Around the same time I was doing all this I was still messing with DJing in a serious way, I was always serious about it, but this time in a way and in essence, DJing really did save my life because if I wasn't DJing I probably would have been fucking around and getting in trouble and would have probably gotten shot. So I went back to school, taking accelerated classes and all and ended up graduating earlier than my contemporaries. When the kids my age were starting 12th grade I started freshman year at CCP (AKA 13th grade!) and was going to do that for a couple semesters and then transfer to Temple.
The Biography of DJ Cosmo Baker
Okay I'm Cosmo Baker - that's my real name. I started DJing house parties in Philly in the late 80s. My mom had a skateboard store during the 80s and that kind of put me at the epicenter of everything that was "happening" in the city. I met a ton of people, many of whom I'm still friends with. But it was during this time (1985) that I really started getting heavy into music. My big sister was a pretty big hardcore head - that OG early 80s Philly scene. My thing was more like hip-hop though, obviously! Anyway, the skateboard shop was called Spikes Skates and it was originally on the second floor of my “uncle's” sporting goods store, Mitchell & Ness. Peter eventually gave me my first real job at the store, right about the same time he started making the throwbacks.
So then high school started and right about the same time I started writing graffiti - something I had been interested in since like 1981 but then I actually started writing. By the summer of 1992 and was like fully focused, and I threw myself into that with a fervor that was kind of unmatched at the time. I mean I was "up" before but I REALLY got up now. Around the same time my friend Steve was making this magazine called On The Go and I started writing for it. I had a little column called "Digging In The Crates" where I reviewed old school funk records. Steve I knew from graffiti and was and is a dear friend of mine. Around the same time I linked up with Ari Forman who was a friend that my mom employed at the skate shop. Anyway, Ari and Steve eventually made On The Go this legendary magazine, and through it years later I met the one and only DJ Ayres.
Around the same time I was doing all this I was still messing with DJing in a serious way, I was always serious about it, but this time in a way and in essence, DJing really did save my life because if I wasn't DJing I probably would have been fucking around and getting in trouble and would have probably gotten shot. So I went back to school, taking accelerated classes and all and ended up graduating earlier than my contemporaries. When the kids my age were starting 12th grade I started freshman year at CCP (AKA 13th grade!) and was going to do that for a couple semesters and then transfer to Temple. This is 92 I think, I might have the years mixed up but I think so. Anyway, it was there I ran into my dude Murf who I knew from the Spikes Skates and he introduced me to his peoples Bubski and Bub-Geez and we made a rap group. I got my hands on a Gemini sampler and made a loop from Ohio Players "Pain" where I scratched the horn break from Sly & The Family Stone’s “Sing A Simple Song” and the vocal into from “Stop That Train” from the Harder They Come Soundtrack, and we had our record, which we performed at the CCP talent show. It was our one and only song "A Day In The Life Of A Black Man."
Now while this was all going on, I was spinning in nightclubs in Philly. I had already started to do one-offs at Silk City. Also, I had already been a resident DJ at Revival, Philly's biggest and most decadent after hours club. I remember walking up the door there for the first time, only 17 years old, and the huge bouncers like "Kid what the fuck you dong here?" and I was like "Um, I'm supposed to be DJing" and they were like "Yeah yeah yeah whateva!" But then that night I was dropping all this Roy Ayres and Al Green on the heads and folks were like WHAT and yeah, so I ended up getting my residency there. Bear in mind that hip-hop was NOT getting play at downtown clubs like that when I came in, so with me being this young dude playing all the hip-hop at the club was definitely a different thing.
Also around the same time, I ended up getting another residency at Sugarcube. I befriended my man DJ Storm and he had me as his Friday and Saturday night opener and closer at the spot. I was spinning alongside my dudes D Square, DJ Hardrock and Cool DJ Frank. This was kind of like the Bobby Dance scene, meaning young kids. So it was cool. But the thing about this was that on Sunday nights, Storm would spin house music over at The Nile at 13th and Walnut. This was a gay club, 99% black, and it was off the hook. This was at the HEIGHT of all the voguing and all the "houses" and shit. I didn't care that dudes were gay cause I was just all about going and checking Storm spin and seeing DJs like Sean Jodi-Diaz and Donald Stone and DJ Paulie, real cats that got fucking BUSY! That was the fucking SCENE. For real that was so like you'll never know. I got to witness all the walking battles and all that, like the shit straight out of Paris Is Burning (I assume, because I never saw that film but I heard of it. RIP Willie Ninja.) ANYWAY, it was at The Nile that I first heard dudes play Baltimore Club. Storm was one of the first. Then, Storm and I started to incorporate that sound into our Saturday night party at Sugarcube, playing Baltimore for the hip-hop heads. We eventually moved the Sugarcube from its original location of 20th and Chestnut to its new location at 13th and Walnut, a place called The Fever. I stayed on for the Friday nights but then got a new residency at Silk City.
Now I was telling you about my friendship with Espo and also about Revival and Silk City. Well King Britt was a pretty well established DJ in Philly when I started and I idolized the dude. I mean he was just so on point with the sound of type of shit I was into. I first met the cat at the Odunde Festival. Espo and I were digging for records at this one stall and I pulled out a copy of Cymande's Self Titled album to give to him. King was like right next to us and was like "Oh shit. Yo, who are you guys, are you from New York?" And we were like "Nah we're from Philly" which I think threw him for a loop because I just don't think he thought there were other cats out there like that. So anyway, we kind of kept in touch, and I would always go check out his nights even though I was too young to get in (I was always too young to get in to all the spots I would go to. I was too young to DJ in most of the spots I played at.) So King used to come check me out at Revival and we got to rapping and it was through there I met and became friends with all the Philly dudes who I ended up working with at that time like King and Dozia, Josh Wink, Blake, that whole scene that had downtown Philly on LOCK. King then asked me to do a guest spot at his party at Silk City called Back 2 Basics. This party was THE SHIT. It was kind of like Philly's version of Giant Step but a lot more raw and not as contrived and pretentious (by this time I was traveling up to New York to check out the scene.) King once asked me about ho much money I was making at Revival and I told him they were paying me $35 a night and he was beside himself, telling me that I was worth a lot more, and to come spin with him at his party. So anyway, after like 2 or 3 guest spots at Back 2 Basics, I rocked the house so hard that they asked me to come on as a resident. This was equal to being "made."
Now here's where I tie it all in, and paint the picture of what it was like. Now this was like 1993 or so. I was doing the graffiti thing, involved with Espo, Ari, and also Kenny Meez. Meez and I started DJing around the same time. As a side note, I became real cool with this Jamaican cat named Pedro Gunn who had a nightclub and soundsystem in Germantown, then South Street, then back in Germantown. I was real into dancehall and reggae and he put me on as a member of his soundsystem (I used the name "Selektor C" haha!) and would rock the reggae parties in Germantown and shit. When Pedro brought his shop and venue down to South Street, it was around then I think that Meez started getting real into the reggae sound. Good times. Anyway, there was that crew I was running with, that was tied into the Back 2 Basics crew that I was down with. The B2B crew was also down with Philly's first real "hip-hop shop" which was called The Lay-Up. The Lay-Up was owned by a bunch of cats: Aalim, who was the Harlem mixtape connect. Tramp & Hayz, who were also artists and graphic designers, who ended up doing that "A View From The Underground" comic in The Source and that "Channel Zero" cartoon on MTV. There was Rob-O who ended up being a pretty important designer for Ecko and now Nike. There was Keith who is now the tour manager for The Roots, and there was Jon who I'm not sure what is doing now. Anyway, those dudes were the owners of the shop, which was also like a great place to hang and really was like the "community" spot where everything happened and people met. I was a kid who hung and also DJed at The Lay-Up and then they asked me to manage the store, so I became the manager of the spot. It was a cool position to have. So I guess you can see how all three of these scenes that I was involved in came together.
At the time of The Lay-Up I was running with The Gods in Philly. They were just my dudes you know. This is pretty much like the whole Roots crew. Those dudes started as just cats that came by The Lay-Up and started to play on the sidewalk. They called themselves The Square Roots and were dope. We all knew from the door that they were going to be big. But back then it was just like a bunch of friend just hanging out. They would play their thing then we would all smoke blunts and drink 40s. I would also spin house parties with the cats, at spots like Dell's God House in North Philly and The Mecca Rest in South Philly. It was pretty cool. I would also spin at some of the first real performance that they did, at like the Nirvana Fitness Center and spots like that, Atlas parties and shit. "Only a few understand what I'm talking about" to quote Blastmaster.
By the end of 1994, t guys from The Lay-Up were all moving on to their individual endeavors, all being rather successful, but the store itself was closing down. The Roots had signed a deal with Talking Loud out of the UK and were close to solidifying their deal with Geffen. Espo and Ari had moved to New York to turn the magazine (and ultimately the marketing firm) big time. So I did what any self-respecting person would do - I pulled up my tent stakes and hightailed it to Brooklyn. By November 1994 I was living in Williamsburg with no job, no prospects, no gigs and an unsure future. I had to leave the B2B thing because of New York, and I ended up moving into an apartment with one of my oldest friends, Jon Creamer. Jon's a pretty famous DJ now, maybe the most famous DJ I know with. Jon lived with my mom and I a few years earlier, and during that time I taught him how to DJ. He then moved to New York and ended up working at Eightball Records. Also living in the apartment were my good friends Konrad and Max Glazer. All four of us ended up working at Eightball Records - both the shop and the label. I started DJing out a lot in the downtown scene. I had this party that was like legendary at this place Den Of Thieves. It was now 1995 and it was right before Giuliani Rules came down on New York, so it was like one of the last real popping times in New York. So I was doing the downtown circuit pretty big during this time, with other cats that were making happen on this scene were Max, Mark Ronson had just came out, Stretch Armstrong, Mighty Mi, Chillfreeze. More I'm sure, I forget. Downtown NY was fucking incredible. But then Giuliani fucked it all up.
So While I was doing the downtown hip-hop/soul thing I was also doing the New York house thing as well. Working at Eightball, they had me working with dudes like Junior Vasquez, David Morales, Troy Parrish, Ted Patterson. When I worked in the store I would have to help pick records out for these guys for them to play in their sets. We also had a dub cutting lathe in the back of the Eighball studio, this is before people played CDs. You used to have to actually CUT the acetate hahah!! Anyway, I used to to do shit like go to Sound Factory Bar on a Wednesday and present Lil Louie Vega with the new dub of "whatever" we had. It was pretty dope. It was through this that I got a chance to start playing house at a lot of these places, getting the chance to open up for dudes like Frankie Knuckles and Danny Tenaglia. A real honor no doubt. I also started recording stuff for Eightball, getting involved with some of the Butter Foundation stuff on the acid jazz tip, with Jon and my man Jared. We came out with a few records. I recorded a house mix CD for Eightball, and started into producing house records, but then I moved back to Philly at the beginning of 1996.
I went back to attending college at Temple (I had left in the middle of it to move to New York.) I was doing the school thing, and not really DJing much. I started working at Armands Records and that was cool because at this time indie hip-hop was REALLY bubbling. I was one of the buyers for the store, which is how I ended up linking with dudes at Fat Beats and Peanut Butter Wolf out at TRC in Cali. Around this same time I was doing a lot of recording with my man Jared. We had an indie lable called Illadelph Records and we were producing music for a local rapper named Munk Wit Da Funk. We also had our own rap/production crew named Militant Mindstate. We came out with a few records in the mid to late 90s, got some local airplay and international press. Late 90s we changed the name Militant Mindstate to One Way, added a few members, and came out with our full length. I was pretty happy with it and it did pretty well on a local level, nothing more than that, although by the time the CD came out my involvement was kind of limited. You see, we had been putting out 12"s for a while by then, as well as shopping beats to major labels. We straight up had a few beats JACKED by some majors and they gave them to some prominent/established artists, and that really soured things for me... but on the strength I don't want to get ahead of myself... Illadelph was like over the course or 3-4 years and I want to go back to 1996/1997.
So as I was saying, I wan't DJing much but this new club was opening up called Palmer Social Club and they wanted me to be a DJ there. I accepted and Palmer opened up. That shit was off the chain for the first year or 2. I went from DJing at Palmer 1 night a week to like 5-6 night a week. Making mad cheddar, doing it big. I was still working at Armands too AND doing school so you know I was on the grindstone. About a year after Palmer opened, a bartender approached me about doing a party at a new club that was opening up at the old Xero space off South Street. I told dude yeah I would love to do it and chose Monday nights to make my spot. The club opened up, named Fluid, and they had a hell of a lineup. Monday was like their only hip-hop night and after a few months it was CRAZY. We’re talking like a line around the corner type shit. It was me and I would bring in guests to DJ with me. Not to sound cliché but it was like a really pure feeling event. It was home for me and for a lot of people. And yes it was hip-hop but it was also like “anything goes.” Pretty much anyone who knows my history as a DJ in Philly knows that I would be quick to pull some shit where I would mix some crazy Steely Dan in with hip-hop or some funk breaks with acapellas or Peter Gabriel mixed with reggae. I mean that’s just always been my steez. On Mondays it was like that to the highest degree, always just letting loose. I remember having Cosmic Kev booked for a Monday night and he ended up not being able to make it. However the night before I got a call from Josh Wink who was like “Yo Cos, Jane’s Addiction is playing in Philly Monday night and Goldie is opening for them. Can he come by Fluid and play a set with you?” So dig like a crazy scene of hip-hoppers and real fly drum & bass heads grooving out together to Goldie playing dubs (while I was the MC for him) and then me playing Cocoa Brothers and Gary Numan, while Val Kilmer is on the dancefloor sipping absinth and Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro and balling out at the bar. It was that kind of hip-hop night, but REAL, authentic.
The Remedy (that’s what it was called) pretty much hosted EVERYONE who was anyone. The type of place where Jazzy Jeff would be rocking the set, and Common and Black Thought would decided that they wanted to spit over doubles of “Mardi Gras.” Or like Kurrupt would be in town and decide that he wants to kick a freestyle, or DJ AM would come through and rock a set. Basically, it was real decent. This is where I ended up meeting dudes like Low Budget and Naeem – they were dudes that would come by The Remedy. At least I THINK that’s where I met Naeem at, or was it at 700 Club. Anyway, Remedy was dope. One of the few guests that I had on a regular basis was this dude was was kind of new to Philly named Rich Medina. Him and I became good friends and DJed a lot together. Then in mid 1998 I was in a car accident and almost died. I know I spoke about that before but if not that shit is up on my blog. So while I was laid up for a while, Rich ended up taking the helm of The Remedy and kept it afloat until I could get well enough to come back and work again. When I returned, Rich and I officially became partners and together we pushed The Remedy into the 21st Century.
However, with the changing of the century, things began to change, and I changed with it. The sound of hip-hop was morphing into something new and fresh and a lot of the purists weren’t really trying to hear it. People were really stuck in their ways and didn’t want to hear anything new. Like for years, one of the dominating sounds of the scene has the sound that J Dilla created. Bear in mind that I was helming the most successful “alternative” hip-hop night in Philly at the time when New Soul was at it’s prime. All those Studio dudes were huge influences on me, the whole Soulquarian scene, my dude James Poyser… between them making the music and me and Rich banging that shit out in the club, we were really pushing that shit forward. But then in like 2001 and 2002, like I said, things began to change. I was more interested in playing the sounds that like Neptunes was making. A lot of hip-hop “purists” started to really hate on me because of that. In fact one of the only dudes who really agreed with me was ?uestlove. Him and I eventually started a party together that was supposed to be about playing funk and soul but we ended up playing Neptunes and 80s music. Shit was short lived but lots of fun. So anyway, with all the hate that was kind of directed towards me I was getting real burnt out of the scene.
Around this time I started hanging out with a bunch of my old friends and got into writing graffiti again. I started spinning at the 700 club on Fridays and it became like me “whatever the fuck I want to play” spot. I would play Iggy Pop with Three Times Dope or put Pharcyde acapellas over Led Zeppelin beats. Shit was dumb fun. I know that I met a lot of people on this board from that spot. Also around this time, I met Wes. He was kind of new to the scene but I knew him from having worked with my brother at the movie theatre and my brother used to be like “I work with this cat Wes who SWEARS he knows about beats!” But Wes sure knows his beats. He became friends with Tony Tripledouble who I’ve been friends with for almost 30 years. They did AEIOU together. Also, like I knew Mike Lowbudget from The Remedy but Mike started spinning with one of my oldest and dearest friends Ralph aka. Major Taylor. They would do their thing at Silk City and all. Also we were friends with Ben Woodward and Max Laurence, who were both DJs and friends of my graffiti writing friends at Space 1026. So this kind of became this tight knit community, between Space 1026, Remedy, 700 Club, Silk City etc. It was real cool. Then Mike was going to have his birthday party one night and him and Wes rented out this spot at the Ukrainian club. That was the first Hollertronix I believe, it was Mike’s birthday party. Mike and Wes DJes and then me and Ralph came through and did like a late night guest spot at the place. I remember several of the songs that I played that night, which included Sweet “Ballroom Blitz,” Golden Earring “Radar Love” and that Black Sabbath/Nas mashup at the end, and I remember Labuda going fucking CRAZY over that thing. Anyway, those guys continued to do the Hollertronix thing semi-regularly there, and I would guest every once in a while. But for the most part, everything else in Philly was kind of dead to me. That Ukie scene was pretty fresh though, and I mean that in the literal sense of the word.
So then winter of 2003 came around and I got a gig in Paris, on Valentine’s Day. Being Valentine’s Day, I brought my girl with me. Lowbudget also came over and so did my other DJ friend John L. We did The Remedy Paris and it was pretty dope, but the thing about it was just being in such a big city inspired my girl and I to make a break for a bigger city, and we had our sights set on New York. A few months later we got the opportunity to move to an apartment in Brooklyn and we took it. By this time, I was already messing with DJ Ayres and DJ Eleven. I met Ayres briefly years ago when he worked for On The Go. Eleven and I started doing work together from having found each other on our email lists. I had both of those guys down to Philly to spin at The Remedy, and they started a party in Brooklyn called The Rub. They had me as a guest at either the 2nd or 3rd Rub, and after that they had me back pretty often as a regular. When I moved to Brooklyn in the summer of 2003, The Rub had it’s 1 year anniversary and, with me now being a “local” I joined the crew as the official 3rd member of the trio. Since then we’ve all worked really hard at combining our resources and working to make The Rub a brand name, and I think it must be working because the past 5 years have been really good for all of us involved.
Originally appeared in Cosmo Baker.