A&E » Arts

Lord of the turntables

DJ for Public Enemy talks politics and progression of hip hop

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Who: DJ Lord & Swytch of Trill Bass

When: Thursday, June 19, 9:30 p.m.

Where: Maxx Fish

Tickets: $5 for first 50 people, $8 after

DJ Lord, real name Lord Aswod, stepped up to the decks almost 16 years ago. But he never imagined that his passion for turntablism would land him a gig spinning for the prolific group, Public Enemy, and performing with some of the biggest names in hip hop: Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, and the The S1W.

“I had no idea that it would take off the way it did, but I knew this was what I wanted to do,” Lord said. “I knew right away.”

He grew up trying to imitate the sounds of the pioneers of hip hop — artists like Jam Master Jay, Grandmaster Flash, Mix Master Ice, and Cash Money.

Lord got his big break while he was living in Atlanta, Georgia, working two 9 to 5 gigs at the same time to pay the bills. His roommate at the time told him that Public Enemy was looking for a new DJ, but Lord thought he was joking, brushed it off and went to work.

When he got home, Professor Griff was standing in his living room.

Griff had heard of DJ Lord, who had gained a reputation around Atlanta as a solid battle DJ, and wanted him to take Terminator X’s place.

“It happened so fast. One week I met Griff, the following week I met Chuck, they gave me this instant replay machine to learn the third week while he was expediting my passport. By the fourth week, I was heading to Belgium with no rehearsal,” Lord recalled.

He had some big shoes to fill, but 10 years later, Lord’s still going strong, bringing fresh energy, material and styles to the group.

You see, he doesn’t just do old school turntablism, scratching on vinyl, but also drum and bass and dub step.

“I do it all, across the board,” he said, explaining that he tries to practice every element and genre of hip-hop — battling, group work, scratching, mixing and more — to stay versatile and well-rounded.

“Hip hop is my foundation — that’s what I started with… I just started adding onto that, and with drum and bass, that’s basically just sped up hip hop, if you look at it,” he said.

But today’s hip hop is a world apart from PE’s hip hop.

“Even back in the day, it had its phases and stages,” Lord explained. “We had the Hammer phase, we had the Vanilla Ice phase… the gangster rap phase. This particular phase, or level, it’s taking a long time to shift gears. Everything’s my gun, and my rented girl, and my rented mansion, and my rented chain.”

On the other hand, Public Enemy is often credited with revolutionizing the hip hop world with political, cultural and social consciousness — their music has strong messages about race and politics in America.

“It was an honour for me to be a part of Public Enemy, in fact, I tell Chuck to this very day, when I first heard Public Enemy, it turned me from a point in my life where I was going in basically the wrong path,” he said, explaining that he had started running with the wrong crowd, and PE’s music made him listen up and pay attention to what was going on around him.

But PE’s messages don’t sit well with everyone. Lord says they’ve had to deal with everything from bomb threats to run-ins with the Aryan Nation.

Only a few years ago, they showed up for a sound check at a venue in Dublin to find posters reading, “Say no to a black Ireland.”

“I’ve got stories, man, I’ve got stories from situations, things that I didn’t think were to this degree,” he said with a wry laugh. “…In beginning, I didn’t know that it was to this degree, though. It’s really serious.”

When asked how he felt about Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for the presidential election, Lord pauses thoughtfully.

“It’s a change — whether we’re dealing with a black president, whether we’re dealing with a female president, its change. It’s a change from what the hell is going on now with all these years of Bush. Change is good,” he said with a laugh. “…Anything different from where we are now. War, deception and all kinds of crazy stuff that people never would have thought would come alive. It’s all no holds barred, now. It’s like things you never thought would happen, have happened!”

The lyrical content of hip hop isn’t the only thing that’s changed over the years — the technology has evolved in leaps and bounds, too.

A self-professed diehard vinyl junkie, Lord talks wistfully about the analog and dusty sound, coupled with the tactile nature of contact vinyl.

“A primary point that I really miss is that point of the night where you’re doing the party, and you know a certain record would… set the whole club off, and you’re digging through your crate and you see that cover,” he said, “Yeah, I miss that moment.”

And while he also sings the praises of technology like Serato, which allows DJs to have a massive library of music at their fingertips, he points out that it isn’t magical.

“Quite frankly, if you’re a dope DJ, you’ll be a dope DJ with Serato. If you’re a whack DJ, you’ll be a whack DJ with Serato,” he said. “It just gives you access to music, it doesn’t DJ for you.”

While Lord is still busy DJing for PE, he also has a lot of other projects on the go right now.

He admits he’s been slacking on the studio side of things lately, but has gone back in recently to record The Dubstep Project, producing a dubstep mix CD with Paul Swytch of Trill Bass, and he plans to jump back into the studio with Flavor and PE soon.

He’s focusing on distributing his energy very carefully amongst the various projects he’s working on.

“You can get swamped. You can get lost in the fog, and all of a sudden you look around and, ‘where the hell am I?’”

He’s played massive shows in front of thousands of people, but he really looks forward to playing intimate gigs, like his upcoming show at Maxx Fish with Swytch, which involves four turntables, two mixers, and a whole lot of bassline, scratches and straight-up sickness.