DJ Z-Trip's Hip-Hop Journey Is Equal Parts Run-DMC and Led Zeppelin

DJ Z-Trip's Hip-Hop Journey Is Equal Parts Run-DMC and Led Zeppelin

Published Wed, February 28, 2024 at 8:00 AM EST

DJ Z-Trip is coming home. Or, should I say, coming back to one of his homes.

As he prepares to rock a show at Walter Where?House in Phoenix, AZ, it reminds him of just how far he's come as a musician.

Having been raised in the Little Neck section of Queens, NY, his family subsequently moved to New River, AZ, a small town 25 miles from the outskirts of Phoenix. Almost immediately, Z-Trip realized there were distinct differences.

"Instead of having the Long Island Rail Road behind us, we had cows, and it was rattlesnakes and shit," he says. "It was a full-on thing."

After his parents divorce, his father moved back to Queens, while his mother stayed behind. This period of transition — with him back and forth — is what he desribes as, "...a juxtaposition of country mouse [and] city mouse."

"It's like I'm full city when I go to see my dad, and Hip- Hop is happening now around like '84, '85, '86. I'm getting exposed to all this stuff and I'm buying these records; Eric B. & Rakim records, EPMD records, Newcleus."

"I'm hearing this stuff on the radio and I'm like, 'What is this?' So I'm buying up as much as I can, and then taking those records back to Arizona with me, and then playing them for people who have no clue what any of this is."

With the fresh imprint of Hip-Hop culture in the back of his mind, he struggled to embrace his inner New Yorker while in rural Arizona. First, he attempted to write graffiti, but the act of tagging desolate farmland didn't have the same thrill as say, tagging the 1-Train in NYC. Undeterred, he viewed the records that he brought with him as a focal point.

"I channeled it into music," he says. "But what I was doing then was taking these two worlds sonically and finding the common ground — which was drums. Drums were everything for me. But the interesting thing about those formative years for me when I wasn't in New York is that I was exposed then to all the music that was kind of Arizona; very rock/metal music with a little bit of country sprinkled in. So having in one side of my brain, Kurtis Blow, Run- DMC, and LL COOL J, and the other side of my brain, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin, it was really this interesting balance of, 'How do I get these two things to speak to each other?'"

While this idea of "mash-ups" and "fusion" weren't yet buzzwords in the culture, a young Z-Trip saw that some of the cultural Hip-Hop icons were already dabbling in mixing different sonic worlds.

"I was exposed to Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and Jazzy Jay, who were playing the DNA for all these Hip-Hop records. These obscure electronic things coupled with all the funk stuff — basically what became the Ultimate Breaks and Beats catalog. So all the heavy rock riffs, all the heavy funk stuff, all the disco records, anything that had breaks in it became, 'Oh, that's what the DNA of Hip-Hop is,' and they're just rapping over these breaks and these things. And so for me, that's what I really got attracted to. The rapping was a bonus part, but the DNA of what Hip-Hop was, I was like, 'Oh, there's some of that over here in Arizona that I could still work with, and really it's everywhere.' So I just started pulling from all kinds of music."

His ascent from consumer to participator began humbly. At first, he only had one direct-drive turntable and one belt-drive turntable. Since they spun at different rates upon powering them on, Z-Trip had to coordinate the different tempos. But because he didn't face the same pressures or expectations as primarily New York-centric DJ's, he believes that is ultimately what led to his decades of success.

"Arizona being so void of something allowed me to put my stamp on it, and also gave me less interference in order to incubate and really develop my style and sound," he says. "That was just the blueprint and the DNA of what I'd learned in New York, and what I discovered in Arizona, and realized that if you just have the right mix of these elements, you can combine these new super things that are hybrids of everything that take the best parts, and not just the song with a song, but the acapella of something and the drums of something else or the DNA of these things. It became a bit more scientific. And so that was like the mad scientist era was being isolated in my lab with all this music that I surrounded myself with and experimenting, experimenting, experimenting. And I feel like I came up with my own style and sound, and I'm glad it worked."

With Phoenix as his adopted hometown, he recognizes the importance of his upcoming show there on March 2.

"I think because I incubated in Arizona and had no distractions of any other crazy shit I could have gotten into, running around on the streets doing crazy shit, and I focused on the music. I've kept that work ethic with me through the whole thing."

Catch DJ Z-Trip at Where?House at 702 N. 21st Ave. Phoenix, Arizona 85009 on March 2. Tickets can be purchased here.

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