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A music blog by Mark Nishimura

Singer-songwriter Bad Heart performs ballads of aloneness and loneliness, keeping the ghosts of the no-no boys and Sleepy John Estes in his throat and more than a few card tricks up his sleeve. Originally from San Francisco, he currently is absorbing the city lights of Hollywood.

You’re Listening to Steinski

“Play it for punk rock/play it for hip-hop…”

– Double Dee & Steinski, “The Payoff Mix”

Stuck in traffic again: That’s the Angelenos’ common status. So here I am in this man-made parking lot on the 405. Cars are coughing, horns are honking. The only saving grace now is music. I roll up the window, press “Play” on the CD player, and turn up the volume: A snippet of Otis Redding’s spoken introduction to “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” taken from D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Monterey Pop, immediately breaks into a funky backbeat and a voiceover of some math teacher from the 1950s says, “Lesson Three.” Yes, I’m listening to Steinski.

Now I’m a novice when it comes to hip-hop. But as I grow older and wiser, I’m really starting to dig this stuff, from the political to the playful and everything in between. And for me, Steinski soars above them all.

A Jewish kid working for a top advertising firm in the Big Apple, Steve Stein got together with sound engineer and fellow pothead Douglas Di Franco to form one of the greatest hip-hop producing teams of all time, Double Dee & Steinski. In 1983, the duo created their first remix tape, entitled “The Payoff Mix,” entering it in some audio-mixing contest that was advertised in Billboard. After blowing away their competitors, they kept on cutting together more and more innovated sample-based tracks throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

The duo called these sound collages “lessons,” but I think they are more like mini-audio answers to James Joyce’s epic modern novel Finnegans Wake. Just like Joyce, who used historical and cultural references – Celtic mythology, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Shakespeare, Giambattista Vico, the Holy Bible and the Qur’an – throughout his work, Double Dee & Steinski tossed up a pop culture salad in their “lessons,” stealing everything they could find on radio, records, television and movies: Odetta; John Coltrane; Groucho Marx; R&B singer Junior; Muddy Waters; comics Robin Williams and Gilbert Gottfried; Dion and The Belmonts; Little Richard; The Supremes; “Tonight Show” announcer Ed McMahon; The Rolling Stones; UC Berkeley activist Mario Savio; John F. Kennedy; Glenn Miller; The Incredible Bongo Band; Sly and the Family Stone; footage from Glengarry Glen Ross, Dirty Harry, The Pajama Game, The Maltese Falcon, Diner, Orson Wells’ radio program “War of the World,” Bollywood movies, and various science class films; and of course the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, James Brown, whose music is the backbone to every rap song out there.

Steinski’s later solo work ventured more into political commentary, focusing on topics like the first Gulf War and the 9/11 attacks. His most controversial work was “The Motorcade Sped On,” an astonishingly danceable deconstruction of CBS news broadcasts on the Kennedy assassination.

Nowadays as DJs all over the world copied his copying style, Steinski has packed up his magnetic tape, gone back to his old name, and left the music business. I don’t know how old he is, probably around my age. So Stein has retired to the suburbs, and I am here trapped on a L.A. freeway.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a disc jockey for KZAP-FM, spinning 33s, 45s and 78s for a few hours in the morning. Well, it seems that Steve Stein lived my dream, except his “radio shows” were in six-minute increments and were passed around on cassette tapes. So, children, what does it all mean? Hm, I’m not really sure.

So, who else out there wanted to be a radio DJ?

The history of hip-hop, according to Double Dee & Steinski

  1. First, I just have one thing to say…fascinating. Second I have to say that dancing to a remix of a news broadcast of Kennedy’s assassination sounds pretty macabre, but you do have to give someone alot of credit for thinking about it.

    Finally, I’ll share that while I’ve never had a desire to be a radio DJ, this question did remind of a conversation that Rosendo and I had about podcasts and it does get me thinking about an idea that could involve both of you ;)

  2. Radio DJ~

    Oh hell yes~

    In the late 70’s and early 80’s listening to Paraquat Kelly and Cynthia Fox on KMET and Fraser Smith do his thing on KLOS was ear candy pure and simple. Even when the music stopped playing, their natural ability took radio broadcasting to a higher level of listening was truly awe inspiring.

    I recall mixing my own tapes and thinking up clever catch phrases for my imaginary radio station KRAD.


  3. Very cool! Never heard of Double Dee & Steinski before, but I love this sort of stuff, though I think it’s more in the vein of Byrne & Eno’s “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” and some of the work by Marcelo Radulovich than a radio DJ per se. Even by today’s sophisticated midi multitrack sampling standards I find it interesting because of the range of sources they incorporate. Who did the video? It’s pretty neat too. Thanks, Mark!

  4. @ Lisa: I’m intrigued about your podcast idea. Sure, I’m game! Tell me more!
    @ Rosendo: I used to listen to KZAP in Sacramento, with Kevin “Boom Boom” Anderson in the morn! At noon, the station had Bob Keller’s “Rock Cafe,” an imaginary cafe that “served the best rock and roll ever made.”
    @ dancerousideas: I’m not sure who did the video. I found it on YouTube a few months back. I love “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts,” but I haven’t heard of Radulovich. I’ll have to look him up. Thanks for the tip.

  5. I first heard of them through my youngest boy’s drum instructor. I was totally struck by the mix of music,news and commentary. Music is a wonderful medium to speak to the masses. The closest I came to DJing is KJing. I had my own business for a spell. Radio. Oh, the days of recording songs I liked onto my cassette player from the speaker of my boom box. I loved the party dance sets they’d do on Friday and Saturday nights. Dreaming of actually being at one of those parties where everyone danced freely. Wishing I could be a part of it all. Radio brought the forbidden world to my searching soul.

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