Produced by: Dan Hwang
Written and Interviewed by: Jesse Carr
The 28 year-old Montreal native, A-Trak, is no stranger to being in the public eye. After he won the DMC World Championship DJ battle in 1997 at the age of 15, he found himself on tour with the world’s best scratch DJs, including Q-Bert and DJ Craze. In 2004, after a steady regimen of international appearances where he dazzled onlookers with complex scratching and beat juggling routines, A-Trak found himself in London DJing at a place where Kanye West made an appearance. West hired him immediately, and A-Trak worked closely with Kanye for the next four years. He did the cuts on “Gold Digger” and has said in interviews that he was the one who suggested using “Harder Better Faster Stronger” as a sample source, which became the backdrop for Kanye’s monster single, “Stronger.”
In 2007, A-Trak directed his time and energy into a new record label, along with Nick Barat (also known as Nick Catchdubs). The two began Fool’s Gold, a label that later launched the careers of Kid Cudi and Kid Sister and is the home to cutting-edge artists of multiple genres and styles. And beyond his duties at the label, A-Trak is still globetrotting and doing festivals and stadium gigs to thronging audiences, including a brief tour this year with Blink 182’s Travis Barker.
A-Trak’s DJing style is hard to pin down into a simple category. Before the term “mash up” was tossed around aimlessly by music journalists and before DJ Hero was released, A-Trak was experimenting with mixing genres in his sets. A-Trak developed a signature style for his routines, including dj battle segments like flipping Little Wayne’s “Go DJ” into a double-time electronic track in the middle of a set. He also became one of the best at classy blends that didn’t sound kitschy, even when combining songs with similar titles like Rick Ross’ “Hustlin” with Simian Mobile Disco’s “Hustler” on his 2007 mixtape called Dirty South Dance. At the time, hearing another blend from the mixtape Gwen Stephanie’s “Yummy” over LCD Soundsystem’s “Time to Get Away” may have shocked some people, but pop music now pulsates with an unmistakable electronic thump that you will probably hear the moment you switch on your local “urban” music station.
A-Trak recently released Dirty South Dance Volume 2, during which A-Track proves that there is still a talent for the choosing the right pairing of tracks, as seen, for example in the mixtape’s first track. The track deftly blends a pop music mainstay, Soulja Boy’s “All the Way Turnt Up,” with Claude Vonstroke’s “Vocal Chords,” and the result is not too far away from some modern popular rap compositions and it sounds like the two belong together. Other combinations like Kanye, Consequence, and John Legend’s “Whatever you Want” paired with the Bag Raiders’ “Shooting Stars” even has, at one point, the bass hits syncopated with Consequence’s verse a detail surely not accidental and proof of A-Trak’s ability to do his blends with a bit more panache than most others.
We got the chance to catch up with A-Trak during his Stone’s Throw x Fool’s Gold tour to discuss the changing electronic and hip-hop landscapes, the challenges of running a record label, meeting Kanye, and much more. After the interview check out the Dirty South Dance 2 mixtape to get a taste of A-Trak’s talents, and if you are in the area, don’t miss his trademark energetic live set.