A Cut Above

It took a move from New York for Vinroc to become a world champion DJ

The performance was enough to shock ITF founder and president Alex Aquino, a former manager of the Piklz. "From '96 to '97 was night and day for Vin," he says. "Maybe you have to move to San Francisco to be a champion."

The reigning champion's past year has been a hectic one. He's spent lots of time recording, supplying cuts on Rasco's debut album for Stones Throw, performing on a track from the compilation Cue's Hip-Hop Shop Volume 1 (Dogday), and beat juggling on Q-Bert's first full-length release, Wave Twisters (Galactic Butt Hair). And he's also been in the studio learning how to produce. He's quick to add that this is a skill that many of his fellow turntablists have yet to learn. "I use strictly turntables in production. Mix it down into a little computer. That's the thing about turntablists: When they're done, are they capable of doing production? Because they don't always have a knowledge of the music and records," he says.

Vinroc is concerned by some of his peers' lack of musical knowledge. This was made clear, he says, during a recent Oakland performance at which the pioneering Grandmaster Flash, though lacking some of today's turntable techniques, stole the spotlight from several recent champions. "That's what the difference is with a DJ like Grandmaster Flash. He would just play records and there was like 3,000 people with their hands in the air. He's not technically as advanced -- he's an old-school DJ, we give him respect for that. But he had the knowledge of the music that the younger kids are missing." He cautiously adds, "There's a lot of young kids now who can just watch the Turntable Wizardry videos and get a couple of Skratch Pikl scratch tapes and next year win a world championship."

Both Aquino and former Skratch Pikl and 1992 DMC world champion DJ Apollo say Vinroc's well-rounded DJ skills are what set him apart; as adept at keeping a crowd moving through popular jams at a club as he is at waxing the competition at various turntable battles, Vinroc knows music and doesn't hide his fondness for mixing in social settings. A fan of Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, he's also never been one to limit his tastes in music, and doesn't understand why so many turntablists thumb their noses at the club mixologist. "I guess they find it boring," he says of mixing records. "It's very challenging, though. You have to know what to play for them. You have to know when to play it. You can control their vibe. You are like the witch doctor of the night. It's just as hard as being a turntablist probably. Maybe not as technical, but you really have to think."

While defending his title in Amsterdam, Vinroc had an opportunity to use one of his opponent's names in a dis -- a familiar tactic utilized by battle DJs who also are known to flip the bird or moon a competitor. But he changed his mind prior to his set, instead performing a virtually flawless routine in which funk and rhythm triumphed over braggadocio. The former New Yorker faced current Big Apple resident DJ Infamous in the final round after all the international competitors had been eliminated; DJ Apollo, who was one of the judges, likens the battle to a prizefight. "The final round is like a boxing match. If the champ doesn't move or budge, then the champ's still the champ. Infamous didn't beat Vin. Vin just exploded on him."

Having won world championships and conquered the uncertainty that comes with moving out on your own, Vinroc has become a vital part of San Francisco's musical culture. Even his parents are beginning to come around. "I guess if you see your son in Rolling Stone," says Vinroc, "it's all right."

Vinroc appears every Tuesday at the "Beat Lounge" at Club Deco, 510 Larkin (at Turk), S.F. Call 441-4007.

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