DJ Muggs on 50 Years of Hip Hop & How “Rapper’s Delight” Hooked Him
DJ Muggs just released his first Soul Assassins album in over 14 years, and it was well worth the wait. Soul Assassins 3: Death Valley hails standout features from all the greats, including Ghostface Killah, Westside Gunn, Ice Cube, Freddie Gibbs, Method Man, Boldy James, Slick Rick, Devin The Dude, B-Real, Scarface, CeeLo Green, Evidence, and more.
To coincide with the project, a 35-minute film was released starring DJ Muggs and directed by auteur Jason Goldwatch. Speaking on the drop, DJ Muggs states, “You know you cannot escape death, but immortality can be attained.”
And if there’s one thing you can count on from DJ Muggs, it’s that real deal, raw, gritty, underground hip hop that we all know, love, and cherish deeply. Hailing from Queens, New York, real name Lawrence Muggerud is a DJ and producer best known for touring the world with Cypress Hill, as well as for creating his collective Soul Assassins.
We had the pleasure of speaking with DJ Muggs at his album release party at Soho Warehouse in downtown Los Angeles on the evening the project hit streaming services. Read below as we discuss his love for hip hop through the decades, how he learned to DJ, his favorite artists, and more!
Hip Hop celebrates 50 years this year, what does this mean to you? How are you celebrating?
Man, I celebrate hip hop all the time. Hip hop has given me a lot to me, I just appreciate it. I’m happy to be here and do my part man. I’m here to stretch the culture and make it bigger, bring it to people who didn’t know. To inspire people to keep it alive. Especially the kind of music I like, I’m trying to keep it alive and inspire the next generation of people.
What’s the kind of music you like?
Underground hip hop. That raw fucking shit, so we keep doing it. We show these fuckers you don’t gotta sell your soul to try to be commercial. You can do this raw shit and be successful, make money, and travel the world. Take care of your people if that’s what you’re looking for.
Does your roots in Queens make hip hop ingrained in your lifestyle?
Growing up in Queens, the feeling was there. Breakdancing was right there in the street, in the corner. They’d pull their little cardboard out, put it in the middle of the street. The shit was there, so you grew up with everything in your face. You didn’t have to search for it, it was right there. I’m talking 1978, 1979 is when I fell in love with hip hop.
Can you remember that exact moment?
The music side of it was “Rapper’s Delight.” When I heard “Rapper’s Delight,” I was blown the fuck away. The thing for me was to learn the whole fucking song. The shit’s like fucking 15 minutes. You was cool at school if you knew the whole song. This is fourth grade, I was trying to remember the whole fucking song.
Do you have a Top 5 all time artists?
Man, I’ma say five, but I probably got 50 of them. Mally Mall as a producer, Larry Smith as a producer. The Bomb Squad, EPMD as producers, and Ultramagnetic MCs.
You started DJing around 1988. What’s your favorite memory related to hip hop in the early days?
The early days of hip hop to me, the whole culture was small and raw. It wasn’t supposed to make it, we was a fad. The community was small. It was raw. I loved when it was raw and small.
How did you learn how to DJ/produce?
I listened to the radio, and I’d go to clubs to watch the DJs. There was no YouTube, there was no DJ classes. I listened to KDAY, I’d hear the scratches on the radio and try to do them. I’d go to the Casa Camino and watch Tony G. I’d be like this. [motions eyes] Just watch them, go home and try to do it. That was it.
You had to show up to places back then. You show up and shit was dangerous. I’d go to a World On Wheels, I’d go to Skateland U.S.A in Compton, it was all Bloods. World On Wheels just to watch Tony G, then I’d go to Casa Camino Real, all that shit just to see hip hop. Be around hip hop.
How did the Soul Assassins collective form?
We was all homies. I had a bunch of homies that were talented in a bunch of different ways. I got to the point where I was making careers of photographers and artists. I was giving them their first jobs. They were blowing up. They weren’t coming back and helping. I’d ask them to do a job, and all of a sudden, they want to charge me this crazy fucking rate, especially after I set their career off.
At that point I said you know what, fuck y’all. I’ll just hire my friends and we’re going to build our own fucking economy within ourselves. This is where Estevan [Oriol], Cartoon, Cypress Hill [came in].
Wildest memory touring with Cypress Hill?
We used to go and look for ticket bootleggers, and beat their ass. It was ‘92, we’d go on tour. It was a Soul Assassins tour. We get to the venue early. Right before the show would start, it’d be two hours. We’d go look for bootleggers, we beat their ass and we take everything they had. That was it. We’d be like, “Y’all ready?!” Me and Estevan especially. Sometimes it’d be four of us, sometimes it’d be me and Estevan. We’d take all the bootleggers’ shit and give it away.
Aside from your days with Cypress Hill, you made music with legends like GZA, House of Pain, and Janet Jackson. What’s your favorite collaboration?
All the collaborations are special because everybody brings a different energy. You learn something different from everybody, so I try to enjoy everything for the moment that I’m in.
What did it mean to have Dr. Dre show your daughter a few tricks?
Oh it was amazing. Dre’s the coolest motherfucker ever. Motherfucker’s in the studio every day, working his ass off. To be a billionaire, to be so humble and to still have a work ethic of a man who hasn’t made it yet, it’s mad super inspiring.
What is your setup?
Two turntables and a mixer, and a microphone. [sings] Two turntables and a microphone.
How do you prepare for a show?
Couple shots of tequila.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Work hard. Work hard, study, and always be a student. Always keep learning and stay uncomfortable. Don’t think you know it all, you’re good. If you think you know everything you know now, find something you don’t know. Learn that because you gotta always stay uncomfortable. Otherwise, you become obsolete man, once you think you’ve made it. So keep fucking going.
About the Writer
Shirley Ju is a Los Angeles-based journalist and on-camera host with her own show called Shirley’s Temple (with a focus on mental health). She lives, breathes, and sleeps music, and if there’s a show in LA, you can find her there. Born in the Bay Area, the Hyphy movement is in her blood. Shirley contributes to several publications and also does interviews for VLAD TV. Follow her at @shirju on both Instagram and Twitter.