There are many negative stereotypes associated with DJs, including a tendency toward selfishness, self-aggrandizement, or self-indulgence. Robert James, however, was none of these things.
In fact, the beloved local artist and selector known as Rob Kwik, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 33 after a lengthy battle with cancer, was the antithesis of most DJs when it came to his personality, attitude, style, and music tastes.
James was as affable and easygoing an individual as you'll ever meet and was very Zen-like about his personal and professional life. As a DJ, he leaned more towards broken beats, atmospheric bass, and meaningful mixes instead of clamorous and high-energy club fodder. And as a person, many of his nearest and dearest say he was all about positivity, loyalty, creativity, and spirituality.
Andrew James, a longtime friend and former Valley resident, spoke of these qualities in an emotional video tribute posted to Facebook on Wednesday.
“Rob was a good dude. So much like the happiest cat I've ever known,” he says. “He was always happy, he was always positive. He was a really kind guy.”
Ruben Hernandez, who performs as DJ Louder, stated on his Facebook yesterday that Rob was a multi-faceted individual who possessed many skills and a love of life.
“He was a showman, a DJ, an artist, a dancer, a hugger, an anchor, a speaker, a positive magnet, a lover of all,” Hernandez wrote. “In the thesaurus, a synonym for positivity is 'Rob Kwik.'”
And you'd probably find his name underneath the entry for “multi-talented,” too. Besides his abilities behind the mixers, James was an events promoter, clothing designer, painter, and graphic artist (including a stint in the New Times production department), as well as serving as the spiritual leader of local DJ collective the Dirt Assasinz.
Self-described as someone who was passionate about “absorbing culture and energy,” James was the sort of cat who pursued multiple artistic interests throughout his life. According to an interview with New Times from 2012, he was involved in hip-hop as a teenager in Texas, including performing as a b-boy and graffiti artist. In 1997, however, he latched onto DJing after purchasing a pair of Technics turntables and teaching himself how to spin.
“I was always fascinated by the old school DJs cutting and scratching [and] I wanted to DJ and scratch also,” James said.
His career really started to take off when he moved to the Valley in 1998 and hooked up with a few local DJs who helped him up his game and improve his skills.
“First DJs I met was Nappe and DJ L3GO,” James said. “They inspired me to get better at mixing and scratching.”
James became a regular presence at parties, raves, club gigs, and other DJ events around the Valley throughout the next decade, gravitating more towards such preferred genres as drum 'n' bass, glitch hop, and especially breakbeats.
“I love broken beats. They make me move and want to dance,” James said. “I play music that is hype and makes you wanna get up and get down to the vibration and bass. Bass and drums are essential to any beat. Broken beats keep it interesting.”
Besides trying to keep it interesting, James told us he had some lofty goals when it came to came to crafting both his mixes, including his desire of “taking people on a musical journey” and producing impeccably sounding works.
“I want my mixes to be almost flawless, so there are so many that I do not release to the public because of a minute error that my technical ear hears. Your mix represents you as a DJ or artist, so you want 'em to sound as good as possible.”
James also had a passion performing and unifying a crowd with his mixes, as evidenced what he told us when asked about a favorite moment from his career.
“[Its] thousands of people getting down to a track,” he says. “Such an amazing vibe when everyone is going ape shit over a track and bouncing. A sea of people in harmony, riding the vibration.”
James also let other Valley artists and DJs join in with helping create harmony. Painter Matt Brown, who did live art at a number of Dirt Assasinz gigs after he and James became fast friends in 2005, says that Rob would often give local selectors and mixmasters opportunities to perform. That includes setting up the sound system he owned at local raves and other electronic dance music events as a second stage in order to "help open the doors for other fellow DJs."
“He was a magnet of positive energy that gathered people around him to help spearhead electronic music," Brown says. "The people that knew him never had one single bad thing to say about him."
And while James spent many hours occupied with performing, promoting, or creating, he was also a devoted to his friends.
"He had a ton of ideas for things but mainly his focus was on his friends and people he cared about," Brown says. "When he wasn't throwing events or setting up sound he was gathering people together to go to other electronic events and setting camping trips.”
As much as he loved DJing and creating, James had to devote more of his time and energy in recent years to issues with his health and what would eventually turn out to be a life-or-death battle with cancer.
In 2004, James had what was thought to be a cyst removed from his right shoulder removed. However, the scar never seemed to heal properly, caused him continuous pain, and was eventually diagnosed as a rare form of soft-tissue cancer three years later. After enduring additional surgeries and draining his personal savings, James believed he was on the road to recovery, only to learn in 2013 that the cancer had returned with a vengeance.
Friends and local DJs rallied support for James throughout his renewed battle, including staging several benefit gigs and events like Rave 2 Save and KwikFix to help him cover the costs of further treatments, including one in late July at Endgame in Tempe. And true to form, James tried to stay upbeat despite all that he was going through.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
“Even when he found out he was sick he was always out smiling and dressing snazzy in his Dirt Assasinz attire that he designed himself," Brown says. "People loved him and supported him thoughout his career and he always did the same in return.”
Adam Dumper, a longtime friend and fellow artist, says that James had a lot of people pulling for him.
“He was always such a positive loving guy and has a really strong support team on his side, I'm glad he didn't have to battle this alone as many do,” Dumper says. “I'm going to miss him.”
Memorial services for James will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, August 8, at Community Church of Joy, 21000 North 75th Avenue in Glendale. Donations are also being accepted to help his family with funeral costs.