Deep in the Cut with Hip Hop Henry & Billy Crystal Fingers

by | Feb 21, 2024 | BEER & SPIRITS, DOWNTOWN RVA, EAT DRINK, FUNK & JAZZ, HIP HOP & RAP, MUSIC, NIGHTLIFE, R&B, SOUL & GOSPEL, SHOW PICKS

In this laid-back interview, I caught up with Richmond party scene vets Hip Hop Henry and Billy Crystal Fingers about their weekly Wednesday night event, Acid’s Groove at Get Tight Lounge. They discuss the origins of the name, their love for acid jazz and rare grooves, and for making the party happen whenever they team up. 

ed. note: Before we get into the interview, put this playlist on.

R. Anthony Harris: Let’s just jump right in. Why is the night called Acid’s Groove? 

Hip Hop Henry: We’re just trying to come up with a name. The whole premise was like, we both thought, “Yo, it’d be dope to play these acid jazz joints.” Yeah, like acid jazz and rare grooves. That’s really where we came from—those two things. Where I was, it was like, “Oh, who’s playing a lot of stuff that doesn’t really get played around the city like that.”

RAH: So, acid jazz. The first thing I think of is the ’90s. Yeah, does that genre go back further than that? 

Acid jazz, more of a ’90s thing, was big in the UK. I mean, think of Portishead, Brand New Heavies, Tricky, and Massive Attack. Those are like the premise of the party—acid jazz, trip hop, downtempo, rare groove. Initially, he made an Instagram story, wishing we had a place to play stuff like Brand New Heavies and acid jazz records.

The opportunity arose here to host a nightly event on Wednesday. So, I thought it’d be great for Eugene and me to do something like that, as I’m also a big fan of that music scene. I grew up listening to a lot of DJ Krush, Portishead, and similar artists on the Ninja Tune label, very instrumental hip hop, sample-based music.

When the chance to host a weekly event came up, I approached Eugene about the idea since he was the one who initially wanted to play this kind of music somewhere. We have a lot of creative freedom here at Get Tight, so I thought it’d be the perfect place for it, especially on a chill Wednesday night.

As for the name of the party, “Acid’s Groove,” when brainstorming, we were just throwing out ideas. “Jazzie’s Groove” by Soul II Soul is a song that represents acid jazz well. So, Acid’s Groove, we thought, why not name it that?

HHH: Talked about that’s a funny point thinking about it now because like, looking back now, like literally like that’s acid, jazz, and rare grooves. Like those are the two words, Acid’s Groove.

RAH: Is that something that you guys collect? Just record-wise?

BCF: Yeah, we collect a lot of stuff. Some of my very first records were definitely trip hop, stuff, as jazz stuff, late ’90s, early ’90s stuff. So it’s definitely a big part of the collection. I’d say it’s growing more now. Because we’re trying to like, you know, kind of curate this vibe and keep it going. Yeah, keep it fresh for the people that are coming weekly. For the staff as well, for ourselves. We want to keep challenging ourselves and keep it fresh. Keep playing good music, and keep it interesting. And…

RAH: That’s part of your collection too.

HHH: Oh, for sure. Like, a lot of it was before even knowing what the term was. It was just stuff that was dope, like Soul II Soul, Jamiroquai, back in the day. I just thought it was cool. I didn’t know the subgenre name for it or whatever. But then you realize what it was like, “Oh, I didn’t understand.” And that’s kind of like a predecessor. A lot of that sound is what was termed as jazz around 1989. Yeah, it never really went away, just became other things, expanding into other things.

BCF: Like he said, Neo Soul or like a lot of jazz-based hip hop borrowed a lot of sounds and the vibe from acid jazz that was big in the UK type of thing.

RAH: But it’s not your night on Wednesdays is not specific to that decade, though, right?

BCF: No, we expanded quite a bit. I mean, because we really just try to keep it chill, jazzy, good vibes. The rare groove thing is just like, it can be really a lot of things, but we try to keep it interesting. We’re not specifically playing only this type.

HHH: We’re not staying in a box. So like, we can expand on what the vibe is. So it was like, well, we always bring the acid joints in the room, but at the same time, I’m gonna slide a little boogie in there if it makes sense, if it ties into what we’re doing already, you know?

RAH: The role of the DJ is to read the room, right? Yeah. Yeah. If it’s too chill and everybody’s like, I fallen asleep. 

HHH: Yeah. We don’t want to have nobody just sat up at the bar. [laughs] Yeah, I tell people it’s kind of like jazzy vibes. We will play some jazz like, you’ll hear a Herbie Hancock in there as well.

BCF: A lot of Roy Ayers. We’re playing like a lot of good jazz, Roy Ayers, Gil Scott Heron, a lot of stuff from the Kudu label.

HHH: A few do a lot of fusion stuff. It’s when you looked back and was like, “Oh, like this, if it would have come out 15 years later, this is acid jazz.”

RAH: Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, I think, is the best jazz album ever.

HHH: Watermelon Man.

RAH: Man, so catchy, right? I have a whole thesis on that single album. But that’s for another time. I will also say Roy Ayers is amazing, and Wayne Shorter, and I lived in New York for a short time, and I was rocking his music while I was walking around. It sounds like New York. 

HHH: That’s definitely a thing too, with stuff just being THE soundtrack. And, back to the party, that’s what you can expect. That’s why for it to be on a Wednesday, it feels fitting beyond words. When you’re out on a Wednesday, you’re not expecting to turn up. Thursday is like the unofficial start to the weekend, with a Thirsty Thursday vibe. Wednesday is more like, I want to be out, I just want to be in a good vibe, a good environment. That’s why it’s a perfect night to play “Angel Dust” by Gil Scott Heron, in my opinion. It’s just chill, not all the way chill, but different.

RAH: A night a for experienced night owls? A night that doesn’t have all the rookies and the bros. Sure, I would expect Wednesday to walk in and feel like I’m in the living room curated by Henry and by Billy.

Another question for you, do you feel like a bit like audio historians by having a night like this? Is there a responsibility?

HHH: Honestly, by default, we already are because we’re still alive. [laughs]

Like, we’re music dudes who were around back then. I’ve had this conversation with people before where we get looked up to as these music aficionados but it wasn’t like that. It was just, this is what we grew up in. We knew when it comes to hip hop, like we knew what the elements were, we knew the rules of it. That’s because it was common knowledge back then. Stuff evolves and changes over time. We still know the original premise of it. So when we talk about how things were, or how we feel it should be, there’s no right or wrong. People look at us like, “Yo, y’all know all this stuff!” Like, we’re historians. We were there. Yeah. And that’s what this is.

BCF: Like, music just keeps coming back around. So it’s like, like he said, I mean, some of these records I’ve had for 20 plus years. So it seems like we love this music, we grew up with it, we’re still going to play it. 

So again, it’s just coming back around where it’s hitting some people for the first time, so it’s new to them. And I love that, but to me, it’s just like, yeah, like the stuff that we grew up in and stuff that we love to play. In here on Wednesday, we get a lot of creative freedom, which means we get to play a lot of stuff we don’t get to play at other parties, like at Wax Buildup, another music night we do, or just anywhere else. It’s just stuff that we’re kind of saving for a night like this type of thing.

HHH: I have a couple of shows that instance like never really got brought outside until we started doing this a couple of months ago. So like, oh, it’s super dope to be able to do that. Yeah, that’s some real thought about it. Like just being able to have a place to go and lay it. Yeah, like that is dope.

BCF: And the fact that people are appreciating it so much, I couldn’t be happier with the result of the crowd. We’re getting the feedback that we’re getting; the venue’s happy about it, we’re happy about it. And the fact that it’s a weekly thing. and doing this with somebody like Eugene is essential.

HHH: For me, it was a very pleasant surprise for the turnout we’ve been having. Our first thought is, it’s a win today; then, the second thought is like, I’m not mad to play a whole lot of Nelly Hooper. And, I don’t know if people are up on this, but people vibe. I have a couple of people from Hot For Pizza that pull up on Wednesdays too, just to see what I’m going to do here because you’re not going to get that on Thursday. Right? So, it’s just dope to be able to express all these different types of musical tastes that you wouldn’t have been able to share.

RAH: I mean, just the description of it feels a little bit like a lab. I remember being 16 and someone putting on a James Brown record, which was 30 years before my time at that point, and being like, “I never heard that,” or the first time I heard Fela Kuti, it was like, “This was happening in Africa?” And, it’s kind of, you lose perspective as you get older that a 20-year-old might have never heard of Portishead, never heard of Tricky, you know, never heard of this whole thing. And then, how that actually influenced the next 20-30 years of music in general.

HHH: And this is dope because, at the same time, it’s like, we’re entertaining, but we’re also giving you something new that you might have never heard before, that might change your musical palette.

RAH: Some of that changed my whole life. I heard GWAR at 14, and I was like, “Oh, Richmond is something different.” And then I moved here. 

HHH: For me, it was Parliament. Because it was like, we were nine years old when De La Soul comes out. So hearing “Me, Myself, and I,” “Oh, this is the jam,” as third graders. And boom, drops the needle on “Knee Deep,” and I’m like, “Yo!” So I hear that, and it’s been like, I always remembered those Parliament and Funkadelic covers used to freak me out when I was a kid. So, the same ones I have in the house are the same ones I had growing up with because maybe you didn’t understand how that music actually came to be.

It was talking to real-life stuff, like we get older and really understand what he’s talking about. But then this will say, “Yeah, George Clinton, like, I think I heard ‘Atomic Dog’ first. And I was like, ‘Alright, there’s a lot going on. That is good.’ 

And then later, this is DC back in the day, I’m at my aunt’s house and she has these records  laying around, and like I was 12 or 13 at this time, like, ‘Yo, this is Dr. Dre’s The Chronic — this is everything.'”

So then for me, it was like, “Alright, what else in this crazy collection that my aunt used to have? What else is it that I can discover?” And there’s the Gil Scott Heron records. There’s these crazy Atlantic Star records, there’s all this stuff that we grew up with as kids. We knew the singles and everything, but we weren’t sitting with these records. 

As a hip hop kid, I was just like, “Oh, this is where Hip Hop comes from.” So for somebody to discover stuff new, like when people come up to me asking what I’m playing, I’m always gonna share. 

RAH: Sharing of knowledge and sharing culture. Billy, did you have the same kind of experience like getting into records?

So, I actually grew up in Ecuador. That’s originally where I’m from. I moved to the US in ’89 when I was nine years old. So, I grew up in Latin America. My dad liked a lot of different music. I definitely remember listening to Pink Floyd and the Beatles, and Bill Withers’ record was always playing. I grew up loving records.

My mom also had a big family. She’s one of nine siblings, and they all had records. Whenever I’d go over to my grandma’s or uncle’s house, they had records too. So, when I was younger, I remember picking up a record, setting the needle down, and just getting used to listening to records in general.

Then, when I got my turntables around age 20, I was still living at home, and my parents had inherited all the records, of course. Their friends, being part of the Latin American culture with its large families and gatherings, would come over often. They’d see my turntables and collection and be amazed, asking, “What do you do with these?”

Seeing my passion, they’d offer their own records, saying, “You want to come over to my house and get all my records from me?” And of course, I’d eagerly agree. So, I got a lot of stuff. Some of the best records I have were gifts from family and friends.

RAH: That must have been a good feeling to put on a record and have like everybody as a family get together and be like, “Oh my god, yeah, now you made this party happen.”

BCF: And it was really fun. So like, I always love playing music with people. And that’s what I tell people now is like, I love playing records for people, love sharing music, I love getting a reaction from people from certain records, especially when I know it’s a record they probably haven’t heard before, and you get that reaction out of them. 

A lot of times, you know, the goal of the DJ is to play music that people are going to like and get them moving, but also educate them like Eugene was saying, break new records. And just kind of sharing, sharing the music, sharing the knowledge. I’ve never been like a gatekeeper type of person, where I’m not going to tell you what record I’m playing. I love sharing whatever I’m playing. And you know, like, we discovered samples back in the day and that like kind of reignited a love for music where it got you to discover other artists. 

Nowadays people don’t know that a lot of music is sample-based or they just they just don’t know about samples. So they’re like, “Oh, shit, you got the original like,” and then of course conversation with like, “Where do you get all this stuff.”

HHH: Like that other stuff that you eventually wind up loving, offshoots…

BCF: …of like bands, you know, like, the band and maybe like someone left and started another band, or like a lot of jazz musicians, they played with a bunch of different groups, and a lot of them played with the same people. So you kind of learn to see names and labels to just expand into other genres of music like that.

RAH: As anybody that understands history, before anything was recorded music and lessons was passed on verbally, stories, whatever. I kind of see that as the role of the DJ in a way of like, oh, the audio history that we have, and it’s nice to see you guys both talk about that. 

So Wednesday nights are actually a little bit of chill, get what you expect, but then maybe get something you didn’t expect.

BCF: Absolutely. There’s always going to be a surprise from both of us. You’re gonna get to Jazzie’s Groove. You’re going to get a remake of a song by another artist that you never knew existed. You will be surprised like last week and Corey Fonville from Butcher Brown is in here and he’s like, “Yo, what is that?”

RAH: Definitely Corey Fonville is a student of the game. So yeah, you mess with people and try to get them like, “I caught you with something you didn’t even know existed.” Sweet satisfaction, like I caught you.

BCF: Getting that reaction not only from everyday people, but like he said, from people like DJ Harrison. He’s pulled up quite a few times, and I’ve also had him pull up to the turntable to see what record I was playing. Like, it’s always huge getting that type of reaction from actual musicians that we both admire and love. 

So, yeah, I’m so happy with the turnout in general. It’s going to keep building up, I think, because the weather picks up as more people know about it. And I still tell people about Get Tight. It’s still a relatively new venue, maybe only like a year old, and a lot of people still don’t know about it. I recommend people come check it out. Really, not even on a Wednesday night. Just come any night. The food’s good. They’ve got a great patio back here, bands, DJs all the time. So yeah, we love ya, Get Tight.

RAH: I have one more question for you. I’ll throw it to Billy first. You already kind of mentioned sharing the information, but has it come to your mind that this is like, this is who you are, and this is what you’re going to be doing probably for the rest of your life? You might be like 80 years old, and be DJing the old folks home. [laughs]

BCF: Yeah, it absolutely, I mean, I’m never going to stop buying records. That’s never ever going to stop. Buying records is just going to be an ever-expanding thing. That won’t stop, can’t stop, won’t stop. I don’t want to stop, and like, yeah, like again, that comes along with the playing of the records. Like, I don’t want to just hoard all this vinyl and not share it with somebody. So like, absolutely, like, I definitely see myself, if I can walk and carry records or have someone carry records for me, I’m going to be playing records for people.

HHH: And the funny part is, for me, it was just like, I’ve always known this since I was like, this is your fate, since I was like five, six. I had a 9 to 5 corporate thing, but all the while, literally underneath everything, I was buying records. I was at Plan 9 every week when I went back home to DC. I was at U Street digging in. It was just like, oh, like, I always knew, like, there was always a voice. I’m sitting at a desk typing, making phone calls, and it was like this isn’t what you’re supposed to be doing. So one day, I just left. Literally, I just left, hit my GM up and was like, it’s over. And he was just like, send me a resignation letter.

RAH: Your office job was a wrap? And I’m gonna be just a music nerd fanatic forever?

HHH: I did my first party, like a month before that happened. And I was like, “Nah,” just like I saw the crowd. I was like, “God, this is it.” The check was satisfying. But that was about it. That was about it. [laughs]

Yeah, there are so many ways to get just true satisfaction from DJing, like getting a reaction from people or getting into a sing-along or just having people come up to the turntable. Like, a great feeling when you drop the volume and they’re still there singing regardless of the song playing. And feeling like, “Yeah, I got you.” You chase those moments. And that’s gonna keep us going forever, for sure. 

Acid's Groove
More information HERE
R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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