King Kut – The Adventures

Of Robert Cheese

 by JayQuan Nov. 2010

Times are certainly different than they were growing up in the 70s & 80s. I always tell my kids that I wish that they could experience just a portion of the freedom that me and my friends did. During summer break we roamed all over our apartment complex from morning until the streetlights came on. If someone wanted to harm us all they needed to do was blast music from their apartment, because we gravitated to the homes of neighbors who blasted the latest jams to see what kind of equipment they had, and to see their record collections. Stay with me…..On a summer day in 1985 me and my best friend at the time – Tyler heard this song with these huge drums, and some of the most precise cutting and scratching that I had ever heard. Someone was cutting parts of the song Jam Master Jay by Run – DMC. We approached the neighbor who was playing the record because we had to know what it was. He showed us the King Kut 12” single by Word Of Mouth featuring D.J. Cheese. The record cover was just as underground and demo like as the song itself. In the age where Run DMC were making very polished records, King Kut was very much underground. We went to the record store to cop that single that same day, and made it a point to cop every DJ Cheese affiliated record we could. Im honored some 25 years later to tell the story of Robert Cheese…..

Where were you born and raised and who were your musical inspirations?

I was born in Oak Hill, West Virginia, but we moved to Edison, New Jersey as soon as I was born. I was there until about 8 years old, then we moved to Plainfield in about 1977. I was influenced by Cold Crush Brothers comin’ up as a youth.

What year did you start to get equipment and develop an interest in Hip Hop?

I would say that it was about ’79 or ’80 when I started getting official equipment. When I got my first Technics…..

Who were you trying to pattern yourself after, or you did you admire at that time on the Wheels?

I would have to say Grandmaster Flash. That was my hero there….

Tell me about the early New Jersey Hip Hop scene. For instance Wonder Mike and Master Gee of the Sugar Hill Gang came from Sound On Sound and Phase 2 respectively. Were you familiar with those crews, and did you ever witness Mike & Gee before they made records?

I heard of both of those crews definitely. I can’t confirm whether those guys were members, but those were two crews that I heard of. You had the Cash Brothers from Asbury Park , A cat named True Love – he had a crew; in fact he was the one that named me King Kut. I used to run with his crew back then. We had a lot of battles in Jersey back then.

Were you a part of these battles?

Of course! One of the first was this guy named DJ Sky at Sound Casino. I think that he was from Englewood. There were like 20 djs lined up and I won. There were so many battles like every week. I began to win so much that people said that it wouldn’t be fair for me to be in the battles! Yeah, they wouldn’t even let me in after awhile……

The Bronx was known for hard break beats, Brooklyn was known for so called Disco breaks. What were Jersey Djs spinning? Also were you known just for tricks – or back spinning and mixing as well?

I incorporated all of it. Jersey was doing everything that New York was doin , so we had the heavy break beats as well as the Dance To The Drummers Beat and To Be Real by Cheryl Lynn kind of breaks. I did it all – tricks as well as mixing cutting and back spinning. The whole package – a all around D.J. I tried to master every part and be versatile.

Im sure you cats were tuned in to Kiss & WBLS…..

Oh yeah. Everything that was big in New York – we were right there too.

Before King Kut had you done any battles or shows in New York?

No , I wasn’t goin’ into New York back then. I was so young at the time like still in middle school goin’ into high school. But I wanted to go though….

On the King Kut record cover I was always impressed with your set up. I saw a lil keyboard , a drum machine and your records on the walls. Duke Bootee (CEO Beauty & The Beat Records - Word Of Mouth & D.J. Chesse’s record label) told me that was your closet….

Yeah! I had all my stuff set up in the closet. That’s where I practiced. Whenever the rappers would come over I would take it out. I had a poster of Flash , and I had a picture on the wall of me with Run DMC that I took at the Ritz back in the early 80s when I had a show with them. That was the first time that they had ever heard of me. They were backstage and they heard what I was doin’. By the time I was finished all three of ‘em were standing there watching me. That was my group at the time so that was big for me. I was still in high school!

Before you made records were you producing beats? I see you have a Roland drum machine in your set up….

Yes , of course! I was doin’ beats and mix tapes. You know how Djs had records with just their cuts on it – no Mc’s…I was doin that kinda stuff. I was sellin’ tapes at school. I had a Oberhiem DX and later the DMX too.

Fletcher (Duke Bootee) told me that you were down with Biz & Cool V before they made records. I also heard that you had a chance to be down with the Mc’s in the Flavor Unit as well…..

Well during that era Plainfield and Elizabeth along the Asbury was like the Mecca of Hip Hop in Jersey. I was doin’ parties all over and I had Biz ,Big Daddy Kane , Cool V and TJ Swann. These cats were the only ones who rolled with me that didn’t have to ask to get on the mic I would just let them tear it down. After we did King Kut, Biz and all of us were still running together. Biz said that he was about to sign with Marley Marl and he asked me to be his Dj. Im from the era of being loyal to your crew so I turned him down. That was the only reason why I didn’t sign with Biz or Kane – loyalty. Queen latifah , Lakim Shabazz , Chill Rob G – they all wanted me for their dj.

Had I known better I would have signed! I didn’t get paid for any of that work that I put in back then…..it wasn’t about money to me back then, it was my love for the music. I just wanted to get on stage and rock the crowd. I received a small check when we signed over to Profile – but that was it. We never received royalty statements or an account of how many units we sold. I missed a few opportunities. I was cutting a record with Keith Le Blanc (drummer and former member of the Sugar Hill records house band) at Tommy Boy records and Tommy offered to sign me. A lotta people were telling us that we weren’t in a good situation with our management. Even Tony Prince who is the founder of the DMC competition warned us. I did Sun City , Get Off My Tip with Master Don Committee , Triple Threat with Z3 Mc’s , Im A Home boy with K Rob , What The Party Needs with Point Blank Mc’s – about 15 joints and no money……

How did Z3 Mc’s – a group from Baltimore get signed to a rap label from Jersey. That was unheard of back then….

We did a show in Baltimore and Fletcher was lookin’ for more talent. We did a show at a roller skating rink called shake & skate and he held a talent show there. Z3 caught our attention , so he signed them. I did production and cuts on Triple Threat. Keith Leblanc did the drum track , Fletcher played keyboard and everything else was me. The hook and all. I didn’t get production credit for that or King Kut.

King Kut actually had some breakbeats thrown in there. That was kinda rare right there in the middle of the drum machine era. In fact Mantronik was doin some similar stuff with samples of Breakin Bells by T LA Rock , but that was a year after King Kut….

Yeah, those breaks…that was all me. We got signed with Profile because I was cutting the Run DMC parts on King Kut. They wanted to sue us at first, but they decided to sign us instead.

When you did Coast To Coast were you still signed with Fletcher at all or just Profile?

That song was done while we were on tour in England and we were still signed with Fletcher.

Do you cats have some unreleased stuff somewhere. Were you working on an album?

We were working on some other songs , but I can’t tell you what happened to that stuff. That’s was it after Coast To Coast. We were gonna keep goin’ just without Fletcher but it didn’t work out between the 3 of us. We just started speakin’ to each other , and we plan on hopping on some old school tours.

Fletcher says that the story on the Vapors video by Biz Markie actually really happened that way…..

Yeah it did , and Biz worked at Vogels record store. In fact the cat who owned Vogels was partners with Fletcher. Biz was around so much , and hung with Cool V so much that I thought he was from Jersey but he wasn’t. he was just real close with Cool V.

Im also told that you were doin’ house parties with a huge following, and that you didn’t know that cats from Word Of Mouth until Fletcher put you together.

Yeah that’s definitely true. I didn’t know them at all.

I know that you’ve been back & forth – have you kept up with your Djing?

Yeah, at one point I had two recording studios. But hustling out in the streets was where my heart was. I got caught up in that era….. It got to the point where I was giving music maybe 40%.

What do you think about today’s Hip Hop. It’s changed a lot since the mid 80s.

Im cool with whoever is winning. If that’s the South then im cool.I don’t really like a lot of it right now, but it is what it is. I don’t really like the production these days. I lean more towards East coast Hip Hop, and I always will. That’s my thing. I definitely not feelin the Djing nowadays. I come from the Technics era, I don’t really like the Cd Djing. I use the computer , but I will always use the Technics.

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

Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jeff and Jam Master Jay are my 3 favorite Djs. I say Jam Master Jay because even though he never got credit for his skills I looked up to him and imitated him. My 3 favorite break beats are Dance To the Drummers Beat , To Be Real and Sing Sing.

 

D.J. Cheese is a living definition of an unsung artist. His name is hardly ever mentioned when people speak of legendary D.J.s, but many of us know the truth. In addition to Cheese’s accomplishments that we discussed in the interview, Cheese also won the 1986 DMC turntable championship. This is very significant because the contest started in 1985, and there weren’t any Dj’s even scratching in the competition yet!! When Cheese won the world title, the runner up screamed: “is this a scratching competition or a mixing competition”. So in other words Cheese opened the door for all the tricks and back spinning that we see in the DMC competition today! It’s cool to interview the big name , but cats like Mix Master Cheese are the reason why I continue to help preserve this history!