Sweeney Kovar will jump on it
In a land before time, a land before Serato, Shazam and Soundcloud, the DJ was by necessity equal parts party rocker, organizer, collector and discreet record sleuth. This land was The Bronx in the ‘70’s and Louis Flores aka Breakbeat Lou was one of the lucky few blessed by natural selection to come of age during the gilded age of Bronx River park jams, when DJ’s would soak 12”s and peel off labels to keep you guessing. The era that birthed the concept of a breakbeat, one of the integral building blocks of hip-hop culture and rap music.
Along with Lenny Roberts, Breakbeat Lou created Ultimate Breaks and Beats, a 25 volume series of seminal breakbeat records that helped mark the transition from Hip-Hop’s infancy in the 70’s and early 80’s into its golden age, the mid 80’s and early 90’s. Time is quicksilver in a burgeoning culture and even by the 80’s there began to be a knowledge gap between the foundation beats of cats from the 70’s like Bambaata and Kool Herc and the new crop of DJs emerging. UBB was initially meant as a reminder of the foundation for newer DJs and heads but quickly became fodder for the next permutation of the culture’s music. The early 90’s classics were wrought with pieces lifted from various volumes of Lou’s edits of classic funk, soul and rock records. Even in the modern age the UBB shadow looms; Scoop DeVille’s West Coast monster “I Wanna Rock” beat sampled Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two” who in turn would have been unable to create their classic without Lou’s edit of Lyn Collins “Think (About It).”
After a self-imposed hiatus from the game, Breakbeat Lou began to revitalize the UBB legacy a few years ago. This sunday Lou is bringing Biz Markie, the only man on earth in possession of twin 45-sized Technics, and left coast luminaries J. Rocc and PB Wolf for a Los Angeles UBB extravaganza presented by ArtDontSleep. In anticipation of the occasion, I asked PB Wolf about his memories of UBB as a young would-be producer and DJ in San Jose. Then I Skyped with Lou to reminisce on UBB’s origins and examine it’s legacy. During our hour plus conversation Lou never took off his New Era Houston Colt .45s fitted.
PB WOLF: I don’t really remember how I found out about UBB, but I started buying new records in the late 70’s, and really got into hip hop exclusively by around the mid 80’s, at which point I started learning that hip hop DJs were using older records in their mixes and started learning about “digging” for rare songs. That’s around when I learned about songs like “Apache” and “Funky Drummer” and “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” because of the hip hop songs that were using them and movies like Wildstyle.
So, around the mid/late 80’s, I started seeing these records in Tower Records in San Francisco, but they were always sold out. San Francisco was an hour drive for me and it was before I had a car so I’d have to find a friend or relative to take me up there to get them and I’d be bummed when they were sold out. San Jose was a difficult place to find the original breaks and those compilations would teach me all about hip hop more than anything. I remember driving down to LA maybe once a year or so and finding more volumes of the records and buying whatever I could afford.
I’d use all of volumes. A lot of the songs I was making with Charizma in the early 90’s were using things from them, but even the stuff I was doing in the late 80’s before I met Charizma was too. A song we did called “Ice Cream Truck” comes to mind as using a few different songs from UBB.
It almost discouraged me from digging at first because we weren’t finding any of those New York records in San Jose so I didn’t even really try at first. It was more about trying to find unique ways to flip the songs that were on those records along with drum machine and other stuff. But eventually when I got a car, I was able to get in the game more seriously. Gotta have a car in San Jose! It’s a lot like LA.
I found about about Lou through the records. His name was on the back of most of them as Louis Flores. A lot of times it would say “edit by Louis Flores” and I’d wonder who that was. He’d take the songs and extend the break to make it easier for a DJ to mix with, but he was very sparse in what he did. He used constraint and did it in a tasteful way.
BREAKBEAT LOU:To me, Hip-Hop is a culture. I was a writer back in ‘72 and then I became a B-Boy in ‘73, which is when the whole scene started coming out with [Kool] Herc and these guys doing the jams. By ‘74 I started seeing the control that the DJ had on the crowd so I had to become a DJ then.
I was in a crew but I was real young, a real shorty. There wasn’t much I could do as far as buying records. By ‘78 is when I was working at an afterschool program and I was getting money so that was when I first started collecting records. The first record I bought was a record called “Space Funk” by an artist by the name of Manzel.
sweeney: Where you buying records you were hearing other people DJ?
Back in those days the beats were known few and far between. You had [Afrika] Bambaataa, you had guys like Charlie Chase, Herc of course, [Grandmaster] Flash and [Grand Wizzard] Theodore.
Pete Jones was more of a Disco DJ. He wasn’t as much of what we would call Hip-Hop culture-style DJ. You have to understand something: people have a misconception between DJ culture and Hip-Hop culture. There was always DJ’s playing out in the parks. You had Disco King Mario, you had Pete Jones and you had Grandmaster Flowers and all the other guys in Brooklyn but as far as the culture in Hip-Hop, it was more breakbeat orientated. Not to take credit from Pete Jones or Grandmaster Flowers or none of these guys but as far as the breakbeat aspect is concerned, that really starts with Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Bambaataa.
You were around enough to remember DJ’s before breakbeats. What was it like after breakbeats became a thing?
Back in the days, especially regular parties, you’d hear one record all the way until the end and then the next record would come in. The whole continuous aspect of DJing with music constantly going and having a function be at peak level constantly [was new]–parties back in the days started off slow and then you would have one dope record and then back to a slower record.
When the breakbeats came into play, that was a constant flow of adrenaline. You could dance and have this high energy flowing through the floor. To have that on a constant basis was new and incredible. We could enjoy the party for a good hour in a row without worrying about stopping here and there. It was constant enjoyment, which is the way I live now. If you go to one of my parties you’re going to leave with two things: a memory and sore feet.
What got you to Ultimate Breaks and Beats? How did you meet Lenny Roberts?
Lenny and I met at a record pool. I’d say it was 1980. I joined this record pool and we had what was called “feedback committees.” The record companies would send the record pool records and they would require us to give them a feedback statement, how would the record do in a club situation, how would the record do in a mobile situation and so on. We had like 70-80 members and the record companies didn’t want to see 70-80 feedback forms, they wanted to see a collective response. We would decide that a handful of people would be chosen to represent the record pool and give feedback to the record company.
One evening after a feedback meeting, everybody was talking about the beginning of Hip-Hop and how all these records that came out afterwards were forgetting the Hip-Hop aspect of the beats. Remember, all the records in the early ‘80’s were drum machine-driven or live musicians. So the conversation just got into beats. Something happened and I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went but I recognized the origin of a beat and said “yeah, that’s a Pussyfoot record.” Lenny came back like “what you know about Pussyfoot? With you I can get down with because you know what I’m talking about.” That’s where the relationship started with him and I. The new generation of DJ’s weren’t having the proper foundation of beats. They were only having the hip-hop generated rap record beats. My mindset was if you’re going to have something evolve than it should have the proper foundation. To me the proper foundation of the culture is the DJ and as far as hip-hop is the breakbeats. If you look at the first nine volumes [of UBB], they all were foundation beats, from “Apache” to “Got To Be Real” to “Give It Up, Turn It Loose.” Those were the records that Bam was playing at Bronx River that were more or less the true foundation as far as records were concerned.
We started releasing individual what you would call bootleg 12”. Paul Whitley was the first guy to release a compilation of what we call breakbeats but he called it Super Disco Breaks. He didn’t really take pride in releasing the records, he was just making money. I didn’t have that mindset and I’m pretty sure Lenny didn’t either. Lenny had received a cassette from Bam which became Fusion Beats. When we saw the popularity of having multiple records on one particular vinyl, we decided to try a similar thing to Paul Whitley but keeping it strictly breaks, no disco breaks, just breaks. We released what’s known in the industry as Octopus Breaks. When we released those, it did very well from ‘81 to about ‘84. Then it was slowing down because everything became very electronic and people wasn’t really feeling it.
In ‘85 we decided to stop what we were doing and do Ultimate Breaks and Beats. We created Street Beat Records as a legitimate company and we were going to release party records with breakbeat elements in them but still primarily party records. But what happened was that Marley Marl sampled “Impeach The President” and that whole sampling aspect created a new thirst for these original beats.
Was he sampling the original record or was he sampling your 12”?
He sampled, from what I know, a 12” that we released of “Impeach The President” in 1982 or 1981. When people started hearing what Marley did, then people where looking for the old funk records but they didn’t know what they were. A few people had stumbled onto the copies that were left of the Octopus Breakbeats and it gained steam. We wanted to release it again so we got the mechanical licenses and released volumes 1, 3 and 9 in 1986.
You mentioned earlier that Super Disco Breaks was a precursor to UBB but didn’t take as much pride in the presentation of the music.
Paul Whitley was thinking about making money. The best thing I can tell you is that the proof is in the pudding. How are you going to record “Mardi Gras”, the most famous thing from his situation, with a scratch and press that up?
Hip-Hop was also trying to get away from Disco, we didn’t want to be associated with Disco. You know how kids rebel against their parents. They don’t want to be like their parents, they want to be their own thing. [Paul] called it Super Disco Breaks, so we took out the whole ‘Disco’ out of it and just called it ‘Breaks and Beats’ because that was the language being spoken within the culture. “You got that break?” “You got that beat?” That’s how we created breakbeats.
You also took pride in how it was presented.
Most definitely! We didn’t go to the full extent we ended up going with for the Street Beat stuff but we recorded stuff on reel-to-reel, at that time it was 71/2”. We went to a mastering place and we made sure we pressed it up in a place that was pretty decent. They were bootlegs though so you couldn’t go to just any pressing plant at the beginning. We had to find those that were willing but we tried to find the best sound possible for the Octopus Breakbeats. To this day they still shape the sound of alot of records, that whole grimy sound of Hip-Hop is because of how we recorded it.
Was there any meaning to the octopus? That image is so iconic.
The reason for the octopus, which I’ll say was Lenny’s brainchild, was that back in the day before the MC was thee MC, the DJ was everything. The DJ was messing with the turntable, the DJ was making the announcements, the DJ was trying to fix the sound on the amp, the DJ was trying to man the strobe light, if you had an echo chamber the DJ was controlling that. It seemed like you needed eight arms to do what you needed to do. The best thing to describe the busyness of the DJ at the time was an octopus.
Later on, Kevin Harris came to us through a mutual friend. We had a guy that did the covers for volume 1, 3 and 9. Lenny’s vision for those volumes, he was very Bambaataa in his vision, very Sly and The Family Stone, very Parliament Funkadelic, very space-futuristic kind of thing. If you look at those three volumes they all have to do with outer space. The first one has the letters Ultimate Breaks and Beats in space. The second one has the spaceman walking. The third one has the Martian guy looking down with the beam, dancing. Those were all space-orientated.
I told Lenny that if we were representing the culture then we needed to get a real graff situation to it, bringing the writer aspect into the fold. That’s how Kevin came in. Kevin is a graffitti writer from Brooklyn that went to school for art and design in Manhattan and he was dope. When he came in and showed us his portfolio, he was perfect. He had the look, he had the characters that represented the graffiti aspect of the culture.
We had planned to do 25 volumes from the beginning and then see where it went from there. When volume 25 came along, I had a production partner on the regular music side by the name of Chep Nuñez and he passed away that year. If you look at the cover for volume 25 in 1990, it was a grey cover. We lost something that was part of the company. Chep Nuñez taught me how to edit which enabled me to edit the original records to create the signature sound of those records. We stopped in ‘90 because at the time we felt that was it. Lenny was also getting tired and wanted to go more into just record dealing so he decided to do that.
I always thought you guys stopped because the sampling laws got so strict in the early ‘90’s.
That stuff had nothing to do with us because we had mechanical licensing for the records. Everything that we did was legitimate so it didn’t really affect us. We created records not for sampling purposes but for DJ’s. Remember, UBB became synonymous with DJ battles and they became sampling records later down the line and that’s a different story. Because we kept introducing the digging aspect into the culture, our records became what everybody was waiting for to sample for their next record to create their own thing. To the point where I had guys like Mantronix, when I’m in the studio editing volume whatever, they’re saying, “make sure you tell Lenny I want to buy the first test pressing.”
If you look at the King of the Beats, the records that were supplied there were test pressings that we ended up selling to Mantronix.
There must have been an era of Hip-Hop where it felt like every other song that was hot was sampling one of your records. What was that like?
I’mma give you a figure that’s going to blow your mind right now. I wrote this thing down because it was kind of crazy. These figures were compiled by Dan Charnas, who wrote the book called The Big Payback. In 1991, seven weeks of the 52 weeks on Billboard singles had sampled something from the Ultimate Breaks and Beats volumes. In 1992, 12 weeks of the 52 weeks had something that was sampled off of the Ultimate Breaks and Beats. In 1993, 23 weeks of the 52 weeks had records that sampled from the Ultimate Breaks and Beats. In 1994, ‘95 there was anywhere between 12 and 16 weeks, he didn’t have those figured exact but in 1997, 32 weeks of the 52 weeks had sampled something from the Ultimate Breaks and Beats. To the point that the record “Mmmbop” by Hanson sampled “Synthetic Substitution” from the record. This is the influence that it had.
My situation is this: me personally, I used to feel a little salty because if it wasn’t for me editing “It Takes Two,” Rob Base would have never had the “It Takes Two” beat. “My Philosophy” by KRS-One, he would have never had that record if I wouldn’t have edited that record and put it out, Dru Hill, the “Sleeping In My Bed” remix. The whole Drum and Bass situation was started from the Lyn Collins “Think About It” sample. The whole Jungle thing was created from the [The Winstons] “Amen Brothers” sample. All these records even helped create genres.
Everyone from J Dilla to Premier to Pete Rock to Just Blaze to everybody and their mother had used the Ultimate Breaks and Beats in some aspect. In certain situations people are cool about it. I had one run in when, may he rest in peace, DJ EZ-Rock, I ran into him at the release party of the “It Takes Two” album and I asked him what was the idea behind the “It Takes Two” joint. [He was like] “yeah, we were in the studio and we chopped it up.” Really son? This is how you’re going to come to me? The intro is from side B, the main part is from side A and you’re gonna try to tell me that you created that? C’mon son, leave me alone.
Stuff like that made it a little difficult for me. At the same time though, I received accolades from [Bomb Squad producer] Bill Stephany when they were doing the PE album, they were listening to my records. I had a situation where Hank Shocklee and I met for the first time before he released Son of Bazerk and he was like, “yo, I gotta do something for you. Come edit my Son of Bazerk record for me.” You got guys like Young Guru from Rocafella, he calls me his mentor. Crazy stuff like that speaks volumes to me in the long run. I didn’t know what kind of impact [UBB] had until I came back into the game in 2009.
That’s exactly what I wanted to ask you next. What was up with that break of several years?
When you see the game changing and becoming very cynical and seeing the writing on the wall…besides me doing this I was involved with alot of different aspects of the music game. I had done promotions, I’ve worked retail, I’ve worked wholesale. I knew all the little games that were being played. I was a top 5 record promoter in the country. There are many records that I have broken in the east coast like Cypress Hill’s. I was responsible for bringing Soul II Soul “Keep On Moving” to the US. I was an influential seller of records in New York and I had all the major accounts. Whatever records I brought over to give to people ended up being huge records.
When that started changing and you started seeing the cesspool that it became and the corporations that came in, the machine started taking over what I had so much love for. It overwhelmed me so much that it became either my life and my family or the business. Just to be honest, not being as mature as I am now, the pressure was too much so I said, “let me leave it.”
I’d done alot of production on my own, House music and Freestyle music, I even produced tracks on Tim Dog’s first album. I worked closely with Ultramagnetic. I was in the process of getting a production deal with Paul C before he passed. Then the game started to get real ugly with people getting angry and shooting people. Also my life and the immaturity of the time led to me not being able to deal with the importance of certain things, money wasn’t the whole thing. In those days I was making six figures playing the game proper and people want to come and change the game around and they want to dip into your six figures. It gets a little crazy. Then you get these indecent proposals from different people and it was either that or the family. I had to choose the family.
What were those break years like? It almost sounds like a vacation.
It was a vacation. I found a grasp on what life really means and what I am in the grand scheme of things. God first, family second and everything else after that.
To be honest with you, I matured and realized what is my main purpose in life in general. At the end of the day, I’ve never been a person that’s willing to step on somebody’s neck to get to the next step.
What happened in 2009 that made you change your mind? I’m sure you must have had opportunities to get back in the game before then.
No doubt. Many times, but it wasn’t the right time. You’re familiar with B-Real TV?
There’s a guy named Eddie B Swift that does a show on there from New York, who is an old friend of mine. We found each other on MySpace of all places. We’re talking back and forth and he asks me if I know Kenny Dope. I tell him, Yeah, I know of him, I don’t know him like that but I know who he is. Eddie tells me, “He doesn’t believe you exist.” He starts telling me of a conversation he had with Kenny where they were saying they wished Lenny was still around to hear the stories behind putting the breakbeats together.
[Eddie says to Kenny:] “Yeah but you can speak to Lou.”
[Eddie:]“Louis Flores, the guys behind the records.”
[Kenny:]“Louis Flores does not exist.”
[Eddie:]“Yes he does, I’ve known him for many years.”
So Kenny tells him to bring me to the studio the next time he was in New York. Eddie comes through and I go meet Kenny Dope. He starts asking me questions and confirming that I’m Louis Flores.
Then Kenny Dope goes on DJ Scratch’s Scratchvision internet show and they start talking about breakbeats. I get a call from Kenny saying I gotta sign in online and talk breakbeats with them. Internet show? I didn’t know what that was so I log on and all that good stuff and Scratch says I’ve been the template for these DJ’s and etcetera. So he invites me to come onto his show as a guest to be interviewed. I went there with Kenny and [got encouragement like] “yo we need someone like you back in the game with the knowledge you have about beats.”
I was happy working at a bank for 12 years. I was chillin’. I was in a good place. I went on the show to an enormous response. Then a couple of months later I started getting calls to come out of retirement [as a DJ]. So I brought some records out and we played some music and Eddie got the idea to do a DJ tour. I didn’t want to do it but we had an inaugural show at B.B. Kings in New York and between that I had my own internet show and I had anywhere from 7,000 to 12,000 listeners every time I logged on. I had no idea the extent that these records had influenced the culture.
We did the launch party at B.B. Kings. It wasn’t what I expected but it seemed like the popularity was still there and people wanted me to get back into the game. I was still working at the bank at the time so I started doing things here and there. Then I started to get calls to do internet shows and the park jams here in New York. I was getting alot of calls to go overseas and different places but I was turning everything down because that’s not what I was into. The love was always there but I just didn’t want to get back into it.
But I had created these shirts for the launch party with the original octopus and people lost their minds over that. I created slipmats and I started DJing more often. Then I went to LA in 2009, when I met you.
With Byze One.
Yeah, with Byze, who I spoke with a little while ago. I met The Beat Junkies on that trip and it was amazing.
Slowly but surely I kept getting calls to create this tour. Then last year, Biz [Markie] and I did a party in New York that became the thing to do. Everybody and their mother from Pharrel to Q-Tip to every DJ in the world came out to see what we were doing. We killed that party at this spot, The Bowery Electric. The place holds maybe 200 people and we had over 300 people inside. There was a line outside of people that couldn’t get in. Total chaos.
Then I had a couple of other nights at that particular place and they were all successful. Then I had another party this year that was crazy. I did a festival, Soundfest at Minneapolis. I actually went to Minneapolis a couple of times. I went to Chicago to do Soul Summit. I been to AC3 last year.
The whole thing really started getting crazy when myself, Scratch, Kenny Dope, Spinna, Rich Medina, J Rocc and Supreme La Rock started this thing called #45fridays on Twitter. They made me get alot of records out of storage. When I started bringing the records out that’s when everybody wanted to see me play the records.
When you came back, what was it like to see the older heads that were still around as well as the younger generation?
Let me tell you this, it’s amazing seeing guys in New York like Biz rock and even re-connecting with Red Alert and Jazzy Jay and Bam and seeing Flash still rock and then seeing guys like DJ Lean Rock, who is a young guy from Boston that lives in LA now, know the history and have the collection. Seeing guys like The Beat Junkies and DJ Platurn and Agent 45 down south and the guys in Chicago, it’s all enlightening to me because the true attribute of a true DJ is how he keeps that crowd happy.
The skill factor is dope but if you please that crowd, that’s it. Like I said, a memory and sore feet. If I can’t leave you with that then I’m not doing my job. I’m the type of dude that can still rock James Brown on a 45 like I’ll rock a Pharrell record on a 45, or Eric B & Rakim on 45 and an Outkast 45, Justin Timberlake on 45. I got that whole spectrum. I can play that. The same way I might play Marvin Gaye I might play White Stripes or Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana.
Speaking of doing it so long, I want to talk about the evolution of diggin for a bit. The last time I saw you in LA is when I realized that the new frontier of digging isn’t in records but in session files and multi tracks.
Oh yeah. It’s like anything else. Hip-Hop as a culture is always evolving. You’re always trying to have the edge on somebody else. Because Serato is in the game now and the uniqueness and creativity of being a DJ is the best weapon to have, the sessions are now the thing to have. These mixes that nobody else has to be able to play on Serato, that’s the thing.
It goes across the board. There’s still so much vinyl out there that you don’t find, that you don’t even know exists. With the sessions it’s the same thing. It’s only a handful of us that have these things called sessions, this taboo thing called sessions. How you got that version? How you got that acapella? How you got that beat by itself? That’s become a new frontier to the craft of being a true DJ.
How did this Ultimate Breaks and Beat LA tribute show come about?
After the party we did with Biz alot of people across the country asked me when I was going to bring it out to their cities, LA, Washington, Chicago, Miami. In passing I got the idea to create this UBB 45 tour. It’s a total of seven of us, even though right now only four of us are billed for the LA date. So I’m thinking about UBB Presents… Seven Deadly Venoms on the marquee.
I had gone to LA to do the Do-Over back in August. I saw J Rocc and I spoke with PB Wolf who said, “next time you’re in LA, let me know. I’ll come rock with you, whatever it is.” I told him I was thinking of coming in November. I talked to Biz and asked him where he was going to be in late November. He says, “Cali. LA.” I asked him what date he had free and then hit PB Wolf.
Wolf told me he had his man Andrew [Lojero] who was a promoter. We hit J Rocc to see if he was available and we got the four of us for this crazy extravaganza.
So why 45’s for the tour? 7”s back in the day weren’t really a thing right?
There was nobody playing 45’s. The only measure for your reputation was how many records you had, 12”s or LPs. The 45’s was received as a commodity or afterthought. If you were getting a new single and the record wasn’t out yet, you bought it on 45 because it was new. “Space Funk” when it first came out was on 45, there was no album.
I’ve also heard that songs sound better on 45.
They sound doper. The speed and the way the grooves are pressed up, it’s a richer sound to it and it’s a harder sound to it. It was never something that was a commodity though. They were $0.59 back in the days. We used to put them in a spool and that was it.
The reason I started collecting 45’s was that when we were doing the breakbeats, we wanted to get the best quality record. We were not able to obtain the masters so we were getting best quality records. The 45 sounded richer. “Impeach The President” was from a 45 so it was a rich sound. When we did “Funky President,” it was a 45 that we used also. Lenny and I were collecting for that reason, not to say we had it on 45. 45 did not become a thing until Mark The 45 King started rocking 45’s.
It really became something in the late 90’s, early 2000’s when they had APT here in New York.
Yeah! With Rich Medina…
Yeah, Bobbito and Kenny Dope and Chairman Mao, all these guys. Then J. Rocc and those guys on your side, Madlib, Dam-Funk and PB Wolf.
When these records become so much of a rarity and it became an expensive thing then it turned into who has the dopest records. When I came into the game, just because I’ve been collecting longer than 90% of the people out there, there’s records I have that nobody ever knew came out on 45, nevermind had them on 45. Plus mine sound pretty minty because I’m not a turntablist dude, I rock records because I like to rock parties.
For us, 45’s is not a fad. For everybody that’s playing that bill, we’ve been rocking 45’s for a long time. There’s a new crop now and everyone and their mother has 45’s. I’m showing the realness of the collectors and the real DJ’s that have been doing 45’s for a minute.
I’m taking a heavy bag over there. I’m not paying the extra baggage fee because they’re going on the plane with me. They stay with me. The bag is going to have some killer stuff. We’re going to rock a party and have fun but there will be some killer records from the Hip-Hop side to the funk side to the b-boy side to even the rock side.