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Interview With DJ T-Rock

24 August 2005 No Comment

We had recently received a whole bunch of DJ T-Rock albums and a mixtape and decided to track this guy down for a discussion. In case you don’t know, T-Rock is a member of the Citizens and 1200 Hobos turntablist crews, In this interview he talks about how he got started, where his inspiration comes from and a whole lot of other stuff. Read on to check out the entire interview…

What’s up man how you doing these days?

Wattup, everything is cool I’m just chillin in the always sunny Los Angeles, California. Trying to stay busy in the music business.

You’ve probably been asked this many times and we’ll forgive you for dropping a copy and paste response, but tell us how you got started in all of this. What was it that inspired you?

Well, it’s really kinda weird how I got started because I got my start in the most unlikely of places. I grew up in the 
Appalachian Mountains in the state of North Carolina. There, I was living on a Cherokee Indian reservation, (only because my father’s job took us there) and I was about 11 or 12 years old. That was the age when I really starting listening and paying attention to music, when I wanted to find something to be into and talk about with friends at school. 

So, I joined one of those tape club things where you could order like 12 tapes for a dollar. I just randomly picked titles of artist and the latest releases and patiently awaited their arrival in the mail. Turns out I had ordered things like Ratt, Megadeath, ZZ Top and Aerosmith. But, I had also ordered Run Dmc, Beastie Boys and Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. 

As soon as I heard those records I knew that this was the lifestyle I wanted to lead. I was attracted to the beats and the cuts…just the whole party vibe of the music. From that point on I tried to buy every hip hop album I could get my hands on, regardless if I ever heard of it or not. The early DJ’s inspired me. Jazzy Jay, Jam Master Jay, Jazzy Jeff, Cash Money, the list goes on and on.

I read that you are a member of the Citizens and 1200 Hobo’s . How did that come about and what does it entail being a member of those crews.

The Citizens crew began in Atlanta when I was living there. We were the first crew to broadcast turntablism over the airwaves there. The crew was Dj Faust, the FIRST dj to release a turntablist album (even before Q-Bert), Dj Shortee, Dj Shotgun, Dj Klever, Dj Craze, and me. The crew eventually went their seperate ways. 

Faust and Shortee got married and continue their Djing around the country. Shotgun lives in Florida and releases battle records. Klever became a champion on both the ITF and DMC battle circuit and Craze became a DJing superstar, winning many battles and accomplishing many things in the DJ world. So, the Citizens crew doesn’t exist any longer, only in memory. 

A few years ago I was asked by the founder himself Mr. Dibbs if I wanted to be in the 1200 Hobo’s crew and I gladly accepted. Being in a crew is a lot of work. It requires teamwork and effort and it’s also a great way to make new friends and meet a lot of people. Also, joining a crew can help a career through name recognition as well. When I joined the Hobo’s the crew name was huge, and it helped me open many doors that would have remained locked had I not been assosciated with them.

You invented the Hermit Crab? Can you explain to those out there who do not know the turntablist glossary exactly what it is and how it differs from other scratches?

In the world of Turntablism there are many names for many different styles of scratching, just like the many different names of moves in Breakdancing. Crabs, flares, chirps, rubs, tears, etc. The Hermit crab was a name I came up with because at the time I was trying to learn how to crab which is using 3 to 4 fingers on the fader while manipulating the record with your other hand. I could never quite get it at first, but I discovered that by using only two fingers on the fader back and forth as fast as I could it created a cool crab like imitation. That scratch is also called the twiddle which was named later on.

How often do you practice? If we were sitting in on one of your jamming sessions what would we see?

I practice everyday all of the time. Sometimes I practice for hours and sometimes only a few minutes depending on what I have to do that day. I also try to work on other things besides scratching routines. I may take a whole day just producing beats or I’ll work on a mixing set for an upcoming party or event. 

If you were to sit in on a practice session with me you would see the following: 1pm I’ll roll out of bed, maybe or maybe not take a shower.  I actually would hope that you wouldn’t be sitting there during that whole thing..  So, let’s say you arrive at 2pm. I’ll throw some records on and scratch, scratch, scratch, hold up!  What’s that on T.V.?  Okay, scratch, mix records, damn I’m thirsty!  I’ll go to the fridge, sit down for a while and drink a soda, back to scratch, sample records, make a beat.  Wow!  I’m hungry!  So, you get the idea. You would be there all day and probably well past the night.

How many records do you have in your collection?

Two. No, for real…Um…I don’t know? I actually don’t have that many. It is surprising to me that when I go to some Dj’s houses they got like 40, 000 records or more and have to have entire rooms built dedicated to their collection. I think that’s dope but for some reason with me it is quality over quantity. I’m really picky and have never done the whole record pool thing so I don’t have a lot of wack records lying around that I would never play. I got some gems that I’ve had since I was a kid. I’m really proud of my collection. Those records mean a lot to me.

What was the most exciting record you ever discovered while digging?

Wow! There have been a few that I got really excited about finding, but perhaps my favorite was finding a copy of one of my favorite hip hop songs. Super Lover Cee and Cassanova Rud’s “Girls I got’em Locked”.  I used to always kick myself for not getting that 12 inch when it came out and I could never find it anywhere.Years later I was digging in Atlanta and BAM!  There it was in the used section. Now I have 3 copies!  I’ve found a lot of dope records over the years that I’ve gotten excited about finding, but as soon as I glance at some of the prices on those records my excitement then quickly goes away. Ouch!

I would imagine the digging scene in L.A. or in most urban areas of the states to be saturated. Can you still find those rare digging areas where you can still find rareities that are not overpriced?

Yeah, you’re right about tha t. The city life digging is really bad and if you do find a rare record then chances are the store owner knows what’s up and has marked the record up in price…way up! And yes, there are many spots still throughout the U.S. and different parts of the world where you can strike it rich while digging. Mostly small towns and forgotten spots, but I’ll never tell!

Have you ever been to Europe or Asia?

I’ve been to Europe on the Bomb Records “Bomb Hip Hop Tour”. That was a blast! One day I’m gonna write a book on all my crazy adventures man, I swear!  The only other places I have been are Canada, U.S.(obviously), and New Zealand.

Tell us about the New Zealand gig…

New Zealand was amazing man! I love it there. If I could pack up and move today I would. That was to promote me and Squashy Nice’s album, “Rock and Squash Techniques“. My label Why Records brought me out there to do a tour of colleges and universities. Turns out I was the first DJ/Turntablist ever on that tour. That was really cool for me but I don’t think the younger kids really understood what I was doing half the time?

What’s the wildest place you ever played and the wackest place?

I was a tour DJ for an R&B artist on Virgin Records and we did a show 3 days in a row in Chicago on an outdoor stage in front of 40,000 plus screaming people. The turntables were high above the stage so my view was incredible! At one point there were about 40,000 water bottles flying through the air as well as shirts, shoes, and maybe some bloody arms and legs,haha. That show was also with big name artist like Jessica Simpson, Petey Pablo, Simple Plan, Jewel, and many more man…it was crazy to be in front of a crowd like that and all eyes on you. 

The wackest place I’ve ever played was when I f irst started out DJing I played a Trucking companies Christmas party!  It was the worst man. I played nothing but country music, and for nothing but redneck truckers and their big haired wives. I needed the money….REALLY BAD! I can’t believe I survived?

Which Deejays inspire you (today and in the past)?

That list is huge! Honestly man, you say a name and I guarantee you that I have been inspired in some form or another by that person. I believe that every DJ has something to offer. This is why I really don’t call anyone wack or ” a bad DJ ” because sure, one guy may be really bad at a certain scratch, but when he starts rockin’ a party he is incredible!  Every DJ has their “Thing” that all other DJ’s can learn from. 

Here are some of my favorite Dj’s past and present: Q-Bert, Shadow, Mixmaster Mike, Quest, Shortkut, Babu, Richie Rich (3rd Bass), Scratch (EPMD),Terminator X, Dj Man (2 Live Crew), Dj Toomp, Craze, A-Trak, Peanut Butter Wolf, Cash Money, Jazzy Jeff, Jam Master Jay, Aladdin, Total Eclipse, Rob Swift, Roc Raida, Dj Train (JJ Fad), Code Money (Schooly D), Tat Money (Steady B), Marley Marl, Pete Rock, Premier, Cut Creator, and the list goes on…

I see that you’ve done some remixes for people like Z-Trip and Quasimoto, what tools do you use?

I do it old school man. I basically do all my beats at home on my Ensoniq ASR 10 (remember those?) and then I sequence the beat to match the acapella I have. Then from there I’ll go into the studio where I’ll use Pro Tools to mix it down. Mostly I just use what I have at home like the ASR 10 sampler, a 16 track digital recorder, two turntables and my collection of records. Sometimes I don’t even have to use Pro Tools.

How would you define the people who purchase your albums?

The smartest people in the WORLD! I think I can describe those people in two words. Open Minded. I like people who are willing to take chances with what they listen to, people who aren’t afraid to break away from the corporate brainwashing machine called commercial radio.

As a turntablist where does most of your money come from, is it live shows, releasing albums?

What is this money thing you speak of? I do not comprehend this word. Is this a foreign word? Is this an African word for shampoo? Na man, honestly it varies. Lately the money has been coming from the live shows. Live shows are cool because you can also sell merchandise which enables you to get two things done at once. As long as I can remember I have NEVER received any money off of album sales. Touring is the way to go. Also, sometimes money comes in through music licensing and other side projects within themusic industry. It’s definitely a struggle to pay the rent sometimes though. Being an artist and being passionate about something is great, but becoming a successful paid artist is a great accomplishment.

If you found yourself in a room filled with every turntablist album ever released and had to explain to God what made your stuff different from everything else what would you say?

I would say, “My album cover to Who’s Your Daddy is way funnier than any of these other covers!”.  I would explain to him that I don’t take myself that seriously, I have fun with my music and really, in the end, none of this matters. I would also explain to him that all these other turntablists would probably make you pay for their record whereas I will gladly give you a free copy!

If you had a chance to do a song with Satan would you do it and if so how do you think it would turn out?

I think I have worked with Satan before? I think he was working for some of the record labels I’ve done tracks for. I would probably do a song with Satan but he would have to make me a really sweet deal. I could see it now though, working in the studio late at night…he’s late yet again for another recording session, he finally stumbles in all drunk on whiskey and has two supermodels under his arms……”Where have you been Satan? we have a song to record!!”, then we would start bickering.  We start recording and everything’s not good enough unless it’s his idea, what an ass!  On second thought, no! I would not do a song with Satan.

What is your favorite food?

Mom’s or grandma’s home cookin’, anything they make!

What are you most likely to be drinking when your thirsty?

Water or my favorite soda, Mountain Dew. I love that stuff….lots of caffeine!

Have you ever been to South Africa?

No, I would love to go though.

When I mention South Africa what are the pictures / words that come to mind?

Charlize Theron, only because I saw an interview where she used to live there. Money, I’ve heard that it is a rich area?  And, a beautiful surrounding landscape. Pretty much my 3 favorite things. Charlize Theron, Money, and beautiful scenery. Other than that I know absolutely nothing about it.

What make of turntables and mixer do you own?

I have 2 Technics 1200’s. The same set of table’s I’ve had since I was 17 years old. The mixer I have is a Vestax 07 Pro with a black face plate.

What was your first pair?

My first pair of tables were an old Sears model belt drive turntable, not meant for scratching on at all and a record player that was built into a stereo system. It was quite a sight to see me practising on those things.

Give us your best 5 hip hop albums pre 1995.

Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Mecca and the Soul Brother. 
Main Source, Breaking Atoms. 
Eric B and Rakim, Follow the Leader. 
Big Daddy Kane, Ain’t No Half Steppin’. 
Beastie Boys, Licensed to Ill.

In your opinion what’s worth checking out for hip hop this year?

Dj T-Rock and Squashy Nice, “Rock and Squash Techniques”. Available over the internet!

How is the new album doing?

I think it’s doing pretty well?  No matter how good or bad it does it’s something that both me and Squashy nice are really proud of and happy with no matter what.

How do your parents feel about your career?

Man…I could talk all day about that one. I don’t think they really understand the path I’ve chosen but they are still 
supportive. They do however get frustrated quite often with the fact that I am still pursuing a career in music at the age of 32. They think that if I was going to “Make it” I would have a long time ago. But, they understand that this is my dream.

What advice do you have for people who buy turntables and mixer and want to be turntablists?

Learn to DJ first!  Learn to mix records and rock parties and then learn the techniques of scratching. Too many young Dj’s just want to start scratching right away instead of learning the basics. It’s an artform and a well rounded one at that. There are many aspects to learn so take the time to study everything you can.

What was your most embarassing moment (either on stage or generally)?

I was playing little league baseball and was playing the right field position. I had to piss like you wouldn’t believe and my team had 2 outs on the other team already so I thought, “all we need is one more out then it’s off to the restroom for me.” But that last out NEVER came. It took us forever to get them out. They scored like 15 runs or something outrageous like that. In the meantime though, I just squatted and pissed my pants! My pants were bright blue too so when the urine hit that fabric it was like “WHOA!!!…How did his pants get that crazy shade of dark blue?” It was horrible, everone saw it and I was benched for the rest of the game. Oh well, I had to go!

Which Dj has the biggest collection that you’ve seen?

I don’t know?  I haven’t been inside too many DJ dungeons so I’m not quite sure. I’ve seen pictures of some of the guys collections and I think th e Beat Junkies have quite the pile of records.

Who are the top Dj’s in terms of technique?

The one and only Dj Q-Bert. He’s the master!

What was the hardest thing for you to learn as a dj?

Mixing records was kind of hard in the beginning but honestly, the hardest thing for me was learning the chirp scratch. That thing took me hours and hours and days and weeks to perfect. I remember thinking “Damn, am I ever gonna get this?”

Some of my favourite air scratching sessions are done to songs like EPMD’s “Scratch Bring it Back Part 2”, Gangstarr’s “As I Read My S-A”, man there are so many more that I can mention. Which are the fattest scratch routines you heard on a hip hop record?

I used to love to hear 3rd Bass’s “Daddy Rich in the Land of 1210”,  Low Profile’s “Aladdin’s on a Rampage”, KMC Krew “The Devil Came up to Michigan” and Jazzy Jeff’s “The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff”. Yeah man, there are so many great hip hop tracks out there that had me air scratchin’. Oh, I can’t forget about Cash Money and Marvelous “The Mighty Hard Rocker”, fresh!

What do you think of DJ’s like Clue, DooWop, or Kay Slay?

Right now after reading this question I am making a severe smirking face. I don’t know man, me personally it’s not my kind of thing. Those guys do more talking on their mixes than actually DJing. I consider what they do as breaking hit records. Good for them.

What was the wackest song you ever heard?

Dude! I love L.L. Cool J….but the wackest song to me is “I Need Love” I laugh out loud when I hear that playing. I actually play that song at the end of a club night sometimes to clear the bar. I remember hating that song when it came out!

What artists make you cringe?

Ashlee Simpson, Good Charlotte, Linkin Park, and all that bubble gum pop rock and hip hop. I can’t stand that stuff man.

Read any good books lately?

Actually yeah man, I just recently read Brian Coleman’s “Rakim Told Me”. It’s a great read about the early pioneering days of hip hop. There are some great stories from artist like Public Enemy, KRS 1, Ultramagnetic MC’s, and many more and it’s cool to see the relationships of all the crews coming up when hip hop was at it’s freshest. It was cool to know that so many people in hip hop went to Ced Gee for beats because he was the only one with an SP 12. And, it was good to read about the pioneer DJ’s like Red Alert and Marley Marl. It was also good to read about how things used to be and how refreshing hip hop was as compared to todays corporate takeover. You have to read this book! I couldn’t put it down.

Watched any good movies lately?

Kung Fu Hustle. I loved it.

Where did you get t he name T-Rock from?

It was just a nickname given to me in High School. I was into hip hop and all aspects of it and one of my friends just jokingly called me T-Rock one day as a way of making fun of the music I chose to listen to. He was trying 
to be funny when he said it. He even did a bad beat box impersonation before he said it like, “boo hahahaaa his name is…boohahahaaa…T-Rock. It’s just stuck with me ever since. So here’s to you Ken, “Boo 
ahahaa…Tee…boohahahaaa…Rock says….Boohahahaaa…UP YOURS!”

What’s a typical day like for you?

Practice, production, check emails, make calls and just constantly trying to keep myself busy within the music business. I’m always working toward the next thing.

What do you think is your greatest achievement in the business?

I think just being able to sustain a career in this business is my greatest accomplishment. So many people disappear. There have been so many times when an artist will pop into my head and I’ll think “Whoa, what happened to that guy?”.  I don’t ever want to end up like that man, at least not before I leave a good trail of material behind me. I’ve got many more ideas to set in motion and I am far from being done. I’m just now getting started!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us down here in South Africa. Do you have any last words of wisdom or shout outs?

Thanks guys so much for doing this interview with me and I hope everyone enjoys the new Dj T-Rock and Squashy Nice album “Rock and Squash Techniques”.  Also, feel free to hit me up at any time on www.djtrock.com and check for other T-Rock material, including my punk band” Graffiti Death Threat” and my DVD “SIKINTHEHED“.  I hope one day I can visit South Africa and perhaps rock a party or two for ya. Peace always and stay connected. 

For more information about the Rock and Squash – Techniques album visit: www.whyrecords.com.

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