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Friday, December 28, 2007

Can You Dig It? Vol. 6: DJ Enki

Name: DJ Enki

Claim to Fame: I’m down with The Citizenz and the Oakland Faders collective. My former weekly residency in San Francisco called The Money$hot that was named one of the top 5 hip hop parties by URB magazine. I’ve done some pretty well-received mix tapes, including Blendapella with DJ Platurn; and I’ve also been on wax twice now with a third release coming soon.

Representing: Oakland, CA by way of Connecticut with a four year stopover in Greensboro, NC for college,

Years in the Game: About 14 give or take.

Best Digging City: As far as big cities goes, I've had the best luck in San Francisco, though I also did nicely in Greensboro. But the real action is away from the big cities and in those little outlying towns. Cities make obvious targets, but if you venture out, you can really expand your horizons. Anytime I go to a different city, I make time to go digging, and I particularly like to get to those little towns away from the action. You can just hit up any Goodwill, flea market, or thrift store. There's no guarantee of success, of course, but it can be very rewarding to flip through a bunch of Lawrence Welk records and find a gem in the middle of nowhere.

Most Prized Piece of Wax: Man, that's a tough one to call because a lot of my records are prized to me for many different reasons. I'm a huge X-Clan fan, and I have a bunch of X-Clan instrumentals on wax. They’re the actual show vinyl that the group used when they toured back in the day, so they're really rare records. Besides a few copies, these instrumentals don't exist. I got to open up for Brother J a few years ago, and I showed one of the records to him, and he kinda bugged out. He said he hadn't seen those records since Sugar Shaft passed (RIP) and was kind of stunned to see them again. That was pretty dope.

Favorite Album Cover/s: Now this is my stuff right here. I definitely appreciate a cover that can make me pause as I'm flipping through bins. Of course, the cover to Niagara's self-titled album is well-liked by anybody who's into tig ol' bitties. The cover for James Brown's Hell LP is really dope. It captures both the sense of the music and the sense of the era it's a product of.

I think the New York City Band's cover is pretty clever and well done.

I really miss the days of creative covers for hip-hop 12”s. I always liked the cover for NWA's “Gangsta Gangsta” 12”, the art Doze did for Ice-T's “Lethal Weapon” 12” is really dope.

And, of course, the cover for PE's Nation of Millions is straight-up iconic.

Dollar Bin Miracle: I don't have any stories about finding some uber-rare Holy Grail in the dollar bin (I'm hoping I will have one at some point), but I've found some pretty nice stuff in the dollar bins over the years. I’ve pulled hip hop stuff like the Eric B & Rakim’s “In the Ghetto” 12”, Freestyle Fellowship's Innercity Griots promo album, and the Saafir “Just Riden” 12”. I've found some disco stuff that I didn't really know about, but later found out was worth $20-$30. That's always fun. I always check the dollar bins because you never know what you're going to find in there. It's a good place to take chances because even if the record sucks, you're only out a buck.

Total Records Owned: I'd say that overall my collection shrank over the past year, but I also think it got better. I'm probably at a little over 3500 at this point. Not very much for a DJ, I know, but there's very little filler in my collection, which I'm happy about.

Best Digging Story: I'm sure this interview series is going to have a lot of “Check out this score!” stories, and we all love 'em, but I'm also very into the thrill of the chase. A lot of diggers develop a Spidey Sense for records, and it's always cool when your sense about a given day, town, or store gets proven right. I love those moments where you walk into a store and immediately feel like, “Oh, I'm gonna find something good today” and then you find good records.

Some of my favorite times digging have been just spending several hours in a new store, maybe with some homies, and seeing what pops up in uncharted territory. A couple years ago I was up in Lake Tahoe to do a gig with my homie DJ Platurn, and we spent the better part of an afternoon/evening upstairs in this one spot just having fun going through the records. Everything was $1, and we both came out with some good finds. I found a lot of breaks by late 1970s rock groups where the members looked rather androgynous, so we started joking about “androgynous breaks”. I had a great time, I came out with some quality records at a good price, and I learned about some new things. That, to me, is the beauty of digging, just as much as finding some super-obscure rarity.

I also think it's funny when you find good records in incongruous places. I came up on some good funk LPs and disco 12”s at this very hoity-toity upscale record store in Westport, CT, which is an incredibly wealthy town. This store largely dealt with old jazz records and big-band stuff that you could reliably sell to a rich and undiscerning grandpa for $30 a pop. I went in wearing jeans and a hoodie and immediately felt like I was underdressed…at a record store! I was half-expecting a butler to come over and offer to hold the records I pulled out on a silver serving tray or something. So I do a quick scan of the store and figure that there's not going to be anything good, and even if there is, it's going to be appallingly overpriced. But apparently somebody had thrown in these funk and disco records with their jazz records when they sold off their collection, and the store owner was itching to unload them, so they were all $2.50. I think that counted as a dollar bin in this place, a 150 percent markup. I ended up buying a small stack, the crown jewel of which was probably the Pleasure “Glide” 12”, and as I walked out, I had to chuckle. There was such a disparity between the store's atmosphere and what I ended up getting.

To find out more about DJ Enki, please visit his MySpace page and website.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Uncommon Valor: The Story of Staff Sergeant John A. Thorburn and RA The Rugged Man

The Smoking Section recently helped me get in touch with RA The Rugged Man to do two different interviews. The first interview was about his career background and some of his new projects. The second interview was an in depth look at his verse from the Jedi Mind Tricks song "Uncommon Valor". The interview went online today, and I'm very proud of how it came out. It's a piece that I've wanted to write for a long time, so I'm glad it made the transition from idea to finished project.

Here is a snippet...

TSS: How much input did you and Vinnie Paz have on Stoupe’s production for the song?

RA: Well, Stoupe originally hit us with different beat. I started writing some shit to the first beat he hit us with. Stoupe is neurotic, and after I started writing to the first beat he said, “Oh, I hate the beat. I don’t like the beat.” I told him, “Just give me the fucking beat that we’re really using.” Paz sent me over the next beat that Stoupe had, and I just started writing to it. Neither of us really had any influence. Vinnie just accepted it and I said, “No doubt, we’ll do it.”

To read the whole interview, click here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Can You Dig It? Vol. 5: DJ Neil Armstrong

Name: DJ Neil Armstrong

Claim to Fame: The mix tapes I've put out seem to be what people gravitate to.

Representing: New York, New York, born and raised baby. Born and lived in Queens, went to school in the Bronx and Manhattan, DJ’d in Brooklyn, and went to church in Staten Island.

Years in the Game: I did my first show in April of 96 with the 5th Platoon DJs, so that would make it almost 12 years. But as far as what people know me for, which is the mix tape thing, I’d say it started in 1999-2000. Time flies...

Best Digging City or Town: Hmm. I don't know if I can say which the best is. The place where I've gotten the most stuff per capita is out in the Bay Area. So if that’s what you want to use as your "best place" gauge, it would be the Bay. But that’s also because I end up giggin’ there so often that people think I’m from there as opposed to NY.

Most Prized Piece of Wax: My main purpose for picking up records is finding original samples of songs, and I like it when I find something entirely randomly, almost by luck. There was one memorable trip in NY where I hit a bunch of spots and the stars were aligned in my favor. Digging is like searching for buried treasure…literally. Buried in between a bunch of records will be a gem or two that you’re looking for, and this particular day, I was hitting the jackpot everywhere I turned.

On this particular day I found the album that Dilla and Madlib sampled for the original version of "The Red" off of Champion Sound. They recently repressed Champion Sound, and they had to change that song because they couldn't get the original version cleared. The song they sampled was by a folk singer who is big in the lesbian scene from what I’m told. I wasn't really into feminist folk music as a youth…unbelievable, right? The name of the song was "Shine on Straight Arrow" by Cris Williamson. It’s from her self titled album. I found it in the new arrivals section like it was placed there magically just at the right time for me to find. It was like that all day. I found the original for “Faithful” off of Common’s album down the block and Geto Boys "My Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me", as well as a couple of Ahmad Jamal records. It was one of those really good searching days.

The Cris Williamson thing was something I was looking for, but I would never expect to find, and I did. It was like winning the lottery. I have a couple of records like that, but this one was recent so it’s the one I remember the most now. I believe it’s a pretty rare record. I think there were only a couple of runs of it as far as it being actually produced. You can always go to the jazz section of a store find something, or find something in the soul section, but the Cris Williamson record could have been in a lot of sections. The other dope thing is when you find really good records in the dollar bin. That’s always nice. Again, it’s like finding buried treasure.

Favorite Album Cover/s: I’ve always liked the "Scenario" single by Tribe with the computer screens and Tribe’s Midnight Marauders with everyone’s faces on the cover.

AC/DC’s Back in Black cover is dope.

The Rolling Stone’s Sticky Fingers had interesting packaging with the zipper in the cover.

Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti had this crazy foldout that I like. I always thought New Order’s older singles that they made look like old floppy disks were interesting.

And then there is the simple imagery stuff, like Hieroglyphics with their logo and Biggie’s Ready to Die cover with the picture of him as a kid.

That’s a concept I ended up doing for a bunch of the earlier CD’s I did.

Dollar Bin Miracle: Umm, tons. I found Seals and Croft's Get Closer, which has the original sample for "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See." The Herb Alpert album with the horns from Black Sheep’s "Flavor of the Month" on one side, and the original for Method Man's "Release Yo Delf" on the other. I can't remember them all, but the dollar bin has lots of treasure. You just need time, patience, and knowledge.

Total Records Owned: At points I’ve had records in every room, even in the bathroom. I would say at least 7000. Being conservative, I’d say about that many and growing. On top of the 7000, I have doubles of most of my hip hop stuff for trick mixing and all that.

Best Digging Story: This one is kind of funny. Vinroc and I were out at this store called Village Music in Marin County that closed down recently. Marin is out in the bay. It was a really cool store that had so many records for extremely reasonable prices. A bunch of the stuff I used on the Original series came from this store. Me and Vinnie were paying the dude and I was just looking around. An image of DJ Shadow's Entroducing cover flashed in my brain, because it’s a picture of two dudes just looking at rows of records.

I thought in my head, and I swear I was about to say to Vin, “I wonder if Shadow comes through here.” Low and behold, I turn around, and Shadow is there talking to the owner. I always thought that was crazy. It’s sad that the store closed. I can’t remember if the Shadow story happened this year or last. My life kind of just blends together like one long ass semester of college at this point.

Neil and Vinroc at Village Music

Neil and Vinroc with Village Music Owner John Goddard

To learn more about Neil Armstrong, head over to the 5th Platoon webite or visit his blog.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Can You Dig It? Vol. 4: Matthew Africa

Name: Matthew Africa

Claim to Fame: I'm below the radar, but those who know, know. I've been on the radio in the Bay since 1992, initially with my man Beni B, the founder of ABB Records and a notorious digger in his own right. I do a weekly show on KALX Berkeley 90.7 FM playing all kinds of new and old stuff.

In the past year I've released a few mix CDs. They’ve been collaborations with my folks DJ Eleven (Dirty Raps: The Best of Too $hort) and DJ B.Cause (Soul Boulders), as well as my 69-song, 2-CD opus, Dirty R&B: The Best of R. Kelly.

XLR8R TV Episode 23: How To Make a Mixtape with Matthew Africa and DJ Eleven

I'm primarily focused on tearing parties up, though. I do a couple of weekly parties in the Bay where I play a wide variety of hip hop, dancehall, classics, dance shit, whatever. Can't too many people out-rock me.

Representing: I was raised in Berkeley and live in Oakland.

Years in the Game: I started buying records in the mid 80’s and really going hard in about 1990. That year, I also started working at the Groove Merchant in SF. I stopped buying records about 3 years ago. I still love music, I'll still pick up things here and there or trade occasionally, but I have no attachment to records anymore.

Best Digging City or Town: My favorite store of all time was Baytown Records in Albany, CA. It was just a couple of miles from where I grew up, and I used to take the bus down there every weekend and spend hours soaking up music. When I started going there my knowledge was really broad for my age, but that store gave me a Ph.D.

The owner, Mark Edmund, seemed to know everything about music and would drive all around the state accumulating stuff. His retail store was small and didn't attract much foot traffic, so I think he got by servicing foreign dealers and obsessive collectors. He had one or two little turntables set up and I'd spend all day listening to songs. Sometimes he'd lock me in the store when he had to go out!

I pulled a ton of rare stuff from that store, like 45’s by Robbie Hill's Family Affair, The Personations and Organization, The Blenders, Ltd. and James Reese & the Progressors. I also pulled LPs by Mike James Kirkland, Quinn Harris and Marvin Holmes. Nothing was ever over $10, but the most valuable thing I got was a broad and deep knowledge of soul and funk music.

Most of his stock was on 45’s, which he kept organized by artist and label. He would have normal stock alphabetized by artist, but the back stock was sorted by label. I would pull a stack of records I didn't know based on titles or artists' names…you know, guess which ones would be funky and then listen to them one by one. When I found something hot, I could then go to the back stock and pull out other things on the same record label. It was like following hyperlinks. These days it's simple to get information about music and the inter-relations between artists or regional styles, but back then you had to piece it all together yourself. His store was an amazing resource.

Mark passed away one day in 1992 and the store never re-opened.

Most Prized Piece of Wax: I’m not sweating records anymore, but when I was in the game, the record I was always most excited about was the one I didn't have yet. Not necessarily trophy records, or even nagging want-list records, as much as hearing something I didn't know previously.

DJ Shadow Digging In The Crates

I used to trade with DJ Shadow and that was like Christmas to a little kid. He'd roll over to my house with a few boxes of trades, usually with tons of things I'd never heard before and I could spend hours just discovering things.

Favorite Album Cover/s: In the Photoshop era, everything is so bland and standardized. I like covers that look handmade, not necessarily as crude as Mingering Mike's covers, but at least something where you can see a human touch.

Here are three covers that I keep up on my wall:

I like how they look together. All three were made with old technology--typesetting, press-on lettering, and clip art that was actually clipped-out with scissors. They have a look that's relatively clean, but not glossy or slick in any way. I used the "Fresh Beats" cover as the jumping-off point for a flier for my party, Hubba Rock. At about the same time, Peanut Butter Wolf used the “Fresh Beats” image for a mix tape cover. Last year, Free Gold Watch jacked the design for a t-shirt.

As much as I like the hand-drawn stuff, lately I've started to feel some nostalgia for the designs of Pen & Pixel and Phunky Phat Graphix, because they're so synonymous with mid-90s regional rap. The designs are so janky that they have a kind of personality to them. They're very evocative.

Dollar Bin Miracle: There's no miracle in it. It used to be that all of the best soul and funk records were in the dollar bin. That's where record stores put records no one wants…the ones that aren't by established stars, the local, marginal releases with embarrassing and amateurish artwork, and stuff on labels you never heard of. The reason most trophy records from the past are valuable now is because no one wanted them when they were new. They didn't get bought and cherished; they got pressed in tiny numbers, they didn't sell or get distributed, and then they got tossed.

Although it's hard to come up on good older soul or funk LPs in a dollar bin these days, the basic dynamic remains the same. I don't know if anyone will give a shit 20 years from now about collecting the music of 2007 in physical form, but if they do, the records that will be the most valuable will be the stuff you can't give away now, because those records will be the hardest to find.

Total Records Owned: A bedroom-and-a-half full. I would like them to all go away, though.

Best Digging Story: Pass.

To find out more about Matthew Africa, visit his website and MySpace page.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Smoking Session with RA The Rugged Man

I have a brand new Smoking Session (interview) with RA The Rugged Man at The Smoking Section. Amongst other things, we discussed Treach from Naughty by Nature, OPP, and his new movie project titled Bad Biology. To read the interview click here.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Can You Dig It? Vol. 3: DJ Eleven

Name: DJ Eleven

Claim to Fame: I'm almost as tall as Stretch Armstrong and I'm 1/3 of The Rub. I'm the handsome one.

Representing: Oakland, CA forever and Brooklyn, NY anytime anyone yells, "Where Brooklyn at???"

Years in the Game: I've been DJing for 15 or 16 years, but I’ve been buying records longer than that.

Best Digging City or Town: The first time I went to Chicago years and years ago, I came up really heavy. I used to have a great time looking for records in Providence, RI. I once spent an entire afternoon going through a now-defunct store on the main drag up from Brown University. I found the only two decent records in the store: two copies of Kool G Rap’s "Truly Yours" 12". It was the best waste of four hours!

But the town that I've routinely had the most, and weirdest, luck in is Mattapoisett, MA. There's a Salvation Army there about a half mile from my grandfather's house. I've come up on very cool novelty records, some great Prestige, CTI, 70’s Blue Note jazz, and, best of all, the entire Sugarhill Records catalog. Granted, not crazy rare records, but bizarre to find at a thrift store in a small, southeastern Massachusetts town.

Most Prized Piece of Wax: That's a little hard to answer because my attitude towards records has changed in the last couple years. When I made the transition to DJing with Serato, I became a lot less fixated on possessing vinyl. It became more about the music again. All that being said, my complete collection of M.O.P. records definitely ranks up there.

Another record I love is Don Julian & The Larks "Shorty the Pimp" 45.

There are a couple of reasons why I love the record:

1) Too $hort jacked the whole intro for his Shorty The Pimp album from this song and, well... $hort Dogg is the fucking man!

2) Dru Down jacked the "piiiiimp, pimp on" refrain for his Bay classic "Pimp Of The Year" ("Mack of The Year" for the radio inclined) and that shit is just fun to sing along with.
3) Songs about pimps are the shit, especially when they're this funky.

And my last pick would be Elaine Brown's records. She was a member of the Black Panther Party and it's chairperson for the last three years before they disbanded. One of the songs on her second album, which was released by Motown, who tried to capitalize on the Panthers' cool cache, was sampled by Biz Markie. But it's her first album that I'm most excited to have. My brother and I attended the Panther's Oakland Community School when we were young, and the cover art of Seize the Time was done by long-time Black Panther artist Emory Douglas. The cover of that record reminds me of some of the first art I ever saw and some really great memories.

Total Records Owned: At most, I was up to about 5,000. I got rid of a lot of stuff when I moved to New York from the Bay Area years ago. I’m in the process of selling a lot of stuff again. So, currently, I'm down to about 3500 or so. That’s not nearly as crazy as a lot of my friends.

Best Digging Story: I don't really have one. So much of digging is about the painstaking dedication of looking at EVERY record in a store that the surroundings and circumstances of the stores get all mixed together for me. I remember looking down at my fingers and trying to guess how many times I was going to have to wash my hands to get all that caked on crud off. I remember every single time I've gotten caught by that GODDAM Lime 12" on Prism that is never one of the good early Juice Crew 12"s. I remember my siblings and girlfriends all finally wising up to the, "I'll just look for 15 minutes" line of bullshit I'd run on them, just before subjecting them to a couple hours of dollar bin trawling. I think about all of the records that I ended up having to cart home and then get rid of…the ones that I bought because they were on specific label, were recorded at a certain studio, featured a particular player, had "funky" in a song title, or had a dope cover; yet ended up being a piece of shit record that wasn't worth making in the first place. But, for all the frustrations, fake-outs, and weird crap that ends up on your hands, digging couldn't be more fun.

To find out more about DJ Eleven, visit his website or MySpace. To learn more about The Rub DJ's, check out their website and MySpace page.