DJ Spinna on Keeping Soul Alive With His Wonder-Full Parties
Establishing his career in the days of the 8-track, New York producer and selector DJ Spinna rose to fame during the height of the '90s golden era of hip-hop. Working with artists like Mos Def and Pharoahe Monch, he not only cemented his presence as a producer, but also gained renown as a DJ and solo performer, and as one half of the duo Jigmastas with MC Kriminul.
Beyond his hip-hop credits, Spinna is also known for his Wonder-Full parties, a celebration solely dedicated to the timeless melodies of Stevie Wonder. With 10 years of Stevie Wonder-themed parties reaching from Japan to the Bay Area, this unique event is a continuous reminder that the sounds of soul, peace, and love are still very much alive within the younger generations. Now two decades into his career, Spinna has managed to keep pace with technology by incorporating electronic music into his repertoire, as well as staying true to the hip-hop movement with a much-awaited Jigmastas release coming up early next year. Spinna recently spoke with All Shook Down about having Stevie present during Wonder-Full, venturing into electronic dance music, and his upcoming projects. He headlines Wonder-Full this Saturday at Mezzanine.
Wonder-Full is one of the unique and defining parties of your career. Ten years later, are you satisfied with the progression of the party?
I couldn't be more satisfied with the party's progress. It has become a global phenomenon since 2001, and has led me to develop a personal relationship with Stevie Wonder. It's the most significant thing I've done in my career. Being recognized and appreciated by the very person you're paying homage to is gratifying.
It's really one of the most positively received parties in the country.
It's comforting to know that I can take this party on the road and get a great response every time, especially in the Bay Area! It's also very important for me, because the bigger agenda is keeping soul music and legendary artists alive.
What are some of the biggest changes since the first Wonder-Full party Bobbito and you threw?
The biggest change would be the absence of Bobbito as a DJ partner. We built this thing together, and I miss the company and teamwork.
What's it like actually having Stevie there at some of your Wonder-Full parties?
Stevie Wonder made physical appearances three times for the party, and the very first time was an actual phone call via Aisha (his daughter's) cell phone in 2005. The crowd lost it every time. When he walks into a room he's like a glowing ball of electricity. He sucks up all the energy in the room.
In Japan, you've thrown eight-hour parties. What are the secrets to staying awake, traveling, and keep the party going after two plus decades in your career?
I get my energy from the music and the crowd, always. It's challenging at times, being on the road, doing back-to-back gigs between flights and playing long hours. At the end of the day, I love what I do and that's what keeps me going.
Have you always had the mindset of an entertainer and performer throughout your career? What are your thoughts of DJs that solely play music they are into?
I consider myself one of those DJs. There was a time when I catered solely to the mainstream world, and that is what led me to becoming more of a specialized DJ. I refused to become a robot, playing Top 40 music all the time, just to make the buck. I always considered myself an entertainer, because that's what you're doing while you're playing for people. It's no different than doing standup comedy, acting, singing etc. You're providing a service, and your job is to make people dance, sing, and have a great time. Granted, if you do decide to play music you love, you should still be mindful of the crowd and make sure they are rocking with you. Some DJs play what they want and forget about the crowd, which in my opinion is selfish.
You are one of the pioneers of the underground hip-hop movement in the '90s. Do you still think the definition of underground exists today?
The means by which an artist can get noticed have definitely changed the game. An underground artist can make a few videos and get thousands of views on YouTube without a record deal, which in turn can lead to a contract. I would say there's not much of a hip-hop underground scene like in the '90s. It's mostly viral now, so the definition of underground has taken on a new meaning.
You said in previous years that you would eventually head into the direction of electronic music. How have you managed to incorporate it into your career?
I'm already in the world of electronica. I've been having a successful side career as a soulful house DJ/producer and I've produced a few classics, including a remix for Stevie Wonder's "My Love Is on Fire." I have other electronic dance music ideas in the works, including a collaboration with Twilite Tone and Waajeed.
There is also a rumor of a Jigmastas reunion this year. Is it going to happen?
Krim and I are almost 10 years deep in the creation of a new Jigs project. We're going to release an EP early next year followed hopefully by a full length by the end of 2012.
When you two come together, do the vibes just flow naturally?
The vibes definitely flow naturally. We're good friends first, and we've been a group for 20 years... yikes!
What else is on your production lists these days?
I started another supergroup with an MC out of N.Y. who goes by Oxygen the Architect. The project is SPOX PhD (Spinna + Oxygen), and we've just released a 45 on my newly formed hip-hop label Correct Technique. The B-side of this release features Diamond D, Kurious, and Sadat X. I'm really trying to keep the boom-bap tradition alive by any means necessary. Oxygen and I also have an album near completion. The Jigmastas will also be released on this label, and I'm also working on a release for Shabaam Sahdeeq.