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INTERVIEW WITH DAVE PAUL
Dave Paul began his hip-hop career in 1984 as a mobile dj and then evolved into a prominent college radio dj & club dj in San Francisco. In 1991 Dave Paul launched the now legendary company Bomb Hip-Hop. He has been featured in URB, CMJ, Undercover, XLR8R, Blast, appeared on the front cover of Billboard, and is featured in the movie SCRATCH. With the b-boy's revenge and the DJ's return, the one man army of Dave Paul is a true hero of the global independent scene, having unleashed upon the world the pioneering Return of the DJ series as well as a slew of artists and producers from around the world and the US. All with one thing in common - the true ethics of b-boyism. With an emphasis on the four elements of the hip-hop Dave Paul has created the archetypal independent company, encompassing everything from management to mail order, concert promotion to magazine, merchandise to a record label. Mr. Paul has dj'ed throughout the US, toured Europe and the UK, and currently produces a Prince vs Michael party series. Specializing in music from the 70's-90's era, his record selection ranges from rock, new wave and alternative to hip-hop, dance and soul. His fresh style of party rocking and extensive record collection has kept him booked over the years at various events.
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. 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 Nite Life 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 Bay-Area DJ scene became the leading edge in scratching?
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 Flava (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 Jigmastas, 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 didnt 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. Thats when I learned I had to do it on my own. That was basically the start of Bomb turning into a record label.
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 like they do nowadays. 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. Nowadays with the US economy so bad, retail prices near $20 a CD and illegal downloads it's hard to release music and make money. 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.
Some have compared bedroom DJing of the late '90s with garage bands of the '70s and '80s. How "vogue" is turntablism among today's youth and how much do you think it's a fad and how much do you think it's a genuinely new space for musical practice?
As with any hobby some people will stick with it and some people will only do it for a little while and then move on. My main concern is that a lot of these new kids are watching these Battle videos and only learning how to scratch and beatjuggle. They're completely missing the foundation or DJing - mixing and learning how to read and rock a crowd.
What's the relationship between turntablism and the bulk of mainstream hip-hop? I know many of turntablists don't necessarily even listen to a lot of contemporary hip-hop. What do you think the two have to share with one another?
The two share a lot in common. If it wasn't originally for the DJ there would be no hip-hop. The sad thing is over the years the rappers have turned their backs on the DJ and I think that is one of the reasons DJs created their own musical artform in which they don't need a rapper.
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. In fact, the first volume released in 1995 didn't really didn't blow up. It wasn't until 1997 when Volume II came out that people caught on. I think recorded turntablism music would have come about anyway. I just think that Return of the DJ sped up that process by a couple of years. It showed DJ's that they could create and release music on their own instead of trying to find a rapper to work with.
Compared to the first one, I think the series gets deeper and deeper. Alot of the DJs you hook up are unknown. How do you look for them? Do they send you demos?
If you listen to them in order you can hear the progression of scratch patterns and styles. There is a space of 2 years in between each volume and a lot changes in that time period as far as how and what dj's are scratching with. Obviously in the beginning, with the first two volumes I had to search out and find DJ's. There wasn't really the internet or email at the time so it took more legwork to find DJ's. On volumes 3 - 5 most of the DJ's found me through the website and from the first two albums. DJ's knew where they could send their music.
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 on Bomb. 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?
I think creatively the scene is doing good. 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 or DJ Shadow it's difficult to sell units. There was also a backlash against turntablism by the press in the late 90's. I think the scene needs to re-invent itself. I think we need to take it to the next level. Two things that I think would help is getting DJ's like Z-Trip and Mixmaster Mike to open up shows for groups like Metallica, Scorpions, Marlyn Mansion etc. I think those crowds would eat it up. Also collaborations of top DJ's with top producers. How about D-Styles with Dr. Dre and DJ Quest with Premier and so forth.
Magazine critics have been knocking turntablism/scratching music lately. What's your take on that?
When Volume III was released in '99 a few critics dissed it. They were the same people that were all over turntablism's nuts a couple of years earlier and then they were writing it off as boring. They even had the nerve to say it wasn't very musical. If you listen to all five volumes in the series Volume III is very musical and probably the most musical out of the five. In fact there are some incredible things being done on that album but I think critics didn't take the time to analyze and recognize what the DJs were actually doing. To them it was a trend and the fad was over for them.
of DJs left the "battle" scene and started to go underground 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.
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's "just" a DJ label? Does that annoy you?
Yes, that is definitely what Bomb is known for. But if you look at all of the Bomb 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.
When did the Bomb record label start and what changes have occurred?
The label didn't officially start 'til '97 when I put out the second Return of the DJ. Before then there was the Bomb Hip Hop Compilation in '94 which was various demos that people had sent in to the magazine and then the first Return of the DJ which was in '95, so it wasn't really 'til '97 that I was like "it's a real record label." I think the biggest thing I learned was in '99, I thought I was gonna take it to next level so I put out eleven albums in one year and spent money on posters, co-ops and music videos. I went for mine and took a shot. From that I learned there was no next level, there's independent and there's major, there's really no in-between. Not to mention releasing 11 albums wasn't very smart because that made my release compete against each other. Most fans of Bomb Hip-Hop are probably not gonna buy all 11 albums in a year so they will only pick a few to get.
The indie hip-hop world wasn't anywhere near as burgeoning (or crowded) back then as it is now. Did that make things easier or harder (harder for distribution? Easier because of less competition?
Actually you hit it right on the nose! There was less distribution but also less competition. Nowadays everyone has their own label so there is such a flood of indie music out there. Stores don't have the budgets to bring in a lot of units of a particular indie release and fans can't afford every single album out there.
What's your aim now?
A friend dropped by my place and he was like 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. He said 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 when it comes to the music business.
What difficulties have you encountered?
Money is always a problem and nowadays most artists don't want to do anything unless they get an advance. I can understand that because everyone has bills to pay but the problem is when you're an indie label you're sinking all your money into getting releases made and promoting them. How are you just gonna have money sitting around to advance an artist on an album that may not break even? You don't unless you have investors or your parents are rich. Sometimes it's timing, you can have a really good release but if it's not the right type of hip-hop for that exact time of what fans are into, that could be a problem. If you don't get press, radio, internet and word of mouth to all click at the same time... that's a problem, and that's really the hardest thing to do.
Have you executed your business the way you've wanted to?
No, because I wish I had the money to hire two or three people and to be able to promote and market releases the way they really should be. As far as releases there are many that I've wanted to do but just couldn't because of not having the money to get the artist. But by being creative I have done a lot that I wanted to do.
While you're based in the Bay Area, you're working with a very large range of artists, geographically speaking. How conscious are you of where a particular artist (producer, MC, DJ, etc.) is coming from and does it make a difference to you?
To me it really doesn't matter where an artist is from. I tend to think that I (Bomb) is continuing the tradition that Funken-Klein started (R.I.P.). He was one of the first people in the music industry to realize that hip-hop is global, and he acted on that and gave overseas artists a chance. If I like the music and get a good vibe from the person then that's all that really matters. Nothings worse than an artist that is stupid and/or a hassle to work with.
How do you think the alternative hip-hop scene connects to old-school hip-hop? Is it a bit nostalgic, or pushing things to a new level?
This is a very difficult question to answer because it all depends on each persons point of view when they listen to music - as far as their hip-hop experieces and how they feel and are moved by the particular track or hip-hop culture in general. I would like to think that the alternative hip-hop scene is connected to the 'old school' and in some cases I think it is. DJing & B-Boyin' have been slowly making a steady comeback and people new to the hip-hop scene are starting to recognize these elements as part of the hip-hop culture. Places like the UK, Germany, France, Japan and Australia all have very good scenes that support not only rap music but the other elements of hip-hop as well - Graffiti, DJing and B-Boyin'. Of course things have been pushed to a new level. Scratching patterns and b-boy moves have improved by an incredible amount, in ways that we would of never thought of or imagined in the eighties!
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, while still putting out stuff that will sell?
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. I guess my first requirement in putting music out is it's gotta be something I personally like, then the second requirement is - "is there an audience for this and would people buy it?" There is plently of music I like but there's no use for me to put it out and lose money. Been there, done that. Unless you have your own label you don't really understand everything that comes into play. I always meet people and when I tell them what I do they think it's cool and must be fun. I love music and it beats sitting at a boring 9-5 job but it's not that easy either. If you have a 9-5 you know you're getting paid so much every two weeks. 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.
What do people get with a Bomb Hip-Hop release that they won't find on your average major label rap release?
Well, as far as the turntablists/scratching releases that's something you RARELY get on a release from a major. The same with the beatboxing and b-boy albums that I have released. In regards to the rap releases you get some "real" subject matter instead of someone talking about champagne, cars and b*tches. In essense you get a traditional "hip-hop" release, not music created and marketed to "sell the most possible units for the maximum profit".
You obviously have strong feelings about the major labels, and about the mainstream music industry in general. How important is it for a small label, or for you in particular, to reveal the kind of corruption that goes on in the biz, and how do you balance that with the importance of just finding and putting out good music?
The problem with most major record labels is it's run by attorneys, accountants and people that come from corporate america. They don't like hip-hop or even care about good music, they just care about how to increase profits. And if that means your artists having beef with other artists, hey, whatever it takes to sell the records. As far as revealing the corruption I try to school people on it but let's face it, most people don't care. If it doesn't affect them directly it's no big deal to them. Problem is the quality of music that is released by these major companies sucks. But when it's pushed in everyone's face it's all they know, so they believe their choice at the record store is between Wack Rapper #1 or Wack Rapper #2.
What are the current releases from the label at the moment?
The Iller Sessions allbum that we did in conjunction with Iller Clothing. Features tracks from Jurassic 5, Ra Scion, Supernatural, Black Sheep and more. Bomb Hip Hop Compilation - Volume 2, the follow up to our first 1994 album with all Bay Area cats. A 7 inch record by DJ Agent 86 from Australia and Return of the DJ - Volume VI.
Tell me what keeps you going, and why you chose to keep putting out records, rather than walk away. It must be even harder for you day-to-day since BOMB is a smaller operation than people probably think, and quite the opposite of a corporate record label (with lots of employees to back you up).
To tell you the truth this is what I do - music is my life. I've been involved in the music business since 1985 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. It's not like I stopped putting out records and then decided to return. I never left, just took a break from new releases and worked what I had and prepared the new releases that are out now. For the most part Bomb is a one-man record label. 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.
What are you working on for 2009?
Releasing physical product (CD's, records) is something I'm slowing down on at the moment. In 2010 I'm concentrating on artist management, digital releases, events (dj nights and live shows), consulting, booking and merchandise.
"David Paul and Bomb Hip-Hop have helped define one of the most exciting forms of music in the '90s: turntablism" - Pulse Magazine
"David Paul has been a trendsetter for years, his projects have defined genres and jump-started now legendary careers" - SF Weekly
"Starting in 1991 as a 'zine and later evolving into a full-fledged record label, Bomb put San Francisco on the underground hip-hop map. The label was also one of the first to champion deejaying as an art form with it's groundbreaking Return of the DJ compilations." Stance Magazine
"Bomb dedicated itself to what's now called true school aesthetics, establishing a blueprint since emulated by numerous others - including Def Jux, ABB, Warp, Quannum, Revenge and Battle Axe... one even has to wonder if Shadow's Entroducing would have been widely lauded without Bomb's precedent-setting Return of the DJ comp." - XLR8R Magazine