When someone passes away we can mourn them, celebrate their life, or do a little bit of both. For DJ Rob Swift, he decided it was time to celebrate the life of his friend Roc Raida, who passed away in 2009 from cardiac arrest. The project Swift has put together, titled Roc For Raida, features both the music and the thoughts on the fallen X-Ecutioners member. Swift describes it as “a really honest and genuine representation of Roc Raida the artist, the person, the human being.” Not only that, Swift is convinced that Roc had a hand in putting it together, and he told us the interesting story of how. In addition to discussing how the album came to fruition, Swift also shared his ideas on how we as a community stay positive despite so many of our peers passing away, and he revealed the one rapper who’s brain he’d love to pick.

Adam Bernard: Start this off by telling everyone about the Roc for Raida project.

Rob Swift: The idea came to me right after the new year. I had just gotten home from a date on New Year’s Eve in Romania and I was thinking about what I wanted to accomplish this year. It occurred to me that for about twelve or thirteen years I’ve been releasing projects that revolve around me and what I’m doing – whether or not I’m on a jazz kick, whether or not I’m collaborating with live musicians, making statements about politics, releasing DVDs documenting my career. It just hit me like you know what, this year I’m not gonna make it about me, I think in 2012 I want to make about my friend who passed away, Roc Raida. That’s when I came up with the idea to honor him with my next release, and do something that would help continue his legacy and also raise money for his family.

AB: Very cool. Rewinding a bit… New Year’s Eve date in Romania?

RS: Yeah man, I was in Romania, Bucharest, DJing out there for New Year’s Eve. It was a trip. I never would have thought as a kid taking the train up to Harlem to practice with Raida, 21 years later I’d be traveling all over the world doing something we used to just do for fun. We didn’t care about getting paid for this, or getting famous, we just wanted to express ourselves and be creative. Here I am, 21 years later, applying all of the skill and practice ethic that we did as 19 year old kids to raise money for his family and to honor him.

AB: When you listen to the album, does it feel like Roc Raida is in the room with you? From the music and the interview clips it sounds like it gives a full vibe.

RS: Yeah, that’s what I wanted to do. Let me tell you an interesting story about the interview excerpts – that almost didn’t happen. When I started mastering the album I remembered that my friend John Carluccio, who released basically the first documentary on DJing, called Battle Sounds, gave me audio tapes of outtakes of the interviews he did with myself, Roc Raida, and other members of the X-Ecutioners. I said let me stop mastering, find those audio tapes, and use Raida’s voice and my voice and the voices of the other members to kind of narrate the project, to really bring home that for us it wasn’t just about showing off, this was something that we bonded over. We built friendships, and we grew as people because of the connection that we have with DJing. I wanted to tell that story through these interviews. I spent a whole day looking for the tapes and I couldn’t find them.

I was like look, I gotta release this in March – this March month marks the 21st anniversary of me meeting Raida. I met him at the East Coast preliminaries for the DMC back in 1991. When I decided I was gonna do this tape I knew I wanted to release it in March, not on an obvious day like his birthday, or in the month that he passed away, I wanted to release it in a month that meant something to me, so March was the target drop month for the project and I couldn’t afford to take a week looking for these tapes. I said I’m just gonna master it as is, so I started back with the mastering and then one of the machines broke. I was so fuckin pissed off. After about an hour of kickin things around in my studio I realized I knew how to bypass the machine that broke, I just had to find some cables. I went in this box to find the cables and in that box were the excerpts of the Battle Sounds movie with Raida’s voice and my voice and I remember thinking to myself the machine didn’t break on its own, Raida sabotaged it from heaven. He sabotaged it from heaven because he wanted his voice on the project and he wasn’t gonna let me rush it. It’s really bugged out how that came together, so if you feel it’s almost like he’s there with you in the room, that’s exactly what I wanted, and I’m so happy that that machine broke. I don’t care that I gotta pay to get it fixed. It was worth it.

AB: That’s an awesome story. Obviously we lost Roc Raida very young, and in hip-hop we lose a lot of artists at a young age. Why aren’t we, as a fan base, a more depressed lot? How is it we still find the motivation to enjoy life when every year more and more of our artists lose their lives?

RS: That’s a deep question, man. The best way I can answer it is, personally speaking, I’ve fallen in and out of love with various things, and with various people, but music is the one thing I’ve never fallen out of love with. I’ve always maintained a genuine, positive, love affair with music. Even in mourning for Raida and being sad that he’s away, the fact that he left us with music, that he left us with this treasure that I can take and form into a new project, and keep Raida’s memory alive, keeps me from being sad. So although Raida is not here, I can celebrate him through his music, and you can listen to the mixtape and it’s almost like his presence is still there. Spiritually his vibe is there, it’s never leaving us. I think that’s how I, and everyone else, somehow manage to rise above the depression and still be happy. Whether it’s violence, or unfortunate accidents, or health reasons, whatever it is that people pass away from that have a connection to music, they leave us behind with their music. You might listen to a Whitney Houston song and you might have this beautiful memory and it puts a smile to your face, so how could you be depressed about that when their music still brings back good memories?

AB: That’s a great answer, which I expected because I know you have a degree in psychology.

RS: Thank you. {*laughs*} I think about these things, too, but that’s a really interesting question because death is a mindfuck. Even working on this project, when I was going through the audio excerpts trying to figure out what I wanted to use to narrate the album, my girlfriend and I were sitting down going through everything and there were parts when my girlfriend just started to break down and cry listening to us talk about each other and how much we admired each other and loved each other and wanted to practice and be good. We were these young kids who were so passionate about helping each other get better. That’s something that is really rare, especially now with the way things are with music and bottle service and everyone wants to talk about money and cars and here you have these kids who just wanna practice and help each other get better. Listening to Raida say stuff like “I listen to Rob when he gives me advice because there’s something Rob’s thinking about that I’m not.” That’s some deep shit. That’s some deep shit to say, to be vulnerable like that in an interview and say that to someone, or say that to the world, that you trust your friend sometimes more than you trust yourself. It’s stuff like that about the project that I feel really hits home and I think is gonna help people understand that the X-Men and X-Ecutioners legacy goes beyond just whatever we accomplish as musicians or DJs, our shit is on a more personal level and I think the project really captures that.

AB: Speaking of personal, and I know you mentioned being out of the country on New Year’s Eve, so I’m wondering, other than home, what place in the world has been the most hospitable to you?

RS: Wow, let me think. You know what, it’s really hard to single out one place. Four places come to mind. Going to Athens, Greece, for the first time was an amazing experience and my hosts there were hospitable to a fault, taking me everywhere, buying me food. I went to Beirut, Lebanon, and it was same thing, very hospitable. The treatment there was amazing. I’ve been to China. I’m actually going back on the 14th, I depart for a three day tour (editor’s note: this interview was conducted on March 7th). I was in Shanghai, Beijing, a couple of years ago with my girlfriend and the treatment there was amazing. And I would round it out with Moscow, Russia. To this day, the guys that brought me out to Russia, I still talk to them and I miss them beyond just the promoter-artist relationship. I want to go back just hang out with those guys.

AB: Finally, I know college was a long time ago, but I want to touch on that psychology degree. Name me one rapper you’d like to have on your proverbial couch.

RS: That’s a good one! I would say… Tupac.

AB: He might not say much right now.

RS: I know, right!

AB: If you could find him it would be quite the get.

RS: {*laughs*} You know what, I hear you, but you know what’s crazy about Tupac, I feel like even in death he’s still saying a lot of shit, he’s still poppin shit, but you’re right, I couldn’t ask him a question, it would be one directional because it’s all in his music and movies. One rapper I would want on my couch right now, I would say Chuck D, only because I feel like Chuck D, for me, really got me to think about myself beyond being a DJ. I’ve been listening to Chuck D since his first single, and even before that I used to listen to his college radio show on WBAU, when his crew used to be called Spectrum City. Chuck D is fascinating to me because when they dropped their first single and album as Public Enemy they changed the mentality of a generation of young people, and that’s a hard thing to do. It’s one thing to get young people to drink, it’s one thing to get young people to have sex, it’s one thing to get young people to spend their money on clothing, but it’s a completely different thing to get young people to think about their race, politics, their connection to the world, government, history.

That’s something that young people usually shy away from. Chuck D made me think about myself and who I am and where I came from and he made me want to be more aware of what’s going on around me, and this is as a 15-16 year old teenager. Not only would I want to pick his brain about how he achieved that, but I’d also want to pick his brain about what’s going on now. I would love for Chuck D to describe his feelings on the youth and young people today that are, in my opinion, really influenced by stuff like reality shows and being famous for being famous. The mentality amongst youth now is so different from the mentality that I had when I was the age of my niece, for example, 14-15 years old, and I would love to hear him tell me how he feels about that. Does he think that there’s someone out there, whether it’s him, or me, or whoever, that can change that and have the impact on youth that he did? That would really fascinate me because I think about my niece and I feel sorry for her in a lot of ways because I wish that she was growing up when I did because, again, she’s fascinated and interested in things that I feel really, at the end of the day, aren’t gonna help her grow as a person. They might help her party better, but that’s about it, and I’m worried. I really think a lot about that stuff. The music is so different now, and society in general, what we put importance on, what we think is relevant, is so different from when I was comin up, so Chuck D would be the rapper I would like to sit down and talk to.