“THE UNION” — DJ SELECTA, DJ BLAKK STEEL, DJ BIG PHILL (Photos by Ashley G. Woodson)
by Ashley G. Woodson
For New Pittsburgh Courier
DJ Big Phill, DJ Selecta and DJ Blakk Steel.
Collectively, they’re known in Pittsburgh as “The Union,” and in this town where some Black professionals and mature adults say there’s not much of a nightlife, “The Union” has helped to fill that void over the past five years.
“Everyone in the crew brings something different to the table,” said Phillip “DJ Big Phill” Thompson, “but the one thing we have in common is that we all are beasts on those turntables, and we feed off each other when we are on the stage together. No other DJ crew has the same type of synergy together on stage. I love and make an extra effort to promote what my brothers do outside of ‘The Union’ because I feel that it’s a good look for the group.”
DJ Big Phill said that “we have created an experience that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. We sell out VIP tickets within minutes, no matter the price.”
THESE LADIES ENJOYED THEMSELVES at “The Union,” Aug. 21, at Thunderbird Music Hall in Lawrenceville. (Photos by Ashley G. Woodson)
Khari Mosley, former elected Democratic chairman of Pittsburgh’s 22nd ward and current Pennsylvania Regional Programs Manager for the BlueGreen Alliance, called ‘The Union’ events “the city’s most popular Hip-Hop event series, hands down. It is the one event you can be sure to hear golden-age Hip-Hop and other classic records from various genres all night long. Big Phill, Selecta and Blakk Steel are all legends in their own right, but when they come together, they bring out Pittsburgh’s movers, shakers and trendsetters.”
DJ Big Phill is a Penn Hills High School graduate who has been deejaying since age 15 or 16. “DJ Supa C, who is a year younger than me, taught me how to DJ,” Big Phill told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “It was my step-pops, Arnold Stagger, who is a respected musician, that gave me my love for music. He was in the Real Silk Band…and they would practice in the basement and I would just sit there and soak it all in.”
Big Phill recalled how, one day, he was just messing around with some old records of Al Green’s “I’m Glad You Are Mine.” He sped the record up to “45” and kept extending the drum break. The following year, rap duo Eric B. and Rakim came out with the song, “Mahogany,” and Big Phil’s stepfather said to him: “I remember you did this (beat) a year ago.”
As Big Phill attended Rust College in Mississippi, he was an air talent on the college radio station. He honed his DJ acumen when classes weren’t in session.
Big Phill, who led the way in forming “The Union,” started doing the parties at Brillobox in Bloomfield with DJ Selecta, real name James Scoglietti. Big Phill said it took about six months of consistent parties for the Pittsburgh crowd to catch on, but then it got to a point where it was a packed crowd for each event.
DJ Blakk Steel joined “The Union” when DJ Selecta was unable to make one of the events, and the former WAMO radio personality brought his DJ and mic skills to the party. Big Phill soon realized that all three DJs would now comprise “The Union.”
“The way all three DJs feed off each other is indescribable and the atmosphere is calm, cool, and collected and they put out nothing but the hits, from old school to new school,” said Greg Simmons, who was at the latest “Union” event, Aug. 21, at Thunderbird Music Hall in Lawrenceville.
For DJ Selecta, he told the Courier he would listen to Pittsburgh radio legend Sly Jock on WAMO “on many late Sunday evenings to the point that I often was a zombie the next morning at Reizenstein Middle School.
DJ BIG PHILL, DJ BLAKK STEEL
An Allderdice High School graduate, DJ Selecta recalled getting into Pitt student radio station WPTS with Adam “DJ Blakk Steel” Lewis back in 1988 to make DJ tapes. Two years later, Blakk Steel was officially on the air at WPTS (92.1), as DJ Selecta’s name continued to grow in the local Hip-Hop scene.
“We instantly formed a musical bond and over the years transcended into ultimate brotherhood,” DJ Selecta said of DJ Blakk Steel.
DJ Selecta said he first met DJ Big Phill in the early ‘90s, when Big Phill sent Selecta a note inquiring about contributing a story about the graffiti scene in Pittsburgh. It was for a short-lived publication called “PHUNK” magazine.
“Much like with Blakk Steel, there was an instant musical symbiosis,” Selecta said of Big Phill.
DJ Blakk Steel, in addition to his on-air work at WAMO, worked for Underground Hip-Hop Video Magazine from 1993-2008. The Schenley High School graduate was nominated for six Billboard Music Awards during that time. Blakk Steel currently co-owns an Internet-based Urban Adult Contemporary radio station, which can be heard at www.digitalanalogradio.com.
DJ Selecta streams on the social media platform Twitch (twitch.tv/selecta720) every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and has a weekly radio show on WYEP-FM (91.3) Fridays from 6 to 8 p.m.
DJ Big Phill has been on the turntables for each of “The Union” events. He’s the one who books the parties with different venues, comes up with the flyer designs, and Danielle Robinson tailor-makes the flyers on Adobe Photoshop. Big Phill creates the videos that are on the big screen behind the DJs at “The Union” parties, too.
PITTSBURGH RESIDENTS LESLIE THOMPSON, MICHAEL TALLEY
“‘The Union’ experience takes me back to the good, fun, party days of the late ‘90s and early 2000s,” said Michael “Zanmme” Talley, who was at the Aug. 21 “Union” party. “It even puts me back on campus at NSU (Norfolk State University) as if it was homecoming! Definitely what the city and the Hip-Hop culture needs! Keep it up, brothas, and please don’t stop.”
Pittsburgh resident Brandi Taylor said: “Any time ‘The Union’ is on the one’s and two’s it’s a guaranteed clean-cut, Pittsburgh party hard blast.”
Marty Childs said the events give him the chance to appreciate “the live DJ’s stage performances with the turntables, which has taken me back to my era.”
“It took me back to a time where music had a message,” added Derrick “D-Dawk” Dawkins. “It was great to see them using vinyl still in this digital world. Overall, it was a great feeling, I saw a lot of people from high school. The vibe was great.”
DJ BIG PHILL—Phillip Thompson concocted the idea of “The Union,” local DJs coming together to give events for Pittsburgh’s Black, mature crowd.
The next “Union” event is Saturday, Nov. 6, at Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville. DJ Big Phill told the Courier it’s his de facto 50th birthday celebration.
“If someone wants to really know what Black Pittsburgh looks like, come to one of my ‘Union’ parties and soak in the ‘Union’ experience for yourself because it is unique,” Big Phill said. “I guarantee you can’t get it anywhere else.”