For the past decade, Z-Trip's appreciation for source material has made him a mainstay big-time festival act and sought-after consultant on all matters mixing. Thursday night, he headlined the Red Bull Thre3Style World Finals pre-qualifier.
We caught up with the legendary DJ at Chicago's Music Garage, where he covered everything from the rise of the American DJ in 2012 to his latest mixtape with Talib Kweli, titled 'Attack The Block,' which dropped earlier this month as a free download.
The Web definitely picked up on the fact that you and Talib Kweli dropped a new mixtape, but no one really told the story of how you two came together.
We met six or seven years ago in Australia doing one of the festivals out there. I bump shoulders with a lot of rappers and producers who like to collaborate. Once you meet someone who is into that, you put that out there and it hangs in limbo until you can find the time and place to do it.
[Kweli] eventually reached out, said he had a new album coming out soon and wanted to do a mixtape before it came out. Once that happened, it came together really fast and we released it really fast. From concept to finish, in a month's time it was done. That's the beauty behind it. Sometimes, the best products happen overnight.
It's pretty clear throughout the mixtape that you were aiming to put Kweli's lyrical style on top of some beats and styles he's never messed with.
For me, lyrically, [Kweli] is amazing. He can go anywhere he wants to with his rhymes. I wanted to push the boundaries with him. I wanted to hear him rap over a dubstep thing. I wanted to hear him rap over some alternative rock stuff.
If you're a good DJ, you can drop any tune and get in and out of it. If you're a good emcee, you can rap over anything. I wanted to break new ground with [Kweli] -- where old listeners would be stoked -- and excite new listeners who would've never known.
Speaking of collaborating, the crowd at Reggie's was definitely treated to something special when you, Skratch Bastid and DJ Jazzy Jeff got on the decks together. These days, with everyone running their own set-up, you don't see too many DJs collaborating on stage anymore.
Because of the advent of Serato, it ended up making each DJ go their different routes technically. I might have this program, you might have that program and, technically, they aren't compatible. I still travel with a few records in case something comes up... and there are still a few guys who come from that world of collaborating, too.
Numark, Cut Chemist, RJD2, Kid Koala, DJ Shadow -- those dudes you can jump up on stage with and fuck with anytime. You set some parameters and riff out of that.
Throughout your career, you've always kept one foot in a world built around technology -- working with Rane to develop a mixer -- and another foot in the old school world of vinyl, turntablism and respecting the roots of music. Things are changing, however, and the way the modern DJ operates is sort of isolated and completely reliant on technology. It's a strange shift for a traditionally analog, hands-on culture built around the source material and the scratch.
For me, it's about widening that stance every single day. I always want to keep one foot placed in the history and origins of DJ culture, and what got me from here to there. At the same time, it's about getting away from that stuff to see what's next.
There are a lot of people who know the roots or history but also don't give a shit. Sure, it's completely fucked that they don't know who some of the icons are -- the forefathers that allowed them to do what they are doing today. That's required reading in my mind. The more those people are forgotten, the more their techniques, ethics and methods are lost.
"American DJ culture is still an adolescent, you know? It's like getting drunk for the first time and coming home and dealing with that horrible hangover."
On the flipside of that, if people have a spark, I'm all about people following that and turning that into a bigger fire. If some 16-year-old sees Skrillex, loves his music and wants to be him on the fastest track possible, that's fine. That passion and desire to get there should be encouraged.
American DJ culture is still an adolescent, you know? It's like getting drunk for the first time and coming home and dealing with that horrible hangover. Once we get out of our teenage years... I'd like to see people absorb everything from the bleeding edge, but also go back and absorb everything from the past.
So, when you come across a situation you don't you understand, you can reference some of the forefathers and see how they approached the same situation. That way, you get a little bit of the old and the new and the whole thing sort of rounds itself out.