Class Is In Session As Rob Swift Delivers Keynote Speech At Indiana University (Video)
One of the forefathers of the turntablism movement, Rob Swift, gave a keynote speech on “research and teaching as it pertains to the art of DJing” at Indiana University this week. Rob is a co-founder of one of the most influential DJ crews of all time, the X-Ecutioners. That famed New York City squad began as a much larger collective called “The X-Men.” Both versions of the crew are credited with key innovations in DJing, while the X-Ecutioners iteration also made important in-roads for mix-masters by becoming one of the only DJ groups ever signed to a major label. Rob would transition from the X-Ecutioners in 2004 to a prominent solo career.
In his February 20 keynote to the I.U. students, Rob starts by giving his family history. He explains that his parents and even siblings are first-generation Colombian immigrants, but that he was born in Queens, New York in 1972. He then talks about a rollerskating rink in the Bronx he used to frequent that used to book acts like Grandmaster Flash, Jam Master Jay, The Fearless Four, Just-Ice, and many more that are considered pioneers. Swift tells the students and faculty about how his father and older brother, both DJs themselves, inspired him to want to move the crowd and eventually compete.
Rob goes on to detail how he was a sponge for information that would hunt down any audio or video recordings he could find. He reveals that he went to junior high school with Psycho Les (of the world famous Beatnuts) and they both of learned the DJ basics from Rob’s older brother. While Swift showed talent early on, he admits that at first he was only emulating DJs like DJ Red Alert and Marley Marl. Swift credits DJ/producers Steve D and Dr. Butcher for helping him find his voice and imagining what was possible with two turntables and a mixer.
After covering his background, Rob Swift gets into the history of Hip-Hop DJing. He compliments this by demonstrating some DJing basics for the audience. Rob explains terms and techniques such as “breaks,” “scratching,” and “beat-juggling,” and then invites a female student up to get a quick crash course in scratching. He manages to impart enough to her in 10 minutes that the two of them can do a little back and forth routine to close out the talk. Who better to give a keynote speech about research and teaching than a legendary crate-digger who has spent his career schooling kids.
#BonusBeat: This 2017 video shows Rob Swift teaching a Roc Raida battle routine as used in The Breaks:
Subscribe to Ambrosia For Heads YouTube channel.