Founder, Leader and Captain
Of the legendary Master Don and the Def Committee.
Donnell Martin aka Master Don passed in 1993 of a brain tumor. Through the years of me seeing, hearing and knowing Hip Hop, Master Don has always been spoken very highly of by his peers, family, and fans of his music. As a person he was very well liked. I feel that it would only be fitting that I do a story on him as well.
This is our story of the legendary: MASTER DON
End of Summer 2005.
By Troy L. Smith
B., Doug E. Fresh’s D.J.
Barry I know you were around back in the days, you and Doug went against him and his crew. How did you feel about his skills, and did you learn anything from him?
Don was nice, he is older than I, so I did learn from him. What more could you really say, he was one of the better d.j.s at that time.
From a 1 to 10, what
rating would you give Don?
I would give him a 10.
A ten on the head,
that’s nice. Can you remember what was so special about him?
He was just skillfully nice.
How did that battle come
about between you, Doug and him and his crew?
I don’t know how it really came about; I guess he felt I was on the come up, or something. Maybe he felt I was taking or using some of his stuff. To be honest the battle wasn’t because of Don, Doug is the one that set that up.
So Doug wanted to battle
No, Doug didn’t want to battle the m.c.s! He just wanted to stop all the back talking. There was a lot of back talking and Doug wanted to stop it. At this time it was just me and Doug. Chill Will wasn’t with us yet. See originally me and Don was supposed to battle at I.S. 201. It wasn’t supposed to be Doug against the Def Committee. Even though I guess they figured it was supposed to go that way.
was the real winner after that battle? I know ya’ll were all pretty
good friends before and after that battle.
The winner was…….we never really said who the winner was.
Ya’ll were mostly just
doing a show.
Right, even though Doug said who ever messes up first, loses. Although it still was never said who was the winner. To be honest with you this whole battle started because Don and them had a party at the Y on 135th street and 7th avenue, and Doug got on the mic and said there was a lot of this and that talked about his d.j., being me. So they are going to settle this with a battle at a Mike and Dave party at I.S. 201 later that week.
So was you and Don cool
before all this?
Yeah, we was cool, we was all cool. Like I said I was nice on the turntables too.
Right, up and coming. So
after the battle how was you and Don’s relationship?
Everything was still cool. At that time Pebbly didn’t want to do the battle. Gangster is the one that really wanted it. I don’t think K.C. and Johnny really wanted it either and that was because everybody was really pretty cool with each other. There really is nothing you can say bad about Don or the group, they were a really talented crew. See I used to run with Mike and Dave. I was the house D.J. for them. So whenever they had shows and Don was rocking I would watch him, pick up things from him here and there.
Fats of the Disco 4.
How did you first meet
Prior to me D.j.ing, we had a family band known as the Bowden’s Affair. If you remember in the earlier seventies bands are what did block parties. D.j.s were not part of the block parties like in the late seventies. A gentleman that lived upstairs from me named Larry Dee was a Bus driver that liked equipment and bought plenty of it. Like I said we had our own family band. I went up stairs one night with my friend Marky Dee who had already associated him self with Larry Dee. As I go into the house and seen all the equipment and Larry D.J.ing, I said to both of them “that’s very interesting what ya’ll are doing.” At that time the B10 technique turntables were being used by them and the GLI mixer along with the Macintosh amp. Cerwins were the popular speakers back then. As I linked up with Larry Dee we took it to the streets, back then the police wouldn’t hassle you.
This would be right up in
Drew Hamilton (144th street to 141st street.
Between 7th avenue and 8th avenue.) Projects
Right this was inside of Drew Ham. I will tell you how me and Master Don ended up associating. As we did what we did in Drew Hamilton it caused a lot of off springs of other D.j.s. It caused an off spring of Master Don; it caused an off spring of Love Bug Star Ski. It caused an off spring of many others.
up, I am surprised you said Star Ski, since he was way up in the Bronx.
Well he actually started out rocking with us at the Renaissance Ballroom. We also launched Kurtis Blow’s career.
heard that one.
B Fats and Donald Dee started a lot of people’s careers. But they get with the popularity and everybody wants to say the Bronx did this and did that and just makes me go wow. Now with Master Don he was one of the young brothers located in 147th street. During the time when Don was launching his career another brother that we helped launch his career as well goes by the name of D.j. Renny Rock. Renny Rock was a close affiliate of Don. They ran together on the regular.
Right Mrs. Martin told me
about him, stating they were best friends and the God Father of Don’s
Exactly, they were very close and the girls loved them because they were like pretty boys with the curly hair. Those girls would see Don and Renny and go crazy. So these two guys worked very closely in enhancing their skills on the turntables. Along with him and Renny hanging out Don also started building his own team with Boo Ski, Gangster Gee, Pebbley Poo and K.C... He started to become very successful in what he was doing. During those days battling was what kept you in the top ranks, so to speak. It was like if you couldn’t scratch, back spin or do needle drops your skills were lacking.
Do you believe Theodore
was the first to come out with the needle drop?
Yes, I would give that to Theodore. I would give that to him because he was the first one to perfect it and turn it into an art as well as turn it into a tool on the battle field of spinning records. When Theodore and all those cats were doing their thing I give much respect to all of them for what they did. But what they did, did not affect what we did. There is a discrepancy though, because I have to question the birth of Hip Hop and its whole essence. I say that because coming from where I came from and playing in the family band and Mr. Larry who was one of the first cats also. You would have to put Mr. Larry along with cats like Pete D.j. Jones… See these were the older cats that would do little parties at the Renaissance at the original spot on 149th street that I can’t remember right now. There were many places back in the days. These were the cats that launched us or gave us the opportunity to become who we are today, because being young and poor growing up in the city it took somebody else to set it up for you. So Larry and Pete D.j. Jones are the guys I would give props to for doing stuff like that.
So Larry would actually
get behind the turntables and do his thing?
Larry Dee was a cat that loved music and drove a bus and had a family. I grew up with his kids. He was a father image to a lot of us. I am talking about a man that was maybe 40 years old and we were 13 years old! He was one of those guys that gave us a lot to do at a young age. To that I pay homage to him.
When I speak of Master Don I have to say that Master Don was a cat that had his own idea of what he would like to see Hip Hop be. Master Don was really into fast beats. If you notice that Funk Box, you will notice a fast beat. Master Don was the pretty boy of the wheels of steel, who had cute sisters. You know what I am saying.
His mother told me a lot
about you guys: you and him used to party a lot, battle a lot and come
close to fighting as well.
It used to go down. I take n------ speakers, pull out the gun.
Hold up kid. What about
them cats off the Avenue?
Well back in the days a lot of cats were getting the paper …..
talking about Bat and them?
Bat and I-van, this kid name Russell…what’s the kid….
Right Small Paul, all those cats that used to be over there by 7th avenue. Oh man it was just a whole host of them that was getting that paper. To be honest there were times where Cicle and Bat, Willie Gums……
about Preacher was he staying on the low even at that time?
Preacher was on the low
Damn he stayed on the low!
Preacher was the type of cat that would come to your house and have dinner with your family, and I never knew how notorious he was until it all came ahead.
I know what you are
Richard Porter, Alpo and you can’t forget Gusto who owned the Entertainers Sports Bar, Roof Top and Willies. These are people man that utilizes cats. Alpo was the type of cat that would come on the block and we would be sitting around doing nothing on a hot day and he would say “take this $200 and put some music in the street.” So now the music was sort of utilized as a deterrent, because once you built up the crowd…
could get his hustle on.
They were able to actually do their thing. I was naive at the time.
Alpo is younger than you, closer to my age.
Yes, but Alpo was getting paper.
I know that.
He was one of those young cats that me being a little bit older than him, you could be envious of him, because you like “damn I am popular but this n----- is getting it.” You got n------ like him Richard Porter and all of them cats….and what’s Willie Gums younger brother name that got killed?
L.A.! God Bless him. That was my main man. L.A. was one of the young cats that when he blew he always had admiration for the n------ in the hood. See us being in the family band, guys like them admired stuff like that; they did what they did, you feel me? But they were always supportive to us.
Also Bat, and that era of hustlers as well would throw out money to bring out the turntables. Also pay for the ice cream truck and anything else that supported the neighborhood.
That’s right. I was talking to one of my friends today and we spoke about how hustlers from our era gave back more to the community. I remember times when Alpo bought the ice cream truck out. (Troy starts laughing.) He would make the ice cream man park the truck by the block party, and tell him don’t charge nobody nothing. Just keep selling until you sell out and give me a bill. Or he will give him $500 straight up and say give me the change later if there is change. They would sit around with their pretty cars like the 98’s, Cougars with the drop tops and Bat would be rimmed out. We would play the music and the honeys would be all over the block, and the police bothered nobody. Master Don was very influential towards the era of the block party. This was due to his pretty boy style. Master Don and Renny Rock had this thing for Jerry Curls.
Mrs. Martin showed me a
lot of pictures of Don. He was a dressing brother. British Walkers in
all flavors and coats like the mob.
Yeah he was a fly brother. I can almost say that Don was influential in putting the image to the whole thing.
A lot of people dug him.
There were many people that claimed to be his cousin; he was a very
Yes he was. With the popularity that Don had and along with the tracks that my crew set, you couldn’t do nothing but respect where the man was headed. Don could pull women into your party.
when his mother showed me all those pictures of him there was always a
different woman standing or sitting next to him.
Girls would be like “is Don going to be there?” It was like instantaneous, girls would pop up.
So what was the beef
between you and him?
Me and Don’s beef was in his fame. He somewhat got to big for himself at times. He became somewhat of a pain in my ass. He was like I am it n------, f--- all you n------. It was like his popularity changed who he was as a person, and how he related to people and his peers that were actually in the industry with him. Don and my crew didn’t have any out right beef that separated us or say put us in a predicament where there was never a chance of healing. It would come from the music. It was on some “Alright Don we ate your ass up, accept that”. Or if Don was getting at us…..you know what, it wasn’t even so much that the d.j.s were responsible for the outcome of what a battle was about. It would be the people affiliated with the D.j.s.. I am talking about the clicks! The cats that hung up under you, that carried the speakers or the crates. They would be like ah f--- that they trying to get at my man? And you would say “man cool out man I can handle this.” No one in the click wanted to see the man that kept them popular,….cause back in the days to say you are down with Don, to say you down with Doug E. Fresh, to say you down with any of the Harlem clicks that was a home name they didn’t want anybody to take their crown from them.
We used to actually go up to this place on 152nd street and Amsterdam called the Battle Grounds. We would go down into this little circle, that’s when the playground used to have sand boxes in them. But this sand box we went into didn’t have any sand in it. We would set up in one side of the sand box down in a hole, and they would set on the other side, down in the hole. We would be right next to each other maybe a distance of two feet that separated the crews.
Damn, but who would be down there going against ya’ll.
It would be Don and many other crews. If I had to sum Don up he was a kid that saw something, like what he saw, became apart of, and took it to a level that was different from everybody else. Separated him self. The popularity altered how he dealt with his peers, but on the same token I want to make it very clear that it never altered it to the fact where there was never healing. See because nobody got killed.
There would be fist fights, I would knock your speakers over you would knock mines over. A month or two later we all hanging out together again. There is a big difference between the so called entourages of today and back then. We would pull a gun but it was more or less just to frighten.
really weren’t thinking about pulling that trigger but the trigger has
You’re right a lot of those beefs at the parks and clubs were crew beefs. To be honest I and my brother Donald Dee started something that got bigger than us, and the Sapphire crew (Security or a gang if you will.) just attached them selves to what we did. They bought more headaches along with what we were trying to achieve. There would be guys like Jay from 119th street who was reckless, Tony Rome, L.D., then there was Bolo who used to be going around lifting up cars. Back in the days they used to have those little Volkswagons that you could lift up from the front because the engine was in the back. Bolo would lift the front of the car and spin it around. People would come out their house and their car would be turned completely around. A lot of those cats are dead today, but back then they were the ones really bringing the drama. It wasn’t really myself Donald or Don that pulled the gun. We might have had the guns, but to actually pull them, no. It would be the people affiliated with us or the people who ran with us, that would just look for s--- to start.
Now how would a click
affect a win in a D.J. or emcee battle?
To be honest with you it was up to who had the baddest click. There were clicks that just scared other clicks, in the process of that happening they didn’t want to battle.
I hear you that is similar
to the legend of the Furious 5 battling the Funky 4.
I remember playing in a spot right here in Harlem called Randy’s place on 125th street. Treacherous 3, myself, Rayvon and the Furious Four at that time, and others were there that night. Some s--- jumped off because there was a kid in there calling him self White Flash spinning that night.
I heard of him he was from
the East side I believe.
Right, I can remember this like it was yesterday. One of the Casanova’s from the Bronx came in there and told him to stop calling himself White Flash. The dude White Flash kept spinning the record and the kid reached over and slapped the s--- out of him. So White Flash and his crew pounded on this one Casanova dude, and why did they do that?
opened up the gauntlet.
Cars started pulling up left and right and they surrounded the front door, and the gun fire went off. I remember that night like it was yesterday. You know what’s crazy about Flash, and we have laughed about this, he didn’t really roll with Furious as a one unit.
You right even to this day on an award show he sits separate from them.
Theodore I feel never really got the credit for what he has done; he is a bad mother f-----. I remember watching him and Flash battling in the Renaissance Ballroom in the late seventies, but that’s another story.
are going to hold that for the B Fats story.
As far as Don, when his record Funk Box came out I was shocked, I was like wow, oh s---. But it was a very popular record.
Did you ever hear him
Yeah, right on the block.
So with his skills as a
d.j.. what would you give him in a rating from 1 to 10?
I would give him a 10, because during our time Hip Hop was a new thing and anybody could have taken it any where they wanted to take it. One thing about Don, he had a different vision than everybody else. Don had a pretty boy show. My crew didn’t have pretty boys; we had just a bunch of rough n------ and drug n------ that supported what we did. My crew I would have to give credit for turning it into a business.
Greg Gee told me your brother was inventive. He told me about the paries at the condemned senior citizen center downtown by central park west.
It was called the haunted house, because it was an abandoned senior citizen facility that was no longer housing seniors. It was over there by Castle Hotel, 109th street and 8th avenue. I might have a flyer for that.
D.J Spivey the D.J. for Johnny Wa and Rayvon and The Magnificent Seven of Harlem.
How did you feel about
Don’s skills as a D.J.?
He was good, from a 1 to 10 I would rate him a 10!
Damn Barry just said the
same. So what do you remember about his skills?
He was an up and down.
What does that mean?
He was up and down on the cross fader. He didn’t use the cross fader that much.
Oh, he was up and down instead of left to right on the fader.
Right, and he was real fast to pick up the needle.
Did you ever battle him?
We were a tie.
So where did ya’ll battle at?
Once in Julia Richmond High school, but it wasn’t really planned as a battle. We were both just trying to do our best. We both had our whole crew there. The place was packed, and every one was satisfied. Me and Don was real cool. I used to go to his house and practice, and we have hung out hunting for records back in those days. We went to Julia Richmond School together. He was a real cool guy.
Renny Rock, best friend to Master Don.
I met Don through my brother and sister. Don’s brother Johnny used to date my sister and my big brother was a D.J. also that went by the name of D.J. U. he used to spin in the clubs back in the seventies. I grew up right here in Harlem in the Drew Hamilton projects with B- Fats and them. Me and Don was tight, but he had his thing with the Def Committee and I was pretty much running solo as a D.J….Many times me and Al B of the Disco Four would do parties together. I even did parties with Donald Dee. On the real I did parties with the Disco 4 as well. Even though I wasn’t in the group I rocked with them a lot. We all grew up together & they knew my mother and father and vice versa. Even though I was from Drew with these guys for some reason me and Don was closer. Where ever you seen one you seen the other. I soon became a somewhat of a down low member of the Def Committee as a back up D.j., after the Funk Box record came out.
you have anything to do with the record Funk Box when they went in the
studio to record it?
Not really, I just was involved with the crowd scene. There wasn’t really too much to do because he had everything programmed into the Funk Box.
He called his Beat Box the
Right, that was the name of it.
Did he find rehearsal very
Very important, because where ever we went people always wanted to battle. He was really the boss of his crew. If something didn’t sound right he would tell them. They could be writing their rhymes and he would tell them write it over if it didn’t sound right. He really liked perfection, because the one thing about him was you were not going to embarrass him. Trust me they worked hard, when I say worked hard they worked hard. I used to be like damn, when is their practice going to be over. He was no joke; he had his ideas of what he wanted. It was just a matter of everybody doing what they were supposed to do.
Do you remember that
battle between Doug E. Fresh, Barry Bee and Don and the Def Committee?
(Renny starts laughing.) It was kind of like a jealousy thing because Don was the first one to make the beat off of Love Rap come through his beat box. Everybody started doing it after that, but some tried to say that Barry started doing it first, not Don. So that is where that started from. I got some of the tapes with Don doing this. As far as Doug, he started from my house with that human beat box. He tells everybody that.
So you going way back to
when Doug was like 14, 15 years old?
Yes, he always tells people that. I used to let him get on the mic when I would play outside, or even in my house when we would be practicing. In fact he was the first person to hear me play Sucker M.C.s.
What was the deal with all
Man them girls just used to dig the hell out of us. They at times thought we were twins. It was like every party the fellas use to say “ah man there they go, they about to take somebody’s girl.” It would just be like that, we came to party, and the girls used to like the way we danced. If we would go out of town it would really be hectic.
How did you handle the
situation when Don got sick and then passed?
Man, man I went crazy. But let me tell you I was working for New York City Housing at the time. As I am making it home to my building everybody is looking at me, I am like what the hell is wrong. I start looking at myself; saying “what’s wrong with me.” Mind you every one knew but me. It was strange because when I walked in my house I was like “who was in here?” The way I had my turntables and the rest of my equipment stacked was up on top of each other. But when I came home my equipment was down on the floor. I was like “who the hell,” because there was never anybody at my house at that time. But then moms and them came to my house and told me, and I was like what? It can’t be! After that I was no good.
With the equipment
situation how do you think it got like that?
I don’t know but all I could think of was he was sending a message to me.
I hear you. You left the
house that morning and the equipment was up on the table, and you come
home later that day and it was down on the floor!
I was like “oh s---,” to myself because nobody was in here, and no one had a key to my house. The thing about it, even to this day I have dreams about him and they are so real.
So how would you describe
him as a friend?
He was a brother that had, and would give. He was just unbelievable. He was fun and a loving person that would give his last to you if he had it. Anything I wanted, and vice versa. When he died people asked why didn’t I keep his equipment? I told them I didn’t need it. The same s--- he had I had. I didn’t need it. So I was like just sell it or give it to my God son. What ever Mrs. Martin and them felt was best. I said what ever ya’ll do just keep the Beat Box, (The 808.) and that is what she did, she has it stashed away.
A. Sunshine of the Treacherous 3.
your run ins with Master Don how did you feel about him as a D.J.?
He was a good D.J., a real good d.j. I think he was some what underrated actually. His crew had that Harlem flavor, Pebbley and his m.c.s. they were not top tier as far as the m.c.s. The crew wasn’t respected or acknowledged as much as I believe they should have been. His D.J. skills are definitely top notch, and he didn’t get as much props for his skills that he should have either. His crew and our crew were real cool with each other. They were only say twenty city blocks away from us. We were some what close, they was cool with us. They had all the respect in the world for us and it was vice versa.
So from a 1 to 10 what
would you give him as a d.j.?
…….(pause for a moment.) It would be hard to just give him a number with out a rating system?
just over all.
I would give him a 7 or 8.
O.K., amazingly Barry B
and Spivey gave him a straight 10.
See that’s what I am saying with out me having knowledge of what a rating system is for a d.j. or what little knowledge that I do know of him, I can just say he was skillful on the turntables. Like I said he got fewer props for what he did. I am not surprised when you say other d.j.s give him a 10! That’s the best complement you can get from your peers, because they know better than I do.
I feel you. Do you
remember your crew and his going against each other?
We never pitted our selves against them. I don’t know if they looked at us as competition, I guess indirectly on some level or another they had to see us as competition to an extent, but we never looked at it that way. Unfortunately this might be egotistical or a little bit soupped up or whatever, but they didn’t pose a threat to us. So we really never looked at them as competition. We looked at them as “oh that’s them other young cat’s from Harlem, they trying to do they thing.” “We wish them the best.” We didn’t really look at them as a threat, the same way we looked at them, is the same way we looked at all the rest of the crews from Harlem. But I have to say every thing I remember of him and every time I ever encountered him on the turn tables or his crew rocking, he always handled his business. He was very skillful and pleasant to watch. I wasn’t really into the d.j. thing the way other cats were, but I can remember that when he was on I would go “hold up I want to check him out.”
They were being compared to the upper echelon cats, so I wanted to see were he was at in my own mind. The upper echelon or tier was Fantastic, Cold Crush and Furious, as well as Funky 4.
I follow what you are
saying. A lot of people say they could put on a really good show.
Extremely good show, but they did come after ya’ll.
They were tight, but they were a notch below us. They came after us and they never made it to that pinnacle. See we had New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Philly. All those groups that I named were well known, on all of those levels. But in the hood, Bronx and Manhattan they were well known. Also Don’s name was starting to resonate with cats like Theodore and Flash and other cats that could really rock.
If you were to start a
crew with L. A. Sunshine, two other m.c.s and a D.J. who would that D.J.
be? To your ears, your eyes, who was the best D.J. of Manhattan during
I would pick our first d.j. of the Treacherous 3, Reggie Reg.
Reggie Reg, hands down easily.
ain’t that something I didn’t know you felt that way about him, and
I just got finished talking to him on the phone. He is going to supply
this story with some of his flyers.
Reg’s skills are incredible.
didn’t know he was that nice.
I didn’t know because he didn’t stick around that long with ya’ll, so he didn’t have a big image.
Your right and it is unfortunate because he was that nice easily. The n----- was incredible.
I hear you. Krazy Eddie used to tell me Reg was real good; he is the one that introduced him to me. I know he would be happy to hear that complement; he seems like a real nice guy too.
He is, he is. That is the second part of the equation; he is not a selfish brother. I need that kind of people around me.
after Reggie Reg who would you pick, and I say that because only us
local yokels know him.
Oh man……probably Barry B, easily.
out of all those d.j.s, Krazy Eddie, O.C., Easy Lee, Artie Art, Darrell
C, Ronnie Green, B. Fats, Al. B, Donald D, D.J. Spivey and Tystic, D.J.
Randy from Harlem World, home boy from Saint Nicholas projects…….Pernellie
O, you pick Barry B?
Barry B hands down, I know all those cats and I respect them all. Barry B hands down.
Well Barry is nice. He is younger then all those cat’s too.
But his skill level is unbelievable.
I just got finished
talking to him too, and he gave Don a 10. He said they had a battle
because cats kept saying Barry was up and coming. So where would you put
Don at with all those d.j.s at that time?
See guys like Ronnie Green and Pernellie O etc. had names, but they didn’t have skills like Don. None of them did.
So Barry and Don are 1 and
2 in Manhattan?
Yeah….yeah I would say that. Barry is my choice and I might be a little biased because I have known Barry for all these years, so he is my choice but Don would be an easy 2.
William Drumright aka Dagod9 from the Esplanade Gardens.
A Master Don witness, fan, and neighbor in Don’s community back in the
When do you remember the
first time you heard Master Don?
It was at a pool party in the Esplanade Gardens (148th st. Lenox avenue.) 1978, where I lived at. It was an out door pool. Esplanade residents had a pool pass, but any body could get in if you paid $3.00. Kurtis Blow came and did an album signing. In the summer every Saturday we would have a pool party, mostly local dudes would d.j. but once in a while Don would come by and D.J. for a little while. But mostly I would catch him at the Chame Day care center on 147th street between 8th and 7th avenue. He would throw out side jams from time to time. But he was mainly known for d.j.ing up there at the Colonel Park on 145th street and Bradhurst avenue. I also remember when I was 10 years old, and hip hop was kind of new in Harlem, we used to be kids banging on the desk and saying little nursery rhymes. A girl invited me to her birthday party and her parents hired Master Don to do the party. That was the first time I was exposed to him. Over the years Don became a local legend in our neighborhood, I would say from 155th street to 139th street east to west he was a legend.
So why would you say he
was a legend, why was he better then any other D.J. around that area and
Because their crew was the most respected, they had the whole routine going.
But what about him, why
would you consider him a legend, what separated him from the bunch?
Don was one of the best when it came down to the D.J. tricks; every one knew him for cutting with handcuffs, and cutting with British Walkers. (A pair of the hottest shoes at that time, worn all around Harlem in different colors. These shoes were worn mostly with a mock neck sweater, and a pair of Lee jeans.) A lot of people used to like to see him do the tricks and go nuts on the turntables.
What else did you see him
do on the turntables?
I have seen him cut backwards with hand cuffs at a Rice High school dance in 1983. He was a big influence in the community, although Crash Crew and Disco Four were in the area, they didn’t really throw that many jams like Master Don did in our area. So I heard and seen more of Don. But I guess if somebody grew up in Lincoln projects they would be like Crash Crew or the Drew Hamilton projects would feel the same way about Disco Four.
So how did the people feel
about him right in the area?
He had a lot of respect. A crew called G- Force held him down; you never heard anything about people robbing him or anything like that in the neighborhood. He ran with a lot of cats in the neighborhood that had a lot of respect. Say a cat named Johnny Martin; he was one of the leaders of a crew called the Avenue. He also was a leader of a Harlem chapter of the Black Spades in the early 70’s from what I heard growing up, and we used to hear that all the time when we were kids. Johnny and his boys were pretty large back in the days.
Where were they from?
I say from 146th street to 150th street.
All four blocks were The
Yeah the Avenue! A lot of kids, a lot of thugs, we used to call them the Avenue, that was the name of their click. Then you had G- Force and most of them cats Ducky Dee and Bamboo and all them cats were from the Drew Hamilton area. (144th and 8th avenue.) Bamboo was from the Hill. Other guys from the Avenue crew were Lance and Vance, they were twins. Johnny Martin was the leader.
Hold up Johnny Martin is Master Don’s brother.
Word, I went to school with their younger brother Reginald Martin. Me, Reg and Corey Seymour used to say we were all cousins when we went to school; we went to P.S. 200 and I.S. 10. Chucky Brown that went on to play pro basketball after playing for North Carolina also went there. Chucky Brown also went to Cardinal Hayes high school. But those guys had a lot of respect over there. Johnny ran The Avenue Crew, he was the leader. Johnny got respect from the 70’s up until I guess I moved away, which was 1984, 85. There were other crews in the area, TMO, HBO. But The Avenue Crew was around the longest. If there was beef TMO and The Avenue boys would form together. Their rivals were them dudes from around your way, The Cigar Mob and Stick up Mob.
is TMO? I remember HBO when I was in High school, although they may have
only lasted for a minute.
Yeah they were from the Polo Grounds project. TMO’s leader was Lance Bradley and they came out of Dunbar and Harlem River projects on 7th avenue. TMO stood for Total Max Out. Johnny and Reggie Martin and I grew up together, I always associated Johnny with Master Don, So that is very interesting that they are brothers, and I say that because I never knew that, I knew some how they might have been related, but how I didn’t know.
So what are you saying
they weren’t as close as brothers should be?
No every time Don cut through Esplanade or just walking by Johnny was with him. Every time I seen Don I seen Johnny. One night I was chillin with my man Fat Harry AKA Justice Divine (R.I.P.) and he had the burner on him. We went up to Cardinal Hayes dance because our dance at Rice high school was kind of weak. And there were a lot of us, a lot of the guys from The Avenue was with us, and Master Don was there. That was the first time I had a real conversation with him and I was impressed, because I always sensed that he was a real cool even though he was always with his brother Johnny so that gave off the impression that he was a thug, but some how I just felt he was different from that. So one of the dudes that was with us jumped on some other guy coming out of Cardinal Hayes, we were right there on 149th street and the Grand Concourse. I remember Don saying yo I don’t even want to be involved with that. He was like he is too old for this. I thought we were all going to have to get busy, but when he said that everybody fell back. So just my homies Terrence who was from 3333 projects that was running with G- Force and Shawn Hyman (R.I.P.)who was running with The Avenue, and that goes to show you how close G- Force and The Avenue were to each other. They put an ass whooping on this dude. Of course for no reason but to get wreck. Terrence and Bamboo were real close.
Bamboo get shot at the Savoy Manor party where Don, Crash Crew, Doug
Fresh and Force m.c.s were partying at that night?
Somebody got killed in there, not Bamboo, but he got into a shoot out, out side the party. Bamboo got shot in the jaw and went down, but he survived. But that night was kind of wild. I was too young at that time to get in, so me and Terrence and some other guys would stand out side the door to hear the music.
So the music was loud
enough for you to hear?
Not really but you could hear it good when the door opened up. Let me tell you something when Don came out with that Funk Box jam that was big, that was large in the Neighborhood. It was like one of us made the record, because everybody was feeling it, and everyone was proud when the record blew up, kind of like how Problems of the World might have done for ya’ll over in the Grant and Manhattanville projects.
Well it was so much going on on my side as far as with Spoonie G, Doug E. Fresh, Treacherous 3, and Fearless Four. So I would see them dudes as regular cats, remember I used to see them dudes before they had a name in the Hip Hop game, it wasn’t no hating it just be on some “what up, when the next joint coming out, alright cool, take care, see you later.” For some reason I felt proud when Wild Wild West came out. I really dug that record. I really liked all the music the guys in the area put out, but that CUT Moe did, although he is from the Hill (only two blocks away from the Grant and Manhattanville although we were all cool, at least most of us, still a different territory, different click.) the cut was the blaze, and it later became international. Hip Hop was really moving around the country and now outside of the country. So I was proud to tell an outsider I was from the Wild Wild West, and I, we, were actually from the West side of Harlem.
You know the first tape I ever had was a Cold Crush tape, the second was a Master Don tape you know the Def Committee rock the city. That was the first time I ever heard them do a full routine, because at the outside jams they mostly had cats just rhyming on the mic and passing it around, they never did routines. But the tape was like an album to me, so I am very happy to say that I actually saw them, I was in the presence of old school Hip Hop.
I have to tell you though when Funk Box came out and Don moved to the Bronx, you would think back then if you put out a record instantly they would become a millionaire, so I was like if I made a record and it was a hit I wouldn’t move to the Bronx. But now looking back on it they weren’t really making that much bread off of it. I think that was a reaction from a lot of people.
So a lot of people felt
that way on the block?
Nah it was a thought that I had, I think a lot of people realized that they weren’t making that kind of money. But back then Hip Hop being still new on records, you never realize that until now, you see rappers making millions.
I know there was more to
that story with you and Don at Cardinal Hayes that night.
We were walking over the bridge from the Bronx back to Harlem, and that was because Cardinal Hayes is in walking distance from the Esplanade Gardens and their block. We were talking about the fight and he was saying how stupid the fight was and he was really upset about it. He was like yo I am not trying to do those things, stuff like that is stupid. And it was kind of funny today as I think about it because those guys that were around us were pretty hard core thugs, and they weren’t saying anything as he was talking. Normally cats would be amp and hyped at that situation. He was basically a calming influence over the situation.
Did you ever hear Master
Don on the mic?
No, I never heard that.
few of the fellas told me they have. I heard he was better than his own
m.c.s. I am surprised you never heard that.
Man, that’s a true Grand Master, ain’t it?
right! (Troy starts laughing.)
He can rap and d.j..
Yeah I got to put that in
the story. He is a true Grand Master.
Its funny because when you listen to the tapes, it seems to me like, all right you have Cold Crush they were the Master’s, I got to give it to you because I know that’s your boys and they are the Master’s at that. But then you listen to Master Don, their routines were so well rehearsed, his music, the way he put in the record, bought out the records, put in another beat. Kept it on time, it was more of a skill a showman skill, rather then just keeping three routines running off the same beat, like Charlie Chase. No disrespect but when Charlie Chase would play, they do three different harmonizing routines to the same record, where as Master Don had a beat for every routine. That’s pretty skillful to be able to keep that up.
right, it’s like he loves it more than Chase or maybe that is what Caz
is asking for. Because Caz is the captain and he is also a d.j. he might
say this is the format I want tonight. But I have heard Chase change
records often also. But no one has ever said he is like a Master Don,
Theodore or Flash. He just knows how to keep the beat good and always on
time, even Tony Tone has said that.
What about when Don used
to D.J. over by Chama day care center?
Yo I don’t know where they use to plug up the music at, but for some reason they use to always play right in front of the center.
a tight little skinny block, how did they pull that off? Did they
cut off the street?
Naw they just used to do their thing, the street would be open.
But it used to be packed
Yeah, it was packed, and the thing about it is there wasn’t a lot of drama, or it wasn’t a lot of drama as you would think. It wouldn’t end with a shoot out, because everybody over there was pretty tight. I think the only outcasts were kids from Esplanade like me. But I was always cool with a lot of them. Me and Don’s young brother Reggie was real cool we were in the same class a couple times. Cats might have been scared of Reggie, but cats was frightened of Johnny.
Reggie wasn’t really rah, rah, but you see Johnny and his boys coming down the street you cross the street, because if you walk past them they going in your pockets. That’s how they got down. Them n------ was wild. Plus Johnny, Don, and Reggie had a lot of cousins that’s probably another reason they was so feared.
of the Fearless Four.
How did you first meet
At this park he was rocking at. I didn’t know him personally at the time but I heard the music so I went in. The park was on 145th street and Bradhurst here in Harlem. I didn’t know him personally but I heard of him. Me and Mike Cee use to go to a lot of spots together. So once we got cool with him and his crew we would get on after they would do their set. Then when we got on he used to do work for us also. He used to be like “yo I got this new ill beat I want ya’ll to rhyme off of.” Tell me how ya’ll like it. When we say yeah we can rhyme off of it, he would start doing his set. We just thought basically the cat was crazy, crazy, crazy nice with it, you know what I am saying. You know our d.j.s were Krazy Eddie and O.C., but Master Don was more like a trick dude. I put him with Theodore or Flash with same type of s---.
So from a 1 to 10 what
would you rate him?
I would have to say 9 and a half.
So would you put him
before Ed and O.C.?
Well I have my favorites, and it wasn’t my d.j.s, although I have love for my d.j.s they weren’t my main joints. Master Don is definitely in the top 5. Marvelous and Jazzy Jeff were my favorites also.
up I never heard of them.
They were from Philadelphia, that’s why. Those cats were crazy, and we never had any runnings with them. I just used to hear their tapes. Grand Wizard Theodore of course. Master Don and my dude D.J. Barry B.
Damn, he keeps getting props, that boy is striking it rich.
Man Barry used to cut with the end of erasers, I am talking pencil erasers.
Damn, thanks for that Tito.
Nah he was and is nice. You know who else I forgot D.St. He was kind of nice also.
Did you ever do any shows
Yeah we did a few shows with them. Philadelphia, North Carolina. Also we did a lot of shows in Manhattan. A lot of different schools. You know that was when Mike and Dave were throwing the parties. We rocked with Mandiplite, Van Silk, Donald Dee and B- Fats. I used to rock a lot with Mr. Troy, just me and him. I used to get around.
I have a few tapes were
you used to rock by your self with out the Fearless, what up with that?
Yo I had a love for that joint; I had a love for Hip Hop dogs. Where I could fit in, if I heard cats was nice over there I wanted to go there, to like show my talent and say yo I am nice too.
Don’s son Donn Martin Jr.
My father was a major inspiration in my life.
Every time I make a beat I think of him. I feel his presence everyday,
especially when it comes down to my music and life altering situations.
I remember him teaching me how to work the beat machine and keyboard. A
lot of the things he taught me I have taught my daughter today. I still
remember everything he has said to me. He has a lot of friends and
family that still love and miss him to this day. I wish he was still
here, but I know he is always with me. He was truly my best friend as
well as my father.
Martin. Master Don’s Mother:
Where was Don born and
Don was born in Baltimore Maryland, raised in New York. We moved to Harlem when he was a year old. We first were on 142nd street and Lenox Avenue. In 1972 we moved to 147th street and Lenox Avenue.
Just because Don was so well liked I need clarity on who is actually Don’s brother and sisters.
Well Don has two younger brothers and two younger sisters, - Johnny, Reginald, Jeanette and Angela. Pebbly Poo is my God Daughter. Renny Rock I some what raised his as well, but he is the God Father of Don’s son.
I ask you this because
since I was young many people have said they’re Don’s cousin,
brother or sister.
Well he does have a lot of cousins on his fathers’ side.
How old was Don when he
first displayed his love for music?
He must have been about 8 years old when he was messing with my records trying to scratch them. But with only one turn table. So of course he got a lot of beatings. But by the time he got to 14, I noticed that he really loved music, so I went out and bought him turntables, an amp and speakers.
What type of records did
you have in your collection that he would listen to?
Rock and Roll with Chuck Barry, Soul with Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Sly and the Family Stone. I really loved the Motown sound. Don’s favorite musician was Prince and he named his son after him.
So how did you like the
whole music situation that Don was involved in?
I liked it, because I used to follow him when he did the parties. I worked the door for him at the house parties. Don was doing a party in Lincoln projects community center one night here in Harlem. I remember having a confrontation with these people that called themselves the Cigar Mob. They came in there talking about they are not going to pay. Well I had a little bit of Courviasia, so I said if you don’t pay you can’t get in. I don’t care who you are because I don’t smoke. (We both start laughing.) So the leader went and told Don “Master Don your mom is cool!” So Don comes back to me. Don used to call me Lill. He says “Lill you know who you talking to?” I said “I don’t care.”
We also had a big confrontation with the Zulu Nation. Peebles was a member of Zulu. Zulu one night was talking about they was going to take the equipment and the money. Peebles made a couple of calls and n------ was coming out of vans and trucks talking about “what’s up.” (We both start laughing again.) After they found out Don was connected they left Don alone.
I didn’t do any doors at the big parties Don was at, say Harlem World, Broadway International or Celebrity Club, but the house parties I often collected the money. There were times we were short on money and Don would put on a little show and we would make that money for whatever bill was due. I fry fish, sold dinners and he played the music, and we got over - praise God.
ya’ll did a lot of house parties in your own house.
Yes, New Years Eve was always a big party, the talk of the neighborhood. We would move all the furniture into one room. Don would make this liquor, but putting a lot of different liquors in to it. It was called Fighting Dog. People were coming from miles around to be at this party.
So how did the
neighbor’s feel about Don playing all that music?
(Mrs. Martin starts laughing.) Well a couple of times they called the cops, but he didn’t really play his music at night, it was always in the day time. but I guess when I went to work it got loud, because I had some speakers I got for him that I paid $500 a piece. I don’t remember it might have been 400 watts a channel, and he probably opened them all. So when the cops come I just told them he is trying to make something good of him self. Back then the cops were more lenient. They said they didn’t have a noise law, so as long as he is not playing it at night it is all good. I said “well at night he is doing his job.” “He is doing his house parties, club’s and stuff.”
What was the story between
Don and Bobby Robinson of Enjoy records?
Bobby Robinson took a big interest in Don. Don had what was called a computerized beat box! One day Don got into some trouble with the cops. He got caught by the police hoping the train with my pistol.
With your pistol? (Troy is asking as if to say what is Mrs. Martin doing with a pistol to give Don. She just laughs as she hears the tone of Troy’s voice.)
That’s right! (As she laughs.)
First of all what type of
work do you do, are you a F.B.I. agent or something?
(She laughs.) No I am from down south! I just had it for protection. So when he got caught he had to do seven years.
He had to do seven years probation. But he wasn’t a violent person, unless you messed with his family. He was very protective of me, and his sisters. He didn’t allow his friends to talk to his sisters. (Try and rap to, date.) He didn’t play that, and they respected him for that. He used to take the kids with him to party. Don was a very good natured person.
I heard that often about him.
He didn’t drink, nor do drugs. But he was a whore.
He was whore?
Ah man he had them ladies. He didn’t care what kind, what nationality he had them ladies. I had a lot of fights up in my house. He used to tell me keep one in the living room, one in his room and one in the smaller room I had by the door.
He got away with all that?
Yeah, he would say “just say they are our cousins!” Of course I went a long with it, but when I was at work I couldn’t control it. There were a lot of fights going on in here. But I would have to say he was a good son.
So the phone rang off the
Ah baby please, please. I had to change my number one time they were calling so much. Back then there wasn’t any two way, I wasn’t getting any calls so I changed my number. I wouldn’t give it to him. He would be like “how they going to get in touch with me.” I said to him “I don’t know how they going to get in touch.” (We both start laughing.) I said “give them a walkie talkie, because there isn’t no way I am going to keep up with this foolishness every day and all night.” My son was well liked, him and Kurtis Blow were pretty cool also. In fact Kurtis Blow goes to my church he is working on trying to become a minister.
Yes I heard about him and the work he does in church.
Yes he is doing a good job with the young people.
I attend the Bethel Gospel Assembly church on 120th street and Madison Avenue. What is the name of your church?
Well that is very good I know that church. I go to the Greater Hood, on 160 west 146th street. That’s between Seventh Avenue and Lenox Avenue.
So do you talk often to
Yes every Thursday is the Hip Hop service, in my church.
So do you remember Kurtis
Blow back in the days when Don was playing music?
Yes I do! (You can hear her blushing through the phone, as she is laughing.)
You laughing, (as Troy laughs with her.) you have a story to say about Kurtis?
(She is laughing even louder.) I ain’t telling that story.
Come on Mrs. Martin we will change the names to protect the innocent. (She is laughing uncontrollable.)
Because I was sweet on him.
Oh you were sweet on him?
I was sweet on him. I met him one night at an after hour spot, him and Grand Master Flash. He was a real nice guy & I had a good time hanging out with him, but nothing became of us. See I was expensive when I drank back then; I used to drink Remy Martin with champagne. So you know I wasn’t getting to much action, because if you talked to me I was expensive.
So how did Don do in
He was a good student. By the time he got to high school he dropped out. He dropped out in the eleventh grade. During those later years he used to have a lot of beefs with Rayvon (of the Magnificent Seven from Harlem. Johnny Wa and Rayvon.) and B Fats from the Disco Four.
Isn’t that something,
Rayvon is good with you today?
He’s like a son to you today right?
That’s right. He takes care of me, that’s how life is. But I guess it was a young thing. I guess it had to do with Don pulling their girls.
(Troy starts laughing.) you something else Mrs. Martin.
Don was slow to get angry, they would get mad. But he wouldn’t. I am not going to say he didn’t fight, because Don did have his share of fights. I have to say there was a lot maturity from Don because I always use to call him my husband. When me and Don’s father separated, I gave Don the job of raising the kids, but he was a kid him self. But at that time I had to work two jobs to make the ends meet. So he had the responsibility to raise the four kids. Boy did they hate him. But he steered them right, none of them went to jail, and everybody finished school. All because of him. He dropped out and it was because of the conflicts he was having at school. That was because he was having a lot of fights in school and I think is was because of the girls. I think he might have been messing with their girls. Even though he quit he went back later and graduated with honors. I was so proud of him.
Do you remember the
He went to Julia Richmond and then later Seward Park, were he graduated from. But Don was like my friend because I could tell him anything. We talked a lot to each other. He was a great son; we could even talk to each other with out using words, only eye contact. I didn’t have a steady boy friend, but when his step father came into my life, me and the guy fell in love. Don hated him. He used to tell me “that n----- going to leave you.” But we had been together for 27 years.
So ya’ll still together till this day, that’s beautiful.
But Don made his peace with my husband before he passed. Don has a son that is into the music. His name is Don La Prince; he is 21 years old and just finished college. He can sit down and make a beat and when he puts it to music, it sounds so sweet. I don’t really care for this music of today, but when I get him on that beat box, I have to stand by the door and look at him and tell him “I see your father in you.” Don Sr. also has three daughters.
see you and Don were pretty close.
Well we were only fourteen years apart. When his friends first used to come up to the house they thought that I was just another kid hanging out. Don would say, “No that’s my mother.” They would say “so why she ain’t Fat?” (We both start laughing.) A lot of his friends would come by, I remember some of the rappers and D.j.s. Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde, Doug E Fresh, Grand Master Flash. EK Mike Cee, Reggie Reg. It was so many of them.
When it came to Don’s
group were you close with the mothers?
Yes, I remember being down at that club next to where they use to do the Karate?
Down on 112th
street, Lenox and 7th avenue Joe Grants?
Yes all the mothers came to that one.
So what was your
relationship with Bobby Robinson?
It wasn’t very good. I would have to say he took advantage of the kids. They made the records but he wasn’t giving them their worth, because they didn’t sign a contract. So by Don being underage I signed for him. At first I didn’t know about the contract, nor did the other mothers know about a contract to sign. So he ripped them off a little something, something. I must say the stuff that Master P used from The Def Committee’s Funk Box, was no longer The Def Committee’s because it was signed back over to Bobby Robinson. Don signed it back to Bobby Robinson before he passed, one day I found the paper work. They were running around trying to sue but I had the paper work. I told them Bobby is not crazy he been in the music business for awhile. A lawyer did come here to the house about that. I told him they signed it back over to Bobby Robinson. Funk Box 1 and 2.
But they were young and impressionable. I think he only gave them two thousand dollars a piece for that record. Bobby was trying to say he had to pay for a lot of studio time etc., it was just a mess. I told Don “you’re young, before you sign anything let me see it.” So we were able…. I think I got about $15,000 from Bobby Robinson because I told him I was going to take him to court because Don was a minor. He is not equipped to sign anything with out me.
See originally Don signed with out me, he didn’t let me see the contract and I was very bothered by that. Bobby got him to sign and he was only 17, 18 years old. But Don didn’t read the small print. I think I still have the contract here. After the first record, lawyers were present while Don signed a legitimate contract.
I received the money when Don started getting sick. I ended up putting it into my grandson’s education. Don has other children, 3 girls but I don’t know where they are at. After the funeral they all went their different ways.
See Don started getting sick because he had this fungus on his brain. The last record he did was I think “Paid the cost to be the boss?” The royalty’s didn’t start coming in till late. He was getting these headaches and he didn’t want to be bothered. So me and Bobby worked with it, and Bobby gave him what he was supposed to get. So when Don passed, all that we didn’t use for the funeral I put in a trust for his children. Whenever they come around they got some money.
That’s good, and the
money is still building. So how old was he when he passed?
He died just before his birthday in 1993. He was born in 1961. He would have been 33 years old. Don had a Fungus on his brain, but they over medicated him and gave him a heart attack. He had a massive heart attack. With this Fungus on his brain, it made him blind and covered his whole brain. There was nothing they could do but give him medication. I think after he went blind and just gave up.
I imagine the funeral was
Yes, oh lord it was so many people there, I didn’t know anybody any way. I was kind of spaced out with the valiums and stuff. But a lot of people came, that I didn’t even know he was so well connected. But they really showed out for his funeral.
Do any of the members still come by to see you?
Yes Gangster Gee, Johnny Dee. Boo Ski always comes by.
What about K.C.?
He always comes by also; he lives over by 145th street. Peebles is right upstairs here in the building.
to my Dream”
poem from Master Don
In every way you’re part of me, you’re all I want, you’re all I ever need.
If I’m weak when I should be strong, you’re my strength to carry on, so
What’s so wrong with wishing, that’s the way it should be. You’re to good
To be real, you must be make believe, “Welcome into my dream”. You are my
Fantasy, I’m glad you are here with me. Dreams remind me of all the things
I miss, would you believe it’s a real fantasy every time we kiss, maybe
dreams tell of things to come, so won’t you come my way, and let me dream
my life away, I’ll give you love, joy and happiness and your life I’ll
stay in it. If your love was a contest I’ll always do my all to win it.
When I kiss your lips, and whisper in your ear, I know my dreams come
True just because you are here. The way I really feel, this poem says it
Best, I have to give you an A plus, because your love past my test.
Welcome into my Dream
I want to thank Mrs.
Martin and every one that took part in the Master
God and God bless you.
L. Smith from HARLEM, One