From time to time I’ll do an interview for a particular publication that never came to light for whatever reason. So instead of letting them go to waste, especially when the interviewer asked great questions, I’ll post them here. Enjoy.
Q: Let’s go back to the source: What’s your origin story; how did you start DJing; how did you get involved in the hip-hop scene?
Music and records have always been a part of my life, from the early stages of my parents having and listening to records at home to me later seeing local DJ’s carry crates of records down the street to set up at neighborhood block parties. But it wasn’t until around 1980 when I got bit by the bug and knew that DJ’ing was something that I wanted to do. I’ve always been a creative kid, from reading and drawing comic books to building model cars and planes so the art of DJ’ing was the next step in continuing to be creative. What started out as after school fun hanging with friends at their homes and seeing them mess with their older brothers turntables and mixers eventually led me to wanting a set up of my own which I would finally obtain in early 1982 and it’s been a part of my life ever since. Philadelphia is known as the second city of Hip Hop and the birthplace of graffiti art, and being a part of that youth driven culture and a DJ, the natural progression was to evolve into and become involved in “Hip Hop”. The elements were always around, from the graffiti artists, the DJ’s to the dancers and the MC’s so I took an interest in each of those and practiced them as if preparing for a school exam.
Q: What motivates you; where does your inspiration come from?
My daily motivation never really changes, it’s always about what can I do new today, what can I bring to the table that hopefully will kick-start others to create or build something. But the ultimate motivation is knowing that I don’t have a PR person on call that can speak for me or unlock certain doors for me so I have to be that person to accept the challenge of making things happen.
My inspiration comes from various sources. It could be something as simple as looking at a really nice door on a home in Amsterdam or seeing a sign with a Manga character hanging on a store in Tokyo. I love art of all kinds, I have a large vintage movie poster collection from the late 60’s and 70’s and back then artists would paint the imagery to use on these posters unlike today where everything is digital. Hearing stories from artists and their journey’s also inspires me, people like Pam Grier, Quentin Tarantino, Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas have created amazing things and I want to be a part of creating something amazing that others will enjoy. But ultimately my biggest inspiration comes from beautiful lawns with soft green grass and great curb appeal. I enjoy staring at it, clearing my mind and thinking about all of the wonderful places in the world that being creative can take me.
Q: How has DJing affected your life? What role has it played in your personal and professional growth?
I’ve always loved to travel even before I was fortunate enough to so or had a passport. And at the same time I’ve been a movie lover since childhood and would watch Euro spy and James Bond films and hear about places like Berlin, London, Remagen, Moscow and Istanbul. Going to the theater to watch Kung Fu films on Saturday afternoons they would always reference places like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shantung and it’s because of DJing that I was able to travel to many of these places and experience these cultures that I had only dreamed of as a kid. I grew up watching a lot of Japanese TV like Ultraman, Speed Racer, Godzilla and Akira Kurosawa films and these types of films connected me to a place that I wanted desperately to visit and since then I have done so at least 8 times and was given the name “Magma Taishi”. So my professional growth in DJing aligns perfectly with my personal growth through the experiences and interaction with these cultures and people that I’ve built relationships with have helped to shape me and open my eyes to so many great places. When I visit or see great DJ’s at work in other countries it keeps me going and pushes me to take my DJ’ing one step further, it’s one big reoccurring theme song that never ends.
Q: What does “training” look like for you; how do you evolve your style?
In my early bedroom practice days I was coming from a Hip Hop background and it was more about being technical and flashy because that’s what everyone wanted to see or thought was cool. As I’ve gotten older and my musical tastes change, I matured personally and realize for me it’s about the interaction with audience and taking them on a musical journey so selections are my number one concern. I can go from opening my set with Jazz then making my way to Disco and House, Rare Groove, Funk, Soul and back again. It’s about stringing 100 plus records together to help people forget about their problems, to bring back a memory from a happy time or to simply unwind and enjoy an evening out. So training today is sitting in my room pulling and studying records then trying to create that musical journey for people.
Q: In what ways do you see the DJ scene growing and expanding; what about the hip-hop scene?
The DJ scene is constantly expanding, everyone want’s to be the cool guy making people dance and it’s seemed to have become more of a popularity contest instead of people actually wanting to be and understanding what a DJ is. Anyone can go on stage and play popular music to make people dance, not everyone can be a music engineer and read a crowd properly to make them zone out and go off. Hip Hop started out as a youth driven culture and even though many of the pioneers are still around, it’s the youth that define where it’s going today. The older generation’s still have the last say in what’s cool and hip but it will forever be an evolving art form that has no boundaries or constraints and can go wherever creativity takes it.
Q: Most people recognize the old school image of the hip-hop DJ; they might know the beats. But what should the world know about DJing that can’t be seen?
That it takes a lot of work to become one! There’s hours of equipment research and buying of music even before you can call yourself a DJ. Then knowing how to operate your equipment properly and understanding the music, song structures and how they come together correctly so that you can go out in public to play. It’s a craft and an art just like a carpenter knows how to use tools to build or a watchmaker repairs a Rolex.
Q: It’s a BIG question but I’m curious to hear your thoughts: what role do you think DJing and/or hip-hop culture plays in the human community; what’s the point; what makes it special?
DJing and Hip Hop in general brings people together, it’s the largest culture of people from across the globe that all share the love of the same thing. It doesn’t discriminate or alienate people because of their race, religion or social backgrounds and no other culture has done that. Hip Hop was started by ghetto youth of the Bronx in the 1970’s who had nothing but somehow had enough vision and creativity inside them to build something that now every major brand and company wants to be a part of or take a part from. The most creative mind is a child’s mind and today’s children identify with Hip Hop more than anything else. There’s someone on every street, in every neighborhood of every city across the globe that are all connected through Hip Hop. But don’t confuse Hip Hop, with mainstream commercial rap music that many people do. It’s two totally different things. Hip Hop is a culture that heals, uplifts and inspires creative and artistic people. What most people see on TV or hear on the radio is a corporate entity taking advantage of the popularity of Hip Hop.
Q: What does the future hold for you; what’s next?
There are a lot of things that are on my mind that I want to do but there are only 24 hours in a day so I’m trying to fit as much in during a 7-day work week for the next 5 years at least. I’ve been working on filming a new series focused around my travels and the search for the best burgers in the world. I also want to step into the gallery world, curate and showcase memorabilia that I’ve collected over the years. And of course collecting more passport stamps, enjoying and sharing culture with others and spreading the love of music worldwide.