DJ Too Tuff  Back to Wreck Shop

So was Tony Mitchell behind your deal with Soo Deff Records?

Yeah he owned Soo Deff Records and Soo Deff Management. One night - about midnight, one in the morning - we came up out of the basement from practising and he had two sets of contracts in his hand. One was management contracts, the others were recording contracts. He was like "There's no need for you to get a lawyer or anything like that. You could just read it over and sign it right here". So we signed in the middle of the night. Little did we know that that would lead to years of frustration and fighting for our royalties statements and fighting for our money that we never got and fighting for publishing. It's definitely a problem if you sign management contracts and recording contracts with the same company. Sort of a conflict of interests to say the least.

What were the first tracks that you recorded together? Weren't there a couple of singles before your breakout record 'Phanjam' in 1987?

Prior to me becoming full-time DJ for the crew they had completed and released a single ['Philly Style', Soo Deff 1986] that was getting a lot of airplay on Power 99's Street Beat with Lady B. Tuff Crew already had a DJ at that time and his name was Shiver. The only reason that he was in the group is because his Dad owned a limousine company and they would get us free limousines to go to all the shows. Eventually I showed my skills and they figured out that DJ Shiver was no longer necessary. And about a week after 'Philly Style' was released I became the DJ and Shiver was not the DJ any longer.

'Phanjam' featured two tracks from New Jersey's Krown Rulers produced by Ced Gee and Kool Keith from Ultramagnetic. How did those collaborations come about?

Prior to 'Phanjam', Mitch was promoting shows in Philly and he brought Ultramagnetic to do a show. They were living at Mitch's house until their show money came through – basically held hostage. So we hooked up with them and they introduced us to the SP12 and co-produced some of our stuff. They pretty much taught us what we know - or what we knew at that point - about producing beats.

The thing I remember most about Ultra was one weekend in '87 we went to a show in NYC at the Latin Quarters and, during a night of skunk and Budweisers, the crowd turned to us and they're all staring at us. We're like "Whoa, do they know who we are?" Behind us, the wall - which was mirror panels - opened up to reveal a six foot high raised stage and out comes Ultra to the pounding bass and whispers of their first smash single [3].

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We were stunned and dazed and hypnotised all at once. This is when we knew that Hip Hop was real, and the spirit of Hip Hop possessed my soul right then and there. Long live Ultra for bringing us into this game at the top of the food chain.

And the Krown Rulers?

As Tuff Crew started to do shows off of the 'Philly Style' single, we did local gigs at high schools such as Woodrow Wilson and Camden High. At one show at Skateland in Camden, Pooh [Krown Ruler's Grand Poobah] came up to me after a set and introduced himself as the Teen Imperoxo. On the strength of that originality I decided to give him a listen and he was doper than ever for that time. We were already in production with Ultra so we all got together over some killer weed and came up with 'B-Boy Document' and 'Kick the Ball'. The rest, as they say, is history.

Those are considered classic tracks today and 'Phanjam' is a sought-after record. Was it well received at the time?

We sold 35,000 records on 'Phanjam' just in the street without any distribution. Just taking it and selling it out the trunks of cars and distributing it in local shops in the tri-state area. And 'Kick The Ball' was a major hit off of that. After 'Kick The Ball' became an instant hit, Soo Deff signed a deal with Warlock to pick up the rights and they signed solo album deals for Tuff Crew and Krown Rulers separately.

So we went in and produced the 'Danger Zone' album [Warlock, 1988]. And the reason that 'Danger Zone' was such a hardcore Tuff Crew Philly classic was that 'Phanjam' included six songs from Tuff Crew and two songs from the Krown Rulers. Both of the Krown Rulers songs were hits and all six of the Tuff Crew songs were pretty much garbage. Even though we got a lot of radio play they weren't the type of songs that we wanted to do. So when we got the freedom to have creative control over our own project, that became 'Danger Zone'. And then when we really had enough money to buy top-notch equipment and go into top-notch studios, that evolved into 'Back to Wreck Shop' [Warlock, 1989].

Danger Zone included 'My Part of Town' which is undoubtedly your most well-known track. What was the impact of that song in Philadelphia and across the States?

The last song we did for the album was 'My Part of Town' and instantly we knew it was a major hit. No matter the place, the crowd or the quality of equipment at the venue, when the guitar licks from 'My Part of Town' dropped the crowd went berserk every time. From Miami to Cali to Philly to Georgia, always the same reaction - the equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire. Sure fire crowd pleasing chaos and sure fire pussy after the show, every time.