DJing has been long-considered one of the four pillars of the hip-hop culture. However, the days of turntablism, scratching and outright skill is almost extinct, due to the new generation of MP3 DJs who use a laptops and just shuffle through playlists.
That’s why when a DJ is heavily skilled, they are some of the most respected and most recognizable. Guys like DJ Babu, DJ Scratch, DJ Qbert, the late Roc Raida, and A-Trak are just a few of them. One other, that needs to be mentioned is UK-bred DJ Yoda.
Yoda is one of the last in a dying breed. The 30-year-old DJ from London has been studying and practicing the art of turntablism for over 15 years, and has built a following along the way, thanks to a unique cut-n-paste style that has evolved into both sounds and video, mashed up into a unique performance.
Q magazine nominated him as “one of the ten DJs to see before you die,” while Hip Hop Connection declared him “one of the top three DJs in the world.” And, he’s got the accolades to match. Yoda won the DMC DJ of the Year award in the Scratch DJ category in 2001, and was one of six nominees for best UK hip-hop DJ in the UK Hip-Hop Awards.
We caught up with DJ Yoda recently to talk about how how he started as a DJ, his unique style, how he feels about the media touting him as “one of the best,” and his latest EP, DJ Yoda & Friends.
BallerStatus.com: First off, I wanna know. DJ Yoda, where did that name come from? And why did you choose it?
DJ Yoda: I’ve always hated it. I never chose it. It was kind of named upon me by some friends, just for the lack of a better name, because I have a big Yoda toy by my turntables. But umm, I’m stuck with it now. It’s too late to change.
BallerStatus.com: Are you a big “Star Wars” fan?
DJ Yoda: No, not particularly. That’s the crazy thing. People expect me to be some “Star Wars” nerd, but it’s definitely not the case. I guess a lot of people my age grew up on the movies and everything. It was an inspiration, but I’m not a crazy geek about it.
BallerStatus.com: Obviously, you are very skilled as a turntablist. How long have you been DJing?
DJ Yoda: I got my turntables when I was like 15, so yea, a good 15 years. Pretty long man.
BallerStatus.com: Was it easy for you? Or was it something you just got better at over the years?
DJ Yoda: It took a lot of time. When I started out, there was no Internet, no Youtube to learn how to DJ. None of my friends were into that. I spent the first few years just trying to work it out for myself and getting it pretty badly wrong (laughs). As the years went on, I kinda met people that were into DJing, and I started to learn about the right things to do. I broke my parent’s hi-fi when I first got it, pretending to scratch and everything. It took a while.
BallerStatus.com: You’re style is very unique, how you cut up all kinds of stuff, even classic shows, movies, and Youtube samples. How did you develop your style?
DJ Yoda: That’s probably the most important thing to me: is trying to make sure what I’m doing is completely original. I don’t wanna sound like anyone else. I really just wanna have my own thing.
For me, my style is the original hip-hop style. For me, hip-hop is like you take all of your influences and you mix them all up, and create something new. I take any sounds or videos I’m interested in or think are cool, and try to throw it altogether in the mix, and try to make something new out of it. That kind of cut-n-paste style was originated by people like Double Dee and Steinski, or Coldcut, or even Qbert. These are the people who have this cut-n-paste style, but if you use that style and are honest about your influences, then you should automatically come up with something original — a representation of what you love.
BallerStatus.com: That would be the easiest, right? Cutting stuff you love?
DJ Yoda: It takes practice, of course, so that the stuff you love doesn’t sound like a complete mess (laughs). If I’m out spinning, I play ever genre of music. I just play anything I like. To mix in all those different styles and tempos, it takes some thought and some skill to work out, how to make it all blend together and sound right.
BallerStatus.com: Did people take to it quickly? Or was it more gradual as you continued to showcase yourself.
DJ Yoda: I think what I do, sounds quite different to begin with. It was weird for people, especially because when I started out, I was getting booked at straight hip-hop clubs. I’d turn up at a hip-hop club and play some country and western, or some kids music (laughs). To begin with, there was funny looks, but gradually as the years have gone on — certainly in the places that I played — people learned to expect the unexpected. So, they came out with an open mind and see what I to offer.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve been recognized by many magazines and publications as “one of the best” in the world. When given a title like that, how does it feel?
DJ Yoda: I try not to take that stuff too seriously, because you just end up with a big head for no reason (laughs). I understand journalism, it’s all politics. I don’t take it too seriously, I just try to do what I do.
BallerStatus.com: Yea, but it’s gotta feel good to be recognized for your work.
DJ Yoda: It does, it does. At the same time, even if no one recognized what I was doing, I would be doing it for the love, for myself anyway. That’s how I fell in love with it, making mixtapes because I thought it was funny and cool, and I just like hearing the tapes that I made. Then, my friends caught onto it, then their friends, and then gradually it kind of blew up. But, if no one listened to it, I’d be doing it anyway.
BallerStatus.com: When a publication recognizes you, and gives you some crazy title as “the best”, does it add any pressure to continue to do better things to top your past works?
DJ Yoda: I try not to think of it in terms of “what the crowd wants.” I think it’s more important to be honest with myself, play what I love, and do what I think is cool. I think that honesty and passion comes through to other people, like they recognize that whether a DJ is playing he’s playing what he loves. It’s different than a DJ that’s like “Damn, I gotta play Lady Gaga” or whatever.
BallerStatus.com: There’s so many DJs in the world, what do you think makes you stand out?
DJ Yoda: I have to say, as the years have gone on and at the current point in time, I’ve seen a lot of DJs in the clubs before me or after me … I’m pretty depressed about the state of the DJ scene. A lot of people I see play, they either have two CDJs or a laptop, and just mix one song into the next. It’s boring. To me, iTunes can do that. A computer can do that. You shouldn’t need a DJ to turn up and do that. To me, it’s really important to bring some skills to the table, to do something unique.
Most of my shows these days, are video shows, so I’m mixing video in with the audio as well. I scratch up stuff from Youtube or from movies that I like. I try to bring something unique to the table, so it’s not just some robot playing up there.
BallerStatus.com: What’s next for you? What are you working on at the moment?
DJ Yoda: I have this new EP, DJ Yoda & Friends. It’s kind of like an EP of collaborations. I have a bounce track; I have clubby, up-tempo stuff; I have a straight hip-hop track with Izza Kizza; and I have some different, new club sounds. At the same time, I’m working on a new album, which I have some really big collaborations on — out later this year.
BallerStatus.com: How does a DJ approach an album? Obviously, live is one thing, but doing an album is something different.
DJ Yoda: It’s a much more drawn out process, it’s takes much longer for me than a mix CD. Like a mix CD, I can bang out really quickly. It takes me no time. An album can take me a few years. I tend to be more of a perfectionist about it. I start by making beats, then I think “Which artists are gonna sounds good on these beats?” I make a list. The last artist album, I made a long list, and started one-by-one. I was lucky. I managed to check each one of them off. I got to work with Biz Markie, he’s always been my favorite rapper of all-time. So, doing two tracks with him, was just ridiculous to me. So, it’s a slow process.
For more info on DJ Yoda, and for tour dates, visit his website, DJYoda.co.uk.