DJ A-Trak

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DJ A Trak is an interesting individual. He has toured the world with Kanye West and has ushered in some of today’s most influential songs, including Kid Cudi’s “Day ‘N Nite.” But despite his ultra-impressive resume, the three-time DMC World Champion remains humble, and maintains a constant cool profile.

“Even when I make a track that has more of an electronic feel to it, I still think I approach it with the ear of a hip-hop DJ.”

Format: You’re in your mid-20s, you’ve accomplished not only success by financial standards, but you’ve been helping move culture forward. How does that feel and does it weigh against your original goals?
A Trak: Wow man, there’s so many things that I haven’t quite reached that it’s pretty rare for me to sit back and be like “this was it,” because I’m still constantly thinking about the next steps. But it’s been good to see all the different genres, and [the] music that I’ve been involved with to become a lot more exposed to the public now, you know?

Format: I think it was the Red Bull Lecture interview you participated in with DJ Medhi where you said that you wanted to, “make scratching just as enjoyable as music.” Have you done that? And is hip-hop still the core influence in your music?
A Trak: That quote about scratching was probably describing an album that I was working on at that time. Unfortunately, I ended up putting it aside [momentarily], but that quote reflected my aspirations at that point. It was stuff that was obscure and purposefully experimental and for me having one foot in that scene and one foot in the other scene, my goal was just to make music that was enjoyable for anyone, and just flip it my way. And as far as the hip-hop question goes, even when I make a track that has more of an electronic feel to it, I still think I approach it with the ear of a hip-hop DJ.

Format: You mentioned that you do exist in different scenes. Do you ever feel that their different nuances become a conflict of interest as you’re simultaneously a world-champion DJ and avant-garde culture driver?
A Trak: No, I think my whole mission is to conjugate all of that and make it clear within the bigger picture. The ‘world champion battle DJ’ side of me is my foundation, especially on a technical level, and allows me to pay extreme attention to detail to music. And then, you used the word avant-garde which kind of describes my tendency to find out what’s new and interesting in music. When you think about it, in 1997, when I was in the DMCs, turn-tablism was what was considered ‘new and interesting’—everyone would go to those battles and was “wowed” by all these different techniques and beats. Throughout every facet of my DJ career I try to add to the baggage of what I bring to the next. Now there’s a whole bunch of baggage that I bring with me when it comes to ‘what’s new’ in music nowadays.

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Format: So in other words, they’re just different phases in a journey. Do you know where the journey is headed? Any anticipation for the future?
A Trak: Well, of course I’m going to be thinking about what’s the next thing musically, and I’m starting to see things come full-circle back to the things that were going on when I first started DJing. I guess that, musically, during the last couple of years, I focused more on the clubby, electronic type of sound; and I know that, for me, I’m growing a little bit tired of the harder side of electro music—stuff with a big distorted baseline, etc. I’ve never really produced that type of electro, but it’s still been around me. I think there’s a little bit more room for stuff that has a little more finesse, echoing back to more classic sounds from the 90s if anything.

Format: Let’s talk about your current project, Inifinity +1. I’ve noticed that on iTunes, the album is offered as one 60 minute track. Why not separate it into multi-track? Was that intentional?
A Trak: A couple of things. I don’t think [my project] should be called an album, it’s a mix CD. And two, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t my decision. It was released through a label called Thrive, from LA, and I’m not the label in this case, it was their decision. From what I understand I think it has to do with the nature of the songs.

Format: How’s the tour been going? I know your stop at Williamsburg, BK hotspot Studio B was amazing. Have the rest of the dates fared equally?
A Trak: The NY show was one of my favorite ones. I put a lot of pressure on myself with NY; if it isn’t over-the-top exceptional I usually get disappointed. I’m not interested in doing so-so shows in NY. I want everything to be great and crazy. That’s why in NY we did the poster campaign and it turned out great. I’m real happy about it.

“On the design side, there are always a couple of things in the works for me.”

Format: Fool’s Gold, the label you founded with Nick Catchdubs, has accelerated rapidly and is becoming a staple in the music industry. Is the goal for the label to remain a fresh aggregator of underground music, à la Def Jam in the 80s, or do you envision it growing in size and scale?
A Trak: I’m not one of those dudes who wants to stay small; I’d love for Fool’s Gold to become a huge authority in music and for us to continue making a lane for ourselves. I just think for now we’re focusing on grooming our existence and potential, and then bringing it to the right people. That’s what I think is most exciting about the label.

Format: How involved are you with day-to-day label responsibilities when you’re on the road, like now? Is it a “Jay-z/Dame Dash” type of business relationship with [label partner] Nick Catchdubs?
A Trak: [Laughs] No, we share a lot more tasks, and I’m actually involved with a lot of the day-to-day. A lot of people probably assume that Nick shakes the hands and takes that angle, but it’s more down the middle than that.

Format: Lastly, you’re in the middle of the paradigm shift in pop culture. Where do you see this intercultural cruise ship going, and do you see yourself behind the steering wheel for much longer?
A Trak: A lot of the playing grounds are getting evened out. On one hand, at the labels, they’re having trouble because [artists] don’t need to be on a major anymore to gain notoriety. And it allows smaller labels like us to flourish without necessarily adhering to the protocols of larger companies. Musically, stylistically, and aesthetically, like I said earlier, there are all these walls that are coming down between genres.

Format: Are there any projects on the horizon?
A Trak: Yeah, there is some collaborative stuff we’ve been working on that’s finally going to come out in the next couple of months. This toy, there’s a bear that’s part of the header on my blog, and on my website, that’s designed by Fool’s Gold art director Dust La Rock. On the design side, there are always a couple of things in the works for me. On the Fool’s Gold side there’s always more collaborations coming. In the last couple of months, we signed a joint venture deal with Downtown Records, so Fool’s Gold now has structure for when we want to put out albums and have a full marketing team, retail team, etc. that can work with bigger budgets.

Richard Cruz

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