Battle of the DJs: DJ Baby J’s Picture Book Takes a Nostalgic Look Back at NYC’s Old-School DJ Scene.
Like a lot of jocks, Victor “Baby J” Rodriguez got bitten by the DJ bug as an early teen. Properly inspired by a much older jock spinning a New York City college party in 1973, the Queens-based DJ Baby J pursued an eventful career doing mobile and club work – DJing and promoting – that brought plenty of genuine highlights.
Unlike a lot of DJs, however, he kept everything… every promo poster, every contract, every business card, every Polaroid picture, every newspaper clipping, every single memento. And lucky for us, he’s collected it all in his eye-opening picture book, From My Bedroom To Broadway: Battle of The DJs, 1973-1984.
In this self-published effort, he reveals his personal journey, while also showing (via his impressive collection) New York City’s nascent street-DJ scene of the ’70s and, later, the club and hip-hop cultures it spawned in the ’80s.
If you have any appreciation for the history of the DJ, you won’t be disappointed. This book delivers a trip back in time when party jocks’ primitive set-ups might have included belt-drive turntables placed on their very own shipping boxes, wildly mismatched loudspeakers, boat-anchor amplifiers, and lots and lots of wires.
Of course, the book’s visual trip through that era also offers plenty of polyester disco shirts, blocky platform shoes, floppy tennis hats, colorful dashikis, and personalized, iron-on t-shirts, not to mention some serious Afros and braids.
But what’s most fun is spying all the home-made posters and crackly pictures of the DJ crews big and small, as they announced their battles in rec centers, parks, roller rinks, and other impromptu venues. As DJ Baby J added party-promotion to his range of talents, the opportunities got even juicier, so the book includes pictures and flyers from some of the day’s notables and soon-to-be stars – people with whom DJ Baby J crossed paths, promoted events, or shared a stage.
They include New York DJ legends like Eddie Cheeba, DJ Hollywood, Pete DJ Jones, Grandmaster Flowers, DJ Starski, Grandmaster Flash, the Disco Twins, Mr. Magic, Jam Master Jay, Marley Marl, and Dr. Bob Lee. Plus, he promoted early shows from New Edition, Kurtis Blow, Cold Crush Brothers, Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force, Man Parrish, Whodini, Force MDs, and Shannon. All those related career keepsakes – even receipts for two New Edition shows from Norby Walters Associates – fill this 247-page book.
We caught up with DJ Baby J, 62, at one of his book’s recent press events at a restaurant/bar in Astoria, Queens, where he spun music, held court, played a slide-show, and introduced several of the people featured in the book. Check it out – it’s a real kick.
DJ LIFE: Explain the Battle of the DJs book – the concept inside the book and the book itself.
Baby J: From My Bedroom To Broadway: Battle of The DJs represents my origin story in pictures. The book features hundreds of rare photographs, flyers, and other material. It traces my journey as a mobile DJ and party promoter in New York City from 1973 to 1984.
DJ LIFE: You highlight so many parts of the DJ culture – parties in parks, rec centers, rented halls, clubs, skating centers, etc. DJing in the ‘70s especially was a very do-it-yourself endeavor. You really had to want to make it all happen, right? What gave you the bug to get out there and DJ, then eventually throw parties?
Baby J: I caught the bug in November 1973 when I observed Jose “DJ Mr. J” Torres from The Bronx spinning at Marymount College. He inspired me to become a DJ and party promoter at the age of 13, and now in 2023 I am celebrating 50 years as a professional DJ and party promoter. When I started in 1973 at the age of 13, everything was new to me. I loved all types of music, and I fit in everywhere we went to play.
DJ LIFE: What were your jams when you started? What sounds and artists lit up your dancefloors in, say, 1974?
Baby J: My jams included many different genres – soul, funk, Latin, salsa, disco and lots of slow jams. We were playing James Brown, Barry White, the Isley Brothers, and Fania All Stars.
DJ LIFE: Where did you DJ and when?
Baby J: The book includes dozens of locations throughout Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Tarrytown that I played from 1973 to 1984… community centers, parks, dead-end streets, schools, bars, and clubs.
DJ LIFE: Looking at the book, it sure seems like you kept everything… the homemade handbills, the gig posters with transit instructions, the DJ-business cards, the Polaroid pictures…
Baby J: These artifacts have a lot of sentimental value. I’m very proud that, at a very young age, I had the foresight to recognize the importance of preserving all of this important musical history.
DJ LIFE: In the book, there are a lot of DJs whose names still resonate with people in the New York DJ community – the Disco Twins, Pete DJ Jones, Flowers, DJ Hollywood, Mr. Magic. In your mind, who were the best or most influential DJs of the era and why?
Baby J: The most influential DJ of the era was Grandmaster Flowers. He was a highly skilled mixer. He had multiple sound systems, and I saw him rock many venues throughout New York City, including the Hotel Diplomat and Manhattan Center. I studied him and shared the stage with him at Turn Hall in Queens. He was Brooklyn’s finest. DJ Hollywood made a strong impression on me, too. He stepped it up with his showmanship – rhyming and cutting the hottest jams that kept the crowd rocking with him.
DJ LIFE: At a certain point, I see you started booking more hip-hop performers – Kurtis Blow, Starski, Grandmaster Flash at the Super Sperm Jam. Its poster reads: “All DJs guaranteed to appear and play.” When did hip hop start to take over the DJ scene?
Baby J: It would be impossible for me to pinpoint an exact date. I was writing graffiti from 1972 to 1974. That was an element of hip-hop. I rocked Woodside Projects Community Center from 1973 to 1977, and we had breakers called The Booty Masters. That was an element of hip-hop. I had numerous MCs as a part of my set throughout the ’70s – that was an element of hip-hop. As I recall, the elements of hip-hop were always a part of my lifestyle growing up as a teenager in New York City.
DJ LIFE: What was your first DJ set-up? Can you remember the brands and model numbers?
Baby J: My first DJ set-up was the Meteor Clubman mixer, two Pioneer PL-112D turntables, one Dynaco pre-amp, one Dynaco 400 amplifier, and two Cerwin-Vega midrange speakers.
DJ LIFE: From the other crews that you saw back in the day, can you give us a couple of examples of the DJ gear and sound systems they put out there?
Baby J: The other DJs put out Technics 1200 and 1100A, Thorens, Pioneer, and Garrard turntables; JVC, GLI, Cerwin-Vega, Sony, Altec Lasing, JBL, and Yamaha speakers; MPS, Dynaco, Crown, Phase Liner, BGW, and McIntosh amplifiers; Club One, Sony, GLI, Bozak, and Realistic by Radio Shack mixers.
DJ LIFE: What was it like shopping for DJ gear and sound gear back then? Some of it was done in Canal Street-type hi-fi stores, right?
Baby J: In the early days, when I first started DJing, my set-up was unsophisticated. When I was able to afford it, I bought my first professional DJ gear and sound gear at an electronics shop on the corner of Steinway and Broadway in Astoria, Queens. Some of the popular stores to shop for DJ gear and sound gear at the time were Crazy Eddie, Sam Ash, and AST.
DJ LIFE: And, in the beginning, you were rocking belt-drive turntables, right?
Baby J: In the early years, right, I couldn’t afford direct-drive turntables. I was only able to afford belt-drive turntables, but I didn’t know the difference. I had to spend thousands of hours practicing on belt-drive turntables, but I got it right and they worked very well for me.
DJ LIFE: Playing mobiles back in the day was really “playing mobiles.” I heard you tell some crazy stories about getting your gear to gigs…
Baby J: Yeah, in the 1970s, we would do whatever it took to get our gear to the gig. If transportation wasn’t available, I would load my setup onto a shopping cart and push it along 31st Avenue – from Woodside Projects to St. Gabriel’s or 127 Park in East Elmhurst or wherever I was playing.
DJ LIFE: When you were throwing parties, what was your process? How did you go about it?
Baby J: I can’t reveal the recipe to my secret sauce, but as resident DJ and party promoter at USA Roller Rink in Jackson Heights, Queens, my formula was so successful that I was asked to become the resident DJ and party promoter at the legendary Roseland Ballroom in midtown Manhattan – and we had a very successful run. There were so many great parties – hundreds, if not thousands!
DJ LIFE: Any less-than-memorable events?
Baby J: I’ve been fortunate that none of my events from 1973 to 1984 were a disaster. There were incidents that occurred during my time at Roseland, but that will be covered in my next book. It will focus on my time as resident DJ and party promoter at the legendary Roseland Ballroom in midtown Manhattan from 1984-1990.
DJ LIFE: Where did you buy your records?
Baby J: I got my records from Steinway Records, Saratoga Records, Downtown Records, Record Mart, Rock and Soul, and Vinyl Mania, among other spots in New York City.
DJ LIFE: Did you pick up any free gear during the NYC blackout in the summer of 1977? Lotsa legendary stories about that…
Baby J: No, I stayed at home in Woodside Projects.
DJ LIFE: Was there any beef between the different NYC boroughs and their DJs, like it was for the MCs later?
Baby J: I can only speak about my own experience. I never had any beef. I was based in Woodside Projects, Queens, and I was able to travel to all five boroughs with my crew to play. In the early days, DJ battles were all about the party. We did it for the love of the music. It was never any beef. I was embraced by other projects and I was embraced in other neighborhoods. I battled Cousin Bruce & The Sound Masters in Queensbridge Projects. I battled Frankie D from Marcy Projects at the Eclipse Roller Disco on Atlantic Avenue deep in Brooklyn. I battled DJ Donald D and his crew uptown Harlem at the Renaissance Ballroom. You can see the flyers and my trophies from these battles in the book.
DJ LIFE: Are you surprised that hip hop grew to get as big as it got?
Baby J: No, I’m not surprised that hip hop grew to get as big as it got. I always knew it would eventually explode, all the way back when I was hanging out with Mr. Magic – aka John Rivas – at WHBI. Magic was the inventor of hip-hop radio. He created the very first hip-hop radio show in 1979 on WHBI in New York. You can see several photographs of Magic in the book, including a shot of us at the original WHBI studios on 80th Street and West End Avenue.
DJ LIFE: Are you still DJing? Tell me about what you’re up to now.
Baby J: I’m based in the Lehigh Valley, Pa., and I’m still in New York on a regular basis. I still play parties that run the gamut – clubs, private parties, roller-skating rinks, bowling alleys, etc. For the mobiles, I don’t promote heavily on social media. I’ve worked in radio and television in Pennsylvania for the past 33 years, so I have a well-established clientele. The name of my company is Baby J Productions, Inc.
DJ LIFE: What kind of gear are you using these days?
Baby J: I’m using Crown and Peavey amps, Cerwin-Vega, JBL and Peavey speakers, Numark and Rane mixers.
DJ LIFE: You told me about the book when we met at DJX last year and it’s great to see that it’s finally available. What do you learn at the show each year? What keeps bringing you back?
Baby J: Each year at DJ Expo, there’s always something new that I enjoy learning about. I’ve seen a lot of changes throughout the years, and I’m always fascinated watching the new generation of DJs do their thing. That’s what brings me back year after year. I’ve been attending for over 30 years and I plan to keep coming back.
If you’re interested in “From My Bedroom To Broadway: Battle of The DJs, 1973-1984” – and we recommend it highly – it is a limited edition, but still available at presstime. For domestic orders, send $60 (which includes shipping and handling) via Zelle or Venmo to firstname.lastname@example.org.