DJ Cheese

The king of the kuts is back

DJ Cheese was raised on the bustling streets of New Jersey three decades ago in the halcyon days of early hip hop. Battling his way around his neighbourhood and New York city before he found himself in London winning the 1986 DMC World Final, showing Europe the art of scratching at it’s very best. After a succesful production career though things began to spiral out of control, finding himself on the streets looking after his young son. But you can’t keep a good man down. 2011 sees the return of DJ Cheese into the world of music, Dan Prince welcomes back a legend… 

Dude, welcome back to the DMC World. An honour to speak to you. So let’s go back, way back. You were born in West Virginia and eventually landed in Plainfield via Edison in New Jersey Was there someone in the family who was into music or was it a case of you picking up the sounds from hanging around the streets with your friends?

“My mother used to be into music, as was everyone else in the projects where we lived.”

Those were halcyon days for US Hip Hop, the days millions of people around the world are so envious of you growing up in. So tell us about the early New Jersey Hip Hop scene, crews like Sound on Sound, Vash Brothers and Phase 2 were leading the march back then – who were you running with back then?

 “I was running with Sound on Sound.”

Who was the first DJ you ever saw scratching?

“That would have been Grandmaster Flash. Flash was the DJ everyone talked about. He stood out. Flash was the one I wanted to be like and be better than.”

When did the battles begin? What early battles can you remember taking part in?

“Back then, everything was a battle! I didn’t start battling until I got my respect in the 8th Grade.”

Back then, The Bronx was renowned for hard break beats, Brooklyn for its Disco breaks, what were the DJs from New Jersey playing back then?

“We were following New York back then. I used to get a lot of New York mix tapes around that time.”

Taking part in the battles, were you known just for your tricks, back spinning or mixing?

“I was known for my mixing, scratching AND tricks!”

So over in the UK, we hear about about American bands having their practice sessions in their garages like Nirvana, where did you practice your skills?

“I kept all my equipment in closet! That’s where I practiced at.”

Tell us about the night at The Ritzy in New York when a certain Run DMC saw you in action for the first time – you were still in high school at the time!

“Well I was still in High School at the time, they saw me down there and it lead me to a record deal with Duke.”

What did your friends think of you mixing with these heroes of y’all? Back then, were you selling mixtapes at school?

“I was selling mix tapes in 8th Grade. As I got the chance to do shows with Run DMC it help to take my popularity even higher.”

Were you lived at the time Plainfield, along with Elizabeth and Asbury were the big hang outs of Hip Hop in Jersey – what sort of cats were taking to the mic whilst you were DJing at parties…

“In Plainfield we had Righteous O Real, Ken Do, Righteous King Power, Chilly T, the Elizabeth Trooper Crew, Ali G and KMC. Over in Asbury, they had the True Brothers – these are the ones that stuck out for me and I give props to now.”

What was the reason you turned down the likes of Biz/ Kane/ Latifah/Chill Rob G when they all asked you to be their DJ?

“It wasn’t a disrespect to none of them. They all were favourite rappers of mine – I just came from a part of hip hop that when you were down with a crew, you were down by law and not a money thing.”

Did you enter the Marriot Marquis New Music Seminar battles and how come you ended up in London for the DMC World Finals in 1986?

“Yes I won NMS up against a host of other rap crew DJs. In ’86 I won the New Music Seminar battle, however I was robbed of the trophy because of NY favoritism.”

When Orlando Voorne the Dutch DJ who you beat into second place took the microphone off Tony Prince and asked “what is this a mixing competition or a scratching competition”… what were your thoughts?

“I thought it was funny because I specialized in mixing as well. I came in doing what I was known for.”

What was your reaction when your name was announced as the winner – did you realize back then just how important the world you were in and the competition you had just won was going to become?

“I didn’t realize none of that. I just knew by the crowd reaction I was going to win. I did not realize the importance of the DMC’s back then – I was there for hip hop.”

Was that your first trip to London – who did you meet, what are your memories – as I recall, I think you ended up at DMC owner Tony Prince’s (my pop!) house to hit the studio…?

“Yes I did! That was my first trip to London, I remember going to Tony’s house however what I did at the studio I don’t remember. I would love to hear any audio on what I did that day there, Tony gave me a lot of valuable information – I do remember that. After winning DMC it lead to me being in Europe for 30 days on tour.”

What impact did your newly crowned title have once you were back in America? Did you begin to get more DJ offers?

“It lead to more club spots. People waiting to congratulate me. More people giving me props as a DJ, especially the one’s that didn’t want to give it to me before the win.”

After you came and conquered, Chad Jackson, Ca$h Money and Cutmaster Swift came and took the crown. Who impressed you and from there took the DJ art forward in your opinion?

“I am going to say Ca$h Money, Roc Raider (may he rest in peace), DJ Slyce, DJ Craze, DJ Mysterio, DJ Swamp and Q-Bert.”

Were there any DJs you respected back in the day who never made it as far as you who perhaps you feel should have become world champions?

“Jazzy Jeff and DJ Scratch.”

What is the greatest Hip Hop record you have ever played?

“Grandmaster’s ‘The Message’.”

What do you think of the way the Championships are moving into technology event though the turntable remains central to everything. Do you use Serato or DJ computers, triggers etc.?

“I’m learning to use Serato now. As for as CD turntables go, I will never use them.”

In a recent interview, you stated that a while back, you wanted to put your life back on the right track.  What went wrong in your life?

“My management and owner of Beauty and the Beat Records, Ed “Duke Booty” Fletcher robbed me for all my royalties for all the records I recorded on. At the time he knew my love for hip hop – and money was the furthest thing from my mind. He took advantage. During my time of touring and traveling the world I ended up having two sons born a month apart. I took one son and raised him as a single parent. I ended up turning to the streets to support me and my son, hence becoming addicted to the lifestyle.”

Who have been your most trusted friends in the world of Hip Hop over the years?

“DJ Cool V who is the reason for my return. And Biz Markie. No one else showed concern or support other than those two.”

What is the greatest live Hip Hop event you have ever been to?

“Run DMC at Madison Square Garden. However they didn’t perform because Run was unable to perform.”

What are your 3 favourite break beats of all time and your favorite DJ of all time?

“The breaks – ‘Sing Sing’, ‘Ain’t We Funky Now’ and ‘Good Times’. The DJs? Flash, Jazzy Jeff, Ca$h Money and DJ David.”

We have just witnessed the 27th DMC Final with the brilliant US star DJ Vajra winning the title. Do you still keep your eye on the scene?

“Yes I do! However, I think the competition is redundant and all the DJ’s are doing the same thing. There is no originality anymore. Competition changed like the rap game with everyone doing the same shit! No creativity, no tricks…”

What advice would you give anyone who wins the DMC World title?

“Stay humble.”

 What has been the proudest moment of your life to date?

 “Winning the DMC.”

What do you think of the current state of Hip Hop. Money has certainly changed the face of the music we love since the days when you were just starting out. Are you resentful in any way that these people are making millions on the back on innovators like yourself?

“Actually, I’m not resentful. Back in my day hip-hop was a culture. It wasn’t about money.”

What artists are you spinning right now?

“Big Daddy Kane, G-Unit, Pete Rock/ C Smooth, KRS 1, Brand Nubians, Biggie, Pac, Jay-Z,

Rick Ross/Maybach music and Max B.”

Who is the greatest battle DJ you ever seen?

“Jazzy Jeff.”

And finally, a new year is nearly upon us. What have you in store for us all in 2012? What do you want to achieve in the next 12 months?

“Return of the King!! Going hard back into hip-hop bringing back originality, the Free Cheese Youth Empowerment Program and just being HAPPY.”

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