When we talk about ground breaking DJs / producers, DJ Mehdi is right up there with the likes of DJ Krush and Shadow for pushing the boundaries of hip-hop from early on. A Parisian of Tunisian descent you only have to look at his production and remix credits to see the impact he has had on the French and international music scene.
From Kery James, Manu K, MC Solaar, Rohff, 113 and Assassin to Daft Punk, Asian Dub Foundation, Etienne de Crecy, Cassius and CSS, Mehdi is without doubt an innovator with the rare ability to cross confidently into other genres and styles.
With his new remix album ‘Red, Black & Blue‘ out now on Ed Banger Records, I had the privilege of catching up with him. Here is a little insight into the producer of one of my favorite hip-hop albums of all time, 113’s “Princes De La Ville” (a French hip-hop classic).
Firstly, just introduce yourself for anyone who somehow hasn’t heard of you yet?
DJ Mehdi: My name is DJ Mehdi, I’m a DJ and musician from Paris, France. I’ve been producing beats for French and international hip-hop acts since 1995 as well as releasing solo instrumental work, remixing songs for wide scope bands and composing movie soundtracks. I am 32 years old.
How did you first get into music and what were your first experiences of making it?
DJ Mehdi: I’ve been playing with records and turntables since 1989 because my father had a huge record collection and turntables at home. Then I started a band with my cousins. I was rapping and beat-making. In 1992 I met Kery James and we founded the band Ideal J, with whom I recorded two albums. First experiences were just about having fun and staying out of trouble I guess. We were quite young.
How did you first hook up with Ideal J (Manu K and Kery James), Different Teep, and then Mafia K’1Fry?
DJ Mehdi: Legendary French DJ Dee Nasty introduced us. Because we were the same age he thought we could do something together. Manu (K) and Kery (James) had a huge posse of friends around them and they all wanted to get down. Some were dancing, some were beat-boxing and a lot of them were rapping, so when I started to make beats with Ideal J, I almost instantly started to make some for the whole crew. In this crew were a young Rohff, Different Teep, and 113, if you’re familiar with French Hip-hop. Long after they joined forces and became Mafia K’1 Fry.
Are you still affiliated with Mafia K’1 Fry?
DJ Mehdi: No, not ‘affiliated’. I’ve completely stopped making beats for them about six years ago, but we’re still good friends and respect each other’s musical paths. We’ve been together for such a long time it was only natural that we split at one point, but it’s all love.
Do you still check the French (hip-hop) scene, and who would you recommend to people outside of France to check for?
DJ Mehdi: Of course, I still check French Hip-hop. I’m a B-Boy at heart and a fan. I’d recommend Kery James, Booba, Diams, Oxmo Puccino and TTC.
How would you describe the ‘DJ Mehdi sound’?
DJ Mehdi: Ha! It’s a tricky thing to try to apply those kind of comments to myself. I wouldn’t really be objective. Let’s say “If Kraftwerk were African” or “Beats and Blues”.
Tell us about the new remix album, Red Black & Blue and what you hope it will achieve?
DJ Mehdi: Well, it’s a compilation of remixes that I’ve done from 1999 to now; ten years of beat-making and having fun. It goes quite wide. From French hip-hop like Manu Key to American artists like Santogold or electronic music like Cassius and Etienne de Crecy. It’s also a mix in the sense of a DJ set. It’s really a lot of craftsmanship and fun.
How did you hook up with Ed Banger?
DJ Mehdi: I met Busy P in 1998 with the Daft Punk crew and we became good friends instantly. We shared a lot of common ground, especially tastes in music. He became my manager around 2001 and when he founded Ed Banger I jumped in. It’s been a lot of fun so far and great inspiration musically. All the artists on the label bring something different to the table.
When can we expect a brand new Mehdi solo project and what can we expect?
DJ Mehdi: I wish I knew! Hopefully second half of 2010. I’ve been working on a lot of collaborations recently but I always save the best beats for myself…
Which artists worldwide do you listen to and draw inspiration from?
DJ Mehdi: My favorite artist at the moment is Canadian rapper Drake and his producer Noah ’40’. They’re an amazing team. Beats are super abstract and lyrics on point. They will rule 2010.
What is your opinion of (hip-hop) producers around the globe?
DJ Mehdi: My favorites are the ones that sound like where they’re from. Like if you’re from London, sound London, like Wiley or Switch. If you’re from Paris don’t try to sound Los Angeles or New-York. If you’re from South-Africa, or Brazil, or Japan, I love to hear the sound of your reality in your beats.
Can you tell us a bit about some of the equipment you like to use?
DJ Mehdi: I’ve been using every single AKAI piece of equipment since 1992 but I recently switched to Logic Audio. It’s just more convenient for me especially travelling and being able to make beats, mix, or edit in the plane or in my hotel room.
What’s your opinion of downloading’s effect on the industry, is vinyl still important?
DJ Mehdi: I think that downloading is a chance and a big opportunity for the industry AND the artists to adapt, change or even re-invent themselves. Like when sampling appeared or when the CD revolution started. I am not nostalgic. I still have my records and I will always love my 8000 vinyls but I do prefer to DJ on CD’s now. The possibilities are almost endless and yes, it is lighter to travel with.
Does music (hip-hop) culture need saving? In what ways do you feel it needs to be saved?
DJ Mehdi: I don’t think that Hip-Hop needs to be “saved”, because I think hip-hop is just fine if I am fine. To quote Mos Def, “hip-hop is not some giant hidden in the mountain, hip-hop is me, you, whoever feels connected to the culture and doing something about it”. I am hip-hop and I am fine. The radio doesn’t have authority on this movement. MTV doesn’t have any authority on this movement. If anything, MTV should be saved. Hip-hop is alright.
Do you feel that the music has lost a lot of its consciousness?
DJ Mehdi: No, I’ve never felt that way because A) I listen to a lot of old classic joints and they still kick ass, and B) I also love stupid music and silly love songs.
How are you different from the norm?
DJ Mehdi: By being who I am, doing what I do and trust me, it ain’t easy all the time…
IBMCs is all about bringing the international community together and promoting music from all over the globe. Can you tell us about some of the international collaborations you have done or are going to do?
DJ Mehdi: I’ve been meeting and collaborating with artists worldwide from my first steps in this business. Coming from a relatively small hip-hop country and non-English speaking I always had to reach out to peeps in Belgium, Switzerland, England and Germany to evolve and broaden my possibilities. Doing shows, producing beats or just plain spending good times. Now I feel like the best thing about my music life is travelling the world being able to play my music, the music of my city, of my neighborhood. Going to Japan or South-East Asia, Australia or South America, not to mention New-York or California of course, and do what I always wanted to do, spreading the music that I love.
Do you like listening to rapping in other languages?
DJ Mehdi: French is my first language and I can easily say that I learned how to speak English listening to rap music.
What are your other interests besides music?
DJ Mehdi: Sex, food, and art.
What is your message to the world?
DJ Mehdi: Music.
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