Jay Soul: Ladies and gentlemen, we are here with bonafide legend of the turntables, DJ Skribble – the man who also put together one of my favourite albums of all time, “Traffic Jam 97” So first and foremost, DJ Skribble, welcome to RapReviews. How is life treating you?
Skribble: Life’s good – getting ready for another Skribble and Dave Navarro show, my team the Giants just won the Superbowl… Life couldn’t be better, I’m a happy guy! I was at the game actually, it was pretty amazing.
JS: Yeah, that was a good game! So if we can start by delving into some of your earliest musical memories and influences.
SK: In hip-hop terms, certainly Cold Crush Brothers, Crash Crew, Funky 4 + 1, Grandmaster Flash, especially in DJ terms Kool Herc, all of them… Not to date myself but I started DJ-ing in 1980. I was the white Italian kid more into James Brown, breakbeats, looking for every kind of record we could b-boy to.
JS: I was going to ask you about that – I’m an “ethnic minority” and trying to going into that particular part of the music industry provoked a lot of resistance from my family until I had real success. Was it the same for you?
SK: Oh absolutely, unfortunately by the time I was seventeen, I was living on my own… It was like: “Get a real job, what are you doing with your life, you’re never going to make anything out of yourself, you’re a BUM!” Really, all that did was drive me that much harder to do what I do, so when I got into the Young Black Teenagers group, touring with Chuck D from Public Enemy and them, we came over to London, actually – a tour in the Docklands Arena in 1988. That was my first taste of really being on the road, and it was us, Public Enemy, EPMD, Tragedy and a few others… I’ll never forget it – even though we were broke as hell, I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
JS: So that was really what we now call the “first Golden Era” of hip-hop, right?
SK: Oh yeah, that was the era with Public Enemy and everyone, the Bomb Squad produced us too, it was a special time.
JS: So when did the DJ-ing really start to pop off for you?
SK: I was fourteen when I did my first gig, that was with Dr Dre (the one from Ed Lover and Dr Dre – of the East Coast, not Dre of the West Coast) and LL Cool J, Doug E Fresh… This was, I want to say 1984? It was at a roller rink right by my house, I was pretty horrible back then! But that is how I met them all, got into the group Young Black Teenagers, then started doing local gigs, university gigs, college radio… Then I got Hot 97 with Dr Dre and Ed Lover, doing the morning show with them – then to MTV, up until two years ago, Spring Break, all that… This was when they still played MUSIC in the States!
JS: We’ll get into that later on! So how did that jump off come right before Traffic Jams? Was it through networking or a label?
SK: A lot of networking. I was in the right place at the right time. Stretch Armstrong was supposed to do a gig, he never showed up – and I always kept my records in the trunk back then, just in case. I was like, “Yo I got my shit with me,” and I ended up DJ-ing at this huge industry party, did all my tricks and that was when record companies started to notice what I was doing.
JS: So getting to the actual “Traffic Jam” CD itself, what was that whole era like, what we call the “Hot 97” era, and how did it feel to be an integral part of that special time when hip-hop just went global?
SK: I mean, I don’t want to sound like a cliché, but I wouldn’t want to come up in any other era than the late 80’s to mid-90’s – I watched this thing grow from NOTHING, when it wasn’t cool, fighting to do it, to now when Russell Simmons has his own credit card! Watching it grow, that is when it was fun, everyone was partying… It was at its’ purest and most innocent.
JS: So would you say that the late 80’s to mid-90’s is really untouchable now?
SK: I mean, today… I love hip-hop still, don’t get me wrong – I’ll never not love hip-hop. But it is just a lot of dudes coming out with some good music, but there aren’t really good SONGS. Back then, there were good songs. When Big Pun put out a record, you’d know it, when Biggie put out a record, you’d KNOW it and you’d never forget it. A lot of these “here today, gone tomorrow” artists today put out a good record, sure, but not good songs.
“I’m not trying to sit there and be ‘Mr. Underground’ but there is no more artist development.”
JS: Do you think that hip-hop has become too corporate and commercialised for its’ own good?
SK: Absolutely. And I’m not trying to sit there and be “Mr. Underground” but there is no more artist development. I don’t blame the artists so much, I blame the labels more. But even the labels don’t know which way the industry is going, with the internet, digital music… Everything is good and bad in its own right.
JS: So is that one of the reasons why you started to get into house music more?
SK: I wanted to get on Hot 97, and there was no room for me to play hip-hop at the time. There was a Saturday night slot opening, but they said I had to play house music. I knew nothing about house music! I had some help from friends, this is back in 1995. So I started playing it, cool whatever, and then they took me at 7am to see Junior Vasquez playing at The Tunnel in New York – and I saw this whole other energy that I never even knew existed. And I was hooked – I wanted to be the first DJ to do both hip-hop and house. Now I live for it.
JS: On a side note, were you ever aware of the Flipmode Squad track from “Traffic Jam” getting a house remix and blowing up in the UK?
SK: Stanton Warriors! Yeah, I really wanted to come over and meet the kid, maybe even do shows with him – he blew the record up all over again, I’m still getting royalty cheques from it!
JS: It even made it onto Top of the Pops you know!
SK: I know, I heard! It is a shame I never made it over for that one.
JS: Getting back to “Traffic Jam” – how difficult was it piecing it together, getting all those big names on one record, and cutting it?
SK: Well, being on Hot 97 and having pretty much the number one morning show in the country, all the artists were through there, I also had my show on the radio… Politically, everybody did me the favours – we paid royalties on them, sure, but we didn’t have to do it like today, where someone wants $50,000 to spit one verse or whatever. It was all favours. And getting the Fugees on there, with all three, with Lauryn, Pras and Wyclef all doing separate spots – and this was when “The Score” was out… It was a pretty crazy undertaking, and this is before computers – everything was on tape, it all had to be done live. And I wanted to do it like a real mix CD – and at the time, there were people putting out “mix CD’s” and none of them were mixed! They were just compilations.
JS: You took my next question from me – about the Fugees. It was incredible having three separate spots from them, when they were together. Which one was your favourite?
SK: Lauryn, easily. Lauryn Hill. “Keep It Tight” was the best one. She was awesome, amazing – she’s such a doll, a great girl. I mean, everyone was. I got to work with Big Pun, Run-DMC… It was incredible stuff.
JS: What was your favourite track on the album and why?
SK: “Everybody Come On” by Flipmode Squad. I wanted to get that house vibe into it, alongside the Craig Mack “Treat Me Right” – and it worked.
“Yeah, at the time I would have loved to have had B.I.G. on there, I would have lived for that.”
JS: And was there anyone not on there that you wanted, but for some reason couldn’t get?
SK: Yeah, at the time I would have loved to have had B.I.G. on there, I would have lived for that.
JS: So moving on to the house scene, how has that been progressing?
SK: It has been progressing at a great rate, especially as it is really driven by technology, and the kinds of things you can do with it are amazing. And now look at the impact it is having on hip-hop, look at that new Rihanna track “Please Don’t Stop The Music” – I mean that is a straight-up dance record, but it is being played on a straight-up hip-hop station. So I think FINALLY the hip-hop kids are starting to embrace dance music, which is a beautiful thing – even Timbaland and some of the Dirty South sounds with hard synths, it has come around. And finally it is all different types of music being played in the club, a mash-up of hip-hop, house, everything. Everyone is starting to listen to everything now, which is great.
JS: But to be honest, in the UK it has been like that for a long time.
SK: Of course, oh my god, of course! That is why I love coming over so much. Believe it or not, the European market is SO much more schooled out there, and appreciates music more than we Americans do – and that is the truth, and I will say that until the day I die. As soon as I stepped off that London plane back in 1988, I knew that.
JS: So you’re on tour with Dave Navarro right now – how did the rock music scene come about?
SK: Oh it is crazy, it is Dave Navarro playing guitar and me DJ-ing, 22 songs of remixes and mash-ups if you will… And before, I have been on tour with Anthrax and Primus.
JS: Just a quick techie question for the geeks out there, what are you using right now, Serato?
SK: Yeah I use Serato, and Pioneer DJM-909 mixer, Technics turntables of course – I never used CD’s – and a Pioneer EFX-1000 effects unit. In fact, I just saw the new Traktor program that just came out, and it is pretty freaking amazing, so I might check that out. But I’m a crazy Serato user.
“Look at Junior Vasquez, he is in his 60’s now, Danny Tenaglia is near his 50’s – still playing. I hope I can still do the same.”
JS: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
SK: Hopefully still DJ-ing, as long as kids come to see me play, I’ll keep doing it. Look at Junior Vasquez, he is in his 60’s now, Danny Tenaglia is near his 50’s – still playing. I hope I can still do the same.
JS: And with the role that technology is playing, do you think that role of the DJ will ever diminish, or grow bigger?
SK: It’ll get bigger, just watch. Bigger. Technology will never replace the DJ.
JS: To finish, you made your feelings and concerns pretty clear before, with regards to hip-hop. Do you think that there is anything that can really it “save” it?
SK: I think these kids coming out just have to re-embrace it, really to make the music, not the money. You WILL make money if you make good music. I guarantee it.