DJ Logic talks about his Zen moment
From Digable Planets to the Roots, jazzing up rap has become a totem of sophistication to hip-hop heads and jam fans alike. DJ Logic has carved out his niche by doing the opposite: rapping up jazz. Emerging on Medeski, Martin and Wood's Combustication, Logic's avant-turntablism instantly breathed some hip-hop swagger into the relatively straight-laced fusion scene. On subsequent solo albums Project Logic and The Anomaly, contributions from jazz and jam artists became a crucial part of Logic's craft — almost every track involved a collabo with one guest artist or another. Zen of Logic, Logic’s latest, is due out Tuesday, and sees some old friends return (Charlie Hunter, John Medeski), some new faces appear (Antibalas), and even features a few true solo works. ThePhoenix.com got a chance to talk with Logic about Zen while he was taking a break from finishing it up.
How were you introduced to DJing and how were you introduced to jazz? Did you discover both at the same time?
I was introduced to DJing first. Growing up in the Bronx, I listened to a lot of hip-hop like “Rapper's Delight.” I would also go to house parties or community centers throughout the city to see my favorite DJs, like Afrika Bambaattaa, spin. I was also into break dancing then, and I thought all the beats they were throwing down were cool. The interaction with the crowd and everybody dancing made me want to be a part of the whole DJ thing. That Christmas, I actually had my parents buy me some equipment, I didn't want anything else besides turntables — no games, no nothing. (Laughs.) I was 15 or 16, going home and putting a mixtape together was my after school activity. I would bring those tapes down the block and let my friends listen, and I'd also exchange mixes with other DJs to keep up my game. That was a good way for me to learn, it made me completely comfortable in what I was doing and made me do it right. I'd also try to find those certain records I heard at parties, like James Brown, Bob James or whatever else they were spinning. Those were the records that made hip hop what it was, and I was proud to discover that.
As far as the jazz thing, I was actually introduced to alternative rock first. I had a musician friend who was a drummer in an alternative rock band called Eye and I. My friend was also a hip hop head and played with a lot of hip hop guys. He thought it would be cool if I came down and played with them, you know, to try something different. The only time I had never seen anybody mixing hip hop and rock before was when DXT and Herbie Hancock got together for Rockit, and I always thought the video for that was cool. So I said “What the heck” and tried out for the band. We did a couple of shows at CBGBs, and that was the first time I had been downtown. The whole rock club thing was a thrill, but the other musicians embracing me and trying to figure out what I was doing was like my schooling in DJing. Being in Eye and I eventually led to me playing with jazz musicians like MMW and Vernon Reid, I met up with those guys at the Knitting Factory. This was way back in the early days of the Knitting Factory, and that's how I got my jazz knowledge on. I learned the finer points of improvisation then; how to work with all the musicians and what roles they had, and learning my own role like those guys, and trying to find the right colors that represent me, like passing a ball around, you know? It was a different experience than what I had with alternative rock because, with jazz, you had a lot of purists and people who were stuck up where I was more open — I didn't have the usual guitar or keyboard, it was just vinyl and wax. The musicians I was playing with knew that I had an ear for things which, being so young, I didn't really know I had. I was just really trying to emulate them.
You have a song called 9th Ward Blues on Zen of Logic. What is the story behind that song?
That track is dedicated to the people affected by Katrina in New Orleans. I recorded that song with Charlie Hunter, at first we didn't have a name for it. Me and Charlie were sitting down and talking about music and just messing around when he came to me and said, "I want to try something different." I said sure, because I'm all about taking musicians out of their element and trying something out of the ordinary. So he wrote something right then and there on guitar and bass that had an organic bluesy feel. So I laid down a beat that hit all these colors and elements, parts that used a harmonica and spoken word parts. Once I went back to it during editing with Scott Harding, it just came to me to call it “9th Ward Blues.” Looking at the TV and the news with pictures of the aftermath just seemed like what blues music is to me — those people were going through the blues. And at that moment I felt like that song was something special.
: Music Features
, DJ Logic
, Medeski, Martin & Wood
, Hip-Hop and Rap