DJ Grumble, I’ve been listening to you for half my life! I discovered you on the undergroundhiphop.com forums. You are from Boston which is where that website was based. Being a kid from California, the site influenced what I listened to heavily. Can you talk about how you got into that site and how it influenced you?
That’s amazing, I started making beats when I was 15 and I’m 30 now. When I was in junior high and new at producing, I was desperate for feedback. At the time, the UGHH producer forum was one of the best places to get and give feedback on your production. The moderators posted weekly “beat threads” where you could upload your beats, but you had to review the other beats first. Most of the other producers were harsh, but that’s the whole point! If your music was wack people didn’t hesitate to tell you. I was able to quickly figure out what sounds got people interested.
I recently did an interview with DJ Qbert! Has he been a big influence for you? Do you do a lot of scratching for fun?
QBert was one of my early influences. I originally got into hip-hop because I wanted to learn how to DJ and scratch because I heard the “zigga zigga” noises in my favorite hip-hop music and I always wondered how it was done. My first turntable I got at a flea market for 20 bucks. QBert put out tons of scratch records under his label “Dirtstyle” and I bought them all, and watched his competition and tutorial videos to learn different scratches. I still practice regularly. Actually, I met Qbert a year or two back at a show in SF. He probably doesn’t remember me, but I told him I had all the OG Dirtstyle records like Bionic Booger Breaks and Toasted Marshmallow Breaks. They’re still my favorites.
I’ve been amazed to see you consistently release music this entire time while juggling 12 years of schooling. There doesn’t seem to have been any lulls in your beat productivity. Which leads me to believe it must be a therapeutic thing for you. Can you comment on this?
I’m a restless kind of person and if I’m not creating, I don’t feel right. I spent most of my 20’s in school, getting my bachelor’s degree and PhD in chemistry and now I work for a Fortune 500 company. I’ve always enjoyed the pursuit of scientific knowledge and making new discoveries, so music production also complements that. Discovering new beats is a thrill for me. I feed off the creativity in my scientific career and funnel that into my music. I would never be happy just coming home from work and watching sitcoms or playing video games, I want to use all my talents to the best of my ability.
It’s really cool to see you do your consistent style while also releasing some beats that are a bit more like the in vogue, 808 hi hat stylings such as CrazyHigh2.
I make beats out of whatever inspires me and I like experimenting with a lot of vibes. At the end of the day I always try to give it my signature sound. The software I use (an old soundtracker for Mac called PlayerPro) plays a major part in that. Contemporary music is a gold mine for ideas and samples, my advice to producers is to not limit yourself to certain decade(s) when digging. My good friend and co-producer Alex (aka Dr. Malcom Lex) actually finds a lot of contemporary samples for me to flip, from Frank Ocean to SZA, so chances are a lot of the beats you’ve heard over the last 5-6 years were his sample picks.
I find it interesting you go with the Numark turntables! I’m still using the Technics but I love how lightweight the Numarks were in comparison. And the straight tonearm.
Those are the Numark TT-200s! Although they’re discontinued now, I still buy up the occasional new-in-box or gently used ones I can find. The price is great and their performance is nearly as good as Technics 1200s. I also have a pair of Technics but they’re in storage because I got them autographed by Afrika Bambaataa a few years ago when we DJed a show together. I don’t want to ruin collectors’ items 🙂
You’ve transitioned well with every single platform… from providing zip links on forums like UGHH to moving to bandcamp to soundcloud to spotify… care to comment on that journey?
It’s about finding where the user base is. Prior to big free hosting platforms, you had to use specialized websites like Soundclick or make your own site and upload your beats there. YouTube was a big deal when it came along because artists could upload unlimited music. I started uploading around 2008 and the community of beatmakers was small enough where you could comment on other instrumental videos and get lots of traffic to your page. It’s really not like that anymore due to the over-saturation with aspiring producers. Another factor is the algorithms implemented by YouTube that determine who sees your videos and how they are monetized. It’s not organic anymore. I started uploading on SoundCloud in 2011 and the boom was even bigger than YouTube, but again in the last couple years they’ve been suffering from poor design choices and poor business choices. The mobile app is not user friendly, they’ve made bad UI choices, feeds are polluted with “Promoted” songs, and a lot of the user base is leaving. Hence why I’ve jumped to Spotify which has the benefit of active curation, and it pays way better than YouTube (or SC which pays nothing). A lot of people have followed me all the way from the early grimelab days (that page is still up in fact: http://www.angelfire.com/ill/grumble/grime.html).
How did growing up in Boston influence your sound? Were you a fan of the guys like Edo G and other Boston legends?
Yes, when I first started making beats I was strongly influenced by the East Coast sound. DJ Premier was one of the first producers I really emulated and he worked with a ton of Boston cats – Guru, obviously (RIP), Krumbsnatcha, Termanology, etc. Now that I live back in the Boston area I’ve gotten involved in the Boston hip hop scene more heavily and there are a lot of cool cats here.
Can you give some anecdotes from your best times on tour and the coolest people you’ve met that are musicians and who are not.
Things really culminated in the last couple years or so. As I mentioned, my friend Alex is one of the people I work with closely on music. When I started my PhD program in 2012, one of his buddies who incidentally used to browse the UGHH forums and was friends with me on Facebook told him “I think DJ Grumble is in your lab!” He randomly started singing one of my beats (“Hoya”) and I was like, “how do you know that song??” The rest is history and we immediately started getting together to vibe to music. We did weekly “Nanostorm” sessions at my crib where we ordered fried chicken (chicken bits with hot sauce, fries, and bread on the bottom, Chicago-style), queued up about 20 albums worth of samples, and then flipped the hottest ones. Some of those beats got the attention of J. Cole’s label Dreamville when an artist named Ari Lennox sang over them. Probably the wildest times I’ve had were at the J. Cole 4 Your Eyes Only Tour last year. Ari Lennox was one of his opening acts and I travelled to several of the tour dates just to show support and meet the whole crew. The feeling of being VIP backstage at a sold out 20,000 person arena, and hearing my music blasting, was absolutely crazy. I would actually feel a little depressed the next day because the experience was so unforgettable and I wanted to relive it again!
Were you pretty into comics growing up? Some of your Freestyle Tools covers have that comic book aesthetic.
I actually wasn’t a big comic head, but I did (and still do) love to doodle and draw. Just like sampling beats, I love to sample my artwork from vintage comics, video game art, movie posters, etc.
Want to talk about your shooting range hobby? Seems like you’re pretty into it!
My parents signed me up for Boy Scouts when I was a kid. At first I thought it was kind of a chore (all of that sleeping outside in tents, tying knots, carrying heavy backpacks) but I eventually got into it especially when I found out I could earn merit badges in rifle and shotgun shooting. Since then I’ve always enjoyed going to the range for target practice and also showing my friends how to shoot. My favorite shooting sport is trap and skeet shooting. I think everyone should be trained in how to safely operate a firearm, just like any other tool.
Care to discuss your chemistry career and the details of what you’re up to when you’re not working on music?
Chemistry has taken me in a lot of different directions. I basically realized I had a talent for it in high school so I decided that would be my “real job” although I always wanted to do music as a career. My graduate research was primarily focused on cancer diagnostic and therapeutic nanomedicine. My job was to synthesize new types of nanoparticles that could enter human cells and suppress cancer-related genes. I published several peer-reviewed papers and US patents during my time in school. Now that I work in the chemical industry, my research has shifted to specialty chemicals for electronics, primarily materials for fabricating semiconductor chips for next-generation computers and cell phones. What I’m working on will probably be in your iPhone in a few years (and the rest is pretty classified)! I love my job though, since I have the freedom to try new things every day and solve difficult problems. Although it’s been wiping me out and I actually find it harder to juggle music and work nowadays.
I really enjoy skateboarding. It’s the reason my hand is broken right now, in fact (maybe I’m getting too old for it). My favorite game is still good old Counter-Strike Source. Mainly because I don’t have a computer that can handle better graphics. I’m also a huge computer nerd and I collect and refurbish/upgrade old Macs (partly because my software only works on PowerPC macs). Right now I’m running a water-cooled dual-processor Power Mac G5. Most of the beats you’ve heard in the last couple years have been made on that rig.