Midway through an interview set to coincide with the introduction of his new "Z-Trip Presents Funky Cornbread" night at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe, Z-Trip interrupts questioning about his planned trip to the vapid South by Southwest music conference.
"I have a problem doing these interviews, especially hometown ones," he says solicitously. "'Cause you get all the people who ask and want to know about all this DJ shit, which is great, but no one ever gets into anything else."
From that point on, the interview becomes a tirade against what Z-Trip regards as our local evils -- political, economic and otherwise. "These things piss me off," he says. "I want people to know that I'm not just some fucking DJ out here representing Arizona, I give a shit about what the fuck goes on."
Far and beyond being "just some fucking DJ," Z-Trip is the crown jewel of Arizona's burgeoning hip-hop scene, and on a national level, Z-Trip's name is synonymous with Arizona hip-hop. He's garnered acclaim from far and wide, including accolades from Spin magazine, which listed his Bombshelter crew in its list of "Best DJs in the World."
Z-Trip is all about representing his hometown, which sometimes means tweaking that hometown's scene when it needs it. It's as much of a responsibility to him as it is a gesture of kindness to a town thirsty for diversity in its hip-hop scene.
In that spirit, the 28-year-old Z-Trip is redirecting his energies back to the Valley club scene, though in more of a shadowy capacity than previously. Last Tuesday kicked off the premier episode of "Funky Cornbread," which Trip masterminded and organized, but will not include him as a performer. Instead, he's conjoined two Valley DJs, Tige and Tricky T, to fill the void he sees in our white-bread metropolis.
"First, I just wanted to make sure that there was something going on that I could be involved with," he explains. "And, second, that there was the caliber of show that I like to listen to."
Citing the Valley's increasing number of hip-hop DJ nights, Z-Trip maintains that he's absolutely supportive, "but say I wanna hear some dance-hall, or I wanna hear some funk, or I wanna hear some fuckin' fast break shit or electro shit or something. I'm only gonna hear one style of music there, so that kind of defeats the purpose."
So, in response, Z-Trip drafted the younger DJ stalwarts to fill out his creative vision. Surprisingly, Tige and Tricky T have never DJ'd together; it's a combination conceived by the crafty grandmaster.
"It's a hip-hop-based night, but Tige knows his jazz and his funk, he really knows that shit, and Tricky T knows a lot of that crowd-rockin' shit, so with the combo of those two, you're gonna get your kinda dancey, real fun shit, but you're also gonna get your deep, soulful shit, and you're gonna get your underground shit in the mix, too."
"Funky Cornbread," so named because "cornbread's the cornerstone of soul food, the essence," is reuniting Z-Trip with Nita's manager Charlie Levy and soundman Jamal Ruhe. In a sense, Z-Trip has followed Levy and Ruhe back home. Z-Trip and his crew, Bombshelter DJs, held court on Wednesdays until Nita's was sold in 1998.
Levy and Ruhe subsequently set up shop at the Green Room in Tempe, and the Bombshelter crew soon followed suit. Bombshelter's tenure at the Green Room coincided with Levy and Ruhe's reign there. When Levy and Ruhe returned to Nita's a few months ago, Bombshelter coincidentally ended its weekly residency at the Green Room.
"I think there's just a good chemistry between me, Charlie and Jamal," Z-Trip says. "I think that's the trifecta right there."
Z-Trip is quick to assure that "Funky Cornbread" is not a Bombshelter endeavor, despite what audiences might speculate. "I think that Bombshelter will probably still do another night down the line, but I don't want people to get confused." However, you can expect Bombshelter cohort Radar, as well as some of Z-Trip's more famous friends, to pop in from time to time.
"But it will be completely random," he says. "There's gonna be nights when I'm not even there, there might be nights when no one from Bombshelter is there. In no way is it a diss to Bombshelter; we've just got different projects going on. My main thing is I just want to make sure there's a spot where I can go and chill."
In the past year, Z-Trip's investment of time in the turntablist game has paid off in spades, but the resulting barrage of projects leaves little time for him to spend holed up in a local club once a week. Back when Bombshelter held its weekly soiree at Nita's, Z-Trip would have to break from his out-of-town shows and fly in to do his one-night stand, then fly back to resume his tour itinerary. When the out-of-town-to-in-town money ratio is almost five to one, such excursions hardly seem worthwhile, but he says it wasn't about money.
"I've always tried to put back into Phoenix, just to always help build the scene and have something to do. But now I'm getting so busy that I don't even have time to do that, so I'm passing that over to Tricky T and Tige. I'm just kind of doing it from a satellite position."
With projects spanning Hieroglyphics' rapper Del the Funkee Homosapien, Northwestern electro-noise sculptors ICU, and new-school conglomerate Freestyle Fellowship to collaborations with electro-industrial beat pioneer Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto, rapper Latyrx (of DJ Shadow's Quannum crew), and Jurassic 5 DJ Cut Chemist, not to mention his own solo tracks, Z-Trip's recent work habits have been nothing short of astonishing. He's currently hammering away at a solo LP, which he plans on releasing himself, at least initially, until it draws enough attention to encourage a large record company to distribute it.
Though his schedule prevents any semblance of a normal residency in Arizona, Z-Trip's heart remains at home. "I love touching down at the airport, there's times I'm out for two weeks with three crates of records and a bag of clothes and some CDs, trying to hustle, and I know I can come home and kick my feet up and be somewhere that I identify with."
This sense of identification is precisely why Z-Trip gets so riled about local politics. "It's turning into a place where you don't want to be," he says flatly. "I'm almost getting to that point. The scene isn't gonna be what pushes me out, it's gonna be the fucking politicians that push my ass out."
Just what ails Arizona's revered turntable technician so? "Okay, I have a fucking problem with the topless clubs. The other day I went to a nude bar, it was fucking 12 o'clock and homeboy at the door was like, 'Yo, man, come pay five bucks, it's a bathing-suit show.'
"He tells me they just passed a law that you can't be nude past 12 o'clock. I fucking flipped. I didn't get a chance to vote on this shit -- they snuck it under my nose. This is some shit I want to talk about. How about, 'Z-Trip's pissed, you gotta vote. You gotta take a stand for what's going on!' If anything, don't come talk to me about the new Mos Def record, talk to me about how we can all team together."
He attacks the gentrification of Mill Avenue, calling it a "big fucking yuppie playground," and likewise blasts Tempe Town Lake ("I'm completely irate that we have a manmade lake in the fucking desert"), golf courses, Starbucks, the absence of broadband college radio, all-ages show restrictions and rave-busting cops.
"If I was fucking 17 right now in Arizona, I'd be a fucking pissed-off little kid. I don't have a radio station to listen to any Dead Kennedys, or a hip-hop show, or bands to see, what do I have? I've got MTV, the fucking Internet, and Power 92, that's pretty much all I've got. They're alienating a whole group of people that want to listen to some music. Maybe that music is gonna be their outlet for them not to fuck up and go get involved in a gang or shoot somebody."
Contact Brendan Kelley at his online address: Brendan@l_type4miles.zzn.com