DJ Kase One on J Dilla and the Future of the Hip-Hop DJ

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PHOTO BY JON SCORFINA
  • Photo by Jon Scorfina

Despite vinyl's outdated technology, it is an essential aspect of hip-hop culture. Considering this, up-and-comer DJ Kase One (a.k.a. Aaron Hinton) chooses to spin only vinyl at his regular gig Diggin In The Crates at Delmar Lounge, every second Saturday of the month at midnight. We met at his home in St. Ann to learn how he discovered underground hip-hop through skateboard videos and to discuss his collection of J Dilla records.

Last Collector Standing: When you DJ at the Delmar Lounge, you only spin records. What prompted you to do that?

DJ Kase One: I only use vinyl records. I don't use Serato. It really wasn't a conscious thing. That's what I do.

I always liked the feel of it, compared to the computer. There is something that goes into the process of going through your crates. Finding the records. Even when you're putting your selection together you're limited, so it causes you to put a lot more thought into what you're bringing to play that night versus a computer. You get so use to dumping the files in there. You've got 10,000 songs and an excess of crap. [Laughs]. It's just a personal preference.

Do you think an audience responds differently to a DJ spinning vinyl?

I didn't really think people would make a big deal out of it or really even pay attention to it. I'm always surprised how many people come up every night and make a comment on how cool they think it is actually seeing somebody use vinyl. Especially a hip-hop DJ, since that is such a fundamental aspect of the culture, a DJ on turntables, cutting records. You know, real records. I guess people really respect the vibe and how it fits into the culture.

When did you start collecting vinyl?

I'm not old enough to have grown up when vinyl was the actually medium of choice for music. Like everyone else I bought CDs. As I gradually got into hip-hop culture, I think I saw DJs on TV or in person at a show. I was like, "Man that's really cool. I want to do that." That got me interested in the vibe, because back then that was before Serato so people actually had records.

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Were there any DJs in particular that were an influence?

I would say popular DJs in St. Louis. DJ Needles, DJ K-Nine. I saw him early on. DJ Crucial. I saw him early on. They really inspired me, because during that period they were really big and had a lot of stuff going on out in the public eye. I got the idea in me that I'd like to [DJ]. I didn't take it too seriously. It was more an interest. I didn't see myself playing out. That wasn't the motivation, initially.

I was at Vintage Vinyl down in the Loop, and I picked up my first record. I didn't even have a turntable at that point. [Laughs] It wasn't even an old record. I've got it right over here. [Searches through shelves of records] It's lost in the mix...Here it is. It's Company Flow/Cannibal Ox double single [from] Def Jux. The cover art caught my eye.

How did you first get into hip-hop?

I always listened to it on the radio. It's pretty much everywhere you go nowadays. In St. Louis there is not a lot of real hip-hop on the radio. It's more of the pop stuff. Actually, since I was so young... the first way I actually heard a lot of early independent hip-hop was skateboard videos and video games. Right around the time the soundtracks to video games started using a lot of hip-hop songs. The 411 Video Magazine series always had good soundtracks. That exposed me. The label, at the time, that was big was Rawkus Records. They had the Soundbombing series... that's a collection of a lot of different people popular in hip-hop.

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Have you ever had any insane request or odd experiences DJing?

If you're DJing at a lounge or club, you're always going to have people... I guess it's the alcohol, you're obviously playing hip-hop and they request country music or punk rock or a genre completely eschewed from whatever you're doing at the moment. That's pretty typical.

Two months ago I had someone pay me forty dollars to play some Public Enemy. I would have played it anyway. [Laughs] You always get those ballers that come in and give you a certain amount of money to stop whatever you're doing. They see you have a certain record. They might even know it's not the choice song on the record, but they like it. "Here's twenty dollars to play this song." Okay!

The name of your DJ spin is "Diggin in the Crates." Do you think there is an art form to digging for records when you're DJing live?

I guess you can call it an art form. It's definitely a thought process. I think it goes hand in hand why I do prefer the vinyl over Serato, because the whole point is, with these turntables, you can physically manipulate sound. So it goes hand and hand that you should be able to physically look at your music. It helps your thought process when you're flipping through your records...and you can organize things physically that you want to do in your set. When you have a computer and you start having a thousand of this or that, stuff starts getting lost in the mix.

If there were only one song that you would want to be known for playing as a DJ, what would that track be?

According to most people it would probably be Camp Lo "Luchini." I play that every time I DJ, no matter what. It's one of my favorite songs. The sample. The rhyming. That's just a classic hip-hop track, one of those songs where everything came together. Every category was ten on the one to ten scale.

Do you have any record in your collection that you think makes your collection unique from other Hip-hop DJs?

This February I did a tribute to Jay Dee [a.k.a. J Dilla]. He's a real prolific hip-hop producer. I don't have every record he ever made, but I have ninety percent of his music. Having that huge catalog of over one hundred singles and albums, I have most of them. I've got Jay Dee's first published track he ever did on vinyl, 1st Down's A Day Wit' the Homies.

Actually, it's his second [release]. The first one is kind of a messed up story. He died in 2006. I was already trying to collect all his work. I got [this] record from Japan. The collector knew I liked Jay Dee. He was like, "I've got this other record." The group was Da Enna C. Jay Dee produced the B-Side to it. "Yeah. I've got this record. I'll sell it to you for fifty bucks." That was kind of high. I thought I could find it over here in the U.S. for twenty or thirty bucks. Then he died, and everybody snatched up everything he ever made. Record prices went through the roof. I've never seen a copy of that again. [Laughs] I'm sure it's well over a hundred dollars now.

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Are hip-hop DJs going to continue to spin vinyl or are you in the last generation of vinyl purist?

I do think it's going to eventually die out. You've got a lot of different forces outside of what DJs themselves may want to do or not do. With the digital age a lot of independent artist are circumventing the record industry and just put their music out online.

Obviously, there is no physical product, so that forces you to play Serato if you want to play a lot of different newer things.

A lot of established hip-hop artists, people that are signed to actual labels, they still put out vinyl. I have most all of the new hip-hop stuff that comes out. Vinyl is expensive. Everybody is trying to be a DJ now. That's kind of a double-edged sword. With Serato it allows a lot of people who in reality could probably really care less about music to [DJ] because there is no investment. If you're spending a thousand dollars on music you're going to be pretty serious about it, versus somebody who bought Serato and downloaded everything. They could really care less.

You've got all these DJs, so the prices for gigs is going down. [For] A lot of people it doesn't make sense for them to spin vinyl. You're only making 150 to 300 dollars in a night, you don't want to spin 150 to 300 dollars a month on vinyl.

You can follow DJ Kase One's writings about Hip-hop at We Are The City

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