Total Eclipse Interview

DJ Total Eclipse

Raised in Brooklyn, New York on the great soul and funk of the sixties and seventies, DJ Total Eclipse is one of those dudes who, while being in the right place at the right time, had the skills, work ethic and talent to get it popping. Choosing the hard way over the ski-mask way, as part of legendary NYC DJ crew The X-ecutioners (formerly The X-Men), he brought turntablism into mainstream consciousness, in the process building himself as longstanding, and relevant still, international music career.

In preparation for some upcoming New Zealand tour dates with MC Evidence (of Dialated Peoples), Total Eclipse chopped it up exclusively for The Hip Drop with Martyn Pepperell, in an extensive, no holds barred interview.

1.Where did you grow up, and how did that influence your interest in music, the styles of music you got into and your general attitude towards sound? TE: First off, I am blessed to have been born and raised in Brooklyn, New York City, [the place of] Hip Hop's first origin at [what was] a developing stage.

My Father was a R&B, Funk and Soul junky, singing the songs of legends like Steve Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye to name a few. Perfect vocal training to pursue and become like his all time heroes. He was recording and performing his version as a pure artist before I was born with his band called the Step-Tones before becoming a full time father raising my sister and I.

When I was born, I think I potentially became his worst nightmare to his record collection. At six months old, I started to pull up to his record crates, taking a special liking to his vinyl. As I grew older, the child fetish didn't stop but in fact according to him and my mum, I became more of a terror towards his collection. I begin to take them out the record sleeve and place them on tables and floors to play with them. If my family was wealthy enough to own a video camera way back in the day, I would be able to upload my 1st record scratching on youtube - not on a turntable but on the floor.

Vinyl was special to me as a child watching it spin on a turntable, studying the colors of the labels on them as well as the portrait on a record sleeve. To this day I still zone out to record covers, which were 50% of a reason a person would buy a piece of vinyl back then. So my dad was my first hero, until Hip-Hop started playing on the radio airwaves in the eighties. My friends were regular kids who were into sports and girls which I was as well but at times I would oddly disappear to hang around older guys who carried a big boom box radio around the neighborhood playing out loud Hip-Hop, R&B and Reggae.

I was so attracted to the music, I would just sit there alone listening, following the guys with the radio from a distance. A lot of people don't know but I came from the same neighborhood as Killa Priest (Sunz Of Man/ Wu Tang), GZA ( Wu Tang), Sonny Cesar (ONYX) so our families knew each other personally.
2. How did you get into DJing? How did you think about doing it before you started doing it? What inspired you to go that direction etc? TE. In the summer time, the best [thing was] when, during a street party, the DJs would bring their equipment out to sound clash with one another, which was fun to watch. If one DJ would play something hot, people would run over to that DJ and dance till the other would play or cut, or scratch better than the other. That was me in Brooklyn, witnessing how a DJ can control a vibe while I was riding bikes, doing pop a wheelies, playing basketball, all the while hypnotized to the music. [That was] my first influence as a DJ/Turntablist.
3. Who put you on? What was your association with them, etc? TE. The X-men of course. The first time I left Brooklyn [was] to practice with the fellas in Queens with Rob Swift and Mista Sinista and Roc Raida who used to travel from Uptown Harlem in Manhatten to Rob or Sinista's house to spar on the turntables.

Battling every week helped us be the best of the best. I remember traveling on the train in the freezing winter just thinking, will I pull off my new routine against Roc Raida so I can finally get a win this week?. Every member of the X-men/X-ecutioners had an individual style which made certain routines key. Roc Raida was action packed with high energy body tricks, Rob Swift was the witty, jazzy mental type, and Mista Sinista was action packed with funk.

I was a young hybrid of the three members learning the ropes [and in the process] tailoring my own style and sound. At the time, we did performances around the NYC underground Hip-Hop scene in the mid nineties to represent the art form of turntablism while meeting and doing shows with almost everyone from that era. It was a template that paved the way for the current state of underground Hip Hop around the world.

4. What sorta things were you doing on the side while you were getting your DJ game on? How were you keeping yourself afloat etc? TE. I didn't come from wealth. I come from a place of learning what to do from family in order to survive and take care of myself, with the strict morals of saving every penny I make, while earning a buck the right way, then [the] sky mask way. I was too scared to rob or steal something [though], so I always worked for the things I needed, like records and cool kicks.

When I was 14, My first job was trimming weeds at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for the summer for that first initial set up. From then on I had a job in the summer time until I graduated High School at the age of 18. Then I immediately got a full-time job working as security for a phone company for a couple of months until winning battles started paying off [which lead to me making] my living and officially being inducted as [an] X-man/X-ecutioner.
5. How did the X-ECUTIONERS come together? How did things start moving once you guys were rolling? TE. The X-ecutioners were formed when we became [a] recording artist collective in 1996. X-men was the original name of the group which formed in 89'. We decided to use the name X-ecutioners on paper for copy-write reasons. After the 1996 world ITF (International Turntablist Federation) Championship team battle between the X-men and ISP (Invisible Scratch Piklz, The crew of DJ Q-Bert, DJ Short Kut and Mix Master Mike) We decided to record an album with a guy named Not Human who ran an independent Label called Asphodel Records based out of San Francisco.

We had a lot of fun making the first X-ecutioners X-pressions album even though we had little experience going into making a turntablist album. As a DJ group [we were] thinking [that] it was going to be a challenging, special project where we would use in house guest MC's and utilize the scratch as the prominent lead, i.e our version of vocals to perform and [in the process] expose a ground breaking album to the masses.

There was a good amount of songs on that album [which] we performed live, [in the process] pushing the boundaries as the first Turntablist group to record an album, tour it, and share the bill with artists like Common and Rahzel during that period. [This is something] we didn't realize until we completed and started to promote the project.

It felt like the beginning of a beautiful life for me personally. I had just recently won the first I.T.F World Championship Title and we started touring around the world meeting beautiful people outside our neighborhoods. Recording that album and touring it made me realize [that] this is the life I chose.
6. How did you get into a position where you could release turntablist records as a crew, how do you feel that changed things once that started going down? TE. The guys met the CEO of Asphodel Records during a show with the Beat Junkies and the I.S.P crew. Asphodel had [signed] some of the most experimental artists like the producer/DJ known as Odyssey and [of course] DJ Spooky. So we thought if we recorded an album, this could be a great home for us as the first turntablist group to record a full LP.

Once the album was released, we just [did] as much as we could to promote it. This paid off, with it selling over sixty thousand copies in one year. Pretty impressive for an independent release, which was by then making history.
7. What do you see as some of your more key achievements over your career, or things you are the most proud of being part of? T.E After the group decided to separate, it became a natural progression for most of us. I went on to perform with a lot of artists, doing a plethora of concerts and events with Miri Ben Ari (the Hip Hop violinist ).
As a soloist, I went back to my roots and incorporated the X-ecutioner style routines into my club mixing skills, which was something I didn't have back when I first started playing out of my bedroom to make people dance, while enjoying listening to talented DJ's such as myself and my fellow partners as well.

I myself, Rob Swift, Mista Sinista, DJ precision, Boogie Blind and the late great Roc Raida were attracted to each other's personal skills because they stood on their own. When we form, it's like creating a monster to blow people's minds as well as exciting ourselves with the ability to crush, kill and destroy it. On the other side of this token, I have the freedom to play what I want, when I want, which makes it easier to fill out the vibe of the people I'm playing for.

I like to take it far beyond from just playing Hip Hop because I love music period. It's the only thing that makes me feel proud without explaining myself verbally, getting the public to smile, have fun and enjoy a visual show by a DJ such as myself.
8. What kinds of music do you listen to when you are chilling? Do you find there is a disparity between the records you use for work, and the records you fuck with for personal pleasure, or is there a oneness to it all? TE: In my spare time I like to listen to full artist albums like Massive Attack's 'Protection', Kings Of Leon 'Only By Night', Bjork's 'Post' and 'The Debut', Jimi Hendrix's 'Are You Experienced', Lenny Kravitz' 'Baptism', Alica Keys, Nas, Jay-z, Camp Lo, EPMD, Das Efx, De La Soul, Black Uhuru, Jah Thomas, Barrington Levy, The Black Seeds, King Tubby, La Roux, and the list goes on and on. Most of these artists make music I play during certain moments in my set, depending on where the vibe in the room takes me. Anytime I have the opportunity to play any of these artists music, I feel I can play forever and ever.
9. Who have been some of the crazier artists you have worked with over the years, or sessions or performances you have been involved with? TE. It's been a pleasure to work with some of the most pivotal influences in [modern] music. During a session with Black Thought from the Roots, I noticed how gifted this guy was when he wrote only eight bars before hitting the vocal booth. What was supposed to been only sixteen, ended as thirty six bars with the song fading out in the session. He's one of the most underrated MC's to ever touch a microphone.

I remember a session I did with Inspecta Deck from Wu-Tang. I was on record percussion and scratches. Large Professor came by with a load of discs for so many different samplers and drum machines. Practicing as often as I do on the Turntables, I was mesmerized by his knowledge of knowing how to use all these instruments which were surrounding him like he was flying an airplane.

I was fortunate to work in the same room as Big Pun before he passed away. He was tons of fun to be around, the type of person that would light up a whole room with laughter.

Working with Everlast was interesting as well. I remember watching him write riffs on the guitar when I had no clue he was an excellent A-grade guitar player.

Linkin Park was lots of fun to work with from the first time we performed with them live at the MTV music awards. Shortly after we recorded the song called 'It's Goin Down' featuring Mike Shinoda. We did a nationwide tour in the states performing in front of over 10,000+ people, three days a week for a month straight. I had never felt that kind of adrenaline rush from performing in front of such a large capacity crowd at the time. It made us much more methodical with how we put our sets together using certain songs in a particular atmosphere such as Rock coming from a Hip Hop base.

Thanks to Linkin Park my world of music selection became bigger. During that same tour we did a performance with Jay-Z feat Static-X for the ESPN action sports awards. It was good to work with Jay-Z again after he had gaining so much success running Roc A Fella Records. I was proud to see us on a big stage together on separate paths coming from Brooklyn NY. That was pure fun times.

These are some of the questions that make me think about all the things I've been a part of. Things I tend to forget about on my daily basis of concentrating on the next project or just enjoying life as it comes.
10. Having had the privilege of traveling the world through music, and seeing the world through music, how has this changed the way you view hip-hop and hip-hop culture? TE. Man, I am so blessed to [have] traveled and met people that walk [in] the same streamline as me even though we have a different dialect. Music is so universal, It's the only thing that doesn't have a religion or race attached to it. There's good music and bad music in every genre of course, but the passionate side of where the music comes from makes certain favorite songs turn into the soundtrack of people lives. I don't care who you are in the world, music can always take you back in time of emotions which makes you human. It takes you through proud times to hard times where you danced, laughed, and cried.

A personal friend of mine that is artist in Adelaide, Australia called Dialect and Despair told me about the influence of nineties NY Hip-Hop which helped carved their sound into what it is today. It is a blessing to know we have that connection.

Hip Hop is so much bigger than the environment I grew up around. I didn't realize that until I started traveling around the world meeting and sharing my walk of life with others. When I go back to my hometown to visit friends and family, they always make me feel like a celebrity talking about the people I met on the other side of the world. I have friends that never left their neighborhoods, so the fact that I get the travel is another part of the world they see through my stories.
11. Often as an artist, there is a lag time between when you start getting known, and you start getting financially stable out of your artform. Did you have a period like this? When was it, what was it like? TE. Every so often there's lag time by choice to chill and budget spending quality time with family and friends into the equation. When I first started recording and traveling, I wasn't thinking about the big picture for what it has to offer. I was doing it for the love of being a DJ.

Certain kids nowadays may have a passion for a hobby that turns into goal or just get into the game for marketing purposes. Either way arguably it's a passion. I wasn't thinking about money. The only time [I thought about money] was to get equipment to pursue my passion, a passion which didn't stop. When I became older naturally I wanted to become more independent, so I had to work harder on soliciting myself, so I can pay my bills on time and have fun doing just that.

There will always be up and down times. It's all about figuring out what you're worth at the end of the day and spending with that sense of knowing.
12. What different things do you do today to keep it moving, is it just DJing? What else do you keep going on? And what are you working on right now? T.E.. I recorded a Micheal Jackson tribute called Urban Legends Vol. 1, which generated a great outcome of compliments from my fans asking me when am I going to do the sequel?. I think it was more of the greatest MJ tribute mix ever created. Not just because I composed it, but because the blend of mash-ups, beat juggling and scratching that was done, hasn't ever been executed the way this tribute was.

I had a lot of fun recording it and performing live as well. I always create thinking and visualizing on how can I perform it and what type of reception would I receive from it. The Tribute is Available as a free Download.
I Just recently released a mixtape with an artist I've done some work with named Najee that's pretty hot and also available for download. I have a few more goodies in store working with a few companies and artists as well for the near future.

Djing is a big part of me, The techniques involved the art form make the days, months, and years fly by, with more projects to come.
13. These days, who do you cite yourself as representing or being affiliated with? And aside from just crews, what does Total Eclipse represent? T.E. No one person or company really. I'm totally 100% Independent and working with artist such as myself. You'll see a few collaborations down the pipeline. What I concentrate on is my skills at the moment and become better on a daily basis. Sometimes I'm just a stubborn person not even caring about who wants to work with me. I'm just in my own zone at the moment building on my own ideas to present to the world. People who see me perform don't have the question in mind of who is this guy working with. It's all about that shock value that I give the people when they see me perform live.

At this stage, it's is all that matters. Who cares about rubbing shoulder with an artist whose light that will eventually dim. I am a turntablist. As long as I stay sharp. My light will stay lit.
14. How did you get your DJ name? T.E. My name DJ Total Eclipse came from practicing in the dark. In my earlier years I purposely practiced in the dark because I like to feel I'm in a live atmosphere in a party with only the equipment providing the light. My mother said I wasn't that great at hiding secrets, so she always use to say everything in the dark must comes to light. Eclipse was initially the name until I knew of DJ Eclipse from Fat Beats out of NYC and then respectfully changed it to Total Eclipse.
15. What are some of your favourite albums (across the board) T.E. I like Nas' Albums, Illmatic, It was written, Stillmatic. De la Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, Balloon Mindstate, Stakes Is High. Jay-z's Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint. Hi Tek - Hi Teknology, Pharcyde Bizarre Ride II, Labincalifornia . Das Efx Dead Serious, Little Brother The Listening, All the Gangstarr Albums, Coldplay Viva la Viva (or Death and all his friends), Faith Evans album Faith.

Damn, I sound like an I-pod shuffle right now. The list goes on and on. I have so many favorite albums I can name and think of because there are so many. Music has been prime in my life since I was a baby. [Actually] It's not fair to single [out] these artist and not mention a plethora of others. [But] you've asked the question so these are the names off the top of my head.

By Martyn Pepperell

DJ Total Eclipse performs with Evidence of Dialated Peoples in Wellington at SFBH on the 14th of October and Auckland at Zen on the 16th of October.

Tickets available via

No comments: