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Monday, May 7, 2007

DJ Neil Armstrong Interview

Return to D Day Album Cover

According to DJ Neil Armstrong, his Certified Majestic mix tape series answers the question, “I wonder what’s in Neil’s CD player.” Certified Majestic is made up of stand out mixes that are hand picked by Neil. The goal is to shed light on great work that may fall under the average mix tape fan’s radar. For the second and most recent installment of Certified Majestic, Neil is featuring a classic tape from his own crew, the 5th Platoon.

The tape selected by Neil, D-Day, is a classic from crewmates Daddy Dog and DoBoy. The tape is from a forgotten era when names like Missin’ Linx, J-Treds, and Medina Green meant something to rap music fans. Rawkus records were starting to blow up, and it looked like rap music was starting to recover from the deaths of two fallen icons. Neil calls the era, depending on your perspective, either “the last “real” era of hip-hop, or the first stage of hip-hops death.”

For Neil, the re-release of D-Day is a symbolic one. It marks the 10-year anniversary of his crew, the 5th Platoon. Things have changed in those ten years. The crew no longer doing battles. Mix tapes are now mix CD’s. Some members have given up DJing all together to pursue other careers. With all of the changes that have taken place, Return to D-Day can be seen as a return to form for him and the 5th Platoon. It serves as a history lesson for recent fans of Neil, and a reminder to those who have forgotten his hip-hop roots. Heavy In The Streets is pleased to introduce the man behind the Certified Majestic series, DJ Neil Armstrong.

5th Platoon, circa 1998

DJ Sorce-1: Check 1,2. DJ Neil Armstrong in the house.

DJ Neil Armstrong: Sup sup.

DJ Sorce-1: The new Certified Majestic release Return to D Day is a reissue of an old 5th Platoon collaboration between Daddy Dog and DoBoy called D-Day. What made you decide to edit, re-master, and re-release that tape, and why is it important of today’s hip-hop and mix tape crowd?

DJ Neil Armstrong:
I think a lot of it has to do with it being the 5th Platoon 10-year anniversary as a crew, and I wanted to remind people of my "roots". I’m a hip-hop DJ through and through, and the height of the 5th Platoon occurred in 97, 98, and 99, which is the time that the tape was originally dropped. It seems like these days people are always searching for something "different" as far as music - like the mash up stuff, the Baltimore club, etc. And a lot of the DJ's from that Turntable Lab hipster crowd, a lot of them cats were hip hop DJ's. But they will get more of a reaction from a crowd or for dropping a CD with Journey on it, than they would if they dropped a hip-hop joint.

I just wanted to show that even though I'll do some "off the wall" stuff, I know where I came from, and I'll never deny that time, even if it’s unpopular to admit. It’s also important because a lot of music from that era will be lost, or has been lost. In the spectrum of what is going to go down on VH1 Hip Hop Awards, Biggie will be there, Grandmaster Flash will be there, Jay-z will be there, and Wu-Tang will be there. But a lot of that music that was very important in the 97-98 era will be lost to the masses and it’s not going to get mentioned in the history books.

DJ Sorce-1: And most of the tracks on D-Day were not released on CD. A lot of it was only put out on 12" vinyl. So its audience was more select.

DJ Neil Armstrong: I also did a section on the CD with music that has come out in the last 5 years that has that "feel" from an earlier time period. If you didn't know better, you would think that its from 97, 98 ... basically raw hip hop. I did that section for those who have "outgrown" hip-hop and for those who say that its "dead". Donell Rollins (Ashy Larry) put it best: hip-hop ain't dead…it just needs a hug. There is some good music still out there; you just have to search through all the muck (the bad stuff -your skater rap, your jam band rap, etc) to find the good stuff.

DJ Sorce-1: Can you define for me who you consider skater and jam band rap? I’m curious to hear this.

DJ Neil Armstrong: Well you know, it’s just the stigma that goes along now with the non-commercial rap world. The underground has been fractioned off into these subcultures. Like you have your Aesop Rock and the Def Jux guys, you got your Atmosphere and Rhymesayers camps, you got your conscious rap in the form of Common and anyone with dreadlocks talkin’ about the government, and you got your West Coast LA rap. Lots and lots of labels, and I guess its become necessary, but at the same time it’s really sad.

DJ Sorce-1: Yeah, it makes you wonder why we need so much inner genre categorizing.

DJ Neil Armstrong: Well, there is a need now. I guess it comes out with necessity. It’s a different time; the music has evolved into different things.

DJ Sorce-1: Has music become completely over saturated?

DJ Neil Armstrong: Yeah I guess you could say something like that. You have to suspend your innate prejudice to get to it. For example, some "purists" won’t listen to Saigon cause he’s a "Kay Slay" rapper. And people who listen to Kay Slay shit; they won't listen to Little Brother. And people who listen to Dilla don't want to hear about Juggaknots or Masta Ace because that’s some old NY shit, and so on and so forth. Give everything a chance before you write it off entirely.

Bob James, Rob Swift, Daddy Dog, and Neil Armstrong

DJ Sorce-1: With all this division, do you think Return to D-Day will be well received? Or are mix tape consumers going to miss the point?

DJ Neil Armstrong: I don't know, but I've never put out a mix that was following what everyone else was trying to do. I put out stuff that I like, and I hope and pray to god that people will want to give it a listen.

DJ Sorce-1: I love that attitude. I’m sick of trends and the follow the leader mentality in mix tape culture.

DJ Neil Armstrong: I've put the Smiths on a CD, put The Cranberries next to The Jackson 5, and I've put Talib Kweli next to 50 Cent. On paper, that looks like a bad gamble. I've been lucky that oddly enough the over saturation in music right now has forced people to look back to old classics to find something new. And that’s what I've been doing. Even though this CD isn't a lovey dovey one, and there is scratching all over the place, I’m hoping they'll give it a chance.

DJ Sorce-1: Did you ever think of changing it during the re-mastering process and adding a new segment or your own contribution?

DJ Neil Armstrong: Well, it is changed from the original D Day. The original tape was 45 minutes each site, an hour and a half total. I cut it down to make it have more of an impact.

DJ Sorce-1: That’s right. Jesus, I forgot for a minute that it’s 45 minutes a side with cassette tapes.

DJ Neil Armstrong: And like I said, I did a 20 minute section of new music to make sure I covered the fans who are like, “I want to hear Neil mix, I don’t care about the other cats.”

DJ Sorce-1: Speaking of, a lot of people want to know if you have any full-length solo projects on deck.

DJ Neil Armstrong: Yeah, I’m working on a couple right now. I am trying to finish the rest of the AOK (All Out King) series by the end of this year. A 6-month project turned into a 3-year thing…yeesh.

DJ Sorce-1: Which one of your CD’s was the most draining? Was there one that exhausted you and made you want to take a break?

DJ Neil Armstrong: Man, all of them kind of. While making the CDs, it’s a labor of love, with 99% labor and 1% love. Bittersweeet took a lot of time to make because of the planning involved in it. Before I did it, I don’t think there was a mix tape like it where the point of all the songs on it was that it would tell a coherent story.

DJ Sorce-1: Do you keep a notebook for ideas and song lists?

DJ Neil Armstrong: Yeah, I use notes and a white board to put everything down. I’m always doing research. I watch a lot of TV and movies, and I just listen to things.

DJ Sorce-1: If you could collaborate with any DJ on a tape, who would it be? I remember you saying once that you would find it hard to work on a tape with another DJ. Would you even want to do collaborative effort?

DJ Neil Armstrong: A couple of people I can think of would be interesting. I’d like to do a tape with one of the members of the 5th Platoon, Daddy Dog. We were supposed to do his latest mix CD, the New Edition one, together. But he finished enough to drop it on his own. I did give him some ideas too and he ended up using them. I actually wouldn't mind working with the crazy digger cats, like Kon and Amir. They have a crap load of records, knowledge, and resources that I just don’t got.

DJ Sorce-1: Would you ever reach out to someone like Kon and Amir? Do you think they would be receptive to doing a tape with you?

DJ Neil Armstrong: Amir is a good friend of mine. I've mentioned it to him before but nothing has come of it.

DJ Sorce-1: Do you think being a mix tape DJ makes it hard to like other people’s tapes? Every mix tape DJ I talk to likes very few tapes by other DJ's. Even their friends and crewmates often don’t impress them. Has making tapes has had that effect on you?

DJ Neil Armstrong: Probably. You can't help but be critical. If you know what people are doing, and you can gauge the difficulty of what’s being done, it’s a bit harder for you to be impressed by something.

DJ Sorce-1: If you had to name 3 tapes other than ones done by your crewmates that have been a big inspiration for you, what would they be?

DJ Neil Armstrong: Hmm. One of DJ Riz's tapes that came out a long time ago, it's recently been re-released, and it’s called Live from Brooklyn. Some of DJ P's tapes. G Bo the Pro and Double R. And this Goldfinger tape from when I was in high school/college.

DJ Sorce-1: Any final words on the 5th Platoon and the decade since you guys came together as a crew?

DJ Neil Armstrong: The 5th Platoon has been probably the most significant part of my life for the last 10 years. The best times I remember were the "worst times", when we got like 50 bucks among 4 of us for rocking a show, and we had to sleep on the floor of a strange place to be able to do our thing. We were livin it, and I wouldn't trade those times for anything...

Neil Armstrong, Total Eclipse, Roli Rho circa 1996

5th Platoon: Decade Video Trailer

Please support the efforts of Neil and his crew mates. They are heavily endorsed by Heavy In The Streets. For more info on Return to D Day, click here. To learn more about the Neil and the 5th Platoon, click here. And finally, to watch Neil on a recent ABC News special, click here.

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