posted: 09-13-04
interview: quote35 (g.lehrl) of
We hook up with ATL's own Dj Mafioso to speak about music, life, politics and much more. He is a solo artist as well as the DJ for Binkis Recs. And he made some noise through his innovative "La Bodega" mixtapes that shouldn't be missed. Read on. (Read the reviews here and here)
Mafioso. Let's start with your roots: Where did you grow up?
I was born and partly raised in Corona, Queens, NY. Home to Kool G Rap, Beatnuts and more. Then moved down to the red dirt of Atlanta, GA in 1986.
Who has influenced you in your early days?
Well, the whole b-boy and hip hop culture in NYC. My older brother was a fashionable B-Boy - he walked the walk, talked the talked and dresses like a b-boy but didn't break. He was more into martial arts and kickboxing but you know hip hop was the fashion of the time, the 80's. The belts with your name on it, the rope chains, the berets, the fox tails, shell toes with fat laces, tube socks all the way up with short shorts. But some of his crew were really down and they used to school the lil kid on the block - me - on the ways of the b-boy popping floor moves.
As far as DJing: I grew up listening to Kool DJ Red Alert and Chuck Chillout, Grandmaster Flash - you know NYC radio was the shit back then. That's when you heard all kinds of dope music, not just hip hop. But the cutting and scratching got my attention quick. My favorite memories as a kid was sitting on the stoop with my brother's boom box and Carrera Shades totally absorbed with the sounds and the MIX.
My cousin DJ Nelson in Miami was my main influence and my grand master - he gave me my first belt drive turntables and mixer. Before that I used to make pause tapes and practiced cutting on my moms Technics turntable and a Pioneer receiver that had a cut switch. That was strictly outta boredom when we first moved to ATL.
I used to play baseball with a passion like most Dominican youths my age but a knee surgery quickly transferred the energy and motivation to hip hop and music in general.
After that, in which ways did you enter this culture as an active person?
I personally got in touch with Hip Hop through Beat Street and Wild Style, 'cause I was too young to participate. But it was a growing desire in my heart since being like seven years old.
You are Binkis Recs. DJ. How did you hook up with them?
That's a question I don't get a lot. Basically we were both makin' moves in Atlanta: me and my crew Murdah One / Bambu De Asiatic and the basic Binkis Crew. Me and the Binkis crew ran into each other at shows but we never spoke or got down together.
See I had my crew and my rapper that I produced and promoted - Bambu de Asiatic - and they had theirs. Me and Bambu still run together to this day and they had Binkis which was a much larger crew than what you see on stage. In ATL at the time it was very competitive and there were a lot of groups breaking out. But over time things shifted, crews dismantled and people revolutionized into other things.
The event that set us off was one night at this club called MJQ. It's still the hot spot for underground hip hop in ATL. Me and Bambu were performing that night and Binkis were set to perform but their former DJ couldn't make it anymore and he was on his own path to success - in fact he is really blowing up right now. His name is DJ Drama. That's still our people. He's a real good cat and a dope ass DJ. Jax basically stepped to me on the spot and asked me to fill in - with no practice or never ever hearing their material I rocked the show with them lovely and they were amped about how this kid was able to handle the on the spot job. We ran into each other a couple more times, then Jax started to hit me up about studio time cause I ran a lil studio outta my moms house. I was recording some stuff for him and doin' cuts. But the hood legend is that Jax wasn't too sure about me, in fact they rocked with another friend of ours - DJ Quiz. But my man Flux saw something in me and gave me the seal of approval and basically talked Jax into giving me a try and the rest is history.
Besides Bambu de Asiatic and you, who else is associate with your crew Murdah One?
DJ Sinista, Lil Chief, DJ NiK da Cuban, Karib, Testa…
What's a Binkis show like?
Man these cats Flux, Jax and Killa Kalm are crazy creative and their hip hop knowledge is vast. I mean they can tell you what year what album came out and even say the lyrics word by word of any hip hop jam that meant anything. So they take a lot from the old school and add their flavor to it. But still keeping it as close to the original form as possible.
We have that original formula of three dope mcees and one DJ. No DATs. It's always off the wall. Unpredictable and zany. You are going to laugh, bop your head real hard and be amazed with the spectacular lyricism and stage presence. If they weren't rappers they would be the most hilarious comics or skit actors.
You are recording the vocals and are mixing a lot of stuff for Binkis. What equipment are you using?
Yeah, I consider myself the Binkis' engineer. Even if I don't record the thing or mix it I have to approve the mix if it's going on a Binkis album or project. If they get paid to do a song for someone else's project then that's on the other crews name.
Like I said I started in my mom's crib, recording vocals in the bathroom shower onto a Roland VS880. But I quickly grew out of that and my moms house, so when I moved out I went to Pro Tools and never looked back. I record and mix in Pro Tools outta my house. I record the vocals with an Audio Technica 4033 going through an HHB radius tube Preamp/compressor/eg straight into Protools. I try different rooms in the house and different recording patterns of the way they spit into the mic or the configuration. They might do solo or group vocals.
When producing beats, are you working software-based with Pro-Tools only or do you also use a MPC?
A lil of both. Pro Tools gives you the right tools and it's visual. So you can see everything you are doing. But I sequence mostly with the MPC.
What other equipment are you rocking in your studio?
As far as beats, I got the MPC2000XL. I just recently sold a mint SP1200 where I did most of my beats. Other than that a Kurzweil K2000 rack, Evolution midi controller.
As far as mixing, how big would you call the creative process that is embedded in mixing a track?
Well, it's quite extensive being that Binkis is such a creative group musically. There is a lot of automation involved; effects are kept to a minimum but used very creatively.
Are you attending DJ battles?
Sure, but not as a participant. I rather battle somebody for the fame and the name not some bullshit equipment and definitely not for no damn tobacco products. Battle me when you see me - that's my motto. Fuck practicing for a battle. I consider myself a genuine hip hop DJ and I'm ready at a drop of a dime.
If you watch battles today it seems that the 'big guns' with charisma and a certain personality are disappearing and it's all about technique. Back in the days it was also important that you had an unique record selection for battles. What's your view on that?'
That's why it doesn't appeal to me. After the Q-Bert era it all became boring, cause everyone started jackin' and biting. But I do still follow my local hero DJ Klever - that's a good man and one of the best battle DJs because of his originality and style.
You released two mixtapes called "La Bodega". Bodega means warehouse. So, which goods can one expect if he buys it?
Well, the La Bodega series are my 3rd and 4th mixtapes. Before that was my 1st mixtape - on cassette - "Dj Mafioso From The Clubs To The Street". Then came the three hour mixtape "Mafioso's Way". Then came the "La Bodega Series".
La Bodega actually means 'the store,' or in my case of growing up in NYC: the corner store where everyone bought an array of neighborhood products. I chose the theme cause it represents my background being Latino and growing up in NYC. It also exemplifies what you find in my mixtapes: rare and exclusive products, music from my hood that you wont find anywhere else ever.
In general, how many of the tracks that appear on them are exclusive material?
40%-80%. Because of the studio - Put2Wires2Gether Studios Chamblee, GA - and because I also make beats, I have the chance to reap in the vast talent that ATL has to offer and also make original tracks and have original rhymes. That all stems from coming up DJing in the dancehall culture with DJ Sinista from Murdah One Sound System. Danehall DJs claim to fame are their infamous 'Dubplates'. My mixtapes take from that but steps it up a notch.
What about the concept of your tapes? Is a certain concept important for you?
Definitely. It adds to the originality. Look at Masta Ace for example: his last two albums were concept albums and they are the dopest albums he has come with, in my opinion, since "Slaughterhouse". It makes the mixtape or album so unique and adds to a trademark sound. It's like a logo, you know. It's how I want to be remembered musically for that era.
In which ways are you trying to create 'special' tapes, that ideally, are timeless?
Original production, rare selection of emcees, rare records and rare mixes. I'm rapping on the "La Bodega" mix series to let cats know that I can hold it down and spit some reality. I'm not trying to be Tony Touch or nothing but after being around so many dope emcees and recording them, I know what it takes to have a good flow and rhyme. I am a unique individual, so what ever I do - it's different. If my stuff starts sounding like the next, that's when I'll hang it up.
You often are flipping the original versions of tracks into something different, what's the idea behind that?
Well, especially if it's a known and played record, I want to put my own signature on it -whether it's original beats or original remixes using other vinyl.
A couple of times the tracks get a latin flavor, e.g. the new version of "Drop A Gem On Em" or the second half of "La Bodega Volume Dos." Where do you have your roots?
Well, I'm the son of Dominican immigrants proud to be and I'm very in tune with my motherland and culture. It was a very dominant source of my musical upbringing as well. As a kid even before hip hop, my family always threw house parties in NY. And the main rhythms were Merengue and Salsa. 70's salsa is also the most captivating and influential sound for me growing up, 'cause that's when salsa was really born and developed into what it is today. Back then Salsa was being fused with Jazz aka Latin Jazz and Funk or Boogaloo so it all related when I discovered Hip Hop. And being that I was very proud of my culture and music I always dreamed as a shorty of fusing these genres together since they were both so dear and close to me.
As a teenager I developed the knack to be able to blend any two records together no matter how far off they were so it all comes from that. The simple fact that my record collection stemmed and started from my parents and they had an assortment of records. I don' t know if some records were left or forgotten at my house after these parties cause we ended up with a lot of variety when I discovered them - like Bootsy Collin, James Brown, Stevie, Parliment, Kool and the Gang. Man, I even still think I am one of the only to own "Celebration" in Spanish that Kool & the Gang did....
Damn, I never heard of that. Where did that come out? Or was it a white label / bootleg?
Nah it came out on the same Deelight Record Label they were putting joints out on in those days. It's just that at that time there were actually creative people behind these labels and they came up with brilliant ideas to get their artists heard in other markets.
What are some of your favorite breaks?
"Apache", "Dance To The Drummer's Beat", Willie Colon "Ghane", "Impeach the president", "Take Me To The Mardi Gras". There is too many to name...
What's more important to you: a good beat or lyrics?
Man, for the longest time I never listened to lyrics; I was always driven by the beat. But after I got to recording, I began to listen a lot more. I mean don't get me wrong: I knew punchlines and metaphors but as far as word for word - nah. There were even tracks I used to argue with lyricist about, 'cause the beats were banging but the emcee sucked. But I wouldn't care, if the beat was hot. With the era of the lyricist like Nas and Jay-Z, lyrics became more of a focal point.
What music do you listen to at home when chilling out?
A lot of Brazilian grooves, a lot of my extensive Fania Collection. Ray Barretto, Billy Cobham, Manu Dibango, Mongo Santamaria, Hector Lavoe. Also a lot of Nas, Beatnuts - since they were so dope and neighborhood idols practically.
What's your verdict on Hip Hop in 2004?
Look man, as far as humans exist, there will always be good and bad, wack and dope. It's all about ignoring the wack. Don't even give it attention and the dopeness will shine always. I love Hip Hop and Hip Hop is forever. I'm not going to say it's wack just 'cause the wack takes control over the industry sometimes. If it's that bad, I have a big record collection that is still Hip Hop that I dig in the year 2004. It's progressing and I love to see it change, I neva hate on it.
Some of your favorite movies.....
"Wild Style", "Amorres Perros", "Scarface", "City of God", "Yank Tanks", "Our Latin Thing".
Some of your favorite books.....
"Where a nickel costs a dime", "Malcom X", "Yamaha's Sound reinforcement book", "Down These Mean Streets", "Bodega Dreams".
Let's get to politics. What's your view on racism in 2004?
It's still there. It might not be all towards Black anymore, but I face it everyday and the Latino underprivileged are getting the most of it in the 21 century, especially Mexicans. C'mon man, that's modern day slavery right in our faces.
What are the main problems that Mexican or Latin people in general will face when coming to the US?
Being taken advantage of, being used for cheap labor, being stripped of rights or coming with no rights at all. I can go on for days.
What form of racism do they go through? In terms of the difference to the racism towards the Black community?
Well, since there is a language barrier as well, they are taken advantage of a whole lot easier. They are treated second class. I say all this because I have felt it or been a victim of it at times, because I have been mistaken for being Mexican.
How has the face of racism changed over the last years?
The face doesn't change. The people oppressed changes but I do see more inter cultural racism as well nowadays.
In which form?
Hispanics hating on Hispanics because of where they are from, i.e.: Puerto Ricans vs. Dominicans. They are just picking on our differences based on where we are from instead of embracing it all.
A lot of people are considering the election between Bush and Kerry a vote for the lesser of two evil. Would you encourage people to vote?
I will even though it's a big machine. It's just like you say: choosing the lesser evil. If I had it my way Russell would be president or Ralph Nader. But voting for Nader is like voting for Bush, so... I don't think elections in any country are safe, fair and democratic and us being the 'supernation' means that our corruption is greater and runs deeper.
What do you think of the Patriot Act?
Well, with the Patriot Act I don't get the option to think or the option to have an opinion. Big brother is watching.....
Do you think it had an effect on daily life?
I'm on camera 95% of my everyday life and mad people are victimized. They use terrorism as an excuse but it's another form of control.
Let's talk about Atlanta. What are some of the hottest cats coming out of Atlanta that are not well known yet?
Vintage Imperial, Collective Efforts, 4Ize, Mustafa, Liuns Den Crew, Firestarters Crew and of course Binkis Recs.
What's life in Atlanta like?
It's cool. Sometimes it's just too slow but it's good. It has the hustle and bustle of any big city but we can retreat to the woods out here. It's not all concrete jungle. Being Hispanic causes some beef since the cops out here are always on the hunt for deportees. Hip hop is strong and there is a lot of different influences since it's a hub city and everyone out here is not really from Georgia.
What are your plans for the future?
Producing more, building my name and rep up more. Touring with Binkis, building a legit full function studio, sound design for movies or kids stuff. And giving back to the kids in any way I can: mentoring or spreading my knowledge and skills to benefit the shorties coming up. I learned everything I know on my own and it didn't have to be that way. The few people that showed me love went a long way. I will never forget them and what they showed me. It makes a great impact.
But on the current platter will be my "MafiTon" mix series, which will be a Reggaeton mix series with my own Reggaeton beats and funky people and acapellas on them. And of course "La Bodega Volume 3" will be under way shortly.
Building another 72 Datsun 510, finding my wife and procreating some more DJs or emcees.
That's a dope concept with helping out the kids. Do you already have some kids around you where you passed on your knowledge?
Lil cousins and my nieces love the idea of DJing. But I really don't try to bombard them until I see that they have that drive and passion to learn..
What do you mean with "building another '72 Datsun 510"?
I already built one earlier this year from the ground up with the help of a good friend named Dino. But I spilled on a curb doing like 65-70. It's a fast lil beast, so now I'm on the move to build another one. Everyone thinks I'm crazy but why give up? Like Nas said: destroy and rebuild and it will come out stronger and better.
But yeah I have a lil passion for these unsuspecting cars that are fast as hell.
Do you plan to release a producer album at some stage of your life?
Definitely. The "La Bodega" joints are building up to that. And I may be executively producing a Kool Akiem project later on this year; Kool Akiem from the now defunct Micranots crew.
Word Associations: Atlanta
where I earned my rep and my name
Puerto Rico
vacation, Tony Touch, some of the flyest women in the world, the best culos you can find on a girl, and the birthplace of some of the finest Salseros, Breakers and graff artists ever: Hector Lavoe
love and hate
original boom bap, my good friends, helped me build my name and my fame
Hip Hop
my life my culture
Yo, in case you want, please drop some lines about Jax:
The visionary. The CEO. The man with the plan. I have learned a lot from this brother and he doesn't even know it.
I didn't understand this cat at all at first. But he is a genius and we think very much alike.
Killa Kalm
the gun with a silencer. Spits fire. Very humble and very spiritual. A true man in every sense. Misunderstood but I know what's up fam.
Shout outs....
To the original crew Murdah One Sound System, Bambu de Asiatic, Collective Efforts, Vintage Imperial, Rising Sons and everyone who played a part in my life and in my come up. Shout out to Gregor from vitamine-source for believing in me and diggin' beneath the surface.
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