DJ NEIL ARMSTRONG INTERVIEW


Long before he was Jay Z’s tour DJ for all of 2008 and 2009, or a Global Brand Ambassador for Adidas, Neil Armstrong was a humble, fan of music. And he has never changed…Neil was born and bred in NYC, cutting his teeth in the early 90’s during the era of backpack Hip-Hop and the art of Turntablism. His time spent in the trenches battling and mastering the art of spinning allowed him to rock shows alongside artists across the Hip-Hop spectrum – from De La Soul, The Roots, Company Flow and Biz Markie, to Kanye West, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes and Wyclef Jean.

Over the last 10 years, he has made an indelible mark in the sub-genre of Hip-Hop known as “Mixtape Culture.” Neil’s highly-regarded mixtapes represent his eclectic music taste and have generated considerable press, most-notably in Rolling Stone, Vibe, MTV.com, Theme, URB and Complex. From rocking in front of over 100,000 fans at the Glastonbury Festival, to anchoring a performance on the Letterman Show, to pumping with ice-cold veins at Madison Square Garden (three consecutive shows no less), DJ Neil Armstrong is now in the highest strata of DJ existence.

Even though he can now been seen in videos with Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige, has spun for Adidas at the Olympic Games in Beijing, has shared the stage with Rihanna, Beyonce, Kanye West, Young Jeezy, Swiss Beats, Puff Daddy, Timbaland, Bun B, Memphis Bleek, EPMD, and Method Man, or performed alongside Slayer, Interpol, The Cool Kids, Common, Neil Young, Mark Ronson, Coldplay, NERD, and Linkin Park, Neil is as humble and focused as ever.

This a testament to what Neil brings to the plate, as longevity is one of the things that cannot faked or bought, and something that few in this world of disposable DJ.s have. The proof is in the pudding: the best word to describe Neil Armstrong is classic.

What are your earliest memories of music?
My earliest memories were of me playing it. I learned to play the violin, piano, flute, guitar at a very young age and also church making us kiddies sing in front of everyone!

Describe growing up in New York during the golden era of Hip Hop?
I was in high school when the golden era started. I got to bare witness to so many cool things, from Rocksteady reunions, to seeing Tribe and Leaders Of The New School performing “Scenario” live. You could see Q-Tip just walking around the city. I got to see Mos Def when he was still with UTD, I got to see Biggie perform “Party And Bullshit” with Tupac on the stage that night and Pharcyde also performed and headlined.

It was great to have been there during that time period. NYC was still pretty gritty, Times Square hadn’t been cleaned up and there was no such thing as commercial Hip Hop except for Hammer/Vanilla Ice. Walking around the city was like being in a big ass high school. you could see your peoples everywhere, give each other dap, and go along your way I truly miss that era…

What first got you into DJing?
The whole battle turntablism scene I wanted to win a DMC/ITF battle that was it. Watching Q-Bert and the X-Men DJ’s on the videos…that was it I was hooked.

Who were your musical influences coming up?
As far as other DJ’s I was heavily influenced as far as skills go by the X-Men DJ’s, Mr. Sinista and Total Eclipse. For party rocking I used to watch Tony Touch doing his thing. For mixtapes I was heavily influenced by this mixtape duo G-Bo The Pro and Rei Double R.

As far as music goes, of course there was just all the Hip Hop stuff, but I also had a sister who listened to New Wave – The Cure, The Smiths, Erasure and bands like that. So I listened to a wide spectrum of music…

You are the founding father of the DJ crew 5th Platoon what are the rest of the members up to now and are there any legendary battles you can remember from back then?
Most of the members still DJ, some as more of a hobby. Vinroc moved onto production but still party rocks out in the Bay Area. DJ Daddy Dog got into the video mixing stuff and DJ’s around NYC. Kuttin Kandi got married and got more into her Hip Hop activist stuff DJ Doboy left the scene a while ago and has a ‘normal ‘ life in the tech industry. At one point he was even the CEO of Friendster. I.Emerg was Theophilus London’s first Executive Producer etc with his label Normrex and Roli still DJ’s locally as well.

In our battle days we were super tight knit, but as time went on we all just started ‘living our lives’. I still keep in touch with everyone I see Vinroc all the time. When I’m in NYC I try to catch up with Daddy Dog. As you can imagine though life after Jay and with Adidas keeps me on the road most of the time.

As far as our battles… yeesh too many to remember. I was with I.Emerge when he won the DMC worlds two times in a row and we were there when Vinroc won the ITF… two times in a row AND our first battle in Queens where we first met…:) lots of memories…

The turntablist scene has died down from its heyday in the mid to late 90’s why do you think this is?
Turntablism went the way of Jazz I think the audience for it just got smaller and smaller. Most of the people who are into Turntablism are Turntablists themselves, so its difficult to get people to support events financially. For example, all my friends are DJ’s and we all hang out practicing at my crib on Wednesday but then I have a show on Friday why would my friends, who I know and hangout with me for free, pay for a show to come see me perform and vice versa.

It also became too complicated for the average person to appreciate and that further created the inability to financially make money from the artform. So a lot of DJ’s had to do things which were more financially rewarding, i.e. DJ parties and get into production…

You are renowned for your series of mixtapes what has been your favourite one to make and why?
Favorite CD will always be my first “Original” made 11 years ago. I was able to include a lot of the my turntablism techniques and my love of all types of music for that mix. To this day the mix is still requested and I sell a few every month.

What makes a good mixtape?
I think a good mixtape tells a story, and makes a soundtrack for your life essentially . You can listen to a bunch of songs and it seems seamless from beginning to end.

What are your 5 favourite mixtapes of all time?
Goldfinger mixtape from 1991 or 1992 he did this Pharcyde blend that was sick, a bunch of the G-Bo The Pro mixtapes, Dirty Harry’s stuff, Doo Wop’s old stuff, Tony Touch too many to mention!

How did you get to be Jay-Z’s tour DJ?
Jay and i had a mutual friend, this girl Vashtie Kola who used to work with him at Def Jam. For the most part it was her mentioning my name to him that got me the initial look and the rest is history.

How do you look back on working for one of the greatest Hip Hop artists of all time?
Fondly of course. I’ve done things that most people just dream of like being the first DJ to perform for Obama at the inaugural celebration, performing at Glastonbury and performing at Madison Square Garden.

I got to scratch Michael Jacksons voice when we did tributes, put together the Beastie Boys tribute when we performed “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”, got to scratch Nas’s voice when we performed “Dead Presidents” for the hook. I even got to rap Pimp C’s verse on big pimpin with Jay-Z just chilling.

What is one thing you have learnt from working with Jay Z?
Mostly that the sky is the limit. From Marcy to Madison Square like the song says. Dream big and make it happen because you can.

You are also an Adidas Global Ambassador what does your role entail?
I’m the continuation of Jam Master Jay for Adidas 25 some odd years after they first sponsored Run DMC. My role is to rep Adidas everywhere I go I got adidas on my feet encompassing style, Hip Hop culture, street wear culture and letting folk know that Adidas is more then just clothes its part of my lifestyle.

What’s the best/worst thing about being a DJ?
Best thing – I have a job that involves making others happy through music.
Worst thing – It’s a labor of love with emphasis on the labor I am never not working.

If you were not a DJ what would you be doing?
I had the good fortune to have a great education. I probably would be doing stuff in the web/internet/tech industry which is what I did before I DJ’d full time.

You have travelled the globe throughout your career what is your favourite place to go to and why?
Vancouver and Australia it’s all about the environment and the people. Vancity and the cities I’ve been in Oz have been amazing and beautiful.

What has been your career highlight so far?
Mentioned a bunch above but probably the biggest highlight is being in the Star Wars Adidas advert with David Beckham, Snoop and Daft Punk to name a few. We recreated the cantina scene so I’ve been in an advert with Han Solo and Obi Wan Kenobi.

What advice would you give to up and coming DJ’s?
Don’t let money be your main motivation.

What does the future hold for DJ Neil Armstrong?
Man, I’ve been a person of opportunity making the best of what comes my way so i really don’t know! If NASA ever decides to have a party up on a space station though, they better hire me

What’s your definition of Grindin’?
Grindin’ = the daily operation.

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