YEAR FORMED: 1997
HOME TOWN: New York
Remember the thrill you felt when you first heard "Planet Rock", saw a b-boy do a head-spin, or heard a turntablist re-cut your favorite song? The three man turntablist squadron, the X-ecutioners, do. And their second album, "Built From Scratch", is the X-ecutioners heartfelt tribute to hip-hop's enduring power. It's a reminder of the way hip-hop's uncorked creativity has reinvigorated every musical genre from rock to pop. While the record industry continues to turn out narrow, niche-oriented "product", the X-ecutioners offer the no-barriers thinking that made hip-hop such a breath of fresh air in the first place. There are cutting-edge collaborations with everyone from Linkin Park to Tom Tom Club, DJ Premier to Dan the Automator, the Beat Junkies to the Triple Threat DJs (Shortkut, Apollo, and Vinroc), M.O.P. and Kool G Rap to Large Professor and Pharaohe Monche. And then there are mind-blowing 21st century turntablized updates of classics like "Marley Scratch" and "Play That Beat Mr. DJ". It's a record of the future animated by the spirit of hip-hop's glorious past. As X-ecutioner DJ Rob Swift puts it, "People now are making music with a narrow scope in mind like, I want my scratches to only be understood by other DJs, or I have to sell platinum, or yo, my shit has to be underground. People are really limiting themselves as far as what they do musically. Where did all these rules come from?" "We're trying not to be exclusive, but inclusive," he adds. "That's the beauty of hip-hop, it doesn't set parameters." The X-ecutioners began in 1988 as the X-Men, a New York DJ crew dedicated to dethroning the then-reigning DJs. In short order, they not only succeeded, they went on to claim countless titles on a national and world level, perfecting deck techniques such as beat-juggling with an unparalleled level of crowd-pleasing showmanship. To their titles, including Roc Raida's honor of being dubbed "Grandmaster" by DJ pioneers Kool Herc, DST and Grand Wizard Theodore, they began adding numerous scratch and production credits on jazz and experimental albums, as well as many of the most heralded hip-hop sides ever. By 1997, the X-Men renamed themselves the X-ecutioners and released the critically acclaimed album "X-Pressions" on Asphodel Records. Their innovations were recognized in invitations to perform at international jazz festivals, The Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame and the Lincoln Center (which one mainstream critic said made him develop "a respect for the musicality, imagination, and sheer hand-ear coordination involved"), and on shows such as "Saturday Night Live" and the MTV Music Awards. Rob Swift recently appeared on a Gap commercial with DJ Shortkut. They began work on "Built From Scratch" in 2000, with the idea of representing hip-hop's historical depth and stylistic breadth. They recorded "It's Goin' Down" with mutual admirers Linkin Park, then appeared in a devastating performance with them at the MTV music Awards. "We heard Hybrid Theory and just fell in love with it," says Rob Swift, "It was kind of like a no-brainer, like yo let's do it." They also resurrected turntablist classics Whiz Kid's "Play That Beat Mr. DJ" (with Fatman Scoop) and Marley Marl's "Marley Scratch" (appearing here as "X-ecutioners Scratch"). "That is our way to say thanks to those pioneers of the 80s, like Marley Marl and Whiz Kid, because if it wasn't for their influence, who knows what we'd be doing now? And at the same time, we wanted to expose the new wave of DJs and the new wave of the hip-hop generation to what music was like back then, but just give it a present feel so that people could latch on to it and identify with it," he says. And they hit the studio to remake one of the biggest hip-hop classics of all time, the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love". "A lot of the songs that were covers of "Genius of Love" were kind of singing oriented or rapping oriented. We wanted to do a DJ oriented version," he says. But the record also gives shape to the future funk, featuring bleeding-edge turntablism on tracks like "X-ecutioners (Theme) Song" (with Dan the Automator) "A Journey Into Sound" (featuring beat-boxing champion Kenny Muhammad) and "X-ecution of a Bum Rush" and certifiable bangers from M.O.P. ("Let It Bang"), Monche, Xzibit, Inspectah Dek and Madskillz ("Y'all Know The Name"), Kool G Rap and the late Big Pun ("Dramacide"), Everlast ("B-Boy Punk Rock 2001"), and DJ Premier ("Premier's X-ecution"). When the music industry once disrespected the art of turntablism, the X-ecutioners kept banging on the door. The fruit of those struggles is now reflected in "Built From Scratch", a record that reaches out of the DJ underground to make a statement about hip-hop's enduring influence. "As an artist, if you want to have longevity, you have to figure out ways of reinventing yourself and what you do. Don't limit yourself to what you think people are expecting," says Rob Swift. "If we continue to do that, I see the future as being really interesting."