The Red Bull Thre3 Style 2013 World DJ Championships touched down in Toronto on November 4th, after months of anticipatory buzz.
21 DJ’s from around the world made the Thompson Hotel their nest for a week, participating in nightly elimination challenges where they put their lifeblood into action for the ultimate title — 2013 World DJ Champion.
Veteran DJ’s were on hand to headline the nightly competitions–the 21 contestants only had 15 minute sets each. Names like DJ A-Trak, Kid Koala, Skratch Bastid, Jazzy Jeff and Maseo were just a sampling of the titans in town to additionally judge the contestants, and offer up daily lecture series at the Thompson Hotel.
No stranger to the adage “you can’t dance at every wedding” I cherry picked which events or lectures spoke to me personally — and proceeded from there.
I first attended the lecture series that featured DJ Jazzy Jeff on November 6th and it was such a pleasure to listen to him wax poetic about his craft. I grew up loving his collaborations with The Fresh Prince (Will Smith’s early rap alias) and gems like “Parent’s Just Don’t Understand” and “Summer Time” were influential classics that shaped an entire generation of Hip-Hop fans (myself included).
Additionally, I saw him perform many times as a solo outfit in Montreal at the famed after-hours night club Sona, where he would blow everyone away with his signature style and epic turntable skills.
This lecture was not just a *glimpse* into the history books, but a linear timeline of his early days in Philly, to an intricate discussion of how he’s parlayed a 25+year career that he “never could have predicted.”
Here is just a sampling of his insights.
“In West Philadelphia Born and Raised…”
“We used to have a lot of block parties in Philly. I remember one of the guys called Disco Doc, and [he] would have a massive sound system–so he got a reputation from having these giant speakers that were two stories high. This guy was basically controlling everyone there through the songs he played. He changed the emotions and made everyone happy and I was looking at it from his perspective, and thought–I want to be like him!“
Two Turn Tables with a Mic?
“I didn’t have two turn tables for a very long time. Back then you got with a crew and you wanted to find the guy in the crew whose mom and pop had a really good job and bought it for him. His [DJ skills] could have sucked but in the crew he was a king. Everyone spent their own money on their own 45’s and it went from there.“
Old Schooll Vs New School
“Carrying records [in crates] made you better! You sat in front of your boxes and you thought out what are you going to play. You didn’t have a plan B.”
From Vinyl to Digital
“I was one of the first DJ’s on Serato [software]. And I remember [playing] and DJ’s were coming around just to see it. It was something new–this was ‘the microwave.’ You had to show them ‘hey I’m manipulating this just like a record. Technology doesn’t make you a better DJ. If you suck before Serato you suck after Serato. The only thing this does is allow you to travel around with your music collection [on the road].“
Practice Makes Perfect?
“I know this is going to sound strange but I have never practiced. As a DJ the idea of improvisation is incredible. I kind of have an idea what I’m going to play, but I always leave myself room to just pick it up on the fly. Some of the best sets I’ve ever done were when I just closed my eyes and [see where it takes me].
Death of the Rap Group DJ
“Who’s 50 Cents DJ? Who’s Jay-Z’s ? Where was the cut off? At what point in time did someone decide… ‘I don’t really need this guy?’
That night I attended the Virgin Mobile Mod Club for the evening competition.
Toronto-based DJ Starting From Scratch warmed up the crowd for the first hour.
His forte is classic Hip-Hop and his skill set is so smooth, so FLUID, it’s difficult to even tell how good he is because his execution seems so effortless. He’s not overly animated with the crowd, but he has such an aura about him that he doesn’t have to be.
Metaphorically speaking, you could have hooked me up to an IV drip of his set and listened to him play ALL night long…happily.
Next up were Red Bull former champions 2011’s HEDSPIHN and 2012’s Four Color Zack who were playing in tandem–that everyone seemed to be lapping up–except for me.
I found them to be ‘messy‘ in their technical approach, their musical styles to be all over the map, and a little too self-satisfied with their comedy interludes that they would throw in between their sets. I wasn’t feeling the magic. Sorry guys.
Next were the 15 minute sets divided by four international contestants. They were to be judged on song selection, over-all style, crowd reaction and technical/turntablism skills.
It was riveting to see how in some ways geography tinted their performances, and yet at the end of the day how universal music truly is.
Well, for most of them.
First up was DJ Undoo from Romania.
DJ Undoo had all the flavor and charisma of a wet blanket. He never once made eye contact with the audience, while his music barely struck a chord. Did someone forget to tell him he was on stage playing ‘live’ to a sea of hundreds of people? This was not championship league, by a long shot.
Lost in Translation table for one?
Next up was DJ Oli Dobolli from Croatia.
His style was rather experimental. He played the famed Quincy Jones instrumental ‘Soul Bossa Nova’ which got this Canadian crowd amped up as it was the theme to the Canuk game show ‘Definition‘ and was also a huge sample in the Dream Warriors track ‘My Definition’. He also mixed Classic Rock into some Rap, some EDM, and at times some manic Dubstep plates which felt like a grenade was having rabbit sex with my ear drums.
All in all a fantastic set.
DJ Eskel83 from Germany was a bona fide performer in every sense of the word.
From the second he started his set with Biggie’s “Hypnotize” he commanded everyone’s attention. His engagement and sheer CONTROL of the crowd was something that really set him apart. At times fist pumping and lip synching with such animation that bolstered the crowd to new energetic levels. Other times, putting finger to pursed lips, so that the audience could hear a specific transition or sample.
What a TRUE showman.
Last to the stage was DJ Shintaro from Japan.
Another high energy performer, Shintaro started off his set with the theme to Super Mario Brothers, which was a cheeky ode to Japanese gaming culture, mixed in some impressive Hip-Hop tunes and some crazy hard-core Dubstep.
Grenades. Humping Rabbits. Oh My Ears!
In another caricaturized offering of his heritage, he played a traditional Koto inspired interlude–something he probably saves for his international dates. He’s in on the joke, which makes it even better, rounding out the song with his signature scratching skills. I swear I saw sparks come off the records, his scratching is that crisp.
I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that I feel it’s part of his over-all allure to see this handsome exotic creature with a head of blond hair, almost albino pale skin, lip synch to some of the baddest rap tracks out there.
After some great transitions that included Queen’s ‘”We Are the Champions,” some Reggae and More Hip-Hop, he bookended his set by ending it with how he started–scratching in a syncopated awesomely synergized pace to the Super Mario Bros theme. “I see what you did there,” Host DJ Flipout would say.
*NB. Dj Shinatro ended up winning the 2013 championship title and I’m so thankful I was able to see him play ‘live’.
My next highlight was my sit down interview with DJ Maseo who to this day remains the official DJ for the rap outfit De La Soul I say this with intentional admiration as so many of the classic, integral rap groups of the 80’s and 90’s have dismantled or fled into obscurity.
While De La Soul went on to release 6 albums other albums, their original offering Three Feet High and Rising stands as their critically acclaimed triumph, teeming with creativity and a cornucopia of sampling that is considered a hip-hop masterpiece to this day.
“Being asked to be part of these programs for Red Bull has been honorable and very inspiring,” says Maseo who describes the friendly atmosphere of Thre3 Style akin to “DJ [summer] camp.” I’m amongst all the ones I love and respect,” citing DJ Jazzy Jeff as the “ambassador of all ambassadors!”
While he is committed to mentoring a new generation of talent, he humbly admits that he is still a student who is learning. “I’ll never classify myself as a professor. These new artists have adapted something in their modern world with technology and it’s very relevant and significant. If there’s a generation gap then there’s a bridge that is truly being built! I’m feeling the same love in 2013 from a 22 year-old that I did in 1989 from a 22-year-old. It’s been a blessing.“
While no stranger to the complexities of copyright — (De La Soul was sued by the sixties pop group The Turtles for using a sample from their 1969 hit “You Showed Me” for an interlude track on Three Feet High and Rising) and Maseo had some sobering words for Robin Thicke et al who are being sued for their mammoth hit “Blurred Lines.”
“Based on the years of what’s been documented, you would think he would know better? So at the end of the day, he’s truly about to get what he deserves. He should have taken care of business. What’s publicly being said, and what’s going to be resolved, is going to be two different things. That’s what I know for a fact.“
Talking with Maseo and enjoying his warm and affable company (and his signature bellowing laugh!) was a dream come true. I have always stated that ‘if you don’t know the album ‘Three Feet and Rising’ front to back and everywhere in between, you can’t know Hop-Hop!
Like whipped cream on an already generous sundae, Maseo was kind enough to sign my personal copy which topped off the entire experience for me!