Interview: DJ A-Trak Remembers Roc Raida
Better late than never, I recently wrote a short feature about the life and unfortunate passing of DJ Roc Raida over at NPR. As with the Bun B piece, I wanted to highlight a few of the interviews I conducted here at CB, to get a little more in depth into Raida’s legacy. First up is Raida’s friend and fellow DMC champion DJ A-Trak.
Noz: How much of an influence did Raida have on DJing?
A-Trak: Raida was a huge influence on DJing especially battle DJing. As a battle DJ he was one of the DJs with the best stage presence. [He had] an air of confidence that when he was doing his routines it looked so easy. He was so fast and it looked like he was just sort of born to do this thing. He brought back a lot of the classic New York hip hop battling, boombastic attitude. On a more technical level he advanced the art of beat juggling a lot. The way that he would freak two copies of a record and make a new beat out of it was really advanced. He was doing a bunch of stuff – playing records backwards, flipping records on 45 and making a whole new beat out of it. That’s a lot of the progress that he brought.
Do you remember when you first saw him perform?
My first exposure to Raida was his video tapes, his winning DMC routine. For me it was like growing up in Montreal on the periphery of DJing and even within Montreal being way too young to go into clubs myself my only source of inspiration were little nuggets I could find here and there. And whatever I did find became a gold mine. And when I found out about the DMC and I linked up with other DJs that were older than me and they showed me these videos of world championships it was just a revelation for me. And this was in I guess 96, so Raida was the current champion from 95 and he was just the man. I would watch his videos over and over again. It became a model of what to do if you wanna enter these competitions.
How close were you with Raida personally?
He’s one of the first of the famous DJs that I was idolizing that I actually met and befriended. Basically when I entered the DMC championship in 97, DMC chose to do this thing called the summit which was a concert with all of the previous champions the day after the world finals. So the world finals were in Italy. I was flown out to Italy with my mom to participate and that particular year they had also flown out all the other champs to do this concert. So I happened to just go to this battle, the first battle I ever entered, and I get flown out to Italy and next thing I know I’m meeting Cash Money, Q-Bert, Roc Raida and all these guys. And Raida was so nice, right from the start. To this day that’s how my mom remembers him, that’s how we all remember him. The first time we met him he was super welcoming and kind. And he didn’t necessarily have to be because Q-Bert had just invited me to join his crew the Invisibl Skratch Piklz who were friendly competitors to the X-Men at the time. The East Coast Crew versus the West Coast Crew, so Raida didn’t have to be so welcoming with me. But he was. I never really knew why he was so nice to me, he must have seen something in the heart or the dedication that I had with this DJing. I was really a student of the game, I used to study what they all did with so much passion that maybe they could see it in me that I loved it for the same reasons as them. He just saw this young kid from Canada, my voice hadn’t even changed. And he probably just got a kick out of it, like “yo this little kid is in love with what we do and is winning these world championships.” So he was super welcoming and nice.
And after that, right from the first time that I got booked in New York I kept in touch with him and he would invite me to go to his crib all the time. It literally became a pilgrimage for years. Anytime I went to New York for a gig, most of the time I traveled with my older brother because I was too young to travel alone, and we’d go visit Raida. He was always moving so he was always somewhere different. One time we’d go to the Bronx, one time we’d go to Harlem or wherever. And it was just me and my brother, teenaged Canadian Jewish boys getting on the New York subway and not really knowing we were going and he would just meet us at the subway stop, go to his crib. I had my record bag, I would show him my new routines, he’d be super into it, he’d show me some stuff he was working on and hang out a little bit. And then we kept a bond that way and he really went out of his way to help me with a bunch of projects for my career whenever I needed a connection to someone in New York he made it so easy. I went on the Stretch and Bobbito show later that same year in 97 and that’s something that he hooked up. I was going to New York for a gig and he actually had to go out of town. I hadn’t met the other X-Men yet, I only knew Raida, and he set it up so that the X-Men were gonna go to the Stretch & Bob show. And even though he was out of town I was gonna go with them. Of course I’ll always remember this. Organized Konfusion and OC were there, the Jewelz album had just came out and Prince Po was wearing a wristband with spikes on it. I had new beat juggle with a Company Flow record and I did it live on the air. And Lord Sear was clowning me for having no shoulders and he said my brother looked like Paul from the Wonder Years. I remember that shit so vividly. And that’s just one of the many doors that Raida opened for me. Just becasue he was giving.
I think, visibly, DJing was so important to him that he must have seen it on a bigger scale then himself. In the sense that if there’s someone that he thinks is good for DJing and he can help that person advance then it helps DJing as a whole. Which is a really wise vision, I think. That’s how it always came across. But yeah, he was such a generous guy.
How did you respond when you heard the news of his passing?
I was devastated. I haven’t talked about this that much but it started when he had the accident the week before, which happened the day of the DJ AM memorial in LA. So I went to LA for AM’s thing and AM’s thing already hit me pretty hard and AM passed while I was on the last weekend of a vacation in france. So it was like the middle of the night when it happened. I was just in such another world that it took a couple days for me to process that AM had just died. I understood it in my mind but it only set in once I got to LA and saw all of our mutual friends. And then we went to the memorial and Raida’s manager didn’t want to tell me right away because he knew that I was going through the process of grieving AM. And he called me the next day but as it turns out for me, the morning after the AM memorial is emotionally when it really sunk in for me that AM was gone. So I woke up feeling really heavy and then I got the call about Raida and that was just a complete knock out punch. I was beyond floored.
But I flew back to New York that day and actually went to visit Raida in the hospital the next day in Maryland. And there’s a few decisions in my life that I’m really glad that I made and that’s one of them. It was a gut instinct like I’m going to Maryland because I hadn’t seen him as much in recent years and I just really wanted him to know how important he was to me. So I got back from LA and just went straight to see him the next day. I monitored it really closely in terms of how he was getting better after the accident. We have a lot of mutual friends in the DJ world and I sort of assumed the role of lettting a bunch of our friends know how was doing. I would talk to his manager or his best friend or whatever and they would tell me. And then I would sort of relay it on to this DJ and that DJ. “Just so you know, Raida can now breath without a tube and he’s eating solid foods” and this and that. And he was getting better. He was really getting better. And then out of nowhere… It was so tough to understand. I was in Japan doing a gig and my phone didn’t work in the building so everyone was trying to call me for like 5 hours and I get out of the club, it was 5 AM. I’d been up for 24 hrs because the jet lag is so messed up out there. So I felt like I was on Mars or something and I start getting all these messages coming in on my phone. Most of them were just like “call me” or “urgent.” So it’s like “this is not good… something happened…” And my first thought was “please don’t let it be raida” but also second thought was like “nah, he’s alright. he’s doing better.” and then… yeah… and then the news. I’ve never felt anything like it. I’ve never lost a friend like that and I’m still going through it.
I wrote a long post on my blog and it took me many days to even be able to write about it. But that sort of helped me to get my thoughts in order. It was half for me and half for the community because I really feel a responsibility to let, especially the younger kids, know how important Raida was. Just to be like yo he was the don of this battling shit. And then he DJed for the DITC guys and he did the cuts on “Time’s Up” and the X-ecutioners album was the first [turntablist] album on a major and all these things to put out the facts and to really explain personally just how close I felt to him. And that’s why I’m calling you from Australia to make sure people remember him. I called into Eclipse’s radio show. I don’t care what time it is, it’s for Raida. A lot of people didn’t realize how close we were because I was affiliated with the Skratch Piklz and then I started the Allies. If anything my boy Craze had a bit of a tension thing with Rob Swift for a minute, so there was some issue at one point in time because of some stupid UK magazine that printed some shit that Craze said when he was drunk. But even in that case I remember it was me and Raida mediating, just making sure shit was alright. Again, me and him looking at the bigger picture and thinking, it’s important for djing and important for our friendship that our crews be on good terms. I think a lot of DJs didnt necessarily know just how tight we were.