At first glance, going to a Hip-Hop show that features only DJs seems a little like going to a Rock show that has only drummers on stage. When the line-up for the Scratch tour is studied a little more carefully it makes perfect sense. Taking its name from the acclaimed DJ documentary, “Scratch” this tour is about a lot more than putting a needle on a groove and playing studio tracks so an MC can do his job. Every one of these DJs has made careers out of pushing and recreating the limits of Hip Hop. In fact, the level of talent at this one show was staggering and the crowd was dancing through the entire night.
Local scratcher DJ Vajra warmed up the b-boy pit with a mix of new an old Hip Hop. Not being known for his mixing, he closed his set with a few scratch routines that have helped Vajra earn a name for him on the battle circuit. It was a perfect start to the show and warmed the crowd up for the other DJs.
The Original Jazzy Jay is just that, the original. He was a member of the Zulu Nation; Africa Babaataa’s Soulsonic Force and virtually helped start Def Jam records by spinning on many of their first releases. Before he started spinning a scene from the Scratch movie was shown on the screen behind the stage. It brought the crowd down into “the dungeon” in New York. That is where Jazzy Jay keeps his collection of over 500,000 records that he has been building for more than 30 years. Jay is one of the best mix DJ’s and he played an amazing set of old school, soul and funk that kept everyone’s ass shaking for over an hour. Through the entire show the screen on stage showed filtered shots of the DJs spinning and various pop images put in time with the beats. Towards the end of the set Jazzy Jay involved the crowd with a “Zulu Nation” chant while he played a number of beats from earlier in his career. He also gave a “lesson” in the roots of Hip Hop by breaking out a twenty-minute set of “back in the day” beats. It was amazing to see one of the first DJs still going strong after all this time.
The X-Ecutioners are now down to being a three piece and nothing is missing from their live show because of it. Roc Raida, Rob Swift and Total Eclipse delivered Hip-Hop scratching with the energy of a live band. Sometimes trading eight bar scratch solos and sometimes creating beats together they tore ferociously through their set. The most amazing parts were when they would layer beats and take parts just like a rock band. One would make the beat, another took a guitar part to use and the third was playing a vocal line. The scratch contests within the band were amazing. At various times Rob Swift would kick Roc Raida off of his tables to beat the solo Raida just finished. It worked like that for the entire performance. Everyone in the Fox was jumping and cheering from the display of virtuosity. The energy was so intense that no one noticed the lack of microphones while the X-Ecutioners played. Who says you can’t hype a crowd from behind the turntables? How do you follow 3 DJs with six tables?
Q-Bert does it with one.
Q-Bert is a world renowned scratch DJ from San Francisco, using the Scratch tour to unveil the first instrument designed for the scratch DJ. It is a single turntable with buttons to trigger beats and he calls it the QFO. What this guy can do with a single record and needle defies explanation. His performance was for the DJs in the crowd, doing everything from creating drum beats with one hand to out scratching everyone without using the fader. As his hype man said, “Just hand control. That’s all hand control, folks!” For once, the dancing stopped while the entire venue was mesmerized by the speed, skill, and sound that is Q-Bert. He has taken the art of scratching to a place that no one knew it could go. The QFO is an improvisational instrument and Q-Bert is its first virtuoso.
Z-Trip is to mixing what Q-Bert is to scratching. He changed records so fast that it was a rarity for a beat to go longer than a minute or so. Z-Trip plays it all: old school, new school, classic rock, grunge, punk, light rock, metal, soul, 80s and 90s pop, even a little techno. He still makes it all feel like Hip-Hop and even takes a few scratch breaks, including one over “Back in Black” by AC/DC. Putting vocals from Rage Against the Machine over “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson and putting Led Zeppelin over hip-hop beats is his specialty. Z-Trip also did an entire set of 45s that appeared to be for the kids in the club with ADHD. All the 45s he played were old and new rock and they changed about every forty seconds or so. He often just played the intro to a song before flipping to some thing else. Skynard, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Black Sabbath, the New Bohemians and Foreigner all received the Z-Trip treatment and the Fox was singing along with every suburban Rock anthem. The set of seven inches peaked with the b-boy dance pit turning into a mosh pit for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. A pro at commanding the crowd, he followed 90s grunge with straight hip-hop and got the kids dancing again.
During his set Jazzy Jay started hyping the crowd from across the stage, giving him ample opportunity to shake a move for a few songs on stage with a young girl from the crowd. Jay even gave Z-Trip a couple records from his collection to spin. Somewhere around 1:45am he was told that there was no more time. To which he said, “I could go for another three hours for you guys but we have to stop, sorry.” While everyone was leaving Z-Trip was at the merch table drawing on girls and talking to fans. He knows what being a DJ is about.
The Scratch tour is putting the guys who usually are stuck in the back of the stage into the limelight. Jazzy Jay, X-Ecutioners, Q-Bert and Z-Trip are ready soak it all in. They are out to prove that DJing is still an art and is still growing despite what is heard from the big rap groups. It is all about stylus over style and the passion for the music.