It’s fair to assume that most music lovers, especially those who grew up with music from the 60s, 70s and even 80s, dreamed of becoming a DJ at one time. Even if it was a fleeting idea on a hot summer evening while swinging hips and nodding heads enhanced your overall experience, you entertained the idea of buying yourself some turntables.
Nowadays, turntablist and DJ are no longer synonymous. DJs are often scrutinized for their elementary knowledge of how they manipulate sound surrounded by a room full of people who came out to enjoy themselves, let off steam and dance their asses off.
J Rocc, one of the original turntablists, established The Beat Junkies crew back in ’92 with Melo-D and Rhettmatic and eventually grew to include more than ten members, including DJ Babu (of Dilated Peoples). J has since turned out dozens of mixtapes and solo records, many of which were released via Stones Throw Records.
These days, he’s a tough guy to nail down. With shows all over the west coast and overseas, we here at Brooklyn Radio were surprised to learn that he would be playing a local spot in Greenpoint. Luckily, Lara Gamble was able to speak with J before his set at Good Room on June 5 on where and when he fell in love with vinyl, his thoughts on Serato, and about several other projects he’s currently juggling.
What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?
“Rapper’s Delight.” That’s my earliest memory, not to date myself. I started from the beginning. I mean, as far as L.A.-wise. That was my first hip-hop experience.
Did you grow up in a musical household?
I made it musical ‘cause I’ve always been into music. So, that’s kind of how my parents would keep me quiet. Like, you know, “Buy J some records,” or something like that. “Little J wants records!” So, they would always buy me 45s when we were out.
Did you grow up in L.A.?
I lived in Orange County. I actually was born in Connecticut, and when I was still a little baby, we moved out to the West Coast. I was raised mostly in Orange County in this placed called Santa Ana.
So, you’re known for having quite a collection. When did you pick up your first record?
I was a little kid. Right back to being a little kid. I don’t know what age, but probably Diana Ross “The Boss” or something like that. Parliament. I was a super little kid, you know what I mean, like three years old.
I just interviewed George Clinton.
Oh, shit. There you go. He’s the dopest.
Yeah, if you’re dating yourself, he dated himself back to the 50s.
Yeah, he could go back further than that probably. Yeah, the doo-wop days for him. Yeah, for sure, for sure. So, yeah, I was a little kid just getting records. I can’t pinpoint the first one, but you know, disco era, R&B, 70s.
Do you feel that was a huge influence on the formation of your sound?
Just growing up, music growing up, definitely. I didn’t think of it as corny. Some kids think it’s corny what their parents listen to. I didn’t think Prince or Michael Jackson was corny, so my music was okay. I also grew up, after Santa Ana, I grew up in a place called Huntington Beach, so I was with all the white boys and the surfers. So, I got introduced to like the Soft Cells, the Depeche Modes, and The Cures.
So, I heard all that shit, and then I’m at school playing Rockwell. So, like everything got mashed up kind of then. I got introduced to that. I didn’t really like, “Oh! I gotta go buy Depeche Mode’s album!” I was still buying what I wanted, but I still heard it. I still knew KISS. I remember kids playing KISS. Like, I don’t…nah, I’m cool with this.
What inspired you to form The Beat Junkies turntablist crew back in ’92?
Just to have a DJ group. That was the thing to do.
Like, “I want one. Everyone else has one.”
I always was in a crew, so it wasn’t about being “like” anything. I mean, everyone’s in a crew. You and your friends are a crew. So, it was just like me and a bunch of dudes that I met over a period of like two years that were….Like, I’ve always hung out with DJs. I’ve always been in a DJ crew.
So, it’s like, if it wasn’t Beat Junkies, it would have been something [else]. I mean, I’ve always been in crews, so it just was those were the dudes I hung out with, and it was like, “Yo.” There’s no way we thought anything would transpire later on in time.
That it would turn into anything.
Yeah. Nah, nah. We just, as anybody, are just DJing.
So, it seems like you have a new gig every night over on the West Coast. How did we get you to come to Brooklyn tonight?
I like coming to New York. I don’t get an opportunity to come here enough. That’s all. I just like it out here.
Which factors influence your setlist on any given night?
Whatever the dude’s playing before me. I’ll still try to mix it up. This dude. This is another room we’re hearing right here. Yeah, I can cut with this.
I mean, it just depends….I don’t like the music to stop. I don’t like introductions. I don’t like, “Hey, yo! We got J Rocc! Yeah!” I don’t like that.
You don’t want a hype man?
Nah. I just want to DJ. Let me blend in to what you’re playing. You can go on the mic, “J Rocc in the mix, y’all.” But I don’t need a: “Hey, yo. Hey, y’all ready? Listen, where’s everybody at? We’re getting ready tonight? Come on, y’all! Make some—” I don’t want all that. Uh uh.
Being that you’re one of the original turntablists, what are your thoughts on the digital revolution?
It’s life. What are you gonna do? Be mad at it? You’ve gotta accept it. And, you know, it’s no big deal. It just means I have too many hard drives of music now. Other than that, it helps that I’m not carrying a thousand records anymore. It helps with that.
A bunch of DJs that I swore would hate it were all, “Oh, it just made my life so much easier.” I was surprised.
I actually love it. As soon as I got Serato, I used to make mix tapes on the regular. As soon as I got it, I was just sat at home making tapes for the ride, like of me just doing doubles of everything and like calling up, “Yo, man. I got this program, man. Man, you’ve gotta fuck with this Serato shit, man. Doubles of everything! Dude, you’ve got doubles of everything!” That was my selling point.
I remember going to a Beat Junkie club and having to stop the music and trying to hook it all up. Yeah, I’m with it. I’m cool with the digital age. I’m cool with vinyl still, too. I buy records still, so it’s not like I totally kicked it to the door.
Yeah, everyone says records definitely haven’t disappeared. There’s even a huge selection at Barnes & Noble.
Whole Foods! Whole Foods got records.
How did that feel?
It felt normal, I guess. I don’t know. It just was–he’s a friend of mine, so it doesn’t really feel like I made something with like some…I don’t know how to explain it. He’s just my man.
He said you guys were in the studio, and it just turned into something.
We were doing a mixtape and then the mixtape turned into songs and then we were just like, “Let’s just do an album. Might as well make it a real album.” I thought, “Alright. Fuck it.” I think he might have suggested it. I don’t know. One of us said something.
He told me the story about the idea with the title.
Yeah, we smoked a lot of weed.
We talked about that too.
It had like a beat. We didn’t even use the beat. We didn’t even end up using the beat or nothing. And then after, I was like, “Man, we didn’t even use the beat.” And I was like, “Man, oh well.”
Do you have any plans for summer?
I do a monthly at home, like once every first Thursday. So, I just did it last night, actually. So, every first Thursday of the month I do, it’s in Venice. I’ll probably finish that off for the rest of the year and then, you know, stop it. Just so I….
Keep it fresh?
Not even keep it fresh. I just don’t like DJing at home that much. I do like DJing at home, but I just don’t wanna be…cause I had to come here. You know what I mean?
Exactly, we need you here more. So, you played last night and then you flew here? Good thing the weather was okay.
Yeah, I looked it up last week. It was supposed to pissing out here now.
It was yesterday and earlier today.
It started drizzling right now outside.
Is there anything else that you want to add or promote?
Any social media plus?
Instagram is how I found out you would be here.
So, out here that’s 1am-4am.
It’s on KPFK 90.7. Also on kpfk.org. I do that every Sunday. So, that’s my new endeavor. That I plan on keeping. I don’t plan on stopping that. I just like to play new music, and what better way to get new music sent to you than to have a radio show.
That is the dude.
Oh No’s supposed to be coming up. He’s supposed to bring a bunch of music with him.
You’re the new hot show.
Are you a Scorpio?
Yeah. He might change his mind, like, “Ah, you know what, J Rocc? I can’t make it, J Rocc.” So, who knows. I have him, and then I have Oh No, and I have Knxwledge coming up.
So, I’m trying to make it the new hot show but not always have a guest every week. Right now, it’s starting to be, the last couple of weeks, I just had Sango on. Trying to work on some more, but that’s my new thing right now.