DJ Z-Trip: Party Up

DJ Z-Trip may be today's closest correlation Grandmaster Flash, because hardly anybody under 40 rocks a party bigger, better, and more original than Z-Trip. Still, many misconstrue the Los Angeles via Arizona DJ as a “Mash-Up” DJ. How many DJ’s play D-Nice, Dead Prez, and 3rd Bass alongside Depeche Mode, Traci Chapman, and Malcolm McLaren? The suckers bow their heads. But his debut album, Shifting Gears is no Pop record. This gives Z-Trip proper chance to flex production skills, as well as defy all expectations. chipped Z-Trip’s thoughts on his musical image, experimentation in Hip-Hop, and even a weekend DJ’s guide to party-rocking. After this album takes its toll, you’ll all know the new face of Hip-Hop brilliance behind the decks. Your core following caught on with you by way of the “Uneasy Listening” mix. Did you feel any responsibility, or maybe an expectation to make Shifting Gearsa Rock-Rap record?

Z-Trip: I never really gave a f**k what the mainstream was about. That’s my rock that I stand on. Anytime somebody thinks they have me pigeon-holed, or they think they know me, that’s when I try my hardest to do something with equal flavor, but in a different angle. A lot of people had me pigeon-holed as “the King of Mash-Up’s” or whatever. Sure, put whatever label you wanna put on me – but for the people who have followed me since I first started, they knew me as a Hip-Hop DJ first. You’ve got this track “Revolution,” which is one of the most chilling records I’ve heard in a while. I tried to explain it to a friend as, “Led Zeppelin meets DJ Screw.” Tell me what you wanted that production to say.

Z-Trip: Right, right. It’s kinda interesting. I’ve been doing it for so long that a lot people met up with me at different [career] stages. It’s loosely documented, my history. A lot of people don’t know what things I’ve done or where I was before they got to me. The point I’m trying to make is, a lot of that music, people might not be familiar with, were things I was messing with many years in the past. So messing with Trip-Hop, which is a weird term, I’ve always messed with that stuff. But it was never stuff I could play [at a party], because my sets were always so energetic and geared to the dance-floor. All this downtempo Dancehall and Dub that I would buy, I don’t get a chance in my sets. That track in particular was a good time to let people know another side. I’ve got this tape of you from The Flava Shop in San Diego from like ’94, spinning Jeru, Group Home, CL Smooth, all that.

Z-Trip: Oh my God, damn. I felt like I had to go back into my past and let people know where I come from in order to proceed. Having people like Whipper Whip and Grandmaster Caz on the record, that to me is as cool as it is to have Chester from Linkin Park on the album. There is a way to do that, and a way not to do I think. Hopefully, people can learn something. You open with this block party sound, progress through some interesting lyrical movements, and end experimentally. Is this sequence paralleling Hip-Hop history?

Z-Trip: The whole thing was intentional. The album relates to what’s in my crate, or arguably my head. It’s origin is based on going to the party to leave your troubles behind. Through the album, it becomes trials and tribulations musically. You said you gained a lot of fans on “Uneasy Listening.” What’s going on with Dee Jay Pee right now?

Z-Trip: Now, he’s getting known for playing [parties] more, which is coming into his own. He was a guy who I met up with who shared some of the same ideas I had, musically. We got down on a project, just to do it. We didn’t plan for it to blow up. It took us both by storm. I don’t think he was as prepared, or as far along in his journey as I was. I think he’s just starting to get his feet firmly placed in the ground. When we met, he was working a regular job – whereas I had forgone the regular job for a DJ gig. Now, he’s DJ’ing gig. He’s putting out mixtapes. The thing that’s a bummer is, he’s a big discouraged by things – he’s a bit burnt out. If you love it, keep doing it, ‘cause it will happen. What was your biggest break? Was it a magazine review on a mixtape, was it Scratch?

Z-Trip: I guess the biggest turning point for me was not even anything where I had help from anybody outside. It was more when I realized that I could make my own mixtapes and hustle them my own way, and not really make money – but use them as an audio business card, and get more gigs. It’s not the mansion and yacht living, but it’s an earnest living. I asked Mark Ronson this in a feature not too long ago, he liked it. What is the one track that you could never play at a party, that you adore?

Z-Trip: Well, the thing about me is, I strive to find a way to play that song at my party. It’s not an obstacle. There’s not much I’ve done that’s cleared the floor lately. Because I’ve been so ballsy, I think that my crowd would withstand if I said, “Hey guys, I just wanna take five minutes and listen to a song I wanna hear,” they’d probably stick around and be cool with it. [laughing] Which is a really hard thing to do, because at that point, you’re up there completely naked. It’s a good feeling to be like that too. Can you recall a specific time with this?

Z-Trip: F**k man. [laughing] I could sit here and list off 30, 40 of them. I can’t think of one in particular. I do know that in my journey to get to this point, there was a lot of risk taking involved. Certain days you won, certain days – you didn’t. Well, Bambaataa took risks with his record selection. So, it’s safe to say – that’s Hip-Hop.

Z-Trip: That’s it. That’s true. DJ’s don’t do that a lot these days, in my opinion. Even with a lot of people doing Rock blends and mixing Rock records and s**t. Eight years ago, if you were doing that, people would have recognized you. Now, to play “Back in Black” at a party is commonplace. It’s not a big deal. There’s no risk in it. The risky thing is to play the album cut that nobody knows, and still have a dancefloor. If there isn’t risk involved, there really is no gain – and people recognize that, I think. I’m living proof. Of all the crazy s**t I’ve done, I’ve got people who hate it, but more people who are down. On top of that, I got a lot of props from the Grandmaster Caz’s and the Jazzy Jay’s and the DJ’s who were doing it before me. I take it so seriously. Real quick, what was the track that Ronson told you? “Love Ridden” by Fiona Apple.

Z-Trip: Ehhhhh. You could do that. [laughing]