DJ Cut Chemist
DJ Cut Chemist
Photo courtesy of Cut Chemist's management.

Cut Chemist Gives Us a Look Inside the Brain of a Record Collector

Lucas MacFadden (better known as Cut Chemist) found his life's passion at an early age when we began dj'ing at 11 years old. He is best known as a founding member of both Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli. Fueled by the desire to define the essence of hip-hop and share cultural education, Cut Chemist has pioneered the music scene by preserving and sharing the best old school, hip-hop, funk, and rare groove beats from this continent and beyond. 

Last month, Cut Chemist released limited pressings of his Funk Off Megamix, a precursor to his upcoming solo album and follow-up to his classic mixes The Litmus Test and Sound Of The Police.

"I've been working on a new album for quite some time now," Cut Chemist told us. "All I can say is that there are a lot of live musicians on it and there's a lot of different variety in the music. Not sure when but I can say for sure, next year."

You can celebrate 16 years with Funky Sole and Cut Chemist this Saturday at The Echo in Los Angeles. Tickets are $10.

We chatted with Cut Chemist about establishing credibility and his obsession with collecting records. Here's what he had to say:

OC Weekly (Jena Ardell): First of all—you own an obscene amount of records (over 40,000)! Are you constantly collecting or have you cut back?

Cut Chemist: I'm constantly collecting, but I have cut back recently. It's mostly because I'm at a point where I have to step back to challenge my taste and get into new sounds and genres. It's good practice to get into and keeps me open-minded.

Do you find yourself as passionate about collecting as you are about creating? Does one desire fuel the other?

Collecting does fuel the creative but not vice versa for me. Collecting takes a totally different head space then creating. I find collecting is more of a left brain function with cataloging and completing, filing, etc. It's an entirely different muscle.

You started at such a young age and it seems like your mother was very supportive of your record collecting hobby that turned into a career. Was she a fan of music or just happy you were passionate about something?

My mother and father were both into music. She played piano and he played guitar. He wrote songs and recorded demos for fun when I was little. He wrote a song for a jazz musician named Don Ellis. I found a dope drum break on that album as well.

At what point did you realize that you wanted to DJ—or did you always know that's what you ultimately wanted to do while you were collecting?

I started collecting music at the age of 8 or 9. Back then I just knew a DJ as someone who played records on the radio. I remember wanting to do that as a kid. It seemed like fun. I didn't realize I wanted to be scratch DJ until I was 12 when I got into hip-hop in 1984.

Cut Chemist Gives Us a Look Inside the Brain of a Record Collector
Photo courtesy of Cut Chemist's management.

What do you miss about Hollywood?

Me not being there. I miss that place. It will always feel like home to me. There's a great artistic energy that resides in that part of the city that will never go away. It helped create a lot of magic with J5 and other projects I was apart of. I've seen it at its best and worst. Like Death Wish II, bad. Now the clubs are cleaner but there's still edge to the streets.

You mentioned a college art photo class project [of photos of people's record collections] in a past interview. What ever happened with that because it sounds awesome...

I wanted to share people's personalities through how they organized there records and what type of records they coveted. I always found it interesting how each collector was so different. Especially pre-Internet collecting which was a period when we all had to find records "in the field." Back then people's collections were very different from one another based on where they lived and where they traveled. It was much more of a biographical study of the person than today where anyone can pretty much buy anything online. 

I don't plan on doing anything with them publicly. The book Dust and Grooves does a pretty good job of doing the same thing with collectors from all over the world.

You've built a career pre-social media. Do you think it's a more difficult feat now or easier?

I'm not sure. I think it's a different type of skill set. I'm not the greatest at social media, but I knew how to hit the street and get my name out there back in the day. Social media is the art of talking about doing and like Bobby Byrd used to say "saying and doing are two different things."

I think artists that started in the social media age are better at it than those that didn't. It's a different type of communication that's tough to master if you're not used to it. How and why things trend, the shelf life of those trends, etc, seems like solving word problems in math class to me. At the same time I try to have fun with it and interject my own personality and taste to a wider audience than I otherwise would've 20 years ago.

Cut Chemist Gives Us a Look Inside the Brain of a Record Collector
Photo courtesy of Cut Chemist's management.

Does social media dilute the cool/underground appeal or enhance it?

I think that invites to Facebook events will never be as cool as trying find locations to underground clubs by word of mouth. Again, one had to work hard to find such places and really had to want it.

You DJ-ed a United Nations' General Assembly for the premier of the "One Day on Earth" documentary a few years ago... What was that atmosphere/crowd like?

It was open to the public so it wasn't in front of world leaders but there were some political figures in attendance. I did my Sound Of The Police routine which is a world music DJ routine I put together using one turntable and a loop pedal. It was a lot of fun and I remember people enjoying it.

Is it more difficult now for aspiring DJs to establish credibility now?

DJ'ing has become so accessible that it loses credibility just for that fact. Back in the vinyl days, that aspect alone cut down the chances of just anyone being a DJ. One had to work hard and pay lots of money for equipment and records, lugging those records across airports, etc. These aspects were enough to turn off a lot of people. Now anyone can be a DJ with a laptop and not have to do the heavy lifting so to speak. With this kind of accessibility, people without any skill are now invited to the party which in turn can change audiences into expecting less and less over time.

That all being said I don't dismiss EDM in any way. There are bad DJs everywhere just like there are good ones too. I like a lot of electronic dance music and some of the DJs in this genre have good taste and skill. Establishing credibility still takes work like it always has and not being afraid of being different will always get you where you need to be.

How important is Record Store Day to you?

Every day is record store day to me. If there's one day I actually don't buy records it's on RSD. I'll spend that day going around to my favorite shops just hanging out watching others buy. It's a lot of fun.

Do you have plans to return to acting?

If I get a call, I will return, absolutely.


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