X-ecutioners Confound Jacksonville With Scratch Symphony

Group's songs featured minimal lyrics, ever-changing beats; audience seldom got opportunity to settle into a groove.

JACKSONVILLE, Florida — As the three-man DJ troupe X-ecutioners scratched through their hour-long set Monday, video images projected onto a screen above the stage. There, in grainy black-and-white, were jazz musicians straining away on trumpets and saxophones.

It was an interesting choice because, like most DJs, the X-ecutioners

never appear to exert themselves — their whole act is based around making

daredevil wrist-flicking seem as calm as a hurricane's eye. On a more formal

level, the contrast between jazz and hip-hop DJing couldn't be more

pronounced: While most classic jazz improvisation hinges on a relatively steady

beat, the X-ecutioners improvise the beat itself.

This practice led to somewhat confused reactions from the

crowd at the Marquee Theatre Monday. Since most of the group's songs featured minimal lyrics, frantic scratching and ever-changing beats, the audience seldom got an

opportunity to settle into a groove. When it did, though — when the

X-ecutioners let, say, a James Brown or Public Enemy sample play long enough

to be recognized — fans were inclined to hoist their arms and cross them in

an approving X.

The X-ecutioners occasionally employed rappers to accompany their

scratching, but most of the music onstage came from the six (two for each

man) turntables which spanned the stage in a horizontal line. While each DJ had

his own station, Roc Raida, Rob Swift and Total Eclipse would often

mosey over to one of the others' tables to take turns trading cuts in

assembly-line fashion.

Each of the X-ecutioners had his own style. Swift was the unassuming

leader; Roc Raida was the show-off with the Napoleonic complex; Eclipse was

the behind-the-back, under-the-leg, over-the-shoulder flash master. At one

point an MC announced that on the next track, each DJ would spin records

representing a different component of the song. One then took the bassline, one

took the drumline and one sandwiched in little snippets of vocals.

Then (and, for some, only then) did the X-ecutioners' methods begin to

make sense. When nobody was there directing traffic for the crowd, it was

awfully easy to get lost in the symphony of scratches.

Opening hip-hop act the Coup were much easier to interpret — they spelled

out their mistrust of journalists and the government loud and clear. Despite

this coolly received politicking between songs, the group's set got the

crowd moving with a blast of live-band funk and thinking-man's party lyrics.

Beat box revivalist Kenny Mohammed drew raves from observers, and he came

back around late in the night to join the X-ecutioners. Sometime after the

DJs banged out their Linkin Park collab, "It's Goin' Down," Mohammed and

Rob Swift threw down in an old-school battle. Mohammed's mouth frighteningly

replicated any number of drum beats and other effects, but Swift won the

audience's favor with lightening bolts of wrist action that resembled

nothing so much as a street hustler conducting a shell game.

Read about all of the shows we've recently covered in Tour Reports.