless and hyped, and immediately gets called to the set. Crunch, in a moment of hell-with-it, gets on, positioning his walker in front of turntables. He regulates over “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat,” the veteran’s choice, and ends on, “Fuck it, I’m out of breath.” (As opposed to, “Fuck it, I just had back surgery.”) Everyone goes crazy because everyone’s been there.
It turns out that four speakers can make a respectable amount of noise on a school night in the dead of winter in Miami. At around ten, a police car pulls up, no sirens. Lil C gets on the mic and drops out the beat: “Alright y’all it’s a Monday. Thank you City of Miami we know the rules. Good night, everybody!”
Visit the official Music Regulators website for more information on the documentary. Slick Vic’s story on the inspiration behind the name Pony Express also appears in the documentary.
Header image © Noah Levy