Popularised and Europeanised, house music has to some aspect nearly lost contact with its roots. Luckily Tyree Cooper is here to take us back to the source…
You come from Chicago and your background is House?
Yes, I’ve been doing House since I was a kid. If you wanna say my musical background, in the sense what I grew up with, then that would be Soul and RnB but for me it was just music. Disco also. This is what I grew up with. So when House came it was just a natural fit. I liked Hip Hop but as a DJ it was always House.
And when did you start playing as a DJ?
Your music has a very specific Hip Hop sound and taste and that’s quite noticeable compared to other artists. Is it also faster?
My music is not necessarily faster but slower. Even in the days of Dance Mania my records weren’t as fast as DJ Funk or DJ Milton or Waxmaster. My stuff wasn’t as fast as that. My music has always also been groovier. You know when I was doing Hip House back in the early days in 88/89 it wasn’t as fast. It sounded fast because you can manipulate a track to make it sound fast or slow.
Your track Turn up the Bass, that’s a Hip House, right?
Yeah, that’s one hundred percent Hip House. And it’s actually only 124 BPM. Compared to the tracks that were coming out back then that were around 125 BPM it wasn’t that fast. The music started getting faster a few years after. But from 1983 to 1989 the BPM went from 110 to 125. So in a ten years’ span, the beats progressed by almost two BPMs per year, due to the progression of the music that was being made. And the DJs were playing it, because in some places you could play slow and some places you could play fast.
Where can you play slow and were can you play fast?
In a black club you play slow, in a white club you play faster. Just top of you head. Think of Hip Hop and you put House on it; which one is slower which one is faster? Which one has more black which one has more white? It is a fact! The infusion of white music into House music made it move a little faster.
This is interesting, because in France for instance we don’t really have that Hip House culture, which is why this nuance isn’t that obvious for me.
Yeah but that’s the whole point. You used to, but you were too young to witness it. Hip House was in France, trust and believe. Hip House came from Chicago and I’m sure it went to France.
Do you have any French artist you could think of ?
No I never went to France in the 80ties, so I never witnessed it myself. But Joe Smooth told me, that Hip House was quite present in Europe at this time. Every country pretty much had a Hip House artist, especially around ‘88 or ‘89. But at one point in Europe and America there was a good division of Hip House and Hip Hop. Because we were crossing over to the mainstream with Hip House and Hip hop was trying to keep it street, so you had young minorities in Europe associating themselves with this culture through graffiti and other gangster stuff. But you also had the Hip Hop kids that liked to dance, party and take pills and they were going out raving and those were really into Hip House along with Hip Hop. During that period of time – depending on where you were in France – you’re guaranteed to have either one or the other or both. But this was almost thirty years ago.
When did you become an MC?
Well yeah, that was due to the fact that in some parties in Chicago you just didn’t play the music, you had to speak on a microphone and not just to tell somebody «hey you have to move your car the police is coming», but also to speak to the public. When Hip House came about I knew how to speak on a microphone but not how to rhyme, until I heard Big Daddy Kane. My world changed, because I was like «Oh Shit». Big Daddy Kane was like inhuman. He’s the greatest MC on the planet.
So he taught you how to rhyme?
He didn’t teach me shit. But I heard him rhyme and I wanted to learn how to do it. If anything I don’t think he was into House music. Marley Marl, his producer, was way more into House and Hip House.
And what was the relationship back then between these different scenes, genres and artists in Chicago?
Well, as you can imagine, it wasn’t always friendly. There was a little bit of resentment. As far as Hip House goes, we were like the New Kids on the Block. Hip Hop was relatively new, this is the golden age of Hip hop in the eighties. This is when the first big albums of Hip Hop came out like the Jungle Brothers or De la Soul. And then you had these guys from Chicago doing Hip House. “What the fuck is Hip House?” they were thinking. “You take the Hip from Hip Hop and add House”? We were like a lost tribe in this world. With Hip House you had to come up with lyrics that meant something, unlike pure House, were you could just do corny cheesy wack ass lyrics.
That’s an interesting subject. Do you think that Hip House carries more message than normal House does?
It sure does. If you’re dancing and you hear a good groove, it’s nice. But when you hear “Turn Up The Bass”, or “Yo Yo Get Funky”, you will remember it directly after listening – that’s what you want to take home with you when get out of the club.
And is the message of Hip House still present today ?
Yes, the message is still here but it is distorted. Because first of all you have to understand what the culture of House really is. From many different aspects you get many different answers, but the main point is black culture. It is a full expression of black culture. House music to me is one of those things, were you had to be mature. You’d be sixteen but you didn’t act like you were sixteen. You didn’t act your age. You had to be mature, because if you were going to a House party you were going to see some shit, that you’re really not supposed to be seeing at that age. KRS-One said “Hip is to know, Hop is to dance” and that was his meaning of Hip Hop as a culture. So I say “Hip is to know, House is expression of Self” then Hip House is to know yourself or to know “who you are”. So Hip House is to totally express who you are. That message is not really here today.
Do you think that black culture which is intrinsic to House music, is exclusive to white people in Europe enjoying the music?
Europeans had already picked up on the black culture in the times of rhythm and blues with artists such as Louis Armstrong and overall Jazz and Swing. So after that, it was just a matter of time for Europeans to get into Hip Hop. So the Europeans were always in touch with black music. Even with artists such as Michael Jackson or Prince, who both went to play in France at some point. You’ve had so many American artists playing in France and Europe over the years and always embraced black culture.
How does Techno fit in?
Techno is right behind it or even in front – depending on how you look at it. You had three waves of black culture coming to Europe, Hip Hop, House and Techno. Three music genres, that weren’t necessarily the most popular in the US, but that were being embraced by Europeans. It was almost like an overload of black culture. So over the course of years’ Hip Hop became more exploited. You could say, it was almost being force-fed to Europe, whilst white America wanted to create more laws to incriminate black people. So the more thuggish Hip Hop got, the more it influenced the white youth in Europe.
What happened to House later?
House, that was once a vibrant part of the same kind of culture, diluted due to the fact, that other people were stealing it and trying to figure out, what they could do in it. When I say steal it like for rave parties, they wrote about House records and they said it was a bubbly baseline, they made it sound so fluffy. And when they had the parties, they put some kind of cage with a half naked girl in it, to entice the dudes. Europe has a very different way of expressing sexuality. It is not like America, where it is so closed off. When it comes to sexuality, Europe is way more open minded than America. So the way House was presented to you guys didn’t look bad, but it was bad, because they put all this fluff in front of you. They made you listen to whatever DJ, that played whatever records, that we made, but still didn’t tell you something about black culture. You didn’t have the original artists in front of you, so you allowed the magazines – most of them based in New York – to shape your vision of House music. So by the 90s there was a big omission of Chicago music, that you guys hadn’t even heard of.
By the time someone like you started listening to House music it had already been distorted massively. They had already changed the black culture in House music by separating it from Hip Hop. Then Techno became more technological, because the synths and keyboards coming up, took that culture away and Europe was onto brand new shit. «What the fuck is Techno? We just heard House». Now what is this music that is going slightly faster than House music that has no vocals but is still fucking groovin? Another part of black culture? Hold on – how many black culture are there?
So you have three main pieces. If you want to take bits and pieces of it and call it your own, that’s what happens. So this company took this, this company took that, this DJ took something else. It was all sucking life out of the culture, but not giving anything back.
How about Acid House?
Again that’s another part of black culture, that was taken and misunderstood. It was part of a revolution in the UK and I think that the revolution spilled to the rest of Europe. These Acid House and Rave parties were crazy, because up to that point you just had normal discotheques or normal parties where DJs were limited to play a certain type of House music.
You were quite active in Acid House, right?
Yeah, because Acid House kind of broke all that shit. There was more Acid House on the planet, than the world expected. Maybe Timothy Leary at that time was the biggest influencer in the world – he was like an Acid guru. The world was totally into it, and that broke down a lot of boundaries I think. France opened up like a mother fucking prayer book. The French even had their own version of it. Acid broke down walls.
Acid started in Chicago and came to Europe via the UK?
Yes. But Germany as well. Again: In the eighties I didn’t get a chance to go to France but I’m taking an educated guess that it also hit there. Holland is a definite yes, and overall everywhere in Western Europe it opened doors. That sound allowed everything else to come through: Hip House, Jungle etc… When I was a part of it, it was really cool.
You talk about all these evolution of the music and the culture. What stage do you think we are at now?
I think it’s going to get better, but the playing field has to get more fair. The world is living in black culture. Everything from hair, nails, the way you drive your car, how you wear your clothes, the way you cut your hair, the way you talk to a girl, the way you swag with your boys, the way you even listen to House music, the way everything about the culture, especially for someone like you in your twenties, is part of black culture. Does not matter, whether it’s Hip Hop, House or Techno.
So this is the evolution of it. So where is it going?
Like for instance you know in the movie Matrix, they had to go back to the source – well, that’s like House music right now. The stage of music right now is about going back to the source. When people are looking for tunes, they are looking for the source, henceforth our interview from the source. And by that I don’t mean magazines from Europe, I mean motherfuckers like me, that put it down from day one. I’ve been making House music since day one. I didn’t create it, by no means, but it’s been in my DNA since day one.
Do you think House’s DNA is linked to Chicago?
When you play your House records, whoever made it, you’re still listening to Chicago. When you’re mixing it to another record, trust and believe, you’re listening to Chicago. And you know the records, they’re not doing 155BPM or 161BPM, it’s 122. And that shit is just jacking. Yeah you’re in fucking Chicago.
And why did you move away from Chicago?
Well that’s a long ass story, and you have to wait for my book for that one. Basically – to cut a long story short – it was about being closer to the music scene. America wasn’t, and still isn’t ready for this culture yet. They have it in their own backyard, but due to the fact that they still can’t recognise race as a problem, it is not as popular there as it is in Europe. Sometimes they think of House as some homosexual shit, they don’t think about it like a heterosexual music. But back in the days, you go to the music box, you fuck around and you get robbed as soon as you walked outside. Ron Hardy was the dude, but you walked outside his club and you got robbed. And even parties were I and Mike Dunn played or Gene Hunt, our parties were in the hood, we didn’t have any money. This is House. That’s where the Chicago energy came from.
And to change topic a bit – you were recently playing in Marseille. How did you like the venue and the crowd?
Yeah, I played at Baby Club in Marseille. It was really nice – I enjoyed it. The room and atmosphere was cool for that kind of space. The crowd was real nice too – they got into my sound. I always think, that people have a pre-conceived notion of what I’m about to play or how I’m supposed to play. Either I’m supposed to play super commercial, or super underground to only the real House heads. But I’m like a psychiatrist – I get a sense of the room. If I feel the energy going one way, then believe me I will feed off the energy. If the public is not giving me any energy, then this is going to be a long night for you because I’m going to play some shit, that will make you dance and sweat all night. You have to do something in my parties. So in Marseille I played across the board, I played Disco and some other stuff and the crowd was really into it. I played fast, and sometimes I forgot I was in France, because France is House. You have the large black culture and the large urban culture as well. I think that helps.
One last question, that I always wanted to ask you: Our magazine is called Hard Life, our motto is «life is hard, we make it sweet ». What exactly makes life sweeter for you?
My family. My wife and my daughters, my parents and friends. Making my own House music definitely, that’s sweet as hell. House is dope, House is love, House is everything” And its also nice to be the first track DJ Pierres “Acid 88” Compilation.
Thanks, that was cool!
Yes man it feels good to talk about it, because you had to be there to know what it was like. And it is good to talk about black culture, because even if everyone was not black, the records everybody gravitates to, well they are black. And some parties you went to, you had to be black, otherwise you’d get robbed and you would not even be able to buy crack. You would just be a dead man. And once they robbed you and beat you, they would go upstairs to a House party and play House.
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