They've recorded with Xzibit, Everlast, Inspectah Deck and the late Big Pun, yet the best career move turntablist collective X-ecutioners ever made was hooking up with Linkin Park rapper Mike Shinoda and turntablist Mr. Hahn for "It's Goin' Down," the first single from their second album, Built From Scratch.
The combustive cut features a fist-pumping beat, buzzsaw guitar samples and, of course, a dizzying array of scratching from all four X-ecutioners Rob Swift, Roc Raida, Mista Sinista and Total Eclipse and Hahn. But it's Shinoda who boosts the energy level to critical mass with percussive rhymes that deftly describe the colossal collaboration: "The combination of a vocal caress with lungs that gasp for breath from emotional stress/ The logical progression on a timeline, the separation narrowed down to a fine line/ To blur the edges 'til they blend together properly/ Take you on an audible odyssey."
The song's energy output is greater than the sum of its parts, ranking right up there with Aerosmith and Run-DMC's version of "Walk This Way" and Anthrax and Public Enemy's rendition of "Bring the Noise." As brilliant a marketing move as "It's Goin' Down" is for X-ecutioners, the group wasn't thinking about mainstream exposure when it placed the first calls to Linkin Park early last year.
"They had just dropped their album and were still trying to get known," said Rob Swift during an interview at Phat Beats record store in New York's West Village. "We heard the record and fell in love with every song on it. We were like, 'Yo, Linkin Park is capturing the same energy that we want to capture in our music, so why don't we try to collaborate?' "
While everyone involved was excited about the project from day one, it wasn't just a matter of convening in the studio for a day or two to bash out the track. Linkin Park had a rigorous road schedule and were unable to commit to a block of studio time. So, the X-ecutioners got the wheels spinning by assembling a DAT of different beats and scratches and sending it to Linkin Park, who recorded their passages onto the disc and sent it back. This back-and-forth process continued for a few volleys before both parties were happy with the results. Then all the musicians hooked up in the studio to put the final touches on the song.
"In the end, it sounded like we were together every step of the way," Swift marveled. "I think that's what happens with good musicians. You don't have to be there present in order to get across what you want."
Not only did the sounds of the two outfits mesh, but their personalities blended as well. They instantly discovered shared interests, attitudes, senses of humor and creative visions and quickly became close friends, and with friendship comes favors. Linkin Park invited X-ecutioners to perform with them at last year's MTV Video Music Awards, and last November they took the turntable wizards on the road for the Countdown to Revolution Tour.
"We hit places like Iowa, Utah cities we never thought we'd visit as DJs," Swift said. "Here we were performing for tens of thousands of people that never saw anything like what we do, and I think it's gonna help us reach a wider audience that needs to know about the existence of DJs like ourselves."
The Linkin love continued to spread last December when X-ecutioners asked Hahn to direct the video for "It's Goin' Down." At the conclusion of the Countdown to Revolution tour, Linkin Park headed into an L.A. studio to film the clip. In the video, which features a cameo by Wayne Static of Static-X, X-ecutioners are seen hanging outside a club where Linkin Park are playing. Once they hear the music, the turntablists rush indoors, jump onstage and start jamming with the surprised band.
"Mike [Shinoda] is kind of ignoring us at first [in the video]," Swift explained, "but once we start scratching, he sees that we're talented as well, and what we do on the turntables and how we express ourselves could only add to and intensify their music."
Swift paused for a second to make sure his last idea sunk in. "What it's really about is bridging the world of DJing and scratching with the world of rock," he continued. "Bridging the turntable with the guitar and the vocals with what we're doing on turntables and making it real. With a lot of videos you see girls with bikinis and cars. With this, it was just us being ourselves. The way you see us in the video is the way you see us every day."
Now that the X-ecutioners are plugging Built From Scratch and Linkin Park are heading back into the studio, it might seem like the working relationship has come to an end. It hasn't.
"Right now, we're working on a song for their next album that's possibly gonna be an intro or something," said Raida, who was silent for most of the interview. "We just started, but we're working on it. Hopefully we'll tour more with them and do other stuff, because they're like our boys now."