The music of New York in 1974 was in a serious state of transition. Disco fever was the talk of the town, but unknown to the masses, a new music genre was about to replace it. Hip-hop didn't have a name back then, but young vinyl fiends such as DJ Jazzy Jay were plugging into lightposts all over the Bronx, throwing park jams, and planting the seeds for rap culture to emerge. Although he didn't know it at the time, Jazzy Jay and his Zulu Nation crew were on their way to being pioneers. He's in town talking about all things DJ-related, so we had to pick his brain about rap culture and that pesky Def Jam rumor.
Outtakes: We hear you're whoring yourself out on a publicity tour. What's up with that?
Jazzy Jay: Well, I'm on tour promoting the new JJ 57 SL Mixer that Rane is about to release. It's named after me, and I'm going to all the stores that carry high-end DJ equipment and doing presentations on it because it's so good. I've gotten everybody, like DJ Jazzy Jeff, Biz Markie, Kid Capri, DJ Premier, Afrika Bambaata... a lot of the pioneers who would normally be frowning upon anything that's not vinyl, to come on board.
DJ Jazzy Jay
When did you first start DJ'ing, and did you have any contemporaries to learn from?
I started back in 1974. I'm what you'd call a second-generation pioneer, the first generation being Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. I think Herc started back in '71. See, you gotta understand, everything grew a lot faster back then. There was an energy and a force going on in the Bronx that made people congregate to it like magnets. And it spread like that.
Are you worried about the state of hip-hop currently?
I'm concerned about the state of hip-hop. It's not the pure form that we had from before. It's all about big business putting their stamp on hip-hop culture, telling rappers they have to have big trucks and big-booty girls dancing in the video. Nobody is being creative. And rappers actually think they need those big-booty girls in the video or they won't sell.
There's a rumor that you co-founded Def Jam Records with Rick Rubin.
Def Jam was started out of the truck of my car! Rick Rubin came to me. The deal with me and Rubin, that was before Russell was even involved; it was a handshake between two friends. And eventually I got screwed...
What's your relationship like with Rick Rubin now?
I haven't spoken to Rick Rubin in 20 years. And every time I see Russell, he's always staring down at his shoes; he can't even look me in the face. But people in Motown got jerked around so we could make some money. There's always someone taking abuse so that other folks can flourish. Jonathan Cunningham
DJ Jazzy Jay spins on Saturday, March 17, for the Evolution III afterparty at Revolution, 200 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Brimstone 127 also performs. Tickets cost $15 or $18, and doors open at 10 p.m. Call 954-727-0950, or visit www.jointherevolution.net.
Irish Eyes Are Smiling
Blimey, lads, St. Patrick's Day is upon us again that one time of year when making fun of our Irish friends is perfectly acceptable. We decided to chat up some Irish bands about St. Patty's Day traditions and started at the top. We rang up U2, but, well, they didn't return our calls. The next best thing? A bunch of Irish-American bands.
Favorite Irish-American stereotype?
"The guy down at the L Street Tavern with his 'Southie Tuxedo' [full tracksuit] and Kangol scally cap. He's a friggin' riot!" Matthew Kelly, Dropkick Murphys
Favorite beer to abuse on St. Patrick's Day?
"It would have to be Guinness, of course, but you have to be lucky. Not all pints are created equal, and there are many dodgy establishments serving crap." Keith Roberts, the Young Dubliners
"Kirin Ichiban!" Matthew Kelly, Dropkick Murphys
"'My dear man,' as Oscar [Wilde] might have said, 'one does not abuse what one loves. One merely indulges. '" Larry Kirwan, Black 47
Favorite St. Patrick's Day memory?
"Not sure. I usually black out about halfway through the day." Matthew Kelly, Dropkick Murphys
"If you have any, then it must not have been that good. The day after Patty's Day is usually spent calling friends and family to apologize for whatever you did last night and then asking them, 'What did I do?'" Keith Roberts, the Young Dubliners
Is James Joyce everything he's cracked up to be?
"And more, but he'll never be on American Idol, so who gives a damn?" Larry Kirwan, Black 47
"Can't understand a word he wrote." Steve Twigger, Gaelic Storm
"Absolutely. 'The sacred pint alone could unbind the tongue of Dedalus,' from The Dubliners. 'Nuff said." Matthew Kelly, Dropkick Murphys
Bono: Name him a saint or ban him from opening his mouth except while onstage?
"Saint... although I wish he would get caught with some hookers and blow once in a while, just so we know he's human." Steve Twigger, Gaelic Storm Cole Haddon
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In Beat Kings: The History of Hip Hop, Wu-Tang Clan's Mathematics has assembled a revealing documentary from the point of view of the genre's architects. The DVD is an entertaining crash course in the nitty-gritty of hip-hop's evolution beyond the platinum records and glitzy videos from turntables to 808s to ProTools. The interview clips concisely organized into chapters on history, equipment, influences, and the biz, among other topics are a who's-who of hip-hop production legends. Wu-Tang's RZA jokes about making beats on his first drum machine, a Roland 606 stolen by Ol' Dirty Bastard. Marley Marl perhaps the king of the beat kings recounts how the sampling limitations of the E-Mu SP-1200 (a workhorse among the first generation of studio beatmakers, like Pete Rock) forced him to chop up beats out of necessity, forging the methodology of his trademark early production style, where discrete drumbeats might be nabbed from entirely different records.
Early beat pioneers like Prince Paul, DJ Premier, and Easy Mo Bee recall the urge to create that drove them to use whatever tools were available: Betamax tapes, reel-to-reel decks, even cassette boom boxes, which were used to manually loop samples recorded off the radio. So it's understandable when some of these old-school sonic alchemists talk negatively about current digital technologies like ProTools powerful, inexpensive PC software that changed the music industry, put some studios out of business, and turned casual homebodies into overnight producers.
But in the segment titled "Hip Hop Today: Under Construction," the titans are philosophical as well, allowing that new technologies (such as the widely available '80s gear by Japanese companies like Roland and Akai) gave them their entry into the business. For a new generation of beat stylists, it's still about the spirit of invention, the thrill of transcending material limitations: not so much what you're working with but what you do with it. J. Niimi