Amoeblog Interview with DJ Fuze on DJ History, Digital Underground, Raw Fusion, 2Pac, Dave Chappelle + more

Posted by Billyjam, January 6, 2016 10:28pm | Post a Comment

Digital Underground was not merely an amazing funk fueled hip-hop crew out of the Bay. They were also the pranksters of hip-hop. D.U. member DJ Fuze recalls what may have been their best public prank from back in the day on a visit to New York City. It was one of the times they played the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem. "Hosted by Mark Curry, during the Amateur Night part, we came out with bags over our heads as The Unknown Rappers. We got booed and Sandman started pulling us away. Then the curtains opened revealing Digital Underground band to a huge applause, followed by a great performance of "Kiss You Back" and later "No Nose Job." We basically beat the Apollo crowd at their own game," Fuze told the Amoeblog recently when we caught up with the longtime Bay Area (East Coast transplant) hip-hop producer and turntable artist.

The Syracuse NY DJ born David Elliot is known for a myriad of associations and projects over the past three decades but most notably for his membership of both Digital Underground and related duo Raw Fusion with fellow D.U. member Money B. In addition to his membership of D.U. and Raw Fusion, Fuze, who is a trained chef as well as turntablist, is also known for his production and performance DJ work with such artists as fellow Bay Area hip-hop acts The Luniz, Dru Down, and comedian Dave Chappelle with whom he has done a ton of shows over the years (since Chappelle left his TV show). Fuze just did 15 shows with Chappelle in Chicago. He opens for him at the Punch Line in SF tomorrow (Jan 7).  Bay Area clubbers know DJ Fuze for his eclectic solo DJ sets including his residency at Oakland's SomaR bar in the Uptown district where he spins African amongst other styles. 

When I linked up with Fuze he told me how, now that he has settled down with young kids, that his lifestyle has adjusted accordingly with family taking priority over everything else in his life. In fact when we met up for the interview he was taking care of his youngest son whose restlessness was quelled by the constant car movement, so for the interview we drove around Lake Merritt numerous times as his young two-year-old son in the backseat was lulled into a peaceful sleep as Fuze talked about his intriguing hip-hop history.

DJ Fuze's DJing gigs go way back. How far back? Way back to when he was just a kid growing up in Syracuse, NY. There the young DJ Fuze got his first taste at DJing when his mom had him curate the music at her "house parties" in their home. There he recalled playing records from her collection including The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, and the soundtrack from Hair. Around that same at his elementary school, where he was lieutenant of the crossing guard, he got assigned the task of spinning tunes on rollerskating days at the school. In addition to his mom, he credits a cousin for getting him deep into music, specifically funk music, which would be the driving force behind the multi-platinum Digital Underground years later. "Even though he lived in a super white suburb of Syracuse, my cousin had Ohio Players records and Parliament Funkadelic records. He is one of the main people that got me into music," said Fuze. From early days he was buying and collecting records. The first 12" singles he ever bought were Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers "Bustin Loose" and The Police's "Roxanne." He was also "a big KISS fan" so naturally had such albums in his collection as Destroyer,  KISS Alive!, and Rock And Roll Over. "I started buying records in sixth grade. I wasn't a crate digger. I just bought hits," he laughed.

DJ Fuze live in Reno, 2012

It was after his family's cross-country move out West, landing in the East Bay at age 12, that his music collecting and his attitude towards music began to take shape and get more focused. His mom continued to throw her house parties once they'd settled in and Fuze was still the house DJ. "I didn't officially start DJing until '85 because I didn't have my own equipment until then. I bought my own equipment in '85," he recalled of his first pair of prized Technics 1200's. "First I bought them at Leo's [former music gear store now Leo's Club on Telegraph] for $400," he said, adding how soon after he saw them for $329 a piece at Stereo Discount "next store to Ralph's on Telegraph. I returned them at Leo's and they hated me for like eight years after that," he laughed. But years later, after the Digital Underground money rolled in, he went back and dropped $15K for a grip of gear at Leo's. His early DJ role models included  a school mate from "the Suicidal Sounds DJ crew. James Adamos, a Filipino dude from West Campus, Berkeley High" and his crew "were DJs before me and they encouraged me to DJ," he said, noting how they would invite him to do little guest spots at their gigs.


Digital Underground "No Nose Job"

While he didn't consider himself good enough to enter DJ battles back in the '80s, DJ Fuze was a skilled scratch DJ. As for when Fuze first encountered scratching he answered, "I didn't see scratching until 1982 when I went to see Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five at Berkeley Community Theater and I didn't know what the hell  was going on up there. I saw a dude with turntables and he was scratching. So I was officially introduced to scratching at that time." Then he saw the movie Wild Style and then the video for Herbie Hancock's 1983 Future Shock album track "Rockit" with Grandmixer DS.T (aka GrandMixer DXT), all of which further confirmed his attraction to hip-hop and DJ'ing.

While he considers himself more of a DJ than a producer, it was as a producer that he got his professional start. "I got my big paid club gigs based upon Digital Underground later on," he said. As producer he recalls buying his first sampler, an SP1200, off longtime Bay Area DJ Billy Vidal (currently on Q102) when he worked at Leo's Audio. Later he got an MPC60. "Our whole Raw Fusion album was pretty much made on an MPC60 that me and Money B bought with the money we made from the Digital Underground record," he recalled.


Raw Fusion "Throw Your Hands In The Air (feat. 2Pac)"

As for which group came first, Raw Fusion or Digital Underground, it was membership of Raw Fusion that came first for DJ Fuze. He noted how, after he met D.U., that he introduced Money B to the group. When asked as to how he came to join Digital Underground, Fuze said that there were two different stories he would tell back in the dat. One of them was the tale told to journalists. "The story we used to give to the media was that I was boogie boarding at Ocean Beach and I got sucked up by the undertow, and MC Blowfish happened to be swimming by and he saved my life and then he brought me to the shore. Then we started talking about music and he said he rapped with Digital Underground so then he introduced me to Shock G," related Fuze with a chuckle. That story was one of many tall tales from the hip-hop crew who were equal parts public prank ensemble. The credit for most of these well-thought out, wild and crazy tales and concepts for D.U. was the ever-creative mind of founding member Shock G. The brilliant multi-media artist born Greg Jacobs not only created the whole "sex packets" concept but also crated such alter ego/characters of his as MC Blowfish and Humpty Hump (that many believed to be another person). Additionally under the alias of Rackadelic and in the tradition of Funkadelic / George Clinton cover artist Pedro Bell, Jacobs illustrated the cover art for the Digital Underground releases. Not surprisingly it was he who dreamed up the MC Blowfish at Ocean Beach tale for DJ Fuze.  The other (true) story of how Fuze joined Digital Underground was not nearly as adventurous or exciting. In reality DJ Fuze joined Digital Underground after he got introduced by a girlfriend who was mutual friends with the group. Afterwards Fuze in turn introduced Money B to Shock G and crew. By that time Fuze and Money B had already been working together for sometime as Raw Fusion. In fact before the duo of Raw Fusion they were a trio who went by the name MGM which was Money B, Mac Mone, and  DJ Goldfinger (aka DJ Fuze).


Digital Underground "The Humpty Dance"

Regarding the heyday of Digital Underground when they toured all over off of the success of such hits as "The Humpty Dance" and "Doowutchyalike," Fuze recalls those early '90s years fondly. "It was amazing! We were touring with all our heroes like Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte, and 3rd Bass," he recalled of the first main tour. Others he toured with included Kid 'N Play, Heavy D & The Boyz, Kwame, and Ice Cube. "It was this constant buzz and never wanting to sleep," he said of the excitement of getting to work alongside his heroes out on the road. "Yeah that same summer we took the Public Enemy tour," on which he "would talk to Chuck D mostly every night."  He also got to work with 2Pac, or rather 2Pac got to work with him since Tupac Shakur was an unknown when Fuze first knew him. That was when Shakur was a young and ambitious dancer/roadie for Digital Underground. "He had charisma. He was a genius. He was way more talented than me," said Fuze of his onetime bandmate (the 20 year anniversary of his murder is in September of this year). "I was able to work with him a little. But then he went off and just did his thing. I give all respect to him as an artist," said Fuze who admits that he didn't take full advantage of the opportunity to produce for Pac while he had it. "I wasn't prepared as a producer to handle the sort of artist he was. He was more advanced," he said noting how in the time it took him to prepare one track in the studio that Pac could lay down the vocals for five. "He was the shit though. He was beyond all of us," he said shaking his head. Despite all of his production work, that includes working with The Luniz and Dru Down, Fuze sees himself more of a talented DJ than producer. "I consider myself an average producer," he said.


2Pac "I Get Around (feat. D.U.)"

Fuze is modest, and underplays his talents and accomplishments. In an interview with the Siccness website a decade ago, Shock G gave DJ Fuze major props for his many musical contributions including for the 1990 West Coast posse track "We're All In The Same Gang." “For the record, it was Fuze’s idea. We were on the way to [Dr.] Dre’s studio, and he said do something with red, white, and blue in it, put the flag in it. Also, quiet as it’s kept, DJ Fuze came up with the drum pattern on ‘Freaks Of The Industry.’ He gets the credit for that. I wanna set some facts straight while I got the floor. The drum sounds on ‘I Get Around,’ even though I did the programming and the production, DJ Fuze tailored and truncated and sampled those drum sounds. He came over my house with a disc of new sounds, and the first beat I made with it was the ‘I Get Around’ track."

Coincidentally when quizzed as to what his favorite D.U. song was, Fuze answered "I Get Around." While technically a 2Pac song,  appearing on Shakur's second album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. in 1993, he will forever view the track heavily featuring his fellow D.U. members as a Digital Underground song. "That was to me the perfect Digital Underground song. Of course that was a 2Pac record. But that came together to be the best song we ever did. The production was funk. Shock played keyboards on it. I transform scratch the Zapp & Roger bits," he said of the record that he still plays in regular rotation in his DJ gigs to this day.

Another record he was involved with and is still fond of to this day is Dru Down's "Can You Feel Me" (video below), which he points out was the only single he produced 100% outside his own groups. Another Oakland act he worked with was the group that first got introduced to the world by Dru Down, The Luniz, for whom he produced three tracks off their debut hit album Operation Stackola as well as being their tour DJ.  


Raw Fusion "Rockin' To The P.M. (feat. 2Pac)" 


While Raw Fusion were in existence before DJ Fuze and Money B joined D.U., it would be a year after the release of Digital Underground's debut album Sex Packets (Tommy Boy) that Raw Fusion

released their first album, Live From The Styleetron. The 1991 album was released on Hollywood Basic who would also release the duo's second (and final) album, Hoochiefied Funk, in 1994. Commercially Raw Fusion did not do as well as well as D.U. but fans, including myself, always felt that they were slept on and/or ahead of their time. DJ Fuze himself seems to downplay Raw Fusion's sound, saying that in retrospect he feels like his production style and Money B's flow did not really gel perfectly together, and hence why Raw Fusion never blew up. "The production I was doing was a kind of a precursor to dubstep. It had a lot of dancehall reggae influence and it had a real hard hard edge sound, whereas Money B's voice worked better with a more funky swinging beat like "I Get Around" and more suited to music with a more soul, funk, R&B background," he said. "It was interesting, some of the stuff we did but I don't think it ever snapped together like say Gang Starr, which was a perfect combination because they were both jazzy." 

For the music video to Raw Fusion's 1991 single "Throw Your Hands In the Air," the chosen producers were the then unknown LA sibling duo The Hughes Brothers. This first big budget project led to them doing a video with 2Pac, which in turn would lead to their first film, Menace II Society. Fuze remembers that Raw Fusion video fondly, although he cites as his favorite D.U.'s "Doowutchyalike" music video shot at a motel in near downtown Oakland. "That was the London Lodge, which was torn down and is now, I think, called the Jasmine Blossom Apartments…right across from the freeway near the Oakland police dept," said Fuze of the video that was "shot on a tight budget." In fact, he recalled, "we could only afford two [motel] rooms." So all shots were done in those two rooms as well in the swimming pool. You can view the music video immediately below.


Digital Underground "Doowutchyalike"

A trained chef who has worked at such spots as Chez Panisse in Berkeley but hasn't worked as a chef in many years, Fuze has worked other jobs. "I've had several jobs since Digital Underground -- a waiter, bartender, and I work at Youth Radio," he said. But his main job these days (in addition to being a caring, attentive father to his two sons) is being a DJ. Since he chooses not to tour, his gigs need to be in the Bay Area or else one-offs in other cities. His DJ residences around the Bay Area include fourth Fridays at Era in Oakland where he spins "grown-up hip-hop" and the Thursday Ultra Waves party at SomaR in Oakland that's been going strong for the past four years. At the weekly, where he is joined by fellow super-talented Bay Area DJs Sake One and WillieMaze, he spins a mix of hip-hop, Caribbean, Latin, and African. In fact contemporary African music is one of his passions these days. 

You can hear him spin African at such spots as the Bissap Baobab African club and Senegalese restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District where he spins all new thumping modern African music. Additionally, he spins for Dave Chappelle whenever he comes to the Bay and occasionally in other places too, and has been doing this for many years now. "Usually I warm up for about an hour before he comes on," said Fuze who opened for Chappelle in the Bay when he did Yoshi's Oakland and the Fillmore in SF, as well as the Comedy Fest at the Shoreline with Chris Tucker and others. 

So how did this gig come about? "He [Chappelle] lives in Ohio but he's out here a lot. After he left the show he came out here. He did comedy a lot at the Punch Line and Cobb's and a friend of mine introduced me to him and he just asked me if I wanted to sit in one night. And I did and we did this little improv stuff and he liked it so he offered me like whenever you are in the Bay just come on through and we will do the same thing. So I've done between a 100 and 150 shows with him to date!"  As for the future what would DJ Fuze like to do? "I'd like to put together a tight DJ tour and take it on the road," he said. But first he has to wait for his kids to get a little older.



Dru Down "Can You Feel Me" produced by DJ Fuze

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