(This one on Rob Swift of the X-ecutioners comes to us from Kyle Eustice, a music journalist from Omaha, Nebraska whose work appears in IQ Magazine, Thrasher Skateboarding Magazine, and Kansas City Pitch. She also contributed an article on the new Killer Mike / EL-P collab, R.A.P. Music, for the upcoming Wax Poetics’s Hip-Hop Issue. On the birthday of Roc Raida (RIP), here’s a quick q&a with DJ extraordinaire, Rob Swift. Thanks Kyle! – DM)
“Raida’s Theme (snippet)” by X-ecutioners, 12″ [Asphodel, 1997]
By Kyle Eustice
In the realm of DJ crews, it doesn’t get better (or bigger) than the legendary X-ecutioners from New York City. Originally comprised of 11 turntablists, the X-ecutioners were whittled down to four integral members including the late Roc Raida, Rob Swift, Total Eclipse and Mista Sinista. Their beat juggling was unprecedented and style, supreme. After leaving the X-ecutioners in 2005 to pursue more personal endeavors, Swift remained close to his former crewmates, especially Roc Raida. Following a freak Mixed Martial Arts accident, sadly, Raida passed away on September 19th 2009. Since then, Swift has made it his mission to honor his fallen crewmember’s memory. Here, on Roc Raida’s birthday, Swift takes a minute to talk about Raida, the art of turntablism and his Scion radio show, “Dope On Plastic.”
What have you been working on since your 2010 groundbreaking album, The Architect?
I’ve dropped a follow-up EP called Sketches Of The Architect. I’ve also been collaborating with Large Professor on material for his new album, which drops this June and of course, my Roc For Raida project is my latest work.
That was a very brave project to blend classical music with turntablism. How do you think it was received? Would you have done anything differently?
Thank you for the compliment. The Architect was received very well. I’ve always made a conscious effort to expand the boundaries of my creativity and challenge my audience at the same time. The Architect is an example of that! I honestly wouldn’t have done anything differently on The Architect. If anything, what I felt I failed to do on The Architect I made up for on the follow up, Sketches Of The Architect.
What’s the hardest part of being a professional turntablist?
Man, I guess for me it’s the traveling. I’ve always been a homebody. Leaving my loved ones for more than a week always gets to me. But so much of my success relies on my ability to got out there and work, travel, reach my audience so I accept the traveling as a part of the territory. At the end of the day, it’s all worth it when I step on stage and perform for my fans.
How has Roc Raida’s untimely passing affected you on a personal level?
Raida’s death has affected me every possible way you can imagine. Death sucks, man. But you can’t have life without death. Both are symbiotic. So I’ve learned to accept that Raida is no longer here physically. In addition, experiencing his lost has made me appreciate being alive. I try my best not to take things for granted. I’ve never worked harder than I have since his passing because I appreciate being alive doing what I do for a living!
I noticed you’re always paying some sort of tribute to him. I think that’s incredible of you. He must have been like a brother. What would you like people to remember most about him?
Raida was my brother! We may have not been connected through bloodlines, but the bond we formed through music was just as tight as any sibling relationship. What I would like people to remember the most about him was the fact that he always made something out of nothing. Although he grew up underprivileged, he didn’t let that stop him from becoming the worlds greatest DJ. Raida didn’t have turntables when he first started DJing. Think about that.
How is your Scion radio show going?
My Scion radio show ‘Dope On Plastic’ is going great! I’ve been having lots of fun introducing people to the type of music that has influence my overall style of DJing. I’m fortunate to be a part of the Scion family. ScionAV have made it possible for me to reach my fans through via online radio, a medium I’ve never used before. For those that never heard the show I urge you to log on to it for some serious eargasms. You can also listen to the show directly from my website.
You were teaching turntablism at The New School in New York City. How has that been for you?
These are college students from The New School here in NYC. They’re adults who are interested in learning about DJing, an art form that is more popular today than it ever was. Teaching them has been a gratifying experience. Seeing them go from inexperienced to confident manipulators of a Technic 1200 has been an awesome journey. Throughout the course of the semester I’ve been uploading videos on my YouTube page of my students as they learn and improve on the various techniques I’ve shown them. Check it out at the website!
Turntablism has taken you all over the world. Where do you think turntablism can take you now?
Sky’s the limit! I have some things in the works. Nothing I feel comfortable speaking about in public yet, but let’s just say I’m excited about finding new, different mediums to expose the world to this art form.
Aside from hip-hop, what other forms of music do you like?
I listen to everything. From Classic Rock to Jazz, Soul to Electronic. I don’t discriminate when it comes to music. I like to expose myself to anything that will help me grow as a DJ.
As a turntablist who’s career was built upon the physical album, how does its potential extinction affect you and your music?
Adaptation is key to survival. Things change. Nothing stays the same forever. Especially in this day and age of technological advances. The only affect I see the potential extinction of vinyl having on me and my music is having to readjust how I make my music. That may mean incorporating new forms of equipment. The way I do my art may change to a degree but so long as I can find records to buy, I’ll never completely turn my back on vinyl.
What do you say to people who don’t consider the turntable an instrument or turntablism an art form?
What can you say? I mean, how can I force someone to be as passionate about something as I am. While I try different things to grow my audience, I do what I can to focus on my base. I rather perform in front of 300 people that truly appreciate me than 3000 people that don’t care.
What are you currently promoting?
I’m currently promoting Roc For Raida, a mixtape I released in March. Roc For Raida is a compilation of music, battle style routines and archived audio interviews with Roc Raida, Steve Dee and myself. The project gives the listener perspective on just how important Roc Raida was to his us, his friends and to hip-hop as a whole. I miss him dearly and I just wanted to do my part to help keep his memory alive. Proceeds from Roc For Raida are being donated to his wife Tyeasha and 3 kids named Tia, Nyra and Asia. The support from folks has been humbling. For those who haven’t bought the CD yet, they can get it HERE.