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
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.