February 9, 2012
Rob Swift knows all about evolution and its conceptual cousin, revolution—whether it’s the spontaneous kind that sparks radical change, or the vinyl-based kind that occurs at 33-1/3 revolutions – per – minute (and variations thereof). And for a cat like Swift—who has worked with everyone from Linkin Park to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Mike Patton to Herbie Hancock to Blue Man Group—truly forward-thinking, revolutionary music just seems to come naturally, and on some occasions, at a cost. DJs must adapt, and in this high-speed information era, that means expanding your scope of vision from beyond your instrument to new expressive vehicles.
Here’s where we drop the needle on some history: after years of honing his skills on the wheels of steel under the tutelage of his older brother and father, Robert Aguilar aka Rob Swift was tapped, in 1991, by a Harlem-based DJ crew called the X-Men to join their ranks. Within a year he won the coveted DMC East Coast title and became known, worldwide, as a masterful DJ and a force to be reckoned. Even when the X-Men were compelled to change their name to the X-ecutioners to avoid legal beef with Marvel Comics, Swift (and his compatriots Roc Raida, Mista Sinista and Total Eclipse) still retained a superhero’s afterglow. Their 1997 debut album X-Pressions (Ashpodel) served notice, with dirt-funky tracks like “Word Play” making it clear that Swift the recording artist was on the rise. Five years later, the group’s first major-label debut Built From Scratch (Loud/Columbia) generated the huge hit “It’s Goin’ Down” featuring Linkin Park.
However, the freshly acquired mainstream success brought on new challenges. “After the success of It’s Goin Down, our label reps tried turning us into a Rap-Rock group. They didn’t realize the true goal of the X-ecutioners was to keep testing and pushing the boundaries of music using the turntable as our tool.”
The pressures of compromising their creativity for the sake of living up to previous record sales, brought about artistic tension amongst the X-ecutioners. Unwilling to sacrifice his creativeness, Rob was inspired to establish himself as a soloist and break through with a series of genre-busting albums of his own (the first being 1998′s The Ablist). Sound Event (2002), his second solo effort, set the tone for his ascendant multi-faceted production style, mapping classic Hip Hop (“Hip-Hop on Wax,” with Large Professor), Latin Jazz (“Salsa Scratch,” with Bob James) and ambient-electronic funk (the psychedelic ”Interview with Colored Man,” with Supernatural) with the deft touch of a seasoned studio hand.
“Venturing off into my solo career helped me realize I was just beginning to scratch the surface of my true potential.” Swift says,”the worst thing one can do to an artist is limit them and I started to feel stifled creatively. My departure from the X-ecutioners was a necessary one cause it freed me from all constraints.” Swift’s post-9/11 beat collage War Games (2005), his third solo album, featured guest shots from The Large Professor and Bob James. “Of all my albums, War Games is the one I’m most proud of because I figured out a way to use my skill on the turntables to make a political statement. I went beyond showing off how fancy my cuts were and actually said something that was socially relevant through scratches.”
After 4 years of finding himself as a solo artist, Rob Swift once again joined forces with old X comrades Total Eclipse and Precision to form a new DJ super group called Ill Insanity. Their debut album ”GROUND XERO” was released in February, 2008. ”Whether it’s as a solo artist or as a member of a group, I just want to push the boundaries of what I do”, Rob says. ”I’m just trying to figure out different avenues to introduce people to my sound and obviously, to showcase my style and versatility. It might be through video games, commercials, movies, albums or live performances. However I reach people, what’s important to me is we all get to enjoy that musical connection.”
Today, Rob Swift continues his relentless pursuit of fresh directions, expanding his palette into the stratosphere. Most recently, Swift has ventured into the film realm, releasing 3 music documentary DVDs. “As the Tables Turn” is a biographical look at Rob Swift’s career. ”As the Technics Spin” examines Swift’s thought process while creating his classic battle/club sets. While his latest, “DJ Rob Swift: Live! The Documented Movement” gives us a behind the scenes look at Robon tour promoting his 4th solo album The Architect which efforlessy blends the genres of Turntablism and Classical music. His follow up EP Sketches of The Archtiect reinforces his vision of where Hip Hop can head rather than where it is now.
Needless to say, Rob Swift is always in perpetual motion, pushing the boundaries of DJing and connecting with audiences from all walks of life!