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Interview with Bay Area DJ Mac G

Posted Mar 21 2009

Words from one of the Bay Area's ground-breaking hip hop legends. Mac takes time to share some insider stories, reflect on changes in the industry, and how he's stayed relevant for more than two decades.

It’s funny who you run into when you’re out and about. Recently I was at a fundraiser for a senior citizens’ group in Oakland and ran into rapper B-Legit’s DJ, Mac G, who was spinning for the event. Then again, this shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Even back in Detroit, I remember dudes like the 12 Tech Mob doing major battles around the country, then doing a wedding in Detroit the next day. I myself might do an event with someone like Royce The Five Nine, then play polka records the next night, and a salsa set the following one!

But getting back to Mac G AKA DJ Mackadocious Nutt (how old school is that?!?), he’s been in the game for more than 25 years and has put out more than hundred mix CDs and DVDs over the years, while traveling the world, spinning with the likes of Too Short, E-40, Da Brat, Messy Marv, Scarface, and Tela. While I was familiar with his work, I had never met him personally, so between songs we chopped it up a bit. I threw some softball questions, but definitely would like to get a little deeper into it the next time we link up.

Let’s get some of the basics out of the way. Are you from Vallejo? How’d you get started?
Born and raised! I got into DJing because back in the day, when everyone was break dancing, I couldn’t do it. I tried to dance, but wasn’t about nothing. I still wanted to be a part of the culture though.

As far as the spinning, I picked it up from my cousin. He was a little bit older and he was in the military. You know how dudes would go overseas to Japan and Philippines came back with all kinds of stuff…speakers, Technics (turntables)? That’s how I got started.

My first pro gig was when I was 14, at the Onion Festival. From there I did house parties, school functions, mixtapes…I started in ’84.

The first crew I had was the Ultimate Force DJs. That was all throughout high school.

Are any of them still active?

Just one, Dave Diggler, who’s DJing and producing.

I later started The Gumbo Mix DJs. The core group started out with me, Mac G aka DJ Macadocious Nutt, DJ Smurf (not the Atlanta one), DJ Diggler, and DJ Skratch (not EPMD’s). Now it’s just me and DJ Skratch. The other guys went their separate ways.

We were managed by Scott “Flash” Gordon. He’s managed many platinum artists and producers like Spice 1, Conscious daughters, Paris, and Rick Rock. He still manages me.

I know you’ve done your fair share of traveling. Where are some of the places you’ve been and was it as part of someone’s tour or were you on your own as well?

I’ve done clubs, touring, the whole get down. I’ve done a lot on my own. Basically what happened, I started the Gumbo Mixtape series and blew up from that. That was my resume to go to the next level. My company was the biggest to do the mix CDs on the West Coast, other than Rectangle, in the early in and mid-90s. We were the first company in the Bay area to do this. Rectangle was down in L.A.  We were getting calls nationwide. Sometimes we went out on concert tours with different artists, sometimes we were brought in to do clubs. For a while I was feeling like a prostitute. It didn’t matter where a club was opening. They’d get us out there ‘cause they knew we’d draw a crows. Sometime we’d get a promoter from out of state for a one-off, but never get that call back. But there were others who were really getting that money and bring us out weekly. But some jokers knew what they were doing and when they had different grand openings to help jumpstart the club, but they would only bring us in one time, and not deal with us again. But the vibe wasn’t the same. The joke ended up being on them. They know who they are.

In 2002 I was voted the West Coast mixtape champ by the Northwest Beat Alliance and the #1 DJ in three different markets that year, in Seattle, Denver, and the Bay Area.

How’d that happen? Did you have a syndicated show?
Nah. I was just running in all those circuits. I’d do a couple nights in one place, then a couple of nights in another, just rotating.

Where are some of the places you’ve been overseas?
Sydney, Australia, Osaka, Zurich, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Puerta Vallarta, Moscow, twelve different countries.

What was on of your most memorable memories during all this traveling? Not necessarily the craziest, but just something that stood out.
(Without hesitation) One time we were doing a show in San Bernardino with B-Legit and the venue where we had to do the gig didn’t have a turntable or mixer and we didn’t have a show DAT. The house DJ just totally straight hated. Before we showed up the DJ took out all the equipment. From then on I always took my own equipment. Dude straight up said he didn’t like us or what we stood for and we couldn’t use his equipment. We couldn’t perform, but they still had to pay us!

Did you run into a lot of people not trying to pay up?
We had our share.

How’d that get resolved?
Remember Rap Pages? They were having some kind of convention in Seattle. It lasted for three days. They booked me to do a gig at the Aerospace one night and Flyin’ Aces Casino the second night. The first night they didn’t have my money. The second night they didn’t have my money so we weren’t going to on. We were talking to some girl who owned the magazine and some  African guy was there. Some constituents damn near choked her out and they stomped a mud hole in him. They ended up giving us a bunch of free advertising and some money. They had to rework contracts and we took pictures of them signing the contracts, holding up the contracts. Promoters sometimes tried to slip out the back door. It happened a few times, but we always caught them.

How’d you hook up with B-Legit?
We had been knowing each other for a long time. In the mid ‘90s, when cats were doing shows they were putting DJs back in the limelight. He called me and said “we got a couple of tours lined up, are you interested?”

So did you have solo performances between sets or were you part of the show?
There was some of that, but I was actually party of the show. We were doing all vinyl. No DATs. Again, hip hop at that time really brought the DJs back into the limelight.

The most memorable show was at the Shark Tank in San Jose. That was the biggest gig, with 25,000 people. This was in ’97. I can’t remember the name of the tour, but it featured Bizzy Bone from Bone Thugz, Da Brat, Too Short, Richie Rich, the Outlawz, basically a who’s who of Bay Area hip hop. Man, too have that line up in front of the home town crowd….

What are some of the main changes that you’ve noticed over the years?
A lot of these young cats don’t have skills. They can’t mix, they don’t read crowds. They suck. They play for themselves, playing what they want. DJing’s never been about that. There’s a skill to controlling a crowed.

I used to be a part of Jam Master Jay’s DJ referral service, The Nation Wide DJs. They actually owe me some money! But yeah, Jay and them would help get us booked all over the place, like a club in Detroit may want a Bay Area feel, or a  guy in New York might get booked for a gig in New Mexico. I remember him saying how amazed he was with what the Asian cats were doing out here, with the scratching and beat juggling. He had never seen anything like that. But the Bay has some of the best DJs out there. We can do it all!

I will say though, that Colorado was a hard place to play. They’re a “follow me” state. Have you ever heard of a gold or platinum selling artist come out of there? They’re too busy following trends. If the south is got, they go for that. If Snoop and the West is hot, they follow that.

But wouldn’t that make it easier to play for them, if they’re so trendy?
No, because I play underground music. I’m a Bay Area cat. That’s what I do. If I went to New York, I know what New York is about. If I go to L.A, they have a sound. If you got to Miami, you know the vibe. If a New York guy went to most clubs in Colorado, he has to play the hits. Colorado is a hard place to spin because they’re so trendy.

But again, wouldn’t that make it easier, although less interesting?
Maybe if you’re a radio guy, but they can’t play the spots where I play. They just know the top 40 format.

Is Colorado still like that, or are you talking about the nineties, when you were spending a lot of time out there?
I’m talking more about the nineties.

You obviously made a name for yourself doing hip hop, but you’re here spinning smooth jazz and line dance music. What other kinds of events do you and what other genres of music?
I’ve always loved all genres of music. I have strong rock roots. Listening to it, playing it, everything. I listened to Led Zepplin, KISS and stuff like that. That was some of the first stuff I was hearing kicks to mix to. Remember Peter Criss the drummer from KISS? His stuff was some of the first stuff I started mixing to!

I made a lot of money off of hip hop and people wouldn’t think I would make money off functions like this. I always tell people if you have a limited mind set, you make a limited amount of money. If you do this part time, you make part-time money. Once the touring and stuff starting settling down, all the venues were taken up. They were pretty much filled and people were doing one offs.

If I wanted to continued to doing what I was doing, I had to be open to doing new things. If I wanted to stay in this game, I had to be open to a lot of other type of events. I’m not going to sell myself short. I’ve been doing this a long time. Bat mitzvahs, roller skating rinks, frat/sorority parties. I’m still concert DJing and I do youth functions.

How’d you get into the bat mitzvah circuit?
I was doing a wedding reception one time and a doctor came up to me and asked if I had ever played at a bat mitzvah. I said “no, but I’m open to learning” and they told me what to do. It went well.

One last thing before we get out of here, how do you balance family life with such a hectic schedule?
It’s been hard. In the beginning, when stuff really started taking off, my girl was like “go ahead and be all that you can be.” But there are times you spend so much time in the studio and away from your kids…I got three kids and wasn’t always around, but my girl held down the fort. But there were times she couldn’t show those young boys how to be men. I really had to make a decision if I was going to be out there making this money or let my kids grow up with no father. I had to pass up on a lot of gigs.

I’ve come into another phase of this. You always have to reinvent yourself to get that edge back. There are constant transitions and you’re trying to balance that home life. But here I am, still able to make money, in a place people wouldn’t expect to see me!

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