Because DJ Mario was an early member of the Black Spades, and a martial artist, as many Black Spades were, he had street cred. His gang status offered him protection and gave him clout, enough clout to play outdoors. Mario was the first to do so. We also learn from DJ Boogieman that DJ Mario was on the scene before Kool DJ Dee, about a year before him. When Kool DJ Dee joined the Black Spades, and his initiation was to fight Fat Mike, a founding Black Spades member, Mario was one of the brothers that gave him the nod (approval). As other DJs came and went, Mario remained popular until the rise of the Zulu Nation. Until that point, according to Cholly Rock, DJ Mario was like a Hip Hop impresario, nurturing many DJs that would eventually become part of the Zulu Nation. For example, it would be DJ Mario, who would let Bambaataa use his system to DJ with his first time. DJs Caz, Theodore, Jazzy Jay and others all got their start with DJ Mario.[ii] Mario was able to serve in this capacity because he had the “hook-up” and “controlled” access to the schools, especially JHS 123, which was the main place where they threw parties in the Bronxdale projects. Anybody that played in neighborhood schools had to come through Mario.
Initially, DJ Mario’s sound system was less than top notch. It was a system he had pieced together over the years. In fact, Mario was probably more famous for his snake dance and his mic shout-outs using an echo effect than the quality of his system and set. According to Fat Mike, Mario, Dee, and his brother Tyrone, who were all members of the Black Spades 1st division, joined forces, but Dee and Tyrone never mention this.[iii] However, one thing is clear, that after meeting and working with Dee and Tyrone, Mario improved his sound system. Nonetheless, DJ Mario was the man; he was a pioneer and he did play what they would later identify as Hip Hop music.
Kool DJ Dee, who along with Tyrone the Mixologist, had moved to the Bronx from Brooklyn, says that Pete DJ Jones also inspired him. Dee states that in 1969 before he moved to the Bronx, he was DJing with the group Fantasia, a Brooklyn Mobile DJ group. However, according to the official Fantasia website, they got started in 1972. We can confirm that Dee worked with them but the years are off. We have to assume that either Dee’s years are incorrect or he played with the group before they officially organized themselves and became known as Fantasia. Even in the Bronx Dee was DJing before he had his own sound system but in May 1973, he purchased a top of the line system. According to Dee, Brooklyn DJs at that time had better equipment than the Bronx DJs, so he modeled his system after Brooklyn sound systems. He would eventually have the biggest and best system in the Bronx.
Although Dee and Tyrone, like Mario, played Hip Hop music, the quality of their equipment placed them in high demand and various clubs began hiring them. Consequently, their set eventually included mostly Disco music. Nevertheless, Dee continued to play some Hip Hop in his club sets and outdoors. Moreover, his sound system and playing would inspire Bambaataa to be a DJ. Also, according to Dee and Tyrone, Tyrone was the first DJ to introduce scratching, another Hip Hop DJing staple. Tyrone said it happened by accident in 1973.[iv] But Cholly Rock (whose real name is Anthony Horne), whom I have relied upon considerably, said he was with Dee and Tyrone the first time anybody heard scratching and it was during Grand Wizzard Theodore’s set, and everyone was thunderstruck, including Dee and Tyrone.[v] By most accounts Grand Wizzard Theodore created scratching in 1975, especially according to Grandmaster Flash, the person who brought scratching to prominence. (Wizzard like Tyrone also said he invented it by accident.) Whether Tyrone and Dee’s account is factual or fluff, we cannot overlook or deny their contribution as early Hip Hop DJs, serving as “ambassadors.”
Another person credited with being a Hip Hop pioneer according to Afrika Bambaataa, is The Green Eye Genie. Genie was President of the Baby Spades and because of this he was able to influence Bronx youth. His brother was also Bambaataa’s running buddy. However, from his online video one discovers that Genie helped to spread Hip Hop, not found it. Genie is significant because during these early days of Hip Hop he lived practically all over the Bronx. This makes him a de facto historian of Hip Hop. From Genie we learn that Kool DJ Dee and Tyrone had the most powerful system. They motivated DJ Mario to improve his system (or sometimes lent him equipment). We also learn that these DJs were the first to play outdoors. (Kool DJ Dee says that Herc use to try to discourage him from playing outdoors, saying you couldn’t make any money doing it.) Genie’s aunt was the supervisor of Herc’s project, and is the one who allowed Herc, in 1975, to play outdoors; and it is here where he acquired the title the “father of Hip Hop.”[vi] (Herc had played outside earlier, as early as spring ‘74, however, it was still later than Mario and Dee.)
[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfcdXVroEAQ, at about 4:09.
[iv] Ibid, about 10:40.
[v] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tphpc95yLj0, about 3:48.
[vi] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcIhrCvL-Pk, at about 2:48.