There are so many incredibly talented DJ’s out there, but when deciding who I’d interview for the very first #FEATUREFRIDAY, I had no doubt or hesitation – it had to be Rob Swift. Queens native & former member of the legendary X-Ecutioners, Rob Swift has pushed the boundaries of DJ’ing for decades, and continues to do so. The first time I brushed shoulders with this guy at Scratch DJ Academy in NYC, I was admittedly a little starstruck. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with Rob on a variety of occasions and even participate in a DJ battle where he was a guest judge. Here’s me, performing in front of a dude whom I consider a LEGEND in this industry – needless to say, nerves were flowing. Our conversation that night helped put things into perspective and really showed me that his character was equally as impactful as his skills behind the turntables. I could go on & on about his accomplishments, but I’ll let Rob tell you a little bit about himself!
Monopoli: What’s going on, man!? First of all, THANK YOU for being part of this. I’m incredibly anxious for everyone to hear your story. So without further-ado, why don’t we just start with how this whole DJing thing all began for you.
Rob Swift: My first exposure to DJing was from my father. He migrated here to Queens, NY (Jackson Heights) in the late 60s and brought over his love for latin music. Growing up, watching him record mix tapes filled with Salsa, Cumbia and Merengue was an every day occurrence in our household. On special occasions such as Christmas, NYE, or wedding parties for example, my older brother and I would help my dad pack and transport his gear to various venues in and around the city. After we’d helped him set up, I’d just sit there, watching him control a room filled with hundreds of people through the music he played. It was awesome to watch my dad have such an influence on party goers whom he didn’t even know.
I was also fortunate in that I had an older brother who was a part of that first wave of Hip Hop kids taking NYC by storm. My brother rolled with friends who wrote Graffiti, Rapped, Break Danced and DJed. I have fond memories of my brother taking me to his friend’s house parties and watching dudes B-Boy while his friends DJed and rapped. My brother would even take me Graff bombing with his friends. Since my father owned all of the necessary equipment, my brother would invite his school friends over to our place to jam out. Again, I’d just sit there, taking it all in. Indirectly learning about the art of making Hip Hop music. By the time I was 12, I was tired of being a spectator and I asked my brother to teach me. He took me on as his student and the rest is history!
Thankfully, I didn’t have to invest into equipment because my dad owned all of the state of the art gear. The first pair of turntables I learned on was a Technic 1300 and a Technic 1600. I remember the pitch control on them were these tiny knobs you’d twist left to slow the platter down or right to speed it up. My dad was even kind enough to let me borrow his turntables, receiver and speakers to DJ my first party at my Junior High School, I.S. 145. I was in the 6th grade. Imagine that, 12 years old DJing a party in the school gymnasium!
Monopoli: Wow. 12 years old!? I couldn’t even imagine what that first gig must have felt like. So what was it that ultimately inspired you to take the next step and learn how to DJ?
Rob Swift: I’d have to say my first inspiration to become a DJ was my dad. My brother played an integral part in influencing me as well cause he’s the one who actually taught me. Once I learned all my brother knew, I started looking towards other DJs to help grow my skill. Specifically, radio DJs since there was no internet back then. On Fridays and Saturdays I’d record sets by DJs like Red Alert, Chuck Chillout and Marley Marl on the radio. Sunday’s I’d go hunt down a lot of the records I heard them play so I can recreate their sets at home as a way of learning how to mix, scratch and backspin better. Then there were other pioneers I learned a lot from, Grand Master Flash, GrandWizzard Theodore, Grand Mixer D.S.T., Mix Master Ice and Johnny Juice are a few noteworthy dudes who I modeled a lot myself after in the early days.
While those guys helped me develop my technical approach to DJing, it was dudes like JuJu (from the Beatnuts) and Dr. Butcher (former DJ for Kool G Rap) who helped shape my career. Those guys are like big brothers to me.
Monopoli: It’s always dope to hear someone who has accomplished so much give credit to those in the early stages who helped them get to where they are today. So at this point in your career you’ve been DJing full-time for quite a while. I know that’s something I struggled with as far as when it was the “right” time to ditch my day job, and I also know that it’s something many other DJ’s struggle with as well. How were you able to reach the point to be able to make this your full time career?
Rob Swift: Thankfully yes, I DJ full time. As for how I was able to reach this point, I can give you a long, drawn out, complex answer but the truth is, what got me here was having faith in myself and in God. That’s pretty much it. No matter who doubted my ability to turn my passion into a means of supporting myself, I always kept the faith. I’ve been doing this professionally out into the world on my own for 18 years now. I haven’t let myself down yet and neither has God.
Monopoli: That’s an incredible accomplishment, man. I’ll never forget in one of our past conversations I explained my job situation and asked your advice and you simply told me that when it was the right time I’d know, and that I’d make the right decision. Definitely words that stuck with me! But it takes a special individual to persevere in an industry that’s constantly changing. 18 years later, how do you feel about the industry as it is today?
Rob Swift: I think it’s a great time to be an artist in any industry. With social media and the internet being what it is today, it’s more feasible to reach people directly about a project or whatever it is you have going on. For artists like me who aren’t necessarily “mainstream” this is a blessing! I take advantage of the access I have to my followers every single day! I think social media for me is what I appreciate the most. I remember a time when If I wanted someone to hear a project I worked on my only outlet for people to check it out would be to find a label willing to release it. Now, I can cut the middle man out and put it out myself. I can even interact with people about the project instantaneously. I wouldn’t say anything needs improvement since it’s worked for me thus far.
Monopoli: It is pretty incredible how the internet & social media play such a huge role these days. I mean look at the swing challenge that you presented to DJs recently! DJs from all over were posting videos daily. It was pretty dope to see that. Most importantly though, the challenge forced DJs to take it back to the basics and remember that scratching is supposed to be FUNKY! Which brings me to my next question, what’s your opinion on all of the technological advancements we’ve seen in the DJ industry?
Rob Swift: I think the technological advancements in the industry of DJing have been incredible. Not only have DJ software inventions like Serato inspire more people to become DJs, veterans of this art like myself have creatively benefited from this new tech stuff. Like with anything, there are those who misuse technology but overall the benefits have been more positive than negative.
Monopoli: So what are you rocking on these days?
Rob Swift: Currently I’m DJing on two Technic 1200s and a Rane 62. I approach the art of DJing in a traditional way so It’s pretty much all I need.
Monopoli: So – the million dollar question that most DJ’s seek the answer to: What does it take to be a successful DJ?
Rob Swift: I define success as getting people to like and respect what I do. What it took for me to accomplish that was many long hours of practicing, exposing myself to all types of music, and being adaptable.
Like with anything, you get better at something the more you do it. And so spending a few minutes here and there on turntables just isn’t going to cut it (excuse the pun). You gotta commit a lot of your time to this if you want to get ahead. A part of getting ahead as a DJ is knowing as much as you can about music. Whether it’s underground or mainstream, rock or rap, the more music you know the more people you’ll reach! And so being adaptable, from learning how to adjust the time you devote to training to achieving a healthy level of flexibility in your taste is super important.
Monopoli: Great advice. There’s no substitute for putting in the man hours and relentlessly beating at your craft. So what are you currently working on? What can we expect from Rob Swift over the next 5-10 years?
Rob Swift: Currently my main focus is teaching the art to a new generation. I’m a professor of musicology at The New School University for Liberal Arts in New York City. I teach a class called DJ Skills And Styles twice a day. It’s a beginner’s course in which students learn the three basic techniques: Mixing, Scratching and Backspinning. I also teach them the history behind the art itself. During the summers I mentor young children at a Hip Hop camp in Cleveland, Ohio. Teaching has been lots of fun and super gratifying. Of all the things I’ve done as a DJ, being an educator is what I’m most proud of. I’ve learned not to look too far ahead. The most important time frame in my opinion is the next 24 hours.
Monopoli: Love that mentality, and love that you’re sharing the art. DEFINITELY something I hope I have the opportunty to do as well. Rob! Yo, thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of #FEATUREFRIDAY and taking the time to speak with me. I think I can speak for a lot of DJs when I say, THANK YOU for everything you’ve done for DJing and everything you continue to do! So lastly, where can we find you?
Rob Swift: Y’all can find me on:
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/djrobswift/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/DJROBSWIFT
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/brolicarm/
For specific content on my perspective as a DJ, you can also visit my website – http://www.djrobswift.com/
People can catch me rockin’ out every Saturday at Queens Comfort for brunch from 10a to 4p.