THE LAST SPACE BAYLIEN…
Inside A Morsel Of The Mind Of DJ QBert
He is one of a kind. Battle-tested, hood-approved. A legend for his unique and stellar personality as well as his impeccable track record as a global soundman, cutmaster and turntablist. One of the few who need not explain his pedigree, display his resume or toot his own horn to remain relevant – and more than that, admired and lauded as your favorite DJ’s DJ… His name is Q-Bert.
Not that he requires an introduction, but sometimes people forget the tales of lore and lessons of life taught by masters. How could anyone forget though? The Bay Area (San Francisco, to be precise) veteran and Filipino/Pinoy DJ has been lighting up stages and enthralling crowds with his brand of Hip Hop, wizardry and philosophy on the 1’s and 2’s for many a moon. Yet, even with the trend of people wanting to be a DJ, creating playlists and inviting anyone who will listen to their ‘set’ at the local pub, it is still possible to not know about all that lies beneath the little bit of the iceberg which is visible. Q-Bert has put in decades of innovative, non-duplicated and meaningful work as a DJ/Producer/Technician on his mission to communicate with the universe and whichever beings are waiting to introduce themselves from the far reaches of outer space, but he is not done doing work.
“Sometimes you just have to breathe… I wake up and like to inhale and exhale deeply… It gets your blood moving and wakes up your body”, said Q-Bert in replying to my sharing about not feeling well. It is some of this type of seeming simplicity, but injected with intention, which immediately sets him apart. On this Sunday afternoon, he is chilling in ‘Frisco, where he was born and raised and loves to live. Barring Covid-19’s unruly interruption, Q-Bert loves him, but leaves often. Prior to the pandemic he was still touring strong with trips to Seattle, Canada (“Kamloops is the boonies!”, he said) and around the globe. Not only is he sought for his remarkable ability to speak with his hands, but also as a speaker, panelist and judge weighing in on the art, culture and business of DJing and entertainment. One must begin somewhere to get where they’re going. What about Q-Bert’s beginnings?
“I started out breakdancing with my friend [Ruberic] Perez”, says Q-Bert as he cherished his young teenage years, raised in San Francisco’s Excelsior District, around Black, Latino, Filipino, Chinese and White children. A very mixed experience, which is popularly appreciated as one of the winning characteristics of the entire Bay Area. “[Some] people do not know that we are all one”, says Q-Bert when we discuss the fact that some people are alien to the idea of a diverse community. And as a spiritual person, Q-Bert was taught about energy, and explored philosophy and the universe at a very young age, elementary-age, which sparked his lifelong curiosity about and belief in the power of the universe, theory and fact about life beyond Earth and studies of unique conspiracy fact from people like Corey Goode, David Wilcox, Emery Smith – these are some people I study – like a DJ will study the great DJs and MCs will study great writers and MCs – it is good to study the masters”, he says.
Is it risky to discuss such things publicly? People will look at you like you’re crazy these days – but Q-Bert is unphased. “it’s good to talk about this – it’s all coming out and being exposed right now – it’s a beautiful time to be here”, Q-Bert continues. His belief and excitement around studying the high sciences, conspiracy and spirituality is part of his goal to grow as a person and it is not new. His DJ philosophy is one that adjoins audio, communication and engagement with heavens. Q-Bert believes when he DJs, he is communicating with the stars and the beings that exist in this galaxy and beyond. In fact, he and Traktor, the DJ brand are working on the design for some new DJ technology on the market called Invader (as in space invader (www.invadermixer.com). “It’s a project that is future-based and I had been working on with the team since around the year 2000 – it’s been a long time, coming.” It makes sense that he, as an innovator and originalist, is developing his own technology to contribute to the market. Q-Bert doesn’t discriminate as a DJ, finding all technology (controllers, CDJs, etc.) useful, but above all – the student who would become the master and shaman of his culture, remains attached to vinyl… It’s what got him started.
Vinyl is everything, but not the only thing for Q-Bert. A full-on creative, not only has he dedicated his life to audiology, sound design and technology combined for masterful performance – he also made a foray into the world of film, and not solely his competition and instructional videos which can still be attained on the market and viewed all over Youtube. No, Q-Bert is a filmmaker. His work came to life via the production called Wave Twisters (1998), the first animated Hip Hop film which played at the Sundance Film Festival and is now being followed by the prequel, Wave Twisters Zero – the backstory to the characters from the original. Big Red, the mischievous and underhanded record-label exec from Robert Townsend’s classic film, The Five Heartbeats, dumbfounded quote, ‘Geez, what do you don’t do?!’ comes to mind when absorbing the width and breadth of Q-Bert’s diverse philosophy and pedigree.
A master in his own right, Q-Bert is a protege of his prized mentor, master DJ and official DJ for the now semi-retired legends (due to the death of MCA), the Beastie Boys – DJ Mixmaster Mike. After studying Mike like a student in a chemistry lab, Mike had to leave the Bay due to unbelievable demand to perform, so Q-Bert continued to study other DJs both in person and on video. “I studied like a fighter studies – I’m practicing, watching live performance and video tapes – I just kept studying”, explains Q-Bert. “I study, because I believe it is every artist’s job to use their skills to make the world a better place – that’s what I try to do, whenever I get the chance.”
“Every artist is a shaman – we’re all here to make the world a better place”, says Q-Bert. “I try to do good whenever I can – the ultimate evil is selfishness and the ultimate good is happiness and helping people, but God created evil [too] as an artificial intelligence to create drama.” For a master-student, all things are test-worthy and Q-Bert’s goal is to be a light in the world through DJaying. And it helps that along with being the light, one thing that he also enjoys is the light-weight of the DJs load. “it’s easier to carry equipment now”, exclaims Q-Bert, who recalls the days of carrying multiple crates, speakers, chords, boxes, tables and mixers in the formative and beginnings of DJaying, prior to laptops and other compact conveniences of the emerging DJ life.
He recalls DJaying with relief for less weight, but simultaneously appreciates the dues paid in carrying hundreds of pounds of equipment to rock the shows that would make his name world-renown. There’s a lot to reminisce upon when you held the coveted DMC battle title from 1992-1994, before retiring as a judge in 1995, when his good friend, DJ Roc Raida (RIP) took the title. “He was the homie [Roc Raida], I think about him often and speak with him in spirit form”, Q-Bert says about the legendary X-Ecutioner soundman who kept company with fellow brilliant DJ friends, Mista Sinista, Total Eclipse, DJ Boogie Blind, DJ Precision and the wise and intelligent beyond his years, Rob Swift (who also teaches/learns through his DJ culture education program).
There is no wonder that he remains vibrant, energetic and likable. Q-Bert’s attitude and demeanor is deep, but he remains very personable and friendly to fans and admirers in random places, wherever he roams. He learns from every crowd, he loves Hawaii (calling it ‘the belly-button of the Earth’), researches and practices for hours on a regular basis, listens to other DJs and their shows (Tony Touch, DJ Premier, Statik Selektah and more) and personally invites you to explore life, the art & culture of the DJ… and look within to discover what you may think you are without.
Words by Jose S. Gutierrez Jr. @luvvaj