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Going inside the mind of a hip-hop hero with Cut Chemist

cut-chemist_postBy Josh Herwitt //

Lucas MacFadden has been collecting vinyl for more than 30 years. That is his job, after all.

The renowned turntablist, who his fans know better as Cut Chemist, has scratched and sampled his way to the top of the DJ world over the past 20 years, thanks in part to his work with Latin funk/hip-hop/rock outfit Ozomatli and 90’s alternative hip-hop pioneers Jurassic 5.

But neither MacFadden nor hip-hop would be anywhere near where they are today without the lifelong contributions of Afrika Bambaataa — and MacFadden would be the first to tell you that himself.

“It was all his vision for an entire culture,” he explained to me one day over the phone last week.

Afrika Bambaataa

That culture, hip-hop, would be characterized by more than just the music it fostered, as graffiti artists and break dancers found their calling during the late 70’s. But with street gangs and drug dealers also holding court in the South Bronx, it was Bambaataa’s hope for a different way of life, a peaceful way of life that transcended both its time and place.

“He was very active in the community in going from gangs to art, gangs to music and having that impact his community,” MacFadden continued on. “The groups that I’ve been involved with throughout my life have done the same thing. It’s no question why I gravitate toward people with those ethics.”

What ultimately lured MacFadden into Bambaataa’s world, though, was the legendary DJ’s fascination with the past and present — from royal space garbs to Native American headdresses — as strange as it may have seemed for a young, white boy first learning about hip-hop culture at the age of 12.

“He represented some other-worldly figure,” MacFadden remembered. “It was a representation of the past and the future in a way where it just seemed like he was in total control of the present. That was something I never experienced before, and I didn’t know how to comprehend that.”

Afrika Bambaataa

Just days after my interview with Cut Chemist, it’s nearly impossible to escape the net that Bambaattaa has cast wide over pop culture as I watch half chef, half television star Anthony Bourdain chat with “The Godfather” on the newest episode of his CNN show “Parts Unknown.” The brief exchange between Bourdain and Bambaattaa reminds me of some of the topics MacFadden and I discussed, including Bambaataa’s appreciation for Kraftwerk (he sampled the group in his 1982 hit “Planet Rock”) at a time when no one else in the U.S. even knew who they were.

“Just to take Kraftwerk and have the foresight to go, ‘You know, that’s a really cool song. I’m going to play that at the park,’” MacFadden said toward the end of our interview. “He brought Kraftwerk to the street. It’s crazy.”

It’s why when New York-based writer Johan Kugelberg first came to Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow (aka Josh Davis) with the idea of putting on a nationwide tour that would feature strictly Bambaataa’s historic archive of more than 40,000 records, the two beat makers didn’t think twice.

“I’ve already taken away more than I could have ever imagined,” MacFadden told me at one point during our conversation, even with more than a handful of shows to go on the 25-date “Renegades of Rhythm” tour that wrapped up October 9th in Vancouver.

DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist

At the Hollywood Palladium on a Friday night, a crowd of mostly 30-40-year-olds packs the dance floor, soaking up everything that MacFadden and Davis throw its way — whether it’s the Latin, African, Calypso or Soca grooves that Bambaataa once introduced as leader of the famed Universal Zulu Nation — over the course of a 90-plus-minute set.

The performance, which eventually ventured deeper into Bambaataa’s extensive catalog, would serve as an important reminder that hip-hop music and the culture many of us associate with it now has changed quite a bit, for better or worse, since Bambaataa’s heyday. But that doesn’t mean Bambaataa’s impact still can’t be felt to this day.

“I want people to know about Afrika Bambaataa as a person and as a figure that has contributed more to modern music than anybody else I can think of,” MacFadden replied when I ask him what he wanted his fans to take away from the “Renegades of Rhythm” shows.

In all likelihood, there never will be another Afrika Bambaataa. As two of hip-hop’s most prominent DJs today, Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow understand that better than most people.

Yet, in paying the utmost respect to one of music’s greatest living legends over the last six weeks, they have proved to be worthy of at least some of the admiration and praise Bambaataa has warranted for almost 45 years. Because you never know — one day, two other talented DJs may just choose to honor MacFadden and Davis with a tribute tour of their own.

cut-chemist_1

DJ Shadow

DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist

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