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Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Conversation with the Great DJ M-Rock and DJ NahSla

“The best of A Tribe Called Quest, my name’s, my name’s M-Rock and by the end of the mixtape, you’ll be on my jock…”(Phife Dawg voice). These are the words that are heard as you press play on the mixtape, that is the best of A Tribe Called Quest. This is also the feeling as you sit, listen and vibe out to a true mixtape, by a true DJ. For those that don’t know DJ M-Rock, at the end of the interview, there will be information and links. Hailing from Toronto, born and raised, M-Rock has a lot up his sleeve. Not only does he DJ, rocking four gigs a week, he also produces on his down time.

I first had the pleasure of experiencing DJ M-Rock when I came across an ATCQ mixtape that has received critical acclaim from Michael Rapaport, the talented director of his documentary ‘Beats, Rhymes and Life: The travels of A Tribe Called Quest’. This is the quintessential blueprint for how a mixtape should be done. There’s scratching, blending, mixing and remixing but the highlight is that, it is done as one continuous grove, allowing the listener to zone out, and appreciate DJ M-Rock’s craft. But his talent doesn’t stop with djing. He is also a music producer, and he takes his work very seriously. If you think that your tracks are better, then you better be ready for war, because he can battle with the beats. He has received props from some of the best producer/DJ’s in the game from "Just Blaze and Pete Rock to Easy Mo Bee and Alchemist," just to name a few. With ‘Beats Rhymes and Life, The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest’ premiering later this week, I had the pleasure of speaking with the skilled DJ M-Rock on his work:

AlShan: What’s good M-Rock? How you doing?

M-Rock: Just got up, getting something to eat right now starting my day how bout yourself?

A: I’m pretty good. Been looking forward to this interview. I had to do some research on you and man, I have to say you’re doing you’re thing. I heard the Tribe tape and from the intro I was hooked. You are most definitely a true, skilled, real DJ. So how’d you get your start?

M: I started off with a couple of guys I grew up with, got some money together to get enough equipment, studied some of the greats and I’ve been doing if for about 15 years now. I just took it real serious man, went around to some competitions, and not to just be in them, but I won. I won a lot of those, won a lot of battles, and started to get my name up and out there. you know? It’s something I respected and I felt that I had to give it my all and I did. I still Dj now, I’m doing 4 gigs a week, and I love it, I make money but it’s something I love to do.

A: That’s what’s up. My favorite DJ/producer of all time is DJ Premier. Who influenced you on the djing tip?

M: Yeah man. He’s a DJ from Toronto. I’m not sure if you heard of him before, DJ Start from Scratch, and he just unbelievable man. He can scratch, he can mix, he does it all, and he’s still doing it man. He’s one of the best. You should check him out when you can. Really, really good, an all around dope DJ man. But yeah I like Premier as well but it was mainly him that kind of got me on my path you know?

A: Definitely. I’ll certainly check him out as soon as possible. I saw on your website that you do production as well and I saw comments from Just Blaze and Alchemist, who happen to be some of my favorites in the game today. How did you get your start in producing?

M: I don’t feel I’m the best at it. I started battling for a while but I didn’t know what to do (with it). I did the corporate thing for a while, got some software from a guy at work and it made my stuff sound a lot more crisp. I made a decision to quit work, moved to LA for a minute and moved back. I was one of those dudes that wanted to blow up now, but at the end of the day I love music. It’s kind of hard to DJ and produce I find. I play like almost every genre every night. I used to be a Hip-Hop head but it gets hard to concentrate on one thing. When you believe in one thing it’s easier, but when you’re into 5 million things, it’s harder. I did an intro for Russell Peters for a Warner Brothers DVD called Outsource. In the states you have the Grammys and in Canada, you have the Juno’s. Russell hosted them one year and asked me to produce his intro music, when he walks in. So I did a skit where he walks in to Indian music, and he’s like, “Hold up, hold up,” and he starts break dancing. So that was kind of crazy. It’s weird because I didn’t touch keys and I can actually play, and I don’t sample. I play everything with two hands, no samples. Interesting part of the story, my Dad is a ridiculous Indian classical musician and he plays around the world, so that’s probably where I got it.

A: So did you play any instruments when you were younger?

M: Nah man I always tried, but I got bored. I took piano classes when I was in grade school and I dropped out, and then guitar lessons. I had a wack teacher. He was a dude with a mullet that wanted me to play rock stuff and when you try to get someone to play stuff that they don’t want to play, you’re not going to learn it, so I don’t remember a lot of that stuff. Every time he left, I’d flip the guitar over and start banging it on the back drumming it you know? I’m a Hip-Hop dude. I can’t play rock stuff man and I didn’t like that stuff. It all clicked in after words, I had a lot of room to grow as a musician.

A: As I told you earlier, my favorite producer is DJ Premier and that’s where most of my style comes from, the rawness and griminess of his beats. Who were some of the producers that influenced you once you started to delve deeper into producing?

M: The same guys you mentioned, Preme was my favorite, still is my favorite, even though he’s not in his prime. All the ones that we all know. There is no one that was really obscure that I’d say had an influence on me. You know one producer that did influence me that doesn’t get a lot of props? Scott Storch. Also Tribe man The Ummah, no one really talks about Tribe, but obviously the typicals the Premes and all those guys, even the Hitmen from Bad Boy, and house music Dj Spinna, Black Coffee, Disco, Quincy Jones, anything good man. I read up on who did this and that. Do you know a band called Imagination?

A: No, I’m not too familiar with them. Tell me a little about them and I’ll check them out.

M: You should man, you should. They’re a British band from the 80’s. They’ve been sampled by Mariah, Destiny’s Child, all these groups,; the dude lives here now. I met him here one night, and you know that song by Des’ree You Gotta Be?

A: Yeah

M: Yeah everyone knows that song, it’s like a radio classic, he wrote and produced that. He invited me down to hang out one day and I saw him work. I love production, and love all this, but to see a dude from the 80’s get down the way he does is ridiculous. He wasn’t to involved since then but he realized I was old school so he just wanted to get down old school was more old school. Since meeting him I bought a home studio.

A: So, what prompted you to put out an ATCQ mixtape? Or did it have something to do with the movie coming out?

M: Yeah it was the movie. Just last year I was making mixes, like DJ mixes and they were all at about 200 downloads. Then I thought, I got to step my game up. I really went hard and I came out with a grimey tape. The Tribe is grimey and the Kanye is really grimey, it’s like 20,000 downloads, since January. The game stepped up the, concept stepped up, so I don’t really make tapes anymore, just for fun. I make them with a concept in mind. I make them to change the game. So not cause I love Tribe strictly, partly that, but yeah the movie was coming out so here we go. I got it out to Michael Rapaport; he heard it and he liked it a lot too. That’s how I do stuff. I want to do it professional and put it out the right way.

A: I wanted to know did you do that purposely, it being a full mix, without tracks, like a full hour long mix?

M: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, like I mean, it’s a mixtape man, like back in the 80’s man, What’s the point of just hearing Scenario, you already have Scenario at home, you know what I mean.

A: Yeah I appreciate people that are bringing that style back and using it today, that’s the feeling I got from it.

M: No problem man, it’s just trying to be hot ultimately. People today, they prefer that style, even if they never heard it. I mean if you’re not doing that style, people don’t want to watch those guys. You kind of want to see someone going in you know?

A: Of course. Now do you see a difference between the club scene in Toronto and New York?

M: Yeah huge. I would say Toronto has some of the best DJ’s like technically the best. They know how to put it down, mixing back and forth. I hear a lot of people say, like when they come back from the states, that the DJ’s suck out there, not to diss you know. I don’t think they take mixing, like the art of mixing that seriously. They might just drop a track and start screaming, and not even smooth, like following Trey Songz Say Ahh with a DMX joint you know? It’s a lot of programming and Americans have enthusiasm and Canadians we’re kind of dead, really quiet and chill. We don’t really support our own and this and that, you know so our scene is insanely small compared to New York. New York is one of the biggest in the world man. The quality of djing is better, but New York, is New York man. You guys invented Hip-Hop. I mean you never know who you’ll see out there. You might see Jeru play, you might see Q-Tip play, it’s pretty nuts.

A: Yeah I haven’t made it out to Toronto, I will one day.

M: They weather is shit. Stay in LA man. Go somewhere else for the summer. As far as Toronto the women here are hot, like really really hot. I’m not sure how you’re girl would feel about that, but the women here are gorgeous. You never know who you’re going to meet. It’s the most multicultural city. It’s dope and even the style behind that tape; the Tribe tape is a mix with Toronto style. Like the doubles, a lot of scratching, the mixing style, the programming and the transitions is very Toronto style.

A: I know you said the movie is what brought on the tape, but you’ve been a huge Tribe fan from day one right?

M: Yeah man since 1989

A: Have you seen the movie yet?

M: Yeah man, it’s amazing have you seen it?

A: Nah I haven’t I’m going to the premier out here in LA. I would have loved to see it back home but I’ma check it out soon, I can’t wait. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I saw them at Rock The Bells in 2010, and they killed it.

M: They’re ridiculous. They’re all I think about when it comes to Hip-Hop. I mean I’m East Coast man, just like you. If it’s not Smoov Da Hustler, or Premier, or Gang Starr, or Tribe then I don’t. Like it’s fun to me but it’s not really my core. Dre and all the southern stuff it’s just not the end of the world. I don’t think anyone performs harder than Tribe, and if they do they’re just trying to hard, because they’re naturally the best on stage, like Tip’s and Phife’s energy, and they’re chemistry is the best.

A: Yeah man I can’t wait. What it your favorite Tribe album?

M: Midnight Marauders

A: Oh okay

M: Nah man wait, it’s Low End Theory, I keep forgetting that.

A: Yeah that’s my favorite too and I get caught like you man. You love Midnight Marauders and look back like, they couldn’t have made all these classic albums. My favorite record is Jazz (We Got).

M: That’s a great record man, but you know what’s weird, it’s great and the Tip verse is dope, but the Phife verse kills me now. I love them both. Back then, Tip was the leader, and now when I here joints today it’s like Phife’s verses are so logical and what he’s saying is straightforward. A lot of Tip’s stuff is abstract, and I don’t understand all of it, I just love his voice and his flow.

A: Yeah Phife, anytime he gets on the mic you it’s golden.

M: He’s amazing man. Yeah the movie is great man. You can see a lot of that, like their approaches and how their approaches are different. Like Phife’s got it. God blessed him with the personality that’s really funny and clever. Like how he wrote Buggin’ Out on the bus. I just ruined part of the movie for you, but he was kind of last minute with everything, but when he showed up, he would just destroy it, in one take, you know what I mean? It’s crazy.

A: That just made me even more excited. I see you got a new website coming. Do you have any other plans for the future?

M: The website is another long story, but I haven’t worked with an artist yet, that’s probably next. I think I’ve been a beat maker all this time. I think I’m going to try to become a producer.

A: That’s crazy that you said that. My brother and I went through the same thing. We learned at school the difference between the two. We now produce, as opposed to just making beats.

M: Yeah man. I just gotta figure out what makes a beat hot you know? Like what makes it a hit, and I think I’ll be good. A hot beat, that’s everything man. Anytime you’ve heard a good song, it’s that state of mind. If you put the artist in that state of mind you’re good, if you don’t then you’ll put out something that’s messed up.

A: Who are you feeling in the rap game right now?

M: Kanye, Drake’s stuff. I like the 6 foot 7 foot by Wayne and Cory Gunz. As far as ability to rap, I like it I like a lot of people. But I like when the beats bang. Blu and Exile are dope, but I don’t think the beats really bang. Chad he’s dope, but I don’t think the beats really bang that much. To me it’s the whole package you know what I mean. I mean he’s dope; definitely a lot of dope MC’s. I find the Kanye’s stuff is a
whole package: hot beats and hot rhymes. His songs to me pop off in a whole other way.

A: This was smooth man. Like a real conversation. I definitely appreciate your time and it was good talking to you.

M: No problem. Thanks for the call man, I appreciate it.

For more information on DJ M-Rock check or follow him on twitter @mrockgotbeats

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