DJ Spinna is one of the few hip-hop DJs that has crossed the lines of house, soul, and R&B, and manages to do it more effectively than any artist of his time. The Brooklyn based MC has had a long career as a party DJ, as well as an MC and producer. Last Thursday, I was witness to an intimate Red Bull Sub-Session with the where Spinna participated in a spirited question and answer session with a select group of fans, and gave us a audio tour of his influences on the 1s and 2s a la VH1 Storytellers.
“Music has always been a part of my life”, he says, and no one can doubt that. Spinna’s grew up during the time of hip-hop’s infancy. He talks about how he was influenced by 70s block parties in and how he crossed over into the then bourgening house music scene in New York. He also talks about how record label troubles stifled his attempt as a failed MC and gave his take on the current state of the hip-hop industry.
On His House Music vs. Hip-Hop
Although House music and Hip-Hop have many simalrities, they rarely share the same stage today. Spinna is one of the few musicians to be fluent in both genres. “I have always embraced dance music,” he says, “they’re both rooted in R&B. They’re both rooted in soul.” Spinna was influenced by the sound of classic house records like Marshall Jefferson’s “Rock Your Body” and and Larry Heard’s “Can You Feel It”. At times he finds it difficult to juggle both genres, but he’s never gotten a negative reaction from the hip-hop community. During the mid nineties, hip-hop was “wack” to him, so he went into house music full speed. Now, he’s back doing this hip-hop thing with a vengeance.
Larry Heard – “Can You Feel It”
On DJing vs Producing
“I’ve always been a DJ,” Spinna says, “but recording is a thing that I’ve always taken seriously.” The turning point in his production carerer was when “Everybody Bounce” dropped in 1994. This record, which most people wrongly attribute to Funkmaster Flex, was a club hit and led to projects such as remixing “Stakes Is High” for De La Soul. (On a side note: I just listened to Stakes Is High, which dropped in ’96, and it basically foreshadowed the current state of hip-hop in 2008.)
DJ Spinna – “Everybody Bounce”
On His Stalled Rap Career
Spinna’s turn as an MC for the most part, never got off the ground. He’s flirted with major labels before with solo stints, as well as two groups–the JigMastas and the Polyrhythm Addicts. Spinna was closed to signing a deal with then EastWest records, but he got lost in the record label shuffle in a sale to Elektra. The first Polyrhythm Addicts record debuted in 1999, but his label, Nervous Records, pull the plug on all of their hip-hop acts and the album never got a proper release.
He makes no bones about his treatment of the second Polyrhythm Addicts album, Break Glass. The album was commercial failure. “Thanks Babygrande!” Spinna says as he sarcastically shouts out his record label.
JigMastas – Lyrical Fluctuation 2000
Polyrhythm Addicts – “Goin’ Down”
On J Dilla
Spinna and Dilla weren’t the best of friends, but they had a healthy competition with one another, including 3 AM phone calls to trade beats. He really got into Dilla after Pharcyde’s “Runnin'” dropped and he has high praise the fellow producer.
On Serato Scratch
As music moves into the digital age, some DJs are steadily moving from spinning vinyl to the digital Serato Scratch which DJs to mix MP3 files instead of vinyl tracks. Not surprisingly, this has caused a rift within the DJ community. Spinna is all for Serato though. “I paid my dues breaking my back for records,” he laughs, reminiscing over the multitude of times that he had to haul crates of records over his almost 20 year career. “I own about 50,000 records…and Serato is saving my back!”
On The Current State of Hip-Hop
There was a long pause after someone asked who Spinna was listening to currently.
“I tend to gravitate toward older things,” he said.
Spinna’s criticism of hip-hop today is nothing new. “Its become so commercial. Its become a number. Its less about quality and it has nothing to do with the art.”
He does get around to giving props to Madlib and DC artist Muhsinah, who he has done a remix for (and he gave us an exclusive sneak peak of that track later).
As a house DJ, Spinna is excited by the new trend of Hip-Hop and dance music overlapping, such as Kanye West sampling Daft Punk’s “Stronger,” and Wale rapping over Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” Historically, hip-hop and dance have always been intertwined, and Spinna references Afrika Bambaataa’s sampling of Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express (which he cited as one of his inspirations) as an example. Artists such as Queen Latifah have had House-influenced songs on their albums as well.
Queen Latifah – Come Into My House
Kraftwerk – TransEurope Express
“Hip-hop is more of a dance culture again,” he says, “its getting fun again.”
Sitting in a room with one of Hip-Hop’s pioneering DJ’s was definitely an uplifting experience (and not just because of the free Red Bull!). Soul Sessions with DJ Spinna will air on XM Satellite Radio next month. Spinna will also be coming to your town for his acclaimed Wonder-Full Party with Bobbito Garcia
Full DJ Spinna Playlist