Scratching is what DJs do, but DJ Scratch earned his name.
‘The name was given to me when I was 11 years old, and I kept it. I can remember where it was – 1980 – when I was DJing in my neighbourhood. They named me that because I could scratch with any part of my body: I earned it. I was the best DJ in my neighbourhood, and the best DJ in the world in ’88. I earned it, and it wasn’t a problem keeping it.’
He made his name in the DJ battles of the ’80s, and was named 1988 New Music Seminar Battle for World Supremacy DJ Champion.
‘Battling... is like hand to hand combat. It’s like fighting one-on-one – you just want to take them out and not even give them a chance. Back then [in the ’80s] you couldn’t watch a video and try to study [your opponent]. Now everything is on video, on YouTube, and you can study and prepare. Back then the first time you battle is the first time you’ve seen each other, which was great. I would just want to do things that no one’s ever seen before, make the record into something that’s going to diss you, and do tricks the you never, never seen before. I was deadly at it.’
Scratch has worked as Jay Z’s tour DJ, headliner at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2013.
‘I gotta hit him up and reach out to say congratulations for finally going out there [to the UAE]. Jay Z is my boy. He’s a great guy. To work with Jay Z, he is the easiest person I’ve ever worked with, he wants to do his best and gives his best. You hear all these stories about artists being difficult, but he is one cool, laid back dude. Jay likes to sit back, have a laugh and have fun.’
In Dubai, Scratch is playing an Adidas backed night – and it’s a brand he’s rather fond of.
‘I have been rocking Adidas since I don’t know when. I have been DJing Adidas events since 1988 with Run DMC – Adidas was the first company to endorse a rap group, which was Run DMC. I was getting all that stuff... I have been rocking Adidas since back then, before then.’
But you’re never too old to rock ‘sneakers’.
‘Not at all – because they get comfortable! It’s hard on your feet if you wear shoes every day – it’s bad for your soles, ankles, toes... wearing sneakers is very important just for basic health.’
As a producer Scratch has picked up three Grammy Award nominations, shifted millions of records and worked with the likes of Busta Rhymes, EPMD and LL Cool J.
‘I was a producer before I even knew what the term was. At the beginning of hip-hop the DJ was responsible for the music, whether it was a party, show or in the studio making a demo. [So] the DJ was by default the producer before you knew what the term was.’
But he was most impressed with 50 Cent, when he produced the tune ‘50 Shot Ya’.
‘50 Cent – he [was] a younger artist, and he reached out to me to produce, to make his show better, which is very rare in hip-hop, which is all about ego, bravado and pride. For someone to reach out to you and say “can you help me?” is a beautiful thing, especially in hip-hop. And he made it happen – he listened to everything I [told him] and he did it all.’
He’s never had a bad night behind the decks.
‘I haven’t DJ’d a gig where it goes wrong. But when you’re DJing somewhere you’ve never spun before, you’re facing a challenge, you don’t know what to expect. Good DJs are the ones who read the crowd, play a couple of records and see how they react – if you carry them you can take the crowd with you. I’ve never had a problem with that. There’s a lot of DJs I know who play what they want to hear instead of keeping with the crowd – and they fail a lot. Because a lot of DJs forget that, as a DJ, that number one you are a servant to the crowd – you need to know what they want and give them what they want.’
Stage fright isn’t a problem, either.
‘I have never been nervous – being behind the turntable releases a rush, and the bigger the crowd the more the high I get. It’s like the opposite of nerves for me – I’ve DJ’d in soccer stadiums to 100,000 people and that makes me excited.’
He’s – surprisingly – got a beef with modern hip-hop.
‘The state of modern hip-hop – the only problem is there’s a younger audience, they don’t have a history or a past. Back in the day you knew everything about your past, but nowadays kids don’t have the access. They don’t know the history and it’s not their fault – it’s been taken away from them by all the US music stations – it’s all reality shows [now], nothing about music. These kids don’t know nothing before Biggie [The Notorious B.I.G.] and Tupac.’
But top of the game today is – you guessed it – Jay Z.
‘Jay Z – right now that’s top of the game. The oldest guy in hip-hop is top of the game. That’s a major statement. They look at the old guys – the biggest two guys in rap are both over 40: Jay Z and Eminem. I never worked with Eminem. I worked with everybody I want to in hip-hop, but I [still] always wanted to work with Eminem. Hopefully that happens before he decides he doesn’t want to do music any more. Could that happen to me, give up? No way.’
He might be the best DJ in the world.
‘I’m one of the best. At this point in my career, in the words of Grandmaster Flash, I don’t worry about being the best in the world – I want to be the greatest of all time. Other people can say [I’m the best], and that’s an honour. I can’t put myself there. I can’t say that. It has to be given you. Respect is earned. Grandmaster Flash was the first DJ to use turntables as an instrument – for him to say it [about me], he’s the king. From him you have to respect it, for Kool Herc to say it you have to respect it.’
DJ Scratch tops the bill at Adidas Originals’ Unite All Originals hosted by Younique, taking place at P7 Car Park, Media One Hotel on Friday November 8, 6pm-2am.
Entry is free before 8pm and all night for those wearing Adidas Originals. After 8pm entry costs Dhs100. www.adidas.com/originals