The art of DJing has changed significantly over the years. Some DJs who are stalwarts of the old style often bemoan practitioners in the modern age who utilize computerized tricks to get over. These “new age” mixers often believe that DJing software is the way to go and that turntablists are obsolete. But there are those like DJ Kid Capri who know a mixer should use the new to enhance the old.
A legend in the game, Capri has produced tracks for everyone from Big L, Heavy D, Brand Nubian, and Boogie Down Productions to the incomparable Quincy Jones. The house DJ for seven seasons on Def Comedy Jam, he was recently asked to remix a track featured on the Smirnoff Nightlife Edition of Madonna’s MDNA album. With street cred that goes deeper than the Material Girl, if DJing was a martial art Kid Capri would be transcendent with his skills.
In this exclusive interview, The Shadow League talked to the man who is still one of the most sought after DJs in the game to discuss how the craft has changed because of hip hop.
“It’s changed a lot, but in my realm and for what I do, I try to keep everything authentic and the same. In hip hop generally, when the music changes everything else changes. But, it’s all essentially good music,” said Kid. “Whatever good music you can make and come out with, that’s what’s going to go. As far as the groundbreaking hip hop artist from back in the day, they’re given a hard way to go because their stuff is not heard on a regular basis. So this new wave of music is the thing that goes. That goes with every genre of music with the exception of maybe rock music. In hip hop, it branches out to a number of things. The style and the lean of it is totally different. It goes on and comes back to the beginning and does the same thing again. A couple years later, it does the same thing again. So, it’s very hard to stay in one time zone with hip hop music because it’s constantly changing.”
There are a plethora of DJs in the game right now, some are on the radio, others in the clubs. Kid Capri is one who has done and seen it all. But he actually looks up to a few.
“The DJs that I like now are a lot of the DJs from back in the day, because I feel like they know so much more. Their way of thinking about music is so much more. Brothers like Jazzy Jeff, Grandmaster Flash, and all the earlier dudes. Jazzy Jeff is very relevant in this business right now. So it’s kind of hard to judge what happened then and now. He’s one of the top dudes to me. But there’s a lot of guys that are working it and doing what they’re doing,” he says. “But there’s so many DJs because the computer came out. You just throw MP3s on there. It’s kind of hard to identify who’s really good. The ones that I do know, Funkmaster Flex, DJ Clue, they’ve been around forever. I’m talking about the new guys. It’s hard to tell. I like DJ Self, Suss One and dudes like that. But there’s so many other dudes that are out. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint who’s who.”
Though Kid Capri fancies himself as a bit of a purist in the artform of DJing, he is well aware of the benefits of going electronic. But there’s a limit to his reliance on modern tools.
“It only takes away from the art form if you use the trickery. I just was talking to DJ S&S about CDJ [Compact Disc Player DJ]. I’m not a CDJ dude. I need a needle. If I’m going to be on a turntable I need to be able to touch the needle. That’s where I come from and I think the performance level is way better than the CDJ. That’s just how I feel,” says the Bronx-bred master mixer. “But the computer is all right. Jazzy Jeff is the one who convinced me to get on it. This was when we came back with Def Comedy Jam on HBO and we let Mike Epps host. When we first did Def Comedy Jam they wanted me to play all Def Jam Records, but when we brought it back they let me play my own productions. In order for me to do that I had to use Serato. So I put one of those beats into Serato and started doing the show for the season and I started seeing it for what it was. I started putting break beats in there, the old school records in there, the new records in there. Next thing you know, all my crates were in there. When the computer program came out it was all good because things that would have never left your house will be in that computer. I used to travel with 15 crates of records. I’m the first dude in hip hop to own a tour bus and not rent one because I had 15 crates going on every plane around the country. So when Serato came out, I was able to put all of that in there. So you can do two or three shows in a night. There were so many good things with it. You can download something right there if you need it, and the Internet is right there if you need it.”
Technology has plenty of pluses. Where would we be without our Internet and our plasma television sets? But with every plus there are minuses as well. Kid Capri says that while he enjoys using modern DJing tools to enhance his skills, there is definitely a limit to what he is willing to do.
“With all the trickery that comes with it, I don’t know. There’s an absolute mode on [Serato] and there’s an internal mode. What the internal mode means it that it will never skip. Wherever you place the record that’s where it’s going to be. You can hit it and it won’t skip. Absolute mode is using it to play like regular records. That’s how I use it, like regular records. I don’t want to get bored with the trickery that comes with it. I want to stay on top of myself. I feel like when things get a little too easy and people start using all these little methods and have all these tricks, it ain’t DJing anymore. It becomes boring,” says the man who has been DJing professionally since he was 8-years-old. “When I used to bring my 15 crates out, people use to see me at my shows running to each crate. I will throw a record on the turntable, put the needle on, and at the last second catch the song. So I’ve had to keep it interesting with the computer. When people see me playing them I’m not on absolute mode and that keeps me on top of my game. There’s a lot of different things out there that help DJs be who they are, but if you take that away from them a lot of them wouldn’t be as good as they look. They would be so regular up in there.”
Currently working on a plethora of projects, including a studio album that will feature a multitude of emcees with a name on the battle rap circuit. Many of them their skills haven't translated to success in the mainstream or a sustainable major record deal. Kid is now about blending the old and new with forward motion that takes it back to the progressive passion of the old school.
“Battle rappers have this stigma that they can’t make good records,” said Capri. “They’re good on stage with their battle rap, but a lot of them have bad reps about making a record. Because battle rappers don’t have the good producer to tell them how to say it on the record or give them the type of beat they should be on. They don’t have no direction. A lot of battle rappers like KRS-One, Eminem, LL Cool J and even Meek Mills, they had people to say, ‘This is the direction you need to go.’ I got tired of hearing that battle rappers couldn’t make good records. So I decided to make some beats and get all the top battle rappers that’s out and make this album called Top Tier. I started it in April and it’s already done.”
“The last album I did was 1998, because I didn’t want to deal with clearances, rappers' egos, lateness and all that. I got with these battle rappers and they made me change my whole idea about doing albums.”
With several major labels competing in a bidding war for his new project, Capri says he’ll release it as soon as one of the bidders mentions the magic number. In the meantime, you can catch DJ Kid Capri on tour in Pittsburgh, PA on July 3, followed by two events in New Orleans for the Essence Music Festival on July 4. He’ll return home to New York City for a show on July 10.
For more info on where to catch him next log onto www.kidcapri.com.