The Oral History of the Tunnel

The Oral History of the TunnelAs told to Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)

THE SHOWS

[Ed. Note—The Tunnel closed in late May 1996 when Gatien was indicted on drug charges. The club reopened in October of that year with Flex as the sole promoter of the Sunday night party.]

Rosenblum: Mecca was my party. The club closed, it reopened, and they continued the party without me.

Lighty: [After Jessica and I left] Flex promoted the party straight from his [Hot 97 FM] show and it didn’t have that same downtown vibe. It had a harder hip-hop edge, and I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that.

Flex: As the music became more commercial, the club became more commercial. It changed exactly as the music changed. I just happened to be a DJ that was a downtown DJ, and as the game was changing, I got on the radio. I was becoming a more commercial DJ on the radio station. The kid that was coming to see me at the Tunnel in the early ’90s was a different kid now, as we got to ’96, ’97, when the party wasn’t called Mecca anymore. Now, it’s probably a commercial head who listens to me on the radio, but they don’t know that I came from downtown with Jessica.

Rosenblum: After I left, the party became reliant on Flex booking acts. When I did Mecca, it was the way I’ve always worked—it was about the excitement of the party that I create.

Flex: I never paid an artist to perform at the Tunnel. It was never even a discussion. Artists were begging [to perform].

Gatien: Flex is a brilliant business person.

 

Diddy lost his Rolex that night, just wildin’. You know how 'The Benjamins' was. Somebody walked out of there with an $80K Rolex.
- Jadakiss

 

Valdés: A lot of times, I would leave [before the performances began] because they were always so damn late. They were supposed to be at 12, and then they wouldn’t start until 2 a.m. I would think, “All right, I’m done. I’ve got to go to work tomorrow.”

Flex: You would have one crowd that would come at 10:30 p.m. and leave by 1:30 a.m. because they had to go to work. Then all the money niggas, all the drug dealers and the fly chicks would come at 1:30 a.m., 2 a.m., and be there till the end, at 4 a.m. I would play music until 4.

Cipha: On a regular Sunday, it was packed by midnight.

Prodigy: Performing there, if felt like, “This is our club. This is our home.”

Jadakiss: Bad Boy hosted a night at the Tunnel just as Diddy was breaking [the Lox] open. We did “Benjamins” for the first time [live] there and it was a madhouse. Flex pulled it back two or three times and we just kept rocking it. There were other people on the bill, but after we did “Benjamins” it was a wrap. They didn’t go on. The club was shut down. Craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Diddy lost his Rolex that night, just wildin’. You know how "The Benjamins" was. Somebody walked out of there with an $80K Rolex. I felt like in New York, the ice was broken for us [with that performance]. Because you got the media coverage that Monday. Then everybody’s talking about you.

DMX: I knew that “Get At Me Dog” was a hit at the Tunnel, and I knew what that meant. They told me: “When this shit comes on at the Tunnel, motherfuckers go crazy.” But I’d never been—until I performed there, when we shot the video [for “Get At Me Dog”].

Flex: On the radio I stop and start records, but I never did that until I played the Tunnel. One of the records where I started doing that was “Get At Me Dog.” The biggest night with that record in there, I pulled [the song] back, and this kid started burning hundred dollar bills. He was waiting at the bar to buy alcohol, and he just lit it up. I don't think he was a drug dealer or nothing, he was just so hyped.

DMX: It was hot as a motherfucker, and the stage was crowded. The Lox were there, Onyx was there. Everybody in the crowd had those leashes, the kind that make it look like you’re walking an invisible dog. When I performed—and it’s the only time I’ve ever done this—I performed one song at least 12 times. One fucking song. Each time I did “Get At Me Dog,” it was like the first time. I only had a few songs at that time anyway. But the energy was up, so I just kept giving it to them: “Where’s my dogs at?!” I was wearing overalls, and when I finished, the shit was around my waist.

Jadakiss: The “Get At Me Dog” video was shot during a regular night at the Tunnel. The turnout of extras and family members and Ruff Ryders—the shit was amazing.

DMX: It was because of the video that I got the opportunity to do Belly. [Ed. Note—Hype Williams directed the music video and the film.] When we shot Belly, I got to spend a lot more time at the Tunnel. It felt like a second home. Up until that point, I hadn’t spent that many days in one place, besides jail. On the first day of shooting they brought the strippers in [for the film’s opening sequence]. I don’t remember what club they were from and I don’t remember their names, I just remember that I tried to fuck ’em all.

Juvenile: All weekend [before my performance], people had been telling me that they would boo you off stage. They told me it was the hardest club to come to [from out of town] and do a show. I had it in my mind that I wasn’t getting booed off stage—I was going to be the realest nigga. When I did “Ha,” everyone started taking their shirts off. I did “Ha,” like, three times. After that, I can’t remember everything. I was drinking Hennessy, and I was in a wild mood, man. Hennessy makes you crazy. I think I went into the crowd... [Ed. Note—Thankfully, footage exists of everything Juve did that night. Watch it here.]

Jadakiss: Going there performing and going there partying, there was a difference. [Partying] you’re just out in the crowd seeing the melting pot of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Jersey, Connecticut, Staten Island, Long Island, all the beautiful women, but it was also very dangerous sometimes. Fights broke out. Miscommunication—it could get ugly. You really had to be on your Ps and Qs. Most of the time everybody wanted to have a good time, but when it got ugly, it did get ugly.

Tags: the-tunnel, new-york, funkmaster-flex, peter-gatien, jessica-rosenblum, puff-daddy, jadakiss, dmx, prodigy, chris-lighty, cipha-sounds, joie-manda, juvenile, michael-rapaport
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