Hip-hop and Electro royalty don’t come equipped with more straight up sex than Egyptian Lover. A self-described “Freak” and a man who’s seemingly spent over thirty years soundtracking his sheer dedication to wooing the opposite sex via classic albums like ‘On The Nile’ and ‘One Track Mind’, the Egyptian Lover was aligning romance with electronics and searching for love on the dancefloor years ahead of his peers.
With his groundbreaking mixing techniques and love for the warm sounds of the Roland TR 808, Gregg Broussard spent the eighties churning out vocal electro aimed at destroying dances across his native LA county, reaching relative success with his single ‘Egypt Egypt’ and becoming a focal point of the legendary Uncle Jamm’s Army crew. His influence can be heard in everything from Daft Punk to Seth Troxler, with his charismatic take on electronic beat-building becoming integral to the foundations of modern dance music.
Ahead of his appearance at this year’s Bloc, we caught up with the modern day King Tut to discuss early beat-tapes, operating the longest running independent Electro label ever, and his take on Tinder.
Taking it back a bit – can you tell us a little about Uncle Jamm’s Army in LA in the early eighties – what were those parties like?
The parties were insane. They were just a group of guys throwing parties just to have fun. When I started going they were doing stuff in hotel lobbies, ballrooms, Holiday Inn, The Hilton – just many, many parties even out the city, like Long Beach – just all over LA County. I noticed that every week they were doing something, which got me thinking “I wanna be a DJ”. So I strived to do my own party, which happened to be on the same day as one of Uncle Jamm’s Army. Of course mine didn’t do as well as theirs, and as the old saying goes; if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em.
And that’s just what you did…
I ended up joining them by accident actually – I was in the mall with a friend of mine named Snake Puppy, who I used to make mixtapes with. So we’re in the mall and the owner of Uncle Jamm’s Army – Rodger Clayton – came up and gave us some flyers to come to the next party – so Snake Puppy says “man if you want the baddest DJ in LA, you want to hire Egyptian Lover”. So Rodger asked me to play, and I went with him that minute to the studio to make a commercial for the next party, and he says he’s gonna have a DJ contest – which he made up out of the blue. At that party I got on the turntables and did some incredible stuff. So all the DJs who were supposed to be in the contest said “nope – he wins” as I was doing stuff that nobody could do at that time.
So you were coming with different styles and techniques that hadn’t been used before?
I was recreating my cassette tape edits, but only with vinyl records. It was like a tape edit but live – something that nobody had ever heard before. Uncle Jamm’s Army had a following already, they were the number one dance promoters in LA already, and with my DJ skills we just got more and more popular – every week doing a bigger event – so we went from 600 capacity to 1200 right up to the ultimate; LA Sports Arena with 10,000 people. That’s how popular we became. We had to hire other groups like Run DMC and Whodini and we’d play after – real groups who made real records, and we were just DJs but the most popular thing in LA!
Considering the spirit of the times, what would be the craziest thing you’d seen at an Uncle Jamm’s show then?
Wow – I’ve seen too many crazy things. I once saw this girl jump up onto a guy’s shoulders – his face in between her legs and her legs over his shoulders – she threw her dress over his head and they were dancing like that for three or four songs… Now I couldn’t see what they were doing exactly, but I can tell you she loved every minute of it [laughs].
How did you first come into contact with the 808 at that time?
By accident actually [laughs]. I was really into music and beats, but the problem was I didn’t know how to make the beats. I heard this one record go [beatboxes] “buh-bm-buh-bm POP”! I turned to my drummer friend and asked him what that sound was exactly. He told me you’d use two bass bottoms, the drummers use two bass bottoms… I loved it, I wanted to make a beat like that and build it into a song – as by sixteen, seventeen years old I was kinda thinking that I wanted to make a record. About a year later someone told me that there was a DJ called Africa Islam who had his own new style, not my style, so I had to check him out. I go down and see him and we talk, I show him some of my styles and he tells me about the drum machine used on some of those records – being a Roland TR 808. He told me exactly where to get one, and next day I went down to the music store and bought one on the spot.
In terms of being a Freak-a-Holic – at what age did you realise that you were such a Freak?
From the very beginning. All the gangsters would have their gangster names written on their jacket, but I didn’t want to go around fighting all the time, I wanted to be a lover – so I picked the name Egyptian Lover – this started even way before I started DJing. I liked the reaction girls had when they heard the name, so I stuck with it. Then when I first heard Prince’s songs he was talking all nasty, kinda soft and wet, and on the next album had a song called ‘Sexy Dancer’, then on the next album he had a song called ‘Head’ and I liked that style, it was a style I wanted to stick with. I went straight Freak ever since then.
Outside of Prince, one of your biggest influences has to be Egyptology. What is it about Egypt that you’re so drawn to?
I was always drawn to it before I picked the name. But then when I was Egyptian Lover, I really wanted to be a young king you know? Like if I had a record out I wanted to be owner of my label, if I had a record label I wanted to be my own artist on that label – I wanted to be a young king like King Tut. That image really stuck in my mind, y’know like creating an empire? Which is why I named my label Egyptian Empire Records.
Your first album on the label, ‘On The Nile’, also included the ballad ‘I Cry (Night After Night)’, which has a more sombre mode, where a lot of that Prince influence comes out.
When you’re making a track like that, is your approach different to when you’re coming across with a pure sex vibe like on ‘Freak-a-Holic’?
It’s definitely a mood. Like if I got off the phone to someone before going into the studio, I’d be in a different mood as I’d have just been talking to her, instead of what mood I’d be in if I was just talking to my homey. When I made ‘I Cry’, I actually got that from an old Dean Martin song I used to listen to when I was a kid. I happened to see it when I was heading to the studio, and it stuck in my head, so when I went in the studio, I made that song, but in my own way. The Dean Martin song said “in the middle of the night is my crying time / in the middle of the day is when I lie”, so he lied to everyone at day time, because at night he cries. I thought that was a clever line, so I took it and made it my own.
So what are you thoughts on modern day hook up apps like Tinder and Happn?
[Laughs] Well I think the old way of meeting women was legitimate. You had to bring your ink pen to the club, or wherever you were, if you were at the mall, you’d have to bring your ink pen. Because if you don’t have your ink pen, you ain’t getting nobody’s number. Then you had to make sure you go home, and call them when they get home. When you talk to them on the phone, you don’t use your regular voice, you going into your deep sexy voice like [effects deep loverman accent] “what’s up baby yeah? Remember me baby? I met you at the mall…” You slow it down, you relax, you get sexy then they fall in love with your voice, and when these girls come see you, they just love you. Today, when you’re just texting, looking at pictures and you hung your whole life on a picture, you don’t really get turned on at all. I don’t see how today, people actually fall in love. It’s just a hook-up, on a regular basis, not like back in the day.
You’ve guested with Hot Natured and also worked with James Pants – are these the modern artists you feel carry the Freak-a-Holic vibe?
Y’know right now, I definitely think Jimmy Edgar. He has that Prince feel but still has his own style, and carries some of the Egyptian Lover style in there as well. He can carry that to the new generation.
I remember catching you at Bloc back in 2009 – what did you make of the weekend?
I loved it! It was amazing, so many people, and everyone just having fun. It reminded me of back in the day, so I really enjoyed it.
And you’re playing this year too – what can we expect from your show?
I’m gonna get down. I may add some of my new stuff that I’m working on, as my new album will be out soon. I may have a test pressing there, or may even have the full album available for sale.
So the new album, that’ll be released via Egyptian Empire?
Yes. It’s called ‘1984’, and I’m also doing an anthology that’s gonna be on Stones Throw, which should be coming out pretty soon as well.
Finally, I don’t know how many times you may have been asked this, but I’m going to have to ask; what is a DJ if he can’t scratch?
[Laughs] I was at a radio station once and was trying to understand why this “DJ” would play the records without doing anything to it, I was saying y’know you can make the intro longer by mixing it, play the parts people want to hear, but he would just play the records the way they sound. You’re not a DJ. You’re a person who plays records. You’re a jukebox. You don’t have to do that.