The Turntablist

Z-Trip's battle for hometown respect manifests itself with Electric Highway DJ conflict

As a hip-hop DJ, Z-Trip was born with two strikes against him. He's white and from Arizona. The only things that saved him were his skills, which are mad like the Hatter. When Z-Trip's at battle stations, the pyrotechnical sorcery, most famously his scratching, reaches Jedi mind-trick levels.

Less celebrated but equally crucial to Z-Trip's essence are his unorthodox tastes. His track "Rock Star," a dark-horse hit on last year's Bomb Records compilation Return of the DJs Vol. II, mixed old-school, Run-D.M.C.-era breakbeats with Eddie Van Halen's searing electric-guitar solo on "Eruption," AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock" and classic lyric samples from Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" and "War Pigs." One Rolling Stone critic wrote that the track "hands rock its head on a vinyl platter," but really it's a peacemaker. In Z-Trip's universe, dirt heads can body rock and b-boys can bang their heads. It's all good.

The same ethos drives the Bombshelter DJs, a collective founded by Z-Trip and his close friend Emile Ananian (Coda, June 19). As Bombshelter, Emile, Z-Trip and Z-Trip's protege Radar perform radically freestyle 3x6 sets (three DJs spinning simultaneously on six turntables). They rove from 80 to 180 beats per minute, and change styles like a kung-fu flick--hip-hop, trance, jungle, breaks, metal, New Wave, disco, funk. Sometimes, the Bombshelter DJs paint a bizarre, beautiful mosaic of music without barriers. Sometimes, like their recent spot on the Compton Terrace stop of the Electric Highway Tour, they're s six-car pileup.

The consensus in the Valley's underground dance culture is the Bombshelter DJs, and particularly Z-Trip, spun a wack set that night. Many believe it was on purpose. Shortly before the crew went on, Z-Trip got into a heated, onstage conflict with Icee, an out-of-town headliner, during Icee's prime-time set. At one point, Z-Trip actually stopped Icee's record with his finger, screeching the music to a halt. Then, after Icee completed his set, Z-Trip got on the mike and challenged him to a turntable battle, then and there, which, considering Icee is strictly a rave DJ, was sort of like a gunslinger challenging a skeet shooter to prove who's faster on the draw.

Instantly infamous, Z-Trip's hothead move was probably in part because of a long-simmering frustration with the respect--or relative lack thereof--he's afforded in his hometown.

Here's the truth: Z-Trip is big-league. He's internationally known. He signs autographs in other cities. He has tracks on several major compilations, with another--Audio Alchemy II: Directions in Sound Manipulation (Ubiquity)--due on the streets September 22. Last year, URB magazine honored him as one of the world's Top 100 DJs to watch.

Maybe it's because URB knew him when he was nothing, or maybe it's because he whored himself out for years as resident DJ at Jetz and Stixx, a gig he finally quit three weeks ago. But for whatever reason, Z-Trip says, he gets no more love than a local when it comes to props and table time.

"I will always represent as a DJ from Arizona, but I am not just an Arizona DJ," Z-Trip said in a recent interview. Z-Trip spun records almost constantly during a 90-minute interview at his Tempe studio last Thursday. He'd just returned from San Francisco, and was scheduled to fly back the next day to host an international DJ competition. From there, he was to leave directly for a three-week tour of Europe--club gigs in London, Rome, Oslo, Zurich and then Frankfurt to spin the "Battle of the Year," a b-boy conference and breakdancing competition.

Six years ago, Public Enemy condemned Arizona in the court of hip-hop with "By the Time I Get to Arizona" on the Apocalypse 91 . . . The Enemy Strikes Black album. Now, if you set aside the made-for-radio drivel of Nastyboy Klick, Z-Trip is AZ's best hope for redemption.

New Times: Let's get the bio out of the way. How'd you start spinning records?

Z-Trip: Well, my parents were divorced, so I grew up alternating between New York and Phoenix. I was a graffiti artist before I was a DJ, and I used to do graffiti listening to the mix shows out of NYC, and I'd be like, "Where can I get that extended version?" and the answer was, "Only on vinyl." So I started collecting records, and a backpack became a crate, and a crate became me getting turntables. I'm self-taught. Nobody taught me how to mix, what equipment to buy, how to weigh my needles, that sort of thing. It was all me looking at Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money album covers with a magnifying glass, trying to see what kind of needles they were using. And of course, like every other DJ, I fucked up my mom's turntables a couple times learning to scratch.

NT: What was it like trying to break as a white kid from Arizona?
Z: It was a stigmatism. I had no clout. I had to battle the whole way. All the time, knuckleheads would come up to me at parties, and they'd look at me and be like, "Look at this white-boy DJ. What does he know?" And I'd just be playing a couple records or whatever, and one of them would step to me and be like, "Yo, let my man scratch." And I'd go, "Well, okay," and he'd get on and scratch a little something, and his boys would be like, "Oooooo! Yeah, he served that white kid," and I'd be like, "Well, hold on a second," and then I'd get back on the tables and just fucking get sick, and this guy who had supposedly just served me, his boys would be like, "Daaamn."

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