There are thousands of DJs who roam the music world these days, each with pockets of recognition and bits of fame. A few hundred of those actually have careers, built from a certain knowledge of music and skill, particularly in the genre of hip-hop. They disseminate that musical message behind two turntables or a production board earning their keep. But only one DJ can be considered one of the best live performance DJs ever, by both fans and peers.
Only one DJ can lay claim to being among the first new-school turntablists to incorporate thunderous rock riffs, right alongside meaty funk beats, swinging soul riffs and old hip-hop breaks. Only one DJ consistently headlines sold-out shows around the world. Only one DJ has been personally asked by Linkin Park, Cypress Hill, DJ Shadow and Dave Matthews to join them on the road. Only one DJ can be called the progenitor of the modern-day mash-up. We’re talking, of course, about Z-Trip. After years of forging an emblematic identity as one of hip-hop's preeminent DJs and showmen, Z-Trip has created his debut album, SHIFTING GEARS. It’s a timetraveling, stylistic opus that lives up to his reputation as being one of today's modern day music masters.
The album finds Z-Trip translating the energy and language of his performances into a cohesive, robust album. SHIFTING GEARS displays Z-Trip's own instrumental meditations and head-nodding collaborations with old-school veterans (Whipper Whip, Chuck D), vital contemporary MCs (Lyrics Born, Soup of Jurassic 5, Aceyalone, et al) and multiplatinum rocker Chester Bennington.
"I wanted to touch upon every possible reference point that's led me to where I am at this point in time. The album’s rooted in hip-hop, of course, and it's also a story about me and my experiences," says Z-Trip.
It was easy for him to recruit guests for his record. Through touring, he’s formed a number of friendships whose foundation is based in the shared love of music.
"I used their voices to tell my story,” he says. “I would give them a sense of what the song was to be about and then let them do their thing."
Z-Trip's story finds its first chapter when he started DJing as a 13-year old growing up in Phoenix, Arizona (he’s now based in Los Angeles). Despite its off-the-beaten-path locale, hip-hop culture was alive and well in the desert and, as he got older, Z-Trip found himself in the middle of a burgeoning scene. Part of a small collective of DJs, rappers and b-boys, Z-Trip and his then-partner, DJ Radar, formed the Bombshelter DJs, and began rocking parties with a mix of rap classics, new school jams, funk and soul rarities and rock and jazz breaks. He can mix different pieces of both popular and obscure records into a move-the-crowd mlange. It’s a skill that calls to mind pioneers like Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa.
In 1998, Z-Trip's blistering, funk-heavy remix of the Rush classic, "Tom Sawyer," was featured in the movie and soundtrack to Small Soldiers (Dreamworks). Soon his reputation outgrew his remote outpost and he began exporting his sound and showmanship across America, Europe, Japan and Australia. His live show could have come with this caveat: if you didn't dance, you were probably dead.
Those who have followed Z-Trip's career since the beginning know that he is credited as being king of today's "mash-up" sound. In live shows, Z-Trip likes to play with both the instrumentals and a cappellas found on 12" singles. It became a characteristic approach that ultimately resulted in the 2001 self-released Uneasy Listening Vol. 1, a mix-CD put together with fellow turntablist, DJ P. The acclaimed mix (called "genius" and "wholly original" by critics), clearly came from kids who had too many records and watched too much television but heard the beats, breaks and funkafied chaos within. It was originally issued in a limited edition of 1000 copies but was endlessly bootlegged by fans spreading the hype by word-of mouth. In 2002, Z-Trip was featured in the DJ documentary, Scratch. He contributed a mock instructional short film, How To Rock A Party, that would be featured on the movie's DVD release (and shown on MTV2). Z-Trip is one of the rare individuals who has earned the respect of his peers, original hip-hop masters and those in-tune stars from other genres. As his reputation as a performer grew, the demand for his performances increased. Z-Trip has headlined tours that would take him around the world. He's played high-profile festivals in the United States such as Bonnaroo and Coachella. He's opened up for The Rolling Stones, Ben Harper, The Wu-Tang Clan and De La Soul among others.