Social media is crazy–and, technology ever ceases to amaze me.
A few weeks ago during a routine dig from a private collection, I came across a crispy copy of Rob Swift’s Ablist on vinyl. Rob was one-fourth of the iconic DJ collective known as the X-Men, alongside the late Roc Raida, Mista Sinista, and Total Eclipse. Rob later departed the group in 2004 for a multitude of reasons, and since then has added six projects to an already notable discography that spans 20 years, appeared on TV and in film, and traveled the world—among other things.
His latest role is a Professor in NYC, teaching a new generation the art of turntablism, which is like having Kobe showing you how to take jump shots. From being Akinyele’s DJ during the Vagina Diner era to working with the Blueman Group, to say Rob has taken cutting and scratching to new heights would be…an understatement.
Rounding back to my opening statement, social media is crazy, because while sharing my find [Ablist] on the gram, I inadvertently found myself trading messages with Rob, a DJ I’d admired for over 20 years.
He took some time to answer a few questions for AAHH—you can check out the interview below.
AAHH: Do you remember what your first record was?
DJ Rob Swift: Of course I remember. That’s a memory that will never leave me. I was in the 6th grade the first time I went to a record store by myself and brought “Roxanne, Roxanne” by UTFO. The scratches on that record (*Big up Mix Master Ice) changed my life.
AAHH: How did you originally connect with the X-Men?
DJ Rob Swift: My mentor, Dr. Butcher, introduced me to Steve Dee (co-founder of the X-Men) at my first battle, the 1991 East Coast DMC regional. Dr. Butcher and Steve Dee had already met prior today day and Butcher, knowing I was a big fan of Steve’s introduced me. Steve ended up inviting us to his place for a practice session couple of weeks later. That was the day he asked us to join the X-Men.
AAHH: What was the final catalyst for you venturing off into solo ventures?
DJ Rob Swift: I needed an outlet for a lot my creative ideas. As a member of the X-Ecutioners, I felt as though I had to compromise many of the directions I wanted to take with this art for the sake of fitting into the group’s framework for what they wanted to accomplish. As a solo artist, I didn’t have to negotiate my creativity. I just experimented the way I wanted.
AAHH: You’ve been in the game for years—what keeps you hungry?
DJ Rob Swift: It’s not a matter of staying hungry. I just love what I do.
AAHH: We know you did cuts for Akinyele on his classic debut, Fat Joe’s debut, and even worked with the Blue Man Group. Are there any crazy credits that maybe people don’t know about?
DJ Rob Swift: Too many to mention man. I’ve recorded scratches for Chi Ali, did remixes for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’d keep you here for way too long if I kept going.
AAHH: How did you get into teaching?
DJ Rob Swift: I’ve always been teaching this art. Even when I was young and up and coming, friends would come to my parent’s home, watch me practice, then ask If I could teach them how I was doing what I was doing. So it makes sense that as an established DJ today, I’m still teaching this art at schools, universities and through my social media posts. Big up to The New School University for Liberal Arts in NYC. They’ve given me the perfect platform to further this amazing art of Djing.
AAHH: Why do you think it’s important for your students to learn the fundamentals of the art?
DJ Rob Swift: A building needs a strong foundation. That’s why!
AAHH: Do feel as though technology has diluted the artform?
DJ Rob Swift: Definitely. Technology has made it too easy to accomplish many of the techniques DJs like myself practiced years to develop. As a result, it’s made DJs lazy, and they overlook the little things, like rhythm and timing.
AAHH: Are you working on any projects currently?
DJ Rob Swift: I’m always working on something. I’m not at liberty to say what, though.
AAHH: What was the biggest learning you’ve had from all your years on the decks?
DJ Rob Swift: I’ve had many. The biggest I’d say would have to be that through creativity on turntables I’ve learned how to center myself and better connect with my real potential. Creativity is a gift from God. A gift that makes it, so you achieve oneness with the part of you that is God.
AAHH: What advice do you have for up and coming DJ’s who are trying to find themselves (artistically)?
DJ Rob Swift: Express yourself honestly. Bruce Lee taught me that.