There are DJ's, and then there are turntablists! There is a question that has floated around the Hip Hop community for a long time, and that is: "What is a DJ if he can't scratch?" Well, in all fairness, perhaps the answer is a great DJ still. However, high above the clouds of great mixers and programmers, guys and gals who can blend 'em for hours it seems, and flawlessly at that, lies a whole 'nother world. A league of extraordinary beings who have fused their nervous system with their turntables and mixers, as if merely an extension of who they are. At the top of this pyramid if you will, is a man who needs barely an introduction: DJ Q-bert! DMC World Champion many times over, founder of the legendary Invisibl Skratch Piklz, member of the iconic Rock Steady Crew, and all around Hip Hop pioneer in his own right who continues to grow as an artist, DJ, and businessman as he ventures into many arenas in order to help further the cause of the movement as a whole. This month, we had the great honor of sitting down with Richard Quitevis aka DJ Q-bert for a brief interview to find out what he has been up to. Let's go!
Santino Fernandez: Welcome Rich! I am very pleased to get a chance to sit down with you for this interview. You are a bit of a superhero to a lot of us, so it is very exciting for our readers to get a chance to learn about you a bit. Can you tell us briefly how you got into DJ'ing at an early age?
DJ Q-bert: Just having fun Breakdancing and hearing all the new music and Rap at an early age, plus doing a lil' graff here and there. As an even younger kid, I had a portable Fisher-Price turntable to play children’s superhero records.
Nice! We got our two little ones a Fisher-Price turntable too, maybe they will follow in your steps one day! :) So from your personal perspective, what is Hip Hop in its essence aside from just music, but rather as a movement in its origins, and where do you see it now?
Art in a crazy raw form that’s non-commercialized and from the streets. I see all art as an ever blossoming thing…It just continues to grow in all directions possible!
This is very true. Reminds me of the sacred Rose symbol from ancient times, and how it described the ever blossoming life in the universe. Art seems to be a reflection of this at all times.
So let me ask you, back in the day, how did you wind up founding the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, and what led to its temporary disbandment in 2000?
Just meeting all the like minded homies that were super heavy into it around the bay area is pretty much how we formed the Piklz. And then later we went to explore our own personal projects, and now we doing stuff together again. We got 3 Invisibl Skratch Piklz (Shortkut, D-styles, and Myself) to do our last album. Then another group called Channel Zekter with Mix Master Mike and myself, and there’s another group that I just recently reunited with: Dr. Octagon with Kool Keith and Dan the Automator.
That is just fantastic news! For a scene that like many others has suffered a bit of degradation due to imposed over-commercialism, it is great to see the pioneers getting back to it; and Kool Keith is just too rare a bird not to have around.
What would you say has played a bigger role in your development over the years, the slower BPMs of what became contemporary Hip-Hop and Rap in the late '80s, or the faster sound of the music such as Electro Bass and acts like Dynamix II?
Both…as a musician, we gotta skratch to everything! I’m learning all these different time signatures too.
I can see that as being good practice. I personally find it easier to scratch to fast stuff like some of DJ Rectangle's performances, but you guys who can scratch so fast to slower BPMs really blow me away; truly a beautiful artform!
So let's talk about your remix for Morphogenetic's "Techno Bass Is Back" on Zero One Music, which you were featured scratching on the Dynamix II remix. How did that come about? When did you first meet Dave Noller?
He’s a homey…He just called me, sent me a beat, I skratched on it, sent it to him, and he picked the parts he liked.
I am still blown away by the whole remix, and I must personally thank you for this; it was a very humbling experience as a musician for me. Dave kind of told me last minute as we were beginning promotions, and it was the best surprise ever...thank you for being a part of the project!
Moving right along, I would like to talk about your involvement over the years in helping companies like Vestax develop products such as mixers, innovative faders, etc...How were you tapped for that? I assume just from the success of the DMC and your level of expertise and innovation?
Yes, they just heard of me from the notoriety of the DMC competitions and I happen to have had a few design concepts and bam! It all fell into place as things do in the universe. I guess the future is no money, but it will be notoriety. Put stuff out there and all the energy just comes right back to you…I never charge any of these people when it comes to my services if I love the artistic side of it as a whole.
Interesting to hear you say that, as I am the same way about a lot. If it has artistic meaning, and it's a good thing for the community; the world perhaps, why not? Beautiful to hear this from someone like you though! :)
So from what I understand, you literally won the DMC Finals so much, you were prohibited from competing again in fairness to newcomers, and were asked to become a judge instead. Is this true?
Well, it was all meant to be because I got to use my battling energy to create a concept animated film based around skratching called “Wave Twisters”. It really put me out there as an artist who was doing something, combining all the Hip Hop elements into a Yellow Submarine or The Wall kind of concept.
"Success is not a stop, but a journey..."
Let's talk about Thud Rumble for a minute. How did the idea for this come about? I have to say the mixers you guys are doing are not just innovative, they are so beautiful! You guys are putting the aesthetics of great synthesizer builds into mixers, which hasn't been done before. What is the end goal? Where do you hope to see Thud Rumble in say, 10 years time?
Everything we make at Thud Rumble is to simply make the world a better place. So of course what we know to do best is DJ'ing…so this company, formed by Yogafrog and myself, is pretty much here to just cater to what kind of dream products we all would love to have, and then we make them. There is no end goal…success is not a stop but a journey. In ten years time, we’ll probably see technology where people can simply make music with their minds much quicker, just like in the Minority Report [movie], where you can see the thoughts of others on the screen. And of course all skratching equipment will be so much more streamlined and sleeker, lightweight, and have computers integrated in it all, and there will be the analog side of things too if they’d prefer. Just like synths and good old grand pianos.
Indeed, the future looks intriguing as everything evolves quicker than we can scratch it! So let me ask, I have watched some videos with you playing Electro Bass during workshops. What artists from this scene really catch your attention at the moment?
Egyptian Lover, Dynamix II, Jackal & Hyde, Doshy…whew! Too many to name, even the older artists are just getting rediscovered!
Absolutely! Seeing Egypt at it is just way too cool. So how is the Q-bert Skratch University doing? I have seen some newcomers who are really killing it and are learning the force well it seems...which DJ's who you have taught come to mind as the ones who will carry your legacy forward one day?
I feel like it’s not my legacy but everyone’s, and they all have something different to offer. Everyone is amazing in their own way. But it's doing great! I love all the tutorials on there, I’m even learning myself from all the great talent and I want to also make another video like Scratchlopedia, and have it free online.
I love your humbleness! There is a strong ethic to you that is very rare. Let's talk about some new albums coming out like "Super Seal Giant Robot V", and "Extraterrestria", which have been doing very well! This intrigues fans of yours that concept studio albums will become more commonplace as you keep evolving as an artist. What's in store for you in the near future?
Well, we finally got those crazy puzzle piece shaped vinyl records out like 2 weeks ago! You can get them individually or in a box set with the Bluetooth controller album cover and bonus CD's at Thudrumble.com. The 9 puzzle shaped picture discs have remixed tracks on there, plus some instrumentals and a few songs for the next album...speaking of, there’s a part two of that Extraterrestria series, which has the theme of an encyclopedia of skratch music from other worlds! Then there's a "Wave Twisters 2" album project which has the theme of a cartoon animated graffiti skratching adventure in inner space, which eventually turns into a movie like the first one. 3rd album is "GalaXXXian" which is raw down to earth Hip Hop music from this planet featuring MC’s and skratching. And a 4th concept album that is on a different tangent…I can’t say much about that one just yet!
Can't wait! Great to see scratch albums making it back out. I am a huge fan of Bomb Hip Hop Records and all the great scratch album stuff from yesteryear, it seemed for a while it was becoming a lost art.
Let me ask you before we conclude: Dr. Octagon will perform live for the first time soon as you mentioned earlier, and will feature you on the cuts. This is not a new collaboration for you of course, but what led to the decision of reviving the supposedly twice killed (in concept of course) Doctor for this wild concert along with Dan The Automator?
Because it's time and once again the stars align! We are planning a 2nd Dr. Octagon 2 album too!
Great news Rich. Thank you so much for your time in doing this interview with me, and all the endless efforts on so many fronts to help further the cause of the Hip Hop movement. You are a huge source of inspiration to all of us out there. Hope you keep it up for a very long time! Can't wait to hear the new material! :)
Interviewed by: Santino Fernandez