“Cash, I love you, baby!”
Philadelphia-born Lisa Love can’t help making her declaration by the time our phone call with her idol-turned-latest-BFF DJ Cash Money comes to an end. Agewise, the pair is separated by a measly two-year difference—Cash, whose 50th birthday was Sunday, but is being celebrated with a huge party at Trilogy this Friday, is the elder—and both have been in the business of musical entertainment for over three decades. But there’s no doubt that without the influence of the latter, the former would not be where she is today.
Last January, Love and her More Than Music DJ Institute hosted its first namesake DJ battle, striving to underscore the importance of spinning and scratching in the city’s now-decades-old hip-hop community. To evaluate the incoming wave of contestants, she enlisted an all-star team of celebrity judges, but of the five who showed up that night, Cash was the one who “blessed [her] with his presence,” and thus sowed the seeds for what has grown into a prolific friendship.
The word “blessed” comes up a lot amid her copious helpings of praise and modesty, and more than a year and a half later, Love—who’ll be spinning before and between sets by Divers and Katie Frank and the Pheromones at Wednesday’s PW “Concerts in the Park” opener—still hasn’t shaken that starstruck feeling. She may be an accomplished DJ in her own right—holding the distinction of being the first female DJ in Philadelphia to be played on a major radio station—but she maintains that even that high an honor is nothing compared to meeting one of her heroes. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my whole entire life,” she says. “I’ve never expressed in words how happy I was.”
It’s difficult to understand how last year’s event was the first time they had been introduced, especially considering the fact that about a month ago, the two discovered that they were raised in the same Southwest Philly neighborhood and shared a few mutual friends. Of course, it wasn’t until Love relocated to upstate New York in the mid-‘80s that she really began to immerse herself in what was shaping up to be a solid outpouring of talent from back home—with acclaimed releases from Schoolly D, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and Cash Money and Marvelous fattening up the East Coast arsenal.
“New York City didn’t embrace anybody outside of New York at that time,” Cash says of the late-‘80s and early-‘90s hip-hop scene, adding that his and Jazzy Jeff’s respective victories in the NY-based New Music Seminar DJ competitions in 1987 and 1986, hyped by Lady B, helped put Philadelphia DJs—and their lingering lore—on the map. “We were the one-two punch. [Lady B] just saw something in us on that level, so I have to give her respect for that.”
Eventually, Love found she couldn’t resist the pull of her home city’s musical vista any longer, particularly in the R&B and soul scenes. When she moved back to Philly in 2000, she started to take DJing more seriously and enrolled in music production courses, cutting her teeth on the professional circuit before founding the Institute in ’07.
“I want to create a future and try to maintain a culture that Cash Money has paved the way for,” she says. “I feel a responsibility to keep that culture alive.”
Just how much has the hip-hop landscape changed since the early days? “You could go on a Saturday and a Sunday out to the [Belmont] Plateau in Philadelphia and see all of us perform and just be out there with a vibe and good music, but you don’t see that that much anymore,” Cash muses. While the Plat used to be the definitive place to scope out the up-and-comers, he says, nowadays it’s a little harder to find folks out there making it happen as other music scenes clamor for dominance.
“We have a whole lot of DJs, but we don’t have a lot of quality DJs,” Cash says, not hiding his disdain for club owners who are simply “crunching numbers” rather than exuding an honest love of music. “If you’re gonna spin, just spin from your soul.”
This philosophy certainly rang true early last month when Love commemorated the 30th anniversary of her career by serving as the highlight of a set at The Jawn, Cash’s brief residency, headlined by the man himself. “For me to have a platform to have her shine that night was a great thing for me,” Cash says. “I’ve gotten to know a lot about her [and] her passion for being a DJ. What she’s doing as far as teaching the kids and everything, it’s beautiful.”
The Institute’s website proudly boasts a YouTube video of Cash calling Love “one of the most purest people I know [in] this DJ game. You need to listen to what she has to say.” If that just happens to include non-stop lauding of one of Philly’s most globally-respected turntable pioneers, well, we’ll just call it gravy.
DJ Cash Money’s 50th Birthday Jam: Fri., Aug. 15. 10pm. $10-$20. Trilogy, 601 Spring Garden St. 215.925.5000. phillytrilogy.com
PW's Music Issue 2014