Wednesday, January 17, 2007

So Damn Tuff

Tuff Crew - My Part Of Town
Tuff Crew - Show 'Em Hell

The back end of the 1980s found Philadelphia battling it out with the West Coast as New York’s chief rival on the hip hop scene. Along with the obvious crossover DJ heavyweights Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money, Philly could boast Schoolly D, Steady B’s Hilltop Hustlers and Three Times Dope. Less well-known but for my mind, the cream of that crop, were Tuff Crew; a quartet of rappers, ‘The Lyrical Auditor’ LA Kid, ‘The Overlord’ Ice Dog, ‘The Teacher’ Tone Love and ‘The Mountain’ Monty G, and their DJ ‘Deuce Ace Detonator’ Too Tuff.

My introduction to the Tuff Crew came though ‘My Part of Town’; a quality 12” taken from their second album ‘Danger Zone’. The core trio of MCs (Monty G doesn’t feature) come across like a posse of tomcats marking out their territory by spraying their devastating rhymes all over the much-used ‘Think (About It)’ break and a snatch of hard-hitting funk guitar. So far, so bad meaning good, but if you factor in the scratching talents of the DJ Too Tuff, you start to understand why I, and so many others, hold them in such high esteem. Too Tuff’s got skills in abundance, showcasing his signature style of cutting up each word of a phrase (in this instance, “So Damn Tough”). King Bee notoriously ripped off ‘My Part of Town’ on the track ‘Back by Dope Demand’ (1990), and annoyingly, it’s the King Bee track that became better known, despite being massively inferior.

It was 1989's ‘Back to Wreck Shop’ (their third album in three years!), released on Warlock Records, which was their greatest achievement. The album was unheralded by critics at the time, but always gets maximum props from true hip hop heads, who (quite rightly) mention it in the same breath as legendary LP’s like ‘Critical Beatdown’ by Ultramagnetic MCs and ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back’ by Public Enemy. It is that good. Almost every track on ‘Back to Wreck Shop’ is a classic, combining awesome beat programming with a judicious choice of samples; some obscure, but the majority familiar, yet still sounding fresh in Tuff Crew hands. I’m posting ‘Show ‘Em Hell’, though it’s taken me a while to select one track from the fifteen on offer. It’s a blistering burst of hardcore hip hop with rugged raps and frenzied scratching, over a killer beat and scowling funk guitar.

I will always associate ‘Back To Wreck Shop’ as being the album that signified the end of an obsessive musical period (1985-1989) where all I was listening to was hip hop and electro. The sound and swagger of the Roses and the Mondays seduced me into a world that promised more than record trading and anally retentive conversations with fellow B-boys. My NASA-patched black bomber jacket was retired from service, to be replaced by a godawful Top Man patchwork hoodie (I blame Mary Jane), my gelled flat top grown into lank curtains. ‘BTWS’ may have been the end, but I wasn’t giving up without a fight. I remember it fondly as an album I would stubbornly play in mate’s car tape decks and in the college smoking room, even though it was far too hard for most people’s tastes - De La Soul was about as tuff as it got by that point...

Tuff Crew - Behold The Detonator

Quickly back to DJ Too Tuff to finish – as a bonus, I’m also posting ‘Behold the Detonator’, – an instrumental joint where the main body of the track consists solely of Too Tuff's scratching. He is often heralded as the forefather of the turntablist movement, and DJ Shadow has named him as a formative influence on his career. The turntablists created sound and music using only their decks and a mixer, and ‘Behold the Detonator’ is a prime example of this. Too Tuff (who recently spent 6 months in jail – check the blog on his My Space linked below for some illuminating thoughts on incarceration) goes off on the Public Enemy air raid siren from ‘Countdown to Armageddon’, and precisely slices various snatches of raps and dialogue. Mesmerising stuff. Tuff Crew may not have had a Chuck D or a Kool Keith in their ranks, but in Too Tuff they had a DJ who was easily the superior of PE’s Terminator X or Ultramagnetic’s Moe Luv, and in all honesty, most of the DJ’s of the main crews.

Buy 'Back to Wreck Shop' from ebay
Search for Tuff Crew on ebay
Tuff Crew discography
DJ Too Tuff on My Space