There are few nightclub DJs that have accomplished as much, across as many genres, as Rich Medina (facebook, twitter, themarksmen.net, afrobeatles.com, crazylegsworkshop.com). He has worked with music legends like De La Soul, Erykah Badu, Roy Ayers, Gil Scott-Heron, The Roots, Jill Scott, and Femi Kuti. This past November he competed on the first ever reality DJ competition, Smirnoff’s Master of the Mix, which aired on BET and Centrix.
With both of us still in the afterglow from a great WMC, I caught up with “Big Rich” at his ultra-cool digs in Philly, aspiring DJ son Kamaal (seriously… at age 3) close by and in the mix…
Let’s jump (& FUNK) on THE QUESTION early on here: what was it like being on the first EVER reality DJ competition?
It was an incredible experience. I was initially hesitant and didn’t want to run the risk of embarrassing my family or my credibility. In due time, I saw it more as a Top Chef-type scenario, where I was in competition with a group of severely talented DJs. I adore challenges, being a former athlete, so once I was clear on the difference between our show and an idiot parody like Jersey Shore, I was all over it. I believe in myself wholeheartedly, but I was honestly surprised that I was selected for the initial season. In the end I learned a great deal about myself, my preparatory process, the merits of rocking in a digital format versus an analog format and vice versa, along with functioning under severe pressure. It was really great for me personally and as a craftsman.
Rich although you run the full gamut of musical flavors in all your work, what’s your take on where the House Music scene is right now?
I am a true blue music lover. I enjoy Rock, Punk, Funk, Soul, Disco, Garage classics, House, Afrobeat, the Latin diaspora, and damn near all the rest! My reputation over the years has been built on not being pigeonholed into any boxes, thank God. I’ve applied my love for music to my mentality in a way that I don’t know any better than to think outside the box at whatever event I may be working. At a Hip-Hop event, I may toss in a few African records that have funky drums. At a House event, I may toss on a few dance/disco classics to add the “human error factor” into the live drums and make the set swing.
I think that the House Music “scene” is alive and well. The DJs who play it, the producers who create it, and the fans who love it are all still thirsty and getting after it on all levels.
What I feel is missing is the fact that although I can go download any and every hot new track, the fact that I can generally only get it as an aiff, wav, or mp3 takes some of the tactility away from us as DJs. If you wanna truly “feel” your songs in your hands, you have to burn CDs and apply your analog perspective as a selector in that way. Otherwise, you are looking at files and cover art that you cannot touch. Despite the House scene being extremely vibrant and healthy (compared to Top 40 radio ruining Hip-Hop/R&B in many ways), it is the rare exception to get a slab of House vinyl, and that’s some of the downside of the information age.
As a DJ, producer, spoken word vocalist, and poet (you know my favorite was your work on Steal Vybe’s “Spiritual Life”) – words, messages, and the vocal element play a prominent role in your music. Do you see that component at risk given the wide proliferation of instrumental and sample-laden House productions today?
Thank you sir! In my opinion, the great tradition of storytelling is one of the oldest disciplines in the world. It will never go away. People need messages to communicate ideas. Music is indeed a universal language spoken and understood by all, but that does not mean only instrumental music will suffice.
With that, I would have to say no, it’s not at risk at all. What’s at risk are the producers who want to have real writing sessions since they can make the same money finishing a track and sending a file to the mastering house. In that sense, why pay a vocalist when you can stand on your own with your music and not have to divide the money up? Sadly, this is the mindset that now takes precedence over doing the diligence and spending the money or time on a collaboration that will hopefully elevate the depth of your composition. It’s the same reason why some folks won’t carry records anymore. It has suddenly become an inconvenience… sad exchange of quality/craft over convenience/expense.
You’ve been at the helm of many rockin’ residencies in two serious music cities: Philadelphia and New York. Tell us about the vibe right now in those two markets and what you love most about them.
Philly is the consummate blue-collar town. I love that because it forces humility and hard work. People are open, but very difficult to impress. They need to be sold on the idea that you are a worthwhile destination for them. I am ultra-grateful to have held down seven long-term residencies since 1993 through trust and consistency… I consider that a blessing.
Philly is indeed an extremely musical city, but without a true late night dance culture. Philly is the city that puts out consistently groundbreaking and innovative work because the studio culture and the woodshed culture are based on making dope work right in the artist’s own spot!
New York is simply New York. To rock there is an honor and a privilege. People base their schedules around which shows or parties they want to hit! There are “professional” club kids who are borderline religious about their favorite venues, artists, or DJs. As with Philly, I have been blessed to hold down residencies since ’97. Continuing to live in Philly while doing so has proven priceless for me as I now have a full perspective on each city and can share the things I have learned from each. This has especially been true in NYC: not living there has allowed me to maintain a “close distance” with my clientele… a very unique position for me among my peers.
Brother… don’t hold out… it’s been too long since that Connecting the Dots album and your in-home studio is incredible! When can we expect more from Big Rich?!
This summer I plan to unleash the hounds from my studio. I have been working like a slave as a producer, doing vocals and production with other people since the album came out… but, I have been a bit stingy with my music. I’ve been more focused on defining and refining my sound, considering the expectations people who are checking for me… have of me. I also learned some truly valuable lessons putting out that first LP and I wanted to be sure I had my head on straight about how and why to do the second. It’ll include a few artists who I believe are gonna be very important going forward. I’m gonna push that cat back down in the bag until we are done with their projects though [he’s laughing now]… I’m excited and you’ll hear that cry shortly!
A lot of beats have come and gone since your honorable mention All-Ivy selection at Cornell in ’92! Can you still take it to the hoop?
Absolutely. At 41, it takes me a minute longer to get loose enough these days, but once I’m loose and stretched there’s a good chance someone may get dunked on that day. Aside from that, the jumper is still liquid, and some playground guards have felt their ankle tendons stressed out after getting crossed over recently as well. [Add the bellowing Medina laugh here… By the way, he WILL take your ass to the hoop.]
One last request: can you please do an accapella for me to drop on the Househeads at my next guest spot in Chicago with Czarina and Rees?
For you DEL? No doubt my brother! [Rich is beaming and Kamaal is getting restless… I gotta run!]