One of the world's most respected hip-hop DJs, Cut Chemist is bringing to life the elemental record collection of hip-hop's godfather, Afrika Bambaataa, on Saturday in San Francisco.
The former Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli member is teaming up with his old pal, the Bay Area's DJ Shadow, for the 27-date “Renegades of Rhythm” tour. It features an all-vinyl setlist culled from Bambaataa's 40,000-strong record collection housed at Cornell University.
Bambaataa was part of the first wave of live hip-hop DJs in the 1970s in New York, and his record collection helps form the bedrock of an entire genre. Chemist and DJ Shadow obtained unprecedented access to the Bambaataa collection through a friend at Cornell, Chemist says.
Bambaataa had sold his records to the Ivy League school, and archivists tapped Chemist and Shadow to commemorate the library with a mix for their “Brainfreeze” series.
“We thought it would be a good idea to expand that into a tour and campaign,” Chemist says.
The duo dug through Bambaataa's records in a storage unit, and the experience was revelatory.
“It was an unreal moment. All these ultimate breaks and beats — classic break records that helped shape hip-hop, we're looking at the first copies that ever hit turntables. These copies were at the original park jams in the '70s.”
Chemist and Shadow walked away with 12 boxes of records and shipped them back to the Bay Area, where the duo whittled things down to a 250- to 300-song setlist of undiluted hip-hop gold.
Bambaataa's stash takes Chemist back to hearing breaks for the first time as a preteen in Los Angeles, he says. Bambaataa, from the Bronx, N.Y., branded a generation with conscious, fun, infectiously danceable music.
Born in 1972, Chemist has grown into something of a hip-hop statesmen himself, with disaffection for the brainlessness of today's Top 40 rap.
“Consciousness in music today doesn't seem to exist, certainly not as much as it did in the '80s,” he says. “Nicki Minaj's 'Anaconda'? It's all shock value. It's, 'Wow, I want to see how stupid people can be, because we like that. It's funny.'”
Conversely, Saturday's show at Mezzanine is shaping up as a tightly rehearsed, six-turntable blast through hip-hop's past, with visuals by Ben Stokes.
As Bambaataa, 57, said in a statement, “DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist are going to blow your funky mind.”