Remixing The Industry, Part 1 11.03.09: Skratch Bastid
Paul “Skratch Bastid” Murphy comes from the “Golden Age of Hip-Hop” generation. Those of us from back in the day remember what Hip-Hop was like when Gods not only walked the earth, but they spoke to us. Every chance they got. With M.C..’s on the microphones and, most times, a DJ behind them standing between two turntables creating music and beats out of carefully selected vinyl.
Of course, that was the tactic that got Hip-Hop in legal trouble at one point. “Sampling” was known as stealing, but anyone who truly knows sampling – both when they hear it and how to do it right – knows there’s a true art to recycling old music to create something entirely new.
Anyone who’s ever heard it knows that Sean Combs’s (It’s easy to lose track of which variation of “Daddy/Diddy” he’s using this week) tribute to the Notorious B.I.G., “I’ll Be Missing You”, is lifted straight off of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”. Different key and slight tempo change be damned. Now then, quick quiz: Remember Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P.”? Any guesses on what song was used to create that one? The sample of the Jackson 5’s “ABC” is near-genius in its use to create what became one of the signature party anthems of the 1990s.
That in and of itself should be enough evidence to know that Skratch Bastid understands that art form like very few others. A good look at his “favorite things” could be considered exhibit B. Skratch Bastid fondly remembers when DJing was so new that the legal system had no idea what to do with it. He remembers when turntablists hadn’t become programmers in to programmers and those that constructed beats were known as DJs, not “producers”. He remembers how pioneers like Eric B, Terminator X, Jazzy Jeff, Kid Capri, and so many others transformed a turntable from a means of enjoyment to one of creation.
Skratch was also lucky enough to have a mother that encouraged his new discovery-cum-passion. In an exclusive interview over the phone during a brisk October afternoon, Skratch explained, “I took a particular interest in DJing and my mom told me to go into a DJ battle that she saw advertisements for. I was like, ‘no, no, I’m not ready’, but my mom kinda pushed me in to it and I placed third at the age of 16. I got with all the older people in the scene and started doing DJ battles. It all comes down to that push to be heard – I traveled to America and across Canada a lot battling all over the place, and those battles is where I started earning my name in North America. “
Truer words have rarely been spoken. Skratch has placed 2nd twice in the Canadian DMC Championships. He’s won the Montreal Underground DJ (MUDJ) title two years running in ’06 and ’07, as well as being a three-time Scribble Jam Champion in ’04, ’06, and ’07. You’ve seen Eminem’s 8 Mile, right? The rap battles he got in to and finally won? That was Scribble Jam. Now Imagine Em with a turntable and you have an idea of what we’re dealing with.
Of course, showmanship has a lot to do with it as well. Very few DJs are willing to go the extra mile that Skratch does at around 4:12. The raw talent of someone who loves an art form and the willingness to be the type of performer to wear that passion on his sleeve has launched Skratch in to collaborations with some of Hip-Hop’s finest, such as Nas, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Ludacris, Mix Master Mike, Ice-T, DJ Premier, Modeselektor, The Tragically Hip, and Russell Peters.
To add to that list, Skratch is flipping the script a little by inviting others to join his parties as well. Take the upcoming “Skratch Bastid Presents” showcase as an example: not only him, but Scratch (from The Roots) and DJ Starting From Scratch in a “3-man live tag team event” that Skratch plans on doing quarterly, though maybe not necessarily with the same people.
Of the “Skratch Bastid Presents” series, Skratch says, “What I wanted was a collaborative night. It’s not just me playing records – it’s a collaborative experience where we just go on stage and see what comes out of it. The first one is 2 DJs and Scratch, the beatboxer from The Roots. The idea behind that is, all of us with our musical knowledge and experience, just going up there with a couple things in mind and building off of each other and see what the crowd is feeling. Scratch is a very DJ-minded beatboxer; through our rehearsals, it’s amazing what he was coming up with. I just want to create a different experience rather than just going to the club and hearing the DJ play tunes. Have it DJ-oriented, but take it to another level that’s not—it’s a DJ show, but on another musical level that people can enjoy and feel even like they’re seeing a live performance.”
Definitely an atypical approach to a DJ show – and one that might even work. The idea is catching on, if his Facebook page is any indication. That attitude carries over in to the way he does business like it does with a rapidly growing number of artists today.
Of course, in his line of work, it somewhat has to lest we go back to the discussion of legality and red tape. In light of that, even if Skratch were offered the supposed “golden ticket” of signing with a major record label…
“The way I see it now, [record] labels can help you take it further only at a certain point. They don’t even have time to develop an artist. You’ve got to do a lot of that on your own. From the results I’ve gotten, it just takes some work on your end. If you’ve got a good thing going—hell, you could have a quirky little thing going and, as long as it‘s popular like your son dancing or something like that'” he trails off, laughing. Then, “If you’ve got a good thing going nowadays, it’s not so hard to get it out there. If you have a good product and people want to check you out, then the power is in your hands. I’ve had a lot of fun doing that and it will continue on. I’m no marketing major, but I do know there’s a lot of power in the hands of the artists these days, and that’s a good thing.”
Of course, the new way of doing music business is a greater benefit for the artists – namely, more money by cutting out the middle man and more control by eliminating the need to have a boss that dictates how your product and career will be handled. Another key component of seems to be in not only what’s in it for them, but for their fans as well. Skratch confirms, “If you go about including your fanbase in what you do and give them love, they’ll give back to you. People know when you’re giving them something, so if you give them something, it’ll come back to you eventually – be it monetarily or in longevity or at the shows. People want that connection, and there’s no easier time than now to make that connection with your fans.”
On his own power, his “mixtape” releases – more literal for a DJ, as you can imagine – have done quite well. Filling up the length of an entire CD, his albums are continuous, uninterrupted flows made up of some of the best party jams and funky diversions recorded in the last 30 years. His ear for great music is nearly unparalleled, and his aptitude for working that into newer music is second to none. Of course, there are t-shirts and other items that also make up some of the financial end.
At the end of the day, as an independent artist perpetuating an art form that was thought dead and gone as recently as earlier this decade, Skratch Bastid is making his name and music heard through his God-given ability, hard work, and sheer resolve. Not only that, but he’s also making enough of a living that he can turn his dream in to his “day job” without having to depend on the formerly-tried-and-true label system (that a surprising number of artists still think they can’t live without). And he’s not the only one.
Special Thanks to Morgan Steiker and Grimmy Acosta for their help in putting this feature together.