The time is around '88, and the place is New York City. Some battling DJs calling themselves the X-Men had just begun to practice together and win competitions. Then, with a mission to take over the NYC DJ championships, the X-Men took it a bit further, collecting numerous national and international titles. With their worldwide fan base, there probably isn't a single DJ after them who hasn't been influenced by their beats. The X-Men's Roc Raida himself recently proclaimed on the Danish DMC website, "We invented many beat juggle styles, and we invented beat juggling itself!"
Roc Raida, the only X-ecutioner who was an original X-Men member, grew up around the business. His father was a member of Mean Machine, a group that was signed to Sugar Hill records back in the day. Mean Machine was known for their ill-ass break dancing as well as their groundbreaking bilingual raps. The X-Men are very similar to Mean Machine. As pioneers in hip-hop history, both groups have had member shake-ups and were/are plagued with drama. According to Mean Machine's Mr. Schick (aka Dannyraps) statement on the band's Web site, "The group was shelved by Sugar Hill following a radio interview they did with Frankie Crocker at New York's WBLS. One of the members said something about the label that didn't sit well. The group split up and hasn't recorded since."
But as CDs were coming out and vinyl was dying, hip-hop crews like the X-men were crucial in keeping wax in press. Although turntablism, in some circles, is a respected art form in its own right, the element of DJing is constantly overlooked, many times by the places it should most be respected: major urban radio stations. So where do the first successful records by major DJ crews get played? At crossover stations and a small handful of major-market urban stations.
X-Man Total Eclipse, from the Sony offices in New York, talked to the Indy about the state of urban radio. "What goes around comes around," he says. "If one market don't support you from you having the influences of different cultures of music, it's always good to branch out your musical genes into something, such as a song like 'It's Going Down.' Some of these different sounds come from the fact that rock played a part in their individual backgrounds. "We all have the rock influence, my father and everybody else's," says Total Eclipse, "as far as Roc Raida and Rob's Swift's were into Jimi Hendrix, so there was a rock influence that is in our blood. But my foundation is hip hop."
The X-ecutioners lineup, Roc Raida, Mista Sinsta, Rob Swift and Total Eclipse, were together from their '97 debut album, X-Pressions (Asphodel Records), and went on to wow audiences at the Electronic Music in the 20th Century retrospective held in summer 2000 at Lincoln Center with their grand finale piece, "Deconstructing the Blues on 4 Turntables." But by December '01, just prior to their 2002 Loud Records release, Built from Scratch, Sinsta had left the crew. In a Vibe magazine interview earlier this year, Sinsta blamed the break-up on "a lot of manipulative, outside influences that infiltrated our family." In that same issue, Rob Swift gave his version of the story: "We couldn't get past our different approaches, and we were about to drop a major album ... If we weren't on the same page, then we would have died out there." Swift, though, admitted to being "real anal" and approaching his music and life as if he were in the army (which obviously works for him, judging by the success that the X-Men have gained this past year).
For those who just want gossip, take what you want from the above lines--band politics are an added menace to making music. But the fact remains that the crew's newfound commercial success and fame should have happened some 13 years ago when the X-Men were winning DJ battles and taking titles nationwide. Although it took over a decade to do it, the X-ecutioners summer-long stint on Eminem's "Anger Management Tour," is definitely helping to bring their sound to a new audience.
"The Anger Management [Tour] is cool," says Total Eclipse." It's a tour with us, Xzibit, Ludicris, Papa Roach and Eminem. We're definitely happy from being on the tour and the success of the tour and from the 'It's Going Down' hype. It's a good thing that we're there for the artform of DJing, so we can express that to the masses of people that's gonna be supporting the tour." Hopefully, the exposure will bring the X-ecutioners (and turntablism) up to the level of recognition they've so long deserved.