Utica DJ on the birth of hip-hop

Kyle Riecker, Layout Editor

 

It was the summer of 1978 in Harlem. A new kind of music was echoing off the concrete walls and sidewalks of New York and spreading outward like a ripple. A cultural revolution was underway.

The music was hip-hop and a young Anthony Abrams, also known as DJ Tone, went to a block party that summer with his cousin Greg, DJ Shorts, his brother Trip, Mike Black, Marty and Big Doug.

The block party in Harlem on Bradhurst Avenue was packed and young Tone pushed his way closer to the stage for a better look. He noticed that the DJ was playing music by mixing back and forth between two record players.

This technique caught Tone’s interest, and when he returned home, he set to work to learn.

“I didn’t have the equipment so I took my mom’s stereo and my stereo and hooked it together by connecting my stereo to the AUX connection in the back of her stereo,” Tone said. “I started scratching the records and mixing like the DJ did. I had to put my ear to the needle to listen to when the record would start though.”

This was the humble beginning of Tone’s nearly 40-year DJ career – in his mom’s house, with a rigged up stereo system.  Soon, Tone would graduate to two turntables and a mixer.

He continued to attend block parties around New York and to listen to street DJs and rappers perform.

“The more I went, the more I learned,” Tone said.

Tone’s taste in music was influenced by the music his family played around him and at 6 years old is when he recalls taking serious interest. The first act that he remembers being drawn to was Motown’s The Jackson 5. Michael Jackson was always his idol, he said.

Tone invested a lot of time and money buying vinyl records and trying to get the latest and freshest sounds of the era.

“I was buying records every time I got money,” he said. “This is when vinyl was vinyl.”

By the start of the 1980s, Tone was playing his own block parties and all types of other events, drawing inspiration from Grandmaster Flash and The Furious 5, and other New York hip-hop groups of the time.  This is when DJs and rappers started to collaborate on LPs, which were pressed to vinyl. It marked the beginning of hip-hop’s meld into the landscape of popular culture and the record industry.

After another 20 years of DJing in the tristate area, Tone relocated to Utica. Since then, he has emerged as a sage of sorts in Utica’s hip-hop community, teaching his knowledge of beat matching and scratching to the next generation of aspiring DJs.

When speaking of the local music scene, he keeps a positive tone.

“I have completed a lot of gigs in Utica, Rome and Syracuse and all have been fun and exciting,” he said. “I feel the music scene will continue to build with the hopes of people coming together for enjoyment. I don’t see many negatives and there shouldn’t be especially when everyone in the community knows each other and grew up with each other. Any other issues people may have does not involve the hip-hop/dance scene as the media likes to make accusations toward.”

Tone’s thoughts on the current state of hip-hop are mixed.  He really is feeling music by Fetty Wap, Young M.A. and Keith Sweat.

“Otherwise, not too many out there can do the music like we use to have in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000. That (was) real music,” he said.

Tone believes hip-hop will continue to evolve over the next decade.

“I mean look at how far it has come since it’s been on wax,” he said. “Everything today is hip-hop. TV shows, commercials and clothing lines are hip-hop. It will never die as most thought it would.  We just don’t know what it will sound like within the next 10 years.”

DJ Tone can be found spinning records at his residency at the Corn Hill Fish and Game Club on Park Avenue near Oneida Square, every Friday and Saturday night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.  He has several mix CDs out for release, with genres varying from hip-hop and slow jams, to rare grooves from the 70s and 80s.

Straight on through from 1978 to 2017, DJ Tone has been working hard behind the decks, doing a job he loves and supporting the hip-hop scene.

“I will never stop DJing til the day I die,” he said.

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