ONE MAKES MUSIC ON PAPER. THE OTHER SPINS ART ON WHEELS OF STEEL. COMIC ARTIST EXTRAORDINAIRE JIM MAHFOOD SAT DOWN WITH WORLD-TRAVELED MIX MASTER Z-TRIP FOR TASTES LIKE CHICKEN. WHAT FOLLOWS IS THE WHOLE STORY... ALL 10,000 WORDS OF IT.
Jim Mahfood: It's October 31st. Halloween 2000! This is Jim Mahfood.
Z-Trip: And this is Zach Sciacca-- Z-Trip. (grunts)
J: This is Jim Mahfood and Z-Trip. We're at the world famous Urban Cafe in Tempe, Arizona, munchin' down on some rice and whatnot. We're here to discuss...
J: Art, music, politics, cartoons,.. for tastes like chicken. (laughs) Okay, Zach, first and foremost-- hip-hop culture. My only view of hip-hop culture is American hip-hop culture. You've been all over the world, though. You've DJ'd in exclusive clubs in Japan and Europe. What's up with hip-hop culture in other countries? How does it compare to America?
Z: Well, basically, it's the same, man. People know the lyrics to "La-di Da-di" all over the world, ya know? Although there're weird bastard versions of things. Like German hip-hop. It's hip-hop, but I can't understand anything they're saying. Yet, they have the same basic fundamentals as American hip-hop. It's just a different language. The best way I can explain it is probably like going to McDonald's. It's still McDonald's wherever you go. But, when you go to Europe or something, it tastes a little different. But it's still McDonald's.
J: It's like in Pulp Fiction when they talk about the subtle differences. You can get beer there, and shit like that.
J: Do you think, especially Europe, that they've taken American hip-hop and added their own twist to it? Do you think they're making something new and improved out of it, or just the same kind of shit?
Z: They're doing something different with it. I don't think they're really doing anything super new. I don't think anyone's really doing too much super new with it. I mean, it's still young.
J: That's a great transition into my next question: What is new and innovative going on with hip-hop right now? Who are the guys that are really, really pushing the limits?
Z: Well, let's see. I'd have to say people like DJ-P.
J: Out of Kansas City.
Z: Actually, he's out of Springfield, Missouri. Anyway, he's a kid who comes from Missouri and he doesn't really have shit out there to inspire him other than the music; the records and this and that. So he's coming up with really different shit because he doesn't have anything to bounce off anybody. That's the kind of stuff that's new and innovative to me. Most of the people that are out of the major cities, I think, aren't coming with the most original shit because it's just so saturated. It's kinda boring. I mean, he's really interesting. Obviously, Jurassic 5 is really good, because they're not falling into the stereotypical new rap or hip-hop sound.
J: Thank God!
Z: Yeah. They're doing something innovative. Honestly, I can think a lot of other people that don't even get credit. People like Cold Cut or Mantroniks. Honestly, though, Mantroniks isn't really doing anything over the top. But people like Jack Dangerous, who's very hip-hop based, but doesn't really put out so called "hip-hop" music. He puts out something that's a little more weird. It's based in hip-hop, but it's doing something different. That, to me, is where you're gonna find innovative shit. People like DJ Craze, who fuck with drum-and-bass. But, as far as the standard hip-hop thing goes, it's getting kind of boring.
J: Any underground MCs out there that are really pushing the limits?
Z: There's a whole bunch, actually. Divine Styler is a really ill MC, but I don't know how many people really know him and know what he's all about. Yet, he's doing shit. The Earthlings are pretty interesting to watch and I like what they've got to say. The Next Men are pretty ill.
J: It's pretty obvious that all the Bay Area shit that's been going on for the last two years like Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, The Beat Junkies, Skratch Piklz--
Z: That's pretty much all of California.
J: Oh, that's all Cali?
Z: Yeah. They're all LA.
J: All that shit is making noise, and has been for the last couple years.
Z: It's funny, man. New York is making New York noise, and LA is making LA noise. That's kind of interesting, because for a long time not really too many people were coming out of LA. California's been making noise for a long time, but now they're starting to get their own. What about you, Jim? Let's ask you some questions.
J: Yeah, what's up?
Z: Your target audience; where do you even find them? Who are they? Do you even think about them when you're making your stuff?
J: I kinda sorta do.
Z: What's the feedback like? Are you getting any weird, whacko business men that you just wouldn't think would be into your shit?
J: That occasionally happens. Ever since I started writing and drawing my own stuff, I just kinda did it for me and my own amusement. I'm representing what I'm into and what I'm passionate about, just assuming that some other people out there might dig it. But, the strange thing about comics, man, is you do this work alone. It's a private act. You create alone. Then, it goes out nationwide or international or whatever, and you don't even know who's really getting the stuff or who's really reading it. For you, when you create your art, it's totally different. You're doing it live, in front of an audience. The reaction is immediate. For me, I put out a book and maybe two weeks later I get a couple of emails from kids around the country saying, "I felt this shit," or, "This shit was cool," or, "I didn't like this shit." But the fact that my work has caught on and got this cult following, is total proof that people out there are just dying for some new shit in comics. They're dying for a new voice; new original stuff. I mean, superheros are cool and you can do cool stuff with them; but the whole scenario of good versus evil and guys beating each other up in costumes is kinda getting played out. It's just frustrating because I turn on kids who don't collect comics to my work, and I assume, "Well, if they dig my stuff, why wouldn't they dig my friends' work? Like Scott Morse or Andi Watson or Troy Nixey or Mike Huddleston in Kansas City. I think there's an audience out there. It's just a matter of getting it to them.
Z: What about all the people that are starting to get on the bandwagon of doing the same kind of thing? Like making underground, raw comics, incorporating hip-hop and graf. There was that one fucking show on MTV that lasted for two days!
J: That was Downtown.
Z: Yeah. I haven't really seen too many cats that actually do what you do or say what you say. That's a breath of fresh air; but it seems like there's a lot of cats who are kinda jumping on that tip.
J: They're kinda faking the funk. There are kids that are starting to bite and borrow bits of my style a little bit, and throw in funk and hip-hop. But, the thing is, man, you can't fake the funk. You've got to be into it. I'm an active member of underground hip-hop culture. I'm obsessed with it. You know me. I've performed live with you. When you're spinning your records, I'm making live art. I know DJs, MCs and graf writers. I've been obsessed with this culture for a long time now and I'm passionate about it. I'm one of the guys in comics that's trying to represent this in comic book form. It's cool if you put afros on your characters and make 'em all funky. But unless you know what you're really paying tribute to or where everything comes from, it's whack. It's comparable to the DJ that meets you and is like, "Dude, I've been DJing for a whole year now and I'm ready for my first club gig! I'm ready for this! I'm ready for that!" And you're like, "Kid, you don't even have any James Brown in your record collection. Do you even know where any of this shit came from?"
Koko: Watch your language.
J: Oh! Sorry! This is a guest appearance from Koko, owner of Urban Cafe. Koko, what's up?
K: What's happenin'?
Z: How do you keep on the cutting edge of that shit?
K: Make sure you tell 'em about the chicken gyros, huh?
Z: Oh, for sure. The chicken schwarmas are the bomb here. This is the shit!
J: Hey, we're eating chicken, and we're doing an interview for tastes like chicken.
Z: And this actually tastes like chicken.
J: This is some good-ass fuckin' chicken!
Z: That's gonna be the thing that's gonna be in the big bold-faced type. In quotes: "This is some good-ass chicken."
J: I like chicken.
J: Should we pause this while we're eating?
Z: Sure. Let's pause.
J: Okay. This is Jim. This is part two of our interview. We're in Z-Trip's truck now. We just got done eating. We just had a great political discussion with our friend Jamal. We're not gonna be able to recap the whole discussion, but, basically, as far as the election goes, I'm voting for Ralph Nader. I think he's the right man for the job. I'd like to see him as president. I was one of those cats that was gonna vote for Gore out of fear about a month ago. I just decided, "Fuck that! I wanna vote for the guy who I think is right for the job." Even if voting for Nader means putting Bush in office. That would be horrible. I know that. But, fuck it, man! I take voting seriously, and I'm gonna vote for the right person. Z-Trip, what your views on this man? Talk to me.
Z: I have to say I'm voting for Nader as well. I think it's kind of a long-term thing. If he wins over 5% of the votes, then he gets funding for the next election. Realistically, I don't think he's gonna win this one. It'd be fucking wild if he did. That'd be some crazy shit. For me, in my lifetime, I need to see this two party electoral state, and two party fucking politics state be upset by having a third or independent party jump and wreck shit. Honestly, it's the only way that I think things are gonna change. So, for me, I gotta vote for Nader. Strictly out of the mere fact that if Bush or whoever does get into office, it's another four years of fucking oppression and bullshit we gotta deal with. But, wait 'til the next four years comes around, because I think we'll actually have a chance. It's like, giving up the short-term for the long-term. Hopefully, Gore gets in. Honestly, Gore is better than Bush, but I don't like either of them. Nader's probably pretty good, but even Nader's got some things I don't like about him. It's one of those things where I'm voting for the person I think is the best for it, but it's all fucked. It's all fucked!
J: I totally agree. I think that one of the most important things that Americans need to understand that they haven't gotten yet (because-- let's face it-- most people are ignorant, and uneducated about what's going on, and they don't read at all), is that both candidates are owned by Corporate America. There's only one party in the election this year, and it's corporations. They own both candidates, and we gotta change that. You know what I'm sayin'? Alright. We gotta pause this.
J: Alright. We're back. Let's get on to some other shit. Z-Trip, who in your opinion is the greatest guitarist of all-time?
Z: Wow. Uh, greatest guitarist of all-time,.. shit. I gotta think on this one. Honestly, that's too hard, man. There's different guitarists that get me off for different reasons. So, none of them actually are "the best."
J: Well, how about this: Who's the greatest '70s rock guitarist? i know you're a big classic rock fan; a big '70s fan. Zeppelin. The Who. I mean, that's more '60s and shit, but who's your favorite '70s rock guitarist?
Z: Probably Eddie Van Halen.
J: Aww yeah!
Z: But there's so many others. As far as what Eddie did-- Eruption. That was their first album.
J: That was like '79.
Z: Yeah. For me, what he did there was really fucking wild. He put his guitar solo right the fuck out there and he did it well. He was making his own guitars and shit like that. As far as that goes, I think he's one of the guys I dig the most for what he did. I mean, you have so many other people. Like, you have blues guitarists that are fucking incredible. You have John Lee Hooker and people like that who did the most simplistic fucking same riff over and over, but did them with such skill that you can't knock them. You've got Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Hendrix-- you've got all these different folks that are really ill guitarists. You've got Ace Freely. You've got Angus Young. He had simplistic fucking chords. All he did was chords and leads and chords and leads; but he did it so well that shit will always stick in your head. As soon as you hear AC/DC's "Back in Black," it hits you over the head.
J: It makes for a great sample, too, (doing a surfer dude voice) which is a great transition to my next question.
Z: (surfer dude, as well) Alright, man.
J: You're internationally-known for your own unique style of DJing. I've seen you rock everything and rock it hard. A lot of people have been really buggin' out about your combination between hip-hop beats and breaks and straight up rock shit. How did that all come about, and were you a rock fan or a hip-hop fan, first?
Z: Actually, a rock fan first. Before there was hip-hop for me, there was rock. I was listening to Pink Floyd and Deep Purple and Zeppelin and Aerosmith and shit like that, via my brother. I used to listen to these rock songs and be like, "Aww! That's a phat fuckin' riff right there! That's really heavy!" The same thing with listening to hip-hop: "That fuckin' sample is so intense! It's such a big sound!" So, to me, there was never really a difference between the two. If something is heavy and big and obnoxious-- in your face in a good way-- then it's something I want to be a part of, or be listening to. I want to be playing that stuff for other people. So, for me, it was never like rock or hip-hop. It was all just fucking good music, and that's the way I kind of approach everything. It's a music thing, first. If it's good music, then I'll fuck with it. If it's lame music, then I won't fuck with it. But, again, all that shit is in the eye of the beholder. Which is kinda my segue to the next bit of shit. When you're working on art and doing your artistic angle, you're not doing your standard, big, muscley superhero guys. You do your average-lookin' joes. I know your girls are these urban looking chicks. Where do you get off on that, man?
J: (laughing) I like people. I like normal people. I grew up on superhero comics like almost all comic book artists. And then, in high school, I discovered the black and white, underground shit; like The Ninja Turtles or Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers, which I think is probably one of the most important comic series to ever come out. The thing I loved most about Love and Rockets, that knocked me on my ass, was it's a comic book series about a girl punk rock band that tours around the country. Not only did it represent underground punk culture, but it was just about these normal, cute-looking, Mexican chicks that just did their thing. It really knocked me on my ass when I realized that. "Holy shit! There are so many different things you can do in comics, besides the age-old battle between good and evil." You can have a comic of people just talking; of girls performing music and the shit they have to go through. I think what Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez did to the underground punk scene in the late '70s and '80s by bringing it to comics, is kinda what I'm trying to do with underground hip-hop and funk with my comics. Basically, I don't really know any big, steroid, muscle-head type people. Everybody I hang out with is like a normal kid. I hang out with cool girls, and that's who I want to write and draw my stories about. Here's an interesting point I wanted to talk to you about, Z-Trip. I'm reading Upski's books right now. There's this guy, William Upski (a graffiti writer). He's got two books out: Bomb The Suburbs and No More Prisons. One of the coolest points he makes in No More Prisons is that he says a lot of people he talks to don't really claim to have any mentors these days. He's totally dumbfounded by the fact that a lot of people out there don't have mentors. He was saying how important he thinks mentors are in people's lives. People that guide you, that influence you, that give you different ideas. So, I was just wondering, through your entire life (not just hip-hop) who would you say have been the most important mentors that have influenced you, your art and who you are?
Z: Shit. That's hard, 'cause there are so many people. From whoever invented LEGOS to George Lucas to Rick Rubin (the man behind Def Jam Records). Tony Alvara (who used to skate), my brother,..shit. I mean, it goes on and on. There's always been people. Not even necessarily people that I've met; but at a certain point in my life they were the first people to introduce me to things, so I followed them closely.
[HIGH-PITCHED BEEPING NOISE INTERUPTS]
Z: (sighs) This is my phone. This is the noise it makes.
J: (groans) Damn cell phones.
Z: (answering his phone) Hello?
J: Alright. We're gonna let Zach take this call.
J: Okay, we're back. Zach's talking about mentors.
Z: Um, I like fruit-flavored mentors. I like them more than I like the wintergreen mentors. I like the funny commercials they make about mentors.
J: You so crazy!
Z: Yeah. And the Foo Fighters did a funny video that made fun of Mentos,.. I mean mentors! My mentors have become, more and more, people that are close to me in my life. Just watching them gets me excited. Jim Mahfood would be a mentor. Cut Chemist would be a mentor. DJ Shadow, Mark from Future Primitive, Jack Dangerous from Meat Beat Manifesto would all be mentors. People like that. People who I actually am connecting with and networking with. My mother is a mentor. It's more personal people to me. When I was younger, it was more people who didn't know that they were affecting me. But they were. Now, more so than ever, it's people that are close to me. My friend Andre in Portland is a very big mentor to me. He and I sit down and have very big political talks, kinda like Jim and I do. Jim's one of those few people I get a chance to talk to about interesting shit other than, "Hey, what song are you playing next?" or, "What have you been drawing?" He's the kind of guy where we can sit down and have these talks about politics and people and how people annoy the fucking piss out of us. How we like certain people and why we hate the system and how we're all our own bosses. Jim, I want to know about some of your mentors, too. But I also want to know, more so, what's your take on people who have to work for "The Man". Who are sheep in this big world? How do you see yourself in that scenario?
J: This is something we talk about a lot. Basically, I see a transition happening in society right now, where a lot of young people our age are getting frustrated because they're in college and they don't know why they're in college. They're realizing they either have to join the rat race when they get out, or they gotta do something else, but they don't wanna do that. It's kinda frustrating to see unique and talented people (like my friend, Tyrone, who is an artist I went to art school with) have to work for "The Man" just to get by. I think me and you, Zach, are really fortunate people. But, at the same time, man, we worked our asses off to get where we're at. I've been drawing since I was a little kid. But I've only been making a living off my talent for about two or three years now. So, the paying dues part-- the painful part-- everybody's gotta go through that. But, at the same time, the reward is you and I get to live outside of the system about as much as you can in America. We don't have to get up at a certain time in the morning to go to work. We don't have to put on a suit and tie. We don't have to wear a mask. We don't have to laugh at a boss' joke and kiss his ass, and pretend like we're interested in what he's saying. We don't have to mind our P's and Q's around other people. I mean, you and I get to be ourselves 24 hours a day. Man, it's just weird whenever I encounter people that are a part of the system, that are a part of a corporation, because most of them have had to adapt to being really good actors. They have to say the right shit at certain times. They have to laugh at stupid jokes. You can't say this, and you can't say that. To me, that's not what life is about. Life is about being happy and making art, for me; enjoying things and just being you. The way the system's going, it seems like there are so many fucking corporations now, they're eating up all the mom and pop shops. You either A) have to go work for a corporation, or B) get a specific skill that you can make a living off of, which we've kinda chosen to do. But, man, anybody else in the middle there is pretty much fucked these days. Back in the '60s, '70s, and '80s you could graduate from high school and go work at a mom and pop record store and make a living off it. You could become a part of their family; become a manager of the store. They still own it, but you could make a living off that. Now, you can't really do that. The mom and pop shops are going away, first of all. Second of all, they wouldn't be paying you what you need to survive. So, it's really frustrating, man. It's just a matter of making people aware. That's kinda what I try to do through my art. I let people know that Nike is this big, evil corporation; Starbucks is this big, evil corporation. These corporations are basically using propaganda to brainwash us into buying all their shit. The thing that sucks is, if you go to Target and buy yourself some nice cotton socks, you know some corporation made it. You can't get around it sometimes, but you can selectively avoid the products that are made by the really big, evil guys. It's just a matter of educating yourself on what's right and what's wrong. It's kind of a fucked system, but it seems like more and more young people are becoming aware of it.
Z: Let me add to that. Jello Biafra-- I'll take an excerpt from one of his deals. He hipped me to the whole fact that media used to be owned by 13 to 20 corporations. You had TNT, CNN, NBC, ABC, Viacom, MGM; it's not good when certain companies merge and become one big conglomerate, huge ass company. What happens is, they start buying up all the little companies and forcing them out of existence. I think nowadays there are around six major corporate people that control everything you watch, read, hear and see. That's it. It might even be down to three now. That forces you and I, Jim, to become more independent, and more "fuck the system," and throw more wrenches into what's going on. Maybe we can spark some sort of insight in people to realize, "Hey. It's not good for me to dump my money or support into these things." For instance, I will not be on a flyer that has Camel or Marlboro cigarettes on it. In Phoenix one time, when my name was put on a flyer without me knowing, I made a lot of noise about it. I, basically, dissed Camel cigarettes on the mike, in front of all the Camel representatives at the show and got them kicked out of my show because I didn't want to have anything to do with them. Things like this happen, where these big corporations who are running shit secretly try to ease their way into raves or clubs or hip-hop or whatever. Somebody in Denver wants me to do a show. He called me up and said, "Hey, I just wanted you to know that we're doing this in conjunction with Camel cigarettes and we just wanted to make sure we knew what to put beside your name on the flyer." I said, "Don't put my name on the flyer. I will not share the same bill." He said, "Well that kinda causes a problem." I said, "Well, then don't have me. It's either I go out there and do the show for you and rock it with principles, or I don't." It's one of those things where, yeah, there's big money behind corporations and whatnot. But, when you get to a point where you have made yourself a name and made everything work for yourself, it's really important not to backtrack. Yeah, I had to deal with working for corporations and working for "The Man" to get where I am. But all the money that they paid me went to fuel and feed my independence. That's something that, now that I have independence, is very important that I stick to. If you're reading this and you're listening to what we have to say, it's really important to go out, and search out independent record stores, independent comics, independent music, film, media; anything out there, because that's where you're gonna find essence. Because it's unpoliced. The majority of stuff you are hearing or seeing on TV is pre-programmed; it's Top 40 radio. And everything else has been pre-programmed, formatted, and layed out. They know when to release it. They know exactly how it is gonna affect things. It's a system. As KRS-One would say, "Break the chain!"
J: One of the points you just said, about corporations slowly infiltrating the hip-hop/rave scene, one of my favorite KRS-One quotes is, "Graffiti isn't recognized as art in America and it's still illegal because it hasn't made a billion dollars for some corporation yet." Hip-hop music has. MCs have. DJs have. But, the two other elements of hip-hop-- b-boying and graffiti-- are still being overlooked by Corporate America. We've seen some b-boying in Gap commercials and shit like that. At the same time, graffiti, which is one of the aspects of hip-hop culture I am most passionate about, I hope and pray will never be touched by the corporates. Let's face it-- it's one of the truest artforms out there because it's not done for money. Graffiti writers either do it because they're vandals and like to fuck shit up for the system, or they're trying to create art and gain the respect of other writers. Graffiti is a street code. It's a code that corporations, business people, and "normal people" don't understand yet. That's why it's been one of the most overlooked artforms in American culture. Just like underground comic books, underground film, and underground music. These aren't things that are understood by the masses, because you can't make them generic. You can't make them easy to swallow. Most people see graffiti and what do they say? "I can't even read it."
J: You grew up in New York, Zach, and you actually wrote for a while?
J: What is your whole take on the graffiti thing?
Z: Well, it goes back to that true rawness of going out and bombing. Of saying whatever you wanted to say and putting it up on walls. To a degree, it's still very raw and untapped, thank God. But, I do worry about people doing video graf, and graf mags, and this and that. It's getting to the point where certain people are buying these magazines, and they're getting their own styles off of it. I remember when there was only one or two books where you could go out and even see other graf. You had to get inspired by seeing it on a wall somewhere, as opposed to going to some shop, buying a magazine and getting inspired that way. The Internet is another thing that has a good and bad side to it. If you want to know the real history about graffiti, don't watch all the videos. Don't read all the books. Go out and see it. Go out and hang with writers. Ask questions. It's the same thing with being a DJ and digging for records. You can get online now and go find where all the original breaks and beats that everyone sampled are from. That's not cool. If you want to go out and find those things, go out and dig for them. When you find that record and you're like, "Holy shit! So-and-so used that!" you have a bigger appreciation for the energy and time that they went through to find that record to sample it. It's the same thing with b-boys and DJs. If you want to set yourself aside from the next guy, do the complete opposite thing that everybody else is doing. Don't buy all the same records that everybody does. Don't watch all the same videos everybody does. If you're a comic book artist, don't buy all the same comic books that everyone else fucking buys. If you're doing art, don't do the same thing the next man does. Because, realistically, it's people like that that are gonna set standards and make things their own. All the aspects of hip-hop culture and other cultures is all about being an individual and setting yourself aside. The only thing I can say is that Jim and I are where we are because we've done the complete opposite of what everyone expected us to do. That's really important. I go and play these shows. I'm playing rock records, mixing them in, and people are digging it. Other DJs are hating it because they didn't think of it first. It's the same thing with Jim! It's not that it's so fucking complex. In fact, the storylines are fairly simple. The artwork isn't so fucking deeply complex that you're like, "Where's the message?" It comes from the gut, so there's a reason why people dig it. They can immediately relate to it. It's not bullshit. If you're into doing anything that we are into doing, or you're into doing something on the same tip, go with that. When you come up with something that's from your gut, you come away with something like the first and second Run DMC albums. Nobody can fuck with those. The first Public Enemy album you cannot fuck with. That album is so fucking raw, because they just said, "Fuck it. Let's just do this." But, the minute big money gets into it and people start doing things for the wrong reasons, you lose your edge and you lose your rawness. With graf, it goes back to the same thing. Graf was meant to be on the streets. It was meant to be on handball courts. It was meant to be on fucking subways. It was meant to be on freights, and not necessarily meant to be in commercials and be on legal walls. There's a reason for it and why it was so interesting. Things like that need to stay that way.
J: Okay. I've got a question for you. This is for all the aspiring DJs out there, like my little brother. As far as the art of DJing goes, what do you think is the most important aspect a DJ can pick up in the beginning of his understanding of the culture? Do you think it's understanding the history of DJing and where it came from? Do you think it's actually going out and digging for the records? Do you think it's acquiring the skills (learning how to mix, scratch, rock a crowd)? What's the most important, basic lesson an aspiring DJ can take in?
Z: The biggest thing you can do is to not fucking get out of your bedroom for a good year or two. Don't even think that you're gonna be that badass enough to go out and rock a party. Don't even try it. Don't even fucking try to go, "I've seen all the videos. I've got all these records. I'm a DJ now." It takes years to become a DJ. It takes a lot of studying. It's all those things. You gotta know how to rock a crowd. You gotta know how to talk to a crowd. You gotta know how to entertain a crowd. You gotta know how to dig for records. You got to know what to play, when to play it, and when not to play it; what to bring to a gig and what not to bring to a gig. You've gotta be able to know, if your turntable breaks, how to fix it in the middle of a set. There's a million different fucking things you need to learn, and so many people don't have the appreciation now for that. The reason I get fucking booked all over the world is because I've taken my time. I didn't even try to go out and be Z-Trip until I was sure that I could be.
J: Did you start off at wedding receptions?
Z: Of course. I started off at wedding receptions. I did office parties. I worked my fucking high school dance. These are small time. You can DJ your high school dance. I mean, who the fuck are you impressing? It's your high school. The minute you try to go out and play in front of a fucking crowd at a concert, or play the Filmore in San Francisco, and you're up there with greats like Nu-Mark and Disk and Q-Bert and all these people. You're up there and you're like, "What do I have to bring to the fucking table?" Well, you gotta have something good. If you're just like the next man, you're not bringing shit. It's important to study and get all of that before you even attempt to go out and play. Stay in your bedroom and make tapes, and then make more tapes. Then, give those tapes to people. Get feedback from people that are gonna tell you the truth, as opposed to people who really dig you 'cause you got records and you're a DJ. Be prepared to not get gigs. Be prepared to not make any money doing this for years. Honestly, you've gotta have a love for the music. You've gotta have a love for what the fuck you're doing. It's not like you can go, "Okay. I read this article. Now, I gotta go study what DJing is about." No. It just pops up. You wake up one morning and go, "I love this DJing shit so much. I gotta figure it all out. Where do I go to find it?" You do everything you can do. But don't take too much from one source. Take it from everywhere and make your own thing. Same question to you, with comics.
J: Dude, I'm glad you flipped it back to me. Honestly, your answer sounds like me talking to aspiring artists at comic book conventions. Kid's come up to me with the same shit. They show me samples of their work. I'm always happy to take the time to look at them. The problem is, I typically get these young kids that are 17, saying "I've been drawing and practicing comic pages for about a year now. How come I can't get any work?" I'm like, "Man, here's your deal. You've gotta learn everything. You gotta learn anatomy, composition, perspective, how to shoot your panels; you're actually a director when you draw comics. You have to choose where you're gonna shoot the angles from. You've gotta learn all the aspects of drawing; get your academics down first. Then, go back to the comic page." Just like the kid that has turntables for six months and thinks he can get a club night; there's kids out there that think they can get a comic gig and they draw twice a week. I get aspiring artists coming up to me saying, "I am drawing. I draw a lot. I draw three times a week." I'm like, "Dude, no! C'mon, man, you gotta draw everyday for four, five, six hours a day, until you get it down." That's the real, harsh lesson I learned when I went to art school. I had always drawn comics my whole life. I got some freelance work doing some shit in high school for small, black and white publishers. But, it wasn't until I met my man, Mike Huddleston, whom I formed 40 oz. Comics with in '93. The first year I lived with that fool and saw his discipline, I had no idea what it took to draw comics. This guy would sit in his room for 12 hours a day, listening to album, after album, after album, just straight drawing comics, and it completely blew my mind. I had never seen discipline like that before. That's when it finally hit me. "Oh shit! This is what it takes to draw comics. This is what it takes to break in. You've gotta be an obsessed, crazy person. (laughs) You've gotta want it so bad that you can taste it." I think that's true with any art; whether you're an underground band, a DJ, a graf writer, a poet, whatever. If you wanna get published, if you want your shit to get out there, you wanna tour, you've just gotta do it until you get the recognition. It's all about the paying the dues part that no one wants to deal with.
Z: Here's another thing, dudes and dudettes. Be prepared to be broke. Be prepared to not have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Be prepared to be ridiculed by your fucking friends. And, be prepared to laugh at all those people once you make it. Those are some things that are stupid important, that come later. DJs have a hard time keeping girlfriends. Comic book artists, probably the same thing, man.
J: Oh, yeah.
Z: Be prepared to have no fucking social life, no fucking love, no career, or no shit until you get out there and are busting your ass. Once you do that, then it all comes. But, then you're so disciplined to not having it or giving a shit about it, that you don't even care. So, it's kind of a whacky, fucking, double-edged sword. Anyway, I wanted to touch on a couple of things that inspire me. Things you need to go out and listen to for messages. Go out and get Jello Biafra's spoken word albums. He's got five of them. Go out and get them all, because they're all worth something. You can listen to them over and over and pick something out every single time. They're lectures he did at places in regard to all different sorts of topics. That guy has got a pretty decent handle on speaking out on things. A lot of what he says is really interesting. Plus, you can even find him on vinyl. You can throw him over breaks and beats and they're really interesting for the crowd. Second, Consolidated's Friendly Fascism is a CD you need to go out and get. That's something that actually made me stop eating meat for a long time, because of the message in it. Very, very political. Very interesting. A lot of the shit they said was on point at the time. Bomb the Suburbs and No More Prisons by William Upski Wimsatt-- you need to go out and get those books. There's a DJ book called, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, which is an actual breakdown of the history of the DJ, dating back to before the '50s, to the first radio transmissions and the Edison phonographs. All the way past sock hops into house, dub, dancehall, hip-hop, rock; it goes through everything. There's also, if you can find it, the book that KRS-One wrote. It's not that big. It's not that thick. It's like the guide to hip-hop and the guide to doing shows. He just breaks shit down. It's paying attention to people like that. Go out and get It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. That's probably one of the dopest breakdowns about black culture, where I learned about Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X-- people like that, via Chuck D breaking things down. Those are people that you need to be up on because they have added angles to me. Go out and get James Brown's fucking anthology and listen to that. He's the backbone to hip-hop, whether people like it or not. Go listen to Bambaata's early tapes or Kool Herc's early tapes. Listen to what those guys were breaking into, because those guys were some of the first people who did what I do. I'm not even doing anything that's necessarily different from what they were doing. They were, basically, playing hip-hop and rock and funk and dancehall, and mixing it all up. That's what made them a good DJ, as opposed to a guy who goes out to his local hip-hop shop, buys a couple of the local, underground 12" and, now, he's a hip-hop DJ. You need to be incorporating world music, funk, and jazz, while finding different things that the next man isn't gonna have. That's what makes you different.
J: You know, it always disturbs me when I hear about a DJ (especially a hip-hop DJ) that doesn't have any James Brown records in his collection. In my opinion, honestly, James is probably the most important musical figure of the entire 20th Century. I know that's a bold statement, but that's how passionate I am about his music and what he did. Let's face it: without James and the shit he layed down, there would be no funk, soul, R&B, hip-hop, electric or break-beat. It would have manifested in some way without James; but, holy shit, would it be so different, in my opinion. That's just kinda how I feel. If you realize this huge contribution this guy made. I have this tape called The Lost James Brown Tapes. It's a recording of him performing live in the late '70s. Just to watch this guy move and perform; he is the living fucking embodiment of funk. He is funk. He is an ugly motherfucker that is just the funkiest-assed motherfucker on the planet. Funk is ugly. It's dirty. It makes you move. It's got a groove to it, and, just like hip-hop, it's a lifestyle. It's a way of seeing the world. It's not just this music. It's a way of living. It's an entire culture. It's like KRS-One said, it's basically a religion. There're so many different things these days that can be passed as hip-hop. There's live bands now, like The Breakestra. It's a live band, but they perform hip-hop. I don't even know if there's a DJ in the band. There're so many things that are considered hip-hop. This is something that Z-Trip turned me on to. I never realized that Led Zepplin is, basically, hip-hop. I mean, it's rock, of course. But, when you listen to just Bonham's drum breaks, just the drums, there are breaks in there that are just straight hip-hop breaks. And it's fucking awesome. When you turned me on to that way of thinking and seeing things, it totally broadened my horizons and my viewpoint toward what exactly hip-hop is. It's kinda confusing because hip-hop could be a lot of things now. As much as I hate the mainstream shit, like Puff Daddy and Cash Money and all that whack shit, I have to say that it is still hip-hop. It's part of hip-hop, even though I don't really want it to be. That's why I think we do need another category called hip-pop. It's pop music disguising itself as hip-hop. They could put it right next to the hip-hop section in the record store. That way, they can say, "Here's the kind of corporate, money-making, funny rap music, and here's the real hip-hop shit over here. Here's KRS-One, People Under The Stairs, Del, Dilated Peoples. Here they are in the hip-hop section, and here's hip-pop. It's got Puffy, and Cash Money, and Jay-Z."
Z: The same thing with you guys with comics. "Here's Superman, and The Hulk, and your icons, for whatever reason. But, here's Mr. Schitzo over here.
J: Mr. Schitzo! Yeah!
Z: There's a million different titles out there that are raw and different and underground. I have a question that I wanted to ask you about in regard to the history of comics. Do you think it's important that people should know about people like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko?
J: Yeah. It's totally important that all aspiring artists or writers understand the contributions and the history of comics as an art form. I think that's why comics are sometimes overlooked as the wonderful art form they are. There hasn't been much recorded history about where the culture has come from and who contributed to it. It's always frustrating to meet young, aspiring artists who are 15 or 16, and they don't even know who Jack Kirby is. Or they haven't bothered to look at his work. How can you consider yourself a comic book artist if you don't know Kirby and his work? I'd say the same thing about Robert Crumb. If you want to attempt to draw black and white comics and become part of the underground comic book scene, you've gotta know the masters. You've gotta know the guys that came before us. And for me that was Crumb, Spain, and Robert Williams; their whole generation of artists that made this amazing contribution to a black and white art form that I'm passionate about. Then there was a second generation of underground guys that I would definitely put the Hernandez Brothers in; Dan Clowes, Evan Dorkin, Charles Burns, Art Spiegelman, and Peter Bagge. What's exciting is, whether people know it or not, there's a whole new generation of underground artists coming up. The third generation. I like to put myself in that category along with Scott Morse, Troy Nixey, Andi Watson, Mike Huddleston, Kelley Seda; some of the Slave Labor guys like Lawrence Marvit, Jhonen Vasquez, Roman Dirge, Chynna Clugston-Major and Judd Winick. There's a whole new generation of young kids coming right now, making wonderful black and white comics. It's a matter of becoming educated and knowing about it.
Z: What about music and stuff that has inspired you? Stuff that made you think?
J: I definitely put on different types of music for the different moods I'm in, or for the writing that I'm gonna be doing. Stupid Comics are usually my political and socially conscious comics. So, before I sit down and write that shit, I'll put on some Public Enemy, Dead Prez, or Gil Scott Heron. Or I'll listen to Noam Chomsky. Noam Chomsky is another guy that, if anybody out there is interested in becoming politically and socially aware of what the fuck's going on, he's a guy worth checking out. He breaks stuff down so that the common person can understand exactly what he's talking about. Music, for me, is a huge influence on my work. During the day, when I'm drawing, I usually listen to more upbeat, loud shit: hip-hop, funk, classic punk shit. I'm talking Ramones, Dead Kennedys; I love all hardcore shit like Bad Brains. You can't beat that. You just can't touch Bad Brains. 7 Seconds, Black Flag; the shit I used to listen to when I was a teenager. It's still good now. That's another interesting point. Good music is good music. It has to be timeless. John Coltrane's stuff from the '50s or '60s; or Afrika Bambaata in the '80s. If it's good it should stand the test of time. Same thing with comic books. I look back at what Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko did in the Golden Age of Marvel. It's just unbelievable. It's really, really kick-ass, revolutionary stuff. Same thing with Crumb and the whole underground movement in the '60s and '70s. I love what those guys did in San Francisco-- just getting all these weirdos together and making comics and art. And they weren't doing it for money or acceptance or anything. They're just doing it for the love of doing it. Okay. Zach is back in effect. Let me fire off one last question for you. What's your favorite breakfast cereal?
Z: Again, man, I don't have a favorite anything, because I get so moody.
Z: I think, when I'm in the mood for it, Life or Rice Chex. I think Rice Chex is probably my first.
J: Pure and simple.
Z: Yeah. And you?
J: I'm going back to the basics, too. I'm going back to Honeycomb, Cap'n Crunch, and Kix. You know, I used to eat the sugary shit, but I can't do it anymore. Alright, folks. This concludes the Z-Trip/Jim Mahfood interview. Z-Trip, can we get a sign off from you?
Z: Tastes like teriyaki chicken. (laughs) Peace. (grunts)
J: Yo, later, Zach. I'll see you tonight, man.
Z: Okay, Jim. I'll see you later.
J: Okay. This is Jim Mahfood; President and CEO of 40 oz. Comics, International. Just wanted to say, big ups to debbie. Yeah. tastes like chicken.
VISIT BIG MAN MAHFOOD AT 40OZCOMICS.COM
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