DJ Rob Swift Cuts it up, symphony style
By Kyle Eustice
What Ludwig Beethoven is to a piano, DJ Rob Swift is to a set of turntables. The award-winning DJ’s career spans more than two decades. Raised in Queens during what many refer to as the golden age of hip-hop, Swift was exposed to graffiti writing, break-dancing, MC-ing and DJ-ing in their rawest forms.
“Growing up in Queens during the ’80s, where at any given time, you could be walking down the street and come across a group of kids break-dancing on the sidewalk, had a huge impact on me,” Swift says. “I was able to witness the culture live, in the flesh.”
Living two streets away from USA Roller Skating Rink where classic B-boy battles between the Rock Steady Crew and Dynamic Rockers were the norm, Swift got a taste for the turntables at the age of 12. With influences ranging from Herbie Hancock to Grandmaster Flash, Swift began incorporating genres like jazz, funk and soul into his scratch routines. After entering his first DMC battle (a DJ competition hosted by Disco Mix Club) in 1991, Swift’s success soared, culminating with recruitment into the legendary X-Men Crew that included prominent East Coast DJs Roc Raida, Total Eclipse and Mista Sinista (they would later change their name to X-ecutioners due to copyright issues). A year later he won the 1992 DMC Classic.
From 1995’s Soulful Fruit to next month’s The Architect, Swift pushes the boundaries of his craft. His latest inspiration comes from an unlikely source—classical music.
“Throughout my career, my peers and fans have always associated me with having a strong jazz influence. I never shied away from that association either,” he says. “But I guess to make my girl happy I started listening to Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart. The next thing you know, I’m dropping hundreds of dollars on the stuff.”
The Architect brilliantly displays Swift’s newfound respect for the genre. He arranges each track in movements, just as classical composers arrange their complex pieces.
“All of a sudden my music started to take on the shape of what, in my opinion, composers like Chopin and Bach would have done if scratching existed during their time,” he says.
Although it’s hard to imagine integrating classical music into hip-hop, it works well on The Architect. “Intermission” bursts with piano, strings and Swifts’s flawless scratches, then later drops a couple of Chuck D samples.
“The Burque can expect a well-rounded show. Showcasing the battle element is definitely the most exciting part of the night for me and the audience because of the physicality of it,” he says. “I also plan on exposing the folks that make it down to some music everyone can relate to.”
DJ Rob Swift and X-ecutioners
Wednesday, Jan. 13, 10 p.m.
Burt’s Tiki Lounge
313 Gold SW
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Jenna Dunlap • singer-