DJ Too Tuff  Back to Wreck Shop

When DJ Z-Trip interrupted his set at last year's Save the Rhino concert in Central Park to introduce a special guest, few in the crowd could have anticipated the appearance of DJ Too Tuff, the man behind the rapid-fire cuts and scratches of Philadelphia's Tuff Crew. Best known for his intricate turntable skills on tracks such as 'My Part of Town', Too Tuff has been out of the limelight since the crew parted ways in the late eighties. But after a random appearance on a phone-in radio show unexpectedly propelled him back into the public eye, the man formerly known as The Detonator found himself on the brink of a full-scale comeback.

With his personal archive of unreleased tracks and mixtapes attracting interest from Stones Throw head Peanut Butter Wolf, and a brand new Tuff Crew album in the works with original members Ice Dog, Tone Love and L.A. Kid [1], momentum is building behind Too Tuff's return to the music industry. Twenty years after his debut on wax, the North Philadelphia native is most definitely back to wreck shop. TakeYourRadio caught up with him for the full story.

Can you introduce yourself for those that might not know you?

This is the one and only original DJ Deuce Ace Detonator Too Tuff, the axe man of terror, deejay and producer of Philadelphia's Tuff Crew.

How did you first get involved in Hip Hop and specifically scratching?

I started deejaying at age 14 after taking an interest in mixing from some friends at school, St. Joseph's Prep. There were two people in my class who had turntables. They owned straight-arm SLB 100s and they used to do blends and mixes of club tunes. I was already into Hip Hop but scratching hadn't really evolved other than Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money.

We used to collect mixtapes from in the street and it would be like little bits and pieces of Jeff scratching "It's Time" or Cash Money cutting Rhythm Trax. I used to study those and when I showed them [my friends] what scratching was they went crazy. From there I bought some Pioneer straight-arm turntables and I learnt how to scratch on them until I saved up enough money to buy some 1200s. And I pretty much emulated Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money up until I started to develop my own style.

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Philadelphia dominated the Hip Hop DJ scene in the 80s. Why do you think so many great DJs came out of the city?

I was aware that Philly had something special going on with their DJs but it was more of a competition as far as gaining street rep in order to draw as many people as possible to my parties. As I was learning to cut, battling was always there as I hung with a select set of DJs in Northside: my best friend and teacher YO-YO, DJ Fresh aka DJ K-Swift, DJ Easy-Money, and DJ Pin. So even before I was an established show DJ, I had to battle my way through the ranks in my own circle of peers. This sharpened my skills and kept me practising to constantly get better and eventually become the DJ for the almighty Tuff Crew.

How did Tuff Crew come together as a group? Songs like 'Northside' and 'Mountain's World' suggest that you all came from different neighbourhoods. [2]

Tuff Crew was formed by our manager Tony Mitchell who happened upon one of our breakdance functions one summer around 1986. Ice Dog was the lead rapper and breakdancer of a group called Street City Rockers – they were a breakdance group in our neighbourhood. Wilson Goode, who was the mayor at that time, used to have Anti-Graffiti Network breakdance parties at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia and we used to enter our crew into those battles and I would DJ. One time we were practising in a park called Hart Park right in our neighbourhood and a limousine pulled up.

Everybody had the linoleum and cardboard laid out and was windmilling and breakdancing. I was cutting. We had some big giant speakers out there. Everybody had Filas on and shelltops with the fat laces and Lee jeans with the graffiti on the side and the Kangols. I mean incredible, original Hip Hop type stuff.

So this dude pulls up in a limousine and introduces himself as Tony Mitchell, and with him is Tone Love. He said he was putting together a rap group and he handed us each like 80 dollars. We went and bought some weed and we got high. About three days later he picked us up and brought us to his apartment in West Philly. He started saying that he was putting together a rap group and that his godson's name was L.A. Kid and that L.A.'s mom was the A&R director of Capitol Records and that he could get us a record deal as long as we put together some good material. So he bought some equipment and we started to practise in his basement.