Interview with DJ Swindle:
Though DJ Danger Mouse was the first to gain mainstream attention for creating a mashup concept album based on hip hop, these days the undisputed king of the genre has to be DJ Swindle. From his debut joining the cold blooded rhymes of Mobb Deep with the laid back sounds of Bob Marley to his latest release combining the music of Al Green and Nasir Jones, Swindle has the mashup game on lockdown.
A couple of months ago, Universal Records' legal team sent DJ Swindle a cease and desist letter, telling him to take down one of his albums featuring 50 Cent. I got in touch with him to see how he planned on responding to Universal and ended up getting a full interview out of him. Swindle has some very interesting thoughts on the music industry, his current legal situation and the process of creating a mashup album. Check it out:
First off, what's the current situation with Universal (assuming
you're able to talk about it)? In another interview, you said that
they were threatening "over-the-top legal action." Can you give any
specifics on that?
Although I've been advised not to disclose details I can say that Universal
(and most record labels) are slowly, FINALLY coming to the conclusion that
Mixtape producers and DJs are one of the biggest promotional tools they
have. Who else puts this much time and effort into bringing attention to
their artists at no cost? All we want is a little positive exposure for our
own names while we do it.
After DJ Drama was arrested in January, did you have any concerns
that you might be one of the next artists to be targeted by the RIAA?
Did you take any steps, legal or otherwise, to prepare yourself for
Most of the steps I took were to just get my point of view out there as
swiftly and clearly as possible because it does matter what the majority of
listeners think and the labels do listen to their customers. If enough
people share in the notion that mixtape artists like myself are actually
contributing to good music and not a detriment to it, then I'm confident the
labels (and the labels' attorneys) will have no choice but to accept it. I
can also easily envision a win-win situation existing where the labels
embrace the mixtape industry and take it to a level similar to radio where
it's an organized promotional pipeline that benefits all parties involved.
They should be paying us a lot of money for this type of promotion. Concept
mash-up albums like "80 Cent", "EM-J" or "Almatic" bring new life to classic
existing artists. Mixtape DJs like Drama, Big Mike and Superstar Jay are
literally responsible for the success of the artists that they 'break'
through their mixtapes.
I first came across your cd Bobb Deep on mixunit.com a couple of
years ago. As of right now, mixunit is not selling your cds or any
other mixtapes as a result of the DJ Drama situation. Have you gotten
any information from mixunit that would suggest they'll eventually
start selling mixtapes again?
Mixunit, which was the highest profile mixtape site on the web, really had
no choice but to take precautionary measures. You can't just sit around in
the Matrix waiting for the agents to come blasting. Even way before this
crackdown they were unable to sell my "EM-J: Marshall Meets Michael" CD due
to Interscope's strict enforcement of anything and everything Eminem. The
crazy part about all this is that I always thought the Hip Hop side would be
the ones who were cool about it and it would be the other side (the Michael
Jackson or the Al Green side) that would want it shut down. But nope,
strangely enough it was always the Hip Hop half that was acting like a
sensitive little girl about it. During the release of Nas' most recent album
there was a lot of debate on the thinking behind the title "Hip Hop Is
Dead". It's exactly things like the labels going after mixtape artists that
he's talking about.
After Drama's arrest, he received a fair amount of support from the
general public. A lot of that support seemed to be based on the idea
that the labels were relying on mixtapes as part of their promotions
leading up to album releases, and were thus complicit in the mixtape
scene. Yet many people view mashup/blend tapes as something different
from traditional mixtapes. What is your response to people who would
say that an album like 80 Cent, which uses material from older albums
and was not tied in with any album promotions, actually hurts an
Nobody will ever NOT buy an artists album because they listened to a
mash-up. If anything I'm trying to bring new life and a revitalized interest
into a sometimes played-out classics. As much as I love remixing songs, my
main goal with these mash-up albums is to give people a feel for the type of
beat work I'm coming with [editor's note: I believe some of his non-mashup beats can be heard on Platinum Pete's free album, though I have not confirmed that.]. That's why when you listen to one of my mash-up
CDs you don't just hear an acapella fitted over some basic loop. I chop,
sample and try to add my own signature finesse to every song including new
drums, basslines, etc. I'm sampling music from whatever artist the concept
entails but trying to make a whole new song out of it completely while
keeping the vibe of the original. Besides, that whole Drama thing was
ridiculous and off target. How misinformed can law enforcement be? I still
can't believe they were so dimwitted that they couldn't differentiate
between some Chinese bootlegging operation (that they had busted a week
earlier) and DJ Drama (who is working for and with the artists and labels
Album sales overall have been in decline for several years. Hip hop
in particular seems to have taken a very hard hit, with album sales
dropping 21% in 2006. You've stated that your views on how to save the
music industry are a "radical departure" from the current status quo.
Can you expand on what you think needs to be done to fix the industry?
Excellent question, I love to ramble on and preach about what needs to be
done with the music industry (it's just rare that someone actually wants to
listen, ha.) A friend of mine recently said she predicts all media will be
available for free within 5 years. I agree with this. All of the ingredients
are there. Constantly increasing internet speeds, larger hard drives
standard on all new computers, rampantly multiplying file sharing
platforms... Once something is digital it's as good as free and that's the
bottom line. It seems like last year we were saying "yo let me get a dub of
that" as we shared cassette tapes with friends and traded songs until the
tape hiss was louder than the music itself. There was never one instance
where I remember anyone calling it "illegal sharing" even though it was
basically the same concept. In fact, almost every tape deck you could buy
came with two decks for dubbing! The dubs were never as good as the originals
though which leads to the difference with today's 'sharing'... Once it's
digital, all it takes is one original to feed music to the entire planet
without one ounce of degradation. Most people, presented with the option of
buying or getting the exact same thing for free, will get it for free. The
industry will fight this for a while longer but will inevitably lose.
A new model has to be embraced if they want any chance of survival. My model is
similar to cable T.V. and the large T.V. Networks. You pay for cable service
every month and your tv show's come to you free. The only string attached is
you're subjected to advertising which, as hated as it is, is the sole reason
your shows and sporting events even exist. Music can be the same. Artist's
would be in contract with products, labels would be more brokers than
anything, brokering deals between artists and brands. People would pay for
internet service and have access to download whatever they want, whenever
they want knowing that your new Britney Spears song is affiliated with
Pepsi Cola for example. Pepsi would have unlimited usage of her likeness in
their ads and in turn they would be responsible for the recording and
distribution (mostly digital) of her music. I'm not by any means saying there
should be ads IN the music but it would be an ad revenue based industry
rather than the sales based industry that is currently suffering. I've got a
LOT more details and ideas on all this so Lyor, Iovine, Geffen, Clive....
Hit me up, let's do lunch at Smith And Wolensky's and discuss it further.
When you are in the initial stages of developing an album, what
comes first: the album title or the beats and vocals that you are
Usually I'll start with an artist that I've been wanting to work with, it's
sort of like a fantasy production, pretending like I actually get to work
with Bob Marley or Nas. I know that's hella nerdy but I've been a music
lover for so long it's fun to dream a little ya dig? The only one that was
spawned from the name first was "Em-J" and it just came together like it was
meant to be. The others started with the artists and the name just clicked
afterwards. I'm from an advertising background so I've spent long hours
concepting, trying to come up with 'big ideas' for campaigns so I guess it
rubs off on the music projects. The "Almatic" concept came together while
working with my man Frank Lyon who is now my main partner in these mash-up
CDs and music in general. We both are huge Nas fans and Frank is a sick
Acapella fiend. He's the only human being I've ever met who listens to
acapellas recreationally. I think he prefers to listen to songs without any
music at all, just playlists of Biggie, Nas and 2Pac acapellas running in
the background all day. Sick bastard! Anyway, he'll dig up the best quality
acapellas he can find, using some pretty clever tactics to find the joints
that few others have access to and I'll be at the stove with the pyrex,
cooking up those beats using my usual artillery which is mainly and ASR-10
sampler, Korg Triton and Logic Audio with some MPC sounds imported in. I
don't have or use an MPC, but as I said before, anything digital is as good
as free so i've got a TON of MPC sounds on file. I'm more comfortable with
the ASR keyboard set-up.
And then in comes my man Gavin in L.A. [Gavin] is the main person responsible
for the album cover art and design. Usually I'll have a loose concept in
mind and he'll execute it in a way that nobody else could and it looks
incredibly professional. For example the EM-J cover, we thought of this
'visual mash-up' of imagery with the Michael Jackson glove giving the
finger. We actually had it professionally shot by a friend of mine, local
NYC fashion photographer Philippe Rohdewald (who is another brilliant artist
I've been working with for years and deserves a lot of credit). The problem
was the glove came out grey and flat so all of the shine and bling was added
after the fact by Gavin and it came out sick. The new art Gavin just
finished for the newest Mash-up Frank and I are working on now called
"Snooperfly" (Snoop Dogg and Curtais Mayfield Superfly) came out insane. He
took the old Superfly cover and characterized Snoop into it. Gavin's main
goal, and this is no lie, is to design adult video box covers (that twisted
pervert!) but for the time being he's a crucial part of our whole package.
Once you have the idea for what the concept of the album will be,
how do you proceed from there? Do you just randomly select beats to
match up with specific acapellas until you find a good combination, or
do you have a beat in mind for a particular vocal before you start the
In most cases, timing is the deciding factor for the combinations. I'll
always start with an acapella that Frank Lyon has dug up and lock it up to
its original BPM. For example, on Almatic Frank got his hands on some very
high quality Nas acapellas that we knew we wanted to use. Once the BPM of
the acapella is locked in I build the beat around that BPM. I'll sample
parts of certain songs I think will sound good with those lyrics but often
the speeds just don't agree. The samples have to run too slow or way too
fast and 'chipmunky' to fit on time, since I rarely use pitch shifting to
cram a sample on time (unless I'm dead bent on using that sample). So if it
doesn't work I just try a different song to sample. Eventually it works.
Once one sample works and I've determined the right speed and pitch, I'll
start to take a bunch of sub-samples for change ups and other parts for
hooks. Then I'll add drums and bass lines. In the case of Snooperfly we did
What kind of equipment do you use to create your albums -- is it
all through software, or are you using turntables and samplers as
well? Any software or hardware recommendations for kids out there who
are looking to make their first blend tape?
As I mentioned my main tools are the Korg Triton and ASR-10
sampler/keyboard. I haven't found too much in the way of software
samplers/synths that can create the same feel of the pounding Triton Kicks
and the bass and the feel of the ASR-10 for sampling is unmatched. I'm on my
second one now and I've been using that machine for so long that I'm just
way more comfortable and fast with it than any software. In the end it all
ends up sequenced and mixed in Logic Pro for Mac.
As for the kids...
Obviously most people getting into beatmaking will start with Fruityloops,
Reason or some other software apps which is fine but just remember that
everyone is using the same stuff so to avoid having the same sound try
adding 1 or 2 unique outside elements to your mix. Maybe it's an MPC or a
Motif keyboard... Just something to separate your sound from everyone else.
Do you have any musical aspirations beyond creating remix albums?
Any plans to make a Danger Mouse-type move and work with a major label
The mash-ups are actually just a very small piece of what we're doing. They
are simply a vehicle for getting my production out there and letting people
know my sound and how I would've produced these artists. I've got original
beats that are WAY hotter than anything we've ever put down on a mash-up
album and we're just looking for the right opportunity to work with a major
or up-and-coming artist. Like I said, hit me up Liles, Clive, Jay,.. Let's
do lunch at Dorsia and discuss it further.
Are there any djs (mashup, mixtape or otherwise) that you look to
for inspiration? Any djs out there that you'd be interested in working
with in the future?
We're currently working with Crazy Chris and Chong Wizard on a new
compilation album called "Mash of the Titans". I'd like to start getting my
tracks featured on my favorite mixtape DJ's CDs, like Big Mike and Kay Slay.
Have you ever received feedback from any of the artists you've
based your work on?
You mean other than the 'feedback' I received from "Lawyers representing
Curtais Jackson"? DJ Drama actually gave me some real positive feedback in
one of his recent interviews and I've had some meetings with some of the
people working with the artists, for example Violator Records representing
Do you have an idea in mind for your next album?
DJ Swindle and Frank Lyon Present: Snooperfly.
The sources for your beats have been from a fairly wide range of
artists - from artists traditionally sampled in hip hop like Al Green
and Michael Jackson, to groups like INXS which are less familiar to
most hip hop fans. I'm assuming at least some of your inspiration
comes from the music you listened to growing up, so what kind of music
were you into as a kid?
Growing up in Northern Cali in the 80s my Mom liked Michael Jackson and my
Dad liked classical music so there was always a strange mix of genres
playing, even back then. Once I developed my own tastes I went full swing
into gangster rap. Run DMC and the Beastie Boys got me into Rap but it was
N.W.A., Cypress Hill and 2 Live Crew, Digital Underground and Tupac that got
me hooked. My favorite album and artist of all time is Ice Cube: Death
Certificate. In my opinion one of the best produced rap albums ever.
As I've said several times before on my site, Bobb Deep ranks as
one of my favorite albums of all time. I would have had no problem
paying as much for that as any retail cd I've purchased. Do you think
we'll ever see a major label endorse a mashup dj and actually sell a
cd like Bobb Deep in retail outlets? Is that something you're
interested in, selling your albums in a "legitimate" outlet?
I think that's an excellent idea and if the major labels had as much sense
as you and were able to identify opportunities like that to bring new
exposure to their existing artists then maybe they wouldn't be in such bad
Are you doing any live performances? I know you're based in NY,
any specific clubs that we can find you at?
I haven't DJ'd a party since some sweet 16 in Queens in 1997. I'm a producer
mainly so my turf is the studio rather than the stage.
Big thanks to Swindle for coming through!
I'm assuming pretty much everyone that comes to this site has heard at least a couple of tracks that DJ Swindle has put out. I first heard one of his mashups a couple of years ago, when I picked up Bobb Deep. There are ton of dope remixes on that album, but my favorite is his take on Shook Ones:
DJ Swindle - Bobb Deep
He's made all four of his mashup albums available for free download. If you don't already have them, head over to djswindle.com and go get them!
For more information about Swindle's upcoming projects or to contact him, stop by swindleentertainment.com.
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