The Original Uber: The Oral History of the OJ Car Service
By Jay Quan
“A skip jive, what can I say? I can’t fit ‘em all inside my OJ /Hotel, motel - what ya gonna do today? Gonna get a fly girl, get some spank and drive off in a def OJ...”
Iconic words from rap music’s first commercially successful recording: "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugar Hill Gang. Those words spoken by Big Bank Hank belonged to a collection of rhymes shared by D.J. Hollywood, Eddie Cheeba and others. "Rappers Delight" is the song that your parents and grandparents know and possibly had in their record collections at one time. The rhymes contained in that song are possibly the most remembered and repeated in the genre's history, but - as far as the OJ - how many outside of the five boroughs and the tri-state knew the meaning behind what they were repeating? Many thought that it was a reference to the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers running back Orenthal James, but those in the 5 boroughs - specifically the Bronx - knew the origins of those lines.
The OJ Car Service was literally Uber before Uber. The service owned a few cars, but it was actually the owners of luxury cars who made up the heart of this cab service (of sorts.) Much like today's Uber, the drivers would split their fares with the service who dispatched them to riders in need. Street hustlers, DJs, MCs and fly kids who wanted to arrive to school, parties or explore the town with their main girl in style would do so in an OJ. The service was immortalized on rap records and in rhymes and routines that never made it to record, but existed on underground tapes that circulated around the city. The OJ would become a distribution network for those live party tapes from various rap crews, with members of the crews providing the drivers with these exclusive recordings. This is the story of how a Bronx-based luxury car service provided transportation for the fly and the wannabe fly, while making its way into popular urban culture.
The Players: Hip-Hop Historian JayQuan/Dynamite of Dynamite & Cooleone and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5/The Chief Rocker Busy Bee/ Rahiem of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5/Van Silk legendary first generation rap concert promoter/Tiny of The Casanovas/Disco Bee of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5.
Dynamite: In 1976, OJ was Uber. There were a variety of different luxury car services I used: Topaz, Community amongst them, but the big dog was Godfather Cabs. They had a base down on Willis Ave right in the heart of Patterson Projects. I’m talkin’ Guy Fisher used these guys. They were known for their fleet of Lincolns and pristine Cadillacs. But later that year an upstart company slowly began to gain momentum. That summer, OJ Cabs seemed to come outta nowhere and by ‘77 the streets were theirs.
Grandmaster Caz: There was Godfather Car Service, Touch of Class and a few others, but OJ was the best and most reliable. Most of the drug dealers who could afford to put a car on hold for hours had them on lock, but to jump out of one at a block party or high school with a dope Hip-Hop tape booming out of it was special.
Tiny: Godfather had Bentleys, Cadillacs and long stretch limousines and this is how the brothers traveled around - they rented these cars. I mean the stick-up kids the drug boys everybody. It was a matter of luxury, a matter of fame and a matter of who had money. Actually you could have only 40 dollars in your pockets and you could put 25 of that on a car, but it made ya look good!
Rahiem: There was Godfather and Community as well as OJ. I’d say that those were the top 3 that were poppin’ at the time.
Van Silk: As time went on, I would rent from Godfather. I could drop 40 dollars and get a car for the whole day. Audi’s, Peugeot’s and a sky blue Cadillac which I used to take Melle Mel & Scorpio to Sugar Hill Records in. Topaz was another service. I remember they had a bald-headed black man that looked like Kojack as their logo, and it was on the back of the cars.
Van Silk: The reason that OJ was the best is because of their cars. Other services might have had the Buick Elektra 225s, but OJ had the 98 (Oldsmobile) and it was like a square box! They had the fly spokes and the poodle air fresheners on the rear-view mirror. Not the trees, but the poodles. You might see 30 poodle air fresheners in some OJ’s.
Disco Bee: The 98 was the most popular! It was the most comfortable. Pillow seats and when you rode in it, it felt like you were in a Cadillac. The 98 was the best and everyone wanted one because they looked like Cadillacs on the inside. That was the car.
Rahiem: Oh, absolutely the 98, Deuce and a Quarter, Lincoln Town Car and Park Avenues. But the 98 was the most requested.
Dynamite: You would see these Oldsmobile 98’s zoomin’ up and down The Grand Concourse with these long whip antennas bent over in the wind. For 25.00 an hour you could put a car on hold and make multiple stops to do whatever. And I do mean whatever. They quickly became the go to car of the now-growing Hip-Hop culture.
“When the party is through and a young lady wanna go home with you /You search your pocket, ya soon aware/That you don't have enough for cab fare/ Then you say to yourself what a mistake ya' made your heart starts pumpin' that ol' Kool-Aid /When she walks to you and she starts to say /Call 1 double 0, he’s down with OJ/And you pay the way….” - "Superrappin’" Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, 1979
Dynamite: These drivers were known not by their real names, but by the number they used while driving. One Double 0 became Cowboys personal driver and was one of the first drivers who would play Grandmaster Flash tapes in the car. In return people would call up to OJ and request Car 100 because he had a nice car and the best music. He later became famous in song as The Furious 5 rapped in the song "Superrappin’": “Call One Double O, he’s down wit OJ and you pay the way!"
Van Silk: If you were dealing with a young lady, you’d tell her that you were gonna send your driver to pick her up. That was part of the façade. But the driver was important and once you developed a relationship with a driver that you liked; you’d request them by their number. It was a very personal thing, as personal as your barber. Your driver was just as fly as you. You listened to the same music and had the same interests. They were your age most likely, and they drove leaned to the side, making the sharp turns – dippin’ and divin’. Not like your traditional old man cab driver. You identified the car and driver that you wanted by number, and the number represented the number of cars in the fleet. If the highest number was driver 106, they had one hundred and six cars.
Dynamite: You would be outside a Flash party and all you saw was this long line of OJ drivers parked outside in these dope ass cars. There was Triple Nine. Two Two Two J-5 the slickest African alive, my man Bird, he started driving The Furious 5, Ron and Don the twins my man Rich Bailey in the Bonneville, Big Spike in the Electra 225 and Damon Toure in his Crown Victoria these cats was gettin it.
Grandmaster Caz: My favorite drivers were my man #86 and D.C. All the drivers bought tapes from me, but they bought the most.
Rahiem: One of our favorite OJ drivers was 1 double 0. We shouted him out in "Superrappin’" and he was our friend who hung out with us. His younger brother Rich was our cocaine supplier at the time. We had a few personal OJ drivers and a few of them became roadies for us on tour once we made records. One of Cowboys best friends was Tubbs and he drove for us. I believe that his number was 002.
Disco Bee: We had a few drivers; I remember Rich & Tubbs. Tubbs was Cowboy’s friend who got us into OJ. He would drive us around and we would always give him a tape from our parties. People would request him just to hear the new Flash tape!
Tiny: Depending on the driver, once they got familiar with you, they’d let you get high in their car. If the driver had a relationship with you, and you were paying, that’s all that really mattered.
Dynamite: The flyest of them all was this brother Kareem 007. Real Cocky dude. Flashy, had a white on white 98 and hands down the baddest sound system any car had. He drove DJ Hollywood. Captain Jack, LTD and the Corporation around. (Shout Mommaship) He would be parked outside Club 371 just flossin’ and blasting the latest Hollywood tape. This cat stayed on hold. He didn’t even need his dispatcher anymore to make money that’s how much that car was in demand. Whoever had the best music and the flyest whip was the guy who stayed on hold.
Rahiem: When you put an OJ on hold, you had him for an hour. Anywhere within the perimeter of New York City that you could get to within an hour you could have them take you there or do short local runs. If you were a hustler and you needed to pick up your money, but you didn’t want to use your own car, you would put an OJ on hold and it would cost 25 dollars an hour. Sometimes you’d put the car on hold and go to one destination and have them wait for you until you were ready to leave. Most of the first-generation rap crews would put an OJ on hold and have them go to various high schools to pass out our flyers for upcoming shows.
Busy Bee: The scene in Wild Style where we are at the hotel and I count the money and leave in a limo is real. I had a OJ on hold for the entire day. I still had time with him, so I pulled up to that scene in that OJ. I always said that if the person who invented Uber is an old Black guy, he had to have been down with OJ back in the day,’cus it’s the same thing.
Dynamite: I remember Ray Chandler who was managing Flash came up with the idea to use an OJ to help market these Grandmaster Flash parties, so for instance when Buddy Esquire would finish the flyers what we did was grab about 1000 of ‘em and put a car on hold for a few hours. I would go scoop Cowboy and we would hit up all the high schools in The Bronx handing out flyers and meeting girls. That guy Cowboy was a fly girl magnet. That’s when he started shouting "One Double 0!" (Car 100) on the mic at Flash parties.
Van Silk: Only certain emcees had the stature to ride in OJs. Busy Bee, Sha Rock, anyone who dealt with the Casanovas, Lisa Lee, Caz & JDL, A.J. all rode OJ. Hollywood, Eddie Cheeba, Reggie Wells and those guys made OJ famous. Hollywood did 3 or 4 parties in one night and he would use OJ. He would do an hour in the Bronx, an hour in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan. He automatically had it on hold. Who is gonna leave Hollywood? The driver is in the party with Hollywood. You’re meeting girls and giving out your OJ card. That’s Instagram, that’s the real Instagram – the OJ card!
I can play away ‘til the break of day and put you on hold like a OJ” - Grandmaster Caz 1982
Rahiem: When Grandmaster Flash was at his absolute hottest as a D.J. he would charge anywhere from 200 to 500 dollars to make custom tapes for people. He would shout their names throughout the tapes. He eventually did this for OJ drivers, so they were playing tapes of our parties as well as custom tapes that Flash made for them. I’d say the OJ played a significant role in the music travelling from the Bronx to other boroughs. I remember my favorite Aunt, Aunt Della lived in St. Albans Queens near Larry Smith’s Mother. I would visit my Aunt and one summer when I first joined Flash & The Furious 5 in 1979, I was crossing 202nd St to go to the store, and a car that looked like an OJ rode by and was blasting one of our latest party tapes. A lot of our exposure around New York City especially outside of the Bronx before we made records came from OJ’s.
Dynamite: All these drivers wanted music, so I began tailoring personalized tapes for all the drivers at all the cab companies. It was a great marketing tool that worked both ways. The drivers now had these tapes shouting out their numbers, and I in turn gained notoriety with the passengers as one of the first to sell Hip Hop mix tapes, this is 1978. If you never been to a Dynamite and Cooleone party you best believe you heard those tapes. I could make 3- 400 dollars a week selling tapes. So these cars are now spreading Hip Hop music to the other boroughs. Now people in Queens and as far as Brooklyn are hearing these tapes and coming to these parties in The Bronx via OJ Cab. Meanwhile I’m in with all the drivers and would always be seen hoppin’ in and outta these fly cars. I stayed on hold.
Disco Bee: We would give the drivers tapes of our parties, and Flash would make customized tapes for certain drivers. We made crazy money from our party tapes because all of the drivers wanted to be the first with the tapes. They would ask “are you guys gonna be at The Fever this weekend, can you make me a tape?"
Tiny: A lot of those drivers lost their lives back then because they drove certain people around and their enemies knew what kind of cars they were moving around in. As a result, the drivers got shot or robbed. These guys would take these cars and stick up drug dealers, and this was how they got around. Of course, the driver tells the police, because the driver knew nothing about the crime. I know a brother who took an OJ up to Yonkers, told the driver to wait and he went and robbed a bank!
Dynamite: Some of these drivers themselves got robbed and killed. My favorite driver was J-5. I attended City College in Harlem and he would take me to school every day. One morning he didn’t show up, next day either. His car was found on Franklin Ave. in The South Bronx and later that week they found his body in an abandoned building. A lot of them died that way, they drove around with pockets full of cash picking people up off the street. This was a lucrative cash business.
Cocaine was also the downfall of some of them, that’s basically how the whole company crumbled, Kareem 007 ended up going to jail for murder. It just all came tumbling down with that whole crack era. It just became too dangerous to do it. But it was a great time in the culture, bunny hoppin’ around in those cars. That was a big part of our youth. Shout my girl Pretty Black the ole dispatcher up at OJ. Although under new ownership, the OJ car service is still operating in The Bronx, NY.