We're in the basement of Dave's Music Mine in the South Side, where the weight of the upper floors is supported by long tree trunks situated amongst collections of cassettes and vinyl. As DJ Supa C. talks, his ass balances on a row of records filed in the shelves. One row of vinyl seems to have no difficulty supporting the mass of Supa C. ... a former National Physique Committee bodybuilder ... or the weight of his formidable reputation.
"That's the whole thing about the hip-hop DJ," he says. "We're the best kind of DJ, and I say that without arrogance."
He doesn't say anything with arrogance. Even when he's talking about the poor training of new, young DJs, or about whoopin' DJ Big Phill in wrestling when they were younger. He speaks in serene and playful tones, with a smile long as the Monongahela; his personality is light, even when dispensing heavy verbiage.
The reason the hip-hop DJ trumps all others, says Supa C., is because a good hip-hop DJ can blend any musical genre with another, and still make it funky. Whereas the house DJ can really blend only house music, most of which shares a similar bass frame, and couldn't mix in, say, a Bee Gees cut without bringing the house down. It's not just one DJ's arrogance ... it's true.
Supa C.'s legend began when he was just 12 years old and out playing arenas; a year later, he opened for the historic Fresh Fest hip-hop concert. Barely out of puberty, Supa C. would battle DJs five and 10 years his senior and emerge victorious. He first got his itch to scratch watching T.K. Allen, a local DJ whom Supa C. saw doing tricks on the tables like Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money were doing on TV.
"Back then you had to make it funky and you had to make it sound good with scratching," says Supa C. "So literally every party was a performance."
But it's the "seasoning" that makes the DJ dope, he says, and very few DJs in the city have it: that transfer of energy, emitted from the DJ and distributed among the bodies on the floor. It's easy to throw on a Black Eyed Peas record to get people to wax crazy on the floor, but throw on a Steely Dan record ... at the right timing, at the right break in the beat ... and you can get people to do the same. That's the difference between the popular DJ and the "seasoned" DJ. The people aren't moving to the music; they're moving at the command of the music practitioner.
Supa C.'s seasoning led him to Blaze and The Legendary Ace Bandage, from the group People's Choice. They were a famous duo who rapped and danced when it was cool to do both. They brought in Supa C. as their DJ, and then linked with another rapper by the name of Jammy C. Mack. The Legendary Ace Bandage became Danceophrenzic Flim Flam, Blaze bounced, and the result was the renowned group Pensoulzinacup ... and a pivotal chapter in Pittsburgh hip-hop history.
Pensoulzinacup was part of a larger network called Nappy Headz, similar to what De La or Tribe were to Native Tongues. Nappy Headz was dancemaster Ian Robinson, Kibwe and B-Tree and DJ Shaun Ski. DJ Selecta was also involved, and then a rapper called the White Knight with the group Like a Dove.
"We were on that organic, natural, no-swearing vibe, just that whole total opposite of Run DMC, wearing ankhs and African symbols," says Supa C.
Pensoulzinacup never really broke up, but members began pursuing their own interests. We know Legendary Ace/Flim Flam today as Akil Essoon, from BEAM. And Jammy C. Mack ... that's Emmai Alaquiva, who runs Ya Momz House studio, in East Liberty.
Supa C. went on to college, picking up degrees in physical and recreational therapy, among many other disciplines (he also teaches tai chi, white-water rafting and rock-climbing). All the while still spinning, sweeping DJ battles throughout Pittsburgh and even winning DMC championships at the national level.
People still gawk over his legendary battle in the Pitt union with Double K, an older DJ who would talk big about how great he was and how wack all the other DJs in the area were. When Supa C. showed up unannounced, the arrogant older DJ was afraid to battle him. Supa C. won the battle by just showing up.
Revisiting it, Supa C.'s head doesn't get puffed up; he doesn't start talking shit. He just remembers all the people cheering him on as he entered the building.
"There were hundreds of people there," says Supa C. "I didn't realize that many people supported me."