Styles Upon Styles

The Bay Area's Triple Threat DJs bring all their records to the party

In the beginning, there was Kool DJ Herc, and he rocked the party, and it was good.

There was no way, of course, that the Jamaican-born Herc could have seen what was coming the first time he turned an ordinary instrumental break into a breakbeat, sending a party full of dancers into a frenzy and all but inventing hip hop right there in the rec center of his West Bronx housing project. No way, back in the early 1970s, that he could have predicted the rise and fall and rise again of his musical progeny, the hip hop DJ, or the way a nation of DJs would multiply and splinter and diverge, the beat-makers and producers heading in one direction, the beat-jugglers, the party rockers, and the battlers each heading their own ways. And there's definitely no way he could have foreseen, three decades on, the emergence of the DJ coalition, three or four or five DJs (or more) lined up onstage, each playing his own two decks like the musical instruments they are, and boasting oddball names like the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, or the X-ecutioners, or the Triple Threat DJs. No way in hell.

Well, maybe Triple Threat. Someone oughta send Herc a record (wherever he is), 'cause he would get Triple Threat.

Formed in part from the rubble of the legendary, lamented Skratch Piklz, Triple Threat features the Bay Area troika of Apollo Novicio, Jon Cruz, and Vincent Punsalan -- more famously known as Apollo, Shortkut, and Vinroc -- three of the most decorated DJs on the planet. Combined, they've won three world battle titles, and their ranks include the only back-to-back International Turntablist Federation world champ (Vinroc), the inventor of the modern scratch group (Apollo, along with high school pal Mix Master Mike), and the creator of one of the most influential DJ mixers in the world, the Vestax 05 Pro (that'd be Shortkut). All of which is to say that the Triple Threat DJs are great at what they do -- spectacular, really. But if there's one thing that sets them apart from so many of their contemporaries, it ain't the crowns or the kudos, it's this: Like Herc, the Triple Threat DJs know how to rock a party. And when they do, it is very, very good.

Apollo, at 33 the group's elder statesman, explains Triple Threat's ethos via phone from a New York City hotel room the afternoon after a recent gig: "Before we were turntablists, we used to be mobile DJs, and that's what we used to do. People forget about that style. New kids that are just picking up on [DJing] nowadays, they just go straight into the battle stuff and the trick stuff. Which is cool, you know -- to each his own. But we feel like you shouldn't forget the basic fundamentals of DJing either. Because you miss out on an important part of it if you don't go through that step."

Not the only important part of it, mind you. There's a reason they call themselves Triple Threat, and it isn't simply because there are three of 'em.

"People think that's why it's Triple Threat," says Apollo. "And it is that, too. But it's like a basketball analogy -- you know, like a triple-threat basketball player who can either drive to the hoop or shoot a three or play good defense. Being a Triple Threat DJ means having many styles, whether it's digging for records, being a battle DJ or a club DJ, or producing, playing commercial stuff or underground stuff. We pretty much have an equal love for all the aspects of DJing. We try not to neglect any of them, and so we're trying to incorporate it all into one thing."

The philosophy pervades the group's first full-length, the March release Many Styles. Ostensibly named for the old club night at the Tenderloin's Deco, where the three met in the mid-'90s, Many Styles is a sample platter of hip hop and related genres, from the noisy, layered, Bomb Squad-style sonic assault of "Bring Da Ruckus" to the R&B-tinged "On and On," featuring the sweet, poetic voice of Oakland's Mystic, to the frenetic dancehall of "Move Down Pressa," with Ridgi Gong on the mike. Then there's "We're Triple Threat," a beat machine- laden tribute to the old school that sounds as though it was lifted from a mid-'80s Mantronix record.

"We just tried to bring as much range as we could to the album," Apollo says, "as much versatility as we could. We did vocal tracks and turntable tracks, and we did different kinds of turntable tracks. We did a bounce track, we did a straight turntable track, and we did some turntable vocal tracks. It's basically all the styles we use in the clubs -- our mixing styles, our cutting skills, our producing skills -- all into one collaboration together. We even have a b-boy break track in there, the last one, 'Morning Showers.' We tried to bring as many styles as we could to the album, just to get more versatility."

Created in part during a weeklong "beat retreat," in which the three DJs holed up in a South Lake Tahoe cabin and recorded music while the snow drifted outside, Many Styles boasts guest shots from some underground hip hop royalty, including Black Star's Talib Kweli and the Roots' Black Thought, as well as the aforementioned Mystic and her Bay Area cohorts Goapele and Zion I. The X-ecutioners' Rob Swift and Roc Raida step in on the album's highlight, "Tha Cipha," a cohesive lyric track constructed out of classic rap snippets. Interspersed throughout are a series of truly funny intersong skits revolving around the conflicting -- and sometimes absurd -- requests that club DJs deal with every night, with wave after wave of clubgoers insisting on more scratching, or more Lil' Kim, or more G-Funk, or more dancehall -- and all of it rightnow ("When you gonna play it?" demands one woman. "Come on! Come on, Fast Fingers, play it! Hurry!").

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