Z-Trip Talks About his Legendary Career in an iEDM Exclusive Interview
Z-Trip is the original G of the DJ scene.
Having a career that spans over the course of decades, he was as humble as a kid who was just cutting his teeth into the business.
The talented trailblazer took the time to speak with iEDM about his music in an exclusive interview after an insane set with his friend and partner, LL Cool J.
"I'm feeling good, man. It was kind of different from all of the shows we do all over the world for a particular reason. This one was very special because I was born here. To be on stage in Queens, with LL Cool J, who is also from Queens...I had so many moments," Z-Trip told iEDM backstage at The Meadows festival in September.
The glow in Z-Trip's eyes told the story of a man who accomplished his wildest dreams. He continued, "It is very hard to describe. As a young kid growing up, doing this, I never thought I would be up there in that situation."
The veteran DJ went into detail about his childhood and the area he was raised in. "There were spots on Northern Boulevard, in Little Neck, where I was at. As a kid, you remember Carvel and little things like that. You look around and go, 'Oh yeah! That spot is still there.' I drive through the neighborhood to see what's still there and what's not. What used to be there. 'That used to be a school!' Now it's an apartment complex or some shit," he laughed. "Stuff that doesn't really matter to anyone else but me but it's stuff like that which is wild to see. Just to be breathing the air man," said Z-Trip.
Being a native Queens boy, his family knew that you had to hustle in order to make it in the city that never sleeps. Z-Trip explained, "I grew up in a very musical family. My mom played guitar, keys and sang. My brother also played guitar. I played drums as a kid. Music was always around. I think for me, I realized hip-hop was what I really wanted to do. Being a DJ was what I really wanted to do."
What a DJ Z-Trip would become. He picked up his skills along the way by learning from all of the greats before him. "I would listen to WBLS and Kiss-FM back in the day. With Mr. Magic and Marley Marl. Marley was here today. I looked at him and went, 'This is one of the guys I would study as a kid. And he is here!' That was one of those moments," Z-Trip shared with iEDM.
Z-Trip is a true student of the game. He took every opportunity to hone his craft in order to climb the ladder of success. Z-Trip stated, "I would listen to New York radio and listen to DJs manipulate records which is kind of how I realized what I wanted to do. I could hear them doing things. I knew the records that they were playing. I was kind of self-taught. I would listen and pay attention."
The DJ's intense focus to leave his mark on the game would lead him to shaking up the system from the ground up. That involved him introducing new sounds to people who were left in the dark. Z-Trip told iEDM, "There was also a moment where I moved to Arizona where I was going back and forth between Arizona and New York for a minute. I would buy all these hip-hop records and bring them to Arizona and play them to people who had no idea what the fuck this music was."
He continued, "Also, I was getting exposed to these rock records and weird records that nobody in New York knew. I had this balance of both worlds."
That worldly perspective gave Z-Trip a direct and distinct advantage over the competition. By being open, he knew he could unite people from all walks of life to celebrate the creativity of music. "I realized the similarities between all of the different music. Drum breaks being the anchor in most things. You can trace it back to people who were doing that as well. For example, Rick Rubin, who was sampling Led Zepplin for The Beastie Boys. Or "Walk This Way" with Run-DMC. It was people bridging the gap between both worlds," Z-Trip recalled.
"I lived in both worlds. I listened to heavy metal records and hung with those kids. I would also hang with the b-boys. The kids who listened to hip-hop and got exposed to that. I saw what the other side didn't want to see or didn't really acknowledge early on because those two worlds didn't hang out with each other at the time," he sighed. Z-Trip continued, "It's funny, because all of the music on each side...there were a lot of similarities. The same kind of 'rughhh' from hip-hop and the same kind of 'rughhh' from the guitar. It was the same kind of angst and energy coming from both worlds."
It was time for Z-Trip to attempt to change the industry for the better. "I saw the similarities and would try to bring those two together. I would basically play hip-hop records for the metal kids and the metal records for the hip-hop kids. Some people got it. Some people were like, 'Get away with that bullshit,'" Z-Trip remembered while shaking his head.
People started to catch on to what Z-Trip was doing. The rebellious DJ smiled, "Eventually, we all sort of got away from keeping music segregated in a sense. Now, it's like, you just go to the record store and browse through everything as opposed to just going to the rap section or just going to the rock section."
The game-changing DJ isn't afraid to use his platform to take a stand when it comes to American politics. "I think it's important to use your voice and to be able to voice your opinion and how you feel about things. It's funny, there are people who are involved in music who are afraid to speak up about anything or choose a side because they don't want to alienate fans or whatever. To me, fuck all that," Z-Trip said without missing a beat. As he stood his ground, he continued, "I look at the people who I grew up listening to. They completely voiced their opinion. I learned a lot from KRS-One. I learned a lot from Chuck D from Public Enemy. I learned about cultures and things that I didn't know about because they spoke up about it."
The list didn't end there for Z-Trip. "Rage Against the Machine. Last Poets. Consolidated was a huge group for me in my college days. All these people. Anything that had a message of protest or a vibe to it I found myself connected because it was empowering. I felt like there was someone else who felt the same way I did and I would get a little bit of knowledge," said the legendary DJ.
Z-Trip made it clear that he is a man who will fight for equality even if it might mean losing petty people along the way. He explained, "Going to those shows, I would be surrounded by people who felt the same way I felt. It is important to be able to say something and not be like, 'Oh well, I may lose some sales.' Chances are, those are people you wouldn't want to fuck with anyway."
The political DJ then shared his thoughts on the current United States administration and didn't hold back. "I'm an all-inclusive person but at the same time, I don't know how anybody could be pro-Trump at this point. You know what I mean? Let's talk about that for a minute. I don't even know how that's possible," Z-Trip stated. He continued, "If I disagree with that person, we don't have to agree on anything. If we agree on music, that's one thing. If we don't agree on politics that's fine too, but I'm not going to not say something."
After spitting truth, Z-Trip wanted to talk about how he met the iconic LL Cool J. He told iEDM, "We linked up. There was a guy who was looking for us to do a TV show for him. The idea was for LL to host and for me to DJ. We took a meeting. It was the first time I met him. We took a couple of meetings after that." Z-Trip elaborated, "In that process, my manager, at the time, suggested that he come and do a guest spot at the show I was doing at South by Southwest. He agreed so he came out. We met up a couple of times at a rehearsal studio before that and we just really clicked."
It was an immediate match made in heaven. "We really vibed and felt like there was this good energy between us. We went out and did the show and it was amazing. He and I both realized that we had to do more of this. It just kind of snowballed. 15 minutes turned into 30 minutes. Then it went an hour. Then an hour and a half. Each time, this show keeps progressing," Z-Trip shared with iEDM. He valiantly continued, "This show keeps evolving which is the thing I love about it. It's a real DJ and MC doing it. I'm up there with turntables really doing it. If the needle skips or fucks up, we are still dancing on that wire. I like that. I like the idea of knowing that."
Z-Trip then took a few minutes to go back in time to discuss his breakthrough moment. "It's interesting. A lot of people may or may not know, when I first jumped on the scene, it was through the whole mash-up thing. I had a mix album that I did with DJ P that was called Uneasy Listening. That sort of opened up the door. Then I got signed and did my first album called Shifting Gears," said the DJ.
After that, Z-Trip continued to turn out more quality music over the years. It was during this time that he began to realize that the landscape of the game started to change. "I still kind of put out albums and mix records and everything, but I took a break from just releasing music for a minute up until now. I have three or four different projects that I'm messing with now. There was a moment there where I felt that DJing was getting so saturated," Z-Trip stated. He isn't the type of guy who is going to sellout to the establishment to make some extra cash. "I'm not really trying to add to the noise. It's nice now. I feel that the noise is turned down a little bit and the bubble has sort of burst in a certain regard where you don't have to be up there dancing around, jumping up and down, cheerleading. You can actually have skills and people would appreciate it."
Z-Trip compared the hysteria to a genre of the past. "There was a moment where people were just getting hip to what DJs were. So...I let that run for a second. Kind of like disco. There was a moment in disco where everyone was like, 'Disco!' You just had to take a minute and let it breathe. I feel like the things I'm about to put out now are very rooted into real creativity and skills and real DJing," he stated. Z-Trip followed up with, "I'm going to try to push the boundaries and not sound like everybody else. It's nice 'cause these are things that are happening at the top of next year. Keep an eye out because next year is going to be the year."
The resilient DJ made it clear. Being a person who has survived in the music industry for three decades, he knows what it takes to get the job done right. "30 years I've been doing this. It's not about trying to compete with the young kids coming up but to push art and put out creative things weather they fly or do. I'm just trying to get all of these creative ideas out of my system before I pass on," said Z-Trip.
2018 is going to be an interesting year for Z-Trip. Before enjoying the rest of his night, he hinted to music fans that he is ready to rock the boat one more time. "I think you'll dig what I'm doing. Basically my whole approach was, 'What is everybody doing right now? What can I do that is the opposite of that?' That's what Uneasy Listening was at the time. It was the complete opposite of what was going on. I've got a couple more of those angles left in me," Z-Trip grinned.
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Banner photo provided by Steve Dykes Photography.