St. Louisians D-Ex and Furius “Iceman” Stylz, the award-winning DJs and hip-hop diehards behind Deep Krate Radio, have a combined 50-plus years of experience as DJs.
That isn’t including the other members of their respected collective of veteran DJs and producers in the Wax Murdaraz crew. Individually, D-Ex and Iceman have made their names primarily as battle DJs, showcasing their innovative turntable talents on regional and national stages. Despite their experience and accomplishments, the two remain humble devotees to the art form of DJing, both on-air at 88.1 KDHX, and all over St. Louis.
I had the pleasure of conducting the interview at the Wax Murdaraz HQ where the crew rehearses and runs a DJ school. The basement-turned-bat-cave is decorated as an encyclopedic shrine of action figures, posters, comic books and of course plenty of vinyl. The HQ even has a pinball machine.
Amidst the mass quantity of cultural relics, D-Ex and Iceman shared their thoughts on the “vinyl versus digital” DJ debate, the process of putting together a Deep Krate Radio show and their contentment with where they are professionally.
Kenji Yoshinobu: How did you guys hook up with KDHX?
D-Ex: Before we had Deep Krate Radio the first show I was hosting was a show called “Street Vibes.” That was G. Wiz’s show. He was going through some transitions with hosts on the show. At the time I was hosting a hip-hop video show backed by Double Helix, called “Phat Clips.” G-Wiz wanted me to host “Street Vibes,” but I turned him down. Not that I had a problem with his show — I loved his show! But it came on Friday nights, and for me it was more comfortable to sit back at the crib on a Friday. At the time I had to work early Saturday morning, at like 4 a.m., so I just wanted to kick back and enjoy the show. But push came to shove and I took him up on his offer.
So from ’95 to ’98 I did “Street Vibes.” G-Wiz semi-retired from radio DJing at that time, and DJ Alejan and myself started DJing on Street Vibes around ’97. Then we started “Da Science,” a radio show on 88.1, but then six months later we took it out of the studio and to Blueberry Hill and did that for maybe eight years. Then we came back to the station and continued “Da Science” for a while, then I brought in Iceman and we changed the name to “Deep Krate Radio.” That was 2007 and we’re still at it now.
How long have you guys been DJing?
Iceman: I’ve been DJing since like ’88.
D-Ex: I first started to teach myself to DJ in ’84. From that point on I was pretty much just in the crib getting my skills together recording. First time I DJed publicly was like ’89.
You guys have pretty much seen hip-hop since its beginning. How has DJing changed since then?
Iceman: For the most part, I really don’t like the new DJ because the DJ used to mix. Nowadays the DJ just puts on a record and doesn’t mix it into another record. I used to go to the club and watch a DJ cut and mix and it created a certain vibe. These days DJs have got all the technology and they are just pressing buttons. You don’t even know what they are doing. It is just changing.
D-Ex: Part of the excitement was looking at the DJ and seeing what they were doing. It was cool to see how they would bring in a record and overlap it over another. They’d do little tricks with the crossfader. Just watching them made me want to learn how to do it. It is different now. You definitely have DJs, like Iceman said, that don’t do much. They bring their computer in and they might not even have turntables. They just are pressing buttons, looking like a mad scientist behind the computer, and music is just coming out.
It is probably harder for people to follow someone who might want to become a DJ and get a grasp on what is going on. We were always looking at hand movement, style, all of that. There are still a lot of DJs who use the new technology, but still get busy with the mixing. But Iceman and I use the technology on the radio too. All the digital formats. But we are also using our analog skills.
Technics recently discontinued their line of the “industry standard” DJ turntable. Do you see that as a sign that DJing as an artform is dying?
Iceman: No. Luckily, DJ Qbert hooked up with Vestax and has created a good line of turntables. There are a few other nice lines of turntables, not Technics, but they are still just as good. So no, [Technics discontinuing their product] is not going to kill DJing.
D-Ex: The favorite is the Technics, but they are still out there. It is becoming a subculture where people just sell used Technics. I have multiple turntables. You can go on eBay right now and buy them. They will always be sought after. For example, there is a lot of production equipment that music producers use that is no longer made. Some people really love old samplers like the SP-12 or the MPC-60. I think it will all still be out there. For the new generation, some of them might be interested in going back and wanting Technics because they are on Youtube and watching DJs they admire using them.
What is the process for putting together a show for Deep Krate Radio?
D-Ex: I do the first hour and Iceman does the second hour — just to make sure the listeners are getting the old and the new. I play all brand new stuff. I listen to pretty much everything that comes out and select what I think is the best of the current stuff.
Iceman: I take them back to the classics. I usually plan a mix, like I’ll put some songs in and when I get to the station and calls come, those requests usually override what I have planned to play because we want to please the listener. Once they start requesting, I will intertwine it with what I picked.
Do you guys bring vinyl?
D-Ex: Mostly digital.
Iceman: We got some vinyl, like he’ll bring vinyl in case something goes wrong at the station. I actually have a CD made in case everything goes wrong. I’ll sometimes bring some vinyl for requests, in case we don’t have it in the library.
D-Ex: It is really cool taking people’s requests because they’ll think of stuff that we would never think to play. There may be something we don’t even care for, but Iceman will take the challenge of mixing it into the show creatively. There are situations too when Iceman can’t show up and I’ll do the second hour. I like playing the older stuff.
But I’m good at finding newer stuff, like some labels will send me MP3 or whatever. So a lot of times during the first hour you may hear something that may not even come out because the label will make a decision to take it off of the artist’s upcoming album. Or there are times when the actual album that the song is off of won’t come out for like a year and a half later. There were songs of Raekwon’s “Only Built For Cuban Linx, Part II” that I played a year before the album actually came out. There is also stuff off Dr. Dre’s “Detox,” and who knows if that one will ever come out. (Laughs)
We just try to be creative with it because we were fans just listening to it all on the radio too. Back during our generation’s era of radio, it was actually pretty good. You would hear everything from Run-DMC to N.W.A. to De La Soul to Public Enemy. You would get a little bit of everything, combined with R&B or whatever. But then the mix shows were really ill because you would hear stuff that wasn’t in regular rotation. It was an interesting experience because you wouldn’t really know what song was playing because the DJs wouldn’t announce the song title. They would be in a 20 to 30 minute mix and they would just be throwing stuff on. I’d be like, “I don’t know what that song was,” so I’d just hit the record store and try to look for it. “That’s on Def Jam, so I’ll just grab that! That might be it!” (Laughs)
Are you guys fans of what’s on the radio now on 104.1? Like Lil Wayne and Drake?
Iceman: Some of the stuff is cool. When you say artists like Lil Wayne and Drake, they have lyrical skills to me. They’ve made it on the first hour of the show. D-Ex don’t play bull crap. With Lil Wayne and Drake, yeah, a lot of the stuff they make I like. A lot of R&B stuff too. I guess music is always going to be in the soul. I don’t listen to the radio a lot. I try to catch the mix that comes on at 5 just for my own entertainment. I listen to how he’s mixing and what songs he’s mixing and what is new in the mix. That’s cool.
What elements of newer hip hop do you think is bull crap?
D-Ex: That’s kind of hard to define. It is one of those things where you know it when you hear it. (Laughs) It may be the beat. It may be the rhyme. It may be both. You really know it when you hear it. That is how we gauge in terms of what we play. It is not like I could just give somebody a clear blueprint of what to play. Like, “Ok, you send this in and we’ll play it!”
I play a lot of local artists and particularly during the first hour I like to give people the opportunity to send their stuff in. If it is solid enough I’ll play it. Even right after the new Jay-Z and Kanye where people are definitely going to hear it. But that’s if it can stand up to that quality. A lot of times some people may send a CD to KDHX, and after the show we’ll listen to it, and a lot of stuff don’t make the cut. But I can’t necessarily say there is a formula for making it or not. We will put it on and first we decide if we like the beat. Sometimes it’s no. (Laughs) But sometimes it will be yes! Then the lyrics come in …
Iceman: And this goes with the “elements” thing, one of the main elements in hip hop is the rhyme. The lyricism side of things. A lot of guys these days just don’t have it. They are just terrible.
D-Ex: The delivery or something is off. But it is not even a particular subject matter that we are looking for. We come from an era of radio when right after Public Enemy, N.W.A. would come on. Those were like two different spaces there. And then De La Soul would come on right after them. Sound-wise it was all completely different.
Ultimately we just want to hear somebody coming with a dope beat and a dope rhyme flow. At the end of the day, this is just our opinion too. Just because we don’t play someone’s music doesn’t mean it isn’t dope. It just means it isn’t dope to us. (Laughs)
Who in St. Louis do you guys like?
D-Ex: Yeah, there are actually a lot.
Iceman: I like Lyfestile and Tef Poe.
D-Ex: Nato Caliph, Black Spade and Nite Owl, KD Assassin.
Along with DJing, you both produce music. How do the two co-relate?
Iceman: It is hard because when I’m producing a beat I’m not really thinking about anything to do with DJing. Besides if I want to throw some DJ stuff on the hook or something. Just a few scratches. Sound bytes or whatever. That’s about as close as I can get to intertwining the two of them. I even have a whole different producer name. Like I’m Iceman when I’m DJing, but when I’m making a beat I turn into the “Killa Butcha.” I have to separate them.
D-Ex: The two can be independent depending on how you approach them. A lot of DJs are producers. There is a link there. But I can only speak for myself. When I’m putting together music, production-wise, I’m not thinking in terms of how a beat is going to sound if someone is spinning it. I don’t have the frame of mind where people are just going to love what I make — if they do then they do, if they don’t then they don’t. I don’t think about if somebody else wants to spin this in the club or anything like that. It is coming from a mentality that I want to make music that is enjoyable to me first. And then it would be nice if someone else liked it. Beyond that aspect of producing, just the influence of listening to music — and like what you like as an individual. That may be influential in terms of what you create. But I’m like Iceman, not thinking about whether it will be hot in the club, you know. I’m just trying to make something.
Do you guys still dig for records?
Iceman and D-Ex: Yeah.
D-Ex: But not like we used to.
Iceman: Not like we used to because it is getting smaller at places like Vintage Vinyl. I go anytime I’m in the area — I’ll still go because it is just automatic. Soon as I walk in there I see something that maybe I don’t have. (Laughs) Anytime I step into any record store there is going to be digging. I always wind up in the rock and classical sections. I took classical piano when I was younger, and so now I’m always looking for that new loop to make a beat with. Something I could use even in a DJ battle.
D-Ex: I go out to Record Exchange and Vintage Vinyl a lot. But now with the way things have changed there is less new records coming out as far as vinyl. The only thing I really buy are records that go back in time. I flip through records and see if there is something in there. A lot of older DJs may have sold their records, so I go through the stacks to make sure I’m not missing something. Somebody could give up a record that is really hard to find. Then I go through the “soul” and “rock” sections just to get something from the production side of things. It may just be something that I want to play.
I actually went to Record Exchange and bought this Kiss record because I really wanted it. But basically I just buy a record and transfer it to MP3. I keep the record here so it is untouched. We like to finger the records and cut it all up. But that’s the thing with Serato. You can do what you do as a DJ, but it won’t wear out the records. Like as a DJ you sticker your records and do backspins on the turntables that wear on the record till it starts to make a hissing sound. Older records that have been played have that snap, crackle, pop sound. So it is good to always try and convert it to MP3 so you get that crisp sound from the record.
For the record though, I really like vinyl. Just picking it up, flipping it over, looking at the credits, looking at the pictures. You’re not going to get that effect at all from an MP3. Honestly, it took me awhile to get into digital DJing. I remember seeing DJ Craze spinning on Final Scratch, and a year after that I saw Mixmaster Mike scratching on Serato. But it took awhile for me to digest his performance. The hardest part to digest was the fact that he wasn’t going into crates for more records. Instead of going to the crate and putting on another record, it was just button mashing. That took a little bit of the fun out of it for me. But I guess now we should just expect someone to be typing on a keyboard or some secret code like a scientist.
You guys have accomplished a lot throughout your careers and you’ve seen a genre basically grow from its infant stages. What is the next step for you guys? Is there a next step?
Iceman: At this point it is all about having fun for me. I’ve accomplished in some ways more than I would’ve expected.
D-Ex: Yeah, now I’m competing with what is more fun — DJing a party or playing pinball. (Laughs) But I mean we started in the ’80s. That is decades of grinding and going out and experiencing stuff. I don’t want to say there isn’t anything else to do. But it is different now. If something interesting is going down then we’ll hop up on it. But it is kind of hard to say. For example, the digital technology came out of nowhere. And when that really hit, it was like a rejuvenation for us. It was something new that was so different but at the same time fit so perfectly. It made you get excited about DJing in a way that we haven’t since maybe the ’80s in some ways. So it is kind of hard to say. You just have to take it one day at a time.
Hear Deep Krate Radio on 88.1 KDHX, every Friday night, 9-11 p.m. Central.