DJ Z-Trip

DJ Z-Trip Biography

Although he is one of the progenitors of mash-up -- wherein a skilled DJ sends two disparate songs, styles, or genres headlong into an addictive sonic collision, evolving the parameters of hip-hop in the process -- don't ask him to swear by it. Z-Trip has already moved on with an invigorating new concept album, Shifting Gears, that expresses the full spectrum of what hip-hop can do without resorting to the cheap gimmicks that make lesser talents superstars. Because Z-Trip is a not only a phenomenal wheels-of-steel party starter -- he's also a conscientious brother with an eye to hip-hop's political past and unlimited future. And the first thing he wants to do is tear down everything that makes you comfortable.

Scott Thill of ARTISTdirect and caught up with Z, and together they had a little hip-hop and politics mash-up of their own.

So you think the mash-up thing is being done to death?

To a degree, I don't think the concept is dead. It's just that a lot of the execution is sh*t. And that's just being dead honest. It's one thing if you're pushing boundaries musically, but another thing if you're just going up there because you heard another DJ mash "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Back in Black." It worked for them, so all of a sudden you're going, "I gotta go find that AC/DC record!" That's fronting. If you don't own those records and aren't up on them naturally, and you're just grabbing them because they are the hot songs to play, you're fronting. You have to be up on those records to begin with; that's the reason it works. It's real music to you. If you find songs that work for you, instead of just those that other DJs are playing, then that's happening. But it seems that a lot of people just go for the standard, and don't experiment and venture out past their comfort zones. And also because you have people not blending records anymore, but putting sh*t together on their computers. Which is OK, but if you can do it with two records, that's the coolest sh*t. And if you can do it with two records that no one's ever heard before, and you can make it work, then you're really killing it. I try my hardest to go those extra steps, just play the songs that aren't beaten to death in the marketplace every moment.

Yeah, it's not like you're not going to hear "Sweet Home Alabama" or "Back in Black" played to death on the radio or anything.

Right, I've heard enough of those songs in a hip-hop DJ set to last me a lifetime. I'm just burnt out on them.

Well, with your sets, those songs aren't expected, whereas with other DJs, people come expecting to hear those tunes. With you, at least in the beginning, it was coming out of the blue.

That's my goal. I try my damnedest to make it fluid, to catch you off guard. But I don't want it to make you stop. That's wrong, you know? I always want people to slow down and smell the roses, but I don't want to make them stop.

So talk about Shifting Gears. It has a much different vibe than your live set and previous work.

Well, it comes from my background. If people were just getting hip to me from Uneasy Listening or the Scratch or Product Placement tours, they might not know that I've been doing this forever. I started out as a house party and b-boy DJ; I have a very deeply rooted hip-hop background, which I think people can tell, but some might not know it because they've gotten caught up with me doing the rock thing. If you only see one side of something, you don't necessarily know that there may be something else to it. And that's what this new album is about for me: Shifting gears, trying to do something new, getting out of the corner I've been painted into. As nice as it is to be recognized and get a small amount of fame, I'm uncomfortable with the possibility that people think they can know what to expect from me. If you really know me, which most of my diehard fans do, then you should know that when you think you have me pegged is when I'll come at you with some bizarre, leftfield sh*t. To a degree, that's what this record is. That's what I was trying my hardest to pull off, and I think I did that.

It's very much a journey, musically speaking, as cliche and as corny as that sounds. It goes through all sorts of different terrain, because there are so many records in my crates and so many songs in my head. But it all has a common thread, even though it's all over the place. In a good way. There's a point to it all.

A hip-hop concept album.

Yeah, if you will. It took quite a while to get it to where I wanted it to be, but it was a very organic process.

So how about the collaborations? Were these cats you've been looking to work with? Or did they come to you?

It was a combination of both. A lot of them were people I'd met during shows and playing the circuit or whatever, and all of them were people I had tremendous respect for before I had even met them. So they were all people that I really wanted to work with. There were some other people I tried to work with also, but I don't necessarily want to get into all of that. Let's just say that it didn't work out. And that's the thing: There are always going to be a few things that just don't work before you find the things that do work, and that's part of the process.

Chester Bennington and I met each other on the road and hit it off pretty well: I opened for them a few times on the road, we're both from Phoenix, etc. So there was a karmic element to that track, as with a few others. I was more concerned about the execution and mood of the song, not so much the performance. I didn't want to force or push too much, because I wanted everything to be organic. Because these are all people that I admire to a certain extent.

As do I, especially Chuck D, who lays down quite the excellent spiel on the "Shock and Awe."

It's such a shame that there are only a handful of people spinning conscious lyrics these days. Look, it's always been important to shake your ass or bob your head, first and foremost, because it's music. That's something that has always been important. But I think that today it has become more or less the only thing that's important. Same thing with DJs being a part of a hip-hop group: While it used to be about the DJ and the rappers, now it's just about the rappers -- and they have taken it upon themselves to simply rock the party. People like us who were there when hip-hop was conscious know they're capable of going deeper, giving us better lyrics. To a degree, I think it's a disservice.

You gotta have the party element, but that doesn't have to be the only thing you have.

Right. I remember having a couple of beers and shaking my ass on the dance floor with some girl who I just met -- and who I was trying to get with -- but I was doing that to Chuck D's rhymes about Farrakhan and the rest. It felt like being at a good school. I was learning something and having a good time in the process. And I think there is room for that still today, but unfortunately some kids listening to it on MTV or the radio don't understand the full extent of hip-hop's power and influence. To a degree, they do. Eminem's "Follow Me" ["Mosh"] was dope; he was saying something that needed to be said. But to me hip-hop has always been about the humanist underdog, one who feels that corporations or the government are oppressing those beneath them. That's where this music came from: New York's inner city, the streets, people whether black, Puerto Rican or whatever getting financially or physically f*cked over.

Which is something you wanted this record to honor?

I felt it was important for Shifting Gears to not just be a party record, but to have a balance, to have Chuck saying the sh*t he says. You might not share his view, but you have to respect it. In these times, with the administration and policies that we have in place, there's a ton of f*cked up sh*t going on and it's nothing to sneeze at. Plus, I think if you come from a background where things have always been f*cked up, you tend to want to speak on that. Take the song with Supernatural, for example; "For My People" is a cousin of sorts to "Shock and Awe." "I speak for the people/Because I'm one of the people" is just the same thing that Chuck is saying. And I think it's important to go out on that limb, especially in times like these where we are so divided. It's important to be inspired and express your convictions, especially in a peaceful manner. Which is why I threw "Revolution" in at the end of the album after Chuck's song. Think of that song's quote: "If peaceful revolution is impossible, then violent revolution is inevitable." That's just the reality of it. There are ways to work this out, change can happen. But it's about communicating. But if you oppress the people and don't allow them to communicate their feelings and work things out, then you're going to have uprisings. Just look at Iraq. There's an uprising there because we're in their country against their will. Whether you like it or not, that's just how it is.

And it's nice to see someone in hip-hop speaking out about that, rather than worrying about the new line of Hummers coming out.

Yeah, it's a shame. It's harder these days to speak out, when so many people are complacent. It's an instant-gratification world. Everything seems too easy to obtain these days, so why would you sit down and have a dialogue about it? You're plugged into your game, website or whatever, which is exactly where the people in power want you to be, maintaining the status quo. Look, I'm not about violent revolution or uprising, but I am all about trying my hardest to destroy that status quo and voice my opinion. And to have a voice.

Z-Trip's new album Shifting Gears is available now in the ARTISTdirect Store for only $5.99!

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