Inimitable music machine DJ Mr Thing usually speaks with his hands. So for a change we got him to speak with his mouth so we could get the lowdown on his famed record collection, the rise of Serato and the battling scene. This guy wasn’t asked to compile and mix the ‘Kings of Hip Hop’ LP with DJ Premier for no reason.
Catch Mr Thing live with CL Smooth, Micall Parknsun, DJ Spin Doctor, Budgie and JP at The Doctors Orders Friday October 2nd at Herbal.
Also, with Yungun, DJ Spin Doctor, Shortee Blitz and DJ Lok at the The Doctors Orders Fabric Takeover Friday October 30th.
For the few people who may not have heard of you, can you break down what Mr Thing is all about?
Mr Thing: Basically, I've been a Hip-Hop DJ for about 20 years, I DJ and produce for Yungun and I'm a slightly mad record collecting freak!
Were you pleased with the response to your LP with Yungun – Grown Man Business?
Mr Thing: I was very pleased with the response it got. I'd never done a whole album on my own before, just bits and pieces for people and I really enjoyed it, it was a proper collaboration between us. Yungun has so many beats of mine we just took our time with it and he'd be there for mixdowns, we'd arrange the tunes together and all that, hopefully when the "Middle Man" LP he's doing is done we can get on with another one, we've got a few beats to one side already, and I want to do a Mr Thing album in the not too distant future too.
How many records do you own?
Mr Thing: I've never properly counted them but when I moved I worked out I'd moved about 15,000 then, plus whatever was left at my parents house, plus 45s, so I reckon comfortably over 20-25,000, which is probably a bit much, plus if I'm out and about I'm generally digging somewhere so it's expanding all the time.
You’re known for being a bit of walking Hip Hop and breaks encyclopaedia – is there anyone you look up to in terms of knowledge of the culture?
Mr Thing: I always like talking to Pogo and Biznizz when I see them because they've been there from really early on in the whole scene here and in the States so they can always tell you anything about the whole culture – I mean they were competing at the New Music Seminar battles when Aladdin, Miz etc. were doing it, so to me they're the authority on it!
What are your top three favourite drumbreaks?
Mr Thing: A tough one … but I reckon:
1. Melvin Bliss – Synthetic Substitution (Sunburst) how on earth they made that drum kit sound like that I'll never know.
2. Bob James – Take Me to the Mardi Gras (CTI) my favorite doubles record, I always sound check and warm up with it at gigs, its ridiculous.
3. James Brown – Give It up or Turnit Loose (King/Polydor) my favourite B-Boy break, the energy in it is incredible. Clyde!
I know some of you are probably thinking they're pretty obvious records but if you wanna go for crazy off the wall ones I can go all day!
If there was a fire in your house and you only had time to rescue one record, what would it be?
Mr Thing: Sucker MC's by Run-DMC, it's the record that really, really, really got me into Hip-Hop in a major way, I know where all four of my copies are and the doubles of the LP are stashed somewhere else.
Many DJ’s who used to play Hip Hop (like A -Trak, Craze, Nextmen and your old crew the Scratch Perverts) are diversifying into other genres of club music like Drum n Bass, Dubstep and Breakbeat whereas you’ve always stuck with straight up Hip Hop and its building blocks. Is Mr Thing a Hip Hop purist for life or do you ever feel the urge to bust out some Tribal House?
Mr Thing: I've never had the urge to drop any Tribal House! The same thing happened to me when I was still learning to DJ back in the 80s, just as I was starting to get booked for gigs pretty much everyone I knew switched to House and Rave music then and I was getting binned for being old fashioned, but I stuck with it because it's what I always wanted to do, so although I don't get all the gigs I used to when I play at Livin' Proof or on The Funhouse I can just play what I know.
I heard you drop a few Dubstep tunes when I saw you play at Cargo recently. Are you a fan?
Mr Thing: I like some Dubstep stuff, I don't really have enough of it or enough knowledge of it to play it properly, but I like to play a few if it really calls for it. I wasn't totally into it at first, but then I heard that "Night" tune by Benga & Coki and a couple Rusko / Caspa tunes and I liked them so I went and got them, but literally I've got about eight Dubstep records all told, I'm the same with Drum & Bass too, I've got a very small selection.
The last bastion of hope for the vinyl format was DJ’s – but now they’re all using Serato. It’s fair enough saying it’s convenient but surely if everyone uses it there’s even less incentive for labels to press wax? What are your thoughts on MP3 DJing?
Mr Thing: Much as I love Serato for the convenience, I do still buy vinyl when labels can be bothered to press it up, but also when labels only put 1 tune on a 12" with not even the instrumental and it's the same both sides that's a zero incentive for me too, so they do need to look after the small, faithful crowd who do want music on vinyl. As for MP3 DJing, I've seen some funny things since it became popular, DJs who clearly didn't own some of the music before downloading it and not checking it properly before they play it out and getting another DJs drop all over it at twice the volume is a favourite. I genuinely have got 90% of my music in my Serato from my own collection, CD or vinyl, and when they don't press it on wax it's the only way to play it properly these days, it's a tricky one.
What DJ’s are you feeling right now?
Mr Thing: Club-wise I really like Budgie, Inka Hero, Bruce Wayne, still love going to see Jazzy Jeff or Cash Money play out too, and competition wise I really like Shiftee from the states and Switch from over here.
Do you still follow the battling scene?
Mr Thing: I don't really follow it as closely as I did when I was competing just purely because I don't get as much time to these days, but I do enjoy judging at the DMCs and stuff like that and I still like watching it to get blown away by something new. But if I'd change one thing, it'd be the dubplate situation; the whole point of it was to make something new out of something that people knew and could see what you were doing. I know it has to advance but I don't really like a lot of that style.
Which producers are doing it for you right now in the UK and US?
Mr Thing: Over here I really rate Budgie, Nappa, Harry Love, Kelakovski, Apa-Tight, Beat Butcha, Chemo and a bunch of others, from the states I'm still into 9th Wonder, Dilla, Nottz, Pete Rock, Primo, Khrysis, Madlib, I like some of Flying Lotus' stuff too, Spinna, Alchemist, Black Milk, I could go on all day!
Who is the best DJ in the Extended Players (you can’t say yourself)?
Mr Thing: That is a haaaarrrrrddddd question! But… I'm gonna go with Shortee Blitz, the energy he brings to his sets is contagious and I've seen him pull off some crazy scratching on the most Star Trek console-like of mixers. I think it's safe for me to say that's he's all of our favourite out of the crew, but they're all monsters!
Are you cool with your Tony Vegas and Prime Cuts?
Mr Thing: As far as I know we're still cool, for a while I lived on the same road as Prime Cuts and we'd see each other in the street and chat like we hadn't seen each other half hour ago, but Tony I haven't seen to speak to for a few years now I'm afraid. Or Plus One now I think of it. I've had a lot of people ask me since the break up if we're getting back together or anything, even more so with the 25th anniversary of the DMCs but I think we've both gone down very different paths now, one of the guys from Scratch is trying to get some gigs for me and First Rate together too but even that's proving difficult, which is a shame for me as First Rate is the one who put me on and took me under his wing in the first place.
On a production tip, which rappers are you working with / like to work with?
Mr Thing: I'm just finishing up and working on some tunes with Yungun, Skuff and Inja, Mystro and Jehst, and I recently did some cuts for Delegates Of Culture and 187 Productions amongst other things, but I'm keen to work with Kyza he's probably my favourite out right now, Skandal is wicked, I'd definitely like to do some stuff with M-9, always like doing tunes with Life so hopefully I can get something there. Task Force and Remus – just heard some of his stuff the other day it was incredible! States wise I'd really love to work with Sean Price, Skyzoo, Nino Bless, Joell Ortiz and a million others, if I can start getting my album together I'm gonna see what I can do.
Are you still in touch with Tommy Evans and will any of the material you recorded with him ever see the light of day?
Mr Thing: I did speak to him on the phone about two weeks ago, just for a catch up, we didn't even really talk about any music stuff, he's cool. I've got the various versions we did of the album here somewhere, I say various versions because we recorded a bunch of tracks and I did a sequence of it with all the tracks we were originally going to use but then we stripped it back to about ten tracks to keep it simple, and I've got a final version of that here too… somewhere. It was all done and ready to go, artwork, everything in place, but for his personal reasons we didn't do it. I had a couple of people interested in putting it out, but I really want to re-visit it / remix some of it if anything was to happen with it.
If you weren’t involved with music what would you be doing?
Mr Thing: Probably working in the garage I work at now pricing up services and cam belts! I did want to do graphic design for years but when I was at college studying that, I got too deep into Hip Hop from the people I was hanging out with there so I kind of got really sucked in that way.
By: Max Weldon