Mix Master Mike
On July 26th, The Allies presented their second Annual All-Star Invitational Beatdown, held in Los Angeles’ El Rey theater instead of in New York City. The All-Star Beatdown is an invitational DJ battle in which DJs from all over the U.S. and Canada bring their turntablist skills (skillz) to one forum for a scratch-fest and beat-mix with party favors like $2,000 and unlimited royalties from DJ video sales, plus a chance to compete in the All-Star Beatdown finals in New York, with DJs from Europe and Australia. The Allies, Craze, A-Trak, Klever, P-Trix and J-Smoke emceed the event with Mix Master Mike of Beastie Boys fame (“Three MCs and one DJ . . .”) and have dominated the battle circuit for a few rounds. Who better to host the invitational for DJs all over the U.S. and Canada?
This was my first DJ battle and I walked in fresh with ideas from Shadow’s interviews in the DJ documentary Scratch, about how the posturing is a bit much for him at battles, about how fucking tough these competitions can be. After all, battles are one of hip-hop’s greatest romantic notions. They were never about settling disputes more serious than a performers’ rivalry or perceived skill. At first, DJs would simply try to drown each other out—and “out-louding” your competitor developed into segmented contests, where one competitor would play, then another, and the audience would decide.
I walked in and saw a bunch of Adidas-clad white kids most of whom came out in hordes from the Valley. There were also a lot of Filipino kids, and when I say kids I do mean kids—how come these 12-year-olds could get into the El Rey when my fake IDs have been cut up here and all over West L.A.? I waded through and started paying attention to what was on stage. Basically the competitors were announced and then set up their decks opposite each other and played their mixes, waited for the competitor to play, then each got a rebuttle in. I was amazed at what these kids could do. Hands whipping from one record to another, stopping lightening fast on the crossfader in between, shoulders dipping slightly in time to the beat, a barrage of skribbles and scratches and then the bare bones of a hip hop track repeated and repeated and re-re-repeated. These turntablists had the skillz indeed.
It all started with Enferno’s scratches. I was finally able to see how the record deck became a genuine musical instrument. Other notable meta-musicians included Kid Dragon and Boogie Blind.
Interspersed between the invitational were showcase performances by members of the Allies crew and various guests. Super protege A-Trak, the only DJ to hold four World titles (including DMC and ITF), threw out a sweet set of classic hip-hop beats, and Radar, the inventor of scratch looping, killed the crowd with his schizophrenic scratching styles.
It was clear that flashiness wasn’t the judges’ concern—they wanted style and finesse. Those who couldn’t provide the full package started to drop out, leaving heated head-to-head competitions like the one between the tall, lanky Perseus (Turntable Technicians) of Providence, RI and the sweet-faced chubby Solution (Nocturnal Sounds) of Hawaii. Persueus’ first set included old school sounds and fresh new textures and new CGI effects. But Solution came on and dropped beats heavier than he was and the crowd went crazy. Apparently I wasn’t the only beat junkie in the house. Perseus retaliated and turned the battle from a turntablist tiff to a semi-personal problem with Solution. He played Humpty’s “Humpty Dance” for his intro mixed in with a little Cyprus Hill: “Fat boy on a diet . . . don’t try it . . . Yeah I called you fat, look at me I’m skinny . . . never stopped me from getting busy. . . .”
Oh, shit! He went there.
The crowd went nuts. I couldn’t wait for Solution’s set. Sure enough, he came down with Shadow’s “Walkie Talkie” track, taking the prize as a true turntablist braggart: “I’m a bad motherfuckin’ DJ, this is why I walk and talk this way.”
Looks like UNKLE Shadow echoed through someone else’s mind too.