NYC turntablist quartet the X-ecutioners have turned DJ-ing into a martial art. Rob Swift, Mista Sinista, Total Eclipse and Roc Raida (dubbed Grandmaster by his peers because of his uncanny resemblance to Grandmaster Flash and his countless battle titles) combine rapid body tricks with deep concentration to compose new music from the classics, be it hip-hop, jazz, funk or rock.This art is a sort of parallel continuation of the bebop movement in jazz: The DJs perform in small groups, creating music so advanced that the process itself is often incomprehensible. They improvise, each with his own pair of turntables and a mixer, together and in solos, relying on group chemistry and intuition. Drum, bass, melody and vocal samples are individually abstracted, scratched, freaked and flipped through the use of the crossfader, all coming together to form a song. You can feel nothing but an eye-popping, jaw-unhinging awe or an eye-closing, neck-snapping high when four souls unleash on eight turntables and come correct.
Common, the Beatnuts and DITC have all collaborated with the X-ecutioners on album production. X-pressions, the first full-length turntablist LP, dropped in 1997, and each member continues to release solo projects, including Rob Swift's essential-to-the-crates break record Soulful Fruit. Their second LP is due this year.
The co-headliners pull their weight as well. As part of the umbrella Hieroglyphics crew from Oakland, Calif., the Souls of Mischief (Tajai, Opio, A-Plus and Phesto Dee), known for their verbal acrobatics, display a delicate balance of street cred and intellect on their instant-classic debut album, 93 'til Infinity, and hold court with a backdrop of thumping bass lines and butter-jazz loops. The Souls most often address the fiction many rappers bring to the mic, keeping it strictly about rhymes and vocab. The Souls' third album (after a five-year hiatus), Trilogy: Conflict, Climax, Resolution, was released last week. Pep Love and Bukue One, also of Hieroglyphics fame, are on the bill as well.