DJ Traps working his winning routine @ last night's 2013 San Franciso Regional DMC DJ Battle
Proving that you really can make lemonade out of lemons DJ Traps - last night's winner of the 2013 San Francisco Regional DMC DJ Battle - shared during his acceptance speech that his personal life had not been going so good lately but that, via his craft, he had managed to turn all that negativity into something positive. "I been through a lot of shit recently," admitted the winner of the prestigious DJ battle without going into detail. "But I took it all out here," he said gesturing towards the two turntable and mixer set up on which he had just done his stunning six minute winning routine of the heated, high caliber DJ battle.
The competition - the second annual Bay Area DMC Regional in a row after a noticeable six year gap of any DMC battles in the Bay - was a fun and talent-packed turntable competition that was as much a DJ battle as it was a reunion and gathering of Bay Area hip-hop DJs of the past few decades. In addition to young DJ cats like Santa Rosa competitor DJ Lazy Boy (aka Gregory The Great) there were OG Bay Area DJs like DJ Apollo, Pos Red, DJ Quest, and QBert who all started out in the 80's as well as next generation DJs like Teeko, Snayk Eyez, and Golden Chyld who arrived on the scene in the 90's. The whole event, that ran from mid afternoon into the evening at Neck of The Woods on Clement St. in San Francisco, exuded good vibes and a shared love by all in the house for hip-hop DJ'ing and scratch music. DJ Lazy Boy, who placed third in the competition, said during his acceptance speech onstage with DJ Apollo - the MC of the night - that he had grown up listening to the Triple Threat DJ crew (the Bay Area supergroup featuring Apollo along with Shortkut and Vin Roc - another one of the night's judges) and that he used to practice his DJing to, using routines done by Apollo as his template, noting that "it was an honor" to now be onstage alongside his turntable hero.
Following a great warm up set by Mista B, who dug deep in his crates to spin lots of old school and golden era classics (Grandmaster Flash + Furious Five featuring Melle Mel, Run DMC, Audio Two, etc.) plus a bunch of throwbacks from the Bay Area including IMP/Cougnut and Rated X/C-Funk, the SF DMC battle started with the first round of each of eight DJs doing two minute routines.
The DJs, who all utilized Serato or some other form of laptop driven technology, included Benny Contrera and San Francisco born/Seattle residing DJ Smerk who incorporated some Public Enemy into his short presentation. DJ Traps served up a nice routine over a disco funk beat that gave just a hint of what would later follow in his battle winning set. DJ Inbuitin, who had organized last year's DMC battle, was dressed in white hoodie and performing off matching white records while utilizing a Dr Dre beat in his tight set. Meanwhile DJ Cassette delighted the crowd by incorporating some body tricks - at one time a staple of DJ battles - into his two minutes. Even more of a crowd pleaser was DJ Lazy Boy's Muppets themed routine ("I like to do themes in my sets," he told me later.) Really impressive were both South Bay DJ Neemo's set and DJ Primo's routine that opened with a reworking of Jay-Z's "99 Problems."
As visiting NYC DMC organizers Christie Z Pabon and Marilyn Alonzo tallied the votes by the judges (Pos Red, Q-Bert, Quest, Vin Roc, Goldenchyld, and myself) the audience was treated to performances by Deeandroid and Celskiii of Skratchpad who presented the battle, and the veteran Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters' DJ Cue and DJ Quest who, towards the end of their impressive set, were joined in impromptu scratch interplay with Quest by Mista B going back and forth with the veteran San Francisco turntable master. Soonafter DJ Pone jumped on the turntables in Mista B's place but like Mista B proved no match for the legendary DJ Quest's lightening fast, ninja like moves. Among the other DJ performers of the evening was DJ Vex One who delivered a killer set rooted in hip-hop's golden era. Before proceeding to the second round MC of the night Apollo gave a shout out to Roc Raida and all the fallen DJs who had passed on prematurely.
Starting the all important second round that would determine who would take the coveted title was San Jose DJ Inbuitin who used the same Dr Dre beat that he had incorporated in his first set - a move that may have gone against him with the judges. Up next and also from San Jose was DJ Cassette who, despite some pesky technical difficulties at the start of his set, soldiered on without stopping or giving up in frustration as many might have in his position - something that MC of the event DJ Apollo gave him kudos for noting that despite those technical glitches that he "handled it like a pro and didn't act rattled." For this second round the DJs got to do the longer six minute set which meant they could really stretch out and show what they had to offer. This DJ Lazy Boy, who had the most charisma and connected with the crowd the most, amply did. At last year's SF DMC battle, when the North Bay DJ advanced from the 2 minute opening round into the second round he wasn't prepared and hence didn't have a six minute routine ready to go. This year he did and delivered a most entertaining, richly diverse, set that included a variety of snippets of beats and rappers including Guru and his fellow hometown artist Ray Luv. He even threw in a couple of body tricks.
Most impressive was Santa Cruz DJ Neemo who delivered the most original and advanced, next level set - although it may have gone over the heads of many in the audience - melding trippy down-tempo beats with some of the most intricate scratching of the whole night. Then came DJ Traps who totally blew peoples' minds as his entertaining set elevated things to a whole new level with some off the wall scratches and tricks in his carefully prepared six minute routine. It was a hard act to follow but Santa Rosa's DJ Primo, the last contestant of the last round, met the challenge with a sick six minute routine.
As one of the judges my work was cut out for me in deciding on who of the talented six should make it into the top three best DJs of the battle since each contestant had so much to offer. But the final tally of all judges was fair I believe: Lazy Boy in third place, Neemo in second, and DJ Traps as winner. But really, corny as it may sound, everyone was a winner since all the DJs contributed so much to the event by sharing their art and skill following hours upon hours of practicing their routines at home in the months leading up to the battle.
Upon accepting his runner-up prize DJ Neemo made a point of thanking his ever-patient girlfriend for putting up with his endless practicing in their small cramped apartment where his turntable set up is in their bedroom. "At 1:30 in the morning when she is trying to sleep I'm click-clacking away practicing," he said. No doubt between now and August 3rd, when the DMC US Finals take place in New York City, winner DJ Traps will be putting in endless hours of practicing himself for his set that could mean another national DMC title for the Bay. In accepting his prize last night Traps assured everyone that he wouldn't let his home turf down. "I'm gonna represent the Bay Area in New York," he promised the San Francisco crowd to loud applause.