A little while back I had the chance to hold a conversation with DJ Revolution while traveling from a video shoot for his upcoming release King of The Decks. For those needing somewhat of a background history, Revolution is a DJ’s DJ, known for holding down turntables duties on The World Famous Wake Up Show with Sway & King Tech and combining turntablist class skills with the party rocking capabilities of a nightclub specialist.
Rev took a moment to discuss how he initially began DJ’ing, shifting roles of DJ’s, and the importance of authenticity. Besides touching on vinyl collecting, musicianship, production, and the increased role of technology; he even brought up such old school ideas as responsibility, community, and investing in next generation of artists.
How long ago and how did you start DJ’ing?
I started DJ’ing really young. I was probably twelve years old and I just always had a knack for pushing buttons and making things work. I liked music, but I didn’t really like music as much as I liked pressing buttons and being cool. The guy that was playing the music happened to be pressing buttons and making it look like he was doing something really cool and everybody seemed to really like it.
So my grandfather dragged a bunch of his dusty old equipment out of the attic, taught me how to set it up and then he built me a mixer from scratch out of scrap metal in his workshop.
Are you serious?
Yeah, yeah, it had no faders, only 3 knobs… line 1, line2, and master. He taught me how to use it and from that point on I was spending my allowance on 45’s, albums, and making custom mixtapes for all my 6th grade classmates. I was digging for records and exploring music. I was into pop music though… it was Pop, Top 40, and Rock. I hadn’t really discovered hip-hop because where I was living it hadn’t really hit. When I discovered it, I got interested and that led me further down the line on the path. As I was exploring it I really found out what hip-hop DJ’ing was and that changed my whole life.
What do you think the ultimate role of the DJ is and how has it changed?
Well, the roles haven’t changed, it’s the people portraying these roles that have changed. It started with Flash really taking it, then it was Jam Master Jay, DJ scratch, Aladdin, Cash Money, and Jazzy Jeff, and they blew it up really big. They turned into legends and changed the way people looked at it and portrayed it. Now its kind of devolved into people who don’t know how to play and don’t know how to DJ being DJ’s.
So in other words, what happens if you get the NBA and they start drafting mutherfuckers who don’t know how to play ball at all? You put a bunch of dudes on the court and they can’t even dribble . So it’s like that’s really to me what it’s turned into. It’s turned into something else and kind of separated itself from hip-hop as far as the way it used to be connected.
It used to be Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Public Enemy had Terminator X and they were all well known like hip-hop household names. DJ’s were famous as being DJ’s… nothing else, they weren’t celebrities. So many famous groups that came out had DJ’s, it just worked. It was a solid, cohesive effort between and MC and DJ.
It’s not like that anymore, it’s separated. When the MC’s decided to cast off the DJ, the DJ had no other choice, but to make a living so he started hustling and doing other things… selling mixtapes, trying to get on the radio, and then that led to taking payola and becoming a celebrity. So they had no other choice.
Then it broke off into subcultures… you’ve got your turntablists and you developed superstars in that category like Q-bert, The X-Men, Babu, The Beatjunkies, and myself. Then on the other side you’ve got your Clues, and the Whoo Kids, and the people who aren’t’ really doing shit, but are claiming to do shit. Not that I don’t have any respect for these guys, I can always respect somebody’s hustle, but that’s all they really are is hustlers.
However you can make your money is all good, but you’re not what you claim you are, you’re just a hustler. That’s cool because hustlers are a dime a dozen, but DJ’s, real DJ’s are not a dime a dozen. I think that the roles have been the same, it’s just the people playing them are different now and they’re playing them in different ways. Some of them are misrepresenting what those roles are.
It seems like producing has always gone hand in hand with the DJ. Do you see that as a natural progression of where DJ’s have always been headed?
Yeah, because once you get to a certain point and you develop your ears, you reach that level of “Hey, I know what people want to hear.” Once you’ve mastered that aspect of it, you really know what people want to hear and how they want to have it served up to them.
If you don’t produce, that means to me that you’re still at a certain stage unless that’s all you really wanna do is be a DJ. I feel like the best producers have always been DJ’s beforehand.
When did you start making the shift to producing? What led you to producing and what was your first piece of equipment that really made you make the move?
Well, see there’s a difference… when I was learning I was just beatmaking, producing is something completely different. I was making beats a long, long time ago on really primitive equipment. All the same equipment that everyone else probably used like the 909, 808, then I moved on to samplers, other drum machines, and experimented with everything. Then the MPC came out and that changed the way everybody was making beats. We blew our money on all kinds of samplers trying to see which ones were the best. Eventually I settled on the MPC and when I got that down and I really started mastering that, then I got into producing.
Producing is when you get into the studio with an artist and you make your record. You don’t have the artist make his record because a lot of the time the artists just wants to get in there and rap. That’s great, raw talent is incredible, but as a producer you have to know how to shape, you have to know how to say “ No, you have to do that line over again” or “Maybe end your verse this way”. You work hand in hand with the artist to create a piece of art as opposed to beatmaking where you just send somebody a beat and do what they wanna do and then wow, somebody puts out a record.
So, when I first started producing, that was probably around 2000 when I was working on my first album and I really got into the studio hard with a lot of these artists.
What are you using now? Are you still using the MPC?
No, I’m all computer… I use Logic Pro. I sold my MP like… six years ago and my sound is so much bigger and better than it was then. You’ll hear the new album and how big the sound can get, how rich you make it, and how much you’re actually able to do. I take full advantage of everything today’s technology has to offer and I try to display that on this new record.
It’s funny, I was going to ask how you felt about people using technology for production.
However you can make you shit sound incredible, that’s what you need to be doing… that’s an artist. If you stripped Pete Rock of everything he had except his SP1200, the dude would still be making ridiculous beats because it’s Pete Rock. As long as that core remains the same then it doesn’t matter. It’s not the tools of the mechanic, it’s the fucking mechanic. Of course you need to have some tools, but really it’s all about the skills behind it. So, I’m for people taking advantage of whatever instrument that they choose as long as what they’re making sounds great.
The same thing goes with DJ’ing too. I was so far ahead of the curve with this digital DJ shit it was ridiculous. There were people that were on it before me and that’s crazy, that’s cutting edge. Again, that’s what a DJ is supposed to do. The DJ knows what music is hot first and he tells everybody. He knows what clothes are hot first, he knows what movies, he’s a student of culture and he’s supposed to be the filter that tells the rest of the people what’s good and what’s bad.
Again, it goes back to the role of the DJ and a lot of these dudes are not portraying their role. They’re not caring about what’s good and what’s bad anymore, they’re just caring about the latest trends so they’re serving up the same wack shit everyone else is.
It’s a shame… there’s a lot of laziness involved.
Lazy is a great word I’ve been using to describe a lot of what is going on right now… laziness. Complacency, basically people are just getting really comfortable with their positions because they’re making a lot of dough and they say I don’t need to tell everybody what’s good or bad anymore because I’m making this money.
You’ve got to put back. All these dudes are taking from the hip-hop and making withdrawals from the bank. They learned their skills from the hip-hop DJ, they learned their walk and talk from hip-hop, and then when they get to a point where they can make moves on their own, all they’re doing is still taking from that bank and not giving anything back.
DJ’s are making millions and not signing any artists. People like Clue were putting back into the community. He signed artists and made contributions to hip-hop. Not these celebrity DJ’s… these dudes are making more money than some of the record labels are making and they’re not signing anybody.
Where do you think it’s headed? What needs to be done at this point?
There’s nothing that can be done. Everybody just needs to pick their lane and stay in it… let these cats burn out. Every other trend has always burned out. It’s gonna come and go just like I’ve seen so many other trends come and go and I’ve been doing the same thing. That’s why a lot of these cats have got a lot of salt for me, they’ve got a lot of hate for me because I do exactly what I wanna do. I don’t make any concession for anyone and guess what… I’m still around and I’m still making a good living. I’m still respected world wide, I’m still renowned for my skills, I’m still known for being a stand up dude that stands up for what I feel is right. I stand up for my music and I stand up for people that are doing real music.
These dudes are paper thin… celebrity DJ’s. They do the Vegas style club circuit, and that’s cool because they’re getting paid, but no one is going to remember you. You’re playing for a bunch of drunk zombies. No one is going to remember you. They’re going to remember you as the DJ that night that they got fucking wasted. They remember me and people like me because we do art when we go in there. We do work… real work. We put it down and we play great music for great people that come to have a good time and enjoy good music.
I’m not trying to say that what I do is right and what they’re doing is wrong… I’m speaking the facts. I don’t remember any of these performances from any of these dudes, it’s very rare. There are only a few of them that are even worth half the money that they’re making and they know it too… they’re laughing! Every single day that they wake up they’re laughing all the way to the bank. They’re laughing because they know that they’re just getting lucky.
Who do you look to for inspiration? What gets you motivated to make a record or spin?
I love hearing good artists. I always get inspired from all kinds of music. I could be listening to an old obscure library record from the 70’s and then get inspired to replay that whole sample, sample it and chop it up, or whatever and put it on a break beat, a mix that I’m doing. I get inspired by music in general. I might get inspired by the MC just crushing it on the mic freestyling. He’ll come up to the show and I’ll be like “Damn that was incredible… let’s make a record.” I’ll hear a great piece of music like a great record on the radio, something that I’ve never heard before.
I get inspired when I hear new styles, new forms, and people taking it to new heights because there are still people doing that and I think they deserve what they get. You deserve your success if you’re doing that. I get inspired by so many different people all the time. Almost daily I get inspired. Sometimes I can’t get inspired and I have to inspire myself. That’s the hardest part, but that’s part of the game. You’re not gonna hear good shit all the time.
One thing I’m loving right now is there are more producer albums coming out… it seems like the age of the producer is coming back.
Yeah, that’s really good because producers need to be making those records. They need to make their records. Let’ just take DJ Khaled for an example. The dude doesn’t produce and he doesn’t DJ, but he’s on the radio and TV acting like a producer and a DJ, but he’s not…. he’s just an A&R. He pays people money to make a record and puts his name on it. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you’re just an A&R, you’re just a guy who put a project together. Everyone perceives him as this guy that just puts records together.
You mentioned library records… how deep is your vinyl collection and how long have you been digging?
It’s pretty deep, not as deep as some that I know. Obviously some producers have had 10 years on me, but I still dig. I would say that I probably have about 15,000 records. I collect all kinds of records from children’s to spoken word, library, funk, soul, R&B, a little bit of jazz… I love it all.
Did you any advice for up and coming producers looking to make the move from being beatmakers to production and refining their craft?
If you’re trying to make that move from being a beatmaker to a producer, you’ve got to learn a little bit about the business and who it all operates. You can’t just be a producer, you’ve got to learn how to interact with artists and you have to surround yourself with artists. You’ve got to be in the studio, know how to talk to them, know how they work, and know what they need in order to make your record. There’s a little bit of finesse in there. You have to let them be them, but you have to put your foot down in the studio and say, “ This is the way I want it.” That makes all the difference… stand your ground in the studio no matter who that artist is.
Are there any new equipment releases coming out soon that you’re excite about?
Not really equipment, I’m just excited about the new technology that comes out like all those new virtual synth plug-ins, how incredible they make sounds, and how well they’re able to capture analog sounds in digital platforms. So that I can load up an old Moog in my computer and it sounds like an old Moog. You’re not going to be able to have the exact replica because all those analog circuits and tubes, but if you know how to tweak it sounds pretty damn close.
I’m excited about stuff like that, how it’s gonna happen in the future, and also the possibilities that are popping up inside software platforms… that kind of stuff. That’s what I get excited about, because I’ve been on the digital DJ shit for so long. I was so ahead of the curve that I dumped Serato for Torq just when everybody was getting on Serato.
Yeah, I’ve been on Torq for 2 ½ years. And I was on Serato for 3 ½ years before anyone else aside from 5 or 6 people in the country were on it. I couldn’t even buy it in the store when I got it. I had to special order it from Rane and I paid full price for it.
Yeah, there was no sponsorship. I didn’t know who the company was, I didn’t know Rane manufactured it, I just walked into the store and said I want Serato. They said we don’t even have a demo here for you to try. They got one and the next week I went in and I beat it up and I tweaked it. They didn’t know how to use it, no one knew shit about it. I went in there and beat it up for an hour and then I bought it.
Yeah, this was just something that I had to do. This was just knowing when to step out, this becomes part of being a DJ and part of me also. I’m not afraid to take risks, take chances, and totally step out on the edge where no one else has gone before. You can love it or hate it. You can say that I’m cool for doing that or I’m crazy… it doesn’t matter. I’m looking way better than anyone else when I’m coming in there with Serato and you’re still rocking vinyl. I’m just smashing your set to bits.
So now, when you come in with Serato, I don’t give a fuck if you’re the best DJ on the face of the planet, you have no chance if I come in after you on Torq. You have no chance… I will rip.
So today Antares announced the new version of auto-tune… any feelings?
A new version… what the hell does there need to be a new version for?
Yeah, today they just announced Auto-Tune EVO which is supposed to have some enhanced features…
To me that whole thing just got blown way out of proportion… it is what it is. Somebody found a new toy. It was cool when everybody was using it to sing with for a little while, but now people are rapping with it and it just sounds crazy.
It’s a great tool if you’re really a singer and you happen to just have one little run where the note is off key and you can fix it. People were using that way before people started rapping with it. That was a major studio tool for R&B singers and pop singers. It’s just a tool taken advantage of, they just took it and flipped it into a different style.
To be honest with you, some of that shit when it first came out sounded good. I’m not gonna front, if you use it right it can sound cool, but there’s an overkill point and we’ve reached it for sure.
[Visit DJ Revolution and stay tuned for his September 16th, 2008 release King of The Decks.]