World renown DJ, Producer, Party Rocker, Record Junkie and "good dude", DJ Spinna (Vincent Williams) is one of the busiest and hardest working men in the music industry. His resume is as diverse as the people he's worked with. Some may know him for his crowd-rocking DJ sets in NYC, Europe, South Africa and Asia; production on projects for Eminem, J-Live and Sadat X; the remixes he's done for Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, George Michael and De La Soul; as well as his work with the Jigmasters and Polyrhythm Addicts. Others simply regard him as an important figure in the late 90's underground hip-hop scene.
This week, before his DJ set at U Street Music Hall's "Red Fridays" event, The Washington Informer caught up with the versatile music man for an interview in which he discussed several topics including his feelings on "celebrity" DJ's, the ever-changing music industry, Stevie Wonder, and what draws him to DC.
Washington Informer: You started deejaying at a young age; who or what inspired you when you first got started?
DJ Spinna: I've been playing my dad's records since the age of 3. By the time I was 11 years ago I was practicing with a pair of mixed matched turntables, one Pioneer that my uncle had and a Technics SL-B303. This was before the Technics 1200 came out. I was inspired mainly by local block party DJ's in Brooklyn and radio mix master DJ's including Tony Humphries, Shep Pettibone, Timmy Regisford, Larry Levan. When I first heard Grandmaster Flash's record "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" in 1981 I was floored and knew that I had to pursue the DJ thing. That was the first DJ routine record ever recorded and he did it with three turntables.
WI: Has it always been two turntables and your SP 1200 or did you ever want to rock the mic?
DJ Spinna: I didn't own an SP 1200 drum machine until 1994 which was given to me by Todd Terry. Prior to that I would borrow or use the machines in the recording studios. However I did record vocals with my group Jigmastas before we actually started making records in 1996. I hated hearing myself in playback. But I think if I decided to rhyme again I would be pretty good. Sometimes I get the urge to write rhymes but my deejaying and studio time keeps me occupied enough.
WI: The music industry has changed a lot since the "Everybody Bounce" days. What do you miss the most?
DJ Spinna: I miss what people would call "real hip hop" being the norm in the mainstream. The industry is dominated by formulaic assembly line produced music that won't last for years to come, and the music sounds extra cheesy to me. There's no soul. I'm already noticing that records made from a certain era are now being celebrated by a younger generation who didn't get to experience it because they were too young. I'm not certain that records made in the last 10 years will have the same effect, unless of course it has substance. Kanye and Jay Z's "Otis" won a Grammy a few nights ago. I hope that is a sign that things will change. Sampling needs to come back.
WI: A friend of mine has a clothing line, one of his first t-shirts was one that said, "Just because you have a thousand songs on your iPod doesn't make you a DJ." How do you feel about all the "celebrity" and "iPod" DJs that have come up lately?
DJ Spinna: I think it's terrible. Technology has made it easy for everyone to call themselves a "DJ". The bottom line is, if deejaying was only done with the vinyl format, it would eliminate the fraudulent. It's too costly and you really have to be dedicated to keep up. The flipside of this is, the real DJ that's paid their dues and are true to the art will stand out amongst those that are doing it just because they think it's cool or
WI: How influential has Stevie Wonder been for you and what inspired the "Wonder-Full" party?
DJ Spinna: I love Stevie Wonder and his music. I consider myself a Stevie Wonder student. His philanthropic efforts as well as his song writing and music production are unmatched. He's influenced my approach to production heavily, and he's made me understand how being a person of peace and love is important, especially through music. I think about that every time I spin. It's not just about the act of playing the music, but uniting people from all walks of life to become one under the banner of universal love. The Wonder-FULL party was sparked in 1999 after a small intimate celebration of Songs In The Key of Life, in a small club called Baby Jupiter in the lower east side of Manhattan. Bobbito and I shortly after that event created the now legendary "Wonder Wrote It" mix CD's compiling rare Stevie Wonder productions, compositions and performances. This then evolved into the first Wonder-FULL party in 2001 and has continued every year around his birthday which is May 13. Stevie told me personally during his first 2005 appearance at the party, that he's thankful for the event, and he wants me to continue to spread his message and music, and never stop. That moment defined my entire life.
WI: "Wonder-Full" or "Soul Slam"?
DJ Spinna: Both. They are two different kinds of parties. The Wonder-FULL party is more of a spiritual and emotional celebration, while Soul Slam is an all out jam from beginning to end. The late Michael Jackson, RIP, and Prince simply made too many dance floor crushers that keep the energy up all night. Michael and Prince impacted MTV in the 80's, so visually people also use that to celebrate by coming in Prince and MJ attire wearing purple laced gloves and capes, polka dot shirts a la the "When Doves Cry" video, capes, white gloves, "Thriller" jackets, Billie Jean T-shirts, etc.
WI: You've rocked crowds from NYC to Iceland. How are the crowds different in the U.S. compared to overseas?
DJ Spinna: People overseas are more open minded musically. I can take more risks with my selection. In the US, the percentage of good music lovers are small in comparison. Mainstream media have the brains of the masses tricked out to the point where people don't know what's good anymore. There's a 30 year plus music festival called The Southport Weekender that happens in the UK every year. There's different
rooms specializing in multi genres ranging from, Jazz, Soul, Funk, House, Hip Hop, Reggae, Disco, R&B, etc. Top of the line artists and DJ's travel from all over the globe to perform. From Raphael Saadiq, to Roy Ayers, to Naughty By Nature, pretty much everybody. There's no reason why something like this can't happen here in the US.
WI: If I'm correct, this will be your fourth time playing DC, three "Wonder-Full" events and your upcoming set at U Street Music Hall. What draws you to DC?
DJ Spinna: I've done DC more than three times, and Wonder-FULL has only happened twice, believe it or not. I've done U Street once last year as well. I love DC because it's a chocolate city. I love seeing different shades of brown people in abundance when I'm deejaying. It inspires me. Not to mention, good music is still supported in DC. I've been hearing this for years before I played DC. Indie soul artists get played on radio, and even legendary jazz artists can still count on DC to get booked, which I find very important. It's a forgotten genre but it's still deserving of respect because it's America's Classical music.
WI: The 7th Annual "DC Loves Dilla" event is here at U Street Music Hall on Sunday. Tell us what J Dilla meant to you?
DJ Spinna: James Yancey was the king of the beat. He may not have had the same kind of accolades as a Dr. Dre, The Neptunes or Kanye, but even they acknowledge that he was a force to be reckoned with. He heard music in colors, and his approach to making beats came from a left of center place. He was a thinking producer, very musical, and extremely funky. His ability to pick out samples was incredible. He was also multi dimensional, his mic skill was crazy and he was pretty slick on the cuts too! Dilla was the only producer that really made me work extra hard to keep up. He was my contemporary and friend, but I was and still am a huge fan. I miss him tremendously. There will never be another Dilla in this lifetime.
WI: From Funk, Jazz and Soul, to Hip Hop, Dance and Electronic music, you have a very well-rounded, eclectic set. What can DC expect from Friday night's set?
DJ Spinna: The energy in the room will predict what I play. Expect to sweat and dance your life away.