Grandmaster Caz & DJ Qbert (Photo Credit: Joe Conzo)

While most people in NYC were getting busy on the massive toboggan in Times Square or at a pre-Super Bowl concert, a packed crowd was head nodding deep to a handful of DJ’s get busy at Webster Hall. Lord Finesse played host for the night, jokes and antics included. He made an important point of having the crowd playing a game called, “Break Ya Sh*t.” Rules are simple. If you’re caught recording any of the performances on video, anyone else in the crowd is obligated to break they sh*t (aka respect the art of a live set and don’t upload it to Youtube). The judges included DJ Slyce, DJ Spicktakular, GrandWizzard Theodore, and DJ Qbert. The GrandWizzard opened up with a short set as well as a longer set between the two rounds. His longer set had me in disbelief as he beat juggled Wu-Tang Clan’s “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” and mixed in Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” And of course Qbert threw down an absurd set himself, displaying his signature sped up scratch technique (doing the same pattern of scratches but twice the speed each time) and bits from his upcoming album. In attendance, we had Keith Shocklee (Public Enemy & The Bomb Squad) and Grand Master Caz. The scene was set for a memorable night, to say the least.

For those unfamiliar with the DMC competitions, here’s a short crash course from the organization:

Established in 1985, DMC DJ Battles are the biggest, longest running, most prestigious battles in the world, with branches worldwide. DMC DJ battles are the only national battles for turntablists in the USA. DMC World & US champions include all stars like DJs Craze, Klever, Qbert, Aladdin, Mix Master Mike, Rectangle, Apollo, Grand Master Roc Raida (RIP), Cash Money, Shiftee, Cheese, Swamp, Chris Karns, P-Trix, Slyce, Precision, ieMERG, and Enferno just to name a few. Any DJ who is a citizen can enter a DMC US regional DJ battle. There are no special invites or auditions. Everyone truly gets a chance, from first timers to the veterans. It is a cultural imperative for DMC to ensure that this pyrotechnic style of Hip Hop DJing continues to progress, to inspire more practitioners to enter and to reach more fans! We hope you will join us this year on the battleground!

For the night, we had 12 entrants. The first round was 3 minute sets with a second round of 6 minute sets. Six DJ’s advanced to the second round based on the judges’ scores. And then a winner was announced to go onto the national round. The variety of styles was apparent from the extremely technical to one DJ who made more of a club EDM set than a scratch routine. Once our final six was picked, things got serious. DJ Remedy (MD), DJ Rugged One (NY), DJ Roli Rho (NY), DJ Dirty Digits (NY), DJ Ease (NY), and Dwells (CT) had six minutes to change the fate of their DJ careers. Otherwise they’d have to wait another year.

It was clear that there were two favorites that night-Ease and Dwells. Ease had the hometown factor as he was repping Brooklyn. On the other hand, Dwells, a 13 year old kid mind you, came through deep with his Scratch DJ Academy crew. But before we go any further, mad props to Dirty Digits for going purely vinyl for his final round. It almost brought Finesse to tears. And big ups to DJ Roli Rho for coming back after a long hiatus (last time he competed was in 1999).

When the top three winners were announced, everyone knew Dwells already took home the night. As nice and as clean as Ease was on the tables, nothing could match the creativity Dwells had. He used every part of the turntable, including the pitch control, and did an impressive segment with his back to the tables. For his speech at the end, the kid had nothing but a smile and a few thanks for his crew and his mother. He was so reserved the whole night and let his music speak for itself.

One thing that I took away from the night was how timeless Biggie’s “Kick In The Door” beat is. Every DJ could have used it in their sets and would’ve received the same positive reaction from the crowd each time. Oh, and to pay attention to Dwells. At only 13, there’s endless opportunities for him. Even Qbert was rocking out during his set.

Look out for our video interview with DJ Qbert, in which he throws down a ridiculous set in Brooklyn’s Guitar Center, sooner than later. And peep our slideshow of the competition from last night after the jump!

Bryan Hahn (@notupstate)
Photos: Joe Conzo & Ignacio Soltero