ONCE he began his DJing career aged 10, Anthony Williams was no more and Roc Raida was born. Following immense success in DJ battles across America, he joined forces with a number of his inspiratinal peers to form the legendary DJ collective X-Ecutioners. These men re-defined the art of turntablism and paved the way for the decks to be regarded as a musical instrument all of its own. After a three year break the revolutionaries are back together and will soon be Down Under. Rob Moore spoke to Grand Master Roc Raida about winning a World Championship, spinning the decks for Tiger Woods and why he loves his gong.
THERE are plenty of times when you sit in a bar and a DJ plays a load of crap songs one after the other, displaying precisely no skill whatsover. It’s at this time when you realise they are being paid hundreds of dollars and getting as much free grog as they can handle to do a job Jade Goody could do.
So every time I interview a DJ, the first thing to do is check out if they actually have any perceptible talent. Well, after seeing Roc Raida and his crew in action I can safely say they have more talent in their little fingers than in my entire cynical body.
Roc Raida is a magician and largely responsible for the progress turntablism has made in the last 15 years. When asked what it feels like to be a trend setter, he is both proud and humble:
“Honestly, I know I am, but I’m one of many to have led the way with beat juggling and what I call the New York style. I was influenced by guys like Steve Dee and Cash Money and we spurred each other on. But there’s no way I thought the scene would grow in the way it has. After the MC took over, and hip-hop got so big, the DJ was pushed into the background and it was difficult to fight our way through. But we did it and now when you see DJing and scratching on commericials it definitely makes us proud.”
His love affair began as a bored kid sitting in front of the TV who was suddenly wowed by a scratching competition on cult show New Music Seminar. Once he got hold of his first set of decks there was no looking back.
“I always was a DJ. I was just a record slave and, once I turned 10, I graduated to two turntables and a mixer and no longer had to play Jackson Five songs back-to-back. I did anything I could do to be heard and try out new routines. Whether it was block parties, wedding cermonies, christenings, whatever. I entered any competitions I could and from 1990 onwards all I wanted to do was win the DMC World Championships. I reached that goal in 1995 andit’s definitely one of my proudest achievements.”
This dextrous deck dominance at the Hammersmith Palais saw one of the most mind-boggling performances you could ever imagine. But far from rest on his laurels, Raida travelled the globe promoting the art of turntablism to the awe-struck clubbers of nations like Singapore, Turkey, Japan and Australia. “I never went nowhere that didn’t love my sets,” he added.
This led to some of hip-hop’s founding fathers appointing Raida a ‘Grandmaster’ at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. Six albums and countless sets with the X-Ecutioners followed as the team continued to push the boundaries and bring their underground art to the attention of the mainstream, via collabarations with the likes of Cypress Hill and Pink.
Unsurprisingly, he is a firm believer that the turntable is a bona fide instrument.
“I can’t play notes like a guitarist and bassist, but how can you tell me I’m not a drummer when I can reproduce every sound any drum has ever made?”
But it’s his versatility that this man wants to be remembered for, commenting:
“I want to be creative and take DJing to new areas, but I also want to give every crowd whatever they want. “Every crowd is different – New York is lively, LA is laid back and Australia is similar. I don’t just do underground stuff. Recently I have done a lot of corporate gigs, like EA Sports parties. At Tiger Woods’ show I played no hip hop at all and they loved it. You have to have versatility and intensity. A lot of battle DJs can’t play proper club sets. My shows have no weak moments and that’s the same if it’s a commercial club or a set using body tricks.
“My favourite music is 90s hip-hop, but I also love to play rock, new wave and house. I want to give you a treat whether it’s the jiggiest of jiggy club with guys wearing the fi nest silk shirts or the grimiest hip-hop party where sweat is dripping off guys wearing no shirts.”
As for the X-Ecutioners, what prompted the re-union?
“We never planned to split for good. We had stuff going individually and thought we’d put it to one side. Before we split we were supposed to come to Australia, so we’re hyped to complete unfinished business. With our chemistry it was a no brainer. I came out here to DJ at the VMA’s after party and love the place. Everyone just wants to get drunk and dance, so it’s always good. After that long ass fl ight we’ll be wanting to give you guys a treat.”
One of the things Raida is most excited about is the Gong World Supremacy battles he is hosting, with the superstar DJs judging a special Aussie contest at the Esplanade’s Melbourne show. The Gong battle has grown as a major rival to the DMC competition, with shows selling out mainly due to the fact only wannabe DJs who can cut it will be given time to strut their stuff.
“We host the funniest battles ever. If you’re wack you’re gonged and have to take yo’ ass home. It’s really competitive, but just hilarious.”
But Raida is mainly desperate to inspire the next generation.
“We’ve got to keep going. We can’t leave it up to clueless corporate America to water us down. Our music must carry on pushing the boundaries. The limits are never ending.”