You are mainly known for your rare rap mixes, but having followed your website for a while it becomes obvious that you really do delve into all different types of music, so what was your musical upbringing like? What music did you listen to when you were younger?
“I’m from Washington DC. I grew up in DC Public school, so I was surrounded by a lot of hip hop and go-go, Run DMC and Fat Boys were popular when I was a kid. In a way I was a minority: I was a white kid in a black school and I actually liked both punk a lot and rap a lot. It’s funny because there is this Minor Threat song called ‘Guilty Of Being White’. It’s not really about racism, but as a white kid you are the minority. If you were into punk rock or skateboarding in DC, you got beaten up and made fun of. But if anything that just pushed me further towards that. It wasn’t until my parents split up and I went to high school in the suburbs that I discovered other kids that rode skateboards. Then I got bored of that, and went back to liking hip hop. I have also been writing graffiti since I was 13.”
So from quite a young age you were involved in all these different cultures, music, skating, graffiti…
“…yeah, I started skating in the late 80s. When I started skating I had a Caballero deck and a Mark Gonzales deck. When I really got into skateboarding, more than just being a little kid that would just ride it around and tick tack and stuff, I guess that was the era of the Powell Peralta ‘Propaganda’ videos. Dudes like Frankie Hill and that H Street video with Matt Hensley ollieing the lunch tables. He had ‘Back in Black’ by ACDC playing, it was pretty cool, I remember that well.”
And when did you first start collecting records and DJing?
“I was always into lots of different kinds of music, but in high school I met this guy from New York who moved down to DC to live with his aunt. He had a sampler and a 4-track and he made beats and rhymed and did all the cuts on his own stuff. He was just an all-around really talented dude. He showed me what to look for in sampling. He was the first person to play me Bob James’ ‘Two’ around 1994 or 1995. That blew my mind because I grew up on Run DMC and I never knew where that came from. That just turned me into a monster and I started buying all kinds of stuff. I also started looking for samples people used and then I started looking for drums to use myself. I bought my own sampler and my own 4-track. I started realizing, why am I giving Tribe Called Quest so much credit for sampling this great Billy Brooks track? It’s not hard to make a great song out of a great song.”
It’s about finding the origins really, about digging that bit deeper to find those gems everything is based on.
“Yeah, in a way. I also started respecting it more when people would take something that sucked and make it good. Or take something and completely change its dynamic and make it different. Not just loop something. I remember finding Blacksheep samples and being amazed at the way Mista Lawnge would layer them. He would layer two or three things that were in key together and I really admired that. They had limited technology when they made those records, but as time went on and we had more sampling time, there was less excuse for just looping something.”
What I really like about your mixes on your website is that they are really diverse. You’ve got your rare rap mixes, but then also things like the ‘Pep Rally EP’, where you cover pop songs and make marching band songs out of it. Is that important to you, to keep it different and come out with all sorts of musical styles?
“ I like to limit myself. So I just have an idea to put two things together or one kind of topic to stick to. By limiting yourself you have to work within parameters and it forces you to be creative and I really enjoy that. If somebody was like ‘Hey, just make a mix of things that you think sound good’, I don’t know what I would do. I would have too many choices and I don’t think I would be able to do it. But when I can limit myself, that’s when I enjoy making mixes. Lately I really have been focusing on production. I’ve been working on an album with my friend Godforbid and that’s really been my main focus right now. I’ve got a new edition to the Galactic music series as well. The new one I’m finishing up is called, ‘Galactic Gazebo Music’.”
What’s the deal with the album? What is the title for it and what can we expect musically?
“It’s going to be called ‘American Style Cardboard’. All the singles I had done before were sample-based, so for this album we made a lot of music. I played a lot of stuff on it and it’s definitely a jump up in production compared to all my older stuff. All the vocals are by my friend from Boston, Godforbid. He’s a Spit Squad member with Thirstin Howl and he did an album with Thirstin and Father Time called ‘The Alaskan Fishermen’, which never really got as big as I think it should have. But anyway, he started getting bored with hip hop and got into this rock group called ‘That Handsome Devil’ and then we started talking about how we wanted to make hip hop more about story telling, you know, not rapping about rapping. Not rapping about being better than the next MC. So we just started putting together this album and we wanted it to reflect the blue-collar working class American that’s into hip hop instead of focusing on money and record deals and cars and bullshit like that. It’s for the normal guy on the street and there are a lot of stories about kids. You know when hip hop really affected me and I really was into it, I was 15 or 16. That’s who you should be making music for. Nobody should be sitting around the dinner table, drinking wine, discussing the validity of a hip hop record. Your audience should be 16 and mad at their parents and skipping school and stealing some sunglasses from TJ Maxx.”
What’s the production going to be like? Straight-up hip hop, or are you delving into some of the other musical realms that we can hear on your mixes?
“All the songs are really different musically. It’s not groundbreaking. It’s hip hop, It’s story telling. I did cuts and produced all the tracks. Some of them I just made a couple of months ago, some of them I made years ago. We brought them back to life again. My engineering has gotten a lot better since then, so there was ideas that I had back in the day that I brought back to life. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel, but there is one song on there that is a little bit Dubstepy, that we just did for shits and giggles and I like that a lot.”
You are obviously a man who has been into digging vinyl for years, so how has all that changed with the internet? It’s obviously way easier to find the real gems, but do you still go to the actual shops?
“The internet was great to me, especially in the beginning. Like 1996 and 1997 when Ebay and Paypal were new. I was in college, I was broke, and I lived in Richmond, Virginia. There were rivers of records down there and there was no competition. I would ride my bike to the southside and I would just buy tons of copies of Donald Byrd’s ‘Places and Spaces’ and stuff like that. I would put them on Ebay every week. I mean Ebay cost very little, the world market had just blown wide open, people from all over the world were buying stuff. They always paid you, they always sent your money on time. I didn’t even have a computer. I used to go to the library to the computer lab and put my lists up. Nobody ever complained about the condition and everybody was always super happy just to get the records. So that was great, it got me through college, it paid my rent.
During that process I learned a lot, I found a lot of records for myself and a lot of things I didn’t know. So yeah, those days were great. Once the dust all settled with all that, I feel like unless I’m going to get $100 for a record, I don’t want to put it on the internet. I would rather trade stuff with my friends. The thing is, I still find records out there because I know a lot more then I did back then. I could make a dollar out of 15 cents a lot easier now. But it did for a while, become a thing of currency, rather than music for me. That was a sad state of affairs. So now I just buy records and I don’t really surf the web for them or sell them much. I just enjoy them and listen to what I have because I have so many.”
When it comes to finding records, do you have any favourite cities or shops, and are there any regional differences? I mean do you get better hip hop records in New York and better dance stuff in Chicago…
“…that era of 68 through to the 80s, there were certain regions in the US that worked better for certain things. Richmond was great for gospel, New York was great for hip hop, Chicago was great for soul, the West coast was great for rock music. There are no lines though. You never know what you are going to find. I was recently in Vancouver and I found ‘Competition Catch Speed Knots’ by Constant Deviants. I mean who would have thought that I would have found that up there? There are no rules to it. What’s cool is that I made a lot of friends over the years, so if I go to California I go to Groove Merchant in San Francisco, my friends will point me to something behind the counter and they will give me a little deal on it. I trust those guys and they are super-knowledgeable. Record Recycler in L.A., always a friendly place. Not the best selection in the shelves, but when they get something cool, they will also pull it out from behind the counter for me. Big City in New York City. Jared Boxx, who used to work at The Sound Library. I used to sell him records when I would visit in the 90s. I have known him for years and he takes good care of me. Academy Records is always good, you never know what you are going to stumble on. In London I went to Mr.Bongo, which I know is closed now. That was a great spot, I remember a guy there named Hugh Bowles. He and I traded records around 1998. All over Europe I met some really cool people and shopped at some really cool stores. There was one in Duesseldorf called Backspins? I think… and Mono Records in Zurich.”
I read you also DJ with your wife and together you specialize in weddings. That’s an interesting line of work as well…
“…yeah, I DJed clubs for a long time and so did she. She even toured with the Beastie Boys. She’s from Philadelphia, and that’s kind of the home of the DJ. So yeah, we both get asked to do weddings a lot. I used to turn them down. I didn’t want to do weddings, but then I started realizing: I’m not making any money in clubs. I travel all the way out to the West coast and I get paid $600 – and then I get to play three of them just to make it worth it. I don’t particularly enjoy some of the music I play at weddings, but it’s work, man. And the two of us together – I think we just both realized, it’s going to be a nice little niche that nobody really hit in NYC.”
Yeah, interesting. My last question would be what your most prized, favourite record is?
“I actually just pulled this record up the other day to play for a friend and I realized how special it was. I don’t know the title. It says it’s from Kuwait, but the guys on the cover, who are all wearing white suits, are all African looking guys. The music sounds very much like an Ethiopian band. It just says ‘Jazz Jazz Jazz’ on the cover and some stuff in Arabic that I can’t read. But I think these guys were the house band in a hotel in Kuwait. I just call it ‘Jazz Jazz Jazz’ and it’s really special. I don’t have anything else that sounds like it and from the beginning to the end it’s really, really good.”