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DJ Doo Wop: How a student of the game became a legend

Shortly after this interview, I observed a car with a gentleman ( seemingly in his mid 40s) playing what sounded like it could’ve been some mid to late 90s hip hop.  This was the stuff I grew up on, albeit reluctantly.  Gospel was the state/household enforcement musical diet; and when nighttime came, I scoured early music sharing apps for pirated versions of Slipknot singles and Cannibal Corpse live recordings.

That being said, when my cousins came over for family holidays or outdoor get-togethers, and they played Busta Rhymes or the Lox, I could see the value.  The energy made perfect sense.  I may have been an awkward, clumsy kid but blaring “Turn Me Up Some”, at a street basketball pickup game, had it’s own heart to it.  The scuffing of sneakers with the basketball shaped pumps on them…the occasional “Ah!” or “…get that shit outta here!” on a blocked shot was a late stage vulgar distortion of the original DJ shoutout and adlib. 

Even from the sidelines, I understood it and I was a little envious.

Fast forward, I brought hip hop into my life without the explicit culture.  I was an outsider but a student of the game so I kept honest and played my position.  Wu Tang Clan, Gravediggaz, InI, Onyx, Camp Lo, Redman, Big L…this music became less of a connection to a childhood I never had; and more so a reclamation of a communal spiritual conduit amongst friends in college dorms.  No matter who came over, the equalizer was a J Dilla track and a Red Stripe. 

Yet, here I am, observing the car after this interview, blaring something Cam’ron adjacent…and it felt empty.  It almost felt corny…let’s keep it 100.  “Almost” is James using his nice voice.  It did feel corny.  I just didn’t want to admit it. 

Dj Doo Wop made it clear why: He IS the community.  He IS the seam, the stitching, the needlework that gives the fabric of hip hop a utilitarian purpose.

The music loses something if it doesn’t have gatherings, collaboration, dynamism of personality and purpose…meaning. 

Every win or loss in his career has been in service to hip hop and the culture surrounding it.  When he needed inspiration, he strolled into his own backyard.  When he wanted to sharpen his skills at the turntables, he reached for the music that was relevant in his home and in his community.  If the ultimatum is between getting a bag and turning his back on the Bronx OR taking the risk that comes with betting everything on hard work and the people in his backyard, the right decision was a no-brainer; and life has rewarded him handsomely for his loyalty. 

Born in LA but raised in the Bronx, Doo Wop watched hip hop change his world from the front row.

“I would go up the block to the park jams and there would be Grandmaster Caz on the turntables and on the mic, that would be something I would do later on.  The legendary Disco Twins lived two blocks to the right of my house and they even mentored me and helped me gather vinyl at an early age…I started DJ-ing at 9 years old when my parents bought me a whole DJ set for my birthday.”

“That’s when those live jam tapes started floating around, like live Cold Crush and treacherous 3.  I collected those tapes and saw a lot of it.  I was in the middle of it.  I’m blessed to have been there. I lucked out.”

There’s an added significance to the Cold Crush Brothers being part of his early auditory diet.  DJ Charlie Chase, also Puerto Rican, was an early symbol that race did not have to factor in as the criteria to enter hip hop. Although Chase faced scrutiny at times for being an outsider in a predominantly African American world, his personality and heritage became his calling card, as he mixed salsa, meringue, and other styles he was familiar with as a gigging musician prior to Dj-ing. 

I can imagine the sound of Chase on the ones and twos, playing a beat with agogo bells and shekere –instruments that historically tie black and hispanic people together– made everything crystal clear to a young Doo Wop: This is also your lineage and birthright.

“Charlie Chase and Tony Tone were the two DJs in Cold Crush but Chase was Puerto Rican.  And even though latinos were there from the beginning, we didn’t have an abundance of us known in Hip Hop.  It meant a lot seeing that.”

So Doo Wop honed his skills for 5 years before taking a leap of faith into gigging.

“LL is just coming out…I remember just growing a pair and saying ‘I wanna do a house party’.  You have to muster up that courage to say ‘Hey, I think I’m that good now.’  The house party was the first step.  We didn’t get paid for it.  We were just making a name.  Then, around ‘86, when Eric B and Rakim came out, Eric B seemed just as big as Rakim.  He was out front.  That was big for me.  He wasn’t just a DJ in the back spinning records while Rakim performed.  There was actually a time around 14 or 15 where I kind of fell back from DJ-ing but when I saw Eric B and his presence and just…his aura, it pushed me back into taking DJ-ing super seriously.”

So he started to make a name for himself playing house parties, park jams and making mixtapes, creating a street buzz.  When he came of age, chance meetings led him to larger stages, including playing a legendary nightclub in NYC owned by John “Gungie” Rivera, a DJ who’d enjoyed residencies at Roseland and La Mirage before shifting focus to owning nightclubs, restaurants and managing artists.

“So everybody knows the original Disco Fever nightclub in the early 80s on Jerome avenue.  Gungie opened up a new one down the street.  I was popping in the street but I was dying to play the fever.  It was right there in my hood.  When the old fever was poppin, I was a kid but this one, I could play it.  It was on the corner of Webster and Tremont, legendary corner.  You walk in and go downstairs and it was huge.  Big stage, the DJ booth overlooked everything. Gungie hit me up through someone and gave me an opportunity to play.  I don’t even think it was for money.  I got 50 passes for friends for the gig.  It didn’t matter, it was a huge opportunity.  I did well enough and he said ‘Hey, let’s do every friday!’, and that’s what we did for a couple years.  Gungie brought a lot of big names there too.  Nas performed there.  Fat Joe performed there. He brought all these big names to the Fever.”

This eventually led to Rivera managing Doo Wop off of the strength of his business savvy, including a nightclub in Washington Heights that brought in talents such as Funkmaster Flex.  Rivera guided him through the industry politics, put him in front of major labels, and kept the snakes at bay.

With new opportunities, a larger network, and the ear of executives, Doo Wop dove further into the world of mixtapes where he could really carve his own niche as a hispanic DJ with a unique point of view.

“I had a favorite group growing up: Master Don and the Def Committee.  One time I was listening to one of their tapes and there was a new voice and it was this guy named Johnny D.  You know back then…it’s a cassette, there’s no picture or video…nothing.  So, I found out later that Johnny D was Puerto Rican and that took it up another notch for me.  Subconsciously, that pushed me into making mixtapes because you wouldn’t know who’s behind it.  You’re just listening to the DJ.”

So the mixtape served a dual purpose: Expression; and taking away the listener’s ability to discount him for his ethnicity.

In 2023, it’s easy to forget the microcosm of a larger race based divide.  Not white versus black…that tired narrative; but black versus black, black versus brown, black versus darker black…protected classes already on an island of outsiders…unintentional plantation politics.  I can still recall my mother’s story of going with some friends to see Hall & Oates for the first time, and realizing they were white; and their joy intermixed with the feeling of a perceived threat.  But it was too late, they were in the jaws of it.  The music, the lyrics, the art had reached their hearts before they could close themselves off.

Doo Wop made the mixtape his primary weapon and separated himself from the pack.  He IS the mixtape king.  The way in which he organized and put together a mixtape is the standard today.  I cannot emphasize this enough: the skits, intros, freestyles, shout outs, remixes…Doo Wop did it first; but he doesn’t beat his chest about this accomplishment.  Moreso, he humbly suggests that individuality was a necessity in the market. 

“I was trying to separate myself from what I saw as a cluttered market.  There was the top 5 or 10.  It was me, Ron G, SNS, Kid Capri…and he was actually starting to bow out to  move on.  I’m looking at it and everyone has their own niche.”

“Ron G had blends…he’d mix R&B with hip hop.  He inspired Puffy to make the Mary J Blige records.  SNS was an exclusive guy before DJ Clue.  He’d get unreleased songs from major artists and put them on tapes.  If you wanted to hear the new Nas, you’d pop an SNS tape. He actually got in trouble a couple of times for that.”

“So I said, I know how to make a tape and I can DJ but what will help me stand out?  So I took a crack at standing out by rapping over my own tapes…no one was doing that really.  Those intros expanded into having rappers rhyme on the intros: KRS, Mobb Deep, Raekwon…and that’s what people would look for when it came to my tapes.  We even did this with like Christmas themed tapes.  This was all to get you in the mood.  I wanted to give people something they couldn’t get elsewhere.  And you couldn’t bite it because my name was all over the intro.  But we all inspired each other.  Eventually, we all did a little bit of each other’s thing.  And we all learned something from Kid Capri.”

This collaborative spirit led to Doo Wop gaining influence with the labels, the A&Rs, the street teams and the artists.  He didn’t rest on his laurels or puff his chest out.  He worked in service to the culture and artists took notice.

Throughout his career, he’s worked with heavy hitters like Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Keith Murray, Redman, Mobb Deep, AZ, Lost Boyz, Puffy, Big Daddy Kane, Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Guru, Raekwon, MOP, Krsone, Q-tip, Smif n Wesson, Buckshot, 50cent, Big Pun, Big L, Shabba Ranks and more.  He didn’t have to pay or beg for these features.  Doo Wop might say that these artists came because he was hot then…but I’m going to shelf his words for my own.

They came because Doo Wop’s mixtapes are an oasis from the pressure of the industry.  It’s a party.  Go listen to DJ Doo Wop’s Coolout ‘94 (the ‘coolout’ being another Doo Wop innovation where he made more relaxed soul and R&B influenced tapes for that late night early morning after party crowd), and from minute one you’re practically at a live show.  The tongue in cheek intro vocals; the record skip and Redman sample…the freestyles. 

I wanted to be a part of the tape and I can’t rap to save my life.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this?  Doo Wop talks about Eric B’s aura.  What about his aura?  He’s magnetic.  He’s your friend, your family and your creative partner, all in one shot.  Rappers could come to his studio and say the things they couldn’t say on their big money records.  Whether it was rhymes deemed too risque or connected to street beefs or not “commercial” enough, the rules and vested interests vanished when they came to Doo Wop.   That’s priceless to an artist with investors and industry wolves breathing down their necks to produce another mega hit so they can buy another Bugatti to match their Pagani.

This sense of humility has continued to bless him with favor, as he’s been touring the world, as of recent, with an old acquaintance. 

“AZ called me out of the blue.  We’ve known each other since 95 but he said I got a lot of shows coming up.  I need a thorough DJ.  I don’t want a local DJ. He respects my craft and so we linked up.  We just did London, Germany, Helsinki.  I just got home.”

He’s also continuing to work with legendary beat makers like Pete Rock on mixtapes and EPs, although his busy schedule (between touring, he’s also working with a spirit company) keeps these projects moving at a snail’s pace at times. 

Considering how long he’s been in the industry, I’d consider this one of those good kinds of problems.

His advice for aspiring artists and DJs?  “Apply the same formula I had: Separate yourself from the others.  Take people on a journey.  Even if you’re a shy kid, I was a shy kid too.  I still grabbed a mic and used mixtapes to stay in the comfort of my own home until I was ready to get out there.  Develop your voice and your confidence and then command attention.”

From behind a computer, in small town USA, I felt that.  Doo Wop is clearly not a caricature.  Neither am I.  A mid 30s Black guy with a voice made for late night California Psychics commercials; but with hard work and a little discomfort, there’s a niche for even the “Coolout” kids. 

People can contact DJ Doo Wop via email djdoowop@gmail.com to purchase the USB FLASHDRIVE which contains every mixtape he’s ever made starting from as far back as 1991.


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