I discovered Cue's Hip Hop Shop in 1995 after seeing an ad in Bomb Magazine and after my initial visit, became a loyal customer driving weekly from Redwood City to Daly City to cop whatever new joints they had got in. At that time, my jones for collecting hip hop wax greatly outweighed my income (I was washing dishes in at the cafe inside the Stanford Nordstroms), but owner Frank "DJ Cue" Cuevas always hooked it up with a free promo or a discount and there were always tons of posters and stickers for the taking. Frank's shop was a hip hop paradise like nothing else the Bay Area will ever see again. NY had Fat Beats, we had Cue's. When I first started working on this blog I realized that most of the music I wanted to focus on I was exposed to through my frequent trips to Cue's. In addition to running the store, Frank is a member of the Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters DJ crew (who released the infamous "Hamster Breaks" records) and it's many offshoots (Space Travelers, Drum Machine Technicians) as well as organizer of two Cue's Hip Hop Shop compilation albums. Here's a quick interview I did with Frank in October 2007.
How long have you been DJing?
I’ve been djing since 1986. I was in Jr high and bought a set of 2 belt drive turntables and a Pyramid mixer with echo from my sister’s boyfriend. It was 150 bucks. Only 1 turntable had pitch control and that was a trip for belt drive. I bought records back in grammar school but never thought about getting into djing since all I did was play sports. To this day baseball still ranks higher than djing for me.
At what point did your obsession with records reach the point where you decided to open a store? Was it a response to not being able to find the records you wanted or was there another motive?
The store was something I wanted to do since while I was in high school. I’ve always wanted my own business and once we released Hamster Breaks, I got a taste of how shops ran when we dealt with the owners selling to them. For me opening a shop was an extension of making records. I could have a location to be at fulltime, making, selling, and buying records. It solved all my objectives at once.
While other small DJ shops catered towards club records and wicked mix compilations, you had an entire wall devoted to independent and underground hip hop 12 inches and lp's. Why this focus?
Back then I had a mindset of changing things for the better for the music scene and giving people what I wanted them to hear. I felt the indie scene was so much better than the commercial music being put out. If I could make an indie artists record get 5 more sales than the best Top 40 record, I was happy. Having a shop in the Bay Area was also very big for the indie scene. Not having any support from the majors was one of the main reason why the indie scene was our choice. The major labels weren’t trying to support vinyl only shops at first. We sold vinyl and we went with what felt was best for our shop and future.
You were carrying a lot of obscure, indie 12 inches from the East Coast. How did you decide what to order? What distributors were you dealing with?
The selection was based upon what the indie customers wanted. The local indie and college stations pretty much predicted what was going to be our selection. We listened and read the magazines. The community was small and close so everyone kept in contact letting each other know what was out. We bought from distributors from all over. Once in awhile we would sell records on consignment if we weren’t sure the records would sell.
What are some of your favorite records of that era?
Wow, good question. High and Mighty B-Boy document, East Flatbush Project Tried By 12, all the indie Big L and DITC stuff. Rawkus always had some bangin stuff. Ras Kass “Remain Anonymous” was one of the hottest complete tracks I recall too.
Back then 12 inches almost always had an accapella, a remix or an unreleased b-side - there was a reason to collect them even if you weren't a DJ. Nowadays the 12" seems to be more of a boutique item. Why do you think the industry moved away from the exclusive 12" goodies?
The industry is really lazy now and it shows with the quality of the music they put out. Everything is an anthem or says the same thing on every verse. That being said, what else can the labels do? There’s no need for acapellas or instrumentals if the crap they put out really is short term. They are just trying to stay alive and will release as much stuff as possible looking for a hit. They can send out email blasts of tracks all day for minimal price compared to a 12 inch single to 3,000 dj’s plus the cost of postage and advertising. At the end of the day it’s just business.
You had a virtual who's who of 90's artists come through and do in store appearances. Which one's were the most memorable?
I think a few that were memorable were Biggie and Craig Mack, Big L, Saafir, De La Soul, and 2 Live Crew. Those in store appearances were always so unpredictable. You never knew if people would show up, especially since a lot of the artists were unknown at the time. All of them were interesting in their own way from Ol' D B to Bootcamp Click. I wish I recorded them to see them now.
At first I think I was lying to myself and feeling overwhelmed by everything going on in my life at that time. I was 20 when I started the shop and never had time to go do anything normal like most people. But that wasn’t the case. I did do things that were normal and a whole lot more. I had a good time with the shop when it was around. It’s been about 7 years now since I closed it and now after looking back, there wasn’t much else to go further with at the shop. People were downloading files with Napster, DJ’s started migrating to the Pioneer CD players. If I wasn’t going to enjoy it, I had to get away from it. I think I was tired of the fighting with labels to try and get new records on vinyl for my core DJ’s and trying to keep the CD DJ’s interested in the vinyl we did get. I wasn’t going to only sell cd’s and I didn’t have the motivation to look for another way to run the shop. The era had come and gone for it.
Sandbox Automatic recently stopped selling vinyl. I was talking on the phone with a homie from NY and he remarked that it was a true sign that hip hop is dying. What are your thoughts on the further digitizing of DJing and hip hop in general?
You know I wish I could agree with that. But the thing that keeps me looking forward to a new era and revolution is the internet. The same thing that has killed off most of our culture is helping rebuild it. Many of the folks who never got into the networking and establishing identities online are now doing it and making a difference. Just imagine you can send a shout out to DJ Premier or hit up producers you never had contact with. I feel like a kid again and this time I have full access to what I want to look for. I don’t have to listen to any radio or any DJ’s music but my own. When the digital world was new everyone took what was given to them and that was the written word, now you have multiple choices and you can fact check and find the realness that you want. I know it will work and I look forward to being a part of it.
What have you been up to recently?
Recently I’ve been just taking what I’ve learned the last few years and been making a new game plan for my career in music and business. I’m a real estate agent, notary, and I work in the I.T. dept for Lucasfilm. Everything I’ve gotten myself into is for the sole purpose of growing and expanding my music/business careers. Each thing gives me an insight on the aspects of technology, business, and property. Last year I got certified as a Certified ProTools Operator so it gives me that little extra when people ask for me to work on projects. I guess you can say I’ve been going to school the last few years catching up on everything. I think the plan is working out.
Thanks for the interview! Anything you'd like to plug?
The only plug is really the new site I put together for the crew at www.bulletproofscratch.com. Its a site that has the whole crew together in one place. we've never had a central location as a crew until now.
DJ Cue Myspace Page
Cue's Hip Hop Shop Myspace Page