Wednesday, 26 January 2011
"I Was There" - exclusive DJ 7L interview & mix!
This the first of my attempts to broaden the spectrum of this blog and to try to put the music I've been posting into some sort of context. Hopefully it will be the first of many (or at least 2) features where I get rappers and DJs to speak on their Hip Hop memories and reflect on how it was back in the day.
Who You Be?
DJ 7L of 7L & Esoteric, AOTP & Bladerunners fame. I’m from Boston.
What was your ‘Day One’?
Well I watched a ton of MTV from like 83-87. After that it was only to check for ‘Yo! MTV Raps’ and ‘Club MTV’, but that's all I did in the beginning, so I liked a lot of 80's New Wave pop shit. I was hearing Run DMC, Whodini and stuff like that from my brother who is 3 years older than me. I think what really solidified the Hip Hop thing for me was Doug E Fresh's ‘The Show’. That single was a masterpiece - I probably listened to it for 3 hours straight when I first got it and it never got old. That was in 85 so then from there ‘Raising Hell’ dropped soon after and the Beastie's first record. It was the perfect time, so pretty much from that day forward, that was it for me.
Did you have a ‘crew’ or ever get into MCing/Breaking/Graf before you settled on DJing?
Hmm...I did breakdance, and I was ok. Graf I was terrible at; I would go out with some friends and attempt it, but I was just bad. I rapped once on one of our early demos "Slap Happy" in like 92, I sounded a bit like Milk D circa "Get Off My Log", so that was it for me ‘MCing’.
What was the Hip Hop scene like where you lived?
Well where I grew up was about a half hour outside the city, so on Saturdays to go into town and go record shopping, or grab some gear and tapes was sort of a monthly trip for me in my early teens. Around 15-16 it was more like weekly, then daily once a car came into play. There was good radio back then: you had WERS, u had WRBB and there was The Rap Explosion with DJ M&M and Jesse McKee, who actually DJ'd for MC Shan back in 87, before he was murdered. Jon Shecter and Dave Mays (of The Source) had The Streetbeat Show on the air by then as well, Def Jeff of Almighty RSO would be DJing, and from there you'd hear them shouting out local legends like "Big Chuck" and shit like that. Also, they had record stores sponsoring them, so you I’d hear Mattapan Music, Skippy Whites, or Cheapo's getting mentioned and they'd give the address. Eventually I’d seek those spots out, and connect the dots from there. As far as my immediate home town, there were some crews but back then it was mainly my brother and his friends, Brian or Drewk who I would tag along to check out.
Who were your favourite artists when you were growing up?
Doug E Fresh, who I mentioned, and also Slick Rick and Dana Dane, Beastie Boys...
Run DMC were THE kings to me - just so cool and raw. Then as the 80's closed up I was listening to BDP, EPMD, Ultramagnetic.
I was a music fan of it all and there wasn't much I didn't like. Hip Hop was still fresh and exciting back then. You had that variety of Kid N Play and Heavy D or Audio Two and also Public Enemy or NWA.
First live show you saw?
Its funny, the first 2 live shows I saw, outside of like local talent rap shows, were New Edition and then 3 years later Bell Biv Devoe. In 91/92 I had more freedom so I would see more shows in Boston - everyone from Onyx to House of Pain, Positive K, Brand Nubian... The Hoodratz haha!..remember them?!
BDP in Rhode Island was probably one of the best live shows I ever saw. Kenny Parker was DJing and he had the SP1200 next to he turntables. Willie D (of BDP, obv) was there as the hype man...the energy in that room was pretty unexplainable. I saw Gang Starr, MOP and Nas on the same bill in 94 which was pretty epic. The same with the Common, Beatnuts and Organized Konfusion tour that same year.
Who inspired you to start DJing and who were your influences at the time? ¬
The first was probably Grandmaster Flash. I heard "Adventures...." on a K-Tel 'Breakdance' comp, and it blew me away; all these familiar songs, mixed with shit I didn't know at the time but I sorta 'got' was he was doing. F¬rom there seeing Jam Master Jay in Krush Groove just cutting the 'Run-Run-R-R-Run' before Run goes into what ended up being the intro to "Runs House". I was hooked. Then Clark Kent and DJ Scratch, I got all the Next Plateau Red Alert tapes. Marley Marl was a huge influence. For the most part I was a bedroom DJ and I still am, so locally outside of Drewk, DJ Shizrock, who I both spent hours just watching them cut, there wasn't really anyone else at that time. When I first started around from 89-93 I would not play outside of my room.
What trends do you remember – are you guilty of any fashion faux pas?
Yeah I did it all! "3 cuts in your eyebrow trying to wile out", medallions, shiny shoes, the Z Caverici with the mock turtleneck, IOU cardigan...I was killing it back then!
Hip Hop was alot more regionally segregated back then. Did you check for much music from the West Coast or the South?
Oh yeah of course. King Tee's 'Act A Fool' was neck and neck with ‘By Any Means Necessary’ in my walkman that winter. I remember playing one, then going right to the other, and vice versa. I got Ice T's first record when Tougher Than Leather dropped; obviously NWA and Eazy E - those are landmark albums. I loved Dre's hooks and the way they switched up with all these different cuts. D.O.C's album is brilliant, his rhymes plus Dre's beats was like perfect combination. 'Whirlwind Pyramid' is still unfuckwitable to this day when it comes to just ripping the mic on some uptempo kinda shit. Ice Cube’s first 3 solo records are flawless, Death Certificate is in my top 5 albums of all time, from the music to the concept of the album with the whole ‘life’ and ‘death’ sides - genius.
Southern wise, I thought Geto Boys ‘Grip It On The Other Level’ was insane; that was when Scarface had that sorta deep but angry type flow (if that makes sense!). All the early Rap-A-Lot shit and then all the Cash Money stuff. I liked the beats, the early shit was real dope cuz it was wasn't quite big up north yet as far as people jumping on it and the music was just raw. The beats reminded me of like some Davy DMX/Mantronix style shit - just drum machines and 808's, claps and synth sounds. There was also 2 Live Crew, MC Shy D, Magic Mike...in short, I liked it all haha!
At what point did you start trying to get your music heard and released?
Well around 93-ish me and my man Trevor (Karma) were already making beats together. Seamus (Esoteric) had a radio show we all listened to all the time, and by listening we learned he rapped, but had no original beats, so we cold called the station to sort of pitch working together. We had called the show before for requests or whatnot. From there, it was 5 of us, my man Trademarc (who went to on to release an album with WWE wrestler Jon Cena), Lionel - who also DJ'd, he goes by E Ness, part of the Deck Demons. Then there was myself, Trevor and Esoteric. Over the years, people branched off did different things, so by 95 it was the 3 of us and we out a record under the name God Complex w/AOI on my man Truth Elemental’s Brick Records. Madsol did 2 of the beats and I did one. Actually Madsol sorta took us under his wing and showed us the ropes if you will. He would take us to New York, bullshit the people at WEA lobby to let us give our record to Dante Ross. He brought us everywhere - all the indie labels like Nervous and Kick Ass.
We were driving a thousand records to New Jersey to give to Rich King and all the stores like Beat Street and Rock and Soul. Back in Boston (sigh), we were giving our records to all the DJs we could, and through that we met Papa D who came into Brick and we released the "Protocol"/"Be Alert" 12" and the rest is pretty well documented, haha! Trev (Karma) now also runs Brick, and does all the art for Traffic, he's done like 50 Cent "Guess Who's Back", and all that early Landspeed shit all the way to what they’re doing now.
We’d met Scian Smooth who put us first on one of his mixes and they were giving it out at The Rocksteady Anniverary that year. It was like an 'it can't get any better than this' type feeling and it was fun. He took us to a lot of parties and clubs like the Mad Lion release party with Funkmaster Flex DJing and purposely cutting and making the record skip when Troubleneck Brothers were performing (I never knew why). Just chillin' in a club sorta casually seeing all of our idols was surreal. Special Ed had just dropped "Neva Go Back" and he's walking around with Lil Vicious. Lord Finesse just chllin, MC Serch is on the dance floor STILL dancin, Greg Nice walking around and Dru Ha with like 7 dreads at the bar. It was all these people at arms length in one night, it was crazy to me!
You’re associated with what was something of a ‘golden era’ for indie Hip Hop – what are your memories of that time?
Definitely the Mad Lion party I just mentioned. Going to a lot of the Nu Yorican open mics that Bobbito hosted. Seeing Non Phixion live for the first time – they were performing with DV Alias Khrist in this little spot that holds no more than maybe 100 people. MC Serch was introducing them and buggin out on the sound guy cause the DAT machine is fucked up! That was the early days of the indie scene.
Going to Rocksteady Park in the Bronx and seeing the final 'on location' taping of Yo! MTV Raps, seeing Fat Joe looking scary as all hell haha! TC Islam was on stage talking about “our children will have microchips in the back of their necks”. Going to Downtown Records and places like that was fun, just cause I read a lot about it. Going to Fat Beats when it was down stairs, pre Footwork.
My favourite times were like the first 4 or 5 years we went to the Rocksteady Anniversary, this was before it went to Chelsea Piers. We met Vin and them at the second one we went to when "Protocol" just dropped. I remember he was rocking a skully in the summer...him Yan, all the Philly dudes, it was a good time man, perfect almost! We stayed at the Off Soho hotel, and then just make the rounds the next day, hitting up stores and meeting up with other groups, and MCs like Apathy and linking up with Sean C of The Vinyl Reanimators. That was sorta phase 2 of our schooling when we were making trips to Brooklyn to hang with him. He'd take us up to Riz & Eclipse’s show and then around the time Rakim was on the cover of Ego Trip we went to WKCR for Stretch & Bob's show. I reference that because Bobbito had written the Rakim story so he had advance copies with him at the station, and he gave us one! Again, it was like one of those 'awesome moments that can't get can’t better' - here I am at THE greatest Hip Hop show ever and Bobbito is giving us his copy of Ego Trip.
I guess another one for me was mixing "Speaking Real Words" at Marley Marl’s studio. If anything just being at his house with all the gold and platinum plaques on the wall. He had an older room where there was a big piece of yellow tape with 'K Def" written on it. We took a lunch break and we went to Wendy's to eat. I am there in Marley Marl's Benz eating chicken nuggets. Shit was so crazy to me, and he's my idol, so I mean after that I didn't care!
Up until the late 90s the split between commercial and hardcore rap was a lot more blatant than it is now. Were you strictly 'no sell out' or being a DJ were you cool with the more club/radio friendly joints?
Well, what I listen to now in my car varies from probably what I play in the club for sure. But back then, let's say 94, when I actually started playing out, it was much different than it is now. I'd play like the Craig Mack, Biggie and Mary J Blige joints, mixed with some like 'Do The James'. You could play like 'Top Billin' at prime time and people would wile out – cut the music out and they know every word! Then I’d play reggae like 'Twice My Age', 'Big Up' all that shit and I truly loved it all. Now, unless it’s a themed 'old school/classics' night, that shit doesn't go over as much. Back then the classics were appreciated next to the new shit but now it has to be a smaller club and the crowd has to want it.
When the 'shiny suit' era came in, the 'divide' sorta came into play. I stayed DJing the 'commercial' type spots, although I never really looked at them like that before, it was just ‘its a club’, but when MTV and all that shit took over young kids minds, the crowds shifted a bit so you know, I was 'cool' with it, I love 'Hollywood Swinging' so you know Mase 'Feels So Good' wasn't the worst thing I could be playing - at least it had a good beat. All the Dre and Snoop shit was rocking, 'Aint No Fun' was my anthem. I would argue with underground dudes that the beat for ‘Benjamins’ was just bananas, but when that 'divide' came, underground dudes just couldn't give it to anyone. I'd still do a lot of B-Boy type nights and spin at the underground shows and clubs still, which I loved doing, so I had that balance, but its also like DJing for 20 dudes who just wanna freestyle and it got old by 2000. The so- called 'commercial' clubs were actually still fun even though I liked only 40 percent of the music.
How did you feel about how Hip Hop and DJing developed through the 00s? You were playing in mainstream clubs alot around that time, right?
Before – and all the while - I was doing the 7L & Esoteric stuff I was actively DJing in clubs. It was always something I did and enjoyed doing, especially in like the 95-2000 era, it was so much fun, doing like little college bar. I'd play all the R&B shit and pop rap stuff early, for like the first 2 hours, so in actuality I am playing all the hits like Lost Boyz "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous", the Yvette Michelle joints, DaBrat "B Side" basically shit for the girls. Then by midnight it'd be straight Hip Hop like "Shook Ones", "Where My Dogs At", "Aint No Nigga", just joint after joint.
Around ‘98 I got a gig at The Lava Bar on Thursdays, and thats sorta where I got my identity DJing cause there, along with Hip Hop I'd be playing (and this sounds so ridiculous and corny to even say, especially in today’s “open format” DJ culture) I was slamming like rock records in between Jay Z songs, playing David Bowie ‘Fame’ after "Next Episode" - Nate Dogg saying "Smoke Weed Everyday" then band "Faaa-aaame"...TRUST ME, know it sounds ridiculous even to mention it now, cause EVERYONE AND THERE MOM does it, but you know even back then it wasn't common. Clubs would either play House til 12, a little hip hop and then back to House or just straight Euro House or ‘strictly classics’ nights.
Around 2003 it got pretty bad, but it was still fun. Now its fucking torture. I rarely do the bottle service spots anymore. I still play spots where you know you gotta play the hits, but crowds are a little older and you’re able to actually play “open format”, not just fucking Kesha, Gorillaz and then Drake. Nowadays though, if the setting calls for it, u gotta run some of that Guetta, Pitbul, fist pump shit. I don't like it but if you’re playing a fucking Casino gig they don't care about 'good music'. I sorta stopped taking those gigs. I can't be a grown man playing 'Whip My Hair' – you gotta draw that line! I sorta pride myself on staying up on all the new rap shit cuz that's what I've done since 85, but that doesn't mean I buy into all the new shit either. I think a lot of DJs now co-sign shit cuz they don't wanna seem 'out of touch' or 'dated'. Now instead of wanting to be the next one to bring some fresh shit to the tables people just follow other people around.
DJs used to be the dudes who’d built up a huge collection of records over alot of years and had a real knowledge and love for the music. That changed significantly in the last decade...
DJ's are spoiled these days cause the thing about when I was doing the Lava Bar, and playing what i was playing you had to actually have the vinyl if you wanted to play these older songs next to the current Hip Hop stuff, and that took time, and years of going out and finding records. Now, you can have thousands of classics right away, an instant library, but then everyone plays the same shit and it gets watered down. I love my Serato, cause it allows me to have endless variety, but at the same time I’ve been buying records since 85.
People still recognize a dope DJ but now it seems everyone’s playing “open format” and everyone’s a DJ and it’s just been getting worse. No one wants to works hard or pay dues. Everyone feels obligated to do top shelf gigs and is all about treatment and money. Its just a bunch of DJs doing what my man Kon calls 'chasing Vegas'. Its like no one wants to carve their own identity.
Do you still stay up on new Hip Hop and if so who are you checking for?
I stay up on all the new shit but most of it gets boring after 2 listens. Jay Z is still my favourite but Vado and Fred Da Godson got some shit I like, and Reek Da Villian. I love the Kanye record. I’m up on it all; I may not stay directly in the scene as much as I used to, but I know pretty much everything thats going on, haha! That's been imbedded in me since 85, its the Hip Hop mentality, u gotta stay n all the new shit good or bad. Its the youth that defines this culture, so you know, you can't just check out then pop back in. I still love hearing a banging Alchemist beat, or Premier. DJ Spinna’s still making incredible shit. Araab Muzik is a monster. I am a huge fan of the Grind Music guys. They are probably the last in a dying breed of ‘record guys’ who make dope relevant shit.
What do you have going on for 2011?
Just staying busy DJing, myself and Beyonder (Braun Draper) play out while the Razor stays in the studio. We got a few records dropping for spring time, mainly bootleg edits type shit, then we’re going to release a proper Bladerunners album in winter of 2011 - its gonna be like some Masters at Work shit: half dance and club records, half Hip Hop Party breaks.
Big up 7L for talking the time out to do the interview. He was also generous enough to hook up a great mix of classic Hip Hop circa 86-91
DOWNLOAD THE MIX
You should also keep an eye on the Bladerunner blog for various audio treats and the occasional interview - their chats with DJ Riz and Undercover Brother (of Nubian Crackers) are worth checking out.
(NB - I spent ages trying to get the 'read more after the jump' style link to work but couldnt hook it up - if anyone can help me out let me know!)