Puffy Before Puffy: The Genius of Hurby "Luv Bug" Azor
By Jay Quan
But never forget Idol Makers. The crew consisted of Salt n Pepa, Kid n Play, Sweet Tee, Dana Dane, Kwamé and Antoinette. There have been moguls and producers since recorded Rap’s inception, but none were as synonymous with both titles as the man behind Idol Makers management: Hurby “Luv Bug” Azor. The Idol Makers roster was diverse and bursting with talent that represented some of the best output from Rap’s more lighthearted, fun and innocent side. Hurby is incredibly humble and appears almost unaware when I suggest that his legacy and the legacies of his artists are under appreciated; and that many considered him more of a mogul than a hands-on producer. Hurby is an extremely private person who hasn’t given many interviews throughout the years and it was the persistence of his right-hand man and Idol Makers manager J.P. Edmund that made this conversation a reality – infinite thanks, J.P.
“My earliest Hip Hop influence is listening to tapes of Mele Mel, Flash & The Furious 5, The Treacherous Three and The Fantastic Romantic 5. I used to take O.J. rides (early New York car service) just to hear those tapes. That’s where you’d hear that music – the O.J. drivers. I would take an O.J. to the Bronx just to listen to music,” says Hurby. Like many urban kids who grew up in New York in the 1970s, the Haitian-born, Queens-raised future producer was raised on the pop music that was aired on radio station WABC. The other commonality that Hurby shares with many first-generation Hip-Hoppers is that he started as a B Boy. “I’m sure that there were many dance crews called 'The B-Boys,' but me and a few cats from East Elmhurst Queens were in a crew called 'The B-Boys.' I was a dancer before I did anything else in Hip Hop and I was pretty good.”
After B-Boying, Hurby began to D.J. and even tried his hand at being an M.C. following in the footsteps of some of his B Boy friends who went to Manhattans Norman Thomas High School where turntables were set up in the lunch room and Kool Moe Dee & Special K of the Treacherous 3 were perfecting their “fast rap”. “Bernard Doss aka Kid Flash aka Rockin’ Bee, his brother Jerome and Kenny Davis - those guys brought a lot of the information about what was going on in Hip Hop culture back to Queens. Also Play of Kid n Play went to Art & Design. Bernard is a very important person – he is the one who started me off in everything and he, Jerome and Kenny would come back to “The Hurst” and repeat rhymes that they heard at Norman Thomas. They were impressing the girls and I wanted to participate but I didn’t have any rhymes, and I didn’t know that their rhymes belonged to other people. I finally made up some rhymes and they were so impressed that they asked me could they use them. That’s how I got into rapping.”
The Turnout Brothers & The Super Lovers
Ron “Amen Ra” Lawrence of The Turnout Brothers, The Super Lovers, The Invincibles,2 Kings and A Cipher and The Hitmen grew up in the same neighborhood as Hurby and started as a D.J. “There was a group in the neighborhood called Kid Flash & The Super 7 and it was Hurby, Play (of Kid n Play) and a few other cats. Kid Flash left music because he got saved and the group broke up. Hurby, Play and Romeo then formed the Super Lovin’ 3. Hurby eventually took over the group and they called themselves the Super Lovers. Kid Flash wanted to return to the group and he changed his name to Rockin’ Bee, but the group was already established and he started a new group called The Turnout Brothers.”
The Turnout Brothers were an off shoot of The Super 7 and Kid of Kid n Play moved into the neighborhood and joined the Turnout Brothers. These groups became rivals, but they were all friends because of the shared history between the groups. Ron Lawrence was once part of both groups and he released a record with the Super Lovers called “The Lovers Law” on Hurby’s label Quazar Records which Hurby says was his first official production.
According to Hurby, Quazar Records was his response to record labels not taking him seriously. “Me and my older brother, not my younger brother Steve said fuck it, let’s start our own label. We called it Quazar which was a play off of Azor. I hated shopping demos and sitting in meetings with people that didn’t know what I was talking about, or what they were talking about.” You’ll notice the Quazar logo on Super Nature’s “Show Stoppa” which was released on Lawrence Goodman’s Philadelphia based Pop Art Records. “I was introduced to Pop Art by Marley Marl because he did Roxanne Shante’s “Roxanne’s Revenge” on Pop Art and he recommended them. I was gonna release the record on my own, and I asked Marley to mix it because if he mixed your record, then he’d also play it on the radio (WBLS). The Goodman’s heard it and they wanted it, but I didn’t give it to them – they basically stole it. They paid to get it mixed, I paid for the session but it ran over so they paid the rest. We agreed that the masters would stay in the studio until the bill was paid.” When Hurby returned to pay the bill the studio manager said that Pop Art had paid it. “I didn’t have a contract with them, never received a royalty check. They gave me 5000 dollars once. That was it.”
In the recent Lifetime Salt n Pepa television movie, its presented as though comedian Martin Lawrence, Hurby, Salt n Pepa and Kid n Play all worked at the Sears call center at the same time, but Hurby says that isn’t accurate. “If they portrayed it like it actually happened it would be confusing, and probably wouldn’t be very interesting. The point was that we all worked there. Kid n Play were first, then Play brought me in and after me came Salt n Pepa. Kid n Play were gone by the time Salt n Pepa got there. Ron Lawrence came and he worked there with me, Salt and Pepa. Next Martin Lawrence came, but Ron Lawrence was gone by then. I met Salt n Pepa at Sears, I didn’t know them before we worked together.”
Hurby had already started his label and released “Lovers Law” when he started at Sears. Speaking on the origins of Salt n Pepa, Ron Lawrence says “The original Super Nature was gonna be my sister and my girlfriend at the time, Miss Jones (singer and future radio personality from WQHT in New York and WUSL in Philly). Hurby was determined to create a female Rap group, and then he met Salt n Pepa at Sears, and that was it. My sister was going to be their D.J. originally, but she went to college, so it didn’t work and they got the first Spinderella from the Bronx. That whole story about a school project isn’t accurate. Hurby saw that Marley and [Roxanne] Shante blew up with a diss/answer record and that was a way to get a hit for them as well. But don’t forget: originally Salt n Pepa were Hurby & Salt!”
When asked about how he knew that Salt n Pepa could rap Hurby says excitedly “They didn’t Rap! Rap music was the furthest thing from their minds. They were more into Club and House music – Colonel Abrams and shit like that, which I wasn’t into at all. I originally wanted to answer another record before 'The Show,' and I can’t remember what it was, but I couldn’t find any girls. There weren’t many girls who rapped and I didn’t know any, so I had to make them! Marley will tell you that Shante’ wasn’t a rapper, she was a girl who rhymed because she could, but that’s not what she tried to be. It was the same with Salt N Pepa. In fact, I’d say just Salt because Pepa was doing some other shit. She had red hair and spike chains – Punk Rock shit. I was dating Salt and I was trying to make a record with these other two girls at Sears; Allison and Janay but Salt said 'Oh no, I’m not leaving you alone with those two bitches, I’m getting in the group.”
Hurby says that Allison and Janay turned out to be wack, so the group turned into Salt n Pepa – Salt because she was light-skinned and Hurby was Pepa because he was dark-skinned. Hurby got cold feet and said that he didn’t want to rhyme, so he dropped out and since Sandy (Pepa) was high spirited, full of energy and friends with Cheryl (Salt), she could replace him. When I asked Hurby where Salt n Pepa’s original name (Super Nature) originated, he replied “I liked a song by Cerrone called 'Super Nature' and what it was talking about was something more than regular nature – it was Super Nature, so I felt that we were gonna be big and beyond regular so I gave them that name originally.”
When I ask about the origins of the name "Salt n Pepa," Hurby mentions Whipper Whip and the late Dota Rock of the Fantastic 5. Because I know where he is going, I interrupt to let him know that this is great information; because not many outside of the Bronx are aware of Whip & Dot’s “Salt And Pepper M.C.’s” persona and their routine “My Mic Sounds Nice."
“If it’s the last thing that you do," Hurby states very seriously, "Please give those brothers a shout out for me. I never met them, but a cat named Prince from the Super Lovers was from the Bronx and he knew Whipper Whip and he went to their shows. When he did his mic check he would always say “my mic sounds nice” and I asked where he got that from and he told me about the Fantastic 5 and how Whipper Whip and Dota Rock called themselves The Salt and Pepper M.C.’s. That always stuck in my head.” “My Mic Sounds Nice” was a tribute to first generation Hip Hop according to Hurby. “When you hear the intro with “rock rock y’all/to the beat y’all/and you don’t stop” that’s Mele Mel.
Marley Marl and The Instant Replay
Hurby stops the interview to make sure that he gives credit where It’s due. “I don’t do a lot of interviews, so when I do, I like to give props. Marley MarI was the first person that introduced me to sampling. I was interning at Power Play Studios and Marley was there with one of his groups. He had this little box called The Instant Replay by Electro Harmonix. He was sampling The Big Beat by Billy Squire and I asked him what it was. He explained the whole process of sampling and my mind was blown.”
Ron Lawrence says “The Instant Replay had like a half second of sample time and it was about the size of your hand. Marley did “The Marley Scratch” with it and when Hurby saw it, he went and bought one and he made “The Show Stoppa” by Salt n Pepa with it. They were called Super Nature at the time.”
When the conversation shifts to equipment Hurby takes the opportunity to quiet the naysayers who have for decades suggested that he wasn’t a button pushing, knob twisting hands on producer. “I was the only one making beats on that first stuff. My younger brother Steve was more of a lyrical guy who wrote with me and would produce with me later. Then much later The Invincibles came – Ron Lawrence and Mark Eastmond who is actually Wiz - Kid n Play’s D.J. guys that I grew up with. I did the beat for Show Stoppa on the Instant Replay, and I sampled Funky Drummer for “It’s My Beat” by Sweet Tee. Ron Lawrence and my brother both told me to speed it up, but I told them that she wanted something slow that felt like La Di Da Di.
Marley was sampling drums, but I wanted to sample whole pieces of music. The Linn drum and all of those were just drum machines that didn’t sample. For “My Mic Sounds Nice” by Salt n Pepa I wanted to loop Grover Washington’s "Mr. Magic" but it was too long. The Instant Replay only had a couple of seconds of sampling time at the worst bandwidth you could imagine, so I got my D.J. who was Quicksilver to mix it to the click (metronome) and this was before SMPTE time code so this was MIDI. He’d mix it to the click for 4 bars then stop, or if he fell off beat, we’d stop and start over We did that for 4 minutes so It’s like manually looping. Quicksilver was the D.J. for The Super Lovers and he did all of the scratches on Salt n Pepa’s first album”.
“I chopped the drums for “I Got An Attitude” by Antoinette. The production credit on the record says Hurby Luv Bug & Steve O. Steve O is my brother and he suggested that we sample “Impeach The President” he brought it to me, but I didn’t wanna loop it like everyone else was doing, so I chopped it up and I used the guitar lick by The Chakachas. If you bring me something that I ended up using, or it made me make a right turn instead of a left I think that deserves credit and I credited my brother Steve.”
As far as “Last Night Changed It All” by Kid n Play, some producers have accused Hurby of acquiring all of the samples for that song from Ultimate Breaks and Beats, Vol. #510, to which he replies: “When I made that beat there was no UBB. I wish there was – it would have made my job a lot easier! When you wanted to know the breaks that Flash, Theodore and those guys were using you went to 42nd Street to Downstairs Records. This kid named Elroy had a little booth across from Downstairs Records. Downstairs was a big oldies record shop, but I guess they were so annoyed by kids coming in asking for records that they set him up with that booth.
"You’d go in every week and he would show you something new, and these records were expensive for the time, like 50 dollars for a 45. When I bought 'Last Night' (the original by Esther Williams) there was one with the telephone ringing and one without. If you had the one without you were the man! I still have crates of records, I didn’t have to use Octopus Breaks, UBB or Paul Winley. I did use them at times though! When I did 'I Desire' I used 'Amen Brother' from UBB. I’d never heard that record. Dr. Dre and Questlove both have said on record that I was first to sample 'Amen Brother.' I did everything on 'I Desire' except write all of it. Kool G. Rap, me and my brother wrote 'I Desire.' G. Rap also wrote “Chick on The Side”. I used to manage G.Rap but I couldn’t do anything with him because he wasn’t very marketable.”
Ron Lawrence says that the Go-Go influence on much of Hurby’s Kid n Play and Salt n Pepa productions was due to him attending Howard University in the home of Go-Go Washington, D.C. “I was surrounded by Go-Go at Howard and I didn’t really like it much, but some of the beats was funky. You couldn’t deny 'E.U. Freeze' and 'Pump Me Up' back in the days. I started sending Hurby Go-Go Records and he started using them and one of them was for 'My Mic Sounds Nice' – it was a record called 'The Word' by The Junkyard Band.
I’ve often called Hurby “Puffy before there was Puffy” and I posed the question to Hurby: “If Puffy is 95% mogul/manager and 5% hands-on producer what would you say that your ratio is?” Hurby replied “I would be the opposite. I hate meetings taking calls and sitting behind the desk. I did it because I had to, but Puffy is much better at that than I am.”
“Hurby used to come to Howard when me and Puffy were students," adds Ron Lawrence. "Puffy admired Hurby and he absolutely soaked up what Hurby was doing. No one was managing and performing with their artists on that level before Hurby. Look at the videos, he was in all of them as a performer. He performed live with them out of necessity. When he performed with Salt n Pepa it was necessary – they weren’t seasoned performers and he needed to hold their hands. He was teaching them as he performed with them.”
I always wondered, since Hurby had artists affiliated with several labels, why he never decided to create his own. “Sound Check records was my imprint through Next Plateau but it was really like a production deal, which is a joke," Azor explained. "There’s no budget for marketing or promotion and the parent label still has to approve what you release, so how is it a label? Back then it was a lot harder to just get your own label. Andre Harrell was able to do it with Uptown because he had the power of Russell (Simmons)& Lyor (Cohen) behind him. Andre was incredibly smart. I didn’t like the industry anyway, the artists I loved but the industry just wasn’t for me."
Kwamé is one of the few artists in Idol Makers that produced his own material. “Hurby did one remix for me, it was a Go-Go remix that I hated and we did it only because Sylvia Rhone insisted," Kwamé explained. "Hurby was instrumental in helping me shop my demo and he never produced me in the sense of what we see as a Hip-Hop producer who makes beats, but he played a huge part in polishing what I had already produced in the form of suggestions and guidance. I was always about lyrics and he would remind me to have fun in my delivery. Hurby put an entire Queens neighborhood on and made us stars and I’m forever grateful for that."
When asked if he had any regrets Hurby takes a moment and replies “I should have taken it a little more seriously. I wasn’t social like some other people. There are producers who would finish a record and go to a club. When I finish I’m going home. I regret that I couldn’t be a lover of Hip-Hop to that degree.