DJ Esquire took the 2013 US DMC Finals title over the weekend in New York at a packed Stage 48 nightclub with DJs Spare Change and Ease taking second and third places respectively in an entertaining evening that featured inspired six minute sets by each of the 13 US contestants, event host Kool DJ Red Alert providing funny banter, great sets by the special guest performer DJs Rockin Rob, Johnny Juice, and DJ Izoh, plus a surprise moment of true turntablist romance when New Mexico contestant OHM proposed to his girlfriend.
New York City DJ Esquire became a hometown hero Saturday night at the Hells Kitchen district club when garnered the most votes to take the new title at the 2013 US DMC Finals following a heated, high caliber DJ battle featuring 13 turntable talents from all across the country,. This achievement, that he earned despite his needle breaking toward the end of his intense six minute routine, means that the Brooklyn DJ will travel to London, England to represent the US in the DMC World DJ Championship 2013 finals on October 5th. Saturday night's talent-packed battle presented somewhat of a dilemma for all the judges, myself included, since the talent was so great that it was incredibly tough in making that final decision of narrowing it down to just three DJs. Truth is that each of the other ten DJ contestants also delivered incredibly impressive sets and, it could be argued, that any one of them deserved to have ranked in the final three. I was not alone in this summation since, after the battle, talking to such fellow judges as Roli Rho, DJ Cheese, DJ Shiftee, and Snayk Eyez - all of whom had chosen different top threes - the consensus was that it was too challenging task to narrow it down to a top three. Snayk Eyez summed the battle and the content of the competitors up best when he noted how each competitor was 100% on their game with their skills down to perfection meaning that then, "It all came down to delivery, presentation, showmanship," said the visiting Bay Area DJ/judge.
Indeed all the other ten DJs killed it too from the very first two opening contestants: DJ Les and Etronik - both of whom many felt should/have been in the top three. Same for the other eight that traveled to humid New York City for this respected, long running DJ battle - now celebrating 30 years. The other turntable talents that made to the national level included El Abstrackto from "the 305," DJ Traps from the Bay Area, Concept from Florida, Seattle's The Beat Molester, Portland's Flip Flop, NorCal's Chuck Flava, DC's As One, and groom to be OHM from New Mexico. Host of the battle Kool DJ Red Alert, who was funny and informative, kept the proceedings moving along at a nice pace and also reminded folks that hip-hop was celebrating its 40th year anniversary with a big event in Central Park in one week on August 10th with Kool Herc - the creator of the genre that was ultimately responsible for the night's event.
Before the battle I talked with the talented DJ Traps who had flown in from Cali the night before with his family from the Bay Area. Despite not getting a full night's rest and adjusting to the humid NYC temps he said that he felt relaxed and confident. "I had time to do two practice sets," he said nodding to one of the turntable set ups on the club stage. The Beat Molester had also flown out the day before from the West Coast; from Seattle, WA with a chance to take the title for the Great North West but that was not his main priority he told me. "This is a great opportunity to battle the best DJs in the country. I want to win but I feel I have already won by being out here. I just want to do my best and come off clean," he said. DJ Snayk Eyez was also out from the Bay Area. "I'm excited to be back here. I was here last year and that was the biggest and best and most exciting DMC in years. And this year will be even better I think," said the longtime Bay Area club and battle DJ - member of the 89 Skratch Gangstaz and Skratchpad member who has already headed back to the Bay Area for the big ten year anniversary of Skratchpad on Thursday (August 8th) at Neck of the Woods in SF.
As usual USA DMC CEO Christie Z Pabon was mad busy on Saturday running round making sure the event would go off smoothly which it did - an accomplishment when producing such a large scale DJ battle with so many set changes and variables to contend with. Amazingly Christie Z, whose support team on Saturday included her husband/Tools of War partner and respected hip-hop figure Popmaster Fabel and DMC organizer Marilyn Alonzo, somehow even found time before the battle to bake up several batches of tasty cookies for contestants and judges to snack on during the long evening. Starting things out after the doors opened at 5pm was the Bronx's DJ Rockin Rob (sporting a Daly City Cue's "Keep Vinyl Alive" red t-shirt) doing a killer set of 45 funk records.
For the DMC battle each contestant was to be judged on scratching, beat juggling, showmanship, stage presence, composition, creativity, originality, execution, technicality, and musicality. Up first was DJ Les from Phoenix AZ who was doing it "blind" as in keeping his laptop out of his view for his amazing six minute routine that ended with him playing the Biggie sample "beating muthafuckas like Ike beat Tina." Up next was Etronik - the SoCal DJ who enters a lot of battles and always delivers great sets. In fact he won the 2013 DMC NYC Regional battle a couple of months back which landed him back in New York for this battle in which his killer routine prompted Red Alert to laud the LA area DJ with the ultimate praise: "You a bad muthafucka!"
Spare Change from Dayton Ohio (who won Nashville DMC preliminary battle) displayed a nice original flavored set with some well thought out samples. Then half way into his set he surprised all when he completely discarded his laptop ("computer") assisted flow by resorting to vinyl only. Again host Red Alert was impressed: so much so that he led a shout and response with the (by now) packed house "When I say Spare - you say Change" he said to the crowd who happily complied shouting along with him. Right after the next DJ, El Abstrackto from "the 305" Miami FL, did his set fellow judge and renowned DJ Roli Rho of 5th Platoon fame mentioned how impressed he was with the caliber and obvious hunger of each contestant to date: "They all really want to win. They are all hungry and so talented too!," he said. Up next was the winner of the San Francisco DMC Regional from a few months ago DJ Traps from the Bay Area and repping San Jose which prompted Red Alert to sing a few bars from "Do you know the way to San Jose." Just as his winning set back in San Francisco Regional a few months previous had impressed attendees so too was this diverse set that included some Bay flavor and some punk rock too but ultimately the Bay Area DJ felt - as confirmed by his own Facebook postings following the battle - that he didn't give his finest performance based on his personal standards in which he had hoped to win something after traveling cross country. However he still did real good since, when the final votes were tallied, he ranked in fourth position based on votes/points by the judges.
Up next was DJ Concept from Florida followed by OHM from Albuquerque, New Mexico who proved he is a lover and not just a figther/battler - when, after his impassioned six minute set, took the mic from host Red Alert to say how "The love of my life" is in the audience. He then surprised her (Amy) and the entire house by whipping out an engagement ring and from the stage proposing marriage. With a look of utter surprise and tears of joy Amy shook her head and said "Yes" and they kissed. "I respect that," commented Red Alert afterward. "This is a feel good battle." Next was runner up DJ Ease from Rochester NY whose set included a sweet reworking of Dead Prez's "Hip Hop." Seattle representative The Beat Molester's name got a laugh out of Red Alert while his noise (lots of metal and punk) fueled six minute sonic assault set him apart from the other contestants. Also repping the West Coast was Flip Flop from Portland, OR whose DJ tag inspired Red Alert to offer "I know I got a crazy name but what the fuck is Flip Flop?" - "Oh I see" he said relaying to the audience what the DJ had told him off mic - that he is half Filipino and half white which is why he chose the name Flip Flop. Other contestants included DJ Chuck Flava who is from Chico CA but who won the Denver Regionals to make it to this level, As One from DC who killed it in his routine. The tenth of the thirteen contestants to perform at the New York City venue was the only NYC contestant; DJ Esquire from Brooklyn who was the clear crowd favorite of the battle with everyone loudly chanting his name and cheering him along before he got onstage and into his inspired six minutes which won him the most points of the night from the judges. When, later on as the results were announced, and Red Alert read Esquire's name as the new US national champ the DJ, known for been most self-confident and throwing up the middle finger to detractors, gingerly made his way up onto the stage, atypically teary-eyed, and in genuine shock and surprise. He told this to the audience citing the fact that his needle broke in his set as a reason he didn't think he had a chance of winning. But after composing himself he soon returned to his usual confident self - promising all that he would do his country proud in the DMC World Championships in London - which prompted the hyped audience of admirers to chant "USA, USA, USA…."