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Photo by James BunoanJ.RoccslowlywigglesthecapoffaHeineken,then bends down and switches records on his silver Vestax turntable. He's cueing up the next song as naturally as putting one foot in front of the other, and he never breaks stride in the conversation. "The only part I don't like about deejaying is the staring contest. Some people will just stand by the turntables and stare all night."
He currently resides in Highland Park, right off the 110 on the way to Pasadena. But just four months ago, he lived in Fountain Valley, known more for its Artesian wells than its hip-hop DJs. He made the transition from the suburbs to the indie hip-hop scene with his buddies the world-famous Beat Junkies, who first showed up in 1992 as 20 or so DJs from all sorts of backgrounds. Right now, the group consists of J. Rocc, Mr. Choc, Rhettmatic, Melo-D, BABU, DJ What? and ShortKut, the guys who put West Coast deejaying on the map with a style so unique people still talk about the "classic Beat Junkies sound." They're somewhere on LA radio every day, showing up on stations from KDAY to Power 106.
These days, the thirtysomething J. Rocc has a scruffy black beard. He drinks soda out of glass bottles, not plastic ones. His house smells a little like cigarettes and old records. A stack of black 45s sit on the ledge of his shelf, waiting for analysis after rescue from his grandmother's basement in Connecticut. He has so many records he can't keep track, he says. He keeps four and five copies of certain records: two to ruin (er, play), one to save, and the stragglers for emergency backup. The walls of his studio apartment reveal genres you never knew existed: "I love Polish jazz," he says. "When I was in Poland, I bought everything that said jazz on it."
When he first started learning to deejay, he used his sister's York Stereo, fading back and forth from the record player on top. In 1985, he started his first group, PSK, who claimed Huntington Beach. But after class at Huntington High School, J. Rocc would ride his bike to Fountain Valley to lay around with his friends and listen to records while other kids were skateboarding and surfing. "I guess I'm not a product of my environment," he says.
But maybe he is: trips to the old Santa Ana Koo's freestyle night started sharpening his skills ("All the hip-hop kids in Orange County used to go there," he says. "That was our good life"), and he managed to build a name for himself by deejaying at beery backyard parties in Huntington. In the early '90s, he was in the Funkadelic Concepts with two kids from Garden Grove and one kid who lived across the street from Edison High, and then he made mixtapes for the Drawls clothing company—the first time his music reached beyond Southern California. Before that, he says, he did "hand-to-hand combat sales" of his mixtapes. And even a few years ago, you could still find him working the counter at LA hip-hop record store Fat Beats or a comic-book store in Newport Beach.
But today? "I just got back from Brazil," he smiles. Since the late '90s, J. Rocc and the Beat Junkies have been flying all over the world. And then there's the side-projects and the club gigs. He's also working with Stones Throw, one of the best indie hip-hop labels around (owner/founder Peanut Butter Wolf lives just a few streets over). He carpooled with buddy Madlib to J Dilla's birthday party. Still, he's pretty measured about it: "For the most part, we just go to play some music," he says. "It's pretty cut and dry."
J. Rocc at Abstract Workshop's Seven Years Strong anniversary show with Rhettmatic, Jud Nester, DJ Cocoe, Josh One, Scotty Coats and Organic, plus Art by Swank One, at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600. SAT., 9:30 p.m. $10. 21+.
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