Valley DJ Z-Trip is effectively at the top of the hip-hop game. He tours incessantly -- recently headlining the International B-Boy Battle of the Year in Hanover, Germany -- rocks raves in the Far East, and performs in different cities across the United States every weekend. Spinnamed Z-Trip's Bombshelter crew (which includes Radar and Emile) the ninth best turntablists in the world. URB Magazine, the bible of electronic music, praised him and Bombshelter in a lengthy profile this past fall.
Z-Trip is a prolific recording artist as well. He regularly puts out original compositions (including "Further Explorations Down the Black Hole," part of the Future Primitive Sound Sessions series) and remixes tracks by other artists (like Rush's "Tom Sawyer" from the Small Soldiers soundtrack, and a 12-inch remix of Divine Styler's "Microphenia"). He's also just completed a full-length CD with DJ P titled Uneasy Listening, where he reshapes familiar lite pop songs like "In the Air Tonight," "Like a Prayer" and "Rhinestone Cowboy," among others.
Z-Trip has a worldwide reputation for his diverse and bombastic mixes, unafraid to throw down any type of music -- from hip-hop, reggae and disco to rock or country. He's shared stages with Kid Rock, the Wu-Tang Clan, the Foo Fighters, At the Drive-In and countless others. In short, there's no better case study (locally, at least) to gauge the current state of DJing than Z-Trip.
In an effort to get a firsthand view of the working life of one of the top hip-hop record spinners, the Sprawl accompanied Z-Trip on a weekend jaunt, first to Portland, Oregon, to headline at a dance hall/hip-hop club, then to Cypress Hill's Smokeout Festival in San Bernardino, California, where Z-Trip shared the stage with a bevy of big-name acts like Limp Bizkit, Gang Starr, Redman and Erick Sermon, and Pennywise. The two shows were a study in contrasts, and illustrate the perpetual ups and downs that are common to the career of a solo artist pursuing his life's obsession. As you'll see, the view from the top isn't quite what you might expect.
Thursday, 12 noon Sitting in a Sky Harbor Airport lounge next to our gate, Z-Trip's spirits are high anticipating the adventures of the next three days. He has his Japanese battery-operated portable turntable on the bar top, gleefully playing 45s, pointing out which ones are sampled on popular hip-hop records. Z-Trip's packing an industrial-size suitcase, which holds his clothes as well as a mixer and sub-mixer, three steel-reinforced record crates that weigh 63.5 pounds each, and two stuffed record bags that tip in at 40 pounds apiece. The airlines charge an extra $40 for each bag over 65 pounds, so the crates' weight is not accidental. Z-Trip is flying Southwest, because it's the only airline that allows three bags and two carry-ons per passenger.
Thursday, 5 p.m. As we arrive in the Portland airport, one record crate is missing from our claimed baggage. I come down with a slight feeling of guilt; just as we were boarding in Phoenix, I asked Z-Trip if the airlines had ever lost his records. He simply knocked on the wooden rail we were leaning on.
We're told there's another flight arriving from Phoenix in a few minutes, but that the missing crate is probably on the 9:15 p.m. flight. So we wait in front of the baggage carousel as Z-Trip plays a Nextmen 12-inch on his portable phonograph.
The early flight's baggage arrives, but the missing crate is nowhere to be found. Z-Trip's overwhelmed by record-loss paranoia; though Southwest has never lost his bags before, he can't shake the anxiety. Thankfully, the crate shows up on the delayed 9:15 flight, which finally arrives sometime after 10. For the trouble, Trip is rewarded with a $50 voucher, which will help next time his luggage is over the weight limit.
Friday, 4:20 p.m. Checking into the Radisson Hotel following a night of hanging out with some of Z-Trip's Portland homeys is a hell of an ordeal; the bell staff can't find a cart for us to transport the 300-plus pounds of luggage up to our room on the seventh floor. Of course, as soon as we walk back down to the lobby, there's a cart sitting there, begging to be used. New crisis: Z-Trip's left his cell phone charger at home. For Z the loss of his cell phone is a crippling blow. We're on a limited time schedule -- we have reservations at the Bombay Cricket Club at 5 p.m. for Indian food with some Phoenician ex-pats -- but several frantic calls are made to Sprint stores in Portland. Unfortunately, the nearest place only has chargers of the car-lighter variety. It'll have to do, so with minutes to spare we drive through rush-hour traffic to the store, Z-Trip yelling out the window at pedestrians, "I gotta get the fuck downtown now!" We arrive, make them look one last time for an AC charger, but it's hopeless. It appears we'll spend the weekend hunting for willing car-lighter donors.
As soon as the charger's plugged in, Z-Trip's phone starts ringing: Canadian promoters are on the line trying to get him to discount his fee for an upcoming rave. Z-Trip gets down to business quickly, telling the man, "Get to the point, talk to me, let's go," then explaining that the numbers issues are their problem; there's no way he's cutting his fee.