Hip Hop icons RZA and DJ Scratch bring listeners on a cinematic and nostalgic journey with the release of their new album, Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater.
Executive produced by multi-platinum and GRAMMY-winning producer DJ Scratch, the seven-track album is a callback to when albums were thematically crafted like a good book and sequencing meant something, and it is intentional from start to finish. It is a tribute to those Saturday afternoons when kung fu movies aired on local tv channels, inspiring fantasy and imagination for a legion of young people.
YRB Editor-in-Chief Jonn Nubian, spoke to DJ Scratch prior to the release of the album about how the project came about, his production process and more.
This interview is a transcript from a video conference call. It has been edited for clarity.
DJ SCRATCH: Peace.
JN: Peace, Scratch. How are you doing man?
DJ SCRATCH All right. What’s going on?
JN: I’m good, man. I got a chance to listen to album over the weekend. I love everything about this record!
DJ SCRATCH: Thank you. Just dropping jewels, man. It’s what’s needed right now, lyrics with substance; Beats boom bap, hip-hop shit of course with that Wu-Tang sound.
JN: We had RZA on the cover for our Summer 2021 Issue for his Netflix film Cutthroat City.
We then got a press release that the album was going to come out August 6, 2021, take us back from there and how this project came together?
DJ SCRATCH: The pandemic was declared in March 2020, I think it in April when RZA hit me up just to check on me, you know. Everything was real crazy at that time and a lot of people were passing away in droves. We didn’t know why, we didn’t know anything. He was just reaching out just to check on me, check on my mental health, and my overall health.
He was just like, “yo man, you still got that beat that you that you gave us?” When they were doing the Wu-Tang Clan 8 Diagrams album, I submitted beats for that album and we recorded one of the three songs.
He was going through his hard drives and he found one of the beats. He described the beat and I’m like, “yeah, I got it!” and He’s like “Oh man, I want to do an album, do you want to do an album together?” I’m like “Hell Yeah!!!”
JN: Just like that?
DJ SCRATCH: Yes. He then told me, “I don’t want to wear both hats right now. I want to go back to just being an MC. I don’t want to have to produce and have to be an MC. I just want to be an MC. I’ve always loved your sound, and your work through the years.” Then I said, “ I got something even better, I’ve been trying to get verses from different Wu-Tang members through the years and couldn’t get verses from anybody for a project.”
JN: Was it a mixtape or something?
DJ SCRATCH: It was for a compilation album of my favorite MCs and Wu-Tang is one of my favorite MCs. I got a verse from Raekwon. I just put the beats away because these beats are strictly Wu-Tang-sounding beats. You just can’t give them to anybody so I just put those beats away.
JN: So you already had in mind who the beats were for?
DJ SCRATCH: Right! Back in 2018 to 2019, I was going to release an instrumental beat album and call it:
“If the Wu was Here”, because all the tracks had Wu-Tang sounding beats.
I was going to call RZA to get his blessing, and then maybe get him to narrate the intro to the album. I told him I got a whole Wu-Tang album in my hard drives, he was like, “yo send it”. I sent him the album and in about three months he sent me back, some of the illest lyrics to those beats. And he was just like, yo man, like anything you need me to change or anything, just let me know. I’ll do whatever and we just knocked the album out.
JN: How many beats were there initially?
DJ SCRATCH: Seven and you know most of the Wu-Tang is 5% nation of Islam.
Seven is the God number. So I said, let’s do the album seven tracks.
JN: The track “Kaiju” really stands out to me. What movies did are the samples from?
DJ SCRATCH: Before I answer that, People used to watch the Kung-Fu movies back in the days, every Saturday (Channel 5 in NYC)
JN: Yes I definitely remember.
DJ SCRATCH: We watched those movies and we also watched Godzilla!
JN: Yes indeed.
DJ SCRATCH: For the song, “Kaiju” that beat is from the movie Godzilla versus Mothra.
JN: Oh, wow.
DJ SCRATCH: And if you remember Mothra, every monster on Monster Island had some type of a calling to awaken them and for Mothra, it was the two little twins.
DJ SCRATCH: They sing the song to awaken Mothra to come to save them. So that’s the two little twins from the movie singing the song, That’s the sample.
JN: I love that track. It is so crazy and different.
DJ SCRATCH: And that’s a Wu-Tang beat for me, you know what I mean? Even though that’s Japanese, it’s all Asian culture, This is Wu-Tang right here, so I couldn’t give that to anybody else.
JN: Was there another process as far as tweaking, adding things, extending it after RZA sent his vocals?
DJ SCRATCH: Honestly, no, because RZA although is the MC, he’s also a producer as well.
JN: What’s your production process like?
DJ SCRATCH: Well with this album, there are a few things that have never been done before. Two super producers doing an album. Also on the technical side, I did the entire album inside the MPC X.
All his vocals, ad‑libs and everything is inside the machine that I make the beats with. Everything is in there. I didn’t use Pro Tools. Everything was inside the drum machine.
JN: When I listened to the album for the first time I played it through the speakers. The second time I listened to it through headphones to really dive in. It had a distinct sound that was a little hard to describe, I can’t say it was “dirty”, but not as “clean” as something produced with Pro Tools. It has a certain something going on with the way it sounds and I wanted to ask you and RZA, Did you do that on purpose?
DJ SCRATCH: That was definitely on purpose. I would listen to his vocals raw and then I would listen to his vocals over the beats, like his two tracks. Once I started putting the vocals inside the MPC, I definitely thought about the nineties and also now with streaming and how are people listening to music through phones and stuff like that. I wanted to create a medium where I wanted to keep that dirty sound like nineties boom‑bap Wu-Tang, that “dirty” sound, but also have a balance of having it clean enough to resonate through the phones, the Sonos speakers, and the things that people listen to right now. Some people listen to music through their TVs. So it’s kind of hard to mix an album when 90% of the listeners are listening to music on devices, other than sound systems!
DJ SCRATCH: So doing it inside the MPC where I make the beats, along with his lyrics kept everything dirty, and clean enough for streaming. That was definitely by my design doing the album like that.
JN: That’s interesting because it seems production got far away from doing anything out of the box like that
DJ SCRATCH: And if you hear “Kaiju”, it’s dirty!
If I were to put it into pro tools, it makes everything clean. Pro Tools is computer software and is basically made to clean everything up by default. But if you put it in an MPC, the MPC is made for hip‑hop. It’s going to come in dirty automatically. You can clean whatever you want to clean, but everything else is going to be dirty. So I definitely made sure I did the whole album inside the MPC on purpose.
JN: We initially got a release date of August 6, 2021. What happened between then and now and the delay for the album?
DJ SCRATCH: It was just dotting the I’s and crossing T’s, clearing samples, and stuff like that. It’s crazy, man when you have to get clearance for samples.
JN: Can you please explain the process?
DJ SCRATCH: Let’s just say how some black families are and somebody in the family has money and they pass away. It turns into a shitstorm over money. So imagine, somebody like a BB King, or James Brown who has this catalog and this estate, and the family members are fighting over the estate.
There are also companies from all over trying to get the music licensed. The people in the family don’t even know how to do that. So when you’re trying to clear music, you can’t even get it cleared because the people who are in charge of the estate have no idea of what’s going on. Sometimes when you’re trying to like clear samples, it’s a really long process. Even now, if you’re trying to clear a sample of an artist that came out in the last 15 years, most of these artists don’t know about their publishing. Many of them sold their publishing, so they don’t even know that they have a request to clear a sample or license a song for a TV commercial or movie so it takes time. But, luckily the fans waited! We’ve been blessed to have a fan base for over 30 years. Me over 35 years!
JN: The world has been waiting for it. I was so glad that it is finally here.
DJ SCRATCH: It got to a point, let’s say someone passed away and I’ll post on Instagram “Rest in Peace”. Somebody in them goddamn comments will reply “Yo, where’s that RZA album?” (laugh)
JN: (laugh) It’s something that’s needed, especially in the climate of what’s going on in the world. Even if you look the first Bobby Digital album or the second one, it’s not a RZA record. It’s Bobby Digital. I’m glad you guys made this record. Congrats to you and RZA.
DJ SCRATCH: And the genius of RZA is this album is Bobby Digital versus the RZA.
So he has to be two different people on this album. We had to approach it that was on the musical side as well. There are certain songs that are Bobby Digital, the wild hedonistic, narcissistic guy, and some that are from The RZA who is the composed prophet.
JN: I know Danny Hastings has directed the two music videos released so far. Are more music videos comings?
DJ SCRATCH: We’re going to do music videos for the entire album. We’re approaching this as an album, but it’s also a movie. Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theatre is an audio movie. The movie starts off by telling the story of Bobby Digital versus RZA. You see Bobby Digital trying to get rid of RZA in the music video for the song Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu and then the second video Fate of the World, it’s the RZA’s time to talk. You definitely are going to get more videos.
JN: Tell us about the release.
DJ SCRATCH: It’s going to be on all streaming platforms and we are definitely doing vinyl. We gotta do vinyl!
JN: I interviewed RZA for the release of the Of Mics and Men documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival and got everybody to sign my vinyl copy of Enter the 36 Chambers. Later on I got Danny Hastings to sign it too
DJ SCRATCH: Oh, wow. You even got the photographer who did the album cover.
JN: So now him directing the music videos for The RZA and DJ SCRATCH album is like full circle.
DJ SCRATCH: Yeah. Full circle. Danny doing these videos, it’s amazing, man. I’m just honored to do produce an album for an iconic producer. This has never happened before and he gave me full range. He’s like, “Yo scratch, whatever you need me to do, you know, I’ll do it.” And honestly, I didn’t really need him to change anything too much. It was just like one or two things and we were locked in.
JN: What else are you are working on?
DJ SCRATCH: I got a couple things coming down the pipeline, but this is my focus right now.
This RZA versus Bobby Digital, Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theatre album. I’m just proud of it, man.
I haven’t produced an album, a full album for anybody in a long time. The last person might have been Busta Rhymes, like 85% of one of his albums. Producing a whole album for an artist makes me get back to that, to that zone. I don’t even want to produce a song for somebody no more. I want to do the entire album because it feels better. When you listen to hip-hop albums over the past few years, an album might have 15 producers on it or 10 producers on it and nobody’s on the same page.
JN: Yeah. You’re right. It has a whole feel to it. This album has a theme and a complete thought. It feels like one meal versus a bunch of snacks.
DJ SCRATCH: An album, in my opinion, should feel like if you’re watching a movie. If you’re watching a movie and there’s a love scene and then five minutes later there’s a shootout , then it goes to something completely different than that. It’s about sequencing. It makes me want to produce entire albums again for artists because it feels better. It makes the album; you can ride with it better. It feels better. It’s like you’re watching a movie or you’re reading a book and turning the page.
JN: I get what you mean. It goes back to Quincy Jones and you listen to a Brothers Johnson album. It’s a whole feel top to bottom.
DJ SCRATCH: Right.
JN: Tell us about DJ SCRATCH DAY.
DJ SCRATCH: Oh, absolutely. August 14th is officially DJ SCRATCH Day in Brooklyn, given to me by of all people, the new mayor of New York City, Eric Adams.
Shout out to Eric Adams. I come from Albany projects, Brooklyn, New York. All of these things that is as far as hip hop, these are things that I dreamed about. When I first started DJing in the 70s, when I first touched turntables, there was no hip-hop DJ occupation at that time. But through time you started seeing it become an occupation and then you started seeing rap become an occupation. So, all of those things that we would see kids doing the older kids doing, I wanted to do them as well. So I wound up doing them and, and wound up striving and one day I said
“I want to be the greatest DJ in the World” I entered a contest and was crowned The Greatest DJ in the World of 1988. All of these things, musically I had dreams for, I would never in a million years think that I would have my own day. It’s like my lifetime Grammy, you know what I’m saying?
JN: That’s crazy, something I didn’t know. Tell me more about Proclamation Day.
DJ SCRATCH: The Proclamation Day was August 14, 2017, and there was a concert planned at Wingate Park. They asked me who do I want to perform at this concert. I was like, “I get to choose who I want to perform???” I’m like, “I want Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte, I just want all Brooklyn MCs” and it was huge! 5,000 people were at that concert. It was amazing, man! That’s something that I would have never imagined. You get things like this when you pass away, so it’s an honor for that to happen. Salute to Eric Adams and everybody involved for making that happen,
JN: Did you get the Key to The City?
DJ SCRATCH: Yes. He gave me the key as well.
JN: That’s Amazing, Congratulations! One last question, What was the first hip-hop record you bought?
DJ SCRATCH: First hip hop record. I bought? Honestly, it wasn’t a hip-hop record. It was a Calypso record, but it’s one of the most famous hip-hop breaks ever made.
It was a Herman Kelly and Life- “Dance to the Drummers Beat.”
JN: Ah, Ok.
DJ SCRATCH: That record came on in 1978. I think that was the first record I actually bought with my own money. One of my uncles gave me some money for my birthday, and I kept that $20 in my pocket. I would fold it; I would iron that fucking $20 bill and fold it up neatly. You know what I’m saying? (laugh)
JN: (laugh) Right.
DJ SCRATCH: I bought Herman Kelly and Life- Dance To The Drummers Beat. It was an EP. It wasn’t even a 12-inch single. It was the EP on Electric Cat Records. I still have the record.
DJ SCRATCH: That was the first record I bought. It’s not a hip-hop record, but that was a hip-hop break.
JN: Thank you for this opportunity and interview.
DJ SCRATCH: Thank you.
Photo by: Danny Hastings
2. Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater
4. Never Love Again
5. Fate of the World