Excerpt from DJ Cut Killer interview
C=DJ Cut Killer
M= Samir Meghelli
M: How do you read the crowd, how do you know when to play what?
C: You know, that’s my job. I’ve been a DJ for like 15 years. So, I’m able to feel out the crowd. I know if the audience is bored, or whatever. The thing is, I think that’s the case with every DJ. They feel out the crowd, see which way the party is going and just handles it in his own style. We’re not here to play every kind of music. We’re Hip Hop DJs, so the influence is more like Soul, R&B, Reggae. That’s the vibe. We play our own kind of music.
M: And how many days out of the year are you traveling and touring?
C: It’s funny that you ask, because we just tried to count last week. But, I think it’s around 140 gigs to 160 gigs per year.
M: Per year? So you’re traveling a lot.
C: Yeah, we’re traveling a lot. Definitely. Matter of fact, I’m one of the few DJs who travel around Europe. I don’t know why exactly, but the thing is, I think I’ve gotten the opportunity to mix in other countries because a lot of Hip Hop artists come on my radio show, and we do a lot of parties with special guests from New York and L.A. or whatever. And, the thing is, a lot of people know about me because the Americans say I’m the “Funkmaster Flex of France.” I say, “Okay, if you want, but I’m just a DJ. That’s it. It’s my work.” Right now, if that makes it easier for me, I’ll take it. I mean, I think it’s working for me. I was one of the first DJs to start doing mixtapes in France. And I had a part in the movie called “La Haine” (“Hate”). It played in the [United] States like two months ago. Some people called me from New York, like, “I saw you in a movie!” “Shit, it got played in New York?” And that movie was big in Europe. That’s maybe why the name “Cut Killer” is really known, because people saw the movie. People also saw me a lot on the MTV Music Awards with P. Diddy. I met Diddy like six years ago when he came to France. I ended up doing his birthday party.
M: Where was this?
C: It was at [the club] Bains-Douches, like five or six years ago. And he said, “Who’s the best DJ in France?” The people said, “Cut Killer.” So they called me and I did the party. And, every year we’ve done a birthday party in France.
M: What was that like doing a birthday party for P. Diddy? How did you prepare? What was going through your head as you prepared?
C: Definitely, I was lucky because I’m part of the Big Dawg Pitbulls, Funkmaster Flex’s crew. I go to New York like every three or six months, so I definitely know how to mix for an American audience. It’s not really the same as a European audience.
M: How would you compare mixing for an American audience and a European audience?
C: First of all, the Americans will know the lyrics because it’s more important for them. In France, it’s only the beat first, and afterwards, the song. Usually in Europe they prefer the hits and the big beats and the things they seen in the videos. And, in the U.S., the vibe is definitely not the same, because some tracks that aren’t on the Billboard are still underground hits. They got a history, so when you play Old School for the New York crowd or the L.A. crowd, it’s not the same. Like, in France, they don’t have as long a Hip Hop history as in the States. But, you know, in Germany, they understand a lot.
M: What’s an average day like for Cut Killer? What do you do on a normal, regular day?
C: When I did my first mixtape, the record labels called me to do a compilation. So, I was the first one to do that kind of thing. And my whole steez, my way of life is to expand this music. So, I have two companies. I’m the CEO of the two companies. There’s one for the production of artists, called Double H. The other one is Eastory, which is for the publishing and for the deals with the major companies for the compilations and mixtapes. So, you know, with all that, I’m working in the studio where I have an office upstairs and the studio downstairs. And we try to produce a lot of things and so, everyday, on a regular day, I’m in this office, working with the artists, working with the beats, working with the radio, ‘cause we get to do the radio show here, in our own place ‘cause the radio station… At first, it was for security reasons, because you know, Hip Hop is a little bit too hardcore for the radio station when we be freestylin and everything. So, they said, “You’ve got the technology to do the radio show in your place. Is that right?” So, we do the radio show here. It’s easier for us to do what we want. It’s not the same as the U.S. radio shows….
DJ Cut Killer on how he got into Hip Hop
M: I want to take you back a little. I wanna know a little bit about what you were hearing coming up, when you were growing up. What were you hearing in your household, what were your parents playing? What were you hearing on the radio?
C: The first thing is... When I was young… I am from Morocco, I am of Moroccan descent.
M: Were you born in France?
C: No, in Morocco.
M: Rabat or…?
C: No, Meknes. It’s like Marrakech, but it’s uptown. The thing is, my parents lived in France, but they had me in Morocco. We came back to France like six months after. So, I grew up in France. I don’t have a real base like the real Moroccans.
M: Okay, so you were born in Meknes, but you moved to Paris?
C: Yeah. It was a neighborhood outside of Paris.
M: Which neighborhood?
C: Mureaux. In the 78 [département – Yvelines]. But, we left when I was 9 years old. So, I remember the projects was like the garden. It was, like, friendly things. On Sundays people would come out to the park and have barbecues. That’s it. No violence… The projects became really bad when I was about 13 years old. By that time, we had moved to Paris. So, I didn’t really live there during my teenage years.
M: And where did you move when you were thirteen?
C: The center of Paris. Strasbourg-Saint Denis. The hooker street – Rue Saint Denis. There was, like, a murder on every street. There was all that shit because it the hooker neighborhood. Since I was young, it didn’t really affect me.
M: What were you hearing when you first came to Paris, when you were growing up? Were your parents playing Raï or Chaabi?
C: They played, of course, their Arabic stuff, because they…
M: Umm Kalthoum, or…?
C: Yeah, Umm Kalthoum and all that. But, my father was also into James Brown.
M: Your father was into James Brown?
C: Yeah, because….
M: Did he have the records?
C: Yeah, yeah. ‘Cause I still have some of those records from the house. Half is, like, Moroccan and Egyptian shit, and the other half is the classics for hi
M: like, Bob Marley, James Brown…
M: Where was he getting his music from?
C: When he came to France he already liked the music.
M: So, you were hearing James Brown in your home?
C: Yeah, yeah, at home. So, I grew up with this kind of music. I mean, I was listening to the radio, but the only thing that affected me was Black music. Only that. The thing about the music was the drums, because there are a lot of drums in Moroccan music and in Soul music, too.
M: So, you heard some similarities between them?
C: Yeah. And it was like natural for me. My parents also had some French pop stuff, some Rock. And, of course, I listened, but I didn’t get the same vibes. And really, around when I was 11 years old until 15, Hip Hop was beginning to come.
M: Do you remember when you first heard or saw Hip Hop?
C: Yeah! It was on the radio ‘cause on…
M: Where? Radio Nova? Dee Nasty?
C: No, no, no. It was three stations: Radio Star, Radio 7, and RDH radio. And I was listening to some old school Hip Hop, like before Kurtis Blow. Like, Treacherous Three, at the same time as it was coming out in the States. And, it was DJ RLP. Right now he plays mostly Acid, Techno stuff. And, I was listening to Dee Nasty on RDH, maybe one month later.
M: What songs, what artists were they playing?
C: They were playing really the Old School things, like Treacherous Three, Grandmaster Flash. You know, the early stuff. We grew up with Hip Hop in the same way as people in the States, but without the street parties. We were getting it mainly through the radio.
M: What was your response to Hip Hop when you first heard it? Do you remember what you were thinking when heard it for the first time?
C: Yeah. The first thing was, “It’s kinda like my life.” You know, I was learning English…
M: Were you learning English in school?
C: Yeah, in school. I hated German. We had the choice of either German or English. I said, “German, no way. It’s impossible.” And, it was really important to learn English because I think it’s the international language. So, at the time, I understood some lyrics. And the thing is, I think, the way of talking, the dances, talking about the projects, the hood, and life in general, was the same for us. Different, but pretty much the same. So, it was a street thing. And, at the time, you’re young, you don’t want to listen to what the older folks are listening to. Of course, there were some Disco classics, but it wasn’t the same thing as Hip Hop. Later on, when we were hearing Dee Nasty on Radio Nova, it was like a blessing…
M: Were there any crews in your neighborhood, any B-Boy, breakdancing crews that you remember?
C: I remember when I would go to The Globo. The Globo was, for me, the first major Hip Hop party spot. They had the most classic parties. At the time, Dee Nasty was DJing. I was, like, 16 years old and it was the only place where you could hear Hip Hop. For the history before then, ask Dee Nasty and the other guys, because I was too young.
M: And then you went to graffiti, or…?
C: No, just dancing.
M: And then DJing.
C: Dancing first, definitely. And then, when I was in the clubs, I was just waiting for my tracks to be played. At that time, the jam was “Paid In Full,” Eric B. and Rakim. We would wait and watch the DJ. We thought it was cool, but we didn’t necessarily want to be DJs. Just like, “Okay, it’s alright.” Really, the first time I knew I wanted to be a DJ was when DJ Cash Money came…
M: It was 1989…
M: And what club was that?
C: At The Globo. The Globo was the only the place where you could really hear Hip Hop like that.
M: And did you know who Cash Money was when he came?
C: Yeah, because there were the videos… At this time, DMC was like the only major DJ competition. So, since I was interested in Hip Hop, we looked for breakdance videotapes, DJ videotapes…
M: Where could you buy the tapes?
C: We would trade among friends.
M: So, when you saw Cash Money, what was it about seeing him that night that made you want to be a DJ?
C: Really, it was the way he mixed. We heard about the championship ‘cause we had some friends who went to it. That year it was in London. So, they came and said, “Ohhhhhh!” Because, we had some spots, like Ticaret, at this time…
M: The store…
C: Yeah, like, the stores, where you could buy some clothes, hats, and some fat laces. At that time, fat laces were the big thing. So, when you would go to the shop, you heard people talking. And, of course, at this time, I was hungry for Hip Hop, so every kind of thing – if I had some money – I would go searching for it. So, you had to rob or work [Laughing]. At that time, it was really important for all of us to find out and get whatever we could about Hip Hop. So, when they said, “Cash Money was doing this, and that!” [Cut Killer starts imitating the motions that his friends who had seen Cash Money were showing him to demonstrate the mixing moves]. I could imagine it all, because I was a fan of Dee Nasty and the other DJs – DJ Yellow, there was DJ Jo, a lot of DJs – and I loved the DJ tricks, you know. But, not to the point where I wanted to be a DJ myself. But, when my peoples were buggin off what they saw DJ Cash Money do, I knew I had to see him. And then, Cash Money came to The Globo.
M: Do you remember that night?
C: Woooooh! [Laughing] Are you crazy or what?!? At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a DJ. When I saw him, I said, “No, no, no! That’s impossible!” See, at that time, “Paid In Full” was at the top of the charts. And it had that “Fresh” sample in it. But, his record went like, “This stuff is really fresh… fresh… fresh… fresh… fresh!” And then the beat dropped. Ohhhh! Everybody was goin crazy. It was like, “Awwwwhhh!!!” That was our breakbeat at that time. So, I was like, “Okay, okay, I wanna be a DJ.” “I don’t really got no other hobbies anyway.” Of course, there was the dancing. And, I tried to do graffiti, but it was raining that day [Laughing]. So, it was a bad day to get into that. But, I tried to do a phat bomb, like they had in the book Subway Art. And I said, “Okay, forget it. No way.” But, I did some tagging…