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DJ Eclipse: Time’s Up

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Over the last five years, many of us have watched music stores either condense or remove vinyl from their inventory. Besides a very niche community, who’s buying it? Moreover, who’s playing it?

DJ Eclipse is not only playing it, he’s keeping it sold in stores. By day, Eclipse manages the sacred grounds of New York’s Fat Beats location. At night, when he’s not on the road with his former Non-Phixion brothers Ill Bill and Sabac, Eclipse is holding down the tonearms – weekly on WNYU’s The Halftime Show. A former fill-in for Stretch Armstrong on the legendary Stretch & Bobbito show of the ‘90s, Eclipse’s hands have been in greatness for three Hip-Hop decades in various facets.

One of the most powerful men in underground and independent Hip-Hop, Eclipse discusses the ninth anniversary of his radio show (which Kanye West, 50 Cent and Redman have all participated in), his days at Wild Pitch Records, the status of the underground and why Diddy didn’t just invent the remix.

AllHipHop.com: A lot of your fans may be surprised to learn that you worked in commercial radio in South Carolina back in the day. Given your experience on both sides of it, how do you think radio has changed for better or worse?

DJ Eclipse: It’s changed for the worse. [My commercial radio stint] was short-lived, because people at the station weren’t understanding what I was doing, coming from a Northeast mentality. I was playing album cuts from Chubb Rock and Audio Two and they were like, “Who the hell are these guys?” I was only on for two or three months.

To me, coming up and listening to mix shows, the mix show was supposed to be an outlet to hear other music that you don’t hear during the day. Nowadays, most of the mix shows that I hear on commercial radio, it just seems to be reiterating what they’re doing during the day: same artists, same songs. Of course, you’ve got exceptions – people like Kay Slay who play whatever they can get that’s new. But a lot of the other guys, they [don’t].

AllHipHop.com: You worked for Wild Pitch Records in the early ’90s. That label seemed to succeed, even in its later days, of getting records like “Time’s Up” by O.C. significant airplay. How did that compare to five years later when your group Non-Phixion started pushing serious singles at radio?

DJ Eclipse: That was the turning point of everything. The O.C. project was ’94, and Wild Pitch was going against Bad Boy. The two biggest records at the time was O.C.’s “Time’s Up” and Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear.” Those two records, if you were listening to Hot97, were close to getting equal play for a while. Then it came down to money, and Wild Pitch did not have the bank that Bad Boy had. In the long run, the Craig Macks won. A year later, in ’95, you saw Puffy stepping up. To me, really, he’s the one who set forth changing the game from where it came from. You saw the whole style: the shiny suits, the music, sampling the most popular songs he could find, and not flippin’ ‘em. That really seemed to set the new standard of what people were supposed to do to sell records. That’s when everything from underground. Acts that were mainstream [before] then became underground if they didn’t fit within that mold of what people were supposed to sound like.

1995 was when these underground acts started forming, such as your Non-Phixions, your Juggaknots, Natural Elements, Company Flows – all these acts that felt they didn’t fit in with what was going on with commercial radio. The philosophy then, with stations like WKCR with Stretch [Armstrong] & Bobbito playing joints and stores like Fat Beats that having recently been opened, those entities basically let us know that there was room for the music we were making. We could do it ourselves and do it independently. It was a learning process, but people picked up on it.

AllHipHop.com: Recently, I discovered that vinyl singles are no longer being carried at online stores or most local record shops. What is that saying about the state of underground Hip-Hop?

DJ Eclipse: I don’t think it’s the state of ‘underground’ as much as it’s the state of technology. When underground groups first started in ’95 and ’96, people didn’t have access to the Internet to download. Even releases for independent groups, there weren’t any on CDs. It was really just straight-up vinyl. So if you were a fan, regardless if you were a DJ, you needed vinyl to hear it. Nowadays, you take the same premise, and people can just download it.

AllHipHop.com: Speaking about that era, and the decline of the appreciation, it’s a perfect segue-way, because that’s when your Halftime Radio Show started. To outsiders, how would you explain the show’s importance?

DJ Eclipse: It is one of the very few stations in New York that continues to have an outlet for people to hear the type of music and type of style that they grew up listening to. There are other college stations out there, and there are a plethora of Internet radio stations and Sirius satellite stations, but I think a lot of people forget about the mixing aspect of it. Even with the mix CD game, all these DJs nowadays just look for new, exclusive music and they don’t have any style in putting it together. I think what we continue to do with The Halftime Show is play the best of what’s independent, the best of what’s major label, combine ‘em, and present it to you in a style that’s Hip-Hop. I’m not the best DJ out there, but I do work my ass off to make sure my set is as perfect as could be with the mixing, and that it flows from beginning to end. A good DJ knows how to make records talk to each other, meaning, yeah, two records might mix together, but they might not have any business next to each other. When I play my music in a set, I want to make sure that the styles flow like a story.

AllHipHop.com: Stretch & Bob had what is considered “the Greatest Hip-Hop Radio Show, ever.” You had a hand in that too. But for people who may remember that, how is what you’re doing similar and different?

DJ Eclipse: I learned a lot from those guys listening to them for a couple years before I was able to take part in that show. That was the greatest Hip-Hop show of all time. It was just that era where we all knew a little more than we did growing up listening to Red [Alert] and Marley [Marl]. It became more of family by the time Stretch & Bobbito came; we knew the artists we played. They had the best of everything for that show. I took a lot of that from that show. The Halftime Show is definitely mirrored in their image along with whatever else I bring to the table. The downside to things, is because you have satellite radio, Internet radio, I don’t think radio is as important now, overall as it was then. If you can remember those days, if Stretch played a new Rakim record, everyone was talking about that record the next day. The only way they could hear that record was if somebody taped the show, or they’d have to hope he played it again the next Thursday. Now, it’s like if I play a new record, nine times out of 10, that record’s already been posted online. That’s the difference; there’s no exclusivity now to records.

AllHipHop.com: Of the nine years, do you have a favorite memory?

DJ Eclipse: I don’t have one, but around ’99 to ’00, that era, we definitely had bigger artists up there. We just had Redman up on the show. I told Red, “The last time we had you up here was during The Blackout album, that’s too long!” It’s unfortunate, but a lot of the bigger artists that we’ve had on the show have been in the past. RZA, Method Man, Redman, Slick Rick, Q-Tip, Eminem, 50 Cent, and Kanye – all these artists have been through the show in the early part of their careers. I’m not complaining, because I still like a lot of the guests that we bring up to the show, but it is biased to more of the independent artists. There’s so many outlets for these major label artists now that they just don’t care about the college radio stations like they used to. Redman just said he’ll make it a point to make sure he comes to all college stations while he’s doing his commercial radio runs. Hopefully, he’s true to that. I think it’s important for the listeners to know that these guys haven’t forgotten about them as well.

AllHipHop.com: For people outside of the area, I know you’ve put out “best of” CDs. Are more of those coming, and can people get down on the net?

DJ Eclipse: The website for the radio station is http://www.wnyu.org, and over the last year, they’ve been able to archive the shows. So anyone that missed a show in the last year or so can go to that website and look for archives. Anything older than that, those have to wait till we put it out on CD. We’ve put out some random recent shows, but we haven’t put out any of the classics yet. That is something I’m getting ready to do though. Stretch & Bobbito are doing the same thing.

AllHipHop.com: You and Riz produced all of MC Serch’s Many Young Lives Ago album from 1994, which he just released via the Internet. As the producer, how does it feel to see some of your earliest work come to the light?

DJ Eclipse: [Laughs] I’m 50/50 on it, to be honest with you. It’s great for him; I’m real happy for him. A lot of cats don’t realize the legacy that he’s left behind. I wish we would have had time to sit and finish that album before it was actually released. A lot of those songs were just ideas and demos that we laid back in ’92, ’93, and didn’t go back them just because of what was going on with Serch and Def Jam. It’s very pure and very raw, and that’s cool. From a producer’s standpoint, I don’t want people to listen to it and be like, “Oh, this is the best [Eclipse] had at the time,” because I didn’t get a chance to finish the stuff. It was good times and bad times. It was bad times for him politically at Def Jam. It was good times for me and Riz working with him; I think my first show with him was actually flying out to L.A. for Arsenio Hall. That was huge for me. Where do you go from there?

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