Back in 2007, I conducted my first interview with the legendary DJ Bobcat, right here at Raptalk.net
Bobcat’s story is incredible, as he details being a part of Uncle Jamm’s Army in the early 80’s just as the West Coast was barely rising on the hip hop scene. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though, as from all of that, DJ Bobcat rose to become one of the premiere producing talents out of the West Coast. Many don’t know but it was a group of guys out of Los Angeles called The L.A. Posse who helped LL Cool J become the legend that he is, and DJ Bobcat was a part of that crew. His work on LL’s “I’m Bad,” “Jack the Ripper” and “I Need Love” stand the test of time as classics. “I Need Love” is actually the father of all rap love ballads, so that in itself was a game-changing moment. DJ Bobcat also details his work on LL’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” and discusses how that track was birthed out of beef and then goes in to his time working with a young 2Pac on his “2Pacalypse Now” album. It’s a long read but it’s worth it!
Interview conducted by Tim Sanchez in January, 2007
TS: Let’s talk about your name for a second, how did you come up with that?
DJ Bobcat: I just told my wife this story recently. I had several names before I had Bobcat. I was L-Scratcho (laughs). I had a bunch of names but the name Bobcat comes from a name I had which was “Bobcat The Great Mixologist” (laughs). Then I just shortened it to Bobcat. I figured that I wanted Bobcat because cats scratch. I wanted to incorporate that.
TS: When was this?
DJ Bobcat: Oh man… I don’t want to tell (laughs). Nah, it was in the 80’s. Early 80’s.
TS: So you just basically started out as a DJ?
DJ Bobcat: You know what? I have to tell it in this order. I went to see Grand Master Flash at The Los Angeles Sports Arena. He was doing the Grand Master Flash “Wheels of Steel” thing. I didn’t know what he was doing but I saw it and I was like, “Wow! What’s this all about?” So I was interested in doing what he was doing but I didn’t know what it was. So I had to kind of like research things. I saw The Egyptian Lover DJ’ing at a party and I was kind of like just standing on the sides ear-hustling and watching. I realized he was doing it with two turntables and a mixer. I went and researched that. I went home and tore up my mom’s stereo components and tried to create what he (Egyptian Lover) had because I had no money to buy things. I just started like that just clowning around the house making pause mixtapes and stuff like that, selling them, well actually giving them away to my friends. My sister Pam was like my mentor and she introduced me to the guys that had everything going on at the time and that was Uncle Jamm’s Army. I ended up joining their crew and there was this guy named Big Daddy that was around at the time, and from there we ended up taking what we were doing at the parties and doing big dances at the L.A. Sports Arena with like 15,000 people.
TS: Who was all a part of Uncle Jamm’s Army?
DJ Bobcat: My God, Uncle Jamm’s was like one of the first what you would call a DJ Network. Roger Clayton and Gibb Martin are the founders of Uncle Jamm’s Army. It was just a bunch of people. The Egyptian Lover, myself, Darryl Pierce, Dwayne Simon, No Good, and a lot of others. I mean, there were so many extended DJ’s. It was an Army! We had street team people that were like the original street team. People talk about street promotions and stuff like that which were birthed from that kind of organization. Roger Clayton went and spoke to Jack Patterson over at 1580 K-DAY and got us to do a live simulcast from our parties, because we had Run-DMC coming out and we were breaking all of their records and all of the acts from that time. The kids got wind that we were on the radio so it started boosting the ratings. From there, they asked us to come on and do a Saturday Night Mix Show which was the first of its kind in this market. The station ran with that and asked us to do “traffic jams” and then eventually the whole entire format switched over to hip hop.
TS: You guys (Uncle Jamm’s Army) were actually putting out records too. I remember jams like “Dial-A-Freak”, “Girls, Girls, Girls.”
DJ Bobcat: Yeah, Egyptian Lover started putting out records and then Uncle Jamm’s followed after that. “Dial-A-Freak”, “Naughty Boy” and others. It was all Techno-type of records.
TS: Were you involved in any of those records?
DJ Bobcat: I was involved very little because I was still a student. I was still learning, going through to the studio and watching what the fellas were doing. I scratched on a few things like “Roaches On the Wall” but I was still just experimenting. At this point, I was like 13 or 14 years old.
TS: No…. stop.
DJ Bobcat: Yeah! I was the youngest! They were like 28 to 30 years old. I was a baby. My career didn’t really start until I hooked up with Def Jam and LL Cool J for production in 1987. As a matter of fact, this year is my 20th year anniversary!
DJ Bobcat: Thank you.
TS: How did you move from DJ’ing to producing?
DJ Bobcat: You know what, and I tell this to a lot of people that want to get into production, it’s wise to start off DJ’ing because you are doing parties and people tell you what they want to hear. You begin to pay attention to what’s relevant – from the beat aspects to the vocal arraignments, to the flow. That’s kind of like your training to production. My sister Pam took me to the studio and I was there with bands like Lakeside, producers like Leon Sylvers and stuff like that. I just used to ear-hustle, pay attention, and listen. One time this engineer asked me when I was in high school if I liked the kind of work he was doing and I told him yes. He encouraged me to get in to his line of work but I kept telling him that I couldn’t do it because I was confused with all of the buttons on the sound board. He told me that I could learn it all if I just paid attention, and so I actually learned how to be a sound engineer before I started making tracks.
TS: That’s cool. How did you go from that point to signing a production deal with Def Jam?
DJ Bobcat: I am glad you asked that question because this is what I like for kids to understand and a lot of people to understand. You’ve got to be patient like Will Smith in that new movie “Happyness.” He was patient, you know what I mean? Be persistent and patient. I had been DJ’ing all over the place before I hooked up with Def Jam. At one point, I was Southern California’s number one DJ. I teamed up with Battlecat, Wildcat, Kitt Kat and a few others, and we formed the California Cat Crew – and that was our own DJ network. I had that kind of success going on when Darryl Pierce and Dwayne Simon called me. They were in New York already and had been working with Russell Simmons, who knew us from our parties with Uncle Jamm’s Army. Russell had signed an artist named Breeze and Darryl and Dwayne were out there doing pre-production for him.
TS: I remember him, MC Breeze.
DJ Bobcat: Breeze was dope!
TS: He did the L.A. Posse song, right?
DJ Bobcat: Yes sir, he was the one! But before all of that, as they were working on production for Breeze, Darryl and Dwayne called me because there was a DJ battle going out there and they wanted me to be a part of it. They were like, “Bob, you will smoke everybody here!” West Coast DJ’s were always ahead of our East Coast counterparts – especially at that time. The problem was that I didn’t have any money to fly out to New York so I had to a lot of DJ gigs and take a job at store that was kind of like Walmart at the time. I finally saved up enough money and purchased a ticket for myself and I ended up paying for half of Rodger Clayton’s ticket as well. Because I paid for part of Rodger’s ticket I didn’t have enough to buy a roundtrip so I could return home, but I knew that I was going to win the DJ contest, so I wasn’t too worried.
The problem was that somehow my timing was off and when I arrived in New York, the DJ contest had already started and there was nothing they could do about it. I tried to convince them to let me at least do a guest-DJ spot so I could show people my skills but they weren’t budging. Time stopped for me that day because I was now stuck in New York with no money to return home. I couldn’t ask my family for anything because they didn’t have the means either, so I just hung out in New York with nowhere to go and nowhere to sleep. I was out there for like two months just hanging out with my boys and not knowing what I was going to do with my career or life.
Darryl and Dwayne were working on Breeze’s record and I asked them if I could help. They told me that I couldn’t just start working on a record and that I needed to talk to Russell and get his permission. One day while the two of them went off to get something to eat, I asked the engineer in the studio if he would let me put something on the record. He told me that he couldn’t do it but I convinced him that he could always erase it if the crew didn’t like what I was doing. The engineer let me put some stuff down and when the fellas came back and heard what I had done, they went bananas over it.
TS: What did you record?
DJ Bobcat: You know what? Back then they weren’t using the kind of drum machines that we now know, like the SP’s and MP’s. They were using something a little sampling device called a bell. You had to kind of go through the engineer to do use it too. Thanks to my mixtape experience, I started putting all of this stuff on the record using my turntables. It was real pioneering stuff like looping records – as heard in LL Cool J’s “Get Down” where I loop the “Shaft” theme. Anyway, the boys heard what I recorded and they went crazy over it. They called up Russell and let him hear over the phone what I had done and he was like, “Tell Bobcat that he’s down with the team.” So I was down with the team but I wasn’t getting paid. I was like Will Smith in the “Happyness” movie working as an intern and just being patient. Well, months went and by and still nothing. I was getting pretty hungry.
TS: Yeah, I mean you have to survive somehow….
DJ Bobcat: I just kept on working and working and working. We made a gang of records. Dope records! We made like two or three albums at the time.
TS: And this was just with Breeze, right?
DJ Bobcat: Just with Breeze! And also, because we were like staff producers at the time so we were working with Alyson Williams and other R & B projects. I don’t know if you know this but I brought Nikki D over to Def Jam! She was the first female rapper to get signed to that label.
TS: Yeah, I remember her. She did that “Daddy’s Little Girl” song.
DJ Bobcat: Exactly! So we were developing things like that at Def Jam the entire time. One day Russell came to me and told me that I was getting my first check. So that was the day I received my breakthrough moment – the beginning of my career. Not long after that, Russell came to us and asked if we would like to do some pre-production for LL Cool J.
TS: Ok… now the plot thickens.
DJ Bobcat: Exactly, this was our defining moment. We were like “of course” and so we met up with LL. I was real nervous and excited because Jam Master Jay had always told me that if I ever were to hook up with this rapper named LL, it was going to be ridiculous. He would always tell me that so I already had that on my mind. And I don’t mean that in any disrespect to my man Cut Creator who was LL’s DJ at the time.
So anyway, we were in the studio and LL was like “Yo, let me see something. What’s up?” I got on the turntables and I acted like I couldn’t cut. I would do like these sorry little scratches and then would act like the record was skipping. LL, he’s real impatient, so he’s like “Yo, Yo! C’mon man. Let my man Cut Creator show you. He’s from New York!” Cut Creator got on the turntables and started doing his thing and I sat back and watched. I asked if I could try one more time and LL was like, “Sure. C’mon, what are you going to do?” I asked if I could warm up and he said that he didn’t care. In the studio, normally you have just one turntable hooked up for the purposes of scratching, so I asked if I could hook up two and again he said that he didn’t care. I hooked up both turntables and ripped in to “Rock the Bells” – just going off! I can’t even explain his reaction and he’ll tell you if you ever interview him, but he went crazy. As I said before, us West Coast DJ’s were light years ahead of the guys out East. After that, LL told me that he wanted me put me on his crew and take me out on tour. I told him no initially because I was the DJ for MC Breeze. I’m a loyal cat and even though this was a life changing invitation, I couldn’t just leave Breeze hanging like that. LL asked if I could talk to Breeze about it, and so I did. As soon as I started to tell Breeze he cut me off and said that he already knew what I was going to ask and that he gave me his blessing.
TS: Were you guys known as the L.A. Posse at that time?
DJ Bobcat: You know who named us that? Jam Master Jay. He named us The L.A. Posse. We used to run with The Hollis Crew all of the time. Those were some fun times. Imagine hanging out with Run-DMC and Public Enemy? We were all recording at the same studio. Heavy D used to come through there all of the time as well.
TS: Who was all a part of The L.A. Posse?
DJ Bobcat: L.A. Posse was originally myself, Darryl Pierce, Dwayne Simon who was Muffla, and DJ Pooh. Then Breeze obviously was a part of The L.A. Posse as an MC but the production team was who I just mentioned.
TS: Who came up with that hook in Breeze’s “L.A. Posse” song. The “Ooooh, L.A, Californ-I-A” hook?
DJ Bobcat: That’s Muffla! Muffla did that.
TS: So what was the first record that you worked on with LL?
DJ Bobcat: Oh My God… (pauses) The first record?
TS: Yeah… Or did you just start working on “Bigger and Deffer” at that point?
DJ Bobcat: You know what? I would probably say the first song that we did was “Get Down.” Do you remember that record? I used “Shaft” on there like I was telling you earlier. I looped it on the turntables. It’s just crazy if you go back and listen to that record, and I really want you to go back and listen to it. I start off with jabs (mimics the sound). I was taking the turntable and the pitch, pitching it up and down, and making the different notes with the stabs. Nobody was doing that then.
TS: Did this just creatively hit you in the head or something?
DJ Bobcat: Well see I was already making mixtapes! I wasn’t doing it on that level because I wasn’t making records then but I was taking the things that I would be doing at the parties, you know, tricks! I was taking turntable tricks and just incorporating them into the songs.
TS: Let’s talk about the Bigger and Deffer album. You did “I’m Bad,” right?
DJ Bobcat: I did the majority of the record. I did “I’m Bad,” and “I Need Love.” I actually wrote “I Need Love” – the melody, not the lyrics. I did that song before I even came out to New York. I had the melodies and stuff but I had nobody to give them to. “I’m Bad” comes from the “Courageous Cats” theme song. I also used the theme for “S.W.A.T.” All of that came from being a DJ and learning how to dig in the crates.
TS: “I’m Bad” was a crazy beat!
DJ Bobcat: That’s “Courageous Cats” (mimics the bassline). I just flipped it. You see what I’m saying? I’m Bobcat (laughs).
TS: What was your favorite song off that album?
DJ Bobcat: Off of Bigger and Deffer?
DJ Bobcat: Now you’ve got me thinking because we got the “Doo-Wop” song on there. I also like “Candy.” You know what? Personally, I didn’t know what we were doing but we did a real diverse album. We were one of the firsts to set the tone for diversity in hip hop. You had Run and them doing their thing and the Beastie Boys doing their thing, but a lot of records at the time were kind of one dimensional. On this album it was very diverse because you had the ballads and the story telling songs. You had “My Rhyme Ain’t Done.” You had “Get Down” – a party song. I don’t really have a favorite.
TS: Did you produce on his next album?
DJ Bobcat: Now this is the business part and that’s why we are doing what we are doing now (with The Foundation). By me being so young and not understanding contract agreements, publishing and points; they didn’t pay me what I should have made for the Bigger and Deffer record. I found out about all of that stuff after the record came out. It sold 3 Million copies and broke all kinds of records. I wanted to renegotiate and get more points and the people that were representing LL didn’t want to do that. I told them if they weren’t willing to renegotiate, then I wouldn’t be coming to the table. They went and did the album without me.
TS: The Panther album, right?
DJ Bobcat: Yup, the Walk with a Panther album – it didn’t do as well as it could have because Bobcat wasn’t involved (laughs). But I did come back for “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
TS: You weren’t on 14 Shots to the Dome, were you?
DJ Bobcat: Now I hate talking about that one and I will tell you why (laughs). One of the greatest records that LL and I have ever done is called “Crossroads” and it’s on that album. I used a full harmonic orchestra on that record in New York. We used 105 tracks on this song. This song is the most complex and unbelievable masterpiece I have ever created. Go back and listen to that. I personally know that it would have taken LL’s career to the next level because you know you can only stay at a street level or mainstream level for so long and then it’s over with. You’ve got to go somewhere else with your sound and that song I believe would have taken him to that next level.
TS: Unfortunately, it had to be with “Pink Cookies in Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings” (laughs).
DJ Bobcat: Yeah! Marley Marl talked him into doing “This Is How I’m Coming” and trying to do street music. Treach was the hot thing at the time so LL was trying to compete with him. What I do as a producer is try to keep artists being who they are. You know, trying to keep them to from paying attention to what the other popular artists are doing. Everybody spots a knockoff in hip hop immediately!
TS: Lets go back to “Mama Said Knock You Out” for a second. How did you come up with that crazy concept?
DJ Bobcat: It’s interesting and I wish my mother was right here to tell you that part because she would be like (mimics his mom’s voice) “Let me tell you something”(laughs). First, and my wife is right here to testify, the concept is my concept. Not the lyrics but the style of rap is mine. See, now it’s getting more interesting. What’s interesting and deep about this is that LL and I were beefing at the time. I wasn’t working with him and when I say “beefing” I mean that we weren’t working together. Def Jam had hired Marley Marl to do that album. Well, they were pretty much done with that album and in some kind of way, I don’t remember who called who, but we started talking and I was playing him some beats over the phone. The “Mama Said Knock You Out” track was already a song I had with a crew called the Microphone Mafia. On a lot of my Pac records, I say “Microphone Mafia” at the end. The Microphone Mafia clique included K-Born, Threat, and Nefertiti -they were all on that original record. Labels weren’t interested in signing any of those artists so DJ Pooh and I were trying to kick doors down trying to get people to hear a new kind of West Coast thing and they didn’t want to hear it. To make a longer story short, I played that track for LL and he went crazy of course. I knew he would because everybody loved that track. We agreed that we were going to do a song so I flew out to New York. We were in his condo with his Farmers Blvd. crew – a bunch of cats that were around his way and we were all up in there freestyling and drinking 40 ounces. I used to have, because I used to rap to not saying that like I am rapping right now because you know every producer has some skills (laughs), but I had a rap that I used to say to that beat. So that night, I was doing that rhyme and LL heard it and started doing the style that I was doing to that beat. I told him that’s how I wanted him to rap on that song. See sometimes you can’t tell cocky rappers, “do it like this” because they won’t do it. So you’ve got to kind of trick them in to doing it. You feel me?
TS: Wow… so that whole song was basically you!!
DJ Bobcat: The concept, the beat and the style – not the lyrics. There is so much to talk about with that song because it’s crazy. He was a point where people were saying “LL was washed up” so I referred to myself as other producers do as a “coach” – you know like in boxing or whatever. I was like LL’s custom model. Just like I did with “Jack The Ripper.” I made him do that record! He didn’t want to answer Kool Moe Dee at first.
TS: Wow… I didn’t know that.
DJ Bobcat: Oh, its real talk! You know, Raptalk is real talk (laughs). So you know, we got in the studio and he got around Marley Marl once again and started trying to rap cool. (Mimics in a cool low voice) “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.” I said “C’mon man! C’mon man!” We got into a big argument and then I suggested that we go to the store and get some more beer, so we can get the vibe back the way we had it earlier. I was real mad, and you can quote me on this, because Marley Marl was trying to sabotage the project.
DJ Bobcat: He said that the song sounded like some “West Coast whoopty-whoop.” And he will even tell you that if you ever ask him, because he didn’t understand it at the time. What he does is funky and I love Marley Marl’s production but it was a different type of project. If you remember Bigger and Deffer we did “Go Cut Creator” and it was a rock type thing because we grew up under Run-DMC. Part of my thing is to make hard heavy rap records that are explosive and slash everybody.
So we got back in the booth and again Marley Marl was hating so we started drinking 40’s to get the vibe back. Marley Marl, and you can quote this too, he went to sleep – because we were at his house. Marley left the studio, went upstairs and went to sleep while we were recording the vocals on this record. When LL says “c’mon” that’s not part of the song. LL was mad at me because I was cussing him out and talking real sick about the way he was rapping. He was sounding ridiculous and I was pissed off at him.
TS: So that “c’mon” at the beginning was aimed at you?
DJ Bobcat: Yeah because I kept saying “That ain’t it. Rewind it!” When I’m in the studio, I will stop you immediately and tell you that ain’t it just like a movie director. If an actor is not in character you spot it immediately and say that’s not it.
TS: Next time I listen to that song I am going to think about all of that and picture it (laughs)…
DJ Bobcat: Yeah, see that’s all raw real aggression and that’s what it needed. People were talking about LL and saying he was finished and washed up, you know how they do it. That’s the real story.
TS: After LL’s album, what did you get in to next?
DJ Bobcat: I ended up working on Ice Cube’s Death Certificate album with DJ Pooh. Then I went on to 2Pac and MC Ren.
TS: Now that you mention Pac, I heard somewhere that you were like one of the first producers to ever work with him.
DJ Bobcat: Oh man, let me tell you that story!
TS: Please do…
DJ Bobcat: My little cousin D-Skills, he is a pioneer and underground hero too. He had a show out in Atlanta called the Black Panther Hour. Skills and Pac used to be best friends and room-mates. This was when Pac had 2Pacalypse out. He was still underground and he wasn’t 2Pac the way we know 2pac yet – he was just a regular ol’ underground rapper. So D-Skills came to me and was like “Yo Bob, can you take this kid under your wing?” I was like “Who is he?” So I asked if I could hear him and I think I even went and bought the CD. When I got the CD I played it all night as I rolled down Sunset Boulevard – just bumpin’ 2Pacalypse. I said “This kid is sick! Let me work with him.” As soon as we got together we hit it off and at that time Pac used to be real kick back. He used to kind of come around the studio and just not really talk loud. I had my crew in the studio and everybody was in there talking loud and he was just kind of ear-hustling and peeping out the whole situation. On that album, I brought Ice-T in. I also brought Cube in and Cube was at the stage where he was one of the most feared MC’s in the game with all the controversy. They did the song “Last Words” and Pac was excited to work with his heroes. Ice T came and did a song. I brought Threat in to do a song with him called “Peep Game.” I did “Soldiers Revenge” on that particular record. Then later on after he got out of jail, on the All Eyez On Me album, I did “Holla at Me.”
TS: Did you maintain a cool relationship with him the whole time until he died?
DJ Bobcat: You know what? Let me tell you what happened. When Pac started the “Thug Life” thing, he went through a transition. He kind of started bugging’ out a little bit. He and Treach got into some major problems out here on the West and I’m going to say which gang but it’s one of the biggest ones out here. I had to stop them from smashin’ on Pac. Some of the members met me up at the Echo Sounds studio and we squashed a major beef. People in the streets know what I am talking about, you feel me? I used to take Pac to all them clubs with Ren and them. Imagine this, it used to be myself, Ren, LL, Pac and Eazy hanging out and doing all kinds of stuff. Even in this hotel were you and I are at right now (Universal Sheraton)! Me, Pac, Eazy, Yo-Yo and LL had a Super Bowl party here. Like I said I used to take him to the clubs and he was like one of my little brothers. As a lot of us have done in the past, he kind of got out of control with the Thug Life thing and all of that. I know this sounds a little crazy but I say this a lot of times even about my own homies and one of my brother’s that’s in jail whose been in jail 10 years and he’ll be out next year (Irv Dogg). I was happy when Irv Dogg went to jail and I was happy when Pac went to jail, because they were on a course that would have ended their lives and in Pac’s case, sooner than it ended. He was just going in that direction. When he came out of jail, I did notice that he was a different person completely.
TS: In what way?
DJ Bobcat: He was just more subdued, but more in deep thought – like a “deeper” Pac. But he wasn’t out long enough for me to even understand or diagnose what that was all about. I always hear people talking all of these stories about how they knew Pac and this and that, but I question how much time they actually spent with him.
TS: What did you do after working Pac?
DJ Bobcat: I started working with MC Ren. I did his EP, “Kiss My Black Azz.” Then I did Eazy-E’s last record, “Straight Off the Streets.” I worked with Mack 10 on “Backyard Boogie.” After 98′ when I did “Backyard Boogie,” I took a break from the music industry. Like I said, I’ve been in the game since I was 12-13 years old and I just needed a break. When you are in this business, and me and my homie Bigg Steele were talking about this recently, you don’t take breaks! I talked to DJ Quik about this recently, we think we are going on vacation and my wife right will tell you, we work even on vacation! I took a real break and it gave me the opportunity to spend time with my wife and my family. It also allowed me to really re-evaluate some of the things that I wanted to do in the entertainment industry and now I am working with DJ’s and producers – helping a lot of them out with business advice.