Interview by Dove ~Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~
Rob Swift, Roc Raida, Total Eclipse and Mista Sinista are turning the tables on an industry full of emcees. These vinyl vikings are bringing their raw deejay skills into the limelight and giving turntablists an opportunity for mainstream attention. With respect for those who came before them, The X-ecutioners are putting their own spin on success.
With each member of the group proving their worthiness to be inducted, the brotherhood of deejays didn't happen overnight. 1996 ITF World Champion Total Eclipse breaks the group's biographical timeline down succinctly. "The X-ecutioners started in '96 when we got the deal with Asphodel Records, but the crew in general - the X-Men - was founded in 1988 by Steve Dee, Roc Raida, Johnny Cash, and Diamond J. From 89-91 Rob got initiated into the crew - he met them from battling - then Sinista got down from being Rob's boy - then Rob met me in '94 at the NYU DJ Battle. From there we hit it off, then in '96 there was the ITF Championship and after I won that I got initiated."
Prior to and throughout their career as the X-ecutioners, each deejay has had his own set of accomplishments to be proud of. In addition to the ITF championship title, Total Eclipse spent time touring with Pharoahe Monch and Organized Konfusion. Rob Swift deejayed for Akinyele and Large Professor, and battled for his title as the 1992 East Coast DMC Champion. Mista Sinista was awarded the same title in 1996, and spent time spinning with both Common and The Beatnuts. Roc Raida captured back to back titles in 1994 and 1995 as the DMC American and World Champion, and deejayed for Showbiz & AG as well as Lord Finesse and Artifacts. While their resume' is astounding, these humble men are quick to pay homage to those who paved the way.
The nimble-fingered Rob Swift recalls the motivation for his musical passion. "I started out just doing parties, making mix tapes for friends - my father was a deejay, my brother was a deejay, so I just imitated what they did. Then I started finding out about deejays like Mixmaster Ice and Cash Money and Jazzy Jeff - I saw what they were doing was on a much higher and intense level. I wanted to learn how to do all the scratches and do all the tricks. Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster DST, this guy by the name of Dr. Butcher, Cash Money, DJ Aladdin - those are my favorite deejays, those are the guys I tried to model myself after and grew up learning from them."
Total Eclipse began his career similarly. "I started doing mix tapes for my high school, then house parties. From there I discovered Steve Dee, the original founder of X-Men, when I saw him in the '90 DMC USA finals - not actually live, but on a videotape - and I just mimicked everything that he did. From there I just found much love. The person that I idolize is Steve Dee," he smiles. "What makes him so special is that he's the one who got me into it and helped give me focus about what I really want to do in life. He's the one that actually geared me to be like â€˜okay, cool this is really what I wanna do'. I want to prove myself like he proves himself to just take out other deejays, but in an artistic point of view. I never knew I could make it a career, because I just wanted to live the average lifestyle basically - going to college, working the nine to five - but after I started performing and battling promoters started to come into play. All of us started going on the road and we just gravitated toward a new focus."
As ideas began to flow and the future appeared to be wide open, the men put their heads together to create a turntable crew that would expand beyond the needles of the New York club scene. "We just wanted to be able to establish ourselves as artists separate from emcees," explains Rob. "At the time we were all deejaying for different groups and we'd only get five minutes out of a forty minute show to really shine. We decided to just form a group amongst ourselves so we could expose the art and really get the chance to rock it and shine one hundred percent as opposed to just being in the background. A lot of our friends were people in Zulu Nation who at their events would call us to come and perform. Then you perform and do your little ten minutes, and there might be a promoter at the show who might want to book you for another show, and that's kind of how we started to grow."
Originally the X-Men contributed to various mix tapes and compilations, then The X-ecutioners released one full length album in 1997, X-pressions, while signed to Asphodel Records. Rob Swift went on to release his own project in 1999 entitled The Ablist, and also received accolades for one of his underground mixtapes, Soulful Fruit, which was later re-released on CD through Stones Throw Records. Now signed to Loud Records, the crew is on the verge of unveiling their sophomore album Built From Scratch.
Guest appearances and producers on the highly anticipated project include Large Professor, Kenny Muhammed, MOP, Dan The Automator, Linkin Park, DJ Premier, Pharoahe Monch, Xzibit, Inspectah Deck, Mad Skillz, Tina Weymouth of Tom Tom Club, Biz Markie, Everlast, Triple Threat DJ's, Fatman Scoop, Big Pun, Kool G. Rap, the Beat Junkies, and Dr. Butcher. The album was slated for a January release, but has been pushed ever so slightly into February awaiting completion of their video featuring rockers Linkin Park.
From various scratch styles to beat juggling and mixing, the X-ecutioners pride themselves on being well rounded. "You have to go from stage one to get to stage ten if you want to pose yourself correctly. I just love all styles - it's all connected - it's all artistic expression," says Total Eclipse.
Rob Swift playfully suggests the heights to which they can foresee taking their musical skills. "Hopefully each of us in the future will be like Quincy Jones. Or DJ Clue. Whatever floats your boat," he laughs. "But yeah, in the future I want to be like a Premier, where I'm producing a lot and still have the opportunity to lay scratches for people so I can do both at the same time. I do beats now, and we do a lot of our own production on our own projects."
Aspiring deejays will most likely look up to the X-ecutioners in the same way that Rob Swift and Total Eclipse beam about their turntable idols. Rob doesn't recommend putting all of your proverbial records in the same crate. "Don't limit yourself. You could have so much respect or admiration for a deejay and think that all that deejay doesâ€¦ well I can use myself as an example. I used to think that Cash Money was the best deejay in the world and no one could beat Cash Money and that he did all there is to know to deejaying. But then after Cash Money came Steve Dee, then after Steve Dee came Rob Swift, then after Rob Swift came Total Eclipse - so there's always more things you can do to a turntable and you shouldn't limit yourself. Just practice as hard as you can and take it serious."
Total Eclipse allows his sunny disposition to be his guide, and explains that enjoying your craft should be the ultimate goal. "Be original at the same time. How Rob Swift and I made our mark, like Steve Dee, Cash Money - [they were] all pioneers of turntablism making their art. What they do is just admire the people from the past, then add their artistic point of view towards that and just have fun with it. When you have fun with it, that's when everything is good."