Tuesday 10 April 2012

The Kool Skool interviews DJ Rob Swift, member of the X-Men, X-Ecutioners, Recording Artist & Akinyele’s DJ

The Kool Skool interviews DJ Rob Swift
Member of the X-Men, X-Ecutioners, Recording Artist & Akinyele’s DJ

Queens New York representer DJ Rob Swift was a second generation member of the legendary “X-Men DJ’s”. The X-men took their name from the band of Mutant super heroes, in response to the original DJ Clark Kent and his Superman DJ’s, who dominated the New Music Seminar in the late 80’s. According to Dr. Butcher, the X-men consisted of Rob-Swift, [1994/95 DMC US & World Champion] Roc-Raida R.I.P., [1990 N.M.S. Superman DJ Champion] Steve-D, [1995 DMC East Coast Champion and Common Sense’s DJ] Mister Sinista, [EPMD’s original DJ] Diamond-J, Total Eclipse, Johnny-Cash and Fatman-Scoop. The group revolutionized Hip-Hop DJing and Turntablism at its early 90’s turning point, as Hip-Hop MC’s focused on themselves, and a new wave of up and coming Turntablists were changing the scenery.

Rob Swift X-ecutioner Style
"Are You Ready For Star Time?!!!"

For many Hip-Hop heads, their first introduction to DJ Rob Swift was in his role as Akinyele’s original DJ, providing all of the cuts for their Large Professor album Vagina Diner. As was discussed in The Kool Skool’s interview with X-Men original member DR Butcher, the link between the crew and Large Professor and Kool G Rap goes deeper than just the fact that many of them come from Queens. The nexus surrounding Large Pro at the time represented a core of MC’s Producers and DJ’s that pushed Hip-Hop creatively, while retaining classic Hip-Hop feeling.

21 years ago DJ Rob Swift met Roc Raida at the 1991 DMC Competition, Roc Raida invited Rob Swift to join The X-Men. The relationship that followed would become one of the most important DJ Battle Crews in Hip-Hop and define a generation of Djs. The younger X-Men went on to become The X-Ecutioners, that over the years has consisted of Roc Raida (R.I.P.) Rob Swift, Mista Sinista, Total Eclipse, DJ Boogie Blind and DJ Precision. The Crew has released several albums and DJ Tutorial DVDs, and actively support the new Generations of DJ’s. 

Rob Swift has just released several solo projects, and has just released “Roc for Raida”, a selections of classic and unreleased Roc Raida routines and, sets inspired by the essence of who Roc Raida was, and features The X-Ecutioners Rob Swift, Mista Sinista, Precision and Total Eclipse as well as The X-men's Steve D. 

So The Kool Skool's Shucks one linked up with Rob Swift  to promote the new mega project, also answereing some questions about his origins, DJ Technology, Large Pro, and dropped some dome jewels for up and coming Turntablists. 

Rob Swift "A Friendly Game of Baseball"

When did you 1st see a DJ and think that’s what I want to be!

Rob Swift: The first DJ I saw was my Father in our living room recording mix tapes with Salsa, Merengue and Cumbia music for his friends. But I didn't actually want to become a DJ until I saw my older brother and his friends use my Dad's equipment to recreate the kind of Hip Hop music they heard crew's like Cold Crush Bros and the Treacherous 3 perform at the historic park jams of the 1970s.

THE X-MEN Legendary session on WNYU
Pete Rock & DJ Riz in the Studio

I know the line up has changed over the years, are you an original X-Men member?

Rob Swift: The original members of the X-men are Steve Dee, Sean Cee, Johnny Cash and saving the best for last, the GrandMaster Roc Raida (R.I.P.)

Is the X-men Graffiti Crew part of the X-men DJ Crew?

Rob Swift: No, both crews are separate from each other. There's no connection.

Full wall here at the dope Sye TC5 Blog

Why was it necessary to evolve from The X-Men, to The X-Ecutioners? Was it just a copyright infringement issue, or was it a need for the new generation of the crew, to make the crew their own.

Rob Swift: We changed our name from X-men to X-ecutioners because when we signed our deal with Asphodel records to release our first in independent album, our lawyers advise us that we ran the risk of being sued by Marvel Comics. I think in a way the name change also signified a metamorphoses. We went from being battle DJs to recording artists. So when I look back, the name change was symbolic.

Where in NY are you from. I always assumed you were from Queens because of your early associations?

Rob Swift: Queens represent, represent, sent... Jackson Heights represent, represent, sent!

Did you get down with rappers and other DJs in your area, or was it more about people who were good irrespective of where they came from?

Rob Swift: I make music with who ever is around...

Psycho Les (Beatnuts), Chuck D (Public Enemy), Rob Swift's older brother Universe & Rob Swift Late 80's

Traditionally DJs kind of repped their local areas, obvious ones are Cut Master DC (Brooklyn), DJ Too Tuff (North side Philly), for example. Did you make hood tapes, mixtapes, or had that sort of tradition already passed?

Rob Swift: You should check out the documentary film "Scratch." I rep Jackson Heights, Queens all day!

Akinyele - Vagina Diner 1993
Produced by The Large Professor and All cuts by Rob Swift

You were Akinyele’s DJ on his 1st album, how did that come about?

Rob Swift: Akinyele heard about me through my mentor Dr. Butcher. He then came to see me compete at the 1992 East Coast DMC battle. I guess he wanted to verify for himself whether or not what he heard about me was true. Days later I became his DJ.

Large Professor always appears like a really positive guy, and he always seems to put people on. From the outside, it kind of looked like a loose unit around Large Professor, you, Akinyele, Mista Sinista and Common, Kool G Rap and Dr Butcher and others. It must have really amazing to work in that environment, it felt to me like the DJ had input into the creative recording process again, is that true?

"The Extra P"

Rob Swift: Large Pro knows how to spot talent. And when he does he exposes it to the public at LARGE. That's one of the things I've always respected about him. And yes, coming up in an environment where at any given moment I was practicing with Mista Sinista at home or performing cuts for Akinyele in the studio really got my creative juices going!

How important was it for you to be involved in the recording process? Did you learn a lot just by being around Large Pro and Dr Butcher in the studio, and seeing the various machines being used and recording tricks?

Rob Swift: Akinyele and Large Pro always involved me 100% in the recording process. Everything I've accomplished as a recording artist today is directly related to all I learned in those late night studio sessions.

Original X-Men/Producer/ LL Cool J's early DJ DR. Butcher
Check the exclusive Shucks One The Kool Skool Interview with Dr. Butcher (DJ/X-Men/Producer) HERE

You have recorded 12 Solo Albums not to mention the many X-Ecutioner Albums, where do you start in the creative process?

Rob Swift: After lending my talents to other folks, I think there came a time for me to create my own work. That's when I started releasing joints like "Soulful Fruit", "The Ablist", "Sound Event"... etc.

What is a Turntablist to you?

Rob Swift: a Turntablist is a musician whose tool is the turntable.

Would you classify yourself as a DJ or a Turntablist? Is there a difference?

Rob Swift: I'm both. A DJ plays music for peoples enjoyment. A Turntablist alters music for people enjoyment.

Rob Rocks The Spot

Do you play Party DJ sets anymore?

Rob Swift: I just rocked a party set last night in Brooklyn, NY. I had fun too! I enjoy making people dance just as much as I enjoy entertaining people with my cuttin' and scratching.

DMC World Championships 1995 DJ Roc Raider R.I.P.

I went to many of the DMC in the mid to late 90’s, and although obviously there was a need to progress from people just juggling Peter Piper, as a spectator, there did seem to be a shift to more technique orientated competition, and less emphasis on funk, style and party rocking. It seemed to me it just went somewhere else. Is that a fair assumption?

Rob Swift: Yes, the approach battle DJs are taking to creating music has changed. The funkiness is missing in most battle sets. I think Electronic music has a lot to do with that. It's OK though. I'm still here and I'm still funky!

How has the Turntablist changed in your career?

Rob Swift: Turntablism hasn't changed my career I would say. It's actually shaped my career. It's exposed me to a world I wouldn't have seen if I decided to follow a different career path.

The X-Ecutioners Electronic Press Kit.

What has it been like growing from a boy to a man in the Hip-Hop community? Does Hip-Hop allow for being an Adult, by that I mean, is all that Hip-Hop stood for has been reduced to Battling, trash talking and Dissing?

Rob Swift: Watching Hip Hop evolve as a kid, to now as a man has been an incredible experience. When I first discovered the culture it was specific to my city (New York). Now it's worldwide! As for your question about Hip Hop, it means different things to different people I guess. To me, Hip Hop in its purest form equals PEACE, LOVE and HAVING FUN through music!

Grandmaster Roc Raida of the Body Tricks

I like the way you have featured with Pogo & Biznizz of the Enforcers in your Table Talk series. I interviewed Biznizz many years ago; he comes from that B-Boy background. One of the things they mention in your video is the aspect of “Biting” or copying. In Hip-Hop nowadays nothing is sacred, people take everything and do not credit the originator. Graffiti styles, samples, album titles, flows, names, DJ routines and that are just a few examples! That would just never run in the old days, why do you think we are at this stage?

Rob Swift: We're at this stage because no one cares. It's unfortunate. I still care though.

When did the DJ and Turntablist separate, by that I mean, I remember going over to certain Turntablists houses and the only records they really owned were Battle Break records, and that to me kind of signified a split in the culture.

Rob Swift: You pretty much answered your own question. When DJs stopped digging for actual songs, singles, albums... and started buying a collection of sounds and beats on one piece of vinyl the split between DJ and Turntablist began.

Mista Sinista X-Ecutioners

A little while ago, I was talking to UK foundation DJ Fingers of The Sindecut he was discussing his issues with Serato and similar technologies. It wasn’t in a “Luddite” kind of context, he was breaking down the fact that Hip-Hop people always used their ingenuity and took existing technologies and made it their own, where as a lot of modern tools that Hip-Hop people use now are “off the shelf”. Is that a fair assessment, if so is it making people lazy?

Rob swift: I agree. For whatever reason, today's generation seems to be using technology in a different way than my generation. I rather find out how I can make something work opposed to how I can make something work for me.

Sea of Cameras, is the screen becoming our only way of viewing?

If you go to live shows at least a third of the audience is filming the show, sometimes viewing it through the phone/camera screen or on the stage screen, and the DJ is staring at their laptop screen, is there a worry that peoples live experience is defined and framed by screens?

Rob Swift: I am concerned about it. People don't experience life in an organic, authentic way any more. Video has replaced real time life.

As someone who came up with Roc Raida, and knowing him so well, what was it like to see the outpouring of grief, respect and love, that was shown internationally for his sad passing?

Rob Swift: It was humbling. We spent so much time practicing, training to be the best DJs on the planet that we never stopped to pay attention to how much respect and admiration we generated off our talent and accomplishments. But it all became very clear to me at his Funeral. When I saw DJ rivals of hours show up to give respect... That’s when it really hit me.

Total Eclipse, Mista Sinista, Roc Raida R.I.P. and Rob Swift
Why have their been so many changes in the line up for the The X-Ecutioners?

Rob Swift: I actually don't see it that way. The X-ecutioners started off in 1997. Back then the line up was Mista Sinista, Total Eclipse, Roc Raida and myself. In 2001 Sinista and the X parted ways and there were 3. In 2004 I stepped off and decided to focus developing myself further as a solo artist. I just felt like our record label at the time (Columbia) really didn't understand the true vision of the X-ecutioners and as a result, this was causing a lot of internal conflict. Once I stepped off, Eclipse and Raida replaced me with Precision (a protégé of mine) and Boogie Blind (a student of Raida's). In 2008 we all came together once again at Roc Raida's annual Gong Battle. We were all down with and for each other ever since.

X-Ecutioners - Revolutions 2004

Who are some of the up and coming Turntablists you are checking for?

Rob Swift: Too many to mention man. I'll put it this way, I'm checking for everybody. I'll always stay a student of the art form.

Do you feel the age of the Internet and the Bedroom DJ has changed the essence of Hip-Hop culture?

Rob Swift: The Internet definitely has changed the essence of Hip-Hop culture. When I was coming up I experienced Hip Hop in parks, on the streets, in basement parties and youth centers. Now, people encounter it on youtube or blogs. Hip Hop in it's purest form is something you must experience in the flesh. Not from pixels on a screen. As for the "Bedroom DJ"? Didn't we all start of DJing in our bedrooms?

Wack Battle DJ Gimmicks

What do you feel is the wackest DJ battle trick gimmick?

Rob Swift: Hmmm, who am I to say what another DJ does is wack. It's all relative, you know? I rather see a DJ do a "trick gimmick" and use turntables than some other dude who pre-records his sets and acts like he's doing something on stage.

For a long time the era of the "Platinum Rapper" moved the DJ to the
background again. However as MC's are more reliant on their Tours and stage shows to bring in money, it seems like they are bringing out proper DJs again as opposed to play & stop "CD Mixtape DJs", and bringing their skills back as part of the show. There are quite a lot of examples, DJ Scratch, Mix Master Mike, DJ Who Kid, A-Trak etc. Have you seen that?

Rob Swift: I've seen that yes! And I think its dope when an MC is on stage with an actual DJ. Kudos to them!

Have you been asked by anyone recently if not would you? If so what would be your dream gig?

Rob Swift: Yes I have. My dream gig, damn, my dream gig would be to rock on stage with Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Miles Davis...

There are plenty of female DJs. Why do you feel that there aren't more women in Turntablism?

Rob Swift: For what ever reason, I think the physicality involved in being a Turntablist just doesn't appeal to most Females. But that's just my guess. I could be wrong. I think that' a question a female DJ would answer much better.

What is the best Battle you took part in?

Rob Swift: That's easy! X-men VS Invisbl Skratch Piklz

When I saw Roc Raida and Scratch Pickles (they were called Rock
Steady DJs back then) at DMC, it felt like at the time the X-men &
Scratch Pickles were the two top crews. Was the competition fun back then, did it get you amped to progress? Did you guys get on?

Rob Swift: It definitely got me amped! But that's what happens when you compete against the best. It brings out the best in you.

Q-Bert (Rock Steady DJ's, Scratch Pickles) & Rob Swift

Was the fact they were from the West Coast add to the Positive
Competition? I don't mean in a Biggie/Tupac way, but did you feel like you guys were holding it down for the East & New York?

Rob Swift: I wouldn't say where ISP was from had anything to do with how we felt competing. It was just dope to be on stage battling it out with another dope crew!

Who were some of the DJs in that era you guys felt were a threat?

Rob Swift: LOL, we didn't see anyone as a threat.

Is there anything in your career you would do over differently if you had the chance?

Rob Swift: Nah. I'm grateful for every good and bad decision I ever made man. The ups and downs made me the DJ and person I am today. No regrets.

"It’s a certain special skill that takes much practice
I got it good, apparently you lack this" - Big Daddy Kane

If there is any advice you could give to young up and coming DJs what would it be?

Rob Swift: Practice, practice and practice some more. Be original.
Learn how to evoke your own unique personality out of the music you play off your turntables.

Thanks a lot for your time Rob, is there anything you want to add?

Rob Swift: Thank you. And to all you reading this, please be on the look out and support my latest project Roc for Raida. It's a tribute Mixtape to one of the GREATEST DJs of all time and my best friend, the GrandMaster Roc Raida. It drops March 20th and you can purchase it straight from my website, www.djrobswift.com

Large Professor & DJ Rob Swift Roc For Raida

Memories of Roc Raida
"I met Roc Raida at the 1991 East Coast DMC qualifying round. It was the first competition I ever entered. As I walked up in there with my mentor Drew, better known as Dr. Butcher, I recall encountering the mighty X-Men for the first time. They all were there, Steve D, Johnny Cash, Diamond Jay, Sean C and Roc Raida [at the time he actually spelled it Rock Raider]. They [the X-Men] were loud and drawing attention to themselves. You’d hear them laughing and joking throughout the entire preliminary. But what I found interesting about Raida was he was the complete opposite of his crew. Raida was the quietest one of all. That really intrigued me and his silent temperament made him stand out even more, than his rambunctious partners." - Rob Swift

DJ Rob Swift's "Roc for Raida" video trailer

Rob Swift "Roc 4 Raida"
 "Roc for Raida, my tribute to my partner, my best
friend, my brother!"

"Roc for Raida" is a collection of songs (some unreleased) and battle
style routines that defined Roc Raida the artist. I also recorded
original scratch/beat juggle compositions dedicated to Raida. In
addition to the assortment of music, I included what I thought were
lost interview archives (courtesy of John Carluccio) which take you,
the listener, into the minds of X-men's Steve D, myself and of course
the man of the hour, Roc Raida. I'm happy to say, Mista Sinista,
Precision and Total Eclipse also make cameos paying tribute to some of
our favorite Roc Raida battle sets.

In a day when DJs DJ for free bottle service at a club... In a
technological age where DJs let a computer program do all the DJing
for them... "Roc for Raida" is a reminder that Raida's accomplishments
stemmed for a true love of DJing. Enjoy! Roc Raida FOREVER! Peace!" - Rob Swift

Shucks One The Kool Skool Interview with Dr. Butcher (DJ/X-Men/Producer) here

Rob Swift

*"DJ Rob Swift: Live!  The Documented Movement" is available at: www.djrobswift.com

To listen to Rob Swift's online radio show Dope On Plastic:

Rane & Scratch DJ Academy in Association with The Ablist Productions Presents Roc for Raida
View the video trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNYPzvlSSCY
"Roc for Raida" will be available djrobswift.com and bandcamp.com March 20th!!!

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