DJ Cash Money’s legacy as a turntable heavyweight began in 1988 when he won the DMC World Supremacy battle. After effortlessly beating down the competitors, DMC banned him from entering the competition again—no one else stood a chance, they said. The same year, Cash went on to win the New Music Seminar and American Mixing Championship competitions. He remains the only DJ in the world to have held all three titles simultaneously.
Applying his dexterous skills to the studio, Cash has also made a name as a diligent beat builder, putting out mixes for seminal labels such as Sleeping Bag and dropping old-school jams like Where’s the Party At? with partner MC Marvelous. Over the years, he has worked with everyone from PM Dawn and Q-Tip to Busta Rhymes and the Roots.
His underground mixtapes have been sought after amongst the b-boy community, especially cult mixes like his WKIS-FM (a fantasy radio show) and his Old School Need Ta Learn-O – Plot I and II, which have sold out and have been rereleased time and time again.
Still active on the global club and festival circuits, Cash currently hosts a regular night in Manhattan called “The Get Down,” where he drops not hip-hop jams but hot funk nuggets alongside pal Rich Medina.
His mixtape Head Bangin’ Funk 45s started life as a promo for the night and features a fat stack of grooves from the likes of James Brown, Jean Knight, Ohio Players, Rick James, Dennis Coffey, Cymande, Betty Wright, Marva Whitney, Ike and Tina Turner, Pure Pleasure, and Gil Scott-Heron—all cut and blended to perfection by one of the world’s finest turntable craftsmen.
As I understand it, you started out in hip-hop listening to NYC tapes by Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizard Theodore. Did you have any enlightening musical experiences before that?
I used to dance in a group in Southwest Philly called the Franchise Dancers doing what we used to call steppin’. We’d dance to James Brown, Black Heat, KC and the Sunshine Band, et cetera. We used to have these parties in our neighborhood where crews would challenge one another. A guy called Grand Wizard Rasheen made the music for us to dance to. He would mix old soul classics with hip-hop beats on these tapes and also on local pirate radio—for example, you take Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and mix that with Run-DMC’s “Sucker MC’s” instrumental. He was a dancer too and got me into DJing. He introduced me to the New York stuff; to be honest with you, he was doing stuff to the fifth power of what Flash was doing. As a young kid, I used to ride to his house on my bike after football practice. The way that I DJ—[from] my whole style down to the way I stand—is all from Rasheen. He taught me how to have a flow to the music, to know that if a record is 122 BPM, a 95 BPM record ain’t gonna work with it.
Was there a trigger tune that got you hooked on rap?
What really got me hooked was when I heard [the Furious Five’s] “Superrappin’.” After that, I heard the Live Convention tape in ’81 and began listening to New York underground tapes. I had a lot of homies who would come down, and we would battle those tapes. It’d be, “I got this new Flash tape,” et cetera. Over the years, I’ve been into every aspect of hip-hop. I tried MCing, which I sucked at. I wasn’t that good at graf either, so DJing became my niche.
You’ve been friends with DJ Jazzy Jeff for a long time. You DJed together back in the day, right?
Yeah, Jeff and I had a routine. We were called the “Twins of Spin.” I had a completely different style to Jeff, but I introduced him to a lot of the scratches. He still is one of the top DJs in the world as far as I’m concerned. He was basically very neat and precise, and I have a bit more rhythm than he does, and I was a bit faster. Jeff was in the city and I was in the ’burbs when we met. He introduced me to a promoter, and I started getting on bills in the city. Our routine—I see the X-Ecutioners spinning now, and it reminds me of what we used to do in those days. We would warm up for people like Salt-N-Pepa at first, and then I started building a rep and becoming a headliner. Me and my MC [Marvelous] and another guy called Kool Breeze Steve used to also have routines.
There must have been plenty of diggin’ to be done in Philly back then?
Philly at the time was a mecca. There was such a major music scene, like, old warehouses that no one knew about selling forty thousand records for forty-nine cents a pop. There was a guy in this store, Funk-o-Mart, called Chino; he used to put stuff aside for me. I’d walk in and he’d have stuff all ready for me to check out. He would order stuff in from New York too, and, because he was Hispanic, he would put me onto the Spanish breaks as well.
You’re known for putting out underground hip-hop mixes, but your release Head Bangin’ Funk 45s is a funk mix…
Everybody knows me for hip-hop, but I’m a huge funk collector, always have been. I’ve always loved the music and wanted to put something together, and I did this album initially as a promo for my night in New York, “The Get Down,” which I run with Rich Medina and Botany 500. When I saw the initial response to it, I took some up to New York and the response there was amazing too. The Sound Library took twenty of them and within a matter of two days, they all sold out. To this day, they’re still asking for more. I go overseas a lot these days, too, and so I figured I’d see if I could get a deal. A company called Boombox ended up being down for a release, so it’s been distributed in Europe now too.
Is that why the mix has both rarities and well-known records?
It’s what we play at the party. You can’t go too over people’s heads. You have to let them get just a little taste. People’s attention spans are real short with something that they don’t know. I’d rather have them say, “Oh, that’s where that record comes from,” and listen a bit more, and then the next mix I do I’ll go a little deeper if there is a demand for it. It’s hard to please everybody. If I put a mix out that’s really deep, I don’t think it would sell much to the masses, though for the beat-heads it’d be the shit. I had to kind of keep it on that level. But still, a lot of people I’ve given it to haven’t heard some of the tunes before. “I Got Some” [by Billy Garner]—a lot of people don’t have that record. [Levert Allison’s] “The Sugardaddy” record is very hard to get. And “Close Your Eyes” [by the Caprells] is another one that’s hard to get. All the records on there are original 45 pressings too, even the ones that are well known. The only one that isn’t is “Fusion Beat” by James Brown, which is a bootleg from back in the ’80s that has “Flash to the Beat” on the other side, and that’s a pretty rare twelve anyway.
You’re known for having a monumental record collection…
I love collecting. The greatest thing is to find something you’ve been looking for forever or to find something you didn’t know about. It’s an addiction. I don’t just collect funk and hip-hop either. I’m deep into everything. You know, like radio-spot records: those records for commercials that would come on back in the day for the blaxploitation, kung fu, and horror flicks. I’m into collecting video footage: old Soul Train episodes, live concerts, cartoons, TV shows. Most guys specialize in one thing—sneakers or records—but I have everything, even toys. I got board games, pinball machines, Muhammad Ali dolls, boom boxes, basketball cards, posters, the list goes on and on. Right now I’m looking at a cereal box of Frosted Rice Krinkles, the old brand of Rice Krispies, and it has a Jackson 5 record on the back that you can cut out and play. It even has the cereal still in it. [laughs] It’s completely intact. I also collect old-school trainers. Puma is making a sneaker for me that has my face on the tongue.
What’s the most expensive record you’ve bought?
I have funk 45s going up to $2500. Johnny King [and the Fatback Band]’s “Peace, Love Not War” is one of them. I have an absolutely mint copy. Kenny Dope just reissued that. I used to close down record stores, kick everyone out, and buy up the whole place. I’ve done that three times. In Japan, I gave a store owner $10,000 to take everything he had. I left my clothes at the hotel, took all the rare stuff on the plane with me, and shipped the rest home. No matter how much music I have, it’s always an education.
What other music styles do you dig for?
The current craze is for late-’80s hip-hop twelves—real obscure stuff, not your EPMDs or whatever, but stuff like the Busy Boys and Cobra MCs. I have to give props to DJ Ivory from Nottingham [U.K.]—he’s very deep in that area. A lot of big groups like Public Enemy—they were called something else, like Spectrum City, so that stuff is a kick to find.
There has always been a question mark hovering over the invention of the transformer scratch. Both you and Jazzy Jeff have been credited with inventing it, as has DJ Spinbad. What’s the story from your side?
There was this videotape I got with DJ Spinbad doing this new scratch. The tune was “It’s Time” by Hasheem, and [Spinbad] scratched “It’s tiiiime,” bringing the fader back and forth. I saw that and said, “I can make that better.” I made it sound like the Transformer Robot, the iconic cartoon of the era, which is where the name came from. Jazzy Jeff was the first person to put it on wax, on “I’m the Magnificent.”
You are also credited with developing other scratches like the shiver and the stutter. Do you claim those as your inventions?
I used to do those scratches all the time, and then I saw D.ST do them on TV. It’s crazy the way human minds work in complete synchronization sometimes, you know? Back then I never gave my scratches a name, but I know for a fact I was doing them too.
How did the Old School Need Ta Learn-O tapes come about?
The title came from a line in a Biggie song, and I thought, “Whoa, right, people do need to learn the old school.” So the first mix I put out was Plot I in ’95; that had all the early Sugar Hill stuff—tracks like “Superrappin’ ”—my first inspirations. Grand Wizard Theodore and Red Alert are on there, giving shouts. Plot II came out a short time later and had more of the late ’80s stuff on it, my own cuts, and stuff from Biz Markie, Marley Marl, et cetera. I’m going to rerelease both of them when I get some time. I want to put some extra surprises on there for people.
In 1998, you became the World’s Best DJ in the DMC Hall of Fame. How did that feel?
Getting recognized for something is a beautiful thing. I’m a humble thing, or I try to be, and I don’t take anything for granted. I mean, I’ve worked hard. I’m still rocking major festivals and I don’t have a major publicist or any records out, so with me, what you get is still just the raw talent. I mean, I do get mad if there’s no credit or props where it’s due sometimes, as I don’t think that hurts. I didn’t wake up and become DJ Cash Money for example; I had to learn from other people.