– Mr. Greg Mack. In the early to mid-80’s on an AM radio dial known as 1580 in Los Angeles, at a time when the music industry regarded Rap music as a passing fad, Greg Mack took a major step for street born genre by creating radio’s first Hip-Hop format. One could hear a rap song on the radio here or there or maybe on a Saturday night when programmers felt it was safe enough to play, but never could one wake up to the sounds of Run-DMC, The Fat Boys, and Whodini until 1580 KDAY made that all possible. In addition to being a force for Hip-Hop on a whole, KDAY was an outlet for local talent to shine as the station helped to create just about every West Coast star that came from the 80’s and early 90’s. In conclusion of our KDAY coverage of the past few weeks, AllHipHop.com sat down with the legendary programmer in a two part series to let him tell his story. Put on your reading glasses and get a Hip-Hop history lesson!
You came to Los Angeles via Houston.
First off, I was naïve to the streets when I came to Los Angeles. I’m proud to be a country boy and a lot of the rappers, gang bangers and people in the streets gave me a pass. They were like, “He doesn’t know he’s not supposed to wear Red or Blue so I’m not gonna whoop his a**.” When I first moved to South Central, I lived in mom’s backhouse. One day I was checking the mailbox and this lady came out and jumped on me because she thought I was taking her government check. I got her off of me and threw her over the fence. A crowd had gathered and I wondered what the big commotion was and they told me that this lady was my neighbor. I apologized and told her that I wasn’t trying to take her check and that I was only checking the mail. Later on some Crip approached me and asked me why I beat up his mom. He had a jheri curl and his hand on a gun. I had to explain the situation to him.
Take us back to the beginning of your start at KDAY and how Hip-Hop became a music format for radio.
I was a music programmer at Magic 102 in Houston so when I came to KDAY, I knew I could do the job. I did notice that everybody out here played their music loud, so if you wanted to know what everybody was in to, all you had to do was roll your window down and listen. I heard groups like Run-DMC and Sugarhill Gang and said to myself, “I think the people here like rap.” None of the stations would play rap except for a few times late at night. I met with KDAY managers Ed Kirby and Jack Patterson and told them that I would play the hits in rotation but I also wanted to experiment with Rap. They told me that I had to limit it to the night time and that’s how it started. Immediately with the first Arbitron ratings, they shot through the roof! After that they agreed to let me play a little bit of Rap in the afternoon, and then more as the kids began to eat it up.
The record companies were pissed off at me because I was giving so much time to Rap when they were spending money on promoting their R & B artists. The major record stores were mad too because they weren’t carrying Rap – they thought it was just a novelty. The mom and pop stores and the swapmeets were making a killing because they were the only one’s willing to carry Hip-Hop. Even some in the community gave backlash saying that I was corrupting the youth by playing that music. I used to work with artists and actually made them change some of the lyrics for radio. I didn’t edit them or play them backwards. I had them go back in to the studio to change a verse. The argument was that even if you play a word backwards, the kids can still figure out what they were saying, and the artists would go back and change it. Even to this day I don’t understand why artists won’t do that anymore – just change the verse. Do it for the kids.
You created the Mack Attack Mix Masters by taking local DJ’s from the party’s and clubs and putting them on radio. Where did this grand idea come from?
I have a mentality of “there are no roadblocks, only hurdles.” When I came to Los Angeles, my sister told me about party’s that were being thrown by a crew named Uncle Jamm’s Army. I went to one of their shows at the Sports Arena and I could not believe my eyes. There were 8 to 10 thousand kids with nobody performing but the DJ’s. I had never seen anything like it in my life so I decided that I needed to get these guys to be a part of what I was doing at KDAY. I tracked down Rodger Clayton, the head of Uncle Jamm’s Army, and explained to him my idea of bringing them on to the radio. He told me that they didn’t need radio and that they were successful without it. I took that as a hurdle to my plan. The next Monday I had a meeting with people who were promoting their records and a guy came in by the name of Lonzo Williams who was promoting his group The World Class Wreckin’ Cru. I asked him if he knew of any good DJ’s for the radio project I was trying to put together and he said that I could use one of his – that of course turned out to be Dr. Dre and DJ Yella. I asked him if they could mix and he invited me over to his house to check them out. He had a studio at his house back in the garage and I was listening to Dr. Dre mix. I had never heard anything like it before – it was multi-tracking. He would lay down a beat and then he would overlap it with an Accapella and overlap that with a harmony,basically making a song out of the mix. They agreed to let me use them, so everyday Dre and Yella would come to the station and give me fresh mixes and then they would press them up and sell them at The Roadium Swapmeet.
Dre got so popular with those mixes that it started taking up too much of his time. He was really trying to get his producing and recording career going and he told me, “I really want to do this but I don’t have the time.” I started looking around and I met Kid Frost who suggested a DJ that he knew from El Monte, CA by the name of Tony G. I checked him out and when I heard him, I couldn’t believe it. He knew all of the tricks. Tony is one bad dude. Dr. Dre and DJ Yella were not my first Mix Masters. I told Tony that I wanted him to lead the way with a group of DJ’s that I wanted to put together. I told DJ Bobcat, who was my friend even though he was with Uncle Jamm’s Army, that if Rodger Clayton wanted a war then I would go to war against the Army with the Mack’s Marines. Bobcat didn’t like the name and suggested that I start my own thing and he came up with the Mack Attack Mix Masters. We started with Tony G and then added Jammin’ Gemini and Joe Cooley – that was the core group in the beginning. We also brought in DJ Battlecat, M-Walk, Ralph M, and then Julio G years later. The problem that I ran in to with the Mix Masters is that KDAY wasn’t paying them. The only time they got paid was when they came with me to do events. It bothered me and I know it bothered them. Being a Mix Master opened up a lot of doors and when one of them got popular a rapper would come along and take them on Tour. I had to keep getting new guys because everybody was going on Tour. It worked out because they made a killing out on the road.
Which Mix Master blew your mind away the most?
Tony G did but they all had their own individual specialties like playing clubs, battling or teen dances. Tony G was the one that could cross all of those lines and do it all. We had our battlers and we would go out to the Music Seminars out East and get ripped off by the judges. We met Red Alert and whoever he recruited at a neutral territory in Arizona and we kicked the sh*t out of them.
A lot of people don’t know that you created the “Traffic Jam,” which is something that can be heard on stations throughout the nation.
I started the Traffic Jam, something that a lot of people claim they did, but it’s all good. One day I just felt that people on the way home didn’t want to hear the same old sh*t. I slapped a mix in there and called it the Traffic Jam. It made sense. On Saturdays we had a mix show which KDAY did not want to do because they didn’t want to take away from the regular programming and spend the extra money. I proposed finding a sponsor for it and they warmed up to the idea so I went and asked Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records if he would do it and he was on board. Later on when The Warehouse record store started carrying Hip-Hop, Violet Brown started sponsoring the show too. We were able to make some money off it. I figured out that we also had a large Latin crowd that liked groups like The Cover Girls, Trinere, and Expose’. We put together the High Energy Show and with all of the people involved it was too big for the station so we had to record it at a club called Casa Camino Real in downtown Los Angeles. We had about 300 people there to record and hang out. The Mix Masters show had about a 22 share of the teens, which is a high rating. Then we followed that up with The High Energy Show – we owned Saturday nights. You couldn’t go through Hollywood or Sunset Blvd. without hearing us. We weren’t thinking that we were making history, we were just having fun. We did our events all over – in places that people didn’t want to go. We played World on Wheels which was the Crip area, Doodo’s in the Bloods area, Sherman Square in the Latin gangs’ area, Casa Camino Real which was central area and then 321 in Santa Monica for all of the white people that wouldn’t go any of the other places.
Your station played a lot of East Coast acts, something that East Coast stations later wouldn’t do for West Coast artists.
I never bought in to the East vs. West thing. I felt bad for my guys because whenever we would battle out there, they’d get slighted. Tony G once got a 10 from all of the judges in a competition except for Lady Bee from Philly who gave him a 1 and gave Jazzy Jeff a 10. That made Tony lose by 1 point.
That’s such bullsh*t.
The East Coast because they were the originators of rap, felt that we were not on their level. I was riding one time with Run-DMC and we were listening to KDAY when The Wreckin’ Cru came on and they told me, “West Coast music makes us so nervous. It’s so fast. “They couldn’t really feel it. Instead of being defensive about it, I just tried to understand their side. They had a different struggle than the West Coast struggle. Rather than try to get in to it all, I just tried to understand how each side felt. The West Coast accepted East Coast music and that’s why we played it.
How did you feel when the rivalry between the coasts got intense in the 90’s?
I remember when me, Dre and Eazy-E would be sitting in a room when they were making records and they would be like, “On this record you’re going to diss so and so.” It was all a plan because it sold records. People enjoy hearing each other talk sh*t. I think that the kids in the 90’s got a little deeper with their dissing. The listeners didn’t understand that these guys were doing it to sell records and they started getting involved. A Tornado started and the hype became real.
A lot of legends have gone through your office: Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube just to name a few. Did you see that greatness in them in their early years?
I didn’t and nor did they see that greatness in me. I knew they were talented and that what they were doing was pissing off a lot of people. I don’t think any of them felt that way at the time. As a matter of fact, I don’t think Dre felt that way about himself until he joined up with Suge Knight and Death Row Records. I spoke to him after that and he seemed sort of the same but I could tell that things were a little different. Janet Jackson and I used to talk a lot and one of the things she said that was so simple was, “When you reach a certain level it’s not you that changes but the people around you that changes. The people around you start believing that you should be getting this and that, or that you should be treated a certain way. They tell you that you can’t live in a certain place and you have to move.” The people around you change and they can’t handle it. I think that in a lot of the guy’s cases, it was the people around them that changed. I don’t stay in touch with Dre and Cube but when I do see them it’s nothing but love.
Stay tuned for Part 2!