Monday, August 2, 2010

DJ Spinna Interview by Sean Alvarez

Swank Society Presents: 20 Questions with DJ Spinna
Interview by Sean Alvarez-

Sean Alvarez of Swank Society had a chance to chat with world-renowned Hip-Hop, Soul, and Dance Music DJ/Producer DJ Spinna. Enjoy!

You travel all over the globe doing your thing. What are your top
3 places to spin (Venue and City) and why?

Anywhere in South Africa, Club Yellow
in Tokyo, and Southport in the UK, mainly because people are very well
educated musically. The crowd is genuinely receptive to the dj in
general. If you are rocking the crowd they will give it up whole

What was the best/most memorable event/party you’ve ever been a
part of or experienced and what makes it the best/most memorable?

I can honestly say that the Wonder-full party in New York in 2005 is
the most memorable. It was the year that Stevie Wonder called into the
party and spoke to the audience over the sound system right after his
last child was born. He called from the hospital!

You appear to be around my age group, which means you were born in
the late 60’s or early 70’s.New York was very rich in it’s music history
during this time and still to this day. What was your favorite era and how did it cultivate you musically and personally?

I would have to say that the mid seventies through the mid eighties
were the best years for music for me. NY radio in particular was very
unique and diverse in the 70's. Frankie Crocker on WBLS in particular
would play artists like The Police and The Clash next to George Benson
and Manu Dibango and Grace Jones...very eclectic. This era was also the
transitional years for the organic live sound to electronics which lead
to hip-hop and dance music the way we know it today. I like so many
grew up on funk, soul, disco, jazz, and even pop. If it weren't for the
New York music scene, especially radio and block parties, I definitely
wouldn't be where I am today.

Describe your vision of the perfect party/event?

Good music of course, good atmosphere, and people dancing. I can't take
going to an event and seeing people stand around and profiling. That's
not a party, it's a gathering.

You are very diverse musically. Do you have a particularly favorite
genre you prefer to spin and produce? How bout listen?

I enjoy playing everything but I have a special affinity for house and
dance music. I love to see people move and express themselves and
unfortunately hip hop nowadays doesn't evoke those emotions out of the
people like it used to. When I play hip-hop I find myself playing more
of the classic material because it reflects fun times. I also find that
dance audiences are very open-minded and you can incorporate jazz,
latin, rock, rare grooves, etc within your set without someone looking
at you like you're crazy. On the other hand, I still love to make hip-hop
beats. As far as what I listen to, it can vary. I listen to most of
the new music I receive in my car so it can be pretty much anything. I
also love to listen to reissue cd's, compilations, and whole artist
albums while I'm in the car.

Who are your musical influences as far as producers, musicians,
and/or DJ's you looked up to when first getting your career started and is there
anyone you pattern your sound after?

I have three angles to this question. The dance side, the B-Boy side and general. On the dance side my influences are;
Frankie Crocker, Larry Levan, Tee Scott, Shep Pettibone, Francois K,
Tony Humphries, Larry Heard, Lil Louis, Marshall Jefferson, Timmy
Regisford, Masters at Work, Blaze, and Kerri Chandler.

On the B-Boy side; Grandmaster Flash, DST, Jazzy Jay, Larry Smith,
Pumpkin, Kurtis Blow and Russell Simmons (as producers), Rick Rubin,
Bomb Squad, Jazzy Jeff, Dj Scratch, Dj Daddy Rich, Dj Chuck Chillout,
Dj Cash Money, Marley Marl, Pete Rock, Large Professor, Diamond, Prince
Paul, De La Soul, A.T.C.Q. Jay Dee a.k.a J-Dilla.

The general producer side includes Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Charles
Stephney, Mizell Brothers, Rod Temperton, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers,
Kool & the Gang, Brian Auger, James Brown, Michael Jackson (his vocal
arrangements are incredible), and George Duke.
I pretty much try to stay current no matter what style of production
I'm doing. We've had many trend setters throughout the years who have
created a standard sound of their particular era. I try to take
whatever's happening at the moment and incorporate my own thing.

What is your thought process when producing a song and what do you
typically try to convey to the audience?

I usually go with my mood. I usually start with the rhythm track or
beat and go from there. Whatever accompanies the beat is the vibe that
I'm on at the moment. Often times I would listen to or think of an old
record to get inspiration. That old record could be anything from a
collectable rare jazz fusion record, 70's Brazilian tropicalia, or a
progressive psych rock record. What's conveyed to the audience is
whatever was on my mind during the creation of the song.

Describe the perfect song for you to create?

There's no such thing as the creation of a perfect song to me.
Sometimes I would even let errors slide if it feels good.

When constructing a song what sound/instrument do you typically like
to start with?
I always technically start with the beat. It's the foundation.

You produce and spin Soul, Hip-Hop, House, and Broken Beat most
notably. When I hear your music what always stands out to me is the
melodic balance between the baseline, drums and keys. What element of your
production do you feel puts your signature stamp on a song?

I think you already answered that! Lol.
I put a lot of focus on my beats first and foremost. Believe it or not
I usually don't use drum sounds that are already stored on my disks. I
always start from scratch sampling kicks and snares and hi hats. Even
if I already have the sound on a disk somewhere I would snatch it off
the record again. Something is always going to be slightly different
the second time around. I guess I'm also known for the kinds of synth
sounds that I use. I'm big on spacey analog keyboard sounds.
Fender Rhodes is my favorite musical instrument.

Usually the first thing that catches my attention with music is
drum programming. What do you typically notice first when you hear a song?

I listen for the drums as well as the melody. Lyrics usually are the
last thing I check for in a song unless it's outstanding.
Sometimes mediocre songs are saved by a good track.

You have countless remixes and originally composed material. From
a methodical standpoint how different or similar do you approach remixes and
original compositions?

Obviously with remixing there are limitations. There's usually vocals
or something musically happening from the original song that you must
compliment, otherwise the results could be disastrous. Nothing hurts my
ears more than remixes where the keys don't match what's happening
vocally. With original productions there's more creative freedom.

What do you believe sets you apart from other DJ’s and

My eclecticism sets me apart for sure. As a dj especially, I've been
blessed with being able to master quite a few genres and play them well
with authenticity.

What drew you to becoming involved in music and how did you get

Music has always been part of my life. I started playing records at age 3. I learned a few instruments at an early age and started djing in my
bedroom by 11 years old. It's just part of who I am. Witnessing local
Brooklyn mobile jocks rock parks and street jams played a major role in
me wanting to dj as well. I started out doing basement parties in my
neighborhood in the mid 80's. In my college years upstate New York I
played parties almost every weekend. I was also a college radio dj
breaking new music every week. Once I graduated and returned home in
1994 I decided that music was my professional destiny. By the end of
that year my first official party record was released and "Everybody
Bounce" became a club anthem.
I used that as my tool to get more work from record labels, and the
rest is history.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing music?

I have no idea! Hahahaa. Maybe some kind of social work. I love talking
to people and giving advice.

What are you doing when not working with music?


What Dj's and producers have you really been feeling over the last
year up to present day?
Madlib, and J-Dilla.

What projects do you currently have in stores and what can we
anticipate in the near future?

The latest thing in stores is a Tortured Soul remix of "Why" on
Delicious Vinyl.
There's also the Polyrhythm Addicts second album "Break Glass."
The next remix due to drop by the end of the summer is for new artist
Mellow Madness and the track is called "Now You're Calling." They're signed to Osunlade's Yoruba label.
In the near future expect a few productions on J-Live's next album
dropping on BBE records.
I'm also currently back in the lab with Krim working on the long
overdue Jigmastas sequel album, and Tiye Phoenix debut album.

What are your Top 5 favorite songs? (Any genre or era)

Give It Up Or Turnit Loose (Remix) - James Brown
Melting Pot - Booker T & The MG's
Love Is The Message - MFSB
Bra - Cymande
anything by Stevie Wonder bertween 1971 to 1976

Out of all the music you’ve produced what song(s) do you hold
closest to your heart?(Any genre)

The Stevie Wonder remix of "My Love Is On Fire." Although it never got
an official release, it doesn't beat Stevie calling my phone and
leaving a voice message requesting me to do a remix. It's still a
surreal experience for me.

Bonus Round

Swank:Prince or Michael Jackson?
Spinna:Both for different reasons.

Swank:Up-tempo or Down-tempo Music?
Spinna:Any tempo

Swank:Winter Music Conference in Miami or Southport Weekender?
Spinna:Winter Music Conference.

Swank:Wild Style or Beat Street?
Spinna:Wild Style. Beat Street was Hollywood.

Swank:Disco Classics or Modern Day Dance/House Music?
Spinna:Disco Classics all day!

Swank:Hip-Hop before or after 95?
Spinna:After 95? That's a laugh.

Swank:DJ or Produce?
Spinna:Dj first, Dj till I die.

Swank:Favorite Movie?
Spinna:City Of God

Swank:Favorite Food?

Swank:Favorite City as a Tourist?
Spinna:Osaka, Japan

Swank:Favorite Venue/Event as a fan?
Spinna: The Shelter NYC

Swank: Do you prefer wearing Locks or a Mini Afro?
Spinna: Mini Afro.

Swank: Artist you’d like to work with in the future?
Spinna: Stevie Wonder, but next time in the studio with him.

Swank: This may land you a shoe endorsement. What kind of kicks are you
rocking on the regular and all time favorite pair of shoes?
Spinna:I stay in Air Force One's but my favorite all time shoe is the 95 Air

Cool my man. That’s concludes the interview. Thanks for your time.
No Problem. Thank you.