NEW ERA: BABU SETS SIGHTS ON FUTURE WITH KNOWLEDGE OF THE PAST


By David Ma

Babu has been around long enough to see advancements reshape his profession.  As a mid-generational DJ, he recalls days of gigging with crates of vinyl as clearly as he does the rise of Serato.  “It was wild back then, lugging 60 pounds of records overseas to gigs,” he laughs.  Adding:  “To succeed though, I think you have to keep one foot in the foundation and another in the future.”

Before he was DJ Babu, he was ‘The Turntablist’, releasing Super Duck Breaks in 1996, a record that is now the standard tool for novice DJs worldwide.  His rep came quickly in the ’90s through LA’s music scene, working with the Beat Junkies and moving onward as in-house producer/DJ for Dilated Peoples.  At this point, Babu has juggled beats, labels, collaborations, DJ advancements, and setbacks, for over 20 years.  He continues to do so, perhaps even more rigidly, now more than ever.

He contends, “Our art form is built on hand-me-downs.  We use things that weren’t meant for its purpose and flipping it to create new things.”  Here I touch base with Babu on his early battle days, the making of Super Break Breaks, and his own DJ heroes growing up.


Of all your competition titles, from the Vestax World Championships to the ITF, which is most memorable and why?

I guess our last year in the ITF.  That year I repped for the crew in three categories, won both the beat juggling and scratching!  We also won the team competition!  The following year we went to Amsterdam and defended our title, which was dope too.  If I have glory days, those were my mine.  It was a really exciting time for me.  In one year I went from seeing these DJs on videotape and by the next I was competing against them and becoming their peers.  It was a whirlwind time.  Those last few battles solidified the Beat Junkies, I think.

 

 

Talk about Super Duck Breaks and how it came about.  Many don’t know you’re the dude behind it.

That was in like ‘95 or ’96 and PB Wolf and I met doing the Bomb Hip-Hop comp together.  He was just starting up Stones Throw at the time.  Many years before that, he was still working at RTI Record Distro because at the time I was a manager at Fat Beats in LA.  I’d go to SF and he’d come to LA and we became homies.  That’s how it came about.

 

What was the mentality behind it?

My mentality was to make records that were stripped down, raw material for DJs to use.  Plus my crew wanted something exactly like that to fuck with, especially since we were really into the battling scene at that point.  Q-Bert was a huge influence and I didn’t flip his formula too much; I just added my own perspective and angle and wanted it to be a standard for DJs.  Even in a decline of vinyl, its sill a very strong seller and I feel blessed.

 

Besides Q-Bert, which DJs had a hand in influencing your work?

A lot of my early influences, simply because we didn’t have much access to stuff when I was younger, were groups that had prominent DJs.  I’m a big fan of EPMD ‘cause of DJ Scratch.  And I really loved Jazzy Jeff too.  I also loved Low Profile because of DJ Aladdin.

Much later on, I was very influenced by the X-Men and Rock City DJs.  I feel as though they’re seniors and I was a freshman at the time trying to make an impact. Later on, as I was older and doing the knowledge, I loved Afrika Baambaata and the pioneers of that era.  I started later, so they were a bit before my time, but I learned to see what they did and how important those guys are and how they influenced everything we do today.

 

 

While on the subject of era and influence; what are the generational differences you’ve noticed with younger DJs?

Sky’s the limit with these young cats.  Now anyone with an mp3 collection can DJ and there’s definite oversaturation.  But I honestly think it’s all fine.  The ones that have skills, taste, and a great ear will always rule; the cream of the crop will always rise to the top.  I think real DJs who are out digging and trying stuff will be left standing.

 

You use Serato?

Definitely, from early on I used it.  I was also one of the most skeptical people about it.  But it’s a tool and people should know that.  As a professional DJ, there’s nothing more convenient.  Most of my collection is derived from vinyl and you can’t bring luggage on a plane without paying for it— let alone 2 heavy crates of records. It seemed like just yesterday I carried a record bag, and a smaller record bag and I was limited to only playing certain songs oversees.  I used to check in records and be worried they wouldn’t ever get back as I was checking them in. All kinds of absurd shit.  Now I walk around with 70 gigs of music and it’s a good feeling.  I embrace the technology but I also encourage kids to learn about what we did to get to this point.

 

Your famous juggle of “Blind Alley” is classic.  Talk about what went into it.

Well I still do it because it’s part of me, part of the Dilated Peoples’ show, and is a trademark of mine.  At the time though, it was just a popular break that I wanted to produce on 2 turntables and chop and flip samples, taking beats and making new beats, all with 2 turntables.  At that time it was groundbreaking, a solid 2 minutes where things would switch up every 4 bars.  The bar got raised as we got older, and I think that was just me stepping at the time and trying things.

 

Last comments for CLOUT readers, your fans, music fans in general?

There’s a whole generation of kids who just sit home and get their music from their computer and it’s scary to think that there are those who’ve never been to a record store. The experience of walking into a place and leaving with a record or at least, a CD, is fading and that’s weird to me.  I’m also not scared for vinyl; there’s enough people who love it and understand the value to keep it alive. As a human and a fan of music, there’s so much more to vinyl; reading the liner notes and taking pride in having your favorite group’s catalogue is a good feeling.  You have their LP on the shelf and you look at the spine and you own everything of theirs that they intended you to have is there for you to devour.

 

David Ma is a Bay Area music writer.  His work appears in Wax Poetics, The Source, URB Magazine, DJ Times, San Jose Mercury News, XLR8R, Ego Trip and Pitchfork, respectively.  He’s also the editor of www.nerdtorious.com and is currently working on a book on the history of the drum machine.

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