10 House DJs Who Used To Make Hip-Hop (including a playlist)
Hip-hop and house music are a lot closer than you might think. Sure, they occupy very different cultural spaces and from a commercial standpoint and the two industries work in very different ways. From a creative perspective they are also two very different disciplines both in terms of production techniques and the way in which they are traditionally played out. Still, the origins of both genres share a lot in common.
And guess what, a surprising amount of well known house and dance music DJs started out by doing hip-hop beats, some even still do both. Here we take ten key examples of people who have made the jump or bridged the gap you might have not had a clue about. There are more that didn’t come through on this article, so we put them on our Youtube playlist:
Marc Kinchen’s relationship with hip-hop (as well as RnB) has weaved in and out of his house and techno career quite unlike anyone elses. He began as a teenager in the studios of the Detroit techno granddaddies, Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Sanderson. From there he moved on to his famous 90s club mixes and by the end of the 90s had made the transition to in-house-producer for Will Smith, working on movie soundtracks, production for pop stars like Rihanna and Brandy as well as none other than Quincy Jones. Nowadays, MK is fully back in house mode but lets never forget his seminal work on Jaden Smith’s Cool Cafe Mixtape.
I once had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Trago for Fabric. He spoke about how “the whole Beat Dimensions and SaRa thing was very influential [to him] starting out.” The Beat Dimensions records were of course put together by Cinnaman (with Jay Scarlett), another house and techno producer who started out doing the hip-hop thing. “The hip-hop DJs and the house DJs in Amsterdam are all interconnected” Trago was keen to point out, “they all come to our Trouw parties and we go to their hip-hop parties too.”
Like Amsterdam, Detroit’s scene has a lot of cross-pollination between the two worlds. Andres’s New For U has certainly been getting some rotation of late. I once had the pleasure of seeing Motor City Drum Ensemble drop it at this years Dekmantel Festival. It’s easy to see the influence of hip-hop in the way Andres tackles a sample and loops it up over a beat. Many may not know however, that Andres used to be the DJ for J-Dilla and Slum Village. At the time he went my the name DJ Dez and made some pretty impressive beats such as this one.
Armand Van Helden
It’s pretty clear from Armand Van Helden’s style and overall approach to life that hip-hop is a big influence. His ’99 smash hit You Don’t Know Me was a huge hit across the globe but before that and even before pioneering the speed garage genre, Van Helden was making and DJing hip-hop cuts for a good chunk of the early nineties, Say Uptown is just one example.
Jimmy is another one who grew up in Detroit and so it makes sense that he would turn his hand to both. Compared to Andres, however, Jimmy’s approach to both his house and hip-hop productions is far more futuristic. I once had the pleasure of interviewing Jimmy for Thump, I asked him about hip-hop origins. “I do still make music like that from time to time” he said, “but I’ve really moved on from it.” Occasionally traces of a hip-hop groove can still be found in Jimmy’s piano playing. “Hip-hop and house both come from the baptist churches if you really want to get technical.” None of his new stuff has quite the neck-snapping grooves found on the Access Rhythm ep and beforehand though.
Sam Shepherd’s unique jazz-influenced approach means he has always defied being boxed. Shepherd first came on the scene around the late two thousands and, similarly to Tom Trago, was influenced by and involved in the instrumental beat scene which was going on at that time. His deviation from this point has been more subtle and progressive than that of Trago’s but it’s safe to say that the tracks he’s putting out now are a long way from For You. If you don’t think that this one qualifies as hip-hop, try it laced by UK rapper Jehst.
Claude Von Stroke
Now this is another unusual trajectory; Dirtybird’s head honcho, Von Stroke has spoken in several interviews about starting out making hip-hop and even emceeing himself. Evidence of this early time in his career sadly eluded us but actually very recently Von Stroke stepped back in to the fray with an ep released under his real name Barclay Crenshaw. Von Stroke and MK both show, it’s doesn’t always start with hip-hop and end with house although a list of ten hip-hop producers who started out doing house would be a trickier task to come up with for sure.
Loco Dice is another artist who is well documented as starting out doing hip-hop but evidence seems to have been carefully destroyed. Again though, Dice seems to be at least leaning back in that direction, collaborating with several emcees including UK grime artist Giggs. If anyone out there can find us some evidence of Dice ripping up the mic, please, please send it our way because this track isn’t quite embarrassing enough.
Way before Koze was playing at every house and techno festival you care to mention, he was a member of the German hip-hop posse Fischmob. Unlike Von Stroke or Dice, there is plenty of video evidence online. This live performance is just the tip of the iceberg and we thoroughly recommend checking out more. DJ Koze’s eccentric approach is certainly alive and well, even in his housiest of house sets, and thanks to his unique openness he has nothing to hide when it comes to his early beginnings. Still, none of his recent activity comes quite comes close to the eccentricity delivered on tracks like Check Den Flavour.
We’ve already touched on Cinnaman in this list but it’s certainly worth throwing one of his early hip-hop tracks into the mix. Much like Trago, this local hero has fully made the move to the point where many may not realise it began with hip-hop.