“It's the oldest story in the book,” says DXT, aka Grandmixer DST, about what first moved him to rock a turntable. “My inspiration to become a hip-hop DJ was definitely Kool Herc. I was a drummer before then, but when I saw him play, it was a very powerful scene, because he had this whole vibe like he was a band. His whole presence was phenomenal.”
It all started in the Boogie Down Bronx — the alpha and omega of hip-hop — where Kool Herc invented the art of cutting between breaks at block parties on Sedgewick Avenue in the late '70s. Herc himself represented the capstone of what came to be known to some as the Tri-Force, which also included Afrika Bambaataa (the master of arcane grooves and founder of the Zulu Nation, one of the earliest b-boy crews) and scratch originator Grandmaster Flash. Drawing on the innovations of the Tri-Force, DXT began to cultivate his own style on a Technics SL-210 and one day came upon what he still refers to as a “beautiful accident.” Applying what he had learned as a drummer, DXT made the leap to manipulating the turntable as an instrument, according to rhythm and pitch — in short, time-correcting and pitch-shifting on a spinning slab of wax in real time.
“It was completely from a musical foundation,” he explains. “I was thinking of timing — rudiments, rhythms, patterns — and improvising, mainly like scatting, sax solos or Ella Fitzgerald. I wasn't sure if I could actually make that happen [on the turntable], but just in trying, the mechanics came to help me physically move my hands and the mixer and the turntable in a way where what I was hearing in my mind could actually transpire.”
It wasn't long before the world heard the fruits of DXT's experiments on a strange new recording called “Rockit” — the leadoff single from Herbie Hancock's breakthrough electronic album, Future Shock (Columbia, 1983). Widely regarded as the spark that brought hip-hop culture into the MTV mainstream, “Rockit” was also one of the first tracks to feature a DJ as a soloist in the context of a live band. “To me, the original turntablist is Grandmixer DST,” DJ Babu contends in Doug Pray's recent documentary, Scratch (Palm Pictures, 2001). “Not only was he an integral part of the song [‘Rockit’] and the band; he was like the highlight.”
Like many of his contemporaries, DXT also pursued a parallel path as a producer, starting in the early '80s with downtown New York's Celluloid label. He programmed drum-machine beats for Phase II, Fab Five Freddy and other artists and produced his own “Grandmixer Cuts It Up” and the essential “Crazy Cuts,” which later became a sought-after classic among crate diggers. After touring the world with Hancock's Rockit Band, and later with the Headhunters, he went underground to school himself in new studio technologies, eventually becoming an endorser and consultant to Digidesign for its Pro Tools system. In 1990, he changed his name from Grandmixer DST to simply DXT to signify a rebirth in his musical direction, with the X representing change — the unknown quantity, or X factor.
DXT continues to create and elevate on turntables and in the studio. In the mid-'90s, he renewed a collaborative partnership with Bill Laswell (who produced the original Future Shock sessions) and has since performed on or produced tracks for projects such as Valis' Destruction of Syntax (Innerhythmic, 1996); Praxis' Transmutation Live (Douglas, 1996), featuring the Invisbl Skratch Piklz, Laswell (bass), Buckethead (guitar) and Brain (drums); Hancock's Future 2 Future (Transparent Music, 2001); and Laswell's experimental Aftermathematics (Sub Rosa, 2004). Through it all, DXT has maintained close ties to the South Bronx, the Zulu Nation and his hip-hop roots, and he stresses to up-and-coming young bloods an awareness of history necessary for DJing to progress.
“Your knowledge of music has to be vast,” he insists. “It's not just about how many breakbeat compilations you have. If you want to consider yourself a true hip-hop DJ, you have to do your own research and find those records with the funkiest beats, no matter where the quest leads you. Without that knowledge, you can never take the music to the next level.”