An Interview with The Disco Twins of Queens
The End of Winter 2011
Forward by EyeGetzRaw
“As odd as it looked, as wild as it seemed,
I didn’t hear a peep from a place called QUEENS.
It was ’76, to 1980…
the dreads in Brooklyn was crazy!
You couldn’t bring out your set with no Hip-Hop
because the pistols would go…”
KRS-One – from the Boogie Down Productions anthem, “South Bronx”
If Kris Parker was trying to take out MC Shan on BDP’s seminal classic, the couple of measures above was where he went right for the jugular! To someone outside of the five boroughs the lines may seem mild but, native New Yorkers of the era knew that this was quite a serious slight. Queens was long thought to be the “soft” borough, somewhere waaaay out in the “boonies”. Certainly not where the rest of NYC thought about going to hang or party and DEFINITELY not thought to be official when it came to the streets…which is fundamentally where Hip Hop lived and breathed. KRS-One very deftly zeroed-in on a sore-spot on the psyche of not just the Juice Crew’s leading man but, a whole borough of Hip-Hop heads who had lived with this assertion for far too long.
Queens had been on the come up in terms of respect at the time BDP stepped to Shan and Marley Marl….not only was the Juice Crew starting to put NYC in a yoke with its lineup of Queens and Brooklyn emcees but, the undisputed kings of Hip Hop at the time were from my hometown of Hollis…Run-DMC. Ironically, the single most significant factor in the trio from Hollis’ rise to the top was the perception that they represented authentic street credibility at a time when most of the established names in the game were using studio musicians to play cover versions of break beats and dressed like they were in a funk band.
Yet, despite all this newfound clout, BDP was able to successfully smack MC Shan (and the rest of Queens) back down a notch with that line. It breathed life back into a perception that many in Queens thought had finally died…and Eye suspect, many outside of Queens had been quietly bothered about…how was it that Queens wasn’t even a factor, yet now that this Rap record thing is poppin’, they’re getting all the shine?!?!
The answer is that Queens WAS a factor, almost from the start…even if a portion of NYC didn’t know it (or just didn’t want to admit it). The general perception was that the pre-wax days of Hip Hop began and ended with the Bronx and Manhattan. The reality was that Hip Hop was being cultivated in the Q-boro and Brook-nam well before King Tim and Sugarhill Gang changed the culture forever. When the records came, Queens was ready for the jump-off. In fact, the statement that KRS made was quite unfortunate because, it did a huge disservice to an entire era of pioneers and legends who helped shape and mold Hip Hop as we know it today.
In pockets of Queens with a high concentration of black families like Jamaica, St. Albans, Astoria, Hollis, Cambria Heights, So. Ozone Park, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rochdale and East Elmhurst the mobile DJ culture, which ultimately spawned what we now know as Hip Hop, was alive and kickin’. Names like Cipher Sounds, Infinity Machine, Woody Wood, Sweetie G rang bells in and outside of Queens…and probably no Queens heads’ name rang out during the years that KRS-One cited, ’76-’80, more than the brothers you’re about to read about…The Disco Twins. Their story is proof positive that no matter what you may have heard about Manhattan makin’ it, Brooklyn takin’ it or, Bronx creatin’ it, Queens was definitely not fakin’ it!
Troy- Thank you for your time my brothers now let’s get to the bottom of things, where were you born and raised at?
Robert- We were born in Women’s hospital in Harlem and moved to Astoria Queens.
Troy- So you guys were born in a hospital in Harlem and went straight to Queens?
Reggie- Well we would have to ask our sister where in Harlem we lived at but we definitely were born on Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem.
Troy- That would be 114th street and Amsterdam Avenue and it is actually connected to St. Lukes Hospital. Across the street is Columbia University and down the block is The Grant Projects. I too was born in Women’s hospital. So who was born first between Reggie and Robert?
Robert- Reggie was by 1 minute.
Troy- How many brothers and sisters are there?
Twin- 5 other brothers and one sister.
Troy- What schools did you guys go to growing up?
Twin- I.S. 171 and P.S. 126, both of the schools are in Queens. We both went to Bryant high school in Woodside on 31st avenue and then The Satellite Academy on 132 Nassau Street.
Troy- So were you guys into sports growing up?
Robert- Yes the martial Arts.
Troy- How far did you guys go in the martial arts in regard to your belts?
Robert- I went to a black belt and my brother went to a purple belt.
Troy- You went to different gyms learning the arts?
Robert- Yes we use to go to tournaments to defend our titles. The name of our sensei was Syedd. Our Seafoo is Master Al Randolph and his master was Master Monique from Brooklyn. We studied with Al for like 7 years and I went on studying and teaching for 10 years. The gym was in Astoria Center first called The First Reform Church.
Master Al Randolph
Troy- So what made you guys learn karate and once you did learn it did you guys become bullies, how did it affect you growing up?
Robert- Well we were getting bullied for a minute, people were throwing sand in our face and we got tired of it and we decide we needed to do something about it. Once we started training we never had a problem again because we always use to run around with the karate slippers, gees and nunchakus and this was during the 5 fingers of Death Bruce Lee era. We went very hard like we did with the music and karate was the thing for that moment.
Troy- So what inspired this taste for hip hop music?
Robert- Well we did this birthday party in the early 1970’s with a guy name George Macintosh and we funneled our music through his guitar amp to play our music. We had 0100 turntables and a Gerard. The house party became very entertaining so we took a liking to it. We use to bring our equipment to our mother’s friend’s place, which was a white ladies apartment in building 105 on the 6th floor where we did a party. One thing lead to another and we borrowed another amplifier. When we couldn’t get George Macintosh we got this guy name Michael Ray and we used his amplifier and this time we partied in the center in Astoria.
Troy- When you guys first started out were you using one or two turntables?
Robert- We used two turntables.
Troy- So take me back to the very beginning what made you guys get those turntables.
Reggie- I think it goes all the way back to this guy name Aps from Nassau Street who use to wear a derby. He use to always demonstrating the sound system that he had. We use to always go over to his store called Harvey’s Sounds at lunch time when we were in school. We were about 15 or 16 and that was the first place we seen two turntables basically. Am I right Robert?
Robert- Yes and it was on Nassau Road it was right next to Satellite Academy when we got out of school and we would go there to watch him demonstrate his sound system. He was somewhat like the spokes person at that time.
Reggie- For GLI.
Robert- Yeah, it was GLI mixers and speakers and that is what took our interest.
Troy- In those early days do you recall D.J. Plummer?
Robert- Well at that time I heard about him, Maboya and Flowers as well as Pete D.J. Jones and those people were popular at that time and we started listening to those guys and going to their shows and we were really inspired by what they were doing and it just started taking a life of its own by us listening to them and we said you know what we are going to do this. My brother and I decided we are going to take a liking to it and we started putting stuff together little by little. We met Becky who was Pete D.J. Jones sister and she d.j.ed on a Boat ride which was a Grand Master Flowers function. We also seen Flowers at a place known as St. Gabriel’s on East Elmhurst on 98th street and at this time Nu Sounds were also doing their thing and we met Phase One who was our mentor. So we were kind of hanging around with those guys and learning different things and we just took a liking to it. We already started doing it on a small scale on our own.
Troy- So when would you say you guys started actually doing your thing?
Robert- It had to be 1975.
Troy- So why d.j. instead of m.c.?
Robert- Because during that time it was really more about the d.j. and we did have an m.c. when we started his name was Cory D, he lived in the same building we lived in. We were called Total Excitement at that time.
Troy- Alright now with Cory D what was the deal with him sitting in a tree saying his rhymes?
Robert and Reggie- I don’t remember that.
Robert- Yeah you are going to have to jog my memory about that because I don’t remember that.
Troy- So you guys are doing your thing as well you had Nu Sounds, Grand Master Flowers, Maboya, The Smith Brothers and others doing their thing, did you guys ever get a taste or hear a tape from Harlem or the Bronx with Kool Herc, Flash or The Funky 4?
Robert- Absolutely not, I never heard of them at that time.
Reggie- That came later around 1977 when we were introduced to them at the Hotel Diplomat on 43rd Street. What happen was we had gotten a spot at the Diplomat and we were the main sound system or house djs. So that came later on when we got up with Flash and them. How I remember it was 1977 because that was when we got our first Berthas and we left them at the Hotel Diplomat along with our Voice of the theater. We were the house d.j.s for Jerry Productions, Jelly Benitz, etc and we had a hell of a sound system for anybody that wanted to do a party in the Sesame Grand Ballroom which was on the top floor, the second floor was the Crystal room also known as the Constellation room, the basement was the Palm Room. The first floor was just a lobby.
The Palm Room was where Russell Simmons was at with his parties. He was doing hip hop type of parties as well as promoting his brother; there weren’t any hip hop records out at that time. It was two different crowds because Jerry Productions was running upstairs where we were at in the ball room and Jerry would bring most of the artist through there, like D.J. Hollywood, Kurtis Blow, Grand Master Flash that is how we met most of them right there at that location. Nu Sounds was on the second floor at the Constellation and they were like club based at that time.
Troy- So in the Hotel Diplomat there were 3 different parties going on inside of one building at the same time all through the night?
Troy- So did you pay at the front door on the first floor or did you pay once you got to the floor you were going to party at?
Reggie- There was an elevator.
Robert- Yeah there was an elevator and once you got to your floor you would pay before you walked into that ballroom.
Troy- So you had to pay for 3 different parties if you wanted to go up and down to party?
Troy- And your equipment stayed there for people to use when you weren’t there?
Robert- Yes, or sound system stayed there but we would take our turn table’s home. But the Bertha speakers, the Voice of theater and we had some tweeters called JBL Ring Radiator, they would stay.
Troy- How much were you charging these guys to rent your system to them?
Reggie- $800 a night, we had a contract with them.
Troy- You guys made a killing for 1977.
Robert- Well we thought that was cheap back then because the Paradise Garage and Studio 54 were paying there d.j. a lot more. Larry Levan was the d.j. we were trying to emulate. I have to say because of Studio 54 that was how the Bertha came about.
Troy- So where did you get these Berthas from?
Reggie- Richard Long
Troy- How much did he charge you for them?
Reggie- $4100 for one! That’s without the extension.
Troy- So did he make them in his house or did he buy them from somewhere else and sold them to you?
Reggie- Nah he was a genius. Richard Long was the first mobile cat to have a deck, he invented it. D.J. Dance Master was the first to have the Berthas. We were the first to have an extension as mobile dj’s. In other words we were the cats that pioneer it because we used it everywhere we played. We went and got a deck because nobody else had a deck except Dance Master, who got it after Richard Long.
A Richard Long Console
Troy- Where was Dance Master from?
Reggie- He was from East Elmhurst, Queens.
Troy- How did you and your brother meet Richard Long?
Reggie- We had a mentor named Curtis Forte and he use to work for Richard Long and he introduced him to us, and through Curtis we got real cool with Richard Long. That also lead us to get the console and the Berthas and the Altama’s and we bought the extensions from him too. So we were able to get a lot of stuff from Richard Long because of that relationship we built with him. Sometimes he would get stuff and to test it he would say, “Hey try this out and bring it back.” Something like that.
Horns, Berthas and Altama
Troy- What type of brother was he?
Reggie- He was a fantastic person. He had to be about 20 years older than us. He lived in the Village. (Downtown Manhattan.) He died and I am not sure when. What year was that Robert?
Robert- 1986 or 87.
Troy- Why did he die?
Reggie- I believe he had the virus. Richard Long and Larry Levan were in a relationship with each other.
Troy- I seen a picture of them together but I didn’t realize that.
Reggie- Yes they had a relationship with each and they lived together.
Troy- So Richard Long was real cool with you guys?
Reggie- This dude was real cool with us, anything new he would give it to us and let us try out. It was like we were the only cats he would let take his system and go elsewhere with it. He would let us travel around and play the Levan and a lot of people didn’t know what the Levan was. The Bertha is a complete speaker; an Emerald is a half of a Bertha. He made the Emerald based on Emerald city. So if you put two Emeralds together it is now a Bertha. The Levan is an extension of both the Berthas which is named after Larry Levan. He put the extension on the Bertha and called it the Levan. So that was the Bertha with a Levan. We were the only cats that ran around with the Berthas. So we called it Bertha Levan. Dance Master played with it also. He got hired to do clubs and started playing in Regines and Studio 54. So we seen what Dance Master had and we said we want to take it to the next level and that was when we got acquainted with Richard Long.
Troy- So what was Richard Longs actual M.O. was he an independent were he made equipment in his house and he sold equipment to everybody?
Reggie- Not in his house, he had a little factory and he is really good with trigonometry as well as putting stuff together, you know arranging things. He put together a cabinet unlike any other. See even right now we have a lot of copycats that are out there. They are only taking Richard Longs idea and just recycling it and saying it’s their work. I don’t want to mention the person’s name. Also there are other people out there that use to work with Richard Long that claim that they modified it but Richard Long is the originator. Just like there could never be another Michael Jordon, Richard Long is in that same category.
Troy- So have you and your brother thought about making speakers or have you guys already went down that road as well?
Reggie- Yes we have done it.