Tuff Crew, one of Philadelphia's first hip-hop groups, will reunite for the first time in more than 15 years with a concert
Tone Love was 18 years old when he went from spouting off freestyle rhymes with his friends to part of a rap group - and a movement - that would change music forever.
It was late 1985 and the genre was just starting to take off. Tone Love found himself as a member of Tuff Crew, which would later be perceived as so influential to hip-hop it was dubbed "Philly's First Rap Supergroup" by numerous magazines and radio DJs.
Now, he and the four other Tuff Crew members are scheduled to perform their first public appearance since the early '90s at Tritone, 1508 South St., 9 p.m. Aug. 11.
Born and raised on 15th and Dickinson streets, Tone Love moved to the Northeast - leaving South Philly High and completing his last year of school at Germantown High - when mentor Tony Mitchell introduced him to a young rapper (who also was his godchild) named David Dickerson, aka L.A. Kidd.
"I was rapping at different local clubs, local skating rinks, after-midnight spots - first in South Philly then down by Roosevelt Boulevard," Tone Love recalled last week of his early music appearances. Mitchell, who the rapper refers to as a "father figure," filled a void in Tone Love's life, as his dad was absent during his childhood. "I called him an 'old head,'" Tone Love said with an endearing laugh. "He was generally around, kind of guided me, trying to keep me out of the normal trappings. He'd give me advice."
Just finishing high school, L.A. Kidd and friend Ice Dog, who now lives in the Northeast, were making small steps on the budding scene when Tone Love entered the picture.
"I did all the music and Dog wrote the majority, and then Tone came into the group," L.A. Kidd, who now resides in Los Angeles, said last week via phone. He had gone to Overbrook High School and grew up in West Philly rhyming with such soon-to-be icons as Will Smith. "Then we got our DJ, Too Tuff ... a North Philly local boy who lived around the corner from Ice Dog," L.A. Kidd said, adding Too Tuff has since become known as an instigator of the turntablist movement because of his spins with Tuff Crew.
About the same time, another South Philly boy, Monty G, brought his beat-boxing skills into the mix. His distinctive voice landed him the role as the hype man, revving the crowd up before a performance.
A few months later, the five teens became part of what is considered the founding fathers of hip-hop - now-famous musicians like Public Enemy, Run DMC and LL Cool J, all with whom the group performed during the late '80s.
Fame hit fast, L.A. Kidd and Tone Love recalled, after their first album, "Phangam," a compilation with Camden, N.J.-based rap group Crown Rulers, dropped in '87. "We got a lot of good support in the areas we were known in - Philly, Miami, Baltimore," L.A. Kidd said. "Tuff Crew kind of took off faster than we anticipated."
A year later, they were thrust into an even brighter limelight with "Danger Zone," especially with the hit single "My Part of Town," which made waves with Philadelphia's inner-city teens, L.A. Kidd said.
"'My Part of Town' - that was Philly's anthem," the rapper recalled. "The song is based on our experiences in Philly and I feel like Philadelphia can relate to those experiences, especially youth in the streets. We wanted to make the music for the people. We kept it rugged and I think Philly appreciated that."
Coming a long way from freestyling on stoops and at skate parks, Tuff Crew made three hit albums and then went their separate ways in about '91 to carry out personal music endeavors.
Monty G stayed in South Philly, where he went on to work on radio promotions, such as Power 99. He's also part of the Broad Street Bullies, a group that attends local events, such as Eagles games, to hype up the crowd.