Live: X-ecutioners Turn The Tables On Rap Tour

DJs and guests scratch up a storm at Elements of Hip-Hop show in New York.

NEW YORK -- Sometime in the early '90s, someone dropped the fader

on hip-hop DJs.

Gone are the days of the up-front, celebrated turntablists such as

Grandmaster Flash and Jam Master Jay, scratch-and-mix masters who gained

fame outside of tight rap circles. So it's more than a little surprising

that at a sold-out show boasting guest appearances by the Roots' Black

Thought and De La Soul (promising a new album this summer), the most

memorable performance came from four DJs who hardly said a word and

whose

"guests" were relative rap unknowns.

The X-ecutioners, formerly the X-Men, aren't the star attraction on the

Elements of Hip-Hop tour, which also includes Rahzel, the Roots' human

beat-box. That distinction belongs to Common, a scintillating rapper backed

by a

better-than-average live band. Most of the 400 or so people at Tramps in

New York City on Tuesday were there to see him, so getting several hearty

ovations was no mean feat for the X-ecutioners, a group with eight

turntables and no microphones.

Most of the X-ecutioners' set included nothing from 1997's

X-pressions, the only album they've recorded since forming in 1989

and winning a horde of DJ contests. Roc Raida, Total Eclipse, Rob Swift and

Mista Sinista simply displayed the turntablist skills they've been working

on since grade school, at first all scratching together, complete with spin

moves and turntable stops with various body parts. They mixed up the beats

too fast for the audience to even dance or bob their heads for more than a

few seconds.

One Common fan from Brooklyn, who would only identify himself as an MC

named the Enthusiast, seemed a little perplexed by the display. He was also

bothered by the "X" symbols fans made with their arms during the show,

comparing them to "shackles." However, the Enthusiast later acknowledged,

"Yeah, they was tight, real tight."

Despite being somewhat shackled to their turntables, each X-ecutioner

performed individually with more freedom than most MCs. Swift, with his

stunning jagged cuts of songs by LL Cool J ("Rock The Bells") and James

Brown ("Sex Machine"), and Raida, who scratched and spun with his knees,

hips, back, elbows, nose, whatever he could use to manipulate the

turntable, got the loudest ovations. But each member's mixes and spins

flowed with excitement, each one a complete and highly conceived musical

piece, combining familiar samples with wicked, indecipherable microbeats.

Next to the sheer turntable-wizardry, the only complete X-pressions

track they played all night, "The

Cipher" (RealAudio excerpt), with

underground rappers Gudtyme, Creature, Pliz and World, seemed tame.

Even X-ecutioners fans were in awe. "Scratching -- it's what I like, and the

X-ecutioners are the best," said 21-year-old Manhattan denizen Josh

Davidson. "And tonight proves it."

Common and his band (organ, drums, guitar, bass and DJ Mista Sinista of the

X-ecutioners) predictably received the warmest response, with the club

finally filling to capacity. His set primarily featured the refreshing,

intelligent raps from his latest album, One Day It'll All Make

Sense, such as "Hungry" and "G.O.D. (Gaining One's Definition)." But

Common made sure to throw in the almost-classic "I Used To Love H.E.R.," an

allegorical rap from 1994's The Resurrection, explaining Common's

take on the modern hip-hop scene.

That was the highlight of his show, not the cameos by Black Thought and De

La Soul, who perform "Stolen Moments Pt. II" and "Getting Down At The

Amphitheater," respectively, on One Day It'll All Make Sense.

Make no mistake, this was Common's night, just as today's hip-hop world at

large belongs to the MCs and the DJs.

But the X-ecutioners struck more than a small blow for the invisible

turntablists, perhaps a small step toward producing the next DJ superstar,

a la Grandmaster Flash. [Fri., Jan. 23, 1998,

9 a.m. PST]