|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
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
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
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.