the pleasure of interviewing DJ Krush the day after a mesmerizing
performance at the release party for his sixth studio album entitled
Zen. He spent a period of six months recording in Tokyo, NY, LA, and
Philadelphia and worked with such artists as Black Thought, Zap Mama,
Tunde Ayanyemi, Company Flow, Boss the MC and Sunja Lee. For me, his
music has always been visual so it was no surprise to find out that he
approaches his work in visually minded way. Like a minimalist, he is
able to express so much with a small amount of sound, only the
essential gear and a close attention to detail. Even though I was the
last person to interview him for the day and we talked via his
translator, he was energetic and enthusiastic when discussing his work.
What was the overall idea behind Zen?
a glimpse into other things that were kind of bubbling in my creativity
that I wanted to try out on this album. Zen means a little by little
-bit by bit -gradual progression into something better so that was kind
of the concept of the album.
How did you get into hip-hop in the first
When I was in school I used to listen to rock music with headphones and
envision myself on stage with a guitar and things like that so I really
liked music but in junior high and high school I kind of forgot about
that. Hanging out with my friends was a lot more fun and I was doing
bad things but seeing the hip-hop documentary ‘Wild
Style’ kind of brought me back to that love of music and that
form of it. During those days I didn’t know what I wanted to
do. I was hanging out with friends, not working, getting into bikes and
gangs and basically trying to find myself but eventually I found my way
back to music.
After hearing some of the odd time signatures
in your previous work I wondered if you have any formal music training?
I have no formal training what so ever.
didn’t study a lot and only made it to the 10th
grade so there was no formal training. My father used to listen to a
lot of Coltrane, James Brown and Miles Davis when I was younger so the
sounds were probably in my head as I was growing up but being a little
kid at the time, I didn’t understand it. But I guess it was
important. I’ve just listened to a lot of bands over the
years and tapped into whatever creativity I had but I certainly
can’t read any music.
There seems to be a minimal approach to you
music. How do you go about selecting the sounds you use?
It’s almost like a painter having a lot of different paints.
It’s not black, it’s not gray, its in-between. As a
musician or an artist for sound I have through the years, compiled a
lot of ‘paints’ and when I have a sound in my head
that I want, I search for that sound through sampling and put in on my
painting. Lots of artists take a famous song, loop it, and rap over
that. That’s fine for other people but I’m not
satisfied. I want to do the total opposite and create something
different in which I come up with the idea that I’m going
bring to the track. I don’t sample sounds directly. I always
want to tweak them and make it different.
What about your studio set up? With all the new
software and technology coming out every month, do you think
you’ll switch over to computer based production or do you
think it would change your sound too much?
I use an Akai 1100 sampler, a Roland MC-50 sequencer that only has 8
tracks, a midi keyboard and some other effects. There are a lot of
computers and a lot of software but I like what I have and I
don’t think just making it easier for myself is going to pull
out anymore creativity. I feel comfortable with what I have but if I do
use a computer it’s to acquire a hard drive. Because I try to
put so much of my essence and my being into my music, I think it would
take so much time to utilize a computer that I don’t feel the
need to pursue that. Besides, I think I can be just as fast as the
computer. I want to do a race with the computer and I bet that I would
be faster. Just because you have the expensive super computer
doesn’t mean you can make a better track although it could be
How do you feel the response has been to you
music in the U.S?
Since there is a lot of different types of people everywhere, everybody
has their own take on my music and a lot of people feel me just through
my music while other won’t understand or wouldn’t
be interested. I’ll coming back to tour later in the year and
I just want to keep putting out DJ Krush germs and see how everybody
reacts to it. Some people may get it and some may not.
What is your view on the U.S. hip-hop scene?
I don’t really have any comment on the charts. Those artists
are doing what they’re feeling and that’s fine and
there is a public that wants that and that’s fine but me
personally, I don’t think I would ever go there. I see a lot
of interesting things happening in the underground that is far more
interesting to me and it has a lot more creative potential.
It’s not that I’m dissing anything, I just
don’t have any real comments about that.
What about the scene in Japan?
The scene is getting a lot bigger in Japan. You know, a while back the
record companies really didn’t sign a lot of hip-hip artists
but now there are hip-hop tracks in the charts so it’s seems
to be really helping.
Are there any deliberate meanings behind your
When I collaborate with rappers, I look at it like a swimming pool. I
build the pool, I put water in the pool but I have someone else jump in
it and swim. With the instrumentals, it’s all me. I build the
pool, I put water in it and I swim in it so how I go about making those
two different types of tracks is different. With the instrumentals,
it’s not a concept per-say, but it is a picture in my head
that I want to express so they are basically trying to have a picture
and wonder what that picture would sound like.
What’s the story behind the lyrics of
Candle Chant (A Tribute)?
There was a 24-year-old kid that was a big fan. He was a half-Japanese
and half-black kid that rapped and was dying of cancer. His mother
called me up directly and said my son is sick and he respects you so
much and asked if I would mind visiting him at the hospital because it
would give him the courage to fight. So I went to the hospital with
Boss the MC to visit him. Since he was a rapper, I wanted to do a song
with him but he couldn’t move enough to make it to the
recording studio so we talked to the hospital and was going to bring
the equipment there so we could record at the hospital. So we were
planning it out but two weeks later he passed away. So the song is
about him and about the pure connection of a very limited time together
and how certain circumstances brought us together. The last lyric in
Japanese on that song says you will always be in our soul so
it’s about connecting with somebody and no matter where they
go, we are always together and he will always be here. He was a very
powerful young man. He was half- black and half Japanese so he was
probably discriminated against and kind of picked on in school. He
always said that he’s not mixed blood but has the power of
two bloods and that’s why he felt he had the power to beat
the cancer so it made a very powerful impact on both Boss and myself.
Even though I couldn’t understand the
lyrics during the show last night, it came across as very meaningful
I’m very happy that you felt something even though the words
didn’t make sense to you but that goes to show that those
feelings that you want to get across can make it.
If it weren’t for music, what would
you be doing?
probably be a construction worker or something to feed my children.
I’m not very smart so I’d be working with my body
doing physical work!
I’ve always loved the artists
you’ve chosen for your cover art. Why did you decide to
create the cover yourself for Zen?
Like I said, I’m not into advanced computers or gadgets but I
happened to get a new computer and there was this drawing software. I
was doing pre-production for this album and I was just playing around
with it. Once you start using the computer, you find out how convenient
it is. I’m scared about using the computer on my music
because I focus on my music and want to put my essence into it. When
it’s so easy to do different types of things, it’s
so easy to add fluff to the track and I’d be afraid that
I’d become occupied with the fluff instead of what the song
should sound like. The manual process of the machines I use is a way of
putting myself into it by using my fingers and using the keyboard.
It’s an important part of the process for me but at the same
time, I’m not a computer expert. If I knew how to use it the
way I know how to use my machines now, it might be different so I
can’t state all of this too strongly.