Photo by Dan Monick

With his 1998 funk-you-up overhaul of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” DJ Z-Trip
earned the title of mash-up king, and introduced his style of genre-fusion to
the world. (“You’ve got your classic rock in my
hip-hop!” “No, your hip-hop’s in my
classic rock . . .”)

Now, with his hugely ambitious debut album, Shifting Gears, the L.A. resident and internationally beloved DJ aims to transcend his cult status via a major-label deal (with Hollywood Records). But make no mistake — his terms of elevation aren’t “pop.” Instead, he’s assembled a who’s-who of rappers ruling the underground and hip-hop fringe: Busdriver, Aceyalone, Supernatural, Mystic, Lyrics Born, Murs and culturally exiled icon Chuck D.

Sitting in Silver Lake’s Coffee Table, the low-key but passionate Z-Trip (a.k.a. Zach Sciacca) held forth on music, underground heroes and the state of DJ culture.

L.A. WEEKLY: Was it a conscious decision to represent both coasts on the album?
Z-TRIP: I was born in New York, and now I’m in L.A. — and I had a big pit stop in Arizona — so the transition from East to West had to be in there. The crux of [the record’s style] is “For My People,” when Supernatural raps over [a sample from “Batterram” by Toddy Tee]. That’s a West Coast classic, and Supernatural is from New York. That, to me, is probably the best juxtaposition.

Do you still encounter resistance
because you’re a white

You know, I haven’t had that in a while. It used to be a black and white thing; now it becomes — because of the places I’m playing — a hip-hop vs. rock thing, or just different crowds are like, “You ain’t part of our crowd.” It’s funny, because you would think the hip-hop audience would be the most open-minded, but sometimes they’re the most closed-minded. And a lot of [artists] are too avant-garde, and they get written off.


Busdriver’s a good example. It’s all about being served in the right context. And that’s what I was trying to do with the album, present all these different flavors at once. I feel like Busdriver and Pantera can work in the same breath, you know? The track with Chester from Linkin Park — if you only really knew that band through MTV, that would be the door to open you up for Busdriver or Murs.

You’ve deejayed for such diverse
crowds how does that
affect the way you pull
together a set?

I don’t really have a ratio of how I stack it. I tend to find that some of the hip-hop stuff works better at the rock shows, and vice-versa. The same thing with [deejaying] a Dave Matthews Band show: I’ll throw on a drum and bass track just to fuck their heads up. I’m a big fan of the wrong way. I want people to be leaning back in their chairs sort of where they could either fall forward or fall backwards.

It’s funny that a lot of people have picked up on this sound that I helped create — and I say that loosely, ’cause there were other people doing this long before me. But it’s sorta backfired, because what I set out to do was to not sound like anybody else.

You helped create the new
status quo.

Yeah, really. The hardest thing for me to figure out is how do I change it up
and move somewhere else? The other day I deejayed an outdoor event, and people
were just standing around watching. You know, I come from a club background where
if you had people standing and watching, you were fucked.

Ironically, I think that owes
to the rise of DJ
culture and the successful
way it’s been promoted
by the media everything’s
been over-intellectualized.

Yeah, exactly. There’s a disconnect. I call myself a party-rockin’ DJ, ‘cause that was how I started. The whole point of going to hear a DJ was, it’s Friday, I just got paid, I’m gonna drink a little bit, there’s this girl I been eyein’. Now, I get people who show up to the show, and I can tell they’re only there for 15 minutes to go, “Yeah, I saw it,” and critique it and leave.

The album begins with an
old-school party vibe and
evolves into a political
work; the sequence mirrors
your personal journey, and
also the evolution of
hip-hop itself.

When all the songs were done, I sort of laid them on a table and for about two
weeks I was like, “Fuck, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” There’s so much trying
to be said there, and I just didn’t know how to put it together. How do you have
a record where Chuck D. is talking about shock and awe and the White House three
songs away from a track talking about cereal and cartoons and not taking hip-hop
so seriously? It’s like a contradiction. But it’s not. It’s really not.

Z-Trip plays the Little Temple bar in Silver Lake on Tuesday, July 5.

LA Weekly