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A prolific creator of mix tapes (which are now selling for between $100 and $200 online), Z-Trip was renowned throughout the mid- to late '90s by underground hip-hop heads in the U.S., Europe and Japan. He first came to wide attention when he was heralded the "King of Mash-ups" in 2001 following the extraordinary success of the independently released Uneasy Listening Vol. One. The album-length tag-team effort with DJ P introduced masses of new fans to the sublime if gimmicky pleasure of listening to DJs with sick mixing skills and broad sensibilities graft classic rock and pop songs such as AC/DC's "Back in Black" and Madonna's "Like a Prayer" onto banging hip-hop beats. Live and on wax, Z-Trip also interjects clever references to sonic cultural icons like the Imperial March from Star Wars and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The latter is mashed on Uneasy Listening with the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)."
Uneasy Listening blew open doors for Z-Trip. He toured with Cypress Hill and Linkin Park, opened a show for the Rolling Stones, was featured in the definitive DJ-culture documentary Scratch, performed with Beck at Coachella, and signed with Hollywood. Initially, the plan was for Z to put out a mash-up album and then ease into writing his own beats for a second effort. (While he's been remixing songs professionally for years, Shifting Gears is his first studio album.)
"The first record Hollywood wanted me to make for them, and the record I wanted to make first, was basically Uneasy Listening Vol. Two," Z-Trip reveals. "But that was a street record, and it was so fucking street we couldn't put it out, because we couldn't get the samples cleared."
A mash-up album would almost certainly have posted much better initial sales than Shifting Gears, because it would have cashed in on the phenomenon that Uneasy Listening played a huge role in creating. But it also would have further solidified Z-Trip's image as primarily a mash-up DJ, a skin he's already struggling to shed.
"Uneasy Listening provided me with a lot of opportunities," he says, "but it also pigeonholed me. It's been really eye-opening to me in the last year or two to see how people in the industry handle marketing. It's all mouse clicks and demographics, and somewhere in there, people are forgetting that being a good DJ is to just fucking grab a crate of records and go to a party and rock it and cut loose, which, all other bullshit aside, is all I'm really about."