Z-TRIP + N.A.T & St.Kelly
The New York influenced hip-hop junkie from Arizona, Z-Trip (a.k.a. Zach), lays down his latest multi-genre mix after an in depth interview with Tim Dotchin from CityOf9’s. His live sets are legendary for the uniqueness Z-Trip brings to the dance floor, and he’s even been called “the God Father of mash-ups”. In the live interview, Z-Trip gets real by talking honestly and uncensored about his humble beginnings and American political views that he feels so strongly about. Listen in to find out what his first inspirations were and where his brilliant turntable skills originated. Z-Trip even shares what programs he uses and why he still prefers old school DJing. Also, stay tuned after the interview for new mixes by N.A.T and St. Kelly!
Tim Dotchin interviews Z-Trip
[CFR] I’m Tim Dotchin, I’m here with Control Freq Radio, and your name is?
[Zach] Zach. Z-Trip.
[CFR] Zee-Trip. It’s not Zed-Trip? What’s the deal with the Z?
[Zach] It’s funny, I get that a lot. Obviously here, the UK, Australia… I used to get that in Germany, but you know. I don’t think I realized when I was putting my name together that I would run into that problem. Nor did I actually think that this was going to be my name. It’s really kind of a funny way that my name came about. A friend of mine was like, “Well, you’re Zach and you’re a trip, dude! I’m just gonna call you Z-Trip!”. I thought it was cool. When you’re in high school and just kind of messing around, you don’t think you’re going to turn it into a career, or that it’s going to be everywhere for the rest of your life. I would’ve gone with something way cooler.
[CFR] What did you think you were going to end up doing when you were a kid?
[Zach] Oh shit, I don’t know. I was really into art. I started doing graffiti and graphic design. I was really into art before I did anything. I went to college for graphic design and graphic illustration for a little bit, but, I just realized that the music thing was where I needed to be.
[CFR] Where did you come up through, as far as your sound is concerned?
[Zach] I was born in New York. I learned and heard of hip hop in New York. I moved to Arizona, and then my parents got a divorce, so I was back and forth. My dad was in New York and my mom was in Arizona. I’d go to New York and get all this really amazing music and bring it back to Arizona and no one had heard of it. I was ‘the guy’. It was like bringing a new drug to a whole new civilization and being like “Check this out! This is marijuana! You will like this!”, and got them all hooked on it. After a while I started building a name in Arizona as the hip hop guy. It all came from New York. All those people in New York influenced me. There were these two radio stations that were on at the same time, that were mix shows. One was Kiss FM, one was WBLS. One had Mr. Magic and Marley Mall, and the other had Red Alert. They used to play at the same time, and had this kind of friendly rivalry between each other. All the people that came up through them, like KRS- One and Boogie Down Productions, they were all part of Kiss FM and had allegiance to them. The Juice Crew, which was Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shante… All these guys had an allegiance to WBLS. I got to see this rivalry happen on the radio. I’d be doing graffiti and taping both radio shows on two separate recorders in the house. You’d run to one side and be like “Oh, I already know this, let me turn this up, and record this…” Before you know it, you’d have 3 or 4 different tapes for the week, and you’d just listen to them over and over. Those were the songs that I heard, that I’d run to record store, play it for the guy and ask him what it was. He’d tell me what it was and pull out the 12 inch for me. That’s how I got some of these really, really rare pressings of things. People were only pressing up 100, 200, 500 copies that were just regional records in New York, and I was bringing them back to Arizona of all places.
[CFR] Have you won a DMC Championship?
[Zach] I never really went in on the DMC’s myself. I did a little regional battle one time in Arizona, and I came in second. I started to realize that I had much respect for those guys. All those guys battling, all the Scratch Pickles, the Beat Junkies, X-Men, Allies, Scratch Perverts, all those guys, all of them were amazing and awesome DJ’s. I just realized that wasn’t what I got into, for me personally. When I went home, I was trying to mix different styles of music together. I was really into just music, as opposed to trying to put together and amazing, 3 minute routine. I’d see some guys that would work six months on three minutes. My hat is off to them, because they’re fucking awesome, and I can’t do half the shit they’re doing. I’ve always felt bad for the guys that would go up and the needle would skip or something. It’s like a gymnast who would train with a fucking trainer, and every day eating a certain diet and doing all this shit. Then getting up there and tumbling or falling or not sticking their move and the judges would be like, “Oh, that’s not perfect”. It’s just wasting six months… three months working on this thing. There’s an arena for that, but it’s not really my thing. My thing is about trying to shove all kinds of different music into once dance floor and educating people. It’s also about getting my rocks off as a DJ and just trying to be the chemist, if you will, just mixing different styles together. That’s really where I felt I succeeded. Again, I always have respect for those guys and love DMC’s and battle routines, but, to me, it was about furthering music combos.
[CFR] A lot of the guys came up through the DMC’s and through championships in your style of music. What is it that sets you apart? What was the bar that you hit that sent you to a professional level?
[Zach] It sort of happened gradually. It wasn’t like I hit something and all of a sudden everything changed. If I were to go way back, it would probably be the Return of the DJs series. It was a series that Bomb Records put out. They did 3 or 4 where they did all DJs making DJ mixed songs, or produced songs. Everyone was on those things. Mr. Dibbs, X-Men, Scratch Pickles, Format, all these guys from the UK. We all went in and did these DJ songs for an all DJ record. I was always trying to do something different, so I ended up doing this song called “Rockstar”, where I took all rock records. That was my thing. I thought I’d go in on the rock thing because no one else was doing that. That started gaining a whole bunch of notoriety and making noise in the college scene. I think that’s where it started to bubble for me a bit, outside of Arizona. In Arizona I was doing all the hip hop clubs and opening for all the Wu-Tangs or Fuji’s or whoever was coming through at the time. It started to get to the point where I would make these mixes, I’d give them out to people, and I wouldn’t know where they would go, until I got calls from people saying ‘Oh hey, I’m Bob from New Mexico, I got your tape, come out and DJ for this thing”, so I’d go and do that. I remember the biggest one was when I got a call from Europe. I made a b-boy tape for dancers and breakers to dance to, and the people who threw Battle of The Year heard it. They wanted me to come out and DJ at their event. I went out there and didn’t realize what I was getting into. It was this massive arena where they have crews from all over the world battle, and I’m up there playing records. Like, holy shit. Amazing dancers, blowing all the other dancers I’d seen away. When that happened, I started to branch out a little bit more. Before I knew it, people started coveting my mixes, trading them and going for big money on EBay. I did Uneasy Listening with DJ P and we did this mix. I wanted to do a mix that was completely different from everything else. All the people at the time were making hip hop mixes and they were all playing the hottest, latest tune. I thought ‘Fuck the hottest-latest’. Let’s make something that’s really interesting and different’. So we took these records that no one would mix together and we did this mix. That landed up in Rolling Stone and Spin. That ended up getting me signed to a label, and it all snow balled from there. It really all goes back to The Return of the DJ series.
[CFR] As far as the UK DJ’s… Did they influence you?
[Zach] Ninja Tune, Mo’Wax… All that stuff was super influential from a production standpoint. Even going further back, the first UK DJ’s I heard that inspired me, where the DJ’s that DJ’d for this group called HighJack. HighJack was this band out of London. Oh wait, I’m sorry, not London… Bristol. Anyway, they were out of the UK. Their DJ’s were incredibly scratch heavy, fast, amazing DJs. I’d never heard any DJs really going that hard, except some people in Miami and a couple people in Philly. When I heard that, I was wowed. They had their own sound. It sort of riffed and took everything off of Public Enemy’s kind of sound, and they made it their own. They were signed to Ice-T’s label on Rhyme Syndicate. I heard those people and was fully influenced by them. Derek B was another guy that influenced me in the UK, early guys and getting into people like the Ryan Christian’s or Kruder & Dorfmeister… Smith and Mighty… There were a whole bunch of trip-hop producers that were coming out that I’d never heard of. Nextmen are some of my favorites from the UK. I still talk to those guys. I think they’re amazing.
It’s interesting, because, after I went over to Europe for the first time for Battle of The Year, I started to exchange numbers with German rappers, Switzerland producers and all these French people; I started to realize how far the reaching of hip hop went. I’d bring back these amazing records that nobody would have in the states. I was able to have a different sound and was able to throw some of this stuff into the mix that allowed me to sort of have a bigger palette than some of the other people because I’d gone over to Japan, met all these people and got turned on to all these different kinds of music.
[CFR] Did geography affect it? Did you move to LA at some point?
[Zach] I moved to LA around 2001 from Arizona. It was great because I sort of out grew Arizona. I couldn’t really go any further. I had to get out of there just to have bigger pastures and go further. It definitely helped doing that. LA became sort of a hub where people would come in and out of LA all the time. Arizona was always sort of like… If someone was going a tour, maybe they’d stop by, but really, we were just left to our own devices. That was super beneficial for me at my earlier stages. I was just in the lab concocting weird shit because I had no outside influence. Once I went to LA, I started to actually network with all sorts of artists and it really started to help DJs as well. It made things a lot easier for me. I think now, in this day and age you can kind of be whoever and go wherever because the internet has cracked open all boundaries. At the time, back in the day, it used to be super tough. You had to actually have the network with people, or have the ability to get those records from wherever you were going to. If you were doing to Japan you’d have to dig and find the record. You had to go there and get it. EBay wasn’t really popping, so you had to go out and do the hunt and search to find these things. That’s sort of how I simulated and got my whole world together.
[CFR] What technologies are you used to using? Where do see it going? What are you using now?
[Zach] Like most people I started with turn tables and vinyl. When Serato came around, I jumped and went into digital. I was messing around with CDJ’s before Serato really had hit, so I was sort of dabbling in that. Any new technology that I can have to get my sound out there, or get some sort of expressway to the point I’m trying to make, I’m totally up for, but I still try to keep one foot firmly placed in the traditional style of DJing. Whether it be with vinyl or without, as long as I have the movement and the feel of DJing and mixing live and doing things where I may or may not fuck up… That’s important. As an artist, I think it’s important to be doing it live and doing something where there’s the ability to completely blow it. I think the crowd is aware of that and into that. At least I am. When I go and see somebody up there just hitting buttons on a pre-programmed thing, it kind of takes the wind out it. Now I’m just hearing you sort of put something together.
[CFR] There’s no risk.
[Zach] None and I like that. Those are my favorite sort of DJs to watch, the ones that are throwing it all out there. If they fuck the mix up they can recover or they’d be holding it and they’d get off and get back on. You’re kind of fighting the good fight with them while you were dancing. It was sort of a religious experience. You were feeling it. You’d leave the club feeling completely energized and therapeutic. It’s getting harder and harder. I don’t see it as often. So for me, when I play, I try and keep that element in the mix, but still trying to push the boundaries with technology. Right now I’m on Serato. I’ve got dicers. I mess around with Ableton a little bit in pre-production from time to time. I have an MPC up there. I’m always trying to have different little things that I’m doing, but it’s all by my hands and it’s all in real time. If I want to shift gears and bounce from point A to point B, I have the ability to do that. I’m not locked into a grid, or locked into a situation where I’m forced… If I want to get from point A to point B I have to execute the program there. I like having the ability to bob and leave.
[CFR] You list on your website that 808 is one of the instruments you play.
[Zach] I have an 808. I haven’t actually sat out and played it in a minute, because at this point, all the sounds have been grafted into everything else. I still play with 808 sounds I guess, but, I feel like 808 goes with anything. I’m a huge fan of bass music. Whether it be Miami bass, or drum bass. Whether it be dubstep or electro, whatever it is, I’m a huge fan music with sub and low-end in it. For me, it’s really about trying to always work with that when I’m working with music, and trying to incorporate that into anything. I feel like 808′s go good with just about any music. You can put a fucking 808 on polka, or fucking bluegrass and it’s gonna make it sound better, in my opinion. I always back 808′s.
[CFR] You’re pretty political and do a lot of activism. Can you tell us a little more about that?
[Zach] I just come from a background and a family that was very vocal. My family is Sicilian, Italian, so we like to talk about things and bring things up at the dinner table. We’re very sort of out spoken. I also feel like, in a weird way, I have a bit of a platform to say and do some things that other people may not. If I feel it in my gut, and feel like it’s the right thing to do and I support it, I don’t really half ass it. Some people will support something and not really stand behind it. I grew up listening to groups like Public Enemy, KRS-One, The Last Poets, and People who were actually politically active in what they were saying. Rage Against The Machine. These were people who I’ve listened to. If you’re gonna address it, say what you feel and don’t sort of half ass about it, anything that has to do with protest. I came up in a situation where I could definitely equate to being in underdog in a lot of things. So, I usually tend to side with the underdog or the people who don’t have the voice that they need to, which are being oppressed. I recognize that. I understand that. So, anytime I see that I try and give them any sort of help I can. The way I can do that is through music.
[CFR] How are you making your voice as a DJ in the community well known for political issues?
[Zach] It’s just a bit more social commentary than anything. If I’m really feeling something personal, I don’t necessarily want to bring it up to anybody or do it through music. I might just dedicate time, energy or money to a cause. If I want to draw attention that cause or get people to rally behind something that I think is a just cause, I’ll throw it out or speak on it in the middle of my set. Or it’ll take a song or mix a song that makes sense and has some sort of connection to it.
[CFR] You’re no stranger to mics in the middle of your sets.
[Zach] No, I grew up listening to DJs talk and interact. For me, that’s how it works. It’s not anything new to me. When it comes to political stuff, I’m not trying to force my stuff down people’s throats, but at the same time, I’m not trying to half ass my way around it. I’ll speak on it and tell you how I feel.
[CFR] Speaking of that, how to feel about this whole Occupy thing?
[Zach] I back it up 100%, actually. I think it’s about time that people actually have a voice and can say something about it. I’m hoping that if anything, it creates dialogue to create some change. It’s funny because everyone has this certain group of people that all rally behind the same mantra of ‘they don’t have a common goal’ or ‘they don’t have a voice or list of demands’. That comes later. The voice and the list of demands come later. The outrage is what starts all that. You get all these people together who weren’t together normally and they start interacting and talking and realizing that they all feel the same way. You start talking about it and then you come up with a list of demands. This is what’s happening. The dialogue is happening and the muscle is gaining, the momentum is gaining. At some point, it needs to be recognized.
[CFR] Would you feel that we are a philosophically weak culture? We don’t have our strong issues now, so we have to get together to figure out what those are?
[Zach] You touched on a good point. I think we have to get together, period. That’s the thing that we haven’t really done in a while. You don’t see it as much around in the states. You might see it in other places. Look what’s happening in Egypt and what’s happening all over the world. People are rising up to say what they have to say. I think that’s important for people to recognize that in every other place of the world, it’s happening. We’ve had nothing to protest about. We’ve been living really high on the hog as Americans. But, at the same time, there’s an underlying. The middle class is getting phased out, so you’re either getting richer or poorer. That’s the injustice that’s happening now. That’s what I like to see, is people who are further on the bottom, getting up and speaking about it and trying to level it out a little bit. I think the outside view is that America is totally fine, and we’re good to go, but really, we’re sort of cannibalizing ourselves. The crazy shit where we don’t tax corporations, or we don’t tax the church. All this fucking crazy archaic shit, where if we really wanted to solve our problems, we’d have to make some radical changes, but the powers that be and hold all the strings don’t want that to happen. Now it’s changing. It’s gonna change. It has no way to not change. It can’t be like this for any much longer. If it stays that way, inevitably you’re just going to phase out a whole portion of people, the 99%. We are the stronger and bigger group of people, and we’re started to get a voice. I think it’s gonna topple some things.
[CFR] Chompsky said we lost that voice in the 60′s or 70′s after Vietnam.
[Zach] I agree, but I also think we’re getting it back now. It’s affecting people in their pocket book, and it’s affecting them on a very personal level. When you are sold the American dream and you realize that’s actually just a scam or a ponzi scheme, now you’ve got pure, real outrage. You don’t know how you’re going to provide for your family. You don’t know how you’re going to get out of this debt. You don’t know what you’re going to do, and you realize that this system is set up to hold you down and fuck you. Now you’re gonna be pissed. Now you’re gonna think. We’ve had many reasons to be pissed, but we’ve sort of been asleep and walking around in comas, in America. I don’t know how it’s been here, but… When things are good and things are great, when we’re at war and economy is good, we don’t fucking think about it. When shit really hits the fan, it’s like, oh fuck. I remember one time, around the time of 9/11. When that shit happened everybody really came together. All kinds of people came together and there was this unity. I thought we could do some really heavy, good shit with this, but Bush came in and bashed that all to hell. Ruined our goodwill in the world by shitting on everybody and going “We’re going at this alone!”, and went to Iraq. What is the genuine thing that had happened? We dismantled. It’s interesting. I feel like we’ve got a voice and the other people in the world behind us as well, who are also feeling wronged by their governments or their powers that be. It’s time to eat the rich a little bit. I think they knew this time was going to come and they’re a bit freaked out about it. I don’t think it’s gonna be super drastic and bloodshed style, but I do think at some point, to answer your question, we’re gonna get that voice and we’re gonna get our footing back to have that voice and that power to change like the 60s. Everything comes back around, man. We were at a low point, now we’re coming back to a high point for being vocal.
Musically, I think it’s important to recognize what’s going on. Rap for example. We’ve been rapping about riding around in a fucking expensive cars and ‘Check out my rims’ and ‘I just burn money’…
[CFR] Isn’t that a sign of their oppression? That they’re setting that up as the ultimate goal?
[Zach] Well yeah, it’s always been the mansion and the yacht. Rappers have always been talking about ‘the good life’. From the rappers on the street who were talking about, ‘Oh, when I get big, I’m gonna do it real big, like Big Willy shit”, that’s a dream they’re throwing out there. Anyone can dream.
[CFR] Isn’t that the same as the guns and booze on every corner? Isn’t that the dream for every kid to aspire to?
[Zach] A little bit. It’s not the best dream for them to set up. That’s sort of like ‘I’ve got nothing and I see someone with something, and I want that something’. That’s something to aspire. It’s not the best aspiration, but it is aspiration, versus, “Oh here’s the guy who’s got all the money. The 50 Cent or the Lil’ Wayne, who’s just running around burning money”. That’s okay for them to do it… Well, it’s not really okay, but, I understand it. The point I’m trying to make is, we’ve gotten to the point where, if you’re a rapper trying to rap about that shit and you don’t have it… If you’re trying to rap about having it, cool, but if you’re rapping about that you have it, then that’s bullshit. When people are all like “Yeah, I’m fucking flossing this and that”, bullshit. Nobody is. We’re all fucking broke. Everyone’s lost their 401Ks, nobody has any fucking money to be flossing. Rap about some real shit. You’re not going to sell records, you’re not gonna sell me on this bullshit.
[CFR]So you think we’re gonna see another Check D soon?
[Zach] That’s what I’m getting at. I think it’s coming back around, where social change is happening. People are just gonna start rapping about real shit, and real voices are gonna be heard. Real change will be effected through music. You can’t fucking rap about that excess shit. You can’t because it’s a lie. Yeah? You’ve got that kind of money? If you had that kind of money you would have got yourself out of debt, bought a little house somewhere. You’d be like, “Yo, I got this 4 bedroom house in Montana, it’s totally in my budget, and things are fucking great. I can feed my kids, I’ve got fucking healthcare. I drive a fucking Buick and it’s dope, cuz you know, it’s an ’86 but it runs…’ that’s what you’re gonna rap about. Versus ‘I’m flossing out of control’, but really, I’m in debt and have no money. I think realistic shit is gonna start happening because we’re heading down. We haven’t hit bottom. I don’t think we’re going to hit bottom for another 3… 4… 5 years. And then I think we’ll bounce back, but, all the lessons we’re learning from looking back over our shoulder. It’s like being drunk at a party and seeing the photos after. It’s like, holy shit, I did that? That’s what we did? I gotta repent and figure out how to not do this, cuz that’s not a good look. Musically I think we’re coming back around. We have to. There are already sort of hints like that with people like Immortal Technique, Saige Francis… These are guys who always sort of hold the torch for positive and righteous lyrics. I think that’s gonna start being put up on a pedestal. More and more people are going to want to be like that, follow that, and want to get behind that. You can talk about the gangster shit as much as you want, and it’s fun to do that in a club and when you’re drunk… But at the end of the day, you can’t be hearing that shit 24/7. You’ve got to hear about and listen to shit that is pushing change.
[CFR] 3 quick questions… Are you a fan of Ralph Nader?
[Zach] Yeah, I actually voted for him back in the day.
[CFR] Are you a fan of Michael Moore?
[Zach] Um… Yeah? I do. I haven’t really followed much of his work as of late, but, I’m a fan of the stuff he did prior.
[CFR] Would you ever consider writing for Harpers?
[Zach]Writing for Harpers? I would. I’d love to maybe have a radio show or some kind of platform to still be able to speak my line and fuck with good music. Who knows, maybe I’ll pass the torch to the next up and coming kid and he’ll be The One and I’ll be the Yoda.
1.Will.I.Am ft Mick Jagger & Wolfgang Garter - T.H.E. (Z-Trip Remix)
2. Z-Trip – Mass Hysteria ft Chali 2na and Lateef the Truth Speaker
3.Z-Trip – Rockstar
4.Z-Trip - Planet Child (Afrika Bambaataa & TSSF ‘Planet Rock’ vs Crystal Method ‘Busy Child’)
5.Z-Trip – Work It or Leave It (Work It ‘Missy Elliot’ vs Leave It ‘Yes’)
6.Z-Trip – Cut from the Z-Trip Obama Mixtape
7.DJ Shadow - Right Thing (Z-Trip ‘Set the Party Off’ Remix In Three Parts)