"This kid's gonna be the biggest superstar DJ to ever come out of this place," says DJ Fact, pointing to his partner, Megadef. The two turntablists are sitting at a quiet Tempe restaurant, and the younger Mega, glasses magnifying a baby face, mutters a bashful "We'll see . . ." to the declaration.
It would be an understatement to say Mega looks an unlikely candidate for Arizona turntablism's great white hope. But it's not for lack of style -- the kid sports baggy gear and a crooked New York cap, spitting out street slang that might even confuse Ol' Dirty Bastard -- it's just that Megadef only recently passed his 18th birthday, and prodigies are in such short order in this town that it's a little off-putting to find juniors this talented.
Megadef began his fast education in spinning vinyl little more than two years ago, and quite by accident.
DJs Megadef and Fact
Arizona Roadhouse in Tempe
Performing every Tuesday, at 9 p.m.
"I was just getting heavy into hip-hop," he remembers, grinning. "I didn't have turntables -- didn't really give a fuck about it; I used to write and shit. And one day I was taking out the garbage and I heard this clunk in the garbage can, and I looked in and saw two old-ass belt-driven Technics. I was like, 'Goddamn, maybe I'll DJ and shit. So I fished them out, went to Style Rock and bought like an $80 Gemini [mixer] and just took it from there.'"
Around the same time Megadef was trash-diving for Technics, Fact was hitting some early-life crises (he's now 24) and looking to channel his frustrated energies into something productive. Like so many other creative births, it came in the wake of a crumbled relationship. Candidly, Fact explains, "I'll be straight up: I was with a girl for a long time; things didn't work out so well after like seven years. I had nothin' to do, I was goin' crazy -- got hooked on a bunch of weird drugs and shit, and decided one day to get turntables 'cause I missed some good hip-hop. It was an addiction from there."
The two met at a record store a year and a half ago, forming a partnership known as T3 -- Technical Turntable Tactics (which also includes their MC, Bazooka Joe). Almost immediately, Fact and Megadef found a certain unique chemistry born of their diverse strengths. Fact comes from a rich musical background and is proficient on a number of instruments; Megadef has no musical background, except, he jokes, "I used to play the flesh flute a few years before." As they explain and their performances demonstrate, Fact hits it up from a musical perspective, shooting for sharpness in the cuts and mixes, while Megadef comes heavy with the technique, then smoothes it out as he goes. The two divergent approaches compensate for each other, expanding the sound as a whole.
Lately the duo has shown up everywhere around town, opening De La Soul's Spitkicker show, playing in artsy venues like Lucky Dragon and recently becoming the Arizona Roadhouse's regular Tuesday-night DJs (former resident DJs Stefascope and My Friend Andy have moved to the Roadhouse's Thursday-night spot). They've also thrown their own Sweat the Technique events, bringing out notorious East Coast DJs like the X-Ecutioner's Total Eclipse and Fifth Platoon's Roli Rho to rock the tables alongside local talents like M2 and Tricky T.
The reference is an important one; it's Fact and Megadef's East Coast stylings that separate them from the majority of the Valley's DJs. They put emphasis on beat juggling, battling and body tricks, while most locals stick with the scratch-and-mix formula. Beat juggling involves alternating segments of two records (sometimes duplicates of one record) to form a unique rhythm. It's a difficult style and one popularized by New York's X-Ecutioners (née X-Men) in the early '90s. "Beat juggling is like algebra," Fact says. "You need to know the theory behind it for it to work. Ninety-nine percent of the kids out here can't do it well; they don't have the mindset."
Battling is another area of turntablism that doesn't get the same kind of play out West. "People can't let it not get personal," says Fact. "Battling is really just about trying to better yourself and the people you're battling. You're exchanging ideas in a competitive way and just trying to make yourselves excel. But out here, when you do it, people take it personally and a friendly battle turns into 'I'm gonna kick your ass after the show.'"
"They get all butt-hurt and shit," adds Megadef.
"But we try to hold it down, because it's an essential part of coming up as a DJ," Fact continues. "You need to battle. It's one of the only ways you're going to get better; if you get beat, you wanna book that much harder to do it better next time."
As battle competitors go, Megadef may be the most proficient in the region. In a head-to-head with Funky Cornbread resident Tricky T at a recent Sweat the Technique show, Mega took the classic New York strategy, juggling insults ("Tricky T, fuck your beat," "Tricky T, you gotta struggle to juggle"), mixing one-handed while flipping off his opponent and busting out body tricks Valley crowds rarely see: spinning around backward, mixing under his leg and sliding the fader with his stomach while both hands controlled the records. Megadef's hand-beat coordination is, quite simply, unbelievable; even while busting the acrobatics the rhythm never flags.
Both DJs have mix CDs coming out in the next few weeks, Megadef's Megadef Set Disorder and Fact's Music for Your Mind, though they expect to be working on new recording projects soon. "I'm actually in the midst of working on my second CD, 'cause the one I'm just about to release was actually just made to give to a girl that was going on a road trip," explains Fact. "I didn't put a lot of time and effort into it, just put some good music on it for the car. So I'm coming correct on my second one, New York State of Mind."
Likewise, Megadef is ready to supplant his just-about-to-be-released disc with a more current representation of his skills. "It was recorded a while ago. It's already old," he says. Nonetheless, Set Disorder is a worthy debut for any DJ, a combination of scratching, beat juggling and straight mixing that keeps the flow balanced enough that the technical aspects don't overwhelm the music (beat juggling, while amazing to watch, can rapidly become annoying on record).
As well as Megadef's original grooves, Set Disorder mixes songs by Common Sense, Del the Funky Homosapien, the Roots, De La Soul, and Dilated Peoples. The disc also boasts a guest appearance by Total Eclipse, the 1996 International Turntablist Federation world-title holder. The two hooked up when T3 flew him out for a Sweat the Technique show in May.
It seems somehow appropriate that Mega should recruit an institution like Total Eclipse to appear on his disc, as the young pair make it clear that they're shooting for the same heights. When asked whom they consider to be their stylistic inspiration, they cite Total Eclipse's crew, the X-Ecutioners -- multiple ITF world-title holders. "I grew up in New York," Fact says. "And I know what a dope DJ's supposed to be like. I put how I have to be on a much higher standard. I look up to people that are on a much higher level than a lot of other DJs."
"We compare ourselves to Roli Rho, we compare ourselves to Total Eclipse," Megadef adds. "And if we're not at that level, we're not happy with how that is. We'll keep striving 'til we reach that level."
Also separating Fact and Megadef from the majority of those in the DJ community is that they pull no punches when analyzing the local scene. While many hip-hoppers espouse the notions of community and unity, Fact and Mega see those as theoretical ideals, and ones that are far removed from the reality of the situation. "I don't like the fact that skill doesn't mean shit in this town," says Megadef. "Skill ain't nothin', that's what pisses me off. It's all who you know, it's all political. If you're good, that don't mean shit. You gotta know the right people."
Big egos seem to be a requisite in the world of the DJ, and Fact and Megadef are no exception. Yet, they cite the self-centeredness of many local artists as the prime obstacle in the development of Phoenix's hip-hop scene. "The spotlight's only so big, basically, so everyone wants to make sure that they're in it," Megadef explains.
"They're afraid that if they take the spotlight off of themselves for a split second they'll lose it," claims Fact. "When in actuality, by helping other people come up, they're gonna make the pathway to what they want a lot easier. If all of us are doing some dope shit there's a better chance that we're gonna come up together."
Fact and Megadef don't hesitate to call out their peers, but by emphasizing the untapped elements of the form, throwing their own events and pushing others to put as much effort into their art, they've taken the initiative to raise the level of local hip-hop.
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"I think a lot of people have a serious lack of understanding of how serious these things are," Fact says. "They just kind of relax, let things go on their own . . . and it's like, if you want to make something happen, the key words are make it happen, you know what I'm sayin'? This is not the type of a scene that's thriving to the extent that you can just drop anything in front of their face at the last minute and have everyone like it. There's a lot more hard work than people are willing to put in."
Just as they question some of their peers, they're similarly critical of the hip-hop audience's apathy, embittered by a recent experience where they were supposed to open for Shortkut of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, and Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest. The headliners canceled, and because ticket pre-sales were almost nonexistent, the resulting all-local show was attended by fewer than 30 people.
"Everybody who loves hip-hop gotta step up," Megadef says emphatically. "You can't just listen to your Puff Daddy CD in your room -- you gotta go out and do shit. Nobody goes to shows 'cause fuckin' TGIF is on -- they don't wanna miss Urkel and shit. Come out, go to the show goddamnit, go watch some DJs."