Exclusive: The veteran deejay and producer for J-Live and Eminem talks about The Boogie Back, making record shopping fun, and bringing a new album from his '90s New York underground Hip Hop click.
For over a decade, Brooklyn deejay and producer DJ Spinna has given Hip Hop fans historical context through his albums, compilations and mixtapes. Whether it's been the acclaimed Wonder Wrote It series with Bobbito, the Funk Rock release or West End New York City Classics, few have the ear or the knowledge than Spinna. Next week, the deejay will release The Boogie Back, the latest in his musical forays. Released through England's BBE Recordings, this compilation looks at the New York club jams that pre-dated Hip Hop's rise to prominence in the mainstream.
In a conversation with HipHopDX last month, Spinna spoke on the project's importance to him. "For me personally, this music reflects a time in the '80s musically, where we were coming out of the Disco era of the '70s. It's very reflective of New York City, with the Electronic movement with the drum machines - it's the beginning of [Hip Hop] culture. You can hear it with some of these records that I've put on the compilation. It reminded me of roller-boogie - the rollerskating era, where some of these records were played at rollerskating rinks." The thirty-something deejay added, "It's kind of nostalgic for me, because I grew up listening to a lot of street deejays, block parties, mix jocks and stuff like that. Some of the stuff on there reflects back to my childhood. Some of the stuff on there is relatively unknown as well." The Boogie Back includes cuts from Juice Crew alum TJ Swan as well as sampling favorite Mtume, among many others known and rare. As with previous work, the mix is a balance between education and personal taste. "Of the compilations I've put out with BBE, maybe half of it is stuff I grew up with. The other half will be nuggets I've got from digging and from my personal taste."
Beyond just the significance of the project to Hip Hop fans, this music represents a time of innocence, not only in the arts, but for New York in general. "Things are really in-your-face now, as far as technology. The resources [of the early '80s] were very limited: they didn't have videos, they only had radio and clubs and block parties to be able to hear [new] music. Now there's so much more to find out about stuff. Going back to technology, a lot of the people that were making these records were just learning, as far as how to get around placing a live drum with a drum machine, and how to program loop technology, keyboards, synthesizers. Some of the songs just reflect having a good time as well, which we really don't hear in music that much anymore either. It was about just going out, freeing yourself, and just enjoying life. You don't hear many songs about that these days. I guess that's where the level of innocence comes in. It's all relative." Spinna continued, "Music usually reflects what happens socially. Right now, people who consume music and make music have reached some point of - I guess, complacency."
As with many releases on the Barely Breaking Even imprint, The Boogie Back features outstanding packaging. Asked if the native New Yorker had a hand in the layout, Spinna responded, "I love the cover art. It reminds me of being a shorty in Brooklyn trying to get on the bus with my mom or something. The artwork doesn't always comply with what's happening musically [at BBE]; they're just great art pieces. But I think with this one specifically, I think they captured a moment in time that reflects the music specifically - between '79 and '82, '83. The outfits, the hairdoo, the background, the bus. They kinda nailed it." The mixmaster compared his present label the mid '70s home to legendary Jazz musicians Bob James and Idris Muhammad. "Thematically, it works. BBE definitely takes a CTI [Records] kind of approach with in-house graphic designers, photographers, liner notes - they make a big package. It's like an event. It's special for the consumer. Especially nowadays with wax being almost obsolete, it makes buying records fun [again]."
The Boogie Back is one of the several 2009 projects Spinna's put his name on. Looking back to his summer Hip Hop album, Sonic Smash, he deduced, "I've been very satisfied [with the response]. I haven't put out a 100% Hip Hop record, besides The Polyrhythm Addicts stuff - but that's a super-group [with Shabaam Sahdeeq, Mr. Complex and Tiye Phoenix]. This is more like me, 100%, painting a picture from beginning to end. Even with the beats that I submitted to the emcees, I wanted them to coincide with the whole album. A lot of people make albums, and a lot of the tracks sound the same. I don't think any track on this album sounds like the previous one. It makes listening enjoyable." One change the producer for Eminem and J-Live would change though is length. "If I had it my way, the next Hip Hop album I do will be 10 cuts, 'cause peoples' attention spans are shorter now. Illmatic [by Nas], there's only 10 cuts on there."
Among the collaborations on Sonic Smash was "New York," with Spinna's Jigmastas partner MC Kriminul. "The thing I'm really trying to tie up, and it's a long process in the making, is this Jigmastas album. I'm trying to finish that up to get that out next year. The reason why it's taking so long is Krim and I are just grown men with families and responsibilities. He has other...life, job, thing happening outside of music. It's hard for us to get together and work. But we have 75, 80% of the album done. The first album [Infectious] came out in 2000. It's almost a decade, man. I think it's gonna be even more special than Sonic Smash, 'cause we are taking so long to get it done."
The Boogie Back is in stores December 8 on BBE Recordings.
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