An Interview with Marc Smith AKA DJ Emskee

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of my live set from

Cratedigging. The idea of cratedigging has long fascinated me. I am a record collector afterall. Anyway, a couple years ago, I got into this really cool series called Crate Diggers. I think it was run on Fuse. The cool thing about the series was two fold. First, I learned about a whole bunch of amazing Soul, Disco and Funk records that I never knew I needed. Second, I learned about tons of amazing DJs. I’ve always been aware of DJs, but never fully understood their artistry until I watched the series. My entire view on the genres I mentioned, as well as Hip-Hip was totally opened up. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time digging into (no pun intended) cratedigger type albums and DJ culture, because that’s where the real gold is.

Marc Smith AKA DJ Emskee was not featured in that Fuse series, but he is one of the true legendary DJs out there today, and he has been since the mid-80s. I found this interview just as enlightening as I found that series I watched years back. Marc’s take on record collecting (hoarding?) as well as his refreshing views on social media’s impact on music and the industry as a whole were truly enlightening. Marc is a cool guy and a fantastic DJ. He is an OG, who has been doing it the right way, for a long time, and I’ve no doubt he will continue to do so. This is usually the part where I link you up to the artist’s socials and websites, but Marc has been kind enough to do that for us this time, so after you’ve read the interview, please check out the links to Marc’s website, Mixcloud, Facebook, Bandcamp and his radio show, Controlled Substance. They’re all at the bottom of the page. It’s all good stuff. The kind of stuff that if you’re a Crate digger, you want to check out. You might just find your next obsession on vinyl. That’s it for me, for now. Dig in.

Andrew
Marc, thank you for taking the time to speak with us here. How are you? What have you been doing to pass the time during the ever-raging dumpster fire also known as 2020?

Marc:
No problem! Thank YOU for the invitation to answer some questions for you. I appreciate the platform. Given that so many people have succumbed to the COVID pandemic…..and continue to…I’m very blessed to still be healthy and LIVING. I’ve passed the time being a devoted dad, and quietly working on my radio shows and various recording projects.   

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory? How did you get into music?

Marc:
There’s a lot to tell. Do we have that kind of time here? Haha. The true power of music found ME. Probably about 1972, when I was 5 years old. My dad loved recording year-end music countdowns on a reel to reel recorder, and I was enamored with the whole aura of the equipment and the various rhythms and melodies that I was introduced to. It got to a point where I could tell my father what songs were on what reels when he had forgotten. I was educated on Soul music, Disco, Calypso, and Funk. Later on, when I started school, I attended predominantly white catholic schools up through high school, so I was introduced to a lot of Rock, radio Pop music at that time, and Heavy Metal. I’ve loved the whole journey, because it taught me early that no matter what differences people have with each other, the common ground is good music. Doesn’t matter what color you are. I just wish more people understood that philosophy in this world.  

Andrew:
As a DJ and artist, who are some of your greatest influences? How did you go about developing your signature style?

Marc:
I can’t answer that specifically. I’ve gotten influences from everywhere. I think MTV did a lot of for me when it first exploded in 1982. Now I was seeing visuals to songs that I knew, giving them new appeal and I developed a deeper appreciation for them. Developing my style was shaped by the vibes the music touched me with. Since I was surrounded by varying genres all my life, once I became an able DJ, it gave me a deeper, more versatile catalog to be able to play outside of the restraints of others who weren’t as broad. I’ve always loved that about myself. Haha.

Guest DJS — BROOKLYN TOOK IT

Andrew:
You’ve been a DJ for a long time, right? Tell us the story of how it all began for you? What drew you in?

Marc:
I officially started spinning in 1986, on mismatched turntables and a horribly bad mixer that I bought for cheap. I learned the power that a DJ could have on people. If you played the right records, it moved people. I had to have that power. With that being said, it took me two years to get to a point where my mixes started to be featured on a friend’s show at a major radio station in North Carolina while I was in college. The secret to being a cohesive DJ is learning how to BLEND-MIX songs together for a more seamless experience.  And then we you can mix ACROSS GENRES between drum machine produced records and live instrument records to make it sound like the songs never really changed, the magic of a DJ is now on another level. I don’t have time to explain what all that means to those who don’t know, but if you think about it, it’s pretty extraordinary.

Andrew:
As a DJ, where were/are your favorite spots to crate dig? How far have you traveled to dig for records?

Marc:
At first, it was record shops I knew around. Then it graduated to thrift shops, and then wherever I’d find them. On the street, in the garbage, stoop sales, asking older folks if they had records they wanted to get rid of. Record collectors know. It doesn’t matter where they are. You’re gonna look through any stack you see. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and DJ in other countries, so it doesn’t stop at a domestic level. WHEREVER you are, you’re gonna ask or seek out where the vinyl is. 

Andrew:
As record collectors, I think we all can appreciate rare and obscure records, but as a DJ, I imagine you have an even greater need. What do you look for when you’re digging for something new?

Marc:
At this point in my life, I have TOO MANY records. Haha. I’m actually trying to get rid of stuff that I’m never gonna play. I think some people have gotten a charge out of saying they have so many records, but don’t really know half the collection they have. And yes, there are rare joints that are super sought after and carry that hefty price tag, and if you have the means, go get it. But advice from a vinyl digger since the late 80’s…for one…records take up space, and some let their wants get out of control. Being surrounded by vinyl is a dream. But the later you get in life you don’t want a hefty collection of “stuff” that you’re never really gonna use. And two, if you plan on having a relationship where someone is going to have to live with you with all these records, I really hope you have the full support of that person you’re with, OR, a solid understanding. I’ve seen relationships destroyed over over-abundant collections. 

Anyway, I got off topic. Haha.  

I’ve always read liner notes on albums, so if I like the producer of musicians from one album I see, I’ll look for albums with those names on them. Session players for larger artists sometimes do albums on their own and are lesser or go unknown. You can find some great stuff like that. And sometimes not. Haha. It’s always a fun crap shoot of digging for records. Then of course there are the things that you specifically look for, or find that you’ve been searching for.    

Dj Emskee live set on J Smooth's Underground Railroad Show on WBAI 99.5fm  in NYC - 9/29/12

Andrew:
How do you feel you’ve progressed as an artist, and DJ over the years? Are you better now than ever before? What’s changed?

Marc:
I feel I’ve progressed well, but since I’m a grown man with a son and responsibilities now, I can’t attack it like a kid living at home with no bills. Haha. My passion has never wavered. I went through a long stretch of the struggle between following your passion versus survival and putting food on the table. Entertainment can be quite cruel when your scales in life aren’t balanced, and providing for yourself or your family is lacking. But if you can overcome that challenge, and keep the talent sharp and authentic, you can slowly gain a fan base for what you do, by being CONSISTENT with what you’re doing. 

The main thing that’s changed is the Internet happened. The convenience of accessibility has been both a major gift and a deadly curse. The positive is that those with a work ethic and great sense of creativity have been able to use these tools to create even better material. The negative, is that EVERYONE has access to these tools, and now since the no name, no talent person can appear to be just as popular as the talented person, it’s hard to discern who is who, which is frustrating for those who really deserve attention. The era I came up in (the analog era), you had to be GOOD to be appointed a position or rank in something. 

But as far as my music, I realize that you’re only as good as your last release. Just keep working. If you stop, you’re forgotten almost immediately because there are so many people vying for attention of what they do. Be consistent, with quality, and you will sustain the trends of the times.    

Andrew:
Of all the albums and projects you’ve been a part of, what are some of your favorites? Ones that mean the most to you
?

Marc:
I did a collaboration album with the legendary producer Easy Mo Bee called Two For One. In addition to producing the Notorious BIG’s iconic first album Ready To Die, and countless other incredible Hip-Hop records in the 90’s, this man was hand selected by Miles Davis to produce the Doo Bop album. The fact that I got a chance to do a full album with a man who collaborated with MILES DAVIS is a priceless opportunity. My most prized creation. Me and Mo Bee have become great friends since. We eventually did an all vinyl event called RECORDNITION in NYC for a few years where we both played classic Disco, House, Hip-Hop, and R&B together. It was a very great party.   

Andrew:
You’re the host of Controlled Substance, right? Tell us more about that show and how it began.

Marc:
Yes. The Controlled Substance show was originally on a station called Radio Free Brooklyn where I did a weekly Wednesday evening show featuring a different kind of music every week. It was me basically wanting to show off my collection and music knowledge, and being able to introduce people to sounds that they probably hadn’t heard before. I did that show for over two years, and when I left there, I put the idea to bed. But then early last year, I was presented with the opportunity to do a House Music slot on SG 1 House Radio out of London. To keep the show fresh on a weekly basis, I opened up the description to House Music, Deep Disco, and international dance sounds. I decided to resurrect the Controlled Substance name. The “Substance” because what I serve is a “drug” of very good music that you’ll want more of when you hear it. Haha. “Controlled” because I relegate what is being played and don’t have to answer or anyone. 

Very grateful to the folks at SG 1 Radio. The feedback has grown with the consistency of the show.    

Emskee/Marc Smith on Twitter: "Check out my CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE SHOW on  https://t.co/cdiXXMAsb3 EVERY WEDNESDAY EVENING from 5pm to 6pm. Mixed  music variety weekly.… https://t.co/y3vTENvhzE"

Andrew:
Aside from music, what other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Marc:
Music is IT for me. Music is life. No music, and life is useless. 

Andrew:
We know you’re into vinyl. How big is your collection? What is it about the medium that you love? You’re in NYC, right? Where do you like to shop for music?

Marc:
My collection is around 15,000 pieces. Like I said earlier, I need to unload the records that I’ll never play and that don’t really have top value. I feel differently about wax now than I did when I was younger. It’s great to collect, but the desire to keep picking up wax is ENDLESS. You will never have every record, and at a certain point, unless you can house your non-stop habit, you will have some decisions to make eventually. Haha. I was late to the Serato game when it came out because I loved my vinyl so much. But once I finally realized it was easier to travel to do gigs, and would help my aging back carrying crates and stuffed bags of records, I switched to playing that way more frequently. My love for vinyl will never waver though. And again, the digging playing field is EVERYWHERE records can be found. 

Andrew:
This may be a hard question, but what are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Marc:
It is a hard question. With as many records as I have, and my vast taste in varying types of music, I can’t choose specific albums that I can say mean the most to me. I love music. Period. I feel like I have a very good ear for what’s good or not. But then again, music appreciation is subjective. It depends on what speaks to the individual, how one grows up, and the elements that surround them also determines how the music speaks to individuals. 

DJ EMSKEE | Dj, Podcasts, Radio

Andrew:
What are some albums you don’t have, but hope to find one day? Are there any albums you’ve given up that you wish you hadn’t? Are you like some of us who purge records only to rebuy them again? 
 

Marc:
I don’t really collect much anymore. I have so many records that I go digging in my own collection and still find stuff that I didn’t know I had!! I can save money that way, too. Hahaha.  

Andrew:
You’ve maintained a strong DIY work ethic and ethos throughout your career, which I love. Why is that important for you? What advice would you have for anyone just starting out?

Marc:
Your brand, or whatever represents you carries weight on how you are perceived. I believe everything you release/play is a major attribute to bolstering a solid fanbase. I apply this philosophy to my MC projects too (I’m the lead MC for a Hip-Hop/Soul group called The Good People.) I also have a healthy number of solo releases that have international reach and support. Every time I do something, I know that someone is paying attention, and it may be the first time they’ve heard me. I have to uphold a top standard to support the healthiness of my brand. This is vitally important in the music business, I believe.  

Andrew:
There are a lot of artists out there whom are fantastic, but get stuck in the underground, while others go on to great success. What is it about our culture that causes this to happen? Do think the general public is truly listening?

Marc:
In my younger years, when there were still a lot of record labels around, I was very active in trying to seal a deal to gain some type of success. I kind of wanted some commercial success because obviously I thought that’s where the money was. But I was savvy enough early on to understand that the music business is primarily a smoke and mirrors game. Nothing is what it really seems, and if you get caught up in the final results, which is getting reactions from what you’ve created, and filming videos and such, you lose sight of the BUSINESS that falls in between everything else. Since many major records labels have disappeared, and the accessibility I spoke on earlier is widespread, standards of quality have taken a back seat to quantity quotas, paying for likes and all kinds of craziness. 

Even with my Hip-Hop group’s material, we chose to EARN our fanbase by sticking to making music for those who truly love what we bring to the table and who KNOW who we are. I’ve found that when people pay for support, you wind up with people who don’t really connect with your brand or your music. That’s a losing formula in the long run to me. The general public sways to commercial stuff because they want to be TOLD what to like, instead of having individual taste and going with what their ears and SOUL tells them is good. I would say both my DJ style and my artist recordings cater to the mature taste of listeners. And building that base takes longer than the commercial vehicle. I’ll take that all day though. It may not get you to the money more rapidly, but much more credible in the end.      

Andrew:
Last question. In the world we live in today, we are more or less dominated by capitalism and the never-ending barrage of social media. How has this effected music as an artform? Is an artist’s ability to get their music out there hindered by all this, or helped?

Marc:
I think I touched on this briefly in an earlier question answer. The internet is a both a gift and a curse for artists now. There was a time when you had to be signed and have a record deal to be taken seriously as being credible. Because the accessibility makes attainability limitless now, so many more people who shouldn’t really be releasing music publicly have the same outlet as everyone else that should be. It’s created a logjam of material, thus diminishing the value of those who are truly talented. This is one of the reasons why your business acumen has to be on-point even more to navigate through the swamp of “who’s who.” Very frustrating for certified-qualified OG’s in the game, but that’s the unfortunate times we’re in now.   

Thanks again Andrew for the platform. I’d like to list my promotional links here:

*THE PEN JOINTS SHOW on BUSHWICK RADIO (www.nevasayneva.com) – Every friday evening from 5pm to 6pm  i spin the best in NEW & OLD UNDERGROUND / INDEPENDENT HIP HOP 

*THE CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE SHOW on SG 1 HOUSE RADIO in London – every Friday late night from 11pm to midnight (NYC TIME) spinning SOULFUL HOUSE MUSIC, DEEP DISCO, and INTERNATIONAL DANCE SOUNDS. 

*THE GOOD PEOPLE – this is my HIP HOP/SOUL group I’m in with my partner Saint. Check us out at www.thegoodpeople.bandcamp.com. Add us on Instagram at @thegoodpeoplehiphop.

We’re on facebook at facebook.com/thegoodpeopleny.

My personal EMSKEE page is facebook.com/emskeetalentsupreme1968. My long DJ resume of varying styles of music is at www.mixcloud.com/marcsmith184/.

Dj Emskee live 17 minute set from J Smooth's Underground Railroad on WBAI  99.5fm in NYC - 11/30/12

Interested in seeing DJ Emskee in action? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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