In addition to being LL Cool J’s DJ on the Kings of the Mic Tour, DJ Z-Trip is one of Hip-Hop’s most respected on the wheels of steel. He is a pioneer of mash-ups and one of the first to introduce them to the masses (shout out to DJ P as well). Z-Trip has also received rave reviews for his sets at festivals and his recent 14-month run of sold out shows on Friday nights in Las Vegas at the Rain Nightclub inside The Palms Casino Resort.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Z-Trip was voted “America’s Best DJ” in 2009 in DJ Times by beating out over 100 others in its annual readers poll. Additionally, the Phoenix, AZ, native has made several contributions to the DJ Hero video game series and produced original material for, among others, Busta Rhymes and Beck. Plus, he has remixed material from Nirvana and Bob Marley, both of which received approval from those acts’ respective estates.
Before taking the stage with the G.O.A.T. in Michigan late last month, DJ Z-Trip spoke to AllHipHop.com and shed some light on how and why he is able to do what he does.
AllHipHop.com: Tell us about your working relationship with LL Cool J prior to the Kings of the Mic Tour.
DJ Z-Trip: When LL and I hooked up, we were taking meetings with this person who had a TV show idea and he wanted me and LL to be a part of that. My manager had suggested that he come out and do a guest spot on the SXSW show that I was headlining. And he [LL] went for it, and we were only supposed to do one song, “Mama Said Knock You Out.” And I was like I can’t just go up there and do that one song. My fans would be pissed. His fans would be pissed. I was like, “We have to do ‘Rock the Bells.’” But I’m a purist in the in the sense of, as a DJ working with an emcee, I always had a hard time with emcees rapping over their own vocals.
I knew one didn’t exist on record [an instrumental of “Rock the Bells”]. And every time I saw [LL] doing it, he was rocking over his own vocals. So I was like, “ Oh S**t, he doesn’t really even have a copy of the ‘Rock the Bells’ instrumental for himself.” I then remade the instrumental. I have the drum machine and all the samples they use. I didn’t tell him and we went to rehearse. And the minute he goes to his first line, he didn’t hear himself and looked back at me.
He’s like, “Where’d you get this?” I was like, “I made it.” He came up to me afterwards and was like, “I like you work ethic.” So we did the SXSW show and he was excited and was like, “We gotta do more shows.” So his juices started getting flowing again into music and he was like literally, “Yo, we should do a tour of this.” So it’s kind of cool, I felt like the SXSW and Rock the Bells [festivals] was sort of the tipping point to getting LL fired up again.
DJ Z-Trip: It’s my knowledge of all these guys and their material. I’m a fan of all these guys. But then I tour and I do my own thing and have been doing my own thing for years doing Bonaroo, Coachella, whatever, all the different festivals. And making my own records, so I have a fan base of my own and I have my own thing that I’m bringing to this.
AllHipHop.com: And much respect to you for [your 2005 solo album] Shifting Gears by the way.
DJ Z-Trip: Thank you. Thank you for knowing that. My angle is like I’m a son of all this stuff, of all this Hip-Hop. And I’m really totally the caboose on this whole thing. I’m the youngest and the one that people might not identify with. But from the DJ’s perspective, I’m bringing that to the table in such a major way. And so is Maseo, DJ Lord, Crazy Toones, Chuck Chillout- those are the other DJs on the bill. But I came from a place where I’m out there touring as a DJ, so to bring that world and connect it to LL’s world, that was something I was very conscious about and really wanted to make happen. When he and I actually met and we started talking about doing this, I made it very clear like I don’t want to DJ for you, I want to DJ with you. And there’s a very big difference.
AllHipHop.com: One of my favorite things in your Crate Diggers episode is when you talk about getting records from sections of the record store that other DJs don’t go. Could you please elaborate on how some of your unusual finds have enhanced your shows?
DJ Z-Trip: It has allowed me to have a different musical diet. I can mess around with kids records or world music or spoken word s**t or rock. Rock has always been my thing because I grew up listening to it, but it’s just still so untapped in Hip-Hop. When people think of rock records, there’s like six or seven rock records in Hip-Hop that they think of and that’s it. And there’s so many.
And also, you have to take chances. In early Hip-Hop, starting with the greats like Grandmaster Flash or Jazzy Jay or Kool Herc or [Afrika] Bambaataa, these guys were taking records that were completely obscure and weird records and fusing them into the map of what they were doing and breaking artists like Kraftwerk. That’s total electronic music, but Hip-Hop didn’t know that s**t. They just heard it, and were like, “This is kinda cool.” Same rules apply now. If you’re not going out and grabbing weird s**t to put into your mix, you’re just going to sound like everybody else because, to me, you’re only as big as your musical library.
Twitter: @ztrip, Instagram: @z_trip, Bandcamp: ztrip.bandcamp.com, Facebook: facebook.com/djztrip; SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/z-trip, Official Website: http://djztrip.com, YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/djztrip1