R.I.P. Roc Raida

rocraidaI just read something shocking and sad – Busta Rhymes has announced that the great DJ Roc Raida has died at just 37 years old. Now, I know when that DJ AM guy died recently I had no idea who that was except that he dated Lionel Richie’s daughter, and most of you probly know even less about Roc Raida. He didn’t date anybody related to anyone famous as far as I know and was not very well known outside of serious hip hop fans, so I’m gonna give you a little impromptu history lesson here.

If you just know hip hop from modern TV and radio you don’t really see alot of DJs. Scratching is not usually really a component of popular rap music these days and some of the big ones don’t even have a DJ as part of their stage show anymore. This is exactly what was happening in the early ’90s as well.

But there were alot of young people who had grown up idolizing Grandmaster Flash, Jam Master Jay and DJ Jazzy Jeff, and experimenting at home with their parents’ turntables, trying to figure out what their idols were doing and developing their own techniques and styles. It started to become a subculture and cottage industry much like skateboarding or something like that. In this world the DJ was no longer the guy backing up the rapper, he was the star of the show, and they started having organizations, sponsorships, special equipment, tournaments and championship belts. Some of them even started calling themselves “turntablists” because they were playing it like an instrument.

As the turntablism scene grew there started to be crews of DJs – you don’t have Run and DMC and Jam Master Jay, you have three or four Jam Master Jays in one group, performing together. The two most legendary of these crews were the Invisbl Skratch Piklz in San Francisco and the X-Men in New York. Roc Raida was an X-Man. Later, when they started putting out albums (I’m listening to their debut, X-pressions, right now) they had to change the name so they became better known as The X-ecutioners.

On their albums they did a great job of cutting up pieces of records and beats and turning them into musical compositions. But if you ask me the X-ecutioners were primarily a live act, going back to the roots of what hip hop began as. Some of what they did was more showmanship than music. For example, the video below is what they call beatjuggling – not really something that’s pleasant to listen to, but an awesome trick to watch somebody do live.

(NSFC – not safe for church)

All of the X-ecutioners did lots of show-offy spins and behind the back tricks and what not but Roc Raida especially was known for goofy shit like the between the legs scratch and doing those poses and facial expressions and stuff. It may seem kind of silly, but a DJ’s job is interacting with the crowd. He’s looking for a laugh or applause when he does those things. And it’s amazing to watch because I have a hard time just playing a record without it skipping. This guy has such an amazing control of this sensitive device that he can throw in gratuitous hotrodding, like a martial artist doing a couple extra flips just to show off. He was also really good at collaging together words from different records to taunt his opponents.

I actually did see them live at least two times, maybe three, and it was a sight to behold. I couldn’t find any videos that truly captured how amazing it was to see four master DJs all performing together and working the crowd, but the one below is pretty good and shows a more musical example of their art. Roc Raida is third from left in the blue shirt.

If you’re interested, the X-ecutioners are heavily featured in Doug Pray’s documentary SCRATCH, which also does a great job of explaining the whole turntablist movement.

The X-ecutioners went their separate ways a while back, and I’m not sure if I ever heard that Roc Raida had become Busta Rhymes’s DJ, backing up the rapper like the days before ‘turntablism’ was coined. It hasn’t been confirmed by any news source that I’ve seen, but rumor is a statement from his family says he had gotten serious spinal injuries in a car accident “mixed martial arts accident” and his death may have been was related to that.

Rest in Peace Roc Raida, you were one of the greats. I’m glad I got to see you perform and I’ll keep listening to your records.

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 20th, 2009 at 12:31 pm and is filed under Blog Post (short for weblog). You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “R.I.P. Roc Raida”

  1. This is too bad! What happened? My wife showed me Scratch recently and I loved it! RIP Raida

  2. Yeah, people these days forget that DJing is not just playing one song after another, but can also be so much more. I mean, there is nothing wrong with just playing song after song, but often it seems that the art behind it is forgotten. (And I don’t wanna blame it on the modern technology, involving Laptops and MP3’s and stuff, because I’m one of these digital bastards too [for financial reasons] and ironically it seems that tools like Digital Vinyl reminded many DJs that they also can perform instead of just being a jukebox, but that’s a whole different topic…)
    Anyway, it’s sad to see one of the masters go. And it’s even sadder that less people seem to notice than a few weeks ago, when AM passed away. (Don’t wanna say anything negative about AM. I heard from many people that he seemed to be a very nice guy, and it didn’t seem to be the typical we-only-like-him-now-because-he’s-dead-talk, that you hear everytime a celebrity passed away.)

  3. It’s a shame seeing one of the old gods die like this. The hip hop community really needs to bring scratching back to the table. It sucked seeing DJ AM die too. With all the exposure he was getting from his performances with Travis Barker, it looked like scratching might be due for a comeback sometime soon. And as good as the Kanye West orchestrated approach can sound, it only really works in capable hands. Most rappers seem to have no idea what to do with that power, and end up sounding as lame and overproduced as the worst DJ Khaled songs. Everybody’s adopting a big-band style these days and it’s not really working out. Of the people I’ve seen live, it seems like only Lupe Fiasco has it down. The backing band works for him. If you’ve seen Lupe perform Daydreaming, you know what I’m talking about. However, I saw Lil Wayne employing pretty much the same setup, and it was horrible. The best rap show I’ve seen was probably Nas last year, and he only brought one other person with him, DJ Green Lantern. The performance was downright raw. With only the two people, you could really feel the power, ya know? Anyway, Rest in Peace, Roc Raida, you will be missed.

  4. I was lucky enough to see DJ Qbert in Bologna a couple of years ago , as a solo act , and it was really amazing. Then I was also in the crowd for the Rome concert of the Beastie Boys Hello Nasty tour , and , of course , for me it was also an opportunity to see Mix Master Mike performing , and that was fantastic . But I was never able to see some of the old X-Men , and that’s a shame . Everything you say , Vern, it’s absolutely true , hip-hop SOUNDS different these days , for the most part . For us the DJ or , better , turntablist , was as important as the crew , when going to a concert. Man , only 37 , that really , REALLY SUCKS.

  5. Wowie zowie, that’s some true greatness right there–thanks for those YouTube links. I always wondered why Rob Swift got all the press attention (what very little seemed reserved for turntabling) when it took some group telepathy to make the X-ecutioners’ beats happen. I stopped hearing from or about each of them and could never figure out why, but I had those DJ Shadow/Cut Chemist mix battle comps to tide me over in the meantime, so I figured there was still an audience out there for this particular art (with new fans still showing up all the time; my girlfriend, who’s about as white as a loaf of Wonder Bread in a snowbank in Canada, absolutely loves their third collaboration, The Hard Sell).

    I assumed they were all each holding down steady DJ jobs in clubs somewhere that were far too cool for me to ever attend, waiting for hip-hop to wake up from the AutoTune hangover and start re-recognizing spinning as one of the four Pillars Of Hip-Hop that it is (the other three being rapping, graffiti, and breakdancing, of course). Now it looks like one of its sharpest skillsets will be missing when it comes time for the revival. R.I.P., Roc Raida.

  6. A real shame too lose such raw talent at such a young age. i remember getting that first x-cutioners album right around the same time as the Beatnuts and Jurassic 5 started geting big and thinking,”Thank God some people out there still remember what hip-hop is really about”
    I never got to see these guys although one year they played at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival(did see MixMaster Mike) i attended but i think i saw Parliament Funk on a different stage instead….

  7. Loudabagel – I’m reminded of that Nas/Beastie Boys single released back this summer with that one line: “Too many rappers / Not enough MCs.”

    Damn straight.

  8. Wow. Fantastic write up, Vern. I read of Roc’s passing on another non-hip hop site and 90% of the replies were along the lines of “who?” and “who cares?”. It angried up the blood and saddened me to see that kind of dismissal of such an innovative artist. Roc was a helluva talent behind the wheels but also a damn fine producer/beatmaker. It does my heart good to come to this, one of my favorite movie sites, and see him get such a respectful salute. Thanks, man.

  9. Salute the god!! Rock Raida 4 life!!

    Vern is true to the culture of hip-hop.

    So glad I stumbled on this site.


  10. Wow, so awesome to see this here. Roc Raida is a legend. Rest In Paradise for sure.

    One of my favorites..


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