In the early 80’s back before there was a West Coast Hip-Hop scene, a DJ crew in L.A. by the name of Uncle Jamm’s Army ruled the land led by their main attraction, The Egyptian Lover.
Once a former competitor, The Egyptian Lover joined the legendary crew by winning a DJ battle, put together by Uncle Jamm’s Army founder Rodger Clayton, in impressive fashion with his unique and dynamic mixing style.
After successfully bringing out over 10,000 people to The Los Angeles Sports arena for a party, Uncle Jamm’s Army and The Egyptian Lover set their sights on making records and put out jams like, “Yes, Yes, Yes,” “Dial-A-Freak,” and the extremely popular “Egypt, Egypt” before giving way to the likes of Dr. Dre, Ice-T and a slew of other Los Angeles acts that would put the West Coast on the map.
Tim “Styles” Sanchez caught up with The Egyptian Lover in a Hollywood studio as he was preparing his new summer release, “1984,” to hear some of the crazy tales in his 30 plus year career. A portion of this interview was released by the LA Weekly in February, 2014 . The following is the full version, exclusively for DubCNN.com
Interview was conducted in January 2014
Questions Asked By: Tim “Styles” Sanchez
DubCNN: Making rap and hip-hop records was still a new business when you and Uncle Jamm’s Army started putting them out. How did you learn how to program beats and create records?
It came naturally to me. When I first learned about the 808 drum machine, I was at a club called Radio where I was DJ’ing on the side from Uncle Jamm’s Army – guys like Chris “The Glove” Taylor and Ice-T were over there. One night a cat named Afrika Islam came from New York to DJ over there and he told me that he knew Afrika Bambaataa and I asked him what they used to make the beat for “Planet Rock” and he told me it was a drum machine called the TR-808. I decided to go out and get one for myself and learned that they were selling them at The Guitar Center. I went over there to purchase one and the guy who sold it to me showed me how to program – which is really easy if you understand rhythm measures. I bought it right on the spot, filled it up with beats, and brought it to the next Uncle Jamm’s Army party. About 100 people asked me what record I had played because they wanted to buy it and I told them that it was just my drum machine. We decided to make a record because these beats already sound like a record that’s been made. We went in to the studio and made “Yes, Yes, Yes” and “Dial-A-Freak.”
DubCNN: Rodger Clayton, the late and great founder of Uncle Jamm’s Army, was able to pack out the L.A. Sports Arena with 10,000 people for events with no star headlining act. How was he able to pull that off?
The DJ’s were the headliners and that was all because of Rodger Clayton and the way he promoted the dances. He would put together a plan. Let’s say for instance we were going to play at the Sports Arena on Christmas Day of a certain year, Rodger would start his plan in January by doing a bunch of high school dances. Through those dances, he would promote a bigger Valentine’s Day dance at The Hilton hotel. Then throughout the spring and summer we would do more hotel dances at places like the Holiday Inn and the Marriott. Those hotel dances would lead to a bigger event at an auditorium that could hold more people – like 2,000 to 3,000 all-together. Then at that party we would start promoting the big Christmas Day dance at the Sports Arena. As DJ’s we received records in advance of the radio stations and so we would make radio spots that included these songs. Because we had these songs in advance of the stations, people could only hear these songs at our parties and in our radio commercials. Sure enough, 10,000 people would show up to the Sports Arena for our event and would be so big that we would have to do it again the following year. Radio stations would come to our shows to broadcast the party live as it was happening, which was unheard of. Uncle Jamm’s Army was the biggest thing L.A. had at the time.
DubCNN: How did you join Uncle Jamm’s Army?
I tried to start my own crew called Egyptian Entertainment and only 50 people showed up to my first dance. I promoted my butt off and I knew I was a good DJ but I just couldn’t get the promotion I needed because every time that I hung a sign, Uncle Jamm’s would snatch it down and hang their sign up. As they say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” so one day I was at the Fox Hills Mall with Snake Puppy from the L.A. Dream Team and we happened to run in to Rodger Clayton there. Snake Puppy told him, “If y’all want the best DJ in the world then you need to hire my boy The Egyptian Lover.” Rodger knew me because I used to go to his dances but he didn’t know that I was a DJ. He told me that he was making a new radio spot that day and he’d like to have a DJ contest with some other DJ’s that he wanted to try out and I was kind of nervous because I thought they were going to whoop me. We go to the spot where he was making the commercial and I went to the turntable and cued up the record with a scratch that I believe I first heard on a Grandmaster Flash record. They were amazed and asked me what that effect was and I told them that it was called scratching. Rodger asked me to put that in his commercial, so I do it and he totally flipped out again when he heard it. Scratching was new to L.A. and I only knew how to do it because I used to make Mixtapes. I would put one finger on the pause button and cue the record and let my finger go off the pause button. The only way that I knew how to cue out loud was by scratching.
That night we went to the party to have the DJ contest and I was given the worst record to mix because someone obviously didn’t want me to win. The record was “Jump to It” by Aretha Franklin and the song had no dance ability to it but the beginning of it starts off with a beat and words that says, “Jump, jump, jump, to it.” I was fast enough to keep the beat going and scratch the “jump to it” part before the beat started again and I kept doing that. Everybody stopped dancing at the party and grabbed chairs to put them up to the DJ booth to watch what I was doing. The record had just come out and I had never heard it before and when I played it in the headphones, I told myself that I couldn’t mix this but I just started to scratch it and everybody freaked out over it. This was also my first time using Technic 1200 turntables which were amazing and made me a better DJ. I had developed a real light hand because of the cheaper turntables that I had been previously using, which you had to be real careful with. After I finished, one of the DJ’s I was competing against just quit and said, “It’s over. He won.” The initial DJ who gave me the wack record to work with was amazed and asked if I wanted another record to use so I told him to give me The Tom-Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” and Grandmaster Flash’s “It’s Nasty” – and I killed both of those records. Rodger Clayton came up to me and said, “Egypt, you didn’t tell me you were that good” and I then became the main act for Uncle Jamm’s Army.
DubCNN: What’s the story behind your name?
I grew up in the hood and all of the gangsters had their names in Old English lettering on the back of their jackets. I didn’t want a fighting name like the rest of them, so I went with a lover/player one so I could get the ladies. One of my father’s friends used to say that I looked Egyptian because of my sideburns and the little hump on my nose so I called myself the Pyramid Prince for about a week before changing it to the Egyptian Lover. I put that on the back of my jacket and that’s who I was known as. This was way before I became a DJ.
DubCNN: What about the rapping aspect? When did that become a part of your repertoire?
I was first a rapper but I started making instrumental beats from breaks and putting them on cassette. I would then record myself to another cassette by rapping over that beat. I was selling rap tapes at my high school back when “Rapper’s Delight” came out and everybody wanted more rap songs but there weren’t any, so I took the Sugar Hill Gang’s instrumental, rearranged the words and made my own raps.
DubCNN: You were rapping, DJ’ing and producing all on your own before guys like Dr. Dre and DJ Quik came on the scene.
I didn’t need anybody to write my raps, make my beats or anything else. I had my own record label and distribution. Majors would come to me all of the time, offering $250,000 deals and I would show them how money I had on the books already and they would be surprised.
DubCNN: How do you feel now that being a rapper, DJ and Producer is pretty common in Hip-Hop?
I love it. The DJ’s and the guys making the beats never used to get much recognition because they were behind the scenes and the rappers were up front. When Dr. Dre came up doing all of that, I loved it and I’m happy to see more behind the scenes workers come to the forefront and get their credit.
DubCNN: Don’t you think that you deserve your credit as a pioneer?
I don’t care. You can give me respect but I really don’t need it. I don’t need anybody telling me how good or talented I am. Whoever knows will know, and whoever doesn’t know is missing out.
DubCNN: How competitive was it between the Los Angeles crews? There was Uncle Jamm’s Army, World Class Wreckin’ Cru, The L.A. Dream Team and others.
There was no competition because Uncle Jamm’s Army was number one and everybody else was fighting for the number two spot. It was like being on a major league All-Star team while the others were still playing college ball. We were playing in the Sports Arena and nobody else could do that. Then we started making records and took it to that next level – then they all started making records too. When I started to hear their records I was cool with it because whoever can do it should be able to do it. I never hated on anybody. Snake Puppy from The L.A. Dream Team was my homie and I was happy for them when they started putting records out. There were others hating and going back and forth with it but that was never me. The ones who were broke and couldn’t make records were the complainers and those who were doing it and making money were happy.
DubCNN: Your music has been primarily focused to make people dance.
That’s from me being a DJ. It made me happy to see people dance to the beats and records that I was playing and it made me happier when they were dancing to my own songs. I grew up in the era of “freaks” and talking to the freaks was my main thing. Even today, the majority of guys that go to parties are there to meet women. It’s all about the freaks.
DubCNN: I was young when your track “My Beat Goes Boom” came out, and played it backwards, thus hearing the bit you had intentionally masked. I learned that day what a “ménage à trois” was.
I got the idea of recording vocals backwards from Prince and so I did that with the verse: “How about ménage à trois, ménage à trois, me and you?” It sounded cool in the song. I used to play “Planet Rock” backwards along to the instrumental at parties. That would really freak people out. You know, one day I was at the studio and we [Uncle Jamm’s Army] were working on “Yes, Yes, Yes.” A big time music industry producer came by the studio and he was digging the beat. I didn’t know who he was at the time but Rodger and them knew and were making a big deal about it.
I told the engineer to flip the record and play it backwards for an effect and when he did, it sounded like “Six, Six, Six, Satan’s Child.” Immediately Rodger jumped back when he heard it and accidentally hit the light switch. All of the lights went off with the exception of these red flood lights in the room. The engineer didn’t know that Rodger accidentally hit the lights. All he heard was “Six, Six, Six, Satan’s Child” and then everything went red. The big time producer ran out and wanted nothing to do with us. Rodger was like, “Man, what are you trying to do?” I told him that I had no idea the record was going to sound like that. The engineer was freaked out until he learned that it was Rodger who accidentally bumped in to the light switch.
DubCNN: “Egypt, Egypt” is the song that most identify you with. How did it come about?
About a year and a half before I made that song, I went to a party with some friends and fell for a girl there who was sitting on a window sill and smoking a joint. Even though I didn’t smoke weed, I wanted to just so I could get with her. My friends got some at the party and we smoked some but…it turned out that the joint was dipped in Sherm juice and I started to feel sick. We left and went back to my friend’s house and just as I was leaving his place, there was someone standing at the door with sharp features and my first thought was that it was the Devil. He spoke to me and said, “Egyptian Lover, you’re going to be a big star one day and your first hit song will be called ‘Beast Beats.'” Fast-forward a year and a half later, I had made a beat and sure enough it was called “Beast Beats,” because it was a beast on the drum machine. As I was leaving to the studio, my family asked where I was going and I told them that I was going to record my song “Beast Beats” and it was then my sister said, “Don’t play with the Devil like that.” I immediately remembered the image that I saw a year and a half before and what he said to me. I went to the studio and tore up the “Beast Beats” song and remade it in to “Egypt, Egypt.” That record is actually a creation of four to five songs that I had pieced together. It was made as though I was DJ’ing those different songs all together in to one mix.
DubCNN: What do you think of that Devil encounter nowadays?
I didn’t want to sell my soul to the Devil to be a big hit star, plain and simple. Thirty years later I am happy where I am at in life because I can still do concerts and still be able to walk around the mall without TMZ taking pictures. I’ve lived a great life right under the radar.
DubCNN: I like in the “Girls” song how you start naming off all of the different names of women. Did you make those up or where these girls that you knew?
Some of the names of the girls I used were from women that I knew back then – ex-girlfriends and stuff like that. I went through the phonebook and got some names. It was cool.
DubCNN: Music started changing on the West Coast afterwards and became gangster. You remained as yourself even to this day.
From the very beginning, I made this style of music because I liked it. When I listened to Planet Rock, Electric Kingdom and groups like Kraftwerk, I chose a similar style because it fit what I liked. When I saw that things were changing, I said that it was cool but I still liked my style better. I figured that as years go by music will change again and I’ll still have my style, so I stayed with it.
DubCNN: Even though the hip-hop world fell out of love with what you were doing?
There’s always someone out there that will love it. They renamed that style “Electro” so the Electro world loves what I’m doing, if hip-hop doesn’t. I’ve never labeled my music anything but “Dance” music and I’ve been calling it that since back in the day. Throughout the years I’ve stayed busy doing shows big and small. In the 90’s it was all in the South like Louisiana, Alabama and that whole region. They were just big on it and from 1989 to 1997; I was constantly in Louisiana performing in big clubs. Once I got on the internet in 1999, other promoters from around the world started booking me and the people from those places loved my music like it was brand new once again. From that time to now, I’ve been going all over the world non-stop.
DubCNN: I always tell people that you were the West Coast scene before there was one.
I’ve never looked at it as West Coast. I just call it music to dance to because I don’t care where you are from. I’ve never claimed the West Coast – I was just born and raised in Los Angeles. When I said, “I live in L.A. there’s lots of catch action there” in my My Beat Goes Boom, that was for the neighborhoods.
DubCNN: But those records birthed the West Coast scene.
Somebody had to do it but I wasn’t doing it for the West Coast scene per-say, I was doing it because I love music. I see the snowball effect because when I go to a club, everybody there is on the performing artist’s jock but the performing artist is on my jock and the audience is like, “Who’s that?” The people, who are supposed to know, know about me.
DubCNN: Do you still associate with the other surviving members of Uncle Jamm’s Army?
We’ve all gone our separate ways but we keep in contact with each other through social media outlets like Facebook. When Rodger Clayton was alive, we would have reunion shows and everybody would show up. I want to do a song dedicated to Rodger and bring in all of the guys from Uncle Jamm’s Army on it. I wrote it already, so I’m getting ready to make calls and see if I can get them down to the studio.
DubCNN: It’s almost been 30 years since you put out that first record.
30 years and I’m making a brand new album for that 30th anniversary called 1984 and it sounds like I made it in the year of 1984. It’s the right time too because back when gangster rap was at its heights, nobody wanted to dance. I was like, “Y’all should be getting on these girls instead of getting high with the brothers.” The album should be out around August or September of this year. 1984 is going to be for me and everything on it will be 128 beats per minute and the songs will be similar to the ones that I made back in the day. This new album will make you dance, so you can stop filming girls dancing at the club and go dance with them.