Keith Shocklee has been influencing Hip Hop music and Rap culture for almost 40 years now. A big part of the Mobile Beat family, Keith will be hosting the Monday night DJ Take over at MBLV21. I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Keith in Manhattan last fall discussing the future of music and our industry.
A decade before Public Enemy exploded on the scene, Keith and his older brother Hank were playing house parties and in the park refining their DJ skills. I asked Keith to tell me about the early days of Hip Hop, the artists that influenced him and what he thinks the DJ industry will be like in the future.
Mike C: I think every DJ is familiar with Public Enemy and your role in making them a world phenomena, but how did it all really start for you?
Keith: When I was a teenager in the 1970’s I would go with my brother Hank to clubs to listen to the hottest DJ’s spin.
Mike C: How did you get in?
Keith: (laughing) Don’t tell anybody , but on 42nd street was a place that made I.D.’s for anyone. I didn’t go to clubs to drink, I just wanted to hear the latest beats.
Mike C : The late 1970’s was the height of Disco. When did it transition to the Hip Hop Beat?
Keith: Hip Hop began as a blend of Soul, Funk and Disco. When the album Trans-Europe by Kraftwerk dropped, that was a game changer for club and House DJ’s. We would travel all over New York City to listen to guys creating Def beats and get their mixtapes.
Mike C: That inspired you to start spinning?
Keith: Hank and I would listen to those tapes over and over. We would practice for hours and throw house parties to pay for new gear. I remember walking around the city in the freezing cold hanging up flyers to get people to our parties. After Hank formed the Bomb Squad, things took off from there.
Mike C: The early 1980’s were an exciting time for Hip Hop. After the release of Rapper’s Delight the scene just started to explode and New York City was the cradle of it all. How was it being surrounded by all that talent in the beginning?
Keith: Amazing, we all knew each other. Grand Master Flash, Marley Marl, LL Cool J, Russell Simmons, RUN DMC, Kurtis Blow…it was crazy. Everybody was throwing house parties and playing in the park and suddenly we all had record deals.
Mike C: How would you define the role of a Disc Jockey?
Keith: In a group the DJ is like the drummer. His job is to keep the back beat. At a party, the DJ is the band. He has to be able to run the show, know the grooves and have an emotional connection to the music.
Mike C: Where do you think DJ’s fail? What are some of obstacles we face?
Keith: I think having too many choices. I always hear DJ’s talking about how many songs they have. Who cares? We would do whole shows with just 3 or 4 crates of music. No computers.
Mike C: So you’re not a fan of technology?
Keith: I love technology. Guys get to wrapped up in it though. You should use technology to give your clients a better show. A better experience.
Mike C: So what should DJ’s be doing to make that happen?
Keith: Be themselves. Explore music, all styles. Don’t play the same stuff at every party. Think about the whole party, the direction you want to take people with the music. Be cutting edge.
Mike C: Who do you think is cutting edge right now?
Keith: I like the sounds from Diplo’s crew and Major Lazer. What they’re doing is different.
Mike C: There is a great scene in the latest STAR TREK movie where “Fight the Power” is playing and the crew refers to it as classical music. What do you think music of the future will be like?
Keith: (laughing) It’s either going to be like that scene in Pooty Tang where all the instruments get taken out of the mix or more like World music. No more genres, but a real blending of everything. A totally new sound.
Mike C: What about DJ’s? Where do we fit in?
Keith: The problem for DJ’s is going to be corporations.
Mike C: What do you mean?
Keith: Back in the 80’s and 90’s every group had a DJ. Now the DJ has been replaced by autotune and computers. The formula for a hit record has been the same since the hair bands of the 80’s. Today, instead of a guitar solo, you have dubstep breaks and Rap solos.
Mike C: We will still be needed for private events, right?
Keith: Hopefully. I’ll give you an example. In the city, corporations are buying all the bars and putting in their own guys to spin. They are controlling what type of music is played. No more Freestyle. At most bars in New York there is no dancing unless you have a Cabaret license. Now think what would happen if corporations started buying banquet halls.
Mike C: Wow, good point. So how do we prevent that?
Keith: There has to be more outlets for underground music. Like, YouTube and Sound Cloud.
Mike C: I heard you are hosting the DJ Take Over at Mobile Beat.
Keith: Yeah, it’s gonna be off the hook.
Mike C: Any advice for DJ’s who want to spin that night?
Keith: I’m gonna be watching, so bring your “A” game for the one’s and two’s.
I met with Keith at the Dream Hotel in lower Manhattan. He suggested meeting there to demonstrate his point about corporations, DJ’s and music. The lounge at the Dream is really amazing. You sit under the glass bottom of a huge swimming pool overhead and there is a big bar at one end of the room. I asked Keith where the DJ sets up. He pointed to a shiny cart against the wall. I thought it was just a portable bar. He took me over and showed me the full DJ set up inside. I asked where the speakers went. He said no speakers allowed. The booth ties into the house overhead system. No dancing just a cool groove. Crazy!
Want to hear more? Contact me anytime at : Mikecmobilebeat@gmail.com
See You at the DJ Take Over!
Filed Under: Business, Events, Music, Performing
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