Shortee Blitz Interview
Author: Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania
There are some DJ's that know how to rock a crowd; and some that just draw crowds regardless. There are some DJ's that demand respect; and others that simply command it. And there are a handful of DJ's that can genuinely call themselves "great" - but only a couple of them are crowned an "institution." Shortee Blitz is a bonafide institution on the UK hip hop scene. To be honest, I can barely call this an interview - it is, in truth, a long conversation I had with my friend to which you are cordially invited to join. So grab a drink and sit with us.
Jay Soul: Yes yes Shortee Blitz, welcome to RapReviews.com! How's it going?
Shortee Blitz: Thank you very much for having me - it is definitely good to be here, I'm all nervous now though!
JS: No no, don't be nervous! If we can start by taking you back - what are your earliest musical memories and influences?
SB: The major influences on my life musically, that would have to be my uncles. I wasn't born in London, I was actually born in Nottingham (in the Midlands) - and they brought every bit of music to my grandmother's house, that is where I used to spend the weekends. So there was early hip hop, funk, soul, reggae of course, being a Jamaican household, that's a standard. That's not even what made me want to get into music - when I was ten years old, I used to buy records, just as a fan. You know, do my paper round, save up for two weeks because they hardly paid me shit - then go and buy an album, and have to walk back from the town centre. I'd read the liner notes, learn the lyrics from every good record, that is when the passion started... I'm still kind of like that, but there is a lot less to sing along to these days!
JS: Yeah, like we were talking off-mic before about the Dilla gig.
SB: Exactly, the way the people were singing along, it made ME feel that yeah, there IS hope for us still, don't give up and do something else - not that I was going to give up, but that was a faith restorer. So if you didn't get to it, come to the next one, it'll be even bigger - they raised a lot of money for charity too.
JS: Definitely. So how about that early hip hop? Who hooked you in? Because everyone has that hook, who was it for you?
SB: Wow, I mean I just about remember "Rappers Delight" and "The Message" first time round! Once I heard "The Message" and all the Tommy Boy good stuff, I was hooked. Melle Mel, for sure, and the first album I bought was Run-DMC, "Raising Hell." They did a lot for the game, and also Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince, "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble." Doug E Fresh, "The Show" and "Paid In Full" was the first 12" I bought. But really I'm a diehard fan of Big Daddy Kane, still to this day. Very stylish individual, as rhyming goes.
JS: Did you have the hightop hair?
SB: Oh, hell yeah! It wasn't quite right but I tried, and it took me long to let that shit go! That was the shit back then. Did you have a hightop?
JS: Vaguely, but not out of choice!
SB: (**laughter**) Even MC Serch had one, I even tried to do this to my school friend, a guy called Andrew. He was a white guy but had kinky hair like Serch - I "cut" his hair into a hightop, didn't work though, I hope Andrew forgives me!
JS: I'm sure he does... So how did you start getting into the DJ-ing side of things?
SB: Natural progression, really. After all those Saturday jobs and paper rounds, you build a pretty good collection of hip hop records.
JS: And then you picked up turntables?
SB: Yeah, I moved to London when I was sixteen, my Mum got married down here and we all moved here. So I got a weekend job at Radio Rentals - remember that place?
JS: Yeah, I bought a second hand TV and video from that place.
SB: I had the ugly suit and everything! I bought a couple of turntables, a few months apart because I was saving up for them. Then I had to save up for a mixer. That wasn't a fully-fledged system, it wasn't until the early to mid-90's that I got that. I wasn't trying to be a battle DJ, but I wanted to scratch to feel good about myself and be capable. Then I got into the club scene and everything, meeting people with similar goals - shout out to James Yarde and Damien. We started up a sound system called Class Act in 1993. We used to find an empty house in Streatham (South London) and put black bags over the windows, then house party until the cops came. And that is what made me able to read a crowd - in a house party, there are no bouncers to help you if the crowd is unhappy! You have to make sure your shit is right, or else they'll complain, maybe even throw stuff at you, stampede you... Then after a few years, the DCI (special police branch) came and started confiscating records - and I was OUT, you know how long it took me to collect these records??
JS: So how did that bounce into the bigger club scene?
SB: Same thing, really - everyone knew each other, and used to come to the house parties, promoters too. I started getting residencies at clubs - I had this one at Bliss, which was cool, but I used to get £60 a WEEK. I had to pay the MC as well out of that money, I got jerked, man. But it was good experience. You don't come in at a grand a set! You have to build, recognise that, climb that ladder. It was cut-throat, sure, but it makes you more business-savvy.
JS: Before I forget, how did the name "Shortee Blitz" come about?
SB: The "Shortee" part is a family nickname - my cousin Shelley used to say "Wha guan, shortee?" And coming up I was a short kid! When I came to DJ, I didn't want to be called "DJ" this or "Cutmaster" that. I added the "Blitz" part - it sounds kind of corny now, but I wanted the effect to be similar to the London blitz, just bomb the crowd... You look disappointed!
JS: No no! We used to think it was - well, I don't know about the "Shortee" part - but the "Blitz" was because you mixed records so quickly, you know. Verse, chorus, bang.
SB: And the reason I do that, mix quickly, is because I don't ever want the crowd to get bored, or even myself. It keeps the energy level up. Some promoters don't book us, because they want the song to fade out. OK, cool - but my formula has been working pretty well so far!
JS: That's an understatement! How did the international gig scene come about for you?
SB: I love traveling, it just came about - through another gig, the radio show, however. It just expanded. When I get to a gig, it is very professional for me - I won't be standing there smoking a cigarette or getting drunk while I should be DJ-ing, I'm thinking about the next four records. You've got to be on the job to make it flow - it is an art, and I'm serious about it. If I’m not sweating at the end of my set, something is wrong. I play the first couple of records, then see what the crowd takes to, see what works. That is kind of how I do the radio show too. Somebody told me back in the day, I'm not sure who, but they said that the difference between a record and a GREAT record is the mood it puts out. So if you can put people in a certain type of mood, they'll remember you. And also being a nice person too, not a dickhead. A lot of DJ's are real dickheads, and I can't understand why - we're not saving the world or curing cancer, we're playing records. Get over yourself! Again, I love traveling, the world is such a big place, it is bigger than your postcode or zip code. Not to get too political, but it is foolish the way shit is going down right now.
JS: You mean the recent spate of teenage killings in the UK?
SB: Yeah. I mean America also, but yeah the UK. It is sad - teenagers are killing each other because "he is from the East End and he has come to the South" and it is bullshit. Bullshit. Nowadays, a lot of people don't know how to separate lyrics from real life. I've good common sense, I know that the cars these rappers are talking about, they don't own this shit. All the people they are talking about "killing" - they wouldn't talk about it if it were true.
JS: They'd be in jail.
SB: They'd be in jail. That would be evidence! It is common sense. So treat it as though you're watching a good film. When you switch it off, it is done.
JS: To that end, I know most rappers claim no responsibility for anything negative. But do you think that hip hop is even partially responsible, or at least that it is not helping matters?
SB: I wouldn't say that - it is, at the end of the day, an art form. The best MC's are story-tellers, like Slick Rick, Snoop Dogg. 50 Cent isn't as good a rapper as Big Daddy Kane or Rakim, but he paints a picture that is a story, take it with a pinch of salt. And really, parents play a big role, steering their kids this way or that - "this is real, that isn't." Come on, use your brain, you want to end someone's life for what? That's dumb.
JS: Do you feel for the kids growing up now, musically, that this era of hip hop is more about instant disposable and corporate success?
SB: Yeah, it is very "just add water" - and I can't blame the artists getting paid, because they are probably feeding their families, saving them from poverty sometimes. So what era did you grow up in?
JS: I started getting into hip hop around 1994, when albums like "Illmatic" and "Ready to Die" and Wu Tang, countless albums.
SB: Yeah and me, I'm from the era before that with Rakim, Kane, KRS-One, the first Golden Age. And there was so much more in the music. And all the artists we just named, none of them sound alike. Now it is designed to make money quick, there is no more artist development. That is why it is fucked up now. I mean, do you think they will be playing Soulja Boy in two years time as a classic? Hell no. There needs to be more balance - it is either a dance move, or you're killing people. That is what they push to get exposure. Apart from Kanye, Common and Lupe, thank goodness for those three. Even though there are millions of other artists that are DOPE, but they will never get heard. And it's sad.
JS: It is sad, and I think one of the things that, since I started at RapReviews, is the difference between the UK and America - the CD's I get sent, the whole set-up is so professional over there. Marketing, management, promotion, advertising, production. Even if the artist is only OK, that platform is in place for them to step up and sell units. And most people have never heard of these artists and never will.
SB: And that's the thing about America - an artist could potentially go platinum in their own area, which is a good thing. And here, they try and market it like they do in the States, but it is a different market, actually a different mindset. We don't think the same way they do. If you've ever been in New York when they market an album, it is a full-blown campaign running at 140%. They have people out on the streets, pushing it, TV spots, radio spots, they'll be everywhere. That's not set up over here, unfortunately.
JS: Well what IS going on with UK hip hop, Shortee?
SB: There are loads of great artists out there, but at this point, Grime in at the forefront in the UK, not hip hop. That's cool. And the way that a lot of grime MC's have stepped up their game, they are MC-ing on a proper level now, you can't take that away. And in grime, they work TOGETHER a lot more than in hip hop. In hip hop, sometimes they think they can do it on their own - but to build a scene it takes more than one person. I was speaking to Grafh, over in New York, he was talking about the new era of New York artists - they all work together now. The era before, that Nas/Jay-Z era, they wouldn't let anyone in. Thank the internet - artists like MIMS couldn't get on in any other way. Over here, artists like Ty and Double Edge - they spend time with their craft, record companies don't know what to do with them. But there are a lot more "regular" people out there that want to listen to hip hop - they want to hear something different from drugs and dance moves.
JS: So then who? Who can cross over into the mainstream? Because it is crazy, the UK is the ONE major nation in the world that doesn't have a hip hop scene - or even an artist - that regularly crosses over into the charts.
SB: It is really weird - we were the first place to get hip hop after America, we speak the same language, for fucks' sake! We've got dope DJ's, wicked producers... What's the problem? As soon as I find out, I'll make this shit blow, man! People like Dizzee Rascal and Kano are doing well, and the USA sees that they can make cool music. There are MC's from here that can easily compete with American MC's, I want people to know that. When I was a kid, I really wanted people to know what hip hop was, because they would love it as much as I do. Now, even though it has blown up, I'm not too sure anymore - the game is all about money, it isn't about content anymore. I probably sound old saying that, but fuck it, that is how I feel.
JS: I think a lot of people over the age of twenty are starting to feel that way about hip hop, a lot are turning away to other genres.
SB: For sure, when I was in New York in November, to visit family in Queens, I saw DJ Eclipse - he used to DJ for Serch and others. He gave me a lift back to Queens, and he was saying he was never in it for the money - it was like "Dope beats, dope rhymes, what more do you want?" like Little Brother said. If we stop doing what we're doing, championing wicked artists, it is definitely going to die. And doing the Dilla gig, I didn't really get to play much, but-
JS: You were in "hype-man" mode, I've never seen you like that, I was shocked!
SB: You saw the look of love on my face, right? It was beautiful, and that's the reason why I do it - crowded club, live crowd, no trouble whatsoever. And it is weird that that is so rare now, why can't it be like that again? No laws were broken, nobody was smoking nothing, were they?
JS: They were where I was standing!
SB: (**laughter**) Were you smoking, Jay??
JS: No no, of course not, just some random dudes next to me! What about those lads at the front of the crowd that knew the words to EVERY song?
SB: Yeah, the Aftershock crew at the front, wicked artists. It was multi-cultural - it was hip hop in the room that night, the very essence of it.
JS: Did you know Dilla yourself?
SB: I met him once, when he was still with Slum Village, we interviewed him for KISS - Dilla was a cool cat, they all were, they were in it for the music, and I shared that common bond with them.
JS: Before and after the Dilla gig, I was listening to a lot of his music, and the thing that really struck me was the care and attention with which he crafted every single kick, snare, bassline, everything. And I was listening to Common's album "Finding Forever" - and you've got Kanye's music on there, which is wicked, it's cool-
SB: But it's not the same, is it?
JS: It's not the same. It sounds sloppy compared to Dilla. That's no diss to Kanye, he has other talents, it is just different. Do you think there will ever be another producer like Dilla?
SB: People are saying that Black Milk is the "next Dilla" - he's got another twelve to fifteen years before he could even be compared to Dilla. He's got beats, though - I keep telling people, there is something in the water in Detroit! They are soulful out there. But people shouldn't try to be "the next" whoever, they should bring their own identity to the game. Be you. I mean, back in the day, certain family members were saying there was no money in hip hop - trust me, there is! Wanna borrow some money now, eh?? But the reason I have a certain amount of success in this field is that I have the love for it FIRST, and I had the love for it when there was no money for it.
JS: So did you ever want to be a rapper, then?
SB: Oh yeah! I definitely wanted to be an MC first. I wanted to dance and be a b-boy, but I was terrible. Rapping, even worse. This DJ thing was right under my nose all the time, and I kind of fell into it. When I first moved to London I knew nobody, I had a lot of time to listen to music, try to rhyme, and obviously scratch. I had that love. And that is why it is wack nowadays, the stuff that is getting pushed. That is why myself and Big Ted on our Wednesday night KISS show, we try to showcase a lot of artists that we feel should be heard. But we're fighting a losing battle, man. We're trying to push a certain standard, because anything wack, we will not play. Even if it is the biggest record out - what the fuck for? It is on everyday, we don't need to play Soulja Boy.
JS: Do you remember on the Gang Starr album "The Ownerz" that song with an intro from Primo, "You let the programmers tell you what to play-"
SB: "You fucking robots!" Yeah that one. It isn't even that at KISS, we don't have programmers. All they say is "Play a couple of tunes to ease them in, maybe Lupe or someone, then do what you want." And I've been on KISS thirteen years now, so somebody must like it somewhere. Watch me get fired next week!
JS: If I can ask a few techie questions for the geeks out there, obviously you started out on vinyl. Then to CD's, then to Serato?
SB: Serato, yes. CD's, never. You know, actually I was planning on giving up DJ-ing.
JS: What? Seriously? When was that?
SB: Real talk. When I was doing the club stuff, and I would turn up to certain clubs and they wouldn't even have any decks, just CDJ's. I wanted to play records, because it felt like I was actually DJ-ing. So I thought that OK, when that dries up, I'm out of the game. I didn't want to transfer all my shit to CD.
JS: Then Serato came along and saved everyone’s asses!
SB: Yeah, for sure! The first time I saw Jazzy Jeff using Serato like that, I knew it. A DJ that I respected doing it - it sounded like he was cutting up vinyl. To enable me to stay in the game, and enjoy what I was doing, Serato was the way forward. And now I've just put all my records in storage - it took me three months to do it, I went through everything. It was hard, emotional - most of my life I've spent collecting records. It made me the person I am, I can't sell them, dammit!
JS: Where do you see technology taking DJ-ing next? Is it reaching an elastic limit? Because you know what they will do next - for all those low level DJ's, they will have music software that mixes-
SB: That mixes the tracks for you, yeah. Machines are taking over. With Abelton Live, you can already do that shit. Why are you even there then? I'm all for technology helping out, but not taking over. Some so-called DJ's need the help maybe! But you can't call yourself a hip hop DJ if you can't mix and scratch. I'm a hip hop DJ in its' truest form - I'm not a turntablist, I'm a hip hop DJ.
JS: OK Shortee, where do you see yourself in ten years time? Dipping into the retirement fund on a beach in Jamaica or still doing it?
SB: No beach yet! Hopefully, I want to have a few albums under my belt. Finding new artists, and showcasing them to people. I don't know what my life purpose is, and at this age, I should know that-
JS: I think a lot of people think your life purpose is entertaining people - we're in the entertainment industry, right?
SB: Yeah, I just want people to feel love for the music as much as I do, the passion.
JS: Well, shouldn't you be in charge of a record company by now then?
SB: Is there any money in that though? That's the thing, I really should've been-
JS: I'm not talking about a major label, whatever. Just a small label, your own one - take a couple of artists, developing them properly, and getting them on the radio. Making sure they are good. It doesn't have to be big things all the time, just big enough, just-
SB: Substantial, yeah. That's a good point, I've never really thought of that before, of being my own record label. I've just thought about showcasing artists, we've been behind a lot of them. Like Blak Twang, like Estelle since she was a teenager... Let me say it now, if she don't blow now, something is wrong. She has a tune coming out with Kanye and Will.i.am, "American Boy" - she must do well off that shit. She's not rhyming on that track, but we know where she's come from. My wife was watching E! News and Estelle was on it, with John Legend at the Grammy’s, that is big for her. Like Ty, and like Maestro - Maestro is in Australia, touring with the biggest hip hop group in Australia right now.
JS: I think what I'm waiting for is just one artist who is so well-balanced. If you listen to Slick Rick's first album, he covers everything on it-
SB: And you know he produced that all himself, right?
JS: Yeah, even Rakim produced "Paid In Full" himself.
SB: Yeah, Eric B just stood in the background looking hard, screwing at the camera - he used to scare me when I was a kid!
JS: So yeah, that is what I am waiting for, just one artist. I thought it would be Sway, he did OK, but it didn't really hit.
SB: Yeah, but he is coming back hard on his next one. I see Sway as an extension of Ty, just being himself, true artistry. I back those guys to the fullest, whether I know them or not. That is what the game needs, quality and balance.
JS: Just nobody has done it yet - make a club anthem, street record, one for the ladies... And not that corny shit either, just real shit. No one has done it yet.
SB: And the way the game is, why would they try? They don't get support anyway. I think you've hit the nail on the head, don't be one-dimensional. The important thing is, if you like an artist, SUPPORT them. Buy their record, whether on CD, or off iTunes, whatever. If they can't afford to make music, they will go away. So support the Dilla's and the Common's - I do it, even though I get a lot of records for free. Put your money where your mouth is. I would never buy a Soulja Boy record.
JS: You've really got it in for him today! Is it because he stole your initials "SB" or what??
SB: (**laughter**) Yeah that's it, he's trying to be me - stop that shit! I'm only picking on him at the moment, he's the guy with the hit record. He could do better though, he is only young. But yeah, albums are cheaper - I tried to buy the second Pharcyde album, they charged me £18! Now iTunes costs £7.99 for the album. Put your money where your mouth is, support the artists you like.
Check out Shortee Blitz on MySpace at myspace.com/djshorteeblitz.
Originally posted: February 26, 2008