Freaks Come Out at Night

Grandmaster Dee cuts a wide swath on the comeback trail

For the duration of this weekend stint, Carter is sharing a conjoined suite with another legendary partier — longtime friend Bobby Brown. Brown spent much of Friday evening out of sight — save for a 3 a.m. appearance at Carter's hotel room, where, soaking wet and dressed in nothing but a towel, he looked to borrow something. For his part, Dee spent the wee hours with three middle-aged groupies who planted themselves in his hotel room until it was time for this reporter to get lost.

It's hard to tell if Carter's buzz is freshly acquired or lingering from the earlier one, but either way, he's especially talkative about hip-hop and what's kept him going for the past 25 years.

"There's just something about going out there and having 20,000 people in the palm of your hand every night that's addictive," he says. "I had to make sure my game was tight, because it was about showmanship back then. You really had to stand out and be different for anyone to notice you, because all the DJs were so good."

Leaders of the old school, Grandmaster Dee, and friends in 2006.
Leaders of the old school, Grandmaster Dee, and friends in 2006.
DJ Whiz of Kid 'N' Play, Grandmaster Dee, and Dana Dane.
DJ Whiz of Kid 'N' Play, Grandmaster Dee, and Dana Dane.

"Drew had beautiful timing," Adler remembers. "He was the drummer basically, and he did it with flair. He could cut a record with his nose. I mean [Grandmaster] Flash was incredible, and he could spin around and cut with his elbows, but Drew could do it with his face."

"All the DJs wanted to be like Grandmaster Dee 'cause he was the best," Dane adds. "Even Jam Master Jay, who was one of the greatest ever, wasn't as incredible as Grandmaster Dee. Dee had control of every cut, every motion. He could read the crowd, the MCs; he knew when to drop the record, when not to, and could let the fellas do what they had to do."

"Drew was always ahead of the game, even back when we first got together," says Dr. Ice, who has now joined the entourage at the bar. While some may remember Dr. Ice from his time in the group U.T.F.O. and their breakout 1985 hit "Roxanne Roxanne," he was also a part of the Keystone Dancers alongside his partner Kangol Kid; the pair were brought on to enhance Whodini's live performances. Although Kangol has retired from hip-hop, Whodini still includes Dr. Ice in all of its current shows so that rapping, scratching, and dancing — three of the four vital elements of hip-hop — are represented each time they take the stage. "We came up in the days when DJs were party rockers," Dr. Ice says, "and a part of what makes Drew so good is that he still has that quality about him today."

By now, Ecstasy and a few longtime Whodini affiliates are flanking Carter at the bar. Everyone is laughing, cracking jokes, and reminiscing. Turn back the aging process and you could be looking at one of today's rap posses.

Carter says his first encounters with DJ'ing were through Masta Don from the Def Committee and DJ Whiz Kid, who took him under their wings his freshman year at Julia Richman High School in Manhattan. "Every day after school, we'd work out on the turntables," he says.

The first time he heard the music, as a freshman on his high school's basketball taxi squad, he was electrified. "I went to the lunch room one day, and they had the boom box set up, and I remember hearing with the echo effect, 'Yes yes y'all, and you don't stop, you are listening listening, to the sounds sounds of DJ Afrika Afrika, Bambataa Bataa, and the mighty mighty Zulu Zulu Nation Nation.' And I was like, 'What was that?' like, ooh, I want to be down with that."

Soon enough, he was. Everything about hip-hop was growing at an exponential pace, and Carter's DJ'ing skills were no exception. By 19, he already had his own group, Grandmaster Dee and the Devastating Two, with Carter on the turntables and two female MCs called Dimple D and Giggle G.

Around 1980, he also fell in love with the late-night broadcast of New York's preeminent radio host, Mr. Magic, on radio station WHBI. It was the only radio show in town where you could hear hip-hop, and Carter tuned in religiously. Though he didn't know it at the time, this would eventually lead to the formation of Whodini.

"Me and Jalil didn't even know Drew back then," Ecstasy says. "We had our own group, the Quadra Brothers. This would have been like '80 or '81. But we were fans of the Mr. Magic show. We recorded a little radio jingle, like a commercial bigging up his show, and Magic used to play it on the air. After that, we started working at the station — just answering phones to help out, and the first person to call in every [Saturday] night was Grandmaster Dee. He used to call in every night to check in."

Magic rented the Saturday-night graveyard slot between 2 and 4 a.m. for $75 an hour. Anybody who cared about hip-hop was glued to the radio. Carter laughs as he recalls his standard catch phrase, which was echoed through boom boxes across New York City each Saturday night. "I used to call up and say, 'Yo, what's up, Mr. Magic? This is Grandmaster Dee, and, yo, I'm checking out Mr. Magic on WHBI, 105.9. '" Although it was pure shameless self-promotion, both Jalil and Ecstasy were intrigued by his resolve. The three met and practiced together, but they didn't become a trio for a few more years.

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