Remembering the White Label Record


In the late 90’s and early 00’s, I had a few residencies a week both here in NYC and in NJ. This was pre-Serato, so when you had a shift from 10 pm ’til 4am, you were bringing a bunch of crates and bags to the gig. You needed to have the perfect balance of the classic and some of the new (especially here in NYC) to keep the party moving. I can remember people being 6 inches away from me downstairs at Bar XVI and not having a joint someone wanted to hear. The crowds were tough, and I got a quick, School of Hard Knocks education My old DJ potna’ Un-G was a staple in the Lower East Side, so he got me in on the action in the then upcoming neighborhood and we did a few nights. Back at home, I was always going to this joint called MAC Records here in NJ to get white labels in preparation for the nights. MAC was right in the middle of the hood, and had multiple stores in urban areas. They sold the latest mix tapes, DJ equipment, beepers, records, and audio equipment. It was always an adventure, as each visit brought out something new: a fight about returns, someone asking for store credit or money, or the turning on or off of phones, etc. This was part of the charm of buying a variety of records each week. I’d been steady buying Hip Hop 12’s for a while, but when I didn’t want to spend (or didn’t have) the cheddar for a song I might not play after a few months, I’d hit up the white label section. The records had names like Funk Grooves, Phat Flavor Party Joints, Old School Jams, Phat Classics, Ruff Kut Party Grooves, Phat Mix and others. These basically bootlegs had their own section. If there was a record you didn’t have on 12″, say “Black Cop” or “Sound of the Police” by BDP, there was always a Phat Classics with those cuts on them plus 4 or 5 more. Maybe you needed “Funkin’ For Jamaica”. When you found the record, you’d get that and “Children’s Story” and ‘Vapors” all in one. There was an infinite supply of these, so you didn’t have to commit to buying a Jagged Edge 12″ that would collect dust on your shelf. You could buy a hit pack to help you out for the week, or for longer if you got the Classics on white labels. Of course these were no substitute for the originals. Now the sound quality and record quality were not top notch (very thin vinyl records, sometimes shotty labels that peeled off), but what else did you expect for $4.99? There were “official” comps like UBB, Soul Patrol, Pulp Fusion and more that I bought at Rock and Soul (where I once browsed next to CL Smooth as a young buck), but the records I’m speaking of were being churned out weekly at a pretty speedy pace. I’d often wondered who pressed them up, and since it was illegal, how did they get throughout my area every week? All the DJs always had at least a couple of them in their bag, plus doubles of UBB and Super Disco Breaks (I had to have doubles of “Smokin’ Cheeba Cheeba”), and I often wondered how people got away with it. I felt like the color labels were a little better quality than the gray, but at the end of the day they were bootlegs. I’m not buying vinyl to fill a niche these days, as I have acquired all the originals of the white labels I really dug. Currently, I’m looking for and digging up a lot of different Funk and Soul, mostly 45s and a lot of Jazz and Reggae. Since I’ve acquired said Hip Hop original 12″s that I wanted, my taste and digging habits have changed. I’ve established my style as a DJ and have kept an open mind to lots of other genres. Always a student, always learning, there is so much music out there, and the quicker you realize you will not be able to learn (or get) it all, the better you will be. New DJs today will never know the feeling of going to Fat Beats, or Rock and Soul, or their local record shop (if there is even one) to get new records, if they are even playing records. They can download the latest Kendrick Lamar or 2 Chainz joint without leaving their house to play on Serato or their iPad. They can have the entire UBB collection in one click. Going to the record store each week was a ritual. The records, characters you ran into, the entire way the music business was run was an experience. I actually feel sorry for these newbies, they don’t get to experience this very special initiation I, along with many other DJs went through. Times change, technology changes, and the industry bangs on. These white label bootlegs, in my opinion, were a necessary evil when I was establishing myself and nights that I wanted to create, and an experience I wouldn’t trade in for anything. While I haven’t played these records in probably 10 years, I can’t get up the nerve to throw them out. I don’t know why, but i just can’t. They are a part of my digging/ DJ career, and they’ll be in a flight case under some junk until I have no more room at all.

Keep Diggin’!

2 responses to “Remembering the White Label Record

  1. Pingback: Leftover Links: Rare Grooves, White Labels And Crate Digging | Sampleface·

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