Master of the mashup Z-Trip is alive and well

IN CONCERT

What: Z-Trip with The Gaff and DJ Anger
Where: Capital Ballroom, 858 Yates St.
When: Tonight, 10 p.m.
Tickets: $29.50 at ticketweb.ca and Lyle’s Place, 770 Yates St.

Z-Trip’s evolution as an artist, from vinyl junkie with nearly 75,000 records in his collection to gearhead winning raves for audio equipment of his design, has been one of the few constants in the DJ world over the past two decades.

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Contemporaries of his from the late 1990s have long since disappeared or lost their relevance. New-school talents are no threat to his legacy, either; his party-rocking skillset, developed over hundreds of live sets, is too vast and varied. He’s not called the master of the mashup by accident.

The Arizona-bred producer (born Zach Sciacca) hasn’t grown complacent as he nears 50. Sciacca has won every DJ award in existence, but he’s still hungry for new developments on and off the stage. In recent years, he has found a willing partner in rap icon LL Cool J, with whom Sciacca has developed a thriving partnership.

“Not only is it an honour to work with a legend — and him, of all legends — it’s also extremely validating,” Sciacca said recently, during an interview from his San Diego home. “I never set out to have [playing with LL Cool J] as a goal, per se, but the fact we connected and it has been working has been amazing.”

When Sciacca played Chicago’s Lollapalooza festival in early August, the producer did so over the course of three sets in a single day. And these weren’t sets for a fast buck when nobody was looking. Not only did Sciacca perform a main stage set with LL Cool J at the festival, he did so after his daytime performance with funk duo Chromeo and rockers Welshly Arms for Rolling Stone magazine.

Later that night, he played a club gig backing rapper Busta Rhymes.

“I had three separate crates of music I really had to invest time and energy into for those shows,” Sciacca said. “You’re not as much in the studio as you are sitting on a plane or sitting in a hotel completely focused on your computer running through tunes. It’s constantly happening. The switch is always on.”

Z-Trip has remixed official tracks for Nirvana, Rush and Bob Marley, among dozens of others, and made it to the 2013 Grammy Awards telecast for a performance alongside LL Cool J, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Travis Barker of Blink-182. Sciacca’s many collaborations with LL Cool J brought the semi-retired legend back to the stage. The rapper from Queens, New York, hadn’t been doing much in the way of performing before he aligned with Sciacca in 2011.

“That’s the thing I loved about it. He didn’t need to do this — he wanted to do it. And it was the same thing with me. I didn’t need to work with him — I wanted to work with him. We’re both in an amazing position in a sense in that we clearly want to make music together and push the culture.”

Since his return, the Grammy Award-winning rapper behind Going Back to Cali, Mama Said Knock You Out and Doin’ It has found a younger audience that largely knew him from his lead role on NCIS: Los Angeles. In 2017, LL Cool J became the first rapper to receive Kennedy Center Honors, one of the highest artistic achievements in the U.S.

“People always knew he was the greatest, but because he was focusing so heavy on acting, there weren’t a lot of shows happening,” Sciacca said.

“People tend to take their heroes and put them on a shelf. And I feel like when we linked up, he got excited about music again, and that allowed people to think: ‘Wait a second — he’s not done.’ It’s not like he ever retired, he just wasn’t in the studio painting new pictures. He had all the materials there, he just never got to it. So we got back into the studio and painted some more.”

The pair also have their own classic hip-hop channel on SiriusXM satellite radio, through which they can explore the deeper meaning of the artform. A recent show on their Rock the Bells Radio saw the hosts sit down with Eminem for a state of the rap world address, prior to the latter’s explosive new release, Kamikaze. It was a thrill for Sciacca to see Eminem and LL Cool J have a meeting of the minds, having accomplished as much as any two figures in hip-hop history.

“I feel like we’re in a world where a lot of people have forgotten how incredible some of these people are and can be. We want to present classic hip-hop in a way that is for us by us. There’s a lot of curation involved. And it’s not really about ego and posturing.”

Sciacca’s recent Victoria appearances have been largely Rifflandia sets. He played the festival during its inaugural 2008 edition — delivering a raucous set atop the Strathcona Hotel — and has played the festival several times since.

He’s looking forward to coming back for a club experience at the Capital Ballroom tonight. “A festival set is very much about getting you moving and having it be palatable for everybody. That’s fun for me. But when I get into a club environment, I can get a little deeper into obscure stuff. I have the ability to go in other directions.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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