Staying On Track with DJ Kon!
Kon of the legendary duo Kon & Amir has some of the heaviest crates in the game. The Kon & Amir’s series of mixes entitled “On Track”, are undoubtedly iconic in the crate-digging world. The “On Track” mixes are known for having countless unknown original Hip-Hop samples, and obscure gems from overseas. There were a few others that had made mixes like this, but Kon & Amir’s “On Track” series seems to be the most prominent of all. If you’re a music lover, I highly suggest listening or even copping them. These mixes educate your mind and your ears. The “Off Track” series Kon & Amir released is not so far off either. Kon & Amir have also released a compilation entitled “Kings of Diggin’”, alongside the legendary DJ Muro of Japan on BBE a few years back. You could say the work on the compilation nearly proves that. Beyond collecting vinyl, Kon is one of the most passionate people about music that I know of. He is definitely a local hero to my hometown of Boston. I mean he has been part of Boston’s Hip-Hop community for nearly 30 years, and has preserved the development of it as a true culturist. Most people know him as just a DJ, but he has history as a writer, music producer, and bboy.
Lean: People usually say quality over quantity, but your collection is quality with quantity. I’m not going to ask you how many records you have, because that’s just lame. I seen it and I know you have some serious gems in there. The minute you step in your crib you got to make sure you’re not stepping on anything valuable. You have blessed people on nearly every continent with your passion for music. This is what life is about… it really doesn’t get much better than that! Educating the minds and ears of many. I’m sure you know I have told people about the story about when I first came to your crib, and how that was basically the breaking point for me to get more into beat digging. Whatever break my dad and I asked you about, you had or you had some obscure cover of the break that we never heard before. That was the first time I had heard or seen the Niagara “S/T” LP, De Wolfe Library “Hard Hitter” LP, United 8 “Getting Uptown (To Get Down)” 45, That Unknown “Pistol” 45 (which I just recently discovered on this “Jazz Moves with Ron Daniels”LP), and Cindy Rodriguez “What You Need Is My Love” 12’. This had to be about 8 years ago, but I can pretty much remember like it was yesterday. That being said, I wanted to share and ask some questions about your history….
Lean: In your earliest memory what was the first record you fell in love with?
Kon: The first song that I remember would be Jefferson Airplane’s “Miracles”. A song with such a haunting melody, this is going back to when I was around 3 or 4, which most will think is bs that I can remember that far back but… it’s really the truth. The first physical records I fell in love with, one of them would be Electric Light Orchestras LP titled “El Dorado”. The cover has a close up of Dorothy’s shiny red shoes and the wicked witches green hands, from the Wizard of Oz. The music on that LP is incredible, climatic strings, and full of amazing songwriting. To digest and absorb music with such depth is the best thing for a 4 year old…. get ‘em going young, I know this is part of the reason why later in life I searched further than what was just on the radio.
Lean: I know you mentioned before that your mother (R.I.P) was heavily into the music, but was your mother (R.I.P) heavily into collecting vinyl?
Kon: My mother put me up on to so much music. When Chic first came out in 77′ we went to the record store and bought it. I vividly remember that LP being played beginning to end on full volume. “Dance, Dance, Dance” (yowsah yowsah yowsah) would get me so amped. Also, when the B-52′s first LP came out… that blew my mind, I hadn’t heard anything like “Rock Lobster” or “Planet Claire” yet. The Pretenders & the Talking Heads were my favorites as well. My mother was about 25 at the time, she stood about 5ft’ and drove a brown 1972 Lincoln Continental (a pimps ride!) with the 8 tracks playing. Those were some of the best times of my life!
Lean: You have pretty much been through the thick and thin of Hip-Hop culture. We all know Hip-Hop culture started in NYC, but from your own personal experiences when did you see it surface in Boston?
Kon: I’d say around 79’ with roller-skating, back then I was always going to NYC as a kid, because I have family there. But it really was booming in the early 80s here. I’d see your father’s crew, the Floor Lords down at the Aquarium and various other spots… I would see Tron, and Cisco doing windmills with leg weights on. Anybody from Boston who was into bboying or Hip-Hop culture at that time looked up to them, and wanted to be down. They were hometown legends. Thinking back to these times… what awesome memories… things were pure, and we didn’t know what was to become of any of this, we just knew we loved it.
Lean: You started writing before you got into djing. What was the correlation of that? Was it Hip-Hop that got you into djing or was it just your love for music? Who were the guys that you were running around with back in the days?
Kon: Both my parents could draw, so I was always into that. Going to NYC started all that for me. Riding the subway blew my mind. I was bit by the bug. My love for music got me into djing, I was always playing records but just not in the context of two turntables and a mixer, which came later. When I saw Wildstyle… the scene where Grand Master Flash was in the kitchen… it all clicked! I said to myself, so this is what you’re supposed to do with all these records. The writers I was running with were Chronic who was in TAA (The Allied Artists) they were an all Latino crew, and to me by far had the most prolific styles aside from Click and Maze at the time. Also Tale, Sick, sometimes Mass, Jayroc, Start, Net, Gun, Bones, Chip, man… the list is long and this was 85’,86’… Boston’s golden years!
Lean: Not many know…. but you were a bboy at one time, how did that come about?
Kon: Yeah, I was so into it… I guess for me, it grew out of roller-skating. Again, I would see crews like the Floor Lords and a few others getting down, for me there was a real magic in the air. I wish I could still bboy today, now I just sit back and watch yall do it…always puts a smile on my face.
Lean: Was there any DJs from Boston back in the 80’s that were collecting breaks that may have inspired you?
Kon: Well, there was DJ Jesse McGee ( I may have spelled it wrong ) he was incredible! Jesse was this white dude from Cambridge who just dominated. He was on the radio and I would learn from listening to his mixes… at the time, he was doing innovative things… mixing & cutting up David Bowie’s “Young Americans” with Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid in Full”. He was then murdered after some guys tried robbing him on the subway. I was shocked, and saddened. DJ T-Clark was also killing it, DJ M&M, Ninja B, and DJ Shame were really into breaks and vinyl. There were a few DJs from Boston that were really dope that never got the shine outside of home.
Lean: What intrigued you into exploring music that people weren’t up on yet? When did you notice the whole beat digging thing become an underground phenomenon in Hip-Hop culture? (Private/indie label releases, international releases, obscure promo releases, etc.)
Kon: My passion for music itself did that. Pops was a drummer, and I started drumming around 4. All the variations and rhythms within music had me hooked. I would listen to a Rolling Stones record and wonder why the snare sounds different then it does on say on a Led Zeppelin or Stevie Wonder record. So that right there… is what making records is all about. Studio production techniques, which at the time I didn’t really know too much about yet. It was about 86’, when I noticed rap music changing with samples. I heard Ultramagnetic MCs “Ego Tripping”, and was like WTF! What, who and how did they get these drums to sound like this. Later we all found out it was Melvin Bliss “Synthetic Substitution”. Then in the late 80s and early 90s it all just blew up. There have always been record collectors, but this new breed of diggers grew around that time.
Lean: If I’m right you met Amir at Biscuithead Records nearly 15 years ago, but when did you guys actually decide to partner up?
Kon: Yup, we just discovered we had similar friends, and loved music…. It was in 1996 when we decided to just make a tape kind of like DJ Shame did… for ourselves really.
Lean: What was the inspiration behind the whole “On Track” mix series you guys put out?
Kon: Well, rap music at the time, was all sample based. We knew a lot of the sources and wanted to put them to tape. The earlier “On Track” joints weren’t even really about mixing or blending… more so about theme.
Lean: Who the hell came up with the name “Uncle Junior’s Friday Fish Fry” compilation you guys came out with? Haha! Who had more say on which records were making the compilation?
Kon: That was the label’s doing. Both Amir and I split songs, but I programmed and mixed that cd live… It was just 2 turntables recording directly into a stand alone cd burner.
Lean: You sent me your “Pop In Trans-Euro Express” mix awhile back, a mix full of obscure European joints. It’s a lot easier getting the Euro records online nowadays, but what was the process of getting your hands on these records back in the days? (I know getting doubles of some of these records must have been a b*tch back then!)
Kon: Well, luckily for us we had a few friends that were from Paris. The homie Roman aka “Lord Funk” and Aldo. They both worked at A1 in NYC at the that time. These 2 dudes knew all the heat. I learned a lot from them, as did many others. Aldo found out I was into disco, and then things got even crazier.
Lean: Some of us have heard the stories of you and Amir going to some basement that was probably toxic to your health, Amir finding crack vials in record sleeves, and Amir finding naked pics of people in record sleeves… but could you share another crazy story of digging with us?
Kon: I don’t really have any spectacular story… ha! The best being the sewage flood in storage units. Mask and gloves for about 8 hours, my hands got all soggy and were like prunes from the rubber gloves.
Lean: You have some history of with music production on Rawkus Records (one of the few Hip Hop indie labels that made quite the run for some years)… Could you give us some brief history about your music production career?
Kon: Well, the 1st record I ever did along with this other guy named “Supe” was for a J- Treds track called “Praise Due”, and that was on Bobbito’s “Fondle em” label. Then I did the Ripshop 12″ on Rawkus. I grew tired of trying to place beats with rappers… and rap music fell the fuck off…. so I stopped producing. I’m back now though, better than ever!
Lean: To many you are an encyclopedia of beats. I’m not sure if I’m bugging or not but I remember we were all in LA maybe 7 years ago…. and you were telling my dad that Kanye was trying to get some samples off of you. Do you get a lot of producers that hit you up for samples?
Kon: Well, Kanye couldn’t remember what he sampled. So I got a call from Mr. Porter from Detroit, asking me if I could find out. Then I got a call from Capitol records… and so on. I did send CDs to Dr. Dre and was getting checks from Aftermath. That didn’t sit well with me, because I was getting a flat fee. If Dre used a sample that went on to be a classic…. I was getting nothing. So I stopped doing that.
Lean: You got to perform alongside the legendary Bernard Purdie a few years back, could you explain the experience of that?
Kon: WOW! I had dinner with him as well. The Red Bull guys were supposed to interview him, but compared to me… didn’t know shit about him. I picked his brain throughout dinner. He loved it, telling his stories… and boy does he have some. Experiences like this is what it’s all about for me. I was so geeked, onstage filming him! None of it was rehearsed, we just went in.
Lean: Who would be the next musician you would want to collab with?
Kon: Man, like in dream world…. Chaka, Grace Jones, Alicia Myers, Charlie Wilson, I could go on…. on the rap tip.. Mf Doom, Ghost. Not many for rap though.
Lean: Everyone disses Serato, but you have proved that it can be dope based on how you use it. I think you were the one that put me on to game with the re-edits and multi-tracks of joints you would think it’s impossible of getting your hands on. What are your thoughts on this?
Kon: I think there are too many politicians in the game. Fuck them. Real recognize fake. Who cares what medium I choose to play my music from. It’s a DJ’s skill set and taste that matters. Music is meant to be shared and spread to as many as possible. We are messengers, period. The music and sounds that are blasting out the speakers into the air… nobody owns except the actual musicians. You may own the little piece of plastic it’s recorded onto… and that’s it. Fools need to stop trippin’. I’m not caught up in the hype… I know I still buy vinyl and it’s the coolest medium to store music on, nothing can beat it… the feel, the smell, the labels and so on…BUT I can’t take vinyl with me when I die. Now the sounds that have fed and nourished my soul…. I take with me everywhere I go, and I can take with me to the grave or where ever I end up when my physical shell can no longer take it… the music itself is staying with me forever.
Lean: I’m not sure if you knew about it… but your “Kings of Diggin’” compilation has ended up in the possession of many bboy DJs. I know your side had more disco joints on it, but I have heard a many heads rock out that Master Story Teller “Pay Pay Pay” at jams. On Muro’s side, I have heard a lot of heads play out the Seguida “Mambo Rock” joint. Did you know that this compilation would have an impact on the bboy scene?
Kon: I had no idea. I really didn’t know how to approach it, my biggest contribution was the Matt Cassell jam. I’m glad bboys dig it.
Lean: You were really sick for a while, and people from all over the globe were doing benefits for you. Even DJ Spinna managed to put a benefit together for you at Santos Party House (NYC) with some of the best DJs in the world on the wheels. How did this make you feel, and did this change your aspect on life?
Kon: I had a near death situation. In the blink of an eye… my life was turned upside down. It was a private matter at first, then the word got out. When all these people around the world, people who I knew and didn’t know came together like that, it was unbelievable. I cried. Deeply moved. Humbled. So many people get sick and nobody cares… I felt like, damn… I’m nobody, look at all the love I’m getting. I believe it helped me fight, and get back on my feet. Overall, it made me think about the things in life that really matter… I mean I could barely breath, so taking a breath meant so much. It affirmed what I already knew… don’t stop doing what you’re passionate about and when doing so, don’t care what people have to say about it. There are no rules. I can never repay those who supported me. I wish I could, my way is just to keep doing what I was doing to begin with I guess.
Lean: It seems like people love using the whole Kon & Amir thing on ebay to rack up record prices. What are your thoughts?
Kon: The hype factor on ebay…. I don’t care really about it. If they make some $ using my name, what can I do. It’s business for them. If anything, give me a record they have stock on… let me do work with it, and help blow it up.
Lean: You get to travel the world, and I have been lucky enough to catch you in different cities across the globe. What do you feel the Boston nightlife needs to make it as good or even better than the nightlife in NYC, SF, or let’s say Austin?
Kon: Boston will always be wack. It’s a joke! Nothing will save nightlife club culture in this town. There is nothing I can suggest that will make it better. Promoters here don’t book DJs that they like, they book only from a place of how much $ they will make. As for the live band scene, it’s totally different… it kicks ass here.
Lean: I know you collect kicks as well as many other things… Aside from records, what is the most valuable thing you have in your collection (doesn’t have to be the most expensive thing)?
Kon: My original letterhead invite from West End Records typed in 1977. Pre Paradise Garage, where its stated “Paradise Garage is about to take over NYC with its sound system”. They had no idea what Larry Levan would go on to do…. for music and DJ culture. Larry was one of the first, and a key figure into making the DJ go on to being what you see today.
Lean: I remember you telling me that one of the records you it took you years to find was the Stark Reality joint. Now that you have had it for a while, would you ever consider selling it or trading it (if you haven’t)?
Lean: You have your Kon & The Gang album coming out, in which you worked with some incredible local musicians. The “Sunlight” 12’ was just recently released… is this really something you see yourself working on more in the future?
Kon: Yes, I love the combo of sample-based and session players style of production. We can’t attain the sounds and technique used from the records we sample… so much goes into that, how it’s mic’ed eq’ued mixed, etc… Session players give you unlimited options and when you put the combo together…. to get your vision across… it’s the best for me.
Listen to it below!
Purchase the 12’ here: http://www.turntablelab.com/the-wall/0/30/91890.html
Lean: Even though some people proclaim you as a “King of Digging”, I have heard you say that you are not a king… but a student of music and life. What message do you have for the youth of Hip-Hop culture?
Kon: Yeah, I’m the King Of Nothing >> King Of Nonsense. There are no kings of digging. When you think you know it all, you find out you don’t. I’m always learning, and passing along info. Guys like yourself are now repping this culture… the youtube generation doesn’t always get it… which is a shame because the internet is powerful to learn history from. We must always look to our past in order to move forward. It’s important to know who you may have got a piece of your style from, without even knowing it. Trace the roots. Life runs in cycles, kids need to know what they think is fresh and new, really isn’t. It’s just a new form of it. Each one, teach one.
Lean: Any last words?
Kon: Peace to all who support and keep the dream alive.
Lean: Thanks Kon!
Be sure to follow Kon on twitter