ROB SWIFT of the EXECUTIONERS/G.I. JOE/DJ RUSSELL
MONTPELIER,VT THIS FRIDAY
Rob Swift the Musical Innovator
Reminiscent of the great Jazz musicians of yesteryears, Rob Swift has influenced the art form known as turntablism as John Coltrane has impacted the world of Jazz. The history of Jazz where trumpeters and saxophonists would create and break down music to its bear essential in dirty smoke filled clubs in New Orleans runs parallel to the short history of the music form known as turntablism. Turntablism, once only appreciated by an eclectic fan base that would huddle in cramped places such as the Beat Lounge in San Francisco or Nuyorican Café in New York has come to the forefront in recent years and is now revered as the new music form sweeping the world. Eloquently defined by Rolling Stone Magazine as “elaborate scratching and beat juggling techniques [that] create new music by dismantling the old.”
Hailed by Spin Magazine (April, 1999) as one of the Top Turntablists in the World - next only to DJ Q-Bert and Mix Master Mike - Spin goes on to describe Rob Swift as “the most self-consciously musical of his peers, meticulously arranging his scratches and stuttering beats.” Moreover, his successful solo career is only accentuated by his membership in the legendary DJ/music group the X-ecutioners, which has garnered him recognition and tours throughout the world. Rolling Stone nominated Rob Swift’s group the X-ecutioners as one of the top 50 Players in Hip-Hop (October 1998) alongside the likes of Jay-Z, Master P and Lauryn Hill. Rolling Stone goes on to describe the X-ecutioners as “some of the best turntablists on the planet…wowing crowds and elevating the art of DJ’ing with unbelievable displays of technical skill and acrobatics, [making] the Technic 1200 the musical instrument of the future.” The X-ecutioners have broken ground for DJs and turntablists worldwide. By introducing the world to the first full-length turntablist album “X-pressions” and achieving the recognition of being the first turntablist band to be signed to a major label - Loud Records who will be releasing their album “Built from Scratch” in February 2000.
Rob Swift's entry into the world of music started at an early age. In 1984, Rob’s older brother John, known by the neighborhood kids as Universe was part of the first generation of “hip-hop kids” in NYC. Explains Rob, “My brother’s direct influence were DJs like DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambataa and I was in the second generation of DJs.” In the mid 70s his older brother would take him to house parties where he saw hip-hop culture manifested before his eyes. At age nine the DJs, break-dancers and emcees mesmerized him. Swift reminisces, “At nine I got deep into hip-hop culture, I was really interested and bugged out at all these adults and teenagers around me… it was really exciting…. Most of the kids my age weren’t privileged to be in this world. I was out till twelve in the morning and would just watch…mesmerized. It was then that I knew music was my life.” It was at this early age that he decided he wanted to be a DJ.
Though Swift experimented in all four elements of hip-hop: DJ’ing, break dancing, graff'ing, and emceeing, DJ’ing was what stuck out. “I identified with it the most. It was something about the music and the break beats and the ability to be in control of a crowd with your records and turntables” he remembers. Rob Swift first got on the turntables at nine years old. Swift’s father, a Colombian immigrant, also a DJ would leave his turntables in the apartment and when his father left for work Swift and his brother would get on the decks and wreck shop.
Rob the DJ
At the age of twelve in the 6th grade, Swift decided he would take music seriously. While other kids chose to be the “class clown” or “class president”, he wanted to be known as Rob “THE DJ.” He adds “DJ’ing was something to do and I wanted to be identified with DJ’ing. You know you had the breakers, the graff artists, the bully, the football player…I wanted people to be able to point at me and say that’s Rob…he’s the DJ”. In the 6th grade, Swift and Les – future member of the Beatnuts - were in the same homeroom as each other. Their love of hip-hop brought them together and they became good friends. Swift reminisces, “ We would bring records to school in our book bags and we would fantasize about one day having our names on records. We made it a goal to one day make music our living. So me and Les decided to go to my big brother Universe and tell him to teach us how to DJ.”
Throughout Intermediate school at IS145 in Queens NY, Les and Swift would sling underground mixtapes and would DJ parties at school and around the way. Back then they were known as DJ Swift and Incredible Hands. Between IS145 and high school at Newtown High School Rob experimented with DJ’ing parties. In 1989, Rob, Les and Universe formed the short-lived group 224 (2 Bad 2 Be 4 Real). They put out an independent single entitled “I Don’t Play” on their own label Madd Records. Needless to say the album did nothing for their budding careers (being that the record was sold at only one record store in all of New York). However it got Rob and Les excited being that they were able to see their name on a record! Their dreams in the 6th grade came to fruition and spurred them to want more. “It was a real dope experience,” Rob explains “…even though it didn’t go anywhere it had our names on it.” Fueled with excitement he began experimenting with his turntables and would scratching and cutting. Later, he would be exposed to DJs such as Cash Money and Aladdin and hear audio-tapes of their infamous battles and he told himself “alright if I’m going to be a DJ and be serious I have to practice.” What ensued would be long hours of practice - up to seven to eight hours a day while in the 10th and 11th grade and throughout graduation in high school. In 1990, attending his first DJ battle the New Music Seminar became a pivotal point in his music career.
Inspiration from Battling
In the 1990 NMS Rob Swift watched as DJ Steve D (in 1989, he founded one of the first DJ crews in the world, the X-men, later to be known by the alias X-ecutioners. The original members were Roc Raider, Steve D, Sean C and Johnny Cash) competed against Francesco from Italy. Rob remarks that “seeing my first battle inspired me. It was incredible watching Steve D take two records and turn one beat into another beat. The ability to be in front of a thousand people and make people excited…to be able to make the crowd scream and to control them with the music was incredible.” It was at that battle that Rob Swift decided to enter his first battle the following year. “At that battle I felt like I was nobody. Because I went by myself and I didn’t know anyone. I felt so small and since the NMS was an industry event, it seemed like every one knew each other. I knew at that point that I needed to be a part of this world.”
His mentor Dr. Butcher
Soon after the 1990 NMS battle, JuJu from the Beatnuts whom he had met through Les, introduced Rob to Dr. Butcher. “It was the early 1990s and I didn’t know anyone better than me in my neighborhood, but then I met Dr. Butcher and he was light years ahead of me. I told myself oh shit I need to start going to this guys house everyday.” Dr. Butcher took Rob under his wing and taught him the mental and physical skills necessary to be a good DJ. “DJ’ing takes discipline and practice, you have to be creative and not copy what other people are doing. And if you are modeling what they are doing you have to change it into something unique to you” he goes on to say.
In 1991, Rob Swift entered the DMC East Coast and took third place. Initially disappointed he gained the attention of Steve D of the X-Men who placed first. They exchanged phone numbers and Rob called his mentor daily. After talking to him on the phone for several weeks, Steve D asked Rob to join the X-men. When asked how he felt Rob remarks “I was walking on air. Here was one of my most influential DJs…and hearing this guy ask me to be an X-men was like ‘Oh damn’.” Being inducted into the X-men inspired him to strive to maintain a reputation to uphold not only as Rob Swift but also as an X-Men. The following year in 1992 Rob Swift won the East Coast DMC as an X-men.
Rob’s first major solo project the “Ablist” from Asphodel Records was a pivotal accomplishment for him as a DJ and producer. The album allowed him to experiment and tap into another side of him. A lot of ideas came out. It was a chance to establish myself as an individual and to establish my identity as Rob Swift. “As a DJ I would like to be multi-faceted. There’s more dimensions to me than just Rob Swift the turntablist. I have the ability to produce and orchestrate music with my SP1200 or Akai 950…I’m not limited to the Technic 1200 turntables.” He strives to be known as a musician. And though his main tool of expression is his turntables he has the ability to take on many musical roles. Not limited to being a battle DJ, or showcasing, or a producer he has been able to tap into all aspects of music from DJ’ing, battling, producing, showcasing and touring.
Rob Swift’s Influences
Influenced by jazz greats such as Coltrane and Ellington, Rob’s music manifests this inspiration. In explaining his mixtape he likens it to a jazz composition, “it has a vibe that get you into a relaxed smooth ride…just carefree.” Moreover, he credits his major influences as being from a wide spectrum of professions and creeds: Mohammed Ali, Bruce Lee, Malcolm X, Steve D, Cash Money and Run DMC. “All my influences were passionate in what they did. They lived it…breathed it…ate it. They were driven by their values and driven to succeed at what they loved whether it was martial arts or politics. They were passionate and lived life accordingly” he goes on to say “That’s how I feel about music. That’s what I am a musician. At times in the past I thought to myself what would I be doing at 35? Am I going to be at a clinic giving someone therapy or am I going to make music. But then I realized that I’ve been passionate about music for such a long time. Some people are lawyers, doctors and me…. I’m a DJ. This is the career and gift that God gave me.” What is striking is that Swift chooses icons such as Malcolm X and Bruce Lee who besides being legends have influenced so many races and cultures with their gift. However, the essence of Freud and Pavlov lies in Swift. Like a psychologist Rob is still treating and uplifting people with his music. You pop one of his mixtapes in your deck and there’s no more pain or sorrow. For that 60 minutes you are enjoying unadulterated pleasure…smooth and memorable music. And for those fortunate to see him perform live, you will be able to witness a performer filled with passion and love for what he does.
What the future holds
As an artist Rob Swift endeavors to be established as a producer and composure of music. Like DJ Premiere, Pete Rock and Large Professor, all DJs who are now making marks as producers in the music realm. However, DJ’ing “will always be part of my blood” but I believe that all aspects of me should be developed.” Change is important to Swift and as an artist he feels that rejuvenation and reinvention is fundamental to having a lasting career. “I want to be known as having had an impact on the art…to have made a difference” he adds, “…change is good. I want to be remembered as a hip-hop artist that came along and made a mark.” And in many ways he already has.