Legendary turntablist DJ Rob Swift hits Shanghai this weekend, bringing his 'Roc for Raida' tribute tour to the Shelter. Read on to find out more about how he started out, life as part of the world's most influential scratch crew, The X-ecutioners, and his memories of his friend and fellow crew member Roc Raida (RIP).
Can you give us a brief resume of yourself as an artist?
My name is DJ Rob Swift. I come from the borough of Queens in New York City. My father was a DJ, my brother was a DJ and I followed in both their footsteps. My career as a DJ has spanned 21 years of my life. I've toured the globe, released various albums and worked with artists like Bob James, Linkin Park, Ghost Face Killah and Blue Man Group. I've even appeared in movies like "Scratch" and ad campaigns for companies like GAP. Today I continue on my quest to share my passion of DJing with people from all walks of life.
Rob Swift live with Bob James
How did you get into DJing? Was scratching always something that inspired you?
I was introduced to DJing by my Father. My Dad, Jose Aguilar, migrated to the U.S. in the 1960s and he brought over his love for Latin rhythms. His friends, co-workers, etc., would hire him to DJ all types of events. My Brother and I would help my dad transport his equipment all over the city. We'd help him set everything up and the both of us would commence to watching my Dad control a room of people through music. So that was my first exposure to DJing. But what sparked my interest to want to try it was being around my older Brother John.
Being that we had state of the art equipment at home, my brother would invite his classmates over to our house on days we were off from school and they would use my Dad's turntables and stuff to make music. Since my Dad's record collection was predominately Latin music, my brother would ask his friends to bring over their parent's record collections. I would sit there in the living room watching my brother cut up copies of "Walk This Way" by Aerosmith while his friends rapped. At 12 years old, I decided I was tired of spectating and I wanted to be a participant so I asked my brother to teach me and here I am today doing this interview.
In your eyes, who are the all-time greats of turntablism and why?
I think some of the all-time greats of Turntablism are DJs like Grand Master Flash, GrandWizzard Theodore and Grand Mixer D.ST. There are a lot more "all-time greats" but I mention these names because they provided the foundation for what it is that DJs have done after them.
You came to the world's attention as part of The X-ecutioners - how innovative were you guys as a group? And what has been your legacy?
The X-ecutioners helped revolutionize DJing culture in the 1990s. We were the first Turntablist group to record an album dedicated to the art of DJing. We were the first Turntablist group to collaborate with rock groups like Linkin Park and Good Charlotte. The X-ecutioners helped introduce the art of Turntablism to people who didn't know it existed. We were the first Turntablist group to sign a major label record deal. We were the first in many things. The X-ecutioners were trail blazers and NO ONE WILL EVER BE ABLE TO TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ROC RAIDA (R.I.P.), TOTAL ECLIPSE, MISTA SINISTA OR ME!
X-Ecutioners Showcase Vestax 99 World Finals
What led you to the decision to go solo?
As much as we accomplished as a group, there came a point where I felt stifled creatively. As a group, if felt as if the pressure to live up to the expectations of others (label reps, managers, etc...) started to affect the group dynamics and how we worked together. To be honest, being an X-ecutioner stopped being fun and for me, I can't be creative if I'm not having fun. So in September of 2004 I left the X-ecutioners with the intentions of growing as an artist and putting the fun back into my music. The decision, as hard as it was to make, paid off because I went on to record albums like War Games, The Architect and collaborate with artists like Blue Man Group and Mike Patton.
In 2008, Boogie Blind, DJ Precision (2 of the DJs that replaced me after I left) along with Roc Raida and Total Eclipse reunited on an Australian Tour. It felt great putting the band back together and since then we've all done stuff together here and there. Unfortunately, we lost an important member of the group, Roc Raida, in 2009. But I personally will do all I can to keep the legacy of the X-ecutioners in tact and the memory of Roc Raida alive. Which is why the March 20th, I'm dropping a mixtape called "Roc For Raida". It's a compilation of songs and Turntablist routines that describe Raida the DJ and the person. Proceeds from mixtape sales will go to Raida's family. I'm really proud of what I accomplished on "Roc For Raida" and I hope fans of the X-ecutioners support. You can purchase "Roc For Raida" on my website: www.djrobswift.com
Roc for Raida - Mixtape Video Trailer
Having come from a vinyl tradition, you seem to embrace technology as it emerges - what has excited you recently in this regard?
I'm really excited about the new Rane Sixty Two. It's a new mixer. If I had to describe it, it's like having an MPC built in your Rane TTM 57. It's a work of art. Rane recently sent it to me and I've been experimenting with it each day. I'm looking forward to discovering the full potential of this next mixer!
The idea that a DJ can use his turntable to communicate thoughts, is that something that's difficult for people to comprehend?
It's only difficult to comprehend for people who are closed minded. If you're open minded you won't having understanding this concept. Especially after you've listened to an album like mine!
Can you tell us about Roc Raida, the man as well as the musician?
Roc Raida the man was very simple. He was very family oriented and loved being around his friends. Raida was jokester. Laughing was his favorite thing to do. Raida the musician was very competitive. He loved battling. He always pushed himself to be the best. He's sourly missed!
What form will this special show at Shelter this coming Friday take?
Honestly, I don't know. I always leave what I'm going to do performance wise open. I don't like making up my mind about what I'm going to do on the turntables because my audience plays a pivotal roll in whether I decide to cut up Funk, perform certain showcase routines etc... I'll tell you this, whatever I do will be done to the best of my abilities!