HOW I GOT HERE - industry interviews
An inside look at people in the entertainment industry. From doormen, dj’s and promoters to venue owners, managers, and booking agents. In their own words find out how they got where they are, and where they are going.
When did you first experience Hip Hop and what was it?
"Rappers Delight" was the first "rap" song that I heard when I was in junior high school. Also "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen, even thought it wasn't a "rap" song it was received by the same kids that liked Rappers Delight... at least at my school. It was always blasting from boom boxes. Then there was West Coast rap and electro hip-hop like Ice T's "Reckless" when I was in high school. There were breaking battles at lunch time in the courtyard. In San Francisco it was mainly strutting and popping, downrocking really hit in 1985 out here. I traded some rock albums with a fellow class mate for a copy of Run DMC's first album. That changed everything and really pulled me into the hip-hop culture.
I heard you were a mobile DJ. Was there any DJ who inspired you?
I started DJing in 1984. There were a couple of DJ crews that inspired me liked Ultimate Creations and Nitelife Sensations. Also there were master mixers like Michael Erickson and Cameron Paul on KSOL radio. And of course Bobby G from Soul Disco records. He was a real mentor to the hip-hop community during that era.
Why do you think the Bay-Area DJ scene became the leading leading are for scratch dj's in the 90's?
I think because everywhere else in the US it slowed down or stopped, but in the Bay Area it never slowed down. If anything it just kept increasing. Out here in San Francisco hip-hop DJing and scratching never really died (or faded) like it did in the rest of the country in the early 90's. Hip-Hop culture has always been strong out here since the early and mid-eighties when we used to have mobile DJ crew and b-boy battles on a regular basis... almost every weekend!
Before you established the label, you started to publish the magazine. What made you think of making the magazine anyway?
I was doing a rap show on college radio in 1990 at KCSF (City College of San Francisco). I used to do a monthly playlist that would also contain a paragraph or two with a concert review or small article. I had written a couple of pieces for new rap publications but the magazines never put out their first issues. One morning I woke up and decided that I was going to do a hip-hop magazine myself. I put the first issue together (Oct. 1991) by using an old typewriter, reducing the size of the text on a copy machine and then pasting the paragraphs together with a glue stick... pretty archaic, but it worked! At that point there was really just The Source and then when I started up Bomb there was One Nut Network from back east and then later on came The Flavor (Seattle), Straight From The Lip (San Diego), and other magazines like that. In 1992 I issued two flexidiscs by a then unknown Dan the Automator (of Dr. Octagon/Deltron fame), Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf and other artists inside The Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine. While doing the publication I would always receive demo tapes for our Demos section in the magazine. In 1994 I released an album titled Bomb Hip-Hop Compilation that featured Blackalicious, Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf as well as many others that we has been in contact with by receiving and reviewing their demos. Bomb Hip-Hop Compilation was outta print basically right after it came out in 1994. I originally released the album when I was doing the magazine in conjunction with an independent label from Los Angeles. They got credit from the pressing plant, sold the albums and took off with the money and didn't pay the pressing plant or pay me anything for the artists share as well as my cut... that was my introduction to the record business. That's when I learned I had to do it on my own.
What was the magazine like? I heard alot of famous people used to write for it.
The caliber of writers that wrote for the Bomb during it's existence was extraordinary and is probably what drawed readers to the magazine. Writers like Funken-Klein (R.I.P.), Billy Jam, Spence Dookey, Cheo Coker (Notorious Big movie), Jazzbo, Faisal Ahmed, Dave Tompkins, DJ Shadow, Bobbito, Kutmasta Kurt and many others who have all moved on to do many great things. The magazine was received very well from the Bay Area and the world. I think the universal appeal was that the articles, subject matter and writers all gave the magazine a personality. It gave you that same feeling like when you would meet someone else that was into all the aspects of the hip-hop culture like you were. At that time there were very few other hip-hop publications and the large ones didn't really cover independent or new groups. So Bomb and a couple of other magazines at that time were the only press outlets for some artists and rap labels.
Why did you decide to quit the magazine and move onto record industry?
For a while I was doing the magazine, the record label, the store, the mail order catalog and the concerts... so I had to eliminate some of them because I was only one person practically doing all of this. The magazine was cool but it was only breaking even so I was like "well let me go with the records 'cos there seems to be some money there," but the problem with records is you can lose a lot of money on a release. I learned that the hard way. It's just like gambling, in fact - it is gambling. Did you know of the 7,000 "new" artists and releases that Major Record Labels put out every year only 10% make a profit. Then the economy went bad, retail prices were still too high for a CD, illegal downloading and an oversaturated market... it went downhill. From 2000 on the record business has been in a horrible decline.
Defining turntablism for the layman: How is turntablism different from DJing and/or scratching?
It's not really different, it's just a combination of mixing, scratching and beatjuggling all put together to create an original composition from pre-recorded sounds on records.
Return of the DJ is the first known DJ compilation in the world. Was there any sort of model or motivation when you made it?
When I came up with the concept of the first Return of the DJ in 1994 I was dissappointed with rap albums no longer featuring dj's scratching on them. Rap artists no longer featured DJ's on tour or on their albums. Probably for a few reasons - sample clearance became a factor when making an album for a major company and I guess rappers figured why pay a DJ since hip-hop fans didn't care about scratching anymore and why give up another slice of the pie (pay a DJ) when you can use a DAT on tour which had not been a previous option. Back in the day there used to be Joe Cooley, Mr. Mixx, Miz, Jazzy Jeff, Cash Money etc. on albums... scratching on the chorus of some songs and at least having their own DJ solo song on the album. Those were some of the models of what we all considered "DJ songs". So I decided to contact DJ's that I knew and make a whole album of scratching music. I just told the DJ's make their tracks however they could, and try to keep it under 5 minutes. The rest fell into place. I don't think it was some super intelligent concept, it's just no one thought of it (or at least did it) before I did.
Around 1998, Bomb Records opened up another door for DJs after you released full lengths by DJ Faust, DJ Disk, Jeep Beat Collective, Shortee and DJ Craze because it went further from making a song for a compilation to making a solo album. Did you feel from the beginning that DJs are able to make a whole album or you became confident after releasing Return Of The DJ?
I never thought much about a DJ being able to make a whole album on their own until DJ Faust sent me the original demo of Man or Myth? It was originally a mix tape. I had him change a couple of parts and then we released it. It was all done by hand, the echoes and everything. It was the first solo album by a turntablist, it came out before Qberts' Wave Twisters album.
What's your opinion on current Turntablist scene?
You hear and see DJ's in commercials and magazine adverts. But as far as sales of recorded turntablist music, sales are way down. Unless you're a big name artist like Qbert, DJ Shadow or Z-Trip you're gonna have a hard time. I think the album Tetra by C2C from France is pretty awesome.
Alot of DJs left the "battle" scene and started to go in another direction and use their skills to make a song, not a routine. Do you think my analysis is correct?
I think a lot of dj's did this because you can only get so far from battling. And where does it really get you, a free trip and a mixer if you win. If you're already a DJ you already have a mixer so what's the use. A little bit of fame is cool but it doesn't pay the bills, so I think a lot of dj's got into production and the electronic dance music movement.
Over the years, I think BOMB has been known more for their contributions to DJ/Turntablist culture (through the famed "Return of the DJ" series) than for all the MC-based hip-hop tracks and albums you've put out. Do you think that's fair to say? Do you think many people think it was "just" a DJ label? Does that annoy you?
Yes, that is definitely what the record label is remembered for. But if you look at all of the releases, I've had just as many rap releases. Sure it is a little annoying that people mainly know Bomb for the Return of the DJ series but then again, it's good to be known for something than nothing at all.
What's your aim now?
A friend told me, "you know what, there are three kinds of people: A third of the people love you, a third of the people don't really care, and a third of the people are always gonna hate you. Forget about the people that hate you, the people that love you - they're always gonna love you, but worry about getting that third of the people that really don't care: get them to love you." It's a good way of thinking and that's what I'm working on.
Let's talk a little bit about 'keeping it real', what, if any pressure do people give you to 'keep it real'? Who does that pressure come from? What do you do to keep it as real as possible?
People always talk about "keeping it real"... yeah right, "real broke!" Most of the people saying that are people that get free music & guest list action and don't support the culture with the money in their pocket. Unless you have your own label you don't really understand everything that comes into play. Owning your own label you could go a few months (or longer) without seeing any money. Fans always hear rap songs about how record labels are shady but it's a two sided coin. You never hear an artist rapping about how no one bought his album and he's sorry his record label lost thousands of dollars on him. Distributors, they lag or don't want to pay you or if they go belly up... you'll never get your money. Try explaining that to your artists, they ain't trying to hear there's no money. It's not about how many records you sell, it's about how many records you get paid on.
Tell me what keeps you going?
To tell you the truth this is what I do - music is my life. I've been involved in the music business since 1984 and it's been my only source of income since 1991. At this point what else could I do (laughing), and to be honest I wouldn't want to do anything else. There have been a few people that have helped me over the years but for the most part it's basically me. So if I don't get something done, it won't get done cause my only back up is myself.
I noticed you haven't put out much music since 2008 and have gone back to your roots as a dj. Why?
Too be honest dj'ing is way more fun than releasing records. I started out dj'ing and it's great to still be dj'ing after all these years. I still get a thrill out of curating music, rocking an audience, and making them sweat on the dance floor. I take what I learned from releasing records, the marketing & promo aspects, and what I learned from producing hip-hop concerts over the years and use my experience to produce theme parties. The Prince and Michael Experience, That 80s Show, Girls Rule, Sliver, and I have a few others. As a dj performing in bars and nightclubs I've learned a very important lesson - us dj's are not in the music business or the entertainment business, we are in the alcohol sales business and the business of creating magic. Once that sinks in, you start to see the big picture and understand your role. In the end people just want to go out and have good fun.
What was the main motivation for doing a Prince and Michael event?
I've been a Prince fan for a long time, and for a while, an avid collector (vinyl, cd's, posters, buttons, magazines etc). In 2002 I wanted to do an all Prince party here in San Francisco. But there had already been all Prince parties out here, Dream Factory and a couple of others. So it ended up being Prince & associated artists and Michael & The Jackson family.
You have been doing these events for 14 years now, how has the event evolved over the years?
Before the monthly residency at Madrone in San Francisco it was just a roving party, a different club every time. Then the party was at Rockit Room and Leila (the owner of Madrone at the time) was there and had such a good time she wanted the party at Madrone. That's how Madrone became the home for PR+MJ for the last 10 years.
You have taken the show on the road and seen loads of different crowds. How do the various cities differ with respect to their response?
Every venue, city and date is different. It's funny but a song that works the crowd into a frenzy at one party can do nothing the next time. Even here in SF at our monthly. You just never know. Also it depends when during the night you play a song. Years ago no one was into Lets Go Crazy by Prince, it was played out. Everyone was into the b-side Erotic City. But in the last few years Let's Go Crazy has been HOT and Erotic City, you almost have to play early in the night.
What is the biggest challenge as a DJ putting together your setlist? How much is set before hand and how much is live?
I never pre-record or pre-plan a set. I just spin song by song on the fly. So the biggest challenge is just reading the crowd - giving them what they want, and giving them what I think they need.
Ok, this is the tough one. Pound for Pound, who is better, Michael Jackson or Prince?
That's the million dollar question isn't it? In the end it's like apples and oranges and every person you ask you will get a different answer, and the reasons behind their answer. For me - Prince. I love both and respect both but for me growing up I was able to relate to Prince's music more. Songs like When You Were Mine and Anotherlover... to the nasty songs, to his production with the Linn drum.
About the interviewer
Dave Paul began his music career in 1984, starting as a mobile dj and evolving into a prominent college radio dj, club dj, and remixer in San Francisco. In 1991 he launched the now legendary publication The Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine and in 1996 Paul transformed the magazine into a record label. The company was named "one of the fifteen independent labels that matter" according to Rolling Stone and the labels Return of the DJ series was ranked by Spin Magazine as #25 in their 90 Greatest Albums of the 90's list. Dave Paul has appeared on the front cover of Billboard magazine, and is featured in the motion picture Scratch. Mr. Paul has dj'ed throughout the US, toured Europe, released over 100 projects on his record label and currently produces themed dj parties including the 13 year running Prince and Michael Experience. If you feel you are qualified and would like to be interviewed you can contact Dave Paul at - firstname.lastname@example.org
Robbie Kowal of SunsetSF (San Francisco) - INTERVIEW
Dave Paul of Bomb Hip-Hop (San Francisco) - INTERVIEW
Michael Krouse of Madrone Art Bar (San Francisco) - INTERVIEW
Mike Maietta of CEG Presents (New York) - INTERVIEW
Scheduled to be interviewed:
to be announced