DJ Excel - Skratch Makaniks Crew & Alfa Paare


"One of the few true DJs left in the World. He is the "Philly DJ Sound" that everyone talks about." - DJ Jazzy Jeff


www.djexcel.com
www.instagram.com/excelagram

Before we start I want to thank Excel for his time, patience, professionalism and friendship.


In the very beginning I'd reached out to Excel to see if he'd answer some questions for a site with a much higher profile, The Reference Council, and I'm honoured and humbled he still wanted to do it for my own blog.

To prepare for this feature I took to reading as many previous interviews with Excel as possible and used what I learned to make this one something a little different. Inspite of my dreadful time management, this feature has turned out to be more engrossing and entertaining than I could have wished for.

Intro

A couple years back I found myself waiting outside of the Libertine club in central London on the verge of meeting an artist I'd made contact with on social media. Though not much of a club goer, and certainly not one with this reputation, the chance to experience a set by this highly revered DJ was not something to be passed up. 

Whilst researching and reading interviews of the man in question something that stood out to me was that nearly everyone referred to him as a 'Philly legend'the significance only really hit me as it approached midnight and I saw him approach the club. 

To say I was apprehensive would be an understatement, but I needn't have worried. Alongside the great company of DJ Impulse (fellow Skratch Makanik and one half of Alfa Paare), the whisky was exceptional, the atmosphere and music outstanding. For me the evening culminated when Excel played Still Fly by the Big Tymers.


Travel

I travel long haul a couple times a year for work, and last time we met you put me onto portable chargers which has helped me no end. As a frequent flyer what other travel essentials do you carry? 

I try to keep the travel accessories minimal and crucial to survival. Portable chargers are lifesavers. The only other must have is an Aeropress, portable grinder, and great coffee. I don’t take this every time but when I have to spend time in cities where I know the coffee will be a struggle, I have to bring it with. FOR SURVIVAL.

You've performed with a grip of artists like Nas, Busta, Ghostface and Gangstar (RIP Guru) what are some of the differences between touring with artists and travelling solo?

Traveling solo, is my preferred style to roll. I like to be on my own watch. Touring with artists is a lot of hurry up & wait. You’re on their time. Sound checks, and short sets. Lot of sitting around.

You already told me a story about playing a party on Richard Branson’s island, can you share another memorable story?

I played this party at the Playboy Mansion. They do a few big parties and I had to play at the golf tournament party. The place is packed and everyone is rocking and Jose Canseco is asking me to “pick it up”. So I proceed to “pick it up”. In my mind this means speed up the music. Pick up the energy. 

So after this dude keeps ice grilling and sweating he comes over again and starts giving me a hard time about the music. I simply ask him “dude, what do you want to hear”? He says, Lil Wayne - A Millie. One of the slowest songs of the moment. I play it, he gives the thumbs up. TOTAL DICKHEAD.

Crew

What's going on with the Skratch Makaniks Crew? I blasted the 20 Year Anniversary BadBoy/Biggie mix for days, thank you guys for that. Do you guys get a chance to get together much or hold reunions? 

It was much easier to get together when we all lived in the same city. Now that some of us have spread out and travel much more, we don’t get to see each other as often. Everyone is well. The guys have all stood strong on their own 2 feet since before SMC was a thing. Thanks to social media, we mostly stay in touch through there & then occasionally a mix will surface with a few of us. It’s been 17 years so far since SMC started. We’ve come a long way since the days we first linked up.

I also watched a preview for the first episode of Skratch Makaniks TV from 2011 and it reminded me of the Shigger Fragger show from back in the day. Did this idea ever come to fruition?

The show was a fun idea for the time period. Unfortunately, by then I had already moved to the west coast. That made it difficult to keep a consistent thing going since I wasn’t traveling back and forth that much & everyone had busy schedules of their own that didn’t always fall in line with mine. Probably something we as a group should have taken on years before but video content wasn’t really as serious then as it is now. Plus, there’s other components needed to make this run smooth. The studio, the equipment, cameramen, etc. 
 Style

I'm friends with some pretty stylish dudes and you're definitely high on that list. How would you describe your style and at what point did you stop wearing baggy jorts?

I’ve always been into style & fashion since I was younger. I remember very well arguing with my mom about clothes or sneakers I wanted rather then what she wanted to buy me. It’s the only thing I dedicated time to other than music. I really like to pick things apart. I really like spending money on items I feel are worth it dollar for dollar. I still get roped into the hype on occasion but I think after years of trial and error I have it dialed in somewhat. 

My style is a bit all over the place. Some things stuck with me from my younger years, some things I’ve developed as I matured. I’m really inspired by my travels. I love people watching. I love vintage americana, workwear, military, sportswear, & that’s mixed with the high end Japanese brands that I’m fond of.

Can you tell me about a couple of your favourite brands and at least one spot you covet?

Visvim, Kapital, Real McCoys, are 3 major brands that somewhat describe my style & 3 stores I have to hit when I tough down in Tokyo. I spend a good amount of time & money in each. Self Edge in LA is also another staple in my closet since they carry a solid collection of American & Japanese brands that I enjoy wearing.

It takes confidence and character to wear hats, when and where did you get interested in them? Any comments on the current 'Dad hat' phenomenon, pretty much every brand has them.

The dad hat thing isn’t really anything new to me. All my old Polo & Gap hats were that style so we were wearing them in the 90’s almost every day. The brim’s and other hats are really something you have to own when you do wear it. It’s really in your face and confidence. You can look incredibly cool or idiotic that quick depending on how you play it. 

Mine, like most changes daily. I’ve always like the brims. My first couple I started wearing were smaller brims because those seemed a little left at the time but once I got comfortable in them, the brims got bigger! I own 2 really dope brims. I haven’t worn them in a minute but now that the weather is breaking, it’s time. 


Something that resonates with me is Excel's appreciation of and for the classics. All the samples used by Puff, Snoop, Hov, Kanye, Wu Tang et al on your favourite tracks, not only does he have the originals but his blends and transitions are second to none. He's also made a bass heavy remix of Dolly My Baby by Supercat that even surpasses my love for the Bad Boy remix! Having stood on both sides of the booth with Excel I can attest he's genuinely having as good a time rocking the party as those on the dance floor.

Music

What would you say are the necessary attributes to be a DJ in 2017, and what has changed since you started out?

Currently the scale has shifted to more dedication to marketing & branding than skill, technique & knowledge. Love it or hate it, that’s just where we are at the moment. I like to think coming from the old school where the later were the fundamentals in the culture, I’ve spent a significant amount of time trying to keep up with the new wave & making sure the marketing & branding are strong. I still have to battle with my morals sometimes over the reality tv, get everything on your phone culture.

It's obvious hip hop is in your blood but your sets often include pretty much everything from house, rare groove, disco, soul and dancehall. You even did that mean 'Rockin' The Cut' mix with Adam Bomb. Where did your love of all these varieties of music come from?

Before I heard or knew what Hip-Hop was, I listed to Rock. I liked Rock music. My dad listened to 50’s, 60’s, 70’s. My mom listened to 80’s, 90’s & pop. My uncle listened to a lot of Rock. The influences were there from the jump. I liked all this stuff for various reasons. 

Then I discovered Hip Hop & with all the sampling back then it just all fit together. I still love the idea of sampling and seeing the influence it has on artists & the fans who listen. Good music is good music no matter what style it may be.

I for one am happy to see vinyl make a comeback, and Technics bringing out the SL-1200G for a new generation was a nice albeit expensive touch. How has MP3 and Serato changed the game for you?

Yeah, the new tables are cool but not really for DJs. Vinyl is still collectible & going strong. I still have all my collection & not ready to part ways with it just yet. Serato & digital music have been a huge game changer for me since it first surfaced. It makes travel, domestic & international way more doable than lugging flight cases of records around. I still play vinyl sometimes & as much as I love & appreciate it, I’ve grown quite attached to my computer & my collection of mp3s.

I assume besides not having to carry a crate that one upside is you can read a crowd and change up your set accordingly on the fly. Is there a downside to having access to pretty much any jam out there?

I don’t treat my collection that way. I first started with that idea. I want to have every & anything anyone could ever ask for. I took this massive LaCie hard drive with me that was dumb heavy back then & I realized no one came asking for 90% of that shit. So I down sized. I treat it somewhat similar to when I would bring vinyl. If I have it, I have it. If I don’t I don’t. Keeping in mind that I have way more than I would have regardless. My vinyl days, I took 2 flight cases & 2 record bags. That’s a good amount of wax but some of my mentors & peers would bring double that all the time. I couldn’t do it.


Do you still get to go crate digging or is that just something hipsters do now? 

Every now & then I shop for records. I just spent $60 on some 45s I randomly came across. I have a pretty wide range collection of records already. I know I’ll never own everything and any vinyl collector will tell you, it never stops. There’s always more to buy. I try to keep my buying to stuff I can use often. Not too concerned with the rare pressings or collectibles. I just want my favorite songs on wax so I can play them for other people when the time comes.

Regarding new music, pretty much the only way I get something new in my ears is through mixcloud and mixtapes. You said in an interview with Adam Foster "The key is to stay relevant with the next generation, 18 to 28. Those are the magic numbers.", so how much time do you spend listening to and mixing current music?

Everyday man. This phone, it’s a tool. People I follow. Shows I listen to. Music I discover. I pull it from everywhere. My friends, my peers, my travels, my friends kids, wherever. Music comes & goes so quickly. Artist seem to pop out of the blue with a record that doesn’t chart on the obvious outlets & it’s the biggest thing for the moment. It’s a responsibility for me to stay in the mix anyway I can.


Last year we lost some truly remarkable artists and I'm still reeling from Prince no longer being with us. You did a set at Now Boarding LA in tribute to Prince, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for that. What made you feel like you needed to do that set, and what memories do you have of the Purple one?

I was lucky enough to play Now Boarding that weekend Prince passed. It’s one of the few venues that I can play a set like that and the people are really into it. There’s no question that Prince is & will continue to be one of the greatest artist we’ve ever seen & heard. I’ve had the privilege of seeing him in concert. One of the best show’s I’ve seen. I’ve also was able to play a party for a him when I lived in Philly. Cool, mysterious, small but huge presence are among the first few things you notice about him. They just don’t make artists like him anymore. 

Being a DJ, playing a tribute set or making a mix is one of the most sincere ways for me to express myself & show the appreciation I have for those artists. When Dilla passed, I really didn’t know what else to do. I was really inspired & influenced by his music. I made a mix then as well & it was one of my favorite recordings I’ve made to date.

You play a real variety of clubs in cities all around the World, how important is diversity to you as an artist to be mixing it up to different crowds and particularly in different countries outside the USA? 

The diversity in my sets has been the backbone to keeping me still in love with DJing. Keeps it fresh. I love being able to go into different rooms & entertain crowds of people from all parts of the world. You really get a sense of how music brings people together. Showing up in a city and not being able to communicate more than just simple dialogue can be frustrating at times. Going into a club and playing music that you love & finding out those people also love that music just puts the whole world in sync. 

You've done mixes for a number of brands including Californian streetwear heavyweights Born x Raised (the mixtape that introduced me to you), how do these opportunities usually come about and is there anyone you've not worked with but want to?

Most times, situations like that present themselves due to personal relationships. BxR happened because Spanto is a good friend & over there years we had a few drinks & some conversations & he asked me to put a mix together & I was honored to do so. I’m really proud of him & the brand. They both have come such a long way. He’s hands down one of the toughest dudes I’ve ever met. 

I came up listening to Funkmaster Flex, Tony Touch, DJ Clue and DJ Rectangle but there seems to be a real lack of mixtape DJs around. Rappers are dropping mixtapes almost every week it seems and I read Bob Lesfetz's blog where he said something interesting about it - "they constantly put out mixtapes, giving their wares away, knowing attention is everything and you can make bank elsewhere, furthermore, if you’re not top of mind constantly, you’re forgotten.". I wondered what your thoughts on this are and could it apply to DJ's too? 

There was time where mixtapes were a cool little hustle to have for us DJs. All through high school I sold mixtapes. Around the early 2000’s, I started playing in the clubs. People would always ask if I recorded my sets. This time around it was CD’s. Same deal though. Easy way to make some more doe & promote yourself as well. Once the music became easier for people to get the music on their own, there really wasn’t much of a business to sell it. So most artists had to make a choice. Giving the music away was still great promo. It was better than a business card. There’s no question you would get gigs from it so you were still making money and growing your business. Some guys tried to fight the idea of giving the music away but I think eventually, everyone just had to accept it. It was a new day.

You're confident on the mic when playing your sets, and I read somewhere that back when you met DJ Obi 1 you were rapping? What made you decide to become a DJ, and what’s the best thing about doing what you do?

I was back and forth between MC’ing & DJ’ing. I didn’t get my own equipment until I graduated high school. It was then I had to make a decision & even though I loved both dearly, I felt much better about pursuing a serious career in DJ’ing. It was what I first fell in love with. MC’ing came pretty natural to me as well. I often think what would have happened if I stuck with it. I was pretty solid as a MC. Spent a lot of time battle rapping & freestyling. I had a group as well & we did shows around town. Some of the MC’s/groups back then went on to be successful. Some didn’t. I think I made the right choice. My rapping ability is very rusty. I don’t think there will be and albums dropping soon.

The best thing about what I do is that it’s something I truly love. Something I’ve dedicated my life to from an early age & totally makes me the person that I am today. I don’t think I can imagine my life without it. 



In addition to the regular interview format I wanted to further delve into the mind of Excel by putting some word association to him, featuring hip hop crews from the 90s along with producers from the 90s & early 2000s.

Word association - Groups 

Bad Boy - MASE
Death Row - Doggystyle
Rocafella -
Rell
So So Def - Da Brat
Cashmoney -
Bling Bling
No Limit - Bout it Bout it
Ruff Ryders -
RR Logo
Dungeon Family - Player’s Ball
Terror Squad -
Big Pun
Flip Mode Squad - Cha Cha Cha
Wu Tang Clan -
Killatape Skit
Def Squad - D’Angelo Remix

Word Association - Producers

DJ Premier - Best Scratch Hooks
The Neptunes - JT’s 1st LP
Jermaine Dupri - Dru Hill Remix
Dr Dre - Funky Worm
Mannie Fresh - Still Fly
Kanye - would he exist without Dilla?
Swizz Beats - Can’t get a solid hook to save his life
Just Blaze - Jay getting on him about beats in Fade to Black
Timbaland – Crying baby noise

In what I believe is a first of it's kind I then comprised a tournament of crews and asked Excel to put them head to head. 

Tournament



A: Bad Boy vs Death Row - Bad Boy
B: Rocafella vs So So Def - Rocafella
Winner A faces Winner B (1) - Bad Boy (too many hits & stronger solo artists)

C: Cashmoney vs No Limit - Cash Money (but much love for No Limit)
D: Ruff Ryders vs Dungeon Family - Ruff Ryders (I like Outkast but they never hit me like they did some)
Winner C faces Winner D (2) - Cash Money (Longevity)

E: Terror Squad vs Flip Mode Squad - Flipmode
F: Wu Tang Clan vs Def Squad - Wu-Tang (love EPMD & Redman & Keith but Wu is a hard one to knock out)
Winner E faces Winner F (3) – Wu Tang

G: Native Tongues vs DITC - Native Tongues
H: Tha Dogg Pound vs Boot Camp Click - BCC
Winner G faces Winner H (4) - Native Tongues - Even though I love Black Moon & Smiff n Wesson, NT was just more so strong with their individuality & influence on Hip Hop. Then & now.

Winner (1) faces Winner (2) - Semi 1 - Bad Boy
Winner (3) faces Winner (4) - Semi 2 - I want to say WU but I think I have to go with NT.
Winners of Semi 1 and 2 face each other in the final. - Native Tongues. The jiggy era for Bad Boy did them in.

Native Tongues crowned Crew Champions.

Whilst the tournament was intended as a bit of fun it ended up being far more enlightening and rewarding than I planned. For anyone not convinced by the result I urge you to listen to the Sourmilk x So Much Soul "The Native Tongues mix" HERE.


My intention for feature this was to have some fun whilst finding a bit more about what makes Excel tick. During his first visit we stopped by a few spots like Nigel Cabourn, The Real McCoys, Size, adidas, Tap Coffee and even Abbey Road Studios. I've come to realise he's pretty laid back on trips but also that he's a connoisseur of fashion and food.

After an agonizing wait (I'm kidding, sorta) Excel returned to London and we hit up Dirty Bones in Soho for a Mutt's Nutts (Dirty Bones' take on an Old Fashioned) and bite to eat before his gig. This gave us a chance to talk about things including art, tattoos, motorcycles and directly related to that about the curve balls life sometimes throws at you. 

After midnight we headed to Libertine and this time around I was entirely in my comfort zone and had an even better experience when I couldn't have imagined that was possible. Much love to the Libertine crew who took care of me all night.

I'm very much looking forward to the next time we get to hang out, and I hope you enjoyed reading this as much I enjoyed living it and putting it together. Peace.

-Bossman75

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