DJ QBert, ABDJ Champ, Masterminds the Facebook of Scratching
When DJ QBert won “America’s Best DJ” last year, after three years of pulling a Susan Lucci, let’s be honest, it was long overdue. And how did he do it? We report. You decide.
In the wake of such a heady triumph, QBert has not been resting on his laurels—nor does he expect to rest on his Hardys (ouch!). The Bay Area turntable magician has been busy tending to his flock: his 1,500 students registered in his QBert Skratch University. We asked him about schooling the kids, and how DJs can help themselves to an ABDJ triumph.
Did your longtime involvement with various online projects help you gain votes for the America’s Best DJ contests? Yes, it gave me a lot of leverage against the competition. My web presence really helped me. Plus, I’m an old fogey and people have been hearing my name for a long time! (Laughs) I did a lot of online videos to create hype. I also had a lot of support from mainstream people who are more famous than I am. They would post my videos and lots of people saw them. It created a great awareness, which really helped.
What words of wisdom do you have for other DJs trying to push themselves up in the ranks? The main thing is to focus on the music. People need to have skills, a good musical selection, and just something to offer the world. That needs to be your main drive. You’ve got to practice and learn to create beautiful things for people. Use your skills to make the world a better place. Then you can go out and start marketing yourself, but you need to have those roots in place first.
There’s a lot of buzz and hum surrounding the DJ Qbert Skratch University. It was created in conjuncture with ArtistWorks. It’s an online community with over 1,500 users worldwide. We cater to analog and digital DJs and provide chat rooms, videos, and a ton of online resources about scratching. Most importantly, we allow students to make videos of them scratching and send it to me personally. Our instructors, and myself, will give them personalized tips on how to improve their technique. It’s become the Facebook of scratching.
Is there going to be a test? There’s a formal curriculum, and we spent a long time developing it. We are constantly adding new things to the University. Right now we’re developing a new scratch music theory section that will be laid out like “The 10 Commandments of Scratching.” There are so many things that I am personally learning and I always add these things to the curriculum at the school.
What concepts do you strive to teach to your students? It’s important that students learn to convey their emotions through the turntables. You must learn to release an energy that people can’t see, but can feel. They also learn to make their scratches poetic. Scratching should rhyme, just like an MC does on the mic. It’s really a completely personalized experience for each student. The best part is that all of the resources and information is instantly available online. When I started off, I had to discover everything on my own and it took years. Now you can learn every single thing that I know in a very short period of time. The only thing we can’t teach is patience and practice. That’s up to the student.
How do you like being a teacher? Personally, I love it! I am constantly learning and absorbing new things. Everyone does things differently and I love to see how people put their own little twist on their technique. I pick up little nuances and adapt them to my own routines. It really inspires me as an artist. In the end, it’s all about playing music and having fun. That’s how I started out and it has become a rewarding career. I hope that can happen to my students as well!
Aside from your students, what other things seem to inspire you? Art has become a big interest of mine. We’ve developed an art gallery called thudrumblegallery.com where we distribute graffiti and street art. I have a lot of art in my house and I’m very passionate about it. Even classic artists like Picasso intrigue me. Dancing also inspires me, especially dope breakdancers and B-Boys. I see breakdancing as the highest form of street dancing. It originated in the 1970s and 40 years later, nothing can compare to it.