Radio Spotlight: C-Minus
Interview and Photography
by James Morris
50mm staff writer
One of the mavericks of Los Angeles radio, C-Minus is always up to something. His love for all things genre defying is one of the things I love about this guy. If you’ve ever seen one of his sets or heard him on the air, you’ll know what I mean. He’s like the spazz in the back of the classroom building a homemade bazooka. I have had many years of great times with C, and I’ve watched him pave the way for a lot of the style that DJ’s use today. I wanted to get on record what makes such an interesting fellow tick. You can check out his show-Friday Night Flavors on Power 106, here in Los Angeles from 10pm to 1am every Friday night. You’ve heard. Now go hear.
JM: What made you decide to start DJ-ing?
C-Minus: I started on my thirteenth birthday. Starting to DJ, or learning how, was probably at that point in my life, the closest I could get to actually making music. It was the closest I could get to touching it, feeling it, and manipulating music without actually playing an instrument.
JM: Was that because you couldn’t stay interested in learning to play an actual instrument?
C-Minus: I never really had the resources to try an instrument. I just knew that I loved music so much. So I would sit up any night of the week and tape my favorite songs on Casey Casem’s top 40. My uncle, who used to work as a bouncer at the Palladium in San Francisco used to bring me mix tapes of the DJ’s that worked there. I got to hear these amazing old school mixes; Party Train mixed with Whodini, and New
Order mixed with Princes’ “Erotic City”, and so on. It was like “Woah.” It just blew my mind. It made me want to look into it (DJ-ing) deeper.
JM: If you could play one instrument then, what would it be?
C-Minus: Guitar or drums. I’m a good air drummer. (Laughs)
JM: Was it ever your goal to DJ professionally?
C-Minus: It was never a choice where I figured I was gonna make a lot of money off it. I just knew that from the moment I got hooked, that I was doing this for the rest of my life whether it paid or not.
JM: What was your first set of turntables?
C-Minus: One was a Technic and one was an off-brand and they didn’t even work! I just had them in my room on my dresser for inspiration until I had money to buy real ones. My mom and my grandmother pitched in to help me buy my first two decks. They wee Technic 1200’, and were hand-me-hand-me downs. I got em from the Baka Boys (currently doing the morning show at Power 92, Miami). They gave me a good deal on them and that was when I really started to practice. This was back in Bakersfield. (California)
JM: Tell me about being on the radio in LA. Your show Friday Night Flavors and previously The Lab.
C-Minus: Well The Lab is now resting in peace, as of October 2004. Friday Night Flavors is show I’ve been a part of for ten years. That’s with the current Fantastik Four line up. Which is me, Truly OdD (The Heavyweights), Mr. Choc, and J-Rocc (Beat Junkies). What we do basically is, we play all the Hip-Hop, underground and some mainstream stuff that you’re not gonna hear eight times a day on the radio. For three hours every Friday we get to get wild and play some real rough, rugged, and raw joints. We like to hit em with heat months before the album is out.
JM: How come you don’t just play the hits? Isn’t championing the underground hard to do on a mainstream radio station?
C-Minus: I love it because it’s a lot more fun to back the underdog. I love to see an artist who deserves to be heard by the masses, actually get some shine. It’s not really a harder road; it’s a funner road. Any one can go out there and play the hits 800 times a week. There’s a million DJ’s on the radio like that, ones that sacrifice style for the safety of playing underneath the umbrella of the mainstream. That’s ok; it’s just not me, though…We like to be the ones to blow up stuff. I mean go back to when Friday Night Flavors first started. When Power 106 was still playing dance in ’92, when the Baka Boys came down here from Bakersfield to start the show on Friday from 10 to midnight; they broke people like Snoop, who was very much part of the underground then. One of his first shows ever on the radio was him free-styling on Flavors for two hours over Pistol Grip Pump and Alkoholiks beats. We like to pride ourselves on the fact that we have cats like the Living Legends come through, you know, Madlib and Atmosphere, when Slug’s on the road. But the thing is we also have super underground cats come through who are killer, like Insight and E-Don. Those cats come through and make you think. It may not be the Fabolous’ or the super catchy chorus’ that are all over the airwaves, but it is really fresh and exciting talent. That is what makes the show so fun. We play music that all four of us enjoy playing. There’s not one record that we play that we feel we are forced to or have to… We play the records because it’s a labor of love.
JM: But with The Lab, you mixed Rock with Hip Hop. Why?
C-Minus: Well The Lab was born out of the first attempt at it, which was called Mass Distortion. What we did basically was set out to play Rock and Hip Hop. At the time, when the show was created in 1999, there was a lot of Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine, Korn… So the idea was to showcase a hybrid that I thought was very exciting. I wanted to show how Rock and Hip Hop was bleeding into each other’s worlds. What I was able to do with the show was kind of become the black sheep of the station over there because eventually you were hearing Motorhead and Black Flag mixed with Audio 2 and Black Moon! Eventually though, a few years ago that blend sort of took a seat to the more Radioheadish, Queens of the Stone Age style and the show lost steam within the station. But it was really fun while it lasted. It was like the early days of Hip Hop. It felt new and exciting again. In fact it was so fun because if it was hot, we would play it-- regardless of the type of music it was. A lot of times we were spinning stuff that other stations hadn’t gotten there hands on yet, and when I would see those songs get picked up it was like: “OK I’ve done my job.” I also had some really great people who worked on that show with me, and it felt like a family. I wouldn’t take back those days for anything in the world. You know, to hear people like Z-Trip say “ Oh man, I used to check you out on Sunday nights.” Or “ Man you had a good run, there.” It means a lot. It was a groundbreaking show in itself. We broke Queens of the Stone Age. We played that way before KROQ (Los Angeles) picked up on them. A lot of core groups that became notable started with us because we weren’t afraid to push the envelope. A lot of artists developed on The Lab and made their mark.
JM: That’s a trip because you’re doing this right out of the biggest Hip Hop station…
C-Minus: Yeah, and that was a trip because we used to get hated on from other stations because all of the rock cats were coming over and doing the show. They even tried to muscle them away by saying that because they (a rock station) were playing the record, the artist couldn’t go on Power and do our show. We weren’t out to diss anyone or damage any relations, we just had a fun vibe and the artists really responded to that. People wanted to be a part of it. I look forward to have been a part of it and I want to thank anyone who ever tuned it in or turned it off!
JM: What turned you on to rock after so many years?
C-Minus: Well I knew Korn from back in Bakersfield, and when I went on my first tour in ‘98, which was the Family Values thing that they did years ago—my whole agenda was to play strictly Hip Hop. I wasn’t planning on playing any rock because I figured the audience was getting their fill. I was loving the new sound though. You had Rage, Deftones, (Limp) Bizkit, which at the time, hearing those bands put a fresh angle on things. But what really tripped me out was hearing the Hip Hop influence in those bands. It dawned on me that, “Hey that kind of sounds like it would mix with this, let me just try it.” It really meshed. I continued to work on new sets where I incorporated a lot of Rock. Just being able to see how the kids at the Korn show reacted to the Hip Hop inspired me to see how cats at the Hip Hop shows would get down to some Rock blends. I loved it with Korn though, I’d throw some Slayer on and they’d lose their minds and then I’d hit em’ with some Public Enemy or something and they wouldn’t stop going off. So it just felt like something good was happening. Maybe it was always there, but the timing had been just right. The Family Values tour was where I got my chops up, so that by the time we toured in 2000 it was mostly an all Rock set with some Hip Hop thrown in. In that transition period I was finding the energy that I had lost with Hip Hop in Rock music as I was being made. Between 98’ and 01’ there was a golden age of sorts. Rock kind of went through a growth period, whereas Hip Hop was stagnant. We had just been through the Biggie-Tupac thing and people were just so tired of beef in general. It kind of weighed me down, and so I took a look to see what was fresh elsewhere. That turned out to be rock. I was like “ If I can get this excited over a Rock song as I can with a Hip Hop song, then let’s see what happens when I throw them together.”
JM: Touring with Rock bands. You and a handful of others have gone out and opened up the door for a DJ to be a legitimate act. How does it feel to be up there? Do you ever feel like you’re on Mars?
C-Minus: Yes. When you go out on stage and you are performing right before everyone’s favorite rock band, all they think is if they throw stuff at you, you’ll get off stage so their band can come on even sooner! (Laughs) No seriously though…
JM: Have you ever been hit?
C-Minus: Oh hell yes! I’ve been hit with ketchup, forks, and water… But it always feels like you are an alien at that point because you’re not on home turf, you aren’t comfortable in your own skin anymore. You have to play and keep these kids moving, You don’t want to get boo’d, or have people stop having fun there. A Rock audience, they’re as quick to respect, as they are to let you have it. All they know is that when they see a DJ up there with two turntables, they immediately think- Hip Hop, they’re not knowing I’m about to fuck up some Perfect Circle. You automatically have to hit them with the 1 2 3 as soon as you get up there, and keep hitting them. You have to make sure that you convey a sense that you understand their perception of you, but you’ve come to change that. So yeah, it’s always felt that weird for me, but you know what? It’s that nervous energy that takes me through. I don’t think I’ve ever had a purely calm moment on stage. I don’t think that there’s ever been a DJ out there, aside from Jam Master J who doesn’t get nervous. If you go out there and these cats aren’t feeling you…they are going to let you know. You can’t show the nervousness, but you have to channel it and take no prisoners.
JM: What about the Underground here in L.A.? What do you think about its growing popularity and who are you feeling these days?
C-Minus: I think the underground scene here in L.A. is better than anyone’s bar none in the world. I mean nowhere else will you find an underground community where cats are so interested in each others career and offering to help any way that they can. To me it’s like a real family—you can go from Neila to 2Mex, to Acey (alone) to Madlib, to Evidence to whoever, and everyone is lending a hand. Every one wants to hang out, get down and smoke one. Consequently, there is so much cool stuff happening in the music. You know, New York, they don’t have as much of a scene since the mixtape scene took over. I love what we have out here. I love Murs, I love anything Madlib produces, I love OhNo, Dialated (Peoples), Likwid Junkies, I love the Stones Throw camp. As far as elsewhere, I do love the Def Jux camp. I like how there not afraid to be ruff, rugged, and raw. I really support anyone in the scene who is getting his or her thing on. Sure there, are a lot of MC’s out here that I don’t get, but that’s exactly what makes it cool. There is so much variety in the scene to choose from.
JM: When you make beats, is that part of who you are as a DJ or is that somebody else? The Producer.
C-Minus: That’s kind of a separate side for me. When I make beats I don’t really think about the DJ aspect of it. I can’t balance the two. It’s never been the case where I can stop doing a beat and go do a mix real quick, or vice- versa. When I’m in DJ-ing there is no time for mixing. There’s just no time. My head is consumed with one or the other. For the most part it’s two different things.
JM: Is producing something that’s evolving with you?
C-Minus: Oh totally. For me it’s like making this Lexicon record that we hope to have finished in the next couple of months has been a lesson in the process of production.
|You gotta be able to keep people dancing. If you can blend correctly then you are exhibiting skill in that area of DJ-ing. Don’t let em lose that beat. Keep the heads movin’. - C-Minus |
JM: What have you learned?
C-Minus: I’ve learned that—When I was a kid, you know, listening to Pete Rock and CL Smooth or EPMD, I used to think cats had a beat, cats had a rhyme. Period. Simple as that. You go in the studio, and Bam! It’s magic! I didn’t know that it could take a very long time to get a song together. I found that out. It’s like: “ What do you mean you haven’t got any lyrics yet, I gave you that beat three weeks ago!” I’m learning the process of not making something feel like it came out of a cookie-cutter. I’m learning how along with greater technical skill, comes the ability to apply your heart and soul. Taking the constructive criticism, giving the constructive criticism—I’ve learned that its not all super duper snappy. When people say that there hard at work making a record- its hard work. I used to think: “ oh whatever, your Pete Rock and your CL Smooth, you can make 40 million They Reminisce Over You…” And when you get in there and actually do it its like- “Ok umm. This is a whole other ballgame.” I really have grown to respect that. Now I know why when you hear certain records, why they’re so great. You know sometimes records take a year to make, and then you hear it and its like- “Oh my god…now I get it.” These days I’m getting a big lesson in the downside, and the upside of the whole thing and I love it all.
JM: I hear a lot about a growing rift in Turntablism these days, which is the conflict of Cutting vs. Blending. What is your take on this in-house feud?
C-Minus: Well scratching has become pretty much what any kid does these days who wants to get into the culture of Turntablism. See, back in my day, there was the kid who wanted to rock the house party, and that was me. Move the crowd, make em dance and never let em leave the floor. More so these days, it’s the cat that wants to scratch and show his skills it’s the lure of the more technical side of DJ-ing where your cutting and highlighting the scratching. You always have think about it like this: There’s always an argument for both sides of the art here. You gotta be able to keep people dancing. If you can blend correctly then you are exhibiting skill in that area of DJ-ing. Don’t let em lose that beat. Keep the heads movin’. Don’t let em have to look up like: “what the hell was that?” The other side to that argument is you know, cutting it up, and body tricks, doubles, yeah all that’s great to watch at battles, but you cannot do a battle set at a club. And you can’t do a club set at a battle, so it comes out even as far as I’m concerned.
JM: New projects?
C-Minus: We’re finishing the Lexicon record, it’s a little bit outside of what they’re known for, which is exciting. I’m working with Travis and Mark from Blink 182 on their new project. I might be doing some stuff with Brody of the Distilllers. I’ll be doing some Queens of the Stone Age remixes. I’ve done a song on the new Team Sleep record (Chino from the Deftones.) That should be out May 10th. It’s called Ataraxia, which means a complete state of calm. I got a song on the Hot Karl record, which should be out in May. And then there’s my record- SB12, which is a concept record coming soon. It’s gonna be killer.
JM: Anything you want to add?
C-Minus: I’ve always been told to not take what you do too seriously, because then you end up working double when you should be playing double. So every time I get so enthralled in what I’m doing and it stresses me out, I have to take a step back and go put on one of my favorite records. I remember how much fun it is to hear music and I realize that that’s the goal: To make people have fun while they are listening to me mix or checking out something I produced. I just try to have fun.