This episode of Dubspot Radio welcomes an impressive live vinyl mix from hip hop veteran Amir Abdullah, founder of 180-Proof Records and one of the original kings of beat diggin’.
Spending a lifetime of collecting vinyl, Amir has unearthed records far and wide, pulling from the best in jazz, funk, soul, jazz, R&B, Latin, reggae, and hip-hop. As part of the illustrious beat digging duo Kon & Amir, the duo have salvaged some of the greatest music you’ve never heard gaining legendary status worldwide from some of the most beloved beat diggers, DJs, and producers in the game.
This podcast brings the music directly to the people in true Amir fashion. While listening be sure to check out our interview, in which Amir talked about growing up in a musical household in Boston, moving to New York and joining the ‘I Love Vinyl‘ collective, touring Europe and Asia with his music partner Kon, and much more.
DJ Amir Interview
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Amir Abdullah a.k.a. DJ Amir, originally from Boston, but I’ve been in New York for seventeen years. I grew up in a musical household. My father was a Jazz record collector, and my mother listened to gospel and soul. My siblings listened to jazz and disco. These are some of the things that influenced me to do what I do today, which is collecting records and DJing.
How long have you been collecting records, DJing, and working in the music industry?
I have been collecting records for thirty years and DJing for ten. I’ve also worked in the music industry as an executive for fifteen years. I’ve been able to see both sides of the music. So music is my life.
Tell us about your mix and where it was recorded.
I recorded the mix live at a party called ‘I Love Vinyl’ that we have in Brooklyn at Southpaw and sometimes at Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge.
What made you focus on that specific sound?
I chose that particular mix of songs because at every ‘I Love Vinyl,’ I try to play different stuff. I try not to play the same stuff. So at that time, in October I believe, it was still warm in New York, so I was playing warm type of music. Since I was going first, I wanted to warm up the party with some soulful music to get people dancing. I played a lot of soulful boogie music. It still felt like summertime, just the tail end of summer.
Tell us about ‘I Love Vinyl.’
The concept was created by this guy DJ Scribe. He came to me and four other DJs and said: “Hey, I have the idea of doing this all vinyl party.” I was a little hesitant at first because there are six of us, and I wondered how we were going to pull off a party with six people. Also, having to drag vinyl crates along was crazy since there heavy and can be worn down. But it just worked.
Before ‘I Love Vinyl,’ what other parties were you playing?
I’ve played all kinds of parties and have traveled overseas a lot. I’ve been to Asia four times to DJ, and Europe almost thirty times. I’ve played everything from festivals to small and big club venues. I like to play really deep disco, funk, soul, and Latin music that is just timeless, and feels good even if you don’t know who it is.
How do you balance what the crowd wants to hear when you play out versus what you want to play?
Well, I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve not been in too many situations where I had to play something that I don’t want to play. For the most part, when I’m playing in a club, I’m playing what I want to hear. I have a good feeling or a good intuition of what people like or what will make people move. Even if you don’t realize it, it gets you into a mood to dance and have a good time. I’ve never really had to deal with people coming up to me like “Hey, can you play Lady Gaga?” I’ve had that happen to me before and I just politely say it’s not that type of party and I show them the flyer that is just soulful disco or whatever. Usually, people will understand, but you know obviously, sometimes you have people that just are not hearing that, and they just want to hear what they hear on the radio. I have to say go home because you can hear that stuff for free on the radio. But I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to deal with that too much.
How do you introduce crowds to new types of music?
You try to mix it in with well-known records. You can’t just play a party with stuff the audience have never heard. You start with something familiar, and then you slip in a song they’ve never heard, but it’s in the same kind of mood, the same kind of key, and it’s still danceable. Most people will respond to that. They’re going to respond well to the music that’s moving them. You see it in people’s faces like “I don’t know what this is” but their body is still moving. When it’s bad, then they’re looking up like what is this, and they’ve stopped dancing.
Besides your traditional DJ setup, do you use anything else when playing out?
I use two turntables and a mixer. When I’m not playing vinyl, then I’m using Serato. That’s pretty much it.
How do you think the concept of DJing has changed over the past ten years?
Definitely with the introduction of Serato and the greater influence of CDJs, DJing has changed a great deal in the sense that technology provides you with more access to your collection of music to play out. You can be more well rounded without having to carry tons of crates of records to gigs. Also, you can play a lot of stuff that was never on vinyl at all. You can play a lot of remixes and edits that you can do yourself or that someone else has done that you know, so that opens up a lot of things. On the flip side, I think that because of the technology, it gives you easier access to music, and it feeds the population who think it’s easy to DJ. A lot of us make it look easy, but there’s a lot of hard work to it. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s an actual job. If you’re a serious DJ, you take it seriously as a job that you go to 9 to 5, and you try to do the best that you can. I think with the advent of technology everybody and their mother thinks they can DJ now, and it wasn’t always like that. Ten years ago, there were still people that wanted to DJ, but you had to have a lot of character to do the hard work of learning how to DJ because it wasn’t easy. There was at the least CDJs, but when people were rocking CDJs, it still was something that very few people were using other than house DJs. Most people were still dragging their vinyl to gigs. It’s definitely changed. Sometimes technology can make things better, but sometimes it can make things a little worse.
Where do you go to find records, and what do you look for?
I look for it all. I look for new and old records. I’ve been collecting for thirty years, and I definitely look for records for specific reasons, either records to DJ out or records to put on the next compilation. I also look for jazz records that I don’t have for listening to at home and add to the collection. A lot of times I’m looking for records that I’ve never seen before and have never heard of the artist or the label. It could be a genre of music I know nothing about, or could be music from other countries like funk beats from Indonesia or something like that. I always wanted to keep an open mind with music, and I don’t want to have a prejudice to any type of music.
What are some of your most treasured finds, and recent records that you can’t get out of your head or can’t stop playing?
Well, there are a lot of those. I used to work at a record store called A1 Records, and there are just massive amounts of records in that store. Sometimes, I just can’t keep up. One day I was working, and there was a record just laying on the ground. It was not in a sleeve or in a jacket, and a few people that worked there were so busy that they were stepping on the record. I happened to pick the record up, and it was one of the rarest disco 12” records out there! I cleaned it off, and it wasn’t too badly scratched so I bought it from the store for like a dollar because nobody there knew it so they were like you can have it. That was a gold find. I love that song and always will. I won’t play it out too much because I don’t want to ruin it or lose it, so I saved it as a file on my computer. I can now play it out of Serato as well. There are so many records like that that I’ve gotten for free or close to being free just because not everyone is going to know everything about records. As much as you think you know about records, the more you learn about records, and the more you learn to know nothing. It’s just a continuous process that you continue to learn.
Tell us about a record that you heard and didn’t like the first time you heard it, but eventually grew on you?
Yeah, I go through that a lot. I might have bought a record like ten years ago, and listened to it thinking “Eh, I don’t like that record.” Then you listen to it now, and you’re like “Wow, what was I thinking, this track is incredible!” It’s all because what happens is your musical tastes mature. Like how you grow as an adult in life, and how some things that you didn’t like ten years ago but now your like “Oh you know what, it’s actually not that bad.” It’s the same thing with music; your music tastes change. You may have never been into disco at a younger age, but now you might be into disco or vice versa. It’s all about your musical tastes changing, and you evolving as a person. Your music taste changes and evolves as well.
Are you surprised by any particular sound you’re into right now?
Yes, ten years ago I wasn’t really into Brazilian music, and I didn’t care for it but over the past couple of years, I’ve really gotten into Brazilian music. I feel kind of bad because I got into it a little later than I should have been. I probably could have been playing Brazilian records back then, but I didn’t really care because I was all into either disco or breaks or hip hop or something else. That’s why you gotta be able to keep an open mind because you could be missing out on something really precious in music.
Any advice for up and coming DJs?
My partner Khan and I have been very blessed for the last fifteen years doing what we love and that’s to put out music whether it’s from a mixtape, album, compilation album, 12” edit, a remix 12”, touring the world, going on Giles Peterson’s radio show or touring with Giles Peterson. Things are great to me. It’s a blessing that I get to travel the world free; that’s an amazing thing, and I would encourage people that are really into music whether it be production wise or DJing to really follow your passion because it can pay off in the long run. You just got to have the strength and the passion to follow through on them.
Like I said you have to look at it in the long term when you practice your craft and really take it seriously and try not to follow everybody else. Try to blaze your own trail so that you can find that niche for yourself or find a way for yourself to be successful. Being successful sometimes equals a lot of heartbreak. They’re a lot of times where you’re going to be tested and you might want to give up but you can’t, you have to keep with it if it’s something you truly love. You got to have the strength and the character to get through these hard times. It is hard for everybody right now, but hard times bring out the most creative people and the creative juices in a lot of people to make great things that are culturally significant or add on to culture in a significant and positive way.
About DJ Amir
From an early age, Amir’s ears were saturated with the sounds of jazz, gospel, soul, and disco coming from his parents’ stereo. When he got old enough, Amir escaped into the world of hip -op. But instead of the clean break he had intended, he discovered his parents’ music sampled in the music of his peers. Intrigued, Amir found himself tracing ties inside the music, soon tirelessly.
Amir has been a man on a mission ever since. He’s braved strange and dangerous locations for the rarest wax, dealt with the shadiest characters and collectors, and had his knowledge called upon by some of the biggest names in hip-hop. It was kismet that Amir would meet fellow crate digger and kindred spirit Kon in 1996, and the two became fast friends and collaborators. Beginning with the esteemed underground On Track mixtape series, Kon & Amir have released ten compilations, including four volumes of Off Track, the follow-up to the On Track series. Shady Records, Pete Rock, Diamond D, and Capitol Records (to name a few) have called upon Kon & Amir’s expertise. And Amir’s own client list has included Dilla, Madlib, Big L, Common, Dilated Peoples, Mandrill, The Mizell Brothers, Lyman Woodard and Dennis Coffey.
It was also during the 90s that Amir began working at labels. Starting out in an entry-level position at Fat Beats, Amir quickly rose through the ranks to become VP of Sales. Since then, Amir has worked as an A&R for Rapster/!K7 Records, Sales Manager for ABB Records, and Label Manager of Wax Poetics Records. Recently, he produced and curated the Strata Records exhibit for the Scion IQ Museum, and is coordinating the reissue of the two ultra-rare Newban albums on BBE, a project he brought to the label. And he is starting his own label, 180 Proof.
As half of Kon & Amir, and on his own, Amir has toured the world, building an underground following into a worldwide network of fanatical fans. In a world where anybody with a laptop, or even an iPod, fancies themselves a DJ, Amir is here to keep the true tradition of the DJ alive.
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About This Program
At Dubspot you’ll be working at personal student workstations equipped with industry standard and cutting-edge technology: Technics SL-1200 / 1210 series turntables, Pioneer CDJs, Pioneer DJM or Rane TTM mixers, Apple iMacs and MacBook Pros, Native Instruments’ Traktor Scratch Pro, Serato Scratch Live, vinyl, CDs, timecode, and MIDI controllers.
Our instructors teach you the necessary techniques and draw on their vast collective experience to give you insight into the mindset, workflow, and art of DJing. Graduates of the DJ Extensive Program will have an opportunity to perform at an event in a New York City venue, organized and promoted by Dubspot together with you and your fellow students. At Dubspot, we want you to do more than just learn. We want you to be great at doing what you love. Let us help you get there!
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- DJ Level 4: Preparation | DJ Psychology
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- DJ Level 6: Club to the World | Advanced Techniques II
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