I had the opportunity to interview the amazing DJ Rob Swift, who for the record is one of the reasons I became a serious turntablist myself (I am sure that many other tablists feel the same way), and talk past, present, and future.
1200Dreams: I’m sure you are ready to tell our readers about your new album. First, can you break it down for some of our readers who may not be familiar with some of your past solo albums? Give us a lil’ history lesson.
Rob Swift: What up Cee? Well, I’ve released a total of four full-length albums. The first being “The Ablist” which I dropped in 1998. “The Ablist” was very experimental for me. Since it was my first solo album, creating it was a process of discovering who I was as a solo artist. Another interesting fact about “The Ablist” is I recorded the entire album in an actual recording studio. When I look back, I realize how much I appreciate recording at home instead of a studio.
My second album was released in 2001, “Sound Event”. This is when I started to understand what direction I wanted to take my vision of turntable music. My confidence was where I needed it to be and the creativity I displayed with songs like “Salsa Scratch” featuring Bob James & D Styles or “The Ghetto” showed the potential of the turntable as an instrument and voice. This was the first album I recorded in the comfort of my own home and I’ve continued to work out of my home studio ever since.
“War Games” 2005, was my third album. This is by far the most thought-provoking album I’ve released in my career. The overall concept of the album revolves around socio-political topics like 9/11, terrorism, the Iraq war, poverty, and even police brutality. All through the eyes, or should I say hands, of a scratch DJ.
My latest release, “The Architect”, makes my fourth album. If “War Games” is my most thought-provoking album, “The Architect” is my most avant-garde. I’m really pushing the envelope this time around ’cause I’m re-inventing my approach to creating an album. Unlike past albums where my love for Jazz served as the main inspiration for the music, “The Architect” fuses the genre of classical music with what I do as a turntablist. My goal was to create an album that would give us insight as to what would scratch music sound like if Mozart or Beethoven were turntablists!
1200Dreams: You have had a successful tur,ntablist career as both a member of crews and as a solo performer. Give us a little insight into the differences (pros and cons) of being a crewmember and a solo tablist.
Rob Swift: For the most part, working with the X was a great experience. Being a member of a group of talented DJ’s such as Roc Raida R.I.P., Total Eclipse, and Mista Sinista always motivated me to push myself. It was also a great way to feed off the energy and ideas of my partners. That being said, when you’re working in a group, any group, it’s important to understand that everyone involved in a particular goal or task must work together and agree on the best way to achieve that goal. That can be very challenging. Especially if there’s ideas you may have that are important to you as an individual but don’t fit the overall group concept. For this reason, I made sure I had an outlet for my individual ideas. The X was made up of different people with different backgrounds and different musical taste. Thus, we always had to be conscious of representing every person’s vision to some degree. But as a solo artist, I was able to run wild, try everything and not limit myself. I honestly wouldn’t of created an album like “The Architect” with the X-ecutioners because my discovery of classical music was unique to me and where my heart was as a musician. However, in taking on the task of composing “The Architect” by myself, you also have to accept all of the responsibility of recording on your own shoulders. Going at it alone can very time consuming and even stressful at times. So yeah, there are pros and cons to both working as a group and as a solo artist. I’ve been lucky enough to experience both.
1200Dreams: Let me say right here that I have all of your works in my personal collection. To me, “War Games” was one of the best turntablist albums out there. You know, I always told you how much I loved that “A Terror Wrist” song! But then, I got a sneak preview of your new album entitled “The Architect” which is due to be released on February 23. I have to say, I was blown away by the sounds I heard! Excellent album! So my first question to you about your new album is, when released, will it be available on vinyl? And next up, please explain to us the theme of “The Architect” and the process with which you put it all together.
Rob Swift: Thanks for the compliment Cee! Unfortunately, I’m not sure if my label Ipecac will be manufacturing “The Architect” in vinyl format. The truth is the record industry has changed since the days of “The Ablist”. It’s hard enough to get people to buy CDs. I’m hoping that when “The Architect” drops, people will show their support and hopefully sales will be good enough to inspire us to release a special vinyl edition of the album.
Anyone who’s followed my career since my first mix tape, “Soulful Fruit”, knows that I’ve historically turned to jazz as a way to help convey my ideas as a DJ. But a little over a year ago, my girlfriend introduced me to the genre of classical music. Unknowing to me, composers like Chopin and Mozart would become my inspiration for my next album. As I started working on “The Architect”, I found myself scratching sounds like harps and violins that would become thematic and reintroduced throughout the album in different ways. I was literally creating songs with second and third movements. Gradually, “The Architect” began to take shape!
1200Dreams: One thing I have always respected about you (besides your obvious tablist/musical skills) is the fact that you love the turntablist art form, and want to see it continue and advance in the future. You have recently started an online scratch radio show called “Dope on Plastic” as a way to give back to the scratch community and give up and coming turntablists a chance to be heard. Tell us more about that.
Rob Swift: In the last several years, Scion has been a major staple in the DJ community. Their nationwide club events serve as a platform to showcase many different types of progressive DJ’s. In the past, Scion has booked me to spin at events held in cities like Atlanta, Boston, St. Louis, and LA. Recently, Scion and I reconnected to reach music fans via their online site, Scion Radio 17, a radio station that streams 17 channels of music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year round. If you log on to www.scionav.com/radio/channel14 you’ll tune in to my show “Dope On Plastic” which is similar to the series of mixtapes I’ve released over the years. You can expect to hear a mixture of Jazz, Funk, Rock, Rare Grooves, Hip Hop, etc. I also feature special guest DJs. As you said, my goal with “Dope On Plastic” isn’t just to showcase my personal taste in music. I’m also determined to expose the world to DJ’s I like to listen to. I even got you and Needlz as special guests for March’s installment, haha!
1200Dreams: You know I keep my ear tuned into the scratch game, and one thing I have been hearing floating around is that there may be a new X-ecutioners album in the works. Is this true? Care to shed a little light on this?
Rob Swift: There just may be. Let’s see what the future brings…
1200Dreams: Well Rob, I know you are a busy man, and I appreciate you giving our readers some of your time to get them up to date on your career. Before we wrap this up, do you have any additional words you would like to leave us all with?
Rob Swift: I’d like to thank you, Cee for this interview and I’d like to send a big THANK YOU to all those who’ve continued to support me throughout my career. Peace!
1200Dreams: Thank you again Rob Swift! His new album “The Architect” drops on February 23. Make sure you pick yourself a copy (or two) up!
Check out DJ Rob Swift’s first video for his forthcoming album The Architect on Ipecac Recordings. This is “Rabia- 2nd Movement”. Directed by: Rodolfo Duran (DoneRightDigital.com) Filmed at Scratch Academy and FatBeats NYC