DJ Scratch: Face Off

H aving traveled around the world and back again during his 20 years in the game, New York’s very own DJ Scratch is on a mission. This mission isn’t impossible, it is totally viable. He wants his home city to be recognized for quality music. That want is made clear in his recent Busta Rhymes […]

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aving traveled around the world and back again during his 20 years in the game, New York’s very own DJ Scratch is on a mission. This mission isn’t impossible, it is totally viable. He wants his home city to be recognized for quality music. That want is made clear in his recent Busta Rhymes and Swizz Beats hit, “New York S**t.”

But beats and track-boards are not all that keeps this legend motivated. The New York street bike community is where Scratch mysteriously rides on a Suzuki with a chromed out helmet to match his chain medallion. The former EPMD DJ unveils his identity. Whether it’s lacing hits for Busta Rhymes and LL Cool J, or popping wheelies, the face is revealed and the game is real. Everyone is on the “New York S**t” track right now; does it still feel the same hearing your tracks on the radio now as it did when you started producing?

DJ Scratch: Yeah I still get excited when I hear my songs on the radio, you know it’s been over 20 years now, and I still get the same feeling. Was that track made with Busta in mind?

DJ Scratch: Nah, it was just made with New York in mind. Me and Swizz were talking, and I was talking about how New York Hip-Hop basically doesn’t exist anymore and the South is 90% on the radio – no disrespect to the South. [But] I was telling Swizz and I said I wasn’t doing any records for any other region until New York has a banger. So we came up with this record and it was done five months ago. I had that beat for 17 years. I gave that beat to EPMD for their second album, but they didn’t use it. We did the record and played it for a couple of people, and it created a buzz and a lot of people didn’t hear it, but they heard about it. Flex heard about it; Angie Martinez heard about it. Angie Martinez used to call out on the radio and asked Swizz to bring the record up and let them hear it. We had to place someone on this track as it needed to be out there right now. If Swizz had done an album it would [normally take] a year and a half or whatever, I wanted the record out right now. Jay-Z heard about it, he backed up off it for a second. Busta heard it and he wanted it from the first time he heard it. Has Swizz got co-production on this track? As a lot of people appear to think that this is actually his beat?

DJ Scratch: No, Swizz is just doing his vocal on there. When Busta’s album comes out, it will show that the production credit goes to DJ Scratch. Since Busta aligned with Aftermath, you don’t appear to be involved in his projects as much as you once were; is there a reason for that?

DJ Scratch: Since Busta left Elektra Reords, we didn’t work as much and even his first album on J Records, I had no tracks on that album. I always give Busta the hit singles that he needs, because if nobody knows what to give Busta, I know what to give Busta. Artists want to try new things and you have to let them do new things and hopefully they are successful and if they are not, they can always come back home. I wasn’t on the Genesis album, but I did five tracks on that album; the one after that, It Ain’t Safe No More, only one track made the album. Everyone tries new things. He was doing his thing and I was doing my thing. I just want him to win regardless; even if I don’t do any tracks I will help him pick his tracks. You know it all came back together and look what happened. That seems true of LL Cool J too. After working with The Trackmasters in recent years, he went to you for G.O.A.T. How did that come to be?

DJ Scratch: Well that was basically through the Funk Master Flex [and Big Kap] project, The Tunnel Album. I gave a beat to Flex, it was the track “Ill Bomb,” Flex put LL on it and he killed it and that is one of my favorite songs out of my whole discography. I went to do the scratches on the song, and LL was there in the studio, and he asked me if I had any beats. I gave him a CD with six songs on it, and he picked all of them for the album. What sort of an experience was that for you working with him?

DJ Scratch: Man, I had always wanted to work with LL, he is basically the “G.O.A.T.,” he has been here the longest, he has the most consistency, he is still current. You know his first fans are 40 years old now. It was a great experience working with LL, he works professional, he writes fast as hell. In the studio, he gives advice on life and on business; it was a cool relationship. Both of us have been in the game near the same length of time and we are still current, as when he was on the mic, I was on the turntables. We shared a lot of stories, but working with LL was a great experience. I heard your intro-track on Rampage’s album, Have You Seen? is crazy…

DJ Scratch: Well that is another guy, Rampage, Flipmode family, he hasn’t had an album out in nine years. I was like, “S**t, I have tons of beats, and he said he was working on his album, and he was telling me he was working on his project. Of course I am going to support him regardless. So I didn’t give him some C-Class beat that I had because it wasn’t going to generate that much money you know what I mean, I gave him the hottest s**t, and it is about preserving this s**t and helping people out. So working on independent projects like Rampage’s doesn’t bother you?

DJ Scratch: Oh not at all. I didn’t even charge him for that beat. Yeah he mentioned that he didn’t pay for any beats on his album.

DJ Scratch: Yeah, I mean people always want their money. I could have definitely got some cake for that beat from someone else. Like when [DJ] Premier heard that beat, I was overseas. He hit me up telling me the beat was retarded. So it’s got to be something big if that is what Premier is saying.

DJ Scratch: Yeah I mean people like Premier and Beatminerz, that’s my satisfaction right there. Those are the guys I look up to on some producing s**t. How is your School of Turntable Arts working out? Is that still a go with you being out on the road so much?

DJ Scratch: That’s still a go. I do classes on Saturdays and Sundays. Obviously, with touring, I haven’t been doing them lately. It is like one-on-one tutoring, and I am teaching DJs the basic art of DJing. I am not teaching them how to scratch and do a bunch of crazy s**t, I am teaching them the basics. A lot of DJs watch the DJ battle videos and they are learning advanced scratches, but they don’t know the basic s**t. When I taught myself how to DJ, I took ideas from Kung Fu movies when I was training myself. I used to have my brother’s turntables, and his needles were really light, and you couldn’t scratch on the record so I had to figure out how to make my hands light so I could scratch on these wack ass turntables. So I took the idea from a Kung Fu movie and I put ankle weights on my wrists, and practiced with those on everyday for months. I am letting you into a secret right now. I used to teach myself with these weights and I am not sure if people have ever done anything like that, but there is so much strain on your arms and your shoulders so from doing that it is painful at first. Once I took them off, my touch was so light and my arms were so strong at the same time and I was so fast that I could cut on anyone’s turntables. Back then, the needles weren’t made for scratching, so you had to put your quarter on there – or your nickel, depending on your needs. I was able to scratch with no quarter.

I teach them placement when you are DJing. The DJ ramp [isn’t] big on some stages, and you only have a couple of inches of foot room behind you when you are up there. I always gotta do tricks, and if you can only take one step back, you can’t really do much. So I used to practice with two milk crates on each side of my feet and spin around where I had just enough room to do that, spin around clockwise, spin around counterclockwise, everyday and that basically made me stay in one spot and do tricks; so when I get on stage with a little riser I can still do tricks and not fall off the stage. Motorbikes appear to be important in your life, is that your hobby?

DJ Scratch: Yeah, besides DJing, that is. [laughing] So what do you ride?

DJ Scratch: I got a Ducati 998 and I got a blue Suzuki GS XR 1000. The Ducati is just like the Bentley, it is powerful as hell. Is that the appeal of bikes, the power?

DJ Scratch: Yeah, if you are a bike rider, everyone wants a Ducati. It is a street bike, but a classy bike – fast enough to blow everything else out of the water. It is multi you know (laughing.) The Suzuki, that is one of the fastest bikes on the street and I went and got that customed out. I painted it and I chromed it. When I ride around, I ride around with a chrome hockey mask on and a chrome helmet so people don’t know who I am. Well if they know their Hip-Hop history they should.

DJ Scratch: Yeah, one day I didn’t ride around with the hockey mask on. I parked up on this bike strip and the guys that were standing next to me with their bikes, they was talking about me – they was saying they had seen this dude in Brooklyn, and he has a chrome bike, he had chrome knuckles on his gloves and he had a chrome f**king hockey mask on. When he said the hockey mask, the other guys were like, “Yeah I seen him too.” I jumped in the conversation and I was like, “Yeah, I saw him down Atlantic Avenue.’ It is like a secret identity.

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