The Phila Globe Speaks with Bizzo Beats about the History of Hip-Hop in Philadelphia
By Brian Walker
For the month of October, The Philadelphia Globe will be talking to hip-hop veterans who have watched the genre grow over the years in Philadelphia. In this interview, we speak to Bizzo Beats, a Philadelphia native who has been a producer, engineer, and a DJ for three decades. Bizzo Beats has worked with a wide variety of artists and performed at a variety of venues. Phila Globe contributing writer, Brian Walker spoke with Bizzo Beats about how he got involved with hip hop to start with, and his perspective on the history of Philly hip hop.
Brian Walker: So can you take us through how hip hop started in Philadelphia for you?
Bizzo Beats: I guess for me it started with something that we had called block parties. So we’re talking about the late seventies, early eighties. Philadelphia is pretty much set up in street blocks, So in the mornings we would go outside, everybody would clean up, make sure the block was clean. But then after that, the older guys who kind of like bring out a sound system, with huge speakers, they will bring out turntables and a mixer microphone and a whole bunch of records.
As time progressed, Somebody would get on the microphone and in the beginning, it wasn’t what we know now as rapping or hip hop, it was kinda more like what we would call like a master of ceremony or host of a party that did not have a set of rhymes, but more led the block party.
Then that’s where I was first exposed to hip hop. I was like, Oh my goodness, what is this? I was introduced to these guys who were considered DJs who would do something called , “the breakdown.” The breakdown would be like a section of the record where it would be mainly just drums. They would take that one part and extend it. So they would have two turntables, two copies of one record, and they would just keep playing that part over and over and over again.
Brian: What was it like to be exposed to DJ’ing and hip-hop?
Bizzo Beats: My older brother took me downtown and I saw this movie called “Wildstyle”. This had to be around 1980. We would see guys in New York doing the same thing that we were doing at the block parties, but like in buildings and like on a huge scale. My mind was blown because I had, you know, I heard guys doing scratching, but I had never seen it.. Cause I heard Grandmaster Flash dropped a record around 81 called Adventures of Grandmaster Flash On the Wheels of Steel and he was scratching. And I was like, how is he doing that? Then my brother bought some turntables around 15 or 16 and at the age of 10 I would always sneak in the basement and just try to figure out what I can do with it. This became the beginning of my journey with DJing.
Brian: Could you take us through what performing was like in Philadelphia when you started playing gigs and some standout performance?
Bizzo Beats: My parents would take us to our grandmother’s house in North Philly and there was a block party nearby. I’m listening to music and I saw a DJ scratching, I told my Uncle that I could scratch better than the DJ.
My Uncle convinced the DJ to let me scratch and the first record I spun was a record called the “Big Throw Down” and it starts off like a drum break. So I stopped the music. I’m nervous. I’m very nervous. Cause I’m 11 years old. There are probably over 150 people out here and they’re all gathered around waiting for me to perform. After looking at everyone I just moved forward and started spinning and getting others to dance.
Brian: When did hip hop start to get hosted in venues after being appreciated by so many block parties?
Bizzo Beats: Before venues, shows started at high school parties. Some of the biggest parties were at Central High School. They had the biggest parties because they were centrally located at Broad and Olney. People started to record DJ performances and sell them via that’s how hip hop got discovered on a wider scale. I remember one of the first venues that held hip hop shows was called Wagner ballroom. Multiple DJs would spin in one night and you got MCs who would share their rhymes.
Brian: When did Philadelphia radio start picking up on hip hop?
Bizzo Beats The only station that played hip hop was a station called WHAT, which was on AM radio then. WHAT and it was a black station. They would only have black DJs, black music. Right. Lady B, she would come on and play all hip hop. Eventually Lady B, she got moved from WHAT is radio to FM, which then became Power 99. Then hip hop started taking off to other stations.
Brian: What were studios like in the eighties and nineties?
Bizzo Beats: Going to a recording studio was very, very expensive. which was upwards of. 5,000 or more dollars. There was a huge difference in the amount of people involved in hip hop and the amount of people in the studio. Whereas now everybody who does hip hop is in the studio. Hip hop wasn’t for the studio. It didn’t really become part of the studio until the digital age. When you started having digital audio recordings, where you could use an aid tape or something like that, where it became a lot cheaper to get this equipment.
Brian: How has it felt to have started your hip hop career in Philly and see the changes in hip hop over the years?
Bizzo Beats: I’m very proud of hip hop because I, you know, like I said, I was kind of there when it very, when it first began and I saw what it was and it was just. Something for us to do, to have fun. We found something different because again, we, we created it.
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More About the Author: Brian Walker is a musician, writer, and podcaster. He is the songwriter behind A Day Without Love, podcaster for Dreams Not Memes and enjoys writing about Diversity and Inclusion, Food, Music and ways to make the community a better place. Twitter | Instagram