By Susana FerreiraThere's a standard arrangement for any hip-hop live show: MCs go up front, DJs stay at the back. It's practical, it works, and until they start mass-producing a portable turntable set-up (think keytar, but with wheels of steel), that's how it's going to stay. Over time, unfortunately, this formula has seeped into the hip-hop record, with MCs creeping up to hog the spotlight and the once-mighty DJ slinking deeper into the shadows. As anyone worth their weight in vinyl can tell you, hip-hop originated with the disc jock. We owe it all to the turntable wizards of yore, yet for every ten superstar-status MCs out there, it's a struggle to think of even one comparably celebrated DJ. Never fear, there's one man who has made it his mission to bring back the DJ, and he goes by the name of Skratch Bastid.
He's toured across Canada, the U.S. and Europe, put out a series of mix-tapes, and boasts three straight Halifax DJ Olympics titles, the runner-up spot at last year's DMC nationals, and the number one title at Scribble Jam DJ Championship in Cincinnati, Ohio for two years running. Make no mistake, this Bastid ain't lazy. Kicking back recently with a Keiths in his new Montreal digs, Bastid waxes poetic about his newest project: the launch of his very own label, First Things First Records. For the month of April, he took to the Canadian streets with MCs Pip Skid and John Smith to promote the label's debut full-length, Taking Care of Business — a record peppered with live cuts, scratch routines, and production by Gordski, Jorun, and the Bastid himself. ("A lot of people didn't know I made beats," he grins.) The record is heat, and not in a "this is pretty good for Maritime/Prairie rap" sort of way, but more in the vein of "you'd better cop this quick before the wack police track you down and charge you as an accessory to sleepin'."
Make no mistake, these are raps and cuts that can be felt from East to West, from the gritty north end to the grimiest downtown block — which is just what the TCOB trio intended. The first single, in twelve-inch and music video form, is "I Ain't Lazy," and other single-worthy bangers include "Collecting Empties," "Reapin' The Benefits" featuring Sleep, and "Step To Gettin'." Pip and Smitty are in top form, their rollin' and roarin' a perfect complement to Bastid's musical manipulations, but in no way do they even try to hog the spotlight — these MCs know when to step aside and give their DJ a moment to shine.
Born Paul Murphy, "the Bastid," as he's affectionately known, first got into jockin' discs as a kid growing up in Nova Scotia. He started out making tapes for girls he had crushes on in junior high with his best friend, Kuttin Kracker, and plugged away at lawn mowing and snow shovelling jobs to finance his first set of turntables. At the urging of his mother, Bastid entered his first battle at age 15: Halifax's DJ Olympics. For his first real live routine, Bastid was placed in direct competition with one of his heroes at the time, Buck 65. "And that," he laughs, "was kind of intimidating. I came third in that competition, and he won it. But I studied for a year, I went back into the basement. I came back the next year and I won it, and beat out one of the guys I looked up to."
Though he was knocking knees his first time onstage at 15, Bastid has overcome shyness and developed one of the most wildly engaging live performances in DJ-dom. "I'm a rowdy dude," he grins, "I like to give people a show." It is not uncommon to see him strip down to his "Bastid beater," throw on a mullet wig, and get saucy lip-syncing along with a Justin Timberlake sample. However, as he's quick to point out, you don't necessarily have to shout and put on a gimmick to have fun or make your presence known.
"There's a lot missing from DJing right now," he sighs. "Name one hip-hop group out there that has a DJ out front actually doing something. Everyone's got the DJ in the video, but he's nowhere to be heard on the whole song, nowhere to be heard on the whole record, and the live show? He's standing back there with what I like to call ‘gunshot machines.'" Bastid cocks his hand like a gun, makes mini exploding sounds — "Push this button: beat" — and skips into a quick beatbox. "You're not doing anything! You're not being creative!" He pauses. "It's not about being technical. I can do things on the turntable that are not very hard to do, but are very hard to think of."