What initially drew you to hip hop?
Musically, what got me into hip hop were groups like the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill. This is when I was 12 or so. Before then I was listeningto classic rock with my big brother, and those groups made the transition easy. And around that same time he was getting into graf too, so I was living that vicariously. He’d go to New York in the summer and come back with mix tapes and graf magazines. I got into Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Nas…this was in ’94.
Do you remember the first vinyl you played?
The first records I bought were the single for Pete Rock & CL Take You There and Smif-N-Wessun’s Dah Shining LP.
You were in your mid-teens hanging with big names like Peanut Butter Wolf and Mix Master Mike. Did you find yourself around a lot of graffiti or cutting-edge artists, too, back then? Did you ever do any yourself, or want to?
I was always fascinated with graf because my brother was doing it. I think the name A-Trak was originally supposed to be a tag. But I never did start writing. We used to hang with local graf artists, though. The name of my DVD Sunglasses Is A Must comes from our boy Maink, who’s kind of a graffiti legend in Montreal. And one of the first shows I ever did was at this graf festival called Under Pressure, which just had its 10th anniversary and is now pretty well reputed worldwide. And yeah, I also remember staying at Wolf’s crib where he had all sorts of dope canvases, I wish I could remember the names. And he had a blown-up reproduction of the People’s Instinctive Travels cover
How about other forms of art or expression: writing, fine art, film, etc…?
Well I never really picked up any of those, although I would say my whole family was always pretty inclined toward the arts. Both my parents studied literature. They used to take us to the museum a lot growing up. They sent my brother and me to an artsy kindergarten. They’d show us a lot of foreign films, that kind of stuff.
Do you have a lot of friends who are artists?
Yes, I have a bunch of friends who are artists and designers.
Do you ever collaborate with them?
Well first of all, Dave and I founded our record label, Audio Research, with our boy Willo, who did all our artwork for years. He and Dave always wanted to have a strong aesthetic component to the label, doing original packaging and all. I’ve done collaborative performances with artists too. Most recently I played at this photo exhibit at an art gallery in Chicago curated by Struggle Inc., my boy Cody Hudson. And now I’m also getting into doing Sunglasses Is A Must t-shirts, which allow me to work with even more designers.
Do you have a favorite artist? One who inspires your music, or your musical choices?
I can’t say that I have one favorite artist, but frankly I’m really a fan of the people I’ve been working with, from Willo to my boy Dust La Rock, who did my new website, to Kiser, who did my tour tees, to Akroe, who designed one of my mix tapes. It’s great to get to a position where there’s a mutual respect between yourself and the artist or designer who you’re collaborating with.
What other DJs do you admire? What is it that makes them "good"?
Usually I look up to DJs who I feel fill a void compared to what I do. People who give me ideas, who make me think, "I wouldn’t have thought of doing that." That could be anyone from Craze or Mix Master Mike [other turntablists] to guys like J-Rocc or Shadow who are creative with the way they actually mix and have deep crates to the Hollertronix dudes who kind of ushered in a new style of parties that really bridge the gaps between different scenes.
Do you have a favorite record sleeve or artist that does record sleeves? Is there a musical act that consistently has amazing packaging?
This is hard…I am in a pickle. Of course I love the old Malcolm McLaren covers and the old Cold Chillin’ designs for Biz Markie singles. I love the Redman Muddy Waters cover. A lot of the Beastie Boys’ stuff. The Run DMC “King of Rock” single. Pharcyde’s first album. There’s a lot. As far as artists, I really like Brent Rollins. But I also love ’70s designers like Hypgnosis. I definitely think there are certain acts that consistently have dope artwork, and there are boutique labels like that too. I mentioned the Beastie Boys: I think their first four albums had truly classic covers.
Fill in the blank: The best dance song ever is _______ because _______.
Man, it really depends what you call dance. Maybe Daft Punk “Around the World” because it’s just so goddamn funky?
What’s your signature dance move?
I got a mean two-step.