Archive for October, 2010
Winter of 2010
Introduction by Sureshot La Rock.
It’s no secret the birth of hip hop was sparked by a desire for New York’s inner city youth to lift their voices above the noise of their environment and be heard by the rest of society. It started with the DJs — Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Breakout, Bambaataa, Flowers, Pete DJ Jones, and Hollywood. Then MCs entered the game forming crews like the legendary Cold Crush Brothers, Furious 5, Funky 4, Fantastic Romantic 5, Crash Crew, Magnificent 7 and the Treacherous 3. And while much is known and continues to be uncovered about hip hop’s musical pioneers, little has been written about its visual kingpins. No, not graffiti artists — their story is being, and continues to be, documented effectively by the graf community. What we’re talking about here are the creative minds behind hip hop’s first currency. The flyer kings. Flyers are among the most elusive of all of hip hop’s old school artifacts. Their importance that cannot be overstated. They were the visual manifestation of the block’s word-of-mouth. On any given day in the early 80s, you might have heard, “Yo, you hear Cold Crush is going to rock Harlem World tonight?”, but it was the flyer that promoters used that would get the word out. Artists, venues, dates, times, locations, directions, damage — it was easy enough to list all of the information on 3×5 postcards. To have a REALLY fly party, though, a flyer had to have flavor… Style. It had to scream out, “DON’T MISS THIS JAM!”. That much is obvious. Dig a little deeper into the evolution of their style and production techniques and you’ll find a tale as engrossing as those told by hip hop’s first DJs and MCs. Who were the artists? What were they trying to convey? How did they define their look? Why are they so hard to find? The questions go on… and on… and on… and…One of the answers to the first of these questions is the subject of this interview — Buddy Esquire. Widely known as “The King of Flyers”, Buddy’s uncanny ability to marry form with function took flyer artistry to unprecedented heights. Take one look at his work and it’s fairly easy to see why he was one of the most sought-after and, ultimately, prolific artists back in the day. But it’s more than just clean lines and a dynamic flair that define his contribution to hip hop. In Buddy’s masterpieces, you’ll find the soul of hip hop. You’ll see a young man’s desire to lift his voice above the crowd. And here are his words for all to be heard…
– Sureshot La Rock.
Troy- Thank you brother Buddy Esquire for this opportunity to interview you. First things first where were you born and raised?
Buddy Esquire- The Bronx New York. I grew up in Monroe Projects. We moved in the projects when they were first built, back in 61.
Troy- Any pioneers of hip hop or athletes grew up with you in the projects?
Buddy Esquire- Well there was one that I use to play ball with name Eddie Pinckney.
Troy- My man smooth Easy Ed that played ball at Villanova and won a championship. Real nice guy. Dam, the two of you guys looked like you could have been brothers.
Buddy Esquire- Possibly, but we were never mistaken.
Troy- Yeah I hear you he was a real tall brother.
Buddy Esquire- Yes that he was.
Troy- So you guys played ball together?
Buddy Esquire- Yes all through the 70′s up until he went to college in the early 80′s.
Troy- so what were the schools you went to?
Buddy Esquire- I went to P.S. 100 on Taylor and Lafayette then I.S. 131 on Bolton and Story. For a year I went to Clinton High School. I later went to Stevenson and I graduated. Tony Tone of The Cold Crush went to Stevenson with me.
Troy- When did you first hear Hip hop?
Buddy Esquire- That would be around 1976 and it was D.J. Mario who I heard first and then Bambaataa. I went to a lot of outside jams and later on I got caught into the sounds of Break Out, and then I started going to the jams in doors.
Troy- During this time did you ever try your hand at d.j.ing and m.c.ing because so many people were liking it and wanted to be a part of it?
Buddy Esquire- Well D.J.ing maybe a little bit, but m.c.ing nah, I never had the gift of gab, so to speak.
Troy- Where you trying to work out on the turntables through guys like Tony Tone ect.?
Buddy Esquire- Nah I met Tony Tone through graffiti, he liked my style and he thought I would be able to do flyers.
Troy- So when did graffiti start for you?
Buddy Esquire- That started around late 1972.
Troy- So you have been doing graffiti before hip hop even started. So you were one of the earliest graffiti artist in New York?
Buddy Esquire- No, there are others like Phase 2 and etc and so on.
Troy- So what was your first name you tagged or you did you always use the same name?
Buddy Esquire- No I tagged different names but by the time I got to the train I was on my third of fourth name. I ended up with the abbreviation of Esquire. (ESQ) Shade 2 was one of the early pioneers of writing that I met and I learned style from, he is not with us today.
Troy- Did you run with any crew while doing graffiti?
Buddy Esquire- No I always ran solo.
Troy- Many people say that graffiti is a part of hip hop and I am not a graffiti writer. I ran with dudes that wrote but I didn’t have the hand for it. And I have to say I don’t see the connection of Graffiti and Hip hop. So I was hoping you could make the connection between graffiti and hip hop.
Buddy Esquire- Oh boy that’s going to be a difficult one for me. Basically I can say it like this, there can be a relation and then it’s not! It all depends on who was doing the writing. Because if you talk to a white writer he wasn’t into hip hop. A Spanish writer maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Now with the brothers….see that’s a hard question.
Troy- I always looked at it this way, if hip hop was really connected I thought you would see something like people writing tagging on the walls and trains Cold Crush’s name or Caz name or Fantastic’s name even if they weren’t members of the crew, but just because they liked them so much. Like, “I am getting ready to go to this party so let me give props to these dudes that I dig and I am about to see.” But Kool Kyle the Star Child told me there use to be graffiti writing all up and down the walls in the stair cases and bathrooms of The T- Connection as well as him being a writer also.
Buddy Esquire- The only connection I could see is Rap and Graffiti are both from the ghetto! A lot of the original writers from back in the days came from the ghetto, so maybe that is way they can identify it as such. But also since every writer is not from the ghetto not every writer is going to associate themselves with that.
Troy- So what was your reason for writing on the trains and walls. Some people say it’s a message to the establishment or something like that and others will say I just wanted to put my name up to be seen!
Buddy Esquire- Well I fall under the order of I wanted to be seen. A friend of mine got me into it. He was writing first and he use to show me so I started to do it also. From there I started going out tagging with him on trains and at the yards. It was to be seen for me, because any message didn’t come from the first generation it didn’t come until afterwards. Because the most political writer back then was a cat name Mico. Other than that everybody else was about tagging and getting their names up the best way possible. I say it that way because everybody wasn’t neat back then, we had a couple of sloppy guys too.
Troy- Right but they still got their name up. I remember a brother that use to write Chris 217.
Buddy Esquire- Yes he use to hit the 1 train.
Troy- Ah man this dude was all over the place, but he was so basic and not so neat.
Buddy Esquire- Sloppy, you right, but he did his thing. I know every time I was on the 1 train I would see his name in a big fat drippy marker.
Troy- Exactly. So you have been doing this since 72.
Buddy Esquire- I started in 72, then after I got arrested, my mother put me under punishment, which basically took the desire out of me for a while. And I didn’t actually get arrested I got a note sent to my house and I got put under punishment for half a summer, which wasn’t fun
Troy- Nah, I know about those punishments in the summer time! I remember only being allowed to go to the store and brothers use to ask “Yo when are you coming out side? I don’t know stop asking me!” (We both start laughing.)
Buddy Esquire- Yeah that’s the only time I went out too, was to the store and I would take my marker with me and go tagging. (Troy starts laughing)
Troy- I hear you I guess after a while you couldn’t hold on any longer.
Buddy Esquire- See as far as writing graffiti you can have it really bad to where it becomes like a disease.
Troy- Well let’s talk about that disease, that urge.
Buddy Esquire- Well I like to think that I am cured from it. during that time it was like an anxious feeling. But at that time when the police busted me my mother and father didn’t take all my markers because they didn’t know where they were all at. And see back in the days the police would come to your house and look for your spray cans and markers and take them.
See when I got busted that particular day I wasn’t writing but I was hanging with some writers. Let’s just say I was guilty by association, at least that is what the cops told me when they busted me. The police then took me to the station and wrote me up and then they sent a letter to my house. I didn’t know when it was coming to the house but when my mother got it. I knew because that’s when I got it. (We both start laughing.) Moms and Pops broke on me, they weren’t very pleased with the situation. They couldn’t find the stash of markers so they hid my comic books. But as far as the obsession, it’s like an itch a drive to want to do it to want to get better, to want to work hard at it. Sometimes you do it on a couple of pieces of paper sometimes you just want to go out and write. When that time came and I graduated to the trains and I use to hit the Bay Chester layup. It was a crazy rush tagging inside and outside of the trains. By the early 80′s I was finished.
Troy- So you can say you were fully detoxed from writing?
Buddy Esquire- As far as going out and writing yes because I felt like there was no need for me to write because I was making flyers, people will see my name with that.
Troy- Would you say you have done over 300 flyers?
Buddy- Yes that would be about right
Troy- So how did the first flyer come about?
Buddy Esquire- The first flyer I did was for a block party in the summer of 1977. It
came out all right. The second one I ever made in my whole life which was in November of 1978 came about because Tony Tone told me that the crew that he was with which was Break Out at the time needed somebody to make their flyer. When I look at it now I feel it’s a piece of crap. But I did it for Breakout because they were having a jam at 131. What got it all started was in 1977 I started painting stuff on peoples cloths. Like names on jeans.
Troy- So you were doing this before the flyers?
Buddy Esquire- Yes.
Troy- So how did this come about being as you didn’t go to any Art and Design type of school!
Buddy Esquire- Well around the middle 70′s my style was getting kind of decent so I thought I would maybe be able to draw letters. So what happen I went to the library and I took out a book on fine painting, where they talked about letters, proportions and lay outs and stuff like that. Now I am talking about how a sign goes, not a flyer!
Troy- I understand.
Buddy Esquire- So I took a look at the book and I tried drawing some of the letters that were in the book and I said to myself hey I can do this stuff. So now what made me go to the library was because when people would put paint on jeans and stuff it was either graffiti or some kind of sloppy looking hand writing. So I was like figuring let me do it this way and that will make my stuff noticeable. And my way was doing it with the letters straight out drawn like on this Maxell box you have here. You know letters like that nice straight even letters. So I started doing it like that. People seen what I was doing and started wanting me to paint for them. After awhile Tone mentioned the thing about the flyers and I told him I would give it a try. So the first one I did they liked. After that I made flyers for them for about 2 years straight.
Troy- What was the amount of time to make a flyer?
Buddy- For some of them I would say about 6 hours because it took work. Some a little less time because of less information. And see you can’t really give a flyer a couple of days because soon as you get the information it’s a time limit involved from when you have to get that flyer done. I wouldn’t take more than 2 days to finish a flyer and that’s really pushing it.
Troy- So during this time you was making your first flyer was any one else making flyers in hip hop?
Buddy Esquire- Well Phase 2 was making flyers for Flash.
Troy- So was Phase 2 actually making flyers before you?
Buddy Esquire- You can say that, yes! We were about a month a part and he may have been first.
Troy- As far as the painting on the pants the way you did it, would you consider yourself first with that?
Buddy Esquire- Yes I like to consider myself to be the first person to do it the way I had it done. The way you saw Funky 4 and Rodney Cee’s jacket that was me that did that first.
Troy- My man, so that was you that did that! That whole thing was nice how you did it. So what about Breakout’s Dune Buggy, did you do any painting on his Buggy as well?
Buddy Esquire- Yeah I painted his name Breakout on the side of the Buggy.
Troy- So you and Breakout were pretty cool then?
Buddy Esquire- We were cool, yes we were.
Interviewed Winter of 2008
Troy- Thank you for giving me your time today.
B- Fats- No problem. Thank you also.
Troy- First things first where were you born and raised?
B- Fats- I was born in El Peso Texas. I was raised in Wilmington North Carolina. When I was about 10 years old my family moved to Harlem New York. The first place we moved to was 304 7th avenue. Drew Hamilton projects is where we ended up which was right across the street from 304. I have 4 biological brothers, two passed away, and one sister.
Troy- How did you guys get introduced to the music because I remember you telling me you guy were a family band.
B- Fats- My mother was always involved with the music industry. My mother was a singer and she had a couple of groups she sang with.
Troy- Did your mother have any dealings with Bobby Robinson?
B- Fats- No she was with Otis Blackwell. He was the cat that wrote a lot of hits for Elvis Presley. Let’s make sure with this.
(B Fats calls his mother Mrs. Vee Bowden on a three way.) Ma how did you get together with Mr. Otis Blackwell?
Mrs. Bowden- Well I started with Otis Blackwell when I was a teenager.
I recorded for 3 major labels, King, Mercury and another.
Troy- All of this was in New York?
Mrs. Bowden- Yes I was very young at the time. I had a record out that did pretty good. It was so long ago. Even before my son was born I had my own 5 piece band. Vee Vee and the Superb’s.
Troy- Now during that time did you run into Bobby Robinson and his label Enjoy Records?
Mrs. Bowden- Yes I did. And many times he wanted us to record with him but it never worked out because we were signed under another label. He tried to get us out of the contract but it never worked out.
Troy- So what inspired you to want to start your children in the music business?
Mrs. Bowen- I guess because I was so musically incline. See I love music and the keyboard is beautiful. So I love to play, I also write and produce. I also produced the singing group SWV
I started them out when they were in high school. How it started with them is because I worked in Foster care and I heard one of the girls singing and so I told her I liked the way she sounded. I invited her over to the house and she bought one of her friends that she felt could also sing and I sat them down by my key board and I gave them the harmony notes and they hit them. They sounded very good so I started teaching them voice lessons. The next thing you know they were a group and the first song I wrote for them was Take your Heart off the Shelf and give it to me.
Troy- So what inspired you to do a family band, The Jackson 5 or something like that?
Mrs. Bowen- No I had a friend by the name of Mr. Brown and he worked for BFW and he was drummer. After my husband died I wanted to get them into something constructive. So Mr. Brown said send them over to me and let me see who can play the drums. It started off with one of the kids doing the drumming and later I got another son a guitar. I bought Donald a Bass. And before you know it we had something going. Those boys were 13, 14 and 15 years old doing block parties, community centers and birthday parties. Right in the projects it would be jammed pack with people listening to them play. I even had them on boats. I would have to sneak them in and sneak them out because they were under age but they were hot. They would rehearse right in my living room.
B- Fats- We use to live on the second floor so people use to climb in the trees that was next to our window and sit their in the tree to watch us practice.
Troy- So why did that stop with you and your brothers?
B Fats- Bands sort of played out. The Band originally was doing great. A lot of promises as usual from all types of people. We actually played with groups like Crown Heights Affair and other top bands from New York City. Because back in the days bands are what did block parties and not some d.j. So we patterned behind guys like Kool and The Gang, Earth Wind and Fire, War and any other funky bands. We did a piece of anybody that was popular.
Troy- So once the band started to come together did Bobby Robinson, Paul Winley and other labels try and get back to you.
Mrs. Bowen- Their were many people that came. And they were shot down! (We both laughed.) There were so many people; I didn’t know who was who. Some would say the children were too young and we had to go to court for permission to record them. No one wanted to kick out that money because during those days you had to go to court for a child under 18 years old.
Troy- So even though you were giving permission you had to still go to court.
Mrs. Bowen- Yes you still had to go to court.
B Fats- It was really about accounts. So money could be transferred into young people’s accounts and they were able to access that account when they became a certain age.
Mrs. Bowen- Exactly, so a law was passed so the parents could not steal the children’s money. So when a child got to a certain age he wouldn’t be broke.
Troy- That’s good to hear but I didn’t think it kicked in in the 70’s. I thought it did not kick in until the 90’s.
B- Fats- It was but it wasn’t really enforced until that young boy Macaulay Culkin from the movie Home Alone went through that situation with his parents.
Troy- No how did the Bands slip out and now the d.j. is coming in? Also I talked to Hollywood last night and he co signed what you said about hip hop starting in Harlem and not the Bronx. He said he was doing rhymes in 1971. I did an interview with Coke La Rock and he said he was doing his rhymes in 1973. Coke said he didn’t hear or know anything about Hollywood doing any rhymes in 1971. And I understood when you said it became popular to say it was from the Bronx because it picked up so much speed from people believing that. But it was actually done in Harlem first.
B- Fats- It started from the band era. Bands basically started to pattern behind a new fad that came in call Disco. When hip hop first started it was really Disco hip hop thing if you can remember. Talking to beats that were one forth beats. “I am a d.j. and I like to move and I make you wanna…” that was basically during a disco era. And being a band member who got caught up into the transition I can remember hearing Fat Bat Band as well. But keeping it on me I remember during the transition there was a gentleman name Mr. Larry Dee who had a GLI mixer and some B12 turntables and he lived right about us on the 20th floor. Larry always loved what we did with the band. On a occasions he would allow me to travel with him as he did this thing called d.j.ing at parties. The job that I played at that time was just help him get into the building. And then there was another guy name Markie Dee that lived in the building on the 10th floor and I use to get in trouble with him. See I was a nerd growing up I didn’t do the gangster thing. All I wanted was more cake, more cookies, “can I get more milk!” I was the kid that other kids would take my lunch money. I was also a cub scout. So when I started dealing with Mr. Larry it kind of put me in contact with Markie and I started to come out of my shell. Markie was already hanging with Mr. Larry and me and Markie are about the same age. Markie one day invited me up to Mr. Larry house and when I went into Mr. Larry’s apartment he had these two turntables that were sitting there along with a mixer. And I watched Markie play with this thing and I was like oh s—. (B Fats laughs.) I got cool with Larry’s daughters who were Fay and Cathy. But I started coming to see Mr. Larry by myself. And he allowed me to fool around with them. Now I am fooling around with them and from my experience as a band member it was like an instant identification with what I wanted to do. I just knew that this song mixed to this song. It was just natural for me. It wasn’t anything I had to really learn. And Mr. Larry acknowledged my ability to do some great things right before his eyes in such a short time to where as he started allowing me to spin on his sets. It got to a point were he would set up and I was the d.j.! So me and Markie had a falling out over that because Markie felt like, “damn I bought you up here and now you the man!” Brother I use to sing in the band. So we knew how to say give the drummer some and that was what band members do as well as the, “clap your hands come on.” My brother was playing the drums so when we were doing breaks I would incorporate the same behavior that I had from the band to spinning these records. I use to do it to the point were when we threw our parties in the 1970’s at Drew Hamilton and it was a quarter people would go crazy when we use to do this thing. We use to say the corniest things like, “people in the back and people in the middle.” But that was one of the things that got implemented by a circle of brothers like me Love bug Starski, my brother Donald Dee, Al Bee. And The Disco Four wasn’t even born yet.
Troy- So Al Bee goes way back with you?
B Fats- Al Bee goes back to the Band with me. Al Bee use to play Congo’s in the band. Guys like Country and Mike Gee of the later Disco Four were probably on crate and speaker detail at that time. There was a time where you could always bring the music out at any time of the day during the summer months. Just find the right street lamp and plug it up. The speakers of that era was Cerwin Vega speakers 115 inch was in it with a tweeters in it. You take that one speaker along with a Macintosh power amp with the tubs in it and you get off. (B Fats laughs.) It was a beautiful thing. It was the era of Disco so a lot of stuff like Kool and the Gang and Fat Larry’s Band “Check out the avenue” got played. Also have to include groups like Earth Wind and Fire, ah man I could just go on and on.
Troy- So with Mr. Larry was he like 15 to 20 years older then you?
B Fats- Yes Mr. Larry was old enough to be my father. He was older cat who was on the level of Pete D.J. Jones. I can remember being in the company of Pete when I was a young man. To be totally honest I was naive to the fact that there was more then me and Mr. Larry that existed until Mr. Larry started doing gigs with other D.J.s that were in the same room or on the same venue. That’s when I met cats like Pete D.J. Jones, The Disco Twins.
Troy- So you was going out to Queens at this young age?
B Fats- Yeah we use to go out there and see the Twins set up on top of the park house roof!
Troy- So what year would you say this was going down?
B Fats- I would say about 1977 or 78. In Queens I believe the most popular skating ring was I believe Spin Easy. I say that because I really dug that spot when I would go out to Queens. But as far as Larry Dee he was like the best kept secret. Larry was not the type that was flashy. Larry had the station wagon and Cerwin Vega speakers and I just thought he was the greatest. Some of the spots we would do were like Smalls Paradise, The original Savoy Manor in the Bronx on 149th street. I have done the Savoy a thousand times.
Troy- So have you and Larry ever played The Apollo?
B Fats- No not me and Larry, but the Band did. My brothers and I did amateur night at the Apollo.
Troy- Who is the oldest between you and your brother Donald Dee?
B Fats- I am by 2 or 3 years older but me and my brother were very close, very close. In fact the whole Sapphire crew was built around me and my brother. We were very big coming out of Drew Hamilton projects. We already had a following from the band. So to make that transition to d.j.ing it just broaden our horizons as far as pulling crowds that were actually paying to see us now. I remember there was a time we were d.j.ing and the band was playing. One of the main places we would have something set up like that would be the Renaissance Ballroom.
Troy- That place was like an extension to your house! Because I heard you and your brother had that place from day one of hip hop.
B Fats- We lived in there.
Troy- How did your mother feel about you and your brother going up in there?
B Fats- She did not like it. I can remember when our band was ending and my mother fought hard against that transition. She did not like the fact that we were not playing guitar and drums etc and she spent all this money. She didn’t like the fact we were not playing any more and going upstairs to Mr. Larry. She did not like it one bit. I remember coming home one day with a pocket full of money. It was only a hundred dollars but back in those days it was like having a grand! She said how did you get it? I said d.j.ing.
Troy- I ask you because Busy Bee told me his mother use to whip his ass when he would come home 2, 3 in the morning. J.D.L. would experience the same thing. A lot of cats were getting their ass whooped but they just kept going because it was like a drug to them. They would say, “I would take an ass whooping but I had to get to the party.”
B Fats- She use to punish us crazy but the difference with me I didn’t play with my moms. When she punished me she punished me and that was it.
Troy- So you would close down the Renaissance at say10:00pm?
B Fats- Well the beautiful thing about was the Renny would be closing down at that time any way, because it would be from about 4:30pm to 9:30 10:00 at night. And that was because it was an after school thing.
Troy- So once you got to 18 your mother left you alone with that time!
B Fats- Right
Troy- So at 17 and in the 12th grade that still could be an embarrassing thing?
B Fats- Man I had to go or that crazy woman would be downstairs waiting! (Troy laughs real hard.)
Troy- I hear you buddy. I was 33 one day when my mother told me, “I will f— you up boy!” All I could say was, “ah ma!” (B Fats laughed.)
B Fats- Ain’t no need to be trying to act gangster. “N—– what? I gots to go! I holler at ya’ll later.” (We both laughing.)
Troy- So take me to the beginning of you, your brother and the making of The Disco 4. And I know towards the end you and The Disco Four slowly departed from each other.
B Fats- Well Greg Marist aka Greg Gee sort of took the crew in a different direction then what I was looking to do. I would also have to admit that when the Disco Four was coming together my interest was still mostly on me though.
Troy- Solo thing?
B Fats- Right, so The Disco Four is an extension of what I did and they launched off my back but on the same note The Disco Four took on its on identity. And that was only from the Sapphire Crew. The Disco Four was originally apart of the Sapphire crew.
Troy- So The Sapphire crew was actually a gang from Drew or mostly from Drew that did security for you guys? Did they actually have anything to do with music it self?
B Fats- Sapphire Crew was a bunch of cats and females that loved to hang out.
Troy- O.K. I got you. So they were like a big entourage that liked to hang out and they also had some thugs in there but it was similar to Hollywood’s crew that would do the shout outs with him in 371 or any where else he was partying. So the Sapphire crew just loved hanging out.
B Fats- Exactly.