They stand on stage, hip-hop beats booming from their turntables over the P.A. to a packed house. The crowd is responding to their every move, sweat drips from their brows, the pressure is on! They have captured the audience. Peers and fans see them as torchbearers, educators, and experimentalists in the world of hip-hop DJing. They are the first turntable group to record an entire full-length LP (X-pressions, 1998.) Enter the realm of the X-ecutioners.
With their 2003 release, Scratchology (A Scratch Music History Compilation on Sequence Records), hot off the presses and a follow-up to their 2002 hit album Built From Scratch (Loud Records) in the works, the X-ecutioners are flying high at the peak of their career.
The three-man turntablist ensemble consisting of DJs Rob Swift, Roc Raida and Total Eclipse is now an internationally renowned, New York-based, powerhouse. Their hard-rock influenced single, “It’s Goin’ Down,” a collaboration with guest performers Linkin Park, soared on the Billboard charts in 2002 and was also a permanent fixture on MTV’s roster. They also joined forces with industry giant, Eminem, on the Anger Management Tour as the opening act for over 30 U.S. dates.
Their earliest memories of DJing began when they were young. Each member has a different tale to tell as to why and how they became the force they are today. Swift shares his first memory as, “sitting in my living room watching my brother and his friends use my dad’s equipment when he was at work.” Raida adds that he first got the DJ bug, “watching Grand Master Flash, in session, cutting records with my dad who was in the rap group Mean Machine on Sugar Hill Records back in the day.” Total Eclipse quipped, “It was 1989 when I was put on the spot to perform turntable trickery in front of people at a block party jam in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. Very embarrassing!” But, they’ve come a long way since those days.
The X-ecutioners pride themselves on being diverse. Major artists from different genres have stepped up to the plate to pick their creative skills. On their major label debut, Built From Scratch, they collaborated with Large Professor, Linkin Park, MOP, Xzibit, Fatboy Slim, The LoFidelity Allstars, The Triple Threat DJ's and The World's Famous Beat Junkies. The Scratchology album features the trio mixing a veritable who’s who of their mentor’s jams while educating people about the history of scratching. Other artists these turntablists have collaborated with include Jazz legends Herbie Hancock and Bob James, Mike Patton, The Blue Man Group and Fat Joe to name a few.
The guys have taken the music world by storm and are utilizing their Korg ToneWorks AX1500G effect pedals and KP2 KAOSS Pads to really stir things up. When asked how important and artist’s tools are to a performer, Rob Swift shared, “Extremely important! The better the equipment, the easier it is to effectively perform and execute one’s ideas.” Total Eclipse adds, “I think the KAOSS Pad is one of the sickest DJ tools out there. Especially the way I have it set-up beside my left Vestax turntable… it’s easier to trigger my sounds on the left opposed to my right.” He adds, “Without my standard equipment, two-turntables, a Vestax mixer and the KAOSS Pad, I would be at a creative standstill.”
The trio are each proficient in the art of spinning, scratching, beat juggling, body tricks and countless other DJ feats. Rob Swift describes their music as “a fusion of all types of music, Hip Hop, Jazz, Funk, Rock and Dance. The list goes on but all aspects revolve around the turntable as a main instrument.” Roc Raida says, “It’s hard to the core, and it’s a display of all our skills both on turntables and as producers.” Total Eclipse adds, “Expect the unexpected but the core of it all is built from scratch.”
For those who have not witnessed the X-ecutioners live, it certainly is a visual eyeful as well as an introspective musical journey. Their ‘body tricks’ incorporate every imaginable body part including elbows, noses, even their lips to manipulate the vinyl while spinning around, jumping and trading positions behind neighboring turntables. All the while keeping the beats flowing in perfect time, and cueing up the next track on their headphones.
The X-ecutioners continually strive to stay at the top of the game. The guys’ most demanding musical accomplishment? “Trying to stay on the edge of the art that we represent. Being the consummate hip-hop DJ,” offers Raida.
Check the X-ecutioners out on the web at www.x-ecutioners.net.
Photo by Keith Smith