by Lance Scott Walker
Carlos “DJ Styles” Garza is a Houston legend on many fronts. As a longtime employee of Soundwaves on South Main, he helped transform the store’s hip-hop section into a hub for Houston’s rap community, and it was there that he helped connect fellow employee DJ Premier with the legendary rap group Gang Starr. Most notably, he was one of the main producers working with Odd Squad (Devin the Dude, Jugg Mugg, Rob Quest) on their 1994 debut Fadanuf Fa Erybody!! But now he has bigger plans.
What are you working on musically these days?
Well, I do a lot of production with Blind Rob — Rob Quest of the Coughee Brothaz. Right now, we’re trying to revamp his whole catalog and web site, all the social media. The other thing is going to be a recording studio/mastering lab/mixing and mastering school that we’re building right here in Third Ward. We’re just about done with one of the rooms, and as soon as we get that room done we’re gonna move in and then gradually start building the other rooms.
Just work out of one for now.
You’ve been in studios — those things are not cheap! They’re very expensive. And most of the stuff we’re doing is out of pocket. Banks aren’t really jumping up for joy to give money to build a recording studio. Unless you’re a major label, major artist, and even then they would probably still have problems building something this size. It’s two stories, and we’re gonna make it into a three-story building once it’s all said and done.
That’s a great resource for Third Ward.
Yeah! It’s a couple of blocks down the street from Music World, so literally right in the heart of Third Ward, on Live Oak and Gray. You can see the skyline from the back of the building. It’s that close to Downtown. I told the guys, “Watch — this is going to be the spot to go to. It’s so central. Not only that, but what we’re bringing to the table —nobody’s got what we got.”
That neighborhood could always use more community building, community resources.
Well, that’s the thing. I mean, back in the day it was fucked up. Prostitutes, drug dealers … now it’s literally desolate. Nothing but blocks of just … everything’s been knocked down. Empty lots. So what they’re building over there now is townhomes, luxury apartments, condos and even to this day, every time we’re out there working, somebody comes by, “Hey, man — you guys wanna sell that building?” “No!” It’s prime location now, man. People are wanting to buy, and they’re starting to build — like on our block, they’re already starting to build some townhomes right there on the corner. So eventually that whole block is probably going to be nothing but condos and luxury apartments.
It’s so crazy the way that developers have picked away at that neighborhood. You drive through there and you remember how rough it used to be and now it’s just block after block of these condos. It looks like Midtown.
It’s just desolate, and the police station is just right up the street. You go up the street, you gotta look out. They’ll fucking rob you. So it’s not all gone, but it is a lot better than it used to be, and then just the community is just starting to build. Part of the community, of course, other developers and stuff will come in and buy out homes, or they’re getting with the city, and it’s unfortunate, because you want the community of Third Ward to come together, but a lot of times, they’re just … the people that own these properties, man … they’re elderly, they’re sick and they’re behind on their taxes. So you know the city is, man, they just fuckin’ take over. And sell it to these developers. And that’s the only thing that most of the people that I know from there, they don’t like that, but what are you gonna do? You’re fighting a fight that you’re not gonna win. Eventually, the kids — the taxes are so high that they can’t pay ’em.
What were you producing before you got with Odd Squad? You were active in the ’80s, right?
Well, this is how it kinda went down — I originally, like most people from that era, Sugar Hill Gang was my first … when I first heard that, that was the song like, “What was that?” I think I was in elementary school, and a friend of mine played that song for me on a tape recorder. He had brought a portable one to school. From that one song, it just opened up a whole — I just wanted more! I wanted to know what it was. I had never heard anything like that. But when I heard it, I remember … I came from nothin’ but Mexican music. You know, corridos and stuff like that, you know straight-up Mexican stuff. That’s all I heard! That’s all my dad played. I didn’t really listen to the radio that much.
What kind of Mexican stuff? Like Conjunto, Tejano?
Yeah, but no Tejano. My dad was heavy into the corridos from Mexico. He was actually friends with Cornelio Reyna. He grew up with him, and so I remember him playing that. The only black music that I do remember my dad played was Chubby Checker. And of course Elvis — he loved Elvis. In his record collection he had some big band stuff. I don’t know if that was his, like he actually bought it, but it was in his collection. And a lot of Mexican music. You know, so goin’ from that to this hip-hop stuff, it just like … blew me away, dude!
Jumped out at you.
Yeah, and from that day, man, I just wanted more and more. And that’s kinda what got me going with the hip-hop stuff. So after that comes the breakdancing and the graffiti. Because ever since I heard that song, I would religiously listen to the radio because I wanted to hear that song again. I was listening to Lester “Sir” Pace on KTSU.
Yeah! And at the time, I didn’t really know them. Later on, I met them, but it was Lester Pace, Luscious Ice and King Tee.
King Tee was in that early version?
Yeah, when they used to play out of that KTSU, and that’s kinda where it grew even more. And then from there, the next stage into hip-hop was when I saw Beat Street and Breakin’. That took it over the edge, man. I mean, if I was blown away by “Rappers Delight,” Beat Street … I loved Breakin’, but I think Beat Street … I can’t remember which came first.
They came out like a month apart. Breakin’ was actually first, but Beat Street was my favorite, too.
I mean, I was done. My life was hip-hop after that. It was everything to do with hip-hop.
All the elements [of hip-hop] were kinda still together, then, too.
Yeah! And of course rap was it then. That’s all I was listening to, and then I got into the graffiti thing. I never really did tag anything big, but I did do a lot of graffiti. I did do a handful of things, but other guys that I met … this one guy named Bird who was from New York, and when I saw his stuff, I was like, “Man, fuck this. I can’t beat that.” I would still do it, but there was no way, man.
What name did you use?
Pacemaster. Pace! That was my tag name and my breakin’ name, so that’s what I went by.
Were you ever “Pacemaster” as a producer?
No, no. The next thing that evolved from that was DJing. You know, because we had a DJ when I used to break. It was a group of us from my neighborhood. I grew up right there on Old Spanish Trail and 288, that neighborhood right there. And so the group of us from there were breakdancing all up and down OST, man. All those clubs — Turning Point, Club Escapade. I mean literally every club, dude. We’d go in there, they’d just throw money at us.
So what would you do? Did you have a scheduled performance or would you just show up somewhere and break?
Nah! We would just show up and they were happy to see us, man. We would just tell the owner, “Hey — we wanna dance.” And they’d give us 10 or 15 minutes and they loved it.
Yeah! And how many of you were there?
Actually, believe it or not … well, you probably will know. The only famous one, I guess, from Houston was Big Mello. He at one time was part of the group, I think when … I know it was me, my brother, Big Mello … it was like 6 or 7 of us along with the DJ.
What was the name of the crew?
The Dynamic Crew.
And did Curtis go by “Big Mello” as a dancer?
Yeah! He was always Big Mello, or “Mello.” He always went by that. Man, that guy was multi-talented.
Yeah? How was his breakin’?
Well, he wasn’t breakin’. He was poppin’. So we would pop, break … actually I was the only breakdancer. Everybody else was poppin’ and lockin’. They were more like dancers. They weren’t breakdancers. I was the only one that would like battle it out with everybody else! Everybody else would just dance. We had a great time, dude.
So what year are you talking about right there … ’84, ’85?
Yeah … ’84?
That’s really when breakin’ was going nationwide.
I’ll put it this way: whatever year Beat Street came out, it was heavy. I mean it was only a handful of us. We all kind of knew each other, especially from that side of town, from the Southside, around ’84, ’85. Thank god they released that movie, because if it wasn’t for Beat Street, man, who knows what we would have been doing, you know?
Exactly! But isn’t that hip-hop in general, for you?
Yeah, but I guess what I’m sayin’ is that movie, man, really was a tipping point. That thing was just so amazing to me, dude. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and to find out that they had been doing it for years … that was like old school! That was old for them. I think to this day I still have posters and books and all kinds of breakdancin’ material, man. Just anything I could possibly get my hands on, man. I wanted it. Anything! I didn’t care what it was. I was in love with it.
Didn’t it kind of make you thirstier for it because it wasn’t everywhere? I mean, there was no chance of getting too much of it.
Well, it was so new.
And it trickled out.
Yeah! Like when we went to the clubs, they were totally blown away, like, “What are you kids doing?” So after that, man, you just do it once and they want you to come back. So literally that was how we made our money. That’s how we bought boomboxes and outfits — we would dance every weekend. We would go out together and save our money and buy what we needed.
Which eventually meant that you bought studio equipment.
Yeah. So from the DJing, of course …
Were you DJing already at that point?
No, well, I got to a point where I just stopped breakin’. We kinda broke up and everybody went their own way.
Did you feel like it kind of died down in Houston? Was breakin’ a short-lived thing in Houston?
It wasn’t as hot. At least in my eyes. It could have been — it was funny because it was still happening. My friend — I just met him a year or two ago, but he was with this crew called Chaos, and he was explaining to me that he did a lot of the b-boy events around that time, in the late ’80s and early ’90s. These guys were traveling the U.S., and they would hold a lot of events. So when I was kind of like getting out of it, and getting into DJing, they were still doing it. But in my mind, you know, “Ah, they’re not doin’ it no more.” When they actually were. But, yeah, that’s what made me … it didn’t interest me as much anymore.
Kind of ran its course.
So I got into DJing, and the DJ that used to come with [The Dynamic Crew] taught me how to DJ.
You were a hip-hop DJ from the beginning, then.
Yeah, and this was when I was in high school, so ’86, ’87. And once I get into something, man, I’m in it. I’m goin’ all in. So as a DJ, what’s your dream job? Working at a record store. And so that’s when the production started.
When you started working at Soundwaves?
Yeah, when I started working at Soundwaves. And that’s when I went and purchased the SP-12. I don’t know if you remember this but they used to have a place on 59 called the Drum and Keyboard Shop.
The Drum Keyboard Guitar Shop. Right off the freeway, with the big windows in front.
That’s where I bought my first SP-12, and where I went from the DJing to production. For a long time, the person who really inspired me to do it was [DJ] Premier. After a while, that’s where I met him. I met him at Soundwaves, and he let me hear his music that he had done with tapes. Like stop tapes. He had a little four-track, and he would explain to me what he had done and I was like fuckin’ blown away, man. This dude is in his bedroom with records — not even a drum machine, just records. He’s stacking all this music and then he would have an MC rap over these arrangements that he would do with his turntables! It would just blow me away, man, and that’s what made me wanna get even more into it, after being with him. And from there — to be honest with you, man, all my inspiration came from working at that record store. That’s what really initiated everything. All the different people that I met there, all the different DJs and of course wanting to know how this music was being done. And finding a lot of … starting to find records, like breakbeats. I was up on it a little bit, because the people that worked there, the older guys, like the owner, they were like, “Yeah, that’s ‘The Average White Band’ or ‘Earth, Wind & Fire.’” And in my eyes, I’m thinkin’ it’s original music! So when I would hear these samples, I was like, “That’s where he fuckin’ got that from!” You know, LL Cool J or whoever. It just fucking completely blew me away.
So making the transition from DJing into working with a drum machine, did you kind of parlay your rhythms from the DJing … you know, the rhythm that you developed DJing, did that work on the drum machine or was it a really different thing for you?
Well, you know at that time I was just kind of learning how everything worked. But, yeah, of course. My early stuff, a lot of it was sampled breakbeats and me scratching, coming up with rhythms, just experimenting. Because remember, back then we didn’t have the internet, dude. The music came from people you know that are in the business. And you know, back then it was hard, because it wasn’t very many people. There were studios here but it wasn’t like New York. Or L.A. maybe, where there was a vast amount of people like me that were into hip-hop. Where here, I remember the first time we ever went to the studio — again, I was blown away … you know where that Sears is on Main? It was right down the street from there. Not far from there.
Over by where the Maceba Theater used to be.
Yeah. I was just absorbing everything, man. I was getting information from them. Actually, it was with O.G. Style.
From Fourth Ward.
Yeah — he actually invited us to the studio, because “Catch ’Em Slippin,” I came up with that originally on my SP-1200, and if you look at the credits on the original 12-inch single, you’ll see my name on there. I didn’t get production credits, but I got “Thanks.” [laughs] And you know — I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I was just coming with rhythms. I was experimenting, and O.G. Style would come over, you know, and we would just work on ideas! And that just happened to be one of the ones that he really liked and Boss — you know, DJ Boss …
He worked with him forever.
Yeah, he ended up reworking it, and you know, the rest is history. As far as that. I never knew it was like a big deal. We liked what we did, but you know, you ask people, and it’s one of the songs that people remember. The one where he sings “Sittin’ in the Harris County Jail,” on the flipside, that’s on there, on the Rap-A-Lot version of “Catch ’Em Slippin.”
How was he to work with? O.G. Style.
He could be difficult, man. He was a little picky. He was real picky.
And you’d heard him on Kidz Jamm before that, I guess.
Yeah! I knew him. Again, it’s a Southeast/Southside, you know … all the hip-hop events, whatever they were, we were there. There was Kidz Jamm and there was an AM hip-hop station at one point. I don’t remember the name of it, but they would hold events, and we’d go to those and breakdance in events, competitions or talent shows. For sure there was gonna be some dancers. For sure there was probably gonna be a rapper there. And so, yeah, man, we were constantly on that.
And who was the first … out of all of those guys is he like one of the first Houston rappers you knew of, or did you already know about Willie D and those guys? Romeo Poet?
Yeah — well, maybe a little before that, I’m trying to remember, man … the exact dates, but I think it was probably around the same time … no, it was ’86, ’87. It had to be, but I remember I was in high school. I was still in high school, and I think maybe … I wanna say no. I actually used to see Rick Royal and Willie D battle it out. B-2 Omega. Tons of MCs at the Rhinestone Wrangler.
Anybody who was anybody came through there.
Yeah. So I remember Willie D. Like I said, I remember Rick Royal. I remember B-2 Omega. Those three. Distinctly, clearly. I remember those names. I remember seeing them battle it out. Those guys were there that would always be on top. Willie D was like Number 1. His energy — I mean, you see how aggressive he is, and back then he was just as aggressive. I remember he won the competition, and I remember … I don’t know if he broke his arm or something. I don’t know. He had a cast on, and even with his cast on, he went up there and he ripped it. He was killin’ people, man. With a broken arm. They were the first ones that I saw, and then shortly after that, that’s when I met O.G. Style. I met a lot of them, man! At the record store.
Is that where they would buy everything?
Lemme say, dude … I made that store, dude.
Did they have hip-hop before you?
No. I mean, there was like a tiny little section, and it was all mixed in with the rest of the R&B. So what I did, I put it separately, and then I started makin’ it bigger, because they gave me permission to order more hip-hop. And that’s what I did. But before that, this was the Soundwaves on South Main … That’s where I met Premier. I actually helped him get a job there. He used to drive — man, that dude was crazy — he used to drive from Prairie View to Houston every day to come to work at that record store. But hey, man — we were DJs, you know?
Wow, that’s what … an hour and a half?
Coming and going. So, yeah, that was pretty amazing. When he worked there — man, you have no idea how much fun we had.
Curating a spot for the city.
Well, and Premier would go to New York, and call me and go, “Yo — this is hot!” Like I remember him telling me about YZ. I brought that here.
Oh, yeah — his grandfather, I think, lived in New York.
Yeah — and he was real good friends with B-2 Omega. I mean, I broke a lot of records, dude. A lot. Because nobody in the city was ordering like I was ordering. I had free reign of whatever. I would call them! I remember talking to Nat Robinson from First Priority. MC Lyte. Audio Two. I talked to them guys, and they were independents before they got their deals. I used to talk to Aaron Fuchs, president and owner of Tuff City. I used to talk to people from Tommy Boy directly. This was back when you could call, “Hey, how you doin’. I’d like to order …” you know, over the phone! I had conversations with a lot of those guys, man. Tons. It was fucking fun, dude. I enjoyed it.
That stuff wasn’t coming in to the Houston market otherwise. Nobody else was ordering it.
Yeah! And of course we were selling so much, other people started opening up shops. But I tell you, they couldn’t touch us, man. They couldn’t touch us. Southwest Wholesale — we had a really close relationship with the owner, so I could literally just walk up and just get what I wanted. Everybody couldn’t do that. And the other part was again I literally could order any hip-hop that I wanted. Anything. Including, the most important part of the whole thing was the independent stuff. From New York.
Which there was a lot of at that point.
Oh, man. Looking back now, doing my research, I missed a lot of good records because some of it was very obscure. And some of them ended up going major, but I just didn’t know about it. There was tons. If you go and do your research, I’m sure it was thousands. Because it wasn’t just New York. It was New York, it was Philly, it was the whole East Coast, man. They had labels coming up and 12-inch singles poppin’ left and right.
Did that mean that you were seeking out local Houston labels, too?
Man, I’ll be honest — I was kind of biased. I was like, “Fuck everybody. I’m New York.” Even though I wasn’t from there, I was up on just straight up in love with New York culture. Just that whole New York vibe, man. And I’ll be honest, the one person that broke me out of that was Premier. He’s like, “You gotta fuckin’ listen to the [Houston] records. At least listen to the records, man.” And that’s what I started doin’. I remember Jive called me and said, “What’s going on with this ‘Tell Me Something Good?’ Who is UGK?” And man, we were sellin’ fuckin’ tons of them. This was when they were out the trunk. Scarface. Lil’ Troy. I remember Bido — the producer for Scarface …
Coming in and giving me a 45 of the very first Scarface. 45. Not the 12-inch. But before Lil’ Troy …
When [Scarface] was DJ Akshen.
I’ve heard that song, man. I played it on my radio show a while back. It’s really primitive.
Very! And Def Jam Blaster — Scarface and Blaster were in a group. Between me and him, we think we’re the only two that actually have that 45.
Well, I’ll tell you this — the clip of that song I got, I got from him. I didn’t ever see it anywhere else.
Yeah, there just wasn’t very many. I was gonna donate it to U of H. I donated a lot of my hip-hop fliers and Odd Squad stuff.
Good on you, man. That’s so important that [University of Houston Library is] doing that.
And why not let other people see it?
Exactly. Your name is still attached to it. You can always visit it.
Yeah, yeah! Exactly. I can always … so, it’s safer there. It’ll be there way after I’m gone. It’s in a climate-controlled area and it’s U of H. I don’t think that school is going anywhere. We’re all going to be long gone and that school will still be there. My whole thing right now is to definitely preserve the history, because we did so much, man. The Houston market ruled — we were Number 1 in sales. Like we would buy the most rap. We built empires, dude. If it wasn’t for the South — Def Jam and all them East Coast labels — we were financin’ that shit. We were buyin’ that shit up like crazy. If you ever look in the back of albums at the “Thank Yous,” a lot of times, the one name that always came up was Steve Fournier. He did a lot for not only Houston, but nationwide, dude. He broke EPMD, Mantronix. Look — his name’s on there! There’s a reason why his name’s on there. And he’s from Houston. So I’ma tell you: between Steve Fournier, and Captain Jack, and R.P. Cola, those three guys were like … the three guys that did it. They fuckin’ walked it, they talked it, 24-hour hip-hop … only radio station in the nation that played nothing but hip-hop. Just like when Steve Fournier was saying in Maco’s [Faniel] book, [the rap industry] kind of dissed us, man. They would ignore us, even though we were buying the shit out of the music. For some reason they thought we were all cowboy hats and boots and shit. Horses. And that was far from the truth, man.
Follow Carlos on Twitter: @Carlos4Beats