Tyree Cooper, the Producer, Awesome Supa Dupa Trooper! From basketball star to DJ and producer extraordinaire, the man is still on top of his game. You may remember his hits like “I Fear The Night,” “Turn Up The Bass,” and “Acid Crash”. But Tyree is still doing big things. He’s just on the other side of the pond now.
This Southside native is now a resident of Berlin, Germany and has been living there for the past eight years. As big of an international celebrity as he was back in the 1980s with his Acid House and Hip House gems, Tyree is collaborating with everyone from long time friend Mike Dunn to Basement Jaxx to Hip-hop acts like the Turntable Rockers and even rock bands. Not missing an opportunity to work with talented musicians of any genre, Tyree’s name is building an empire across the board and across the globe.
Coming out of high school you had a basketball scholarship – is that true?
TYREE COOPER: I had played basketball for a long time. Matter of fact when I was just in Chicago recently, I spoke to the basketball team at Phillips High School and talked to them about the tradition and importance of high school basketball in Chicago. I played all my life. I went to a couple of different schools. I thought I was good enough to make to the NBA. Everyone has those dreams. I had them too. I got a little scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Stout and went there for about a good three days. I came home and went to Kennedy- King College. I played until right before pre-season started. Right then House Music started kicking in. House Music was kicking its ass! When I realized the odds are like one in five thousand of making to the NBA, I wanted to try my hand at something else. I didn’t know House Music was going to be in my favor. It was just something I liked to do.
When was this, what year?
TYREE: I graduated like 1983 from high school, so right after that.
Your first releases were on Underground and DJ International?
TYREE: On Underground, “I Fear The Night” was the first release.
What brought you to that opportunity?
TYREE: The fact that being a Chicago DJ, you want to put records out. You want to be known. I wanted to put out a record like Farley and Jesse Saunders… more Farley, not so much Jesse.
How did “I Fear The Night” come about? And who brought you to DJ International? Did you just bring the track there or did someone introduce you to them?
TYREE: Well, myself, Mike Dunn and Hugo H., we had been friends for the last 100,000 years [laughs]… These guys are my brothers. We used to run this club called “My House”. It was called the Sheba Disco at first. That’s where people like Lil’ Louis and Lil’ John used to get their start from back in the day. It was like 87th & Ashland. We took it over – me and Mike slept in that place. We were into that club. We slept in that MF, because we threw our parties in there.
Mike met Marshall [Jefferson] first and Marshall asked if he could bring his equipment to the club. A 707, 808, 727, 303 – everything Marshall had, his mixing desk, the whole nine…
We were like, “Since you’re not using this 808, can we give you $20 and borrow it for like a week?” Marshall said, “Yeah, aight man, cool, I’m not using it right now.” We had the MF for like six months! It went between me, Mike & Hugo. We had that for a while.
Eventually Marshall was like, “Where’s my 808?” “Oh, Mike’s got it.” Mike would say, “Hugo’s got it.” Hugo would say, “No, Mike’s got it,” or “No, Tyree’s got it.”
Then I got it and gave it back to him. So “I Fear The Night” came up out of that. I just wanted to do a record and have a drum machine. Me, Hugo and Mike worked on the drums but by the time I got to the studio I couldn’t remember which patterns were which, so I had to try to figure it out. It would have come out a bit different if I remembered the patterns. I think the second part of it with the snare rolls was Hugo’s influence. I’m not even too sure. I lost the tape with the shit that was on it.
From there, I just called up DJ International and said, “Hey, I got a tune I want to play for y’all.” I was kind of going down there anyway to pick up records from Benji [Espinoza]. I was trying to get free records.
So they all knew you then by the time you brought them the demo?
TYREE: Not really. Benji kind of knew me from coming down there. Rocky [Jones] didn’t really pay too much attention to me. I called them up and said, “I got a demo I want to play for you.” The original demo was like 15 minutes long, half of a cassette tape. Rocky played that MF like five times. So we go in the studio and he asked me if I can play any keyboards. My mind was like, “No, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doin’.” My mouth said, “Yeah, sure!”
He asked if the drum machine had sync. I said I don’t know. I didn’t know anything about any of that. We couldn’t sync a keyboard or anything else up to it. He said, “Well what else are we going do to the track?” I said nothing, leave this bitch alone. So I had my sister come in and sing on it. She was six months pregnant at the time. The stop-and-go in the track was just me just stopping and starting the drum machine. That’s how it came together.
I didn’t know the vocalist Chic was your sister!
TYREE: That’s one of my younger sisters. Two of my sisters did music with me. The other is my sister Miyoshi, she’s also one of my younger sisters. She did a song with me on Rockin’ House called “Music”.
Speaking of the family and music, you used to play the flute!
TYREE: Yeah man, that’s what really got me into this whole damn thing. I needed to make good grades and I needed a class I could easily pass. Music seemed like the easiest thing to take in high school. I didn’t want to have to carry a big ass instrument like a trombone or a tuba! So I was like, “Fuck it, I’ll play the flute.” I liked Gil Scott-Heron and what he was doing, I thought that was cool and I could get into that. Plus it was easy to carry. That’s what spring-boarded me into this whole culture.
After you put out “I Fear The Night,” did it help increase your DJ gigs?
TYREE: No! [laughs] It wasn’t like that back then. Back then you DJ’d. You DJ’d because people wanted to book you. You were actually getting booked because of your craft. Not like now where, how many records you got out or who is playing your record because they’re popular so your record must be good. There wasn’t politicking like that. Either you threw your own parties and hired other DJs, or someone respected your game so they booked you on a consistent basis. That’s generally how you got gigs. When “I Fear The Night” came out it was a hit but it didn’t increase my DJ bookings.
Was there a difference between what went on DJ International and Underground? Most artists seemed to be on both labels.
TYREE: DJ International was supposed to be more commercial and Underground was supposed to be more non-commercial, “underground”. To me most of the more bangin’ shit was coming out on Underground anyway.
Not too long after that “Acid Over” came out?
TYREE: Yeah, actually “Acid Crash” came out right before “Acid Over.”
That’s when the Acid House scene was popular.
TYREE: Yeah, DJ International wasn’t really up on the whole acid scene. I used to tell them about these kinds of records. Benji would tell them about this type of record and that type of record. But they would have kind of ignored it to a degree. Then I guess he took a trip over to the UK and Trax was selling a whole hell of a lot of records called “Acid Music”. So then they said I should get into acid music. “Acid Over” was actually made in Detroit with Lidell (Townsell). Again, I didn’t remember what pattern was what, so I had to redo and recreate it once more. The piano part was all my idea, me telling Peter Black to make it kind of jazzy. The acid line was trying to be a recreation of what me, Lidell and William S. had done in Detroit.
So how did the whole Hip House scene come about? Between you, Fast Eddie and Kool Rock Steady, you guys are pretty much the backbone of it.
TYREE: Fast Eddie didn’t want to do House Music anymore. I think he was still signed to DJ International and Rocky was trying to force him to make some House Music. I guess he didn’t want to do it any more but somehow they came to an agreement to let Eddie rap on the tracks and shit. The think the first thing they did was “Yo Yo Get Funky”. B96 was playing it on their mix show, so Rocky asked me why don’t I do one. I said, “Nah, that’s Eddie’s thing. My shit is too deep.” So I asked Lidell if he had Kool Rock’s number. So soon after I collaborated with him and “Turn Up The Bass” came out of that.
How did you know Kool Rock at that point?
TYREE: I met him through Lidell in passing. Just through the DJ culture and being out. He did a record with Lidell called “I’ll Make You Dance” on Trax. I think they stayed around in the same area, so we just got up. He was doing mostly Hip Hop and shit so I asked him if he’d rap on some House shit. DJ International just made the most out of it. After “I’ll Make You Dance,” Larry Sherman didn’t really release any other Hip House type records. Bad Boy Bill put out a couple things and there were a few others but DJ International pretty much had it sewed up.
Did you feel like that movement kind of pigeon-holed you in that style or market?
TYREE: You had your hardcore Southside house people that didn’t really like the Hip House thing, but they didn’t like Hip Hop either, so anything with a rap wasn’t that popular. WGCI would play “Turn Up The Bass” and B96 would play “Yo Yo Get Funky” or vice-versa. After a while people were like alright, well, they’re doing their thing. It wasn’t well received at first. After a while it caught on and they pretty much embraced it.
You’re working on some new Hip House stuff with Mike Dunn.
TYREE: Mike sent me a track… Sorry, hold on I’m rolling a joint… Sorry what we’re we talking about?
Just about getting stuck with being expected to do Hip House?
TYREE: After the shit had bottomed out, nobody wanted to fuck with us, basically. After the fact everyone adjusted well and everyone started doing different stuff. Sundance, JMD, everyone started doing different things. I wouldn’t say it was rough but it was what it was. It was good while it was going on. I would have thought that by hitting in Europe it would be hitting in America and people would have had the same feelings here about embracing the music. The biggest problem was Hip Hop not embracing it. Hip Hop wasn’t feeling us. They said you can’t do that and it can’t be done. I even got in an argument with Ed Lover and Dr. Dre of Yo! MTV Raps.
How did that come about?
TYREE: BET used to have a show called “Rap City.” There was a guy called Prime. Prime and I were in New York during the New Music Seminar. Prime says, “Let’s go to this rap unity conference and talk about the unity in rap music and why they don’t play Hip House videos. Ask why BET plays Fast Eddie and Mr. Lee but MTV was bigger and they (Ed Lover and Dr. Dre) were getting the same videos but weren’t playing them.”
The panel was Prince Paul, MC Lyte, Ice-T, Ed Lover and a couple others. Prime said, “Why don’t you go to the mic and say something about why they don’t play any Hip House videos if you’re about unity?” So I did. I said my name and they recognized me because Ed Lover tried to do a Hip House record and said it didn’t work. I said you should have got me to do the production. So he asked me why, when Rappin’ Duke did “Da Ha Da Ha,” they didn’t call it “Country Hop.”
I said, “Well that’s cause it was B-Boy Music, it wasn’t even Hip Hop then.”
So we got into an argument and the panel kind of closed after that. It was getting heated. A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian – all these Hip Hop heads, and lot of them didn’t even have deals then, they we’re just young guns. A lot of them were like, “Fuck all that dance music, all that crazy ass fag shit.”
I’m like, “You don’t know that shit was born and bred in Chicago on the South and Westside. Just as hard as y’all think y’all are, MFs in Chicago is just as hard.” Twenty years ago, Hip House would have been the Down South rap of the time, it was the next big thing.
When Dr. Dre from NWA got in contact with Benji asking for me or Fast Eddie to do House mixes or a House track for a new artist they were producing, that’s when that shit got big. The artist was The D.O.C. “Portrait of a Masterpiece” came out, and that was the same thing. Then you had Daddy-O from Stetsasonic openly dissing House Music but “Talkin’ All That Jazz” was just that. Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One – no one liked Hip House but everyone knew it. New York on their own were still trying to get their respect. For another sub-genre to come along was threatening to them. If that didn’t do it, all the shit that came after it did it. All the records from Europe that were getting played in America that were called Hip House or had a Hip House mix and it wasn’t anything to do with Hip House. But commercial stations like B96 were playing and it and there were too many sub-genres for the stations to keep up with it.
How did you get in to doing stuff on Dance Mania, which was after they started putting out the Ghetto House stuff?
TYREE: I got to thank Ray (Barney) a hell of a lot for Dance Mania. That got me at the point where I’m at today, as far as mind-set and getting back into the music. I used to deliver pizza. I quit the music business or quit trying to make records like everyone else was playing on the radio. I just got tired of it. I didn’t want to go to any clubs; I didn’t want to be seen. I wanted to do something totally different. I worked at the Chicago Board of Trade; I worked at an old folk’s home (I did that shit for about a month.) Then I was delivering pizza. That was the best job I ever had! Give them a shout out! Chicago’s Pizza! From 5pm-5am, I would work 12 hours. I got paid! P.A.I.D! That was a great job opportunity for me to have at the time. At the moment I didn’t know what way I was going to turn. My daughter was growing up. I needed to try and take her in at one point. I was recently divorced. I had a bunch of grief I was trying to figure out with DJ International. I was just going through it.
I used to sit in my car and listen to the radio, B96, you can pick any DJ. I thought, this cannot be the shit people are listening to. It had no soul! WGCI wasn’t any better, they were only playing Hip Hop and R&B, which is cool but I wanted to hear some House. I went to Ray’s one day with maybe Harry (The Blade) or somebody, and I talked to Ray and he said, “You ever thought about making music again? Take some of these records home and tell me what you think.”
I listened to a few things, like Funk or [Jammin’] Gerald and I was like, this is just like House tracks from back in the day but a hell of a lot faster. So I told him I’d try but I got to put my own spin on it. He said cool and it just kind of went from there. Eventually I started doing some more Housier shit like back in Europe with some ghetto influence in it.
So you’re staying in Germany now?
TYREE: Yeah, well, visiting. I’m staying everywhere. I’m in London most of the time. I’m working on some projects, traveling back and forth between the two.
What were your reasons for moving to Germany?
TYREE: I was just tired of living in America. That’s it. I moved to Vegas in 1999, for about six or seven months. The scene was changing and the techno/hard house stuff was hot and I wasn’t really doing that. Me trying to play House the way I play it, they weren’t having it. Most of my gigs were in Europe. Berlin is cheap and I know some people here and it’s easy to get established.
Chicago is one of those other places. Outside of the music, you and I probably would have never met. If it was New York, we probably would have met, but Chicago is so segregated. I didn’t want to go through all that again in the second stage of my career. So I decided I’d move to Europe and I’ve been happier ever since! It’s still a struggle but I’m grateful for the opportunity. I never thought growing up on the Southside that I would ever think about living in Germany.
Since you’ve been there you’ve been doing a lot more collaborations with other people.
TYREE: I’ve been doing a lot of vocals for different people. I just did a project with Basement Jaxx, which I’m not sure if it’s finished yet. I did a project with the Turntable Rockers, from here in Germany; DJ Thomilla is the guy, I’ve known him for quite a while. I did a project with a rock band here that’s coming out. I try and keep my flex.
You were just back recently Stateside in Chicago and Vegas, was that strictly to visit your family?
TYREE: One of my reasons was I haven’t visited my family in Vegas in eight years, I haven’t seen my mother in six years and I haven’t been in Chicago in four years. The other was to get some footage of some parties and stuff but it’s hard to do it yourself when you’re playing. I did interview my mother about myself but I’ve got to come back and get some more footage.
I did a few parties – I did your party at Betty’s and I would do it again! I enjoyed it! That was one of my other things – to come back home and play. I don’t think I’ve played in Chicago really in like fifteen years. I’m one brother no one really books. They always say they can’t find my ass or they have some other excuse. So I’m trying to put an end to all that. I played for Mike Dunn at Reynolds and the Da House Spot with Emanuel Pippen. I also played a show with Bear Who?
You have your label Supa Dupa, which has been re-releasing some of your classics and new material as well.
TYREE: It’s an outlet for new artists to release stuff as well as my own damn self. I’d like to give some of the younger people the chance to be able to have access to some of the older music. I can also put out remixes of my older stuff. I’m just trying to release more quality House Music and keep it as close to Chicago as I can. I’m not expecting shit to sound like 1984 but maybe just something with some Chicago-ness in it.