Update: DJ Etronik from Pico Rivera, California, ended up taking home honors over the weekend as the winner of this year's DMC US Finals in NYC.
This Saturday, August 7, another chapter will be added to the annals of hip-hop history in New York City. On what will presumably be a predictably humid evening in the Big Apple, the 2010 DMC US Finals will take place, with twelve competitors from coast to coast pitted against each other on turntables in a quest for absolute supremacy. In order to receive a coveted invitation to the national competition, a DJ must prove his or her skills in a regional competition by placing in the top three.
Okay, we know what some of you are thinking -- particularly those of you who aren't exactly plugged into or enthused about the DJ scene in Colorado: You're probably wondering why you should care about a competition happening on the other side of the country, much less one involving DJs, right? Well, how about civic pride, for starters? Five out of the dozen national competitors hail from Colorado, and they earned their slots by placing at three of the five regionals held across the country. This is HUGE for our state! Not to mention it speaks volumes about the talent being produced here.
Some of the turntablists, like DJ Notch, the Fresh Breath Committee's Skip Ripkin and Basementalism veteran B*Money qualified locally, while others such as hometown hero and DMC veteran Cysko Rokwel and Jeff C from Fort Collins actually traveled elsewhere to earn their slots on somebody else's soil. In advance of this weekend's comp, we caught up with all of them for a chat about the finals, and the advantage, if any, that the Colorado contenders have over their counterparts.
WW (Rachel Romero): Close to half of the National DMC battle contestants are from Colorado. Knowing that you've practiced and held many cut sessions with these folks, how are you planning on setting yourself apart from the other contestants?
B*Money: I'm just going to stick with what I know and do best and not try to sound like anyone else. I collect a lot of records, so I hope that the stuff I've been diggin' for will set me apart!
Jeff C: I think that everyone who made it from Colorado definitely has their own style, so I am not really concerned about setting myself apart from any of them.
Skip Ripkin: I avoid videos as much as possible, so I won't be influenced by others. I feel that my selection of wax and techniques will further help in differentiating myself from the lineup.
Cysko Rokwel: Personally, I have known a lot of the guys from around the Colorado scene for a while. But B*Money and Jeff C. and I have sessioned for years. I have done nights with Jeff and did the Basementalism show with B*Money. We would cut every Saturday for years. Notch was one of the first dudes, outside of DJ Tense in 1998, that had tables and records. Skip Ripkin had a reputation from Colorado Springs, and I met him in 2003, when I was defending my Bart's battle title.
I have battled every one of these guys in the past ten years and have a lot of respect for all of them. As far as standing out or sounding different? We all pretty much have different styles. My style is a little more new-school, as far as collaborating the influences from all the amazing Euro DJs and the various crews such as Allies, Battle Star, Platter Pirates that are from the States.
DJ Notch: I have always taken pride in being different in these battles. I always like to bring something just a little different to the table in my sets.
WW: Do you feel that Colorado contestants have an advantage over the other national competitors due to close proximity and friendships?
BM: I think that Colorado does have a unique thing in the proximity and friendships of many of the DJs. I think Vajra also did a huge thing in elevating Colorado's battle and turntablism culture.
I have always lived in Colorado and grown up seeing DJs like Vajra, Cysko, Shake, Mier, Fast4Ward, Chonz, Tense, Notch, Stretch, Funktion, Jeff C, Discord and Thought, and that's really just to name a few I remember through battling.
When I was younger, I think I took it for granted that I had so many incredible DJs around me to battle and practice with. As I got older, I think I realized how advantageous it was to have so many dope DJs around and how it forced everyone around to step their game up.
JC: I would have to say no, because when you're up there behind the decks and its your time to go, you are all alone; it's up to you to come clean with your set and rock that shit. The judges will show you no mercy, and they will not judge you on how many people from your state made it to the finals.
SR: That probably does play a role, but I think that Colorado is stepping things up in general. Denver and Colorado are making noise around the world right now on many different levels, not just in hip-hop.
CR: It could definitely be an advantage. The first time I went to nationals, I only knew a handful of people. This will make all of the Colorado heads a little more comfortable because they will have friends there. As far as the other competitors, five of them [Steel, Etronik, Concept One, Image and Grand Master Supreme] have all been in the finals before.
I am the only one out of the Colorado natives that has been through this before. It is a mental battle, as well as the competition itself. This will be my third run at the showcase title, and I have also competed for the supremacy title twice. I have taken second in the showcase in 2007 to DJ Precision and second this year to DJ Solo in the supremacy battle.
All in all, I have been to six national battles, including the Guitar Center Battle in 2006, and it makes you feel more relaxed to know you have friends there.
DN: No, not at all. The winner of this competition will deserve it -- whether it is any of us five from Denver or one of the other competitors. I will say that I am definitely honored to be one of the five from Colorado in this year's USA Finals.
Ww: What can DMC attendees expect from your battle set?
BM: They can expect a lot of wordplay and disses. My set is arranged with a lot of wordplay that tells a story intermixed with a few cut and juggle sections!
JC: They can expect a more traditional, old-school style set. I use regular tracks in my beat juggles as opposed to battle records. I still like to include breakdowns in my juggles. As far as scratching, I like to cut to high-energy beats in a battle, like Precyse's Big Pimpin scratch routine; I love that shit. I cut it up with him once, and he was a big influence on my scratch routine style.
SR: Two scoops of flavor from the Mile High City!
CR: My main goal in the competition is to be mistake-free and funky. My style is a little unorthodox and combines the Euro pace with hip-hop. A lot of the competitors out there sit on either side of the fence, as far as electro, the European style and traditional hip-hop sound, which is mainly influenced by the United States. I kind of mash both sounds together.
DN: I have always brought the energy in my sets. I believe in having a strong intro and an even stronger outro. I like to bring the flavor, as well. I definitely like to show my music range within a set. The number-one thing I try to do is be a lot different with my track selection. I would hate it if some DJ had the exact same records as I have.
WW: Who do you think your biggest competition is?
BM: Competition is going to be fierce! I really think that Cysko is going to do some big things, but all the DJs are so good you never know who might come with it!
JC: Everyone [laughs]. All of the DJs in the battle are dope, so I consider all of them a threat.
SR: I'm not really too familiar with anyone other than some Colorado contestants, so I can't really say.
CR: It is anyone's game, and anything can happen. Luckily, I won the regional in the same venue where we will be competing, but with a whole new panel of judges this time. There is plenty of talent in the building. God willing, I have what the judges are looking for and a set to rock the crowd.
DN: Cysko Rockwell and DJ Etronik from Cali. Cysko is the most technically sound DJ I have heard since I started battling. Props to DJ Vajra, as well. DJ Etronik is a name I have heard and seen for a while.
WW: The DMCs used to be a pretty vibrant national keepsake, but they seem to have died down within the past few years. How do you think that turntablist culture has evolved in Colorado?
BM: I don't know if I could really call it an evolution of turntabalist culture in Colorado. I think that Colorado is filled with so many dope radio outlets between Basementalism and Eclipse, which really allows DJs to do their thing in an environment that is supportive of turntabalism and creativity when it comes to deejaying.
JC: When I first moved to Colorado in late 2000, Vajra and the Crunk Brothers were representing hard. There were a bunch of DJs that were in the crowd watching them. A lot of those DJs have put in a lot of work over the years and are now the ones entering the battles and representing Colorado turntablism alongside the veterans like Vajra and the Crunk Brothers.
SR: I think it has taken a step back lately due to emerging digital gadgets that enable people to "DJ" with the touch of a button. Beginner DJs ask themselves, "Why use turntables?" It seems bar and club managers and owners out here don't care about culture or quality of style, so it has been increasingly difficult to find motivation for some to be a turntablist. There could be more visibility and good media coverage, which would definitely help strengthen the culture.
CR: The thing about the Colorado scene is that it has been more underground -- but still moving. The heads here still cut, and there are more DJs that still want to battle that didn't. For instance, look at my crew alone [Crunk Brothers]. Discord and Tense still think about battling every year.
There is a nice history of battle DJs out here, and there have been some epic battles. I have been involved in or witnessed almost all of them, starting back in 1998 -- from Chonz to Vajra to Skate Rock and Timbuck.
I am lucky to be part of that vein of hip-hop in our community. I just can't let it go, and [I will] keep battling until I get what I am after, even though I am probably one of the older competitors out here. Bottom line: The shit will never be dead here in Colorado. We have too much history and too many talented DJs.
DN: I think that the DJ genre is alive and well here in Colorado. It seems like we have become a standard for turntablism moving forward. We have the scoreboard this year when it comes to our state of Colorado representing, and we should be proud of that. I hope that all of the DJs nationally take a look at what we have accomplished this year without even touching the turntables in this year's USA Finals. We have made history, with all of us placing in three of the five regionals around the United States.
WW: Many naysayers believe that turntablism is a dying art. Do you think that turntablism will have a place in hip-hop culture moving forward?
BM: I don't think turntabalism is a dying art, and I definitely think that it will have a place in hip-hop culture moving forward. I just think that, like a lot of other things, it goes in cycles. It goes through periods when it is not very popular and not many people do it, and then next thing you know, it gets big again. For one thing, it still remains a strong part of Colorado's DJ culture.
JC: I think the veterans are going to keep holding the torch, representing hard and spreading the fan base. As long as the upcoming DJs follow in their footsteps and keep pushing the art form, we will always have a place in hip-hop culture.
SR: Of course, I believe that turntablism will always have a place in hip-hop culture. Hip-hop without turntablism is like chicken with no seasoning: no flavor, and we got to have flavor.
CR: Turntablism is not dead. The technology moved a little too fast, and people are taking their talents and putting them in different places. I think that turntablism will evolve with the technology, and the turntablist will have to move forward as well by using equipment with their scratching and juggling capabilities, such as what Rafik and Craze are doing with tractor scratch and what Realm is doing with video.
DN: Whether it's a so-called "dying art form" or not, turntablism changed the face of the world's most respected DJ competition, the DMCs. Hip-hop moving forward will probably never ever reach the level of its popularity in the '90s and on into the new millennium. I like it that way. I am so sick of our art being some sort of market for the masses. Let it be where it is. All who follow will continue to follow, and the ones who were in it because it was a fad -- let them go somewhere else for their bandwagon approach to life.
WW: How did you find your path deejaying, and who do you look to for inspiration?
BM: I originally found my path in deejaying by watching DMC videos and hearing mixtapes. Now, I look to people like LazyEyez, Vajra, Cysko, Iz and everyone in BTR for inspiration.
DJ JEF C
JC: I just wanted to be more than just a listener of hip-hop; I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to contribute something to the art form that was my own. At first I started writing graffiti. I went to this show, and I saw this DJ spinning breaks, and the b-boys were killing it. Right then, I knew that I wanted to be a hip-hop DJ.
A friend ended up bringing the X-Men vs. ISP battle video over. I watched that video, and it looked like the dopest shit I had ever seen. My inspirations over the years have been Dj Astro, Mr. Funktion, Cysko Rokwel, DJ Samurai, DJ Prescyse, DJ Vajra, DJ Megadef, X Men, ISP, Allies, 5th Platoon -- and the list goes on and on.
I definitely look to Mr. Funktion the most for inspiration. He is in my crew, Carpal Clique. I send him my routines through e-mail, and he gives me feedback and advice. He is one of the most slept-on DJs in Denver right now, and if you haven't heard or seen his work, I suggest you go to YouTube and search "Mr. Funktion loopstation routine," and you will see what I am talking about.
SR: I have always liked the sound of scratching. When I was ten, I tried to make a mix on a dual cassette player, and it sounded pretty good -- or so I thought at the time. When I was fourteen, I actually saw turntables on display at a store for the first time, and I told my pops, "I want to deejay." It wasn't just playing music, but it was the cutting, scratching and juggling that got me interested.
He wasn't having it, so I got my chance in my late teens when some friends brought together a pair of old turntables and a Radio Shack mixer. From that day on, I was at that apartment putting in work on the decks! Early on, inspiration came from DJ Magic Mike, Jazzy Jeff and Jam Master Jay. Later inspiration came from Q-bert, the Wave Twisters Video, Mix Master Mike, and the X-ecutioners.
CR: I give it up to a few people for getting me interested in deejaying -- first off, Dj Jazzy Jeff. When I heard him doing the transformer scratch, I used to rewind that part of the song and wonder how the hell he did that. Second, I'm inspired by DJ Dense and his brother Dusto. They had the first setup I ever put my hands on.
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Tense and I got into the scene at the same time; he inspired me to buy my first setup in 2001. When comes to influence, anyone and everyone that has mastered the craft has something to influence me. Honestly, I am in love with the art form and can't get enough.
DN: I have always been a sort of Han Solo type when it comes to my path. I seem to look toward old hip-hop movies for inspiration, such as Wild Style, Scratch, Beat Street and Breakin'. I grew up watching these flicks, so I feel comfortable when I watch this type of programming.
When it comes to inspirational DJs, I look to none other than DJ Vajra. This is the most respectful human being you will ever meet with that much talent, plus he is the one who put Colorado on the map when it comes to turntablism. I also respect every single DJ here in Colorado doing their thing -- B*Money, Stretch, Skip-Ripkin, Dent, Eclipse Radio, Chris Nathan, AL and all of the other local fam in this great state -- all of which I draw inspiration from.