Features, Print April 2, 2018

Cut Chemist: Fresh to Death

by Kyle Eustice

As Cut Chemist was making his way to Colorado, the tenured Jurassic 5 turntablist and Los Angeles Hip Hop staple endured an appearance at Austin’s annual SXSW festival, a bout with the flu and trip to Montana. But it’s all par for the course. At this stage in his nearly three-decade career, he’s learned to adapt to whatever life (and tour) throws at him.

Cut is currently on the road in support of Die Cut, his first official full-length album since 2006’s The Audience’s Listening.


So, where’s he been?


Over the last 12 years, Jurassic 5 has broken up and gotten back together, he’s played several shows with DJ Shadow as a part of Renegades of Rhythm Tour, put out a handful of passion projects like 2010’s Sound of Police and 2015’s Funk Off Megamix. and even played a chemistry teacher in the 2007 film Juno.


Now, he’s laser focused on getting Die Cut to the masses. The album includes appearances from Mr. Lif, Hymnal and Freestyle Fellowship’s Myka 9. But each feature was selected very carefully. He needs there to be a friendship first, which he thinks may account for the lengthy stretch between albums.


“I don’t like to collaborate with someone if I can’t find some commonality with that person,” Cut explains. “Making music is a special process for me. I can’t just make it with anyone. Perhaps that’s why it takes a long time for me. Beyond that, it’s the sound of a voice, the words they write, and the timing and tuning of the voice that factor into my decision. I come from the Good Life era, so I’m a tough audience but when I find that special someone, it’s on like Donkey Kong.”


As a solo turntablist, DJing has taken him all over the world. In every city, he normally makes time to hit the local record stores and do some crate digging.


“Tokyo is always my favorite because of the shopping,” he says. “I kill it every time for records over there. Havana, Cuba wins for the most ‘WTF?s’ for culture and time warp factor. That place is by far the most unique city I’ve ever been to. I loved it.”


Cut’s depth of musical knowledge stretches from classic hip-hop and funk to Brazilian music, and nearly everything in between — and he has the record collection to prove it. Although the mainstream rap currently dominating the airwaves is a far cry from the hip-hop he grew up on, he recognizes there’s a place for it all.


“Everything has to happen, I guess,” he says. “There’s some of the mumble rap I don’t mind. The beats are dope and that’s most of what people are wanting anyway I believe. However, when you put an ultra simple chorus on a hot beat, it works. Nothing’s changed in that respect.”


“I feel like people just want things that are stupid in a funny way, so they can tune out to reality,” he adds. “We need something to laugh at kinda like the Olsen twins “pizza” video that went viral like eight years ago. Who knows? Maybe that’s what’s ground zero for this trend. I mean. Kanye [West] references it in “Ni**as In Paris” [with JAY-Z], so who knows?”


For someone as seasoned as Cut, who also tears it up occasionally as a member of Ozomatli, it wouldn’t be surprising if he hated on this push button DJ era we’re living in. But he’s able to embrace that, too — with one condition.


“As far as push button DJing, I’m cool with it if there’s a performance aspect to it,” he says. “The DMC DJ showcases today include push button tricks with beat juggling and scratching, and it’s great. As far as the ones just DJing the clubs and pushing buttons, that’s fine with me as long as the music is good. Music selection is always number one for me and tricks are second.”