“Man, we just missed Diamond D,” DJ Vlad says with genuine disappointment after being informed of the infamous hip-hop producer's recent departure from New York's Fat Beats Records. Upon his arrival to the longtime entry point to New York's indie hip-hop scene, Vlad inquires about Ego Trip's Big Book of Racism (Regan). The shop doesn't have it in, but Vlad does run into and discuss business with Kyambo “Hip-Hop” Joshua, Jay-Z's A&R rep and an Atlantic Records executive. The occurrences mirror Vlad's career as a mixtape DJ: making the most of timely opportunities when they arise.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Vlad started as a producer before dabbling with DJing in the mid-'90s. He made a name for himself by embracing the Internet to make his MP3 mixes available to millions, but finding himself broke in 2002, he decided to move to New York, a virtual mixtape mecca, to make his mark. Combining his knack for snagging exclusive verses and his production skills to basically create all-new songs, Vlad was able to stand out amid the hypercompetitive — and grossly oversaturated — mixtape market.
“When I make the mixtapes, I try to bring a production feel to it instead of using the brand-new beats,” Vlad explains. “I don't want to have some blend on there that 10 other DJs have. I want to create my own experience.”
The success of his 2003 self-released CDs — The Notorious B.I.G. Rap Phenomenon, with Dirty Harry, and 2Pac: Rap Phenomenon II, with DJs Dirty Harry and Green Lantern — granted him the Mixtape of the Year accolades at Justo's Mixshow Awards as well as similar honors in various publications. He has since parlayed his mixtape notoriety into DJ gigs across the country and elsewhere, not to mention a spot as resident DJ to radio personalities Dr. Dre and Ed Lover's syndicated Jump Off show and his own Chop Shop Radio show on XM Radio.
Recently, DJ Vlad slightly modified his bread-and-butter mixtape operation by packaging a documentary-style DVD with his latest project, Devil's Advocate (self-released, 2004), hosted by up-and-coming Compton rapper The Game and featuring production from NJ Devil. “We really flipped it on the DVD shit,” Vlad says of his latest venture. “We just ran around with a bunch of video cameras, edited it and turned it into an actual DVD. Right now, I been running around with video cameras everywhere. I went and bought a $2,000 professional video camera; it's in my trunk right now. Hopefully, it will still be there when I get back to my car.”
After considering whether to wear a butcher's outfit (Vlad is also known as Vlad the Butcher) and bring along some strippers to his appearance on BET's Rap City, he focuses on mining for joints on good old-fashioned vinyl.
DIAMOND D & THE PSYCHOTIC NEUROTICS
“Best Kept Secret”/“Freestyle (Yo, That's the Shit)” (Polygram)
That first Diamond D album [Stunts Blunts & Hip-Hop] is one of my favorite all-time albums. That was my shit. It never got a lot of huge commercial success, but it got a lot of real, underground respect. I don't have a lot of his instrumentals, so I saw the instrumental on there. I'll fuck around with the instrumental or something.
Daily Operation Instrumentals(white label)
Man, Primo [DJ Premier] is one of the best ever. He's one of the best that's ever done it, especially of that era; he was the epitome of the hip-hop sound. At that time, there was the whole debate over who's better, Dre or Primo. That was a real serious debate. Right now, it's not really a debate; it's really straightforward who's winning right now. But at the time, this was just the shit. I remember, I was making beats trying to sound like Primo. To have the whole album's instrumentals, that's great.
KMD Instrumentals 1991-1994(Money Studies)
KMD is one of those groups that really could have done real good; it was like an offshoot of 3rd Bass, who I was huge fans of at the time. I saw the “Peachfuzz” instrumental on there. That's some shit you can pull out, and people won't really know where it came from. I really like doing a blend where people think it's an original production. Something like “Peachfuzz” will accomplish that because it wasn't really a big song. A real hardcore hip-hop head will know what it is, but even he will probably be like, “What is that? I heard it before, but I'm not really sure.”
The Listening Instrumentals(ABB)
I've always heard about Little Brother and all the praise they got, but I never really got to check out the original album. I ran through it once or twice, but it's just an opportunity for me to really try to get into the beats. Especially [9th] Wonder; he did a beat for Jay-Z. He's been floating around, getting close to breaking into something big. That's someone I'd probably holler at. Right now, he's one of the cats that could potentially blow big, but he's not really huge yet. I can holler at him and start working with him now. Then, when he becomes big later — you know. [Laughs.]
PETE ROCK & CL SMOOTH
“They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”/“Creator” (Elektra)
That's a classic joint right there. I didn't have a copy of the instrumental. That's one of those real timeless songs; it's going to live on forever. I'm going to flip the instrumental into something. The way I do it is, I encode it into digital, and I have this special program that I had built where I can just try out instrumentals and a cappellas really quickly. It's all separated by bpms. So say I have this a cappella, and it's about 100 bpm, so I look at everything over 100 bpm and try beat after beat after beat, and I'll see what sticks. And then I'll chop it up from there.
SMOOTHE DA HUSTLER
“Hustler's Theme”/“Murdafest” (Profile)
I ran into Smoothe when I first got into New York, and “Broken Language” was my shit. I think that was a criminally slept-on album. The beats on that shit was real, real crazy. That's some shit I'd probably give to The Game, have him spit over some old Smoothe da Hustler beats.
A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
“Bonita Applebum”/“I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” (Jive)
That would be a real good song to flip, because when that came out, that was, like, Tribe's first single ever. People weren't up on Tribe at that time. It's another one of these situations where I can pull out some shit that cats ain't really know on. Plus, it's real close to heart. His voice is kind of cool, Q-Tip.
Tribe Vibes, Vol. 1; Tribe Vibes, Vol. 4; The Jigga Collection, Vol. 1(Strictly Breaks)
All the Strictly Breaks records: I'm a see if I can take a different part of the song, see how the original producer flipped it — I'm a flip it a little bit differently or flip a different break inside the same song. Plus, as a personal music-lover, it's interesting to see what the producer went through to turn that little sample into the song that it is. I dabble a little bit, but these days, I'm more like an executive producer. I got a bunch of real hot producers that I work with. I'll get the vocals first; it'll be a freestyle of somebody's over a different beat, and I'll pull the vocals off. [Then] I'll call up my man Nu Jersey Devil or my man J.R., the real superhot producers; I'll explain to them the vision of the song, and they'll hook it up. Sometimes, they'll just give me their beat reels, and I'll just sit there with their beats, and I'll make a blend, but I'll do it with an original beat.