The True Master knows that if he had a God he could understand, he would never hold him to be God. – Andrew Davidson
If there were an intergalactic council of DJ’s, Q-Bert would sit at the head of the table. He is the global ambassador of Djing and no individual has done more to introduce the world to the possibilities of using the turntable as an instrument. Widely considered to be the best DJ of all time, he is credited with having innovated well over 100 different scratch techniques influencing nearly every DJ who’s scratched a record in the last 30 years. As a founding member of the DJ crew Invisbl Skratch Piklz he is a three time DMC world champion, was inducted into the DJ Hall of Fame and received the coveted title of Grand Mixer, a title only reserved for legends. Through his partner Yogafrog and company Thud Rumble, Q-Bert has been able to expand his influence in the culture; designing and releasing innovative DJ products, collaborating with the most successful DJ companies in the industry seeking his stamp of approval, teaching on his online school Q-Bert Skratch University, appearances in various video games including DJ Hero 2 and doing post production for the animated feature Turbo.
When I made my Mount Rushmore list of who I’ve always wanted to interview, Q-Bert’s name was at the top. Part mystic, part alien, part genius and part octopus, Q was the perfect person to talk to about subjects that seem out of place in a conversation about djing. He’s delightfully bizarre and I knew talking with him would make for some great conversation. For me, interviewing him was a form of deity practice (how do you talk to a God about being God?) and I am genuinely appreciative for him allowing me to see through his eyes for a minute.
Ascience Gnown: You’re probably best known for your scratching abilities and taking turntablism further than anyone thought possible but how has your growth as a DJ helped you to grow as a person?
Q-Bert: It has taught me to create and make the world a better place with our skills and that’s pretty much what we do. You know the strongest power is creation. And we are blessed enough to be able to make the world a better place with our field. So it is a constant learning process as well.
And has it been an evolution for you in terms of your growth as a DJ, being able to do more in terms of either being a benefit to other people, being a benefit to the world – has that grown since you started?
Q-Bert: Oh yeah. Always it will never stop growing. It is like nature. It just blossoms. The universe just keeps blossoming into you know more beautiful things. And that is what we do. We just keep making things more beautiful. And if you stop, everything dissolves and everything goes haywire. So you have to keep going pushing the beauty forward.
What happens to you when you DJ? Are you able to notice anything that actually – is there a difference? Is there is a shift when you’re actually engaged in the practice itself?
Q-Bert: Well if I am having a good time, it shows through. You know, because our purpose is to be healers. We are healers, you know, making music. And if we are not healing people because we haven’t practiced or anything, then it is not really healthy for us either. So there is a constant, you know, behind the scenes. It’s a lot of practice and a lot of experimenting and we are in the lab literally constantly going through stuff and learning about how to heal the world with our music.
Are there any practices, as you said, kind of outside the lab or outside of when you are performing for other people, are there any practices that you engage in that are grounding for you, that are healing for you or transformative for you?
Q-Bert: I think they all are, you know? Like everything – every part of life is a learning lesson. You know there is a book called The Children of the Law of One that has taught me a lot about, like, outer space and spirituality and how other planets live their spiritual life and how other civilizations on advanced worlds are – what they know about life. And so that book has helped me a lot, and learning about all these other star systems and their cultures as well and incorporating that into earth life.
As a DJ, what is most important to you?
Q-Bert: Definitely to make the world a better place, to make the world a better place. Yeah. And to create new things that have never been created before.
What if anything can you say about the connection between the creation and what actually – what makes the world better? You know, what is the connection between those two things?
Q-Bert: Well, what I’ve learned so far is that we’re pretty much enslaved in this money magic system on this planet to be enslaved in a positive way because positively – if you look at a negative, yes we are slaves. But if you look at it positively, we are actually creating a new culture on the planet so that when we do engage with our star brothers and our star sisters out there, we will have our own culture. Imagine if this planet was super advanced from the get go we would be the same as whatever planet had visited us. Now being here and we don’t know shit, and we are learning and making up all of these new things, by the time we get out there, we will have new food to offer, new clothing, fashion, music, art, dance, culture – our planet will be unique among our star brothers and we will have (unintelligible). That is perfect for our blindness to the truth out there.
If you had any advice to anyone who was already a practicing DJ and who was also interested in making the world a better place, what advice would you give them?
Q-Bert: Use your unique ability to make new things. Don’t just copy shit and make the same old shit. I see all this stuff, like, yeah. Those fuckers aren’t saying shit. You know, what I mean? You are a unique individual – a beautiful piece of God that is different from all the other pieces of God out there. So use that and dig deep into your brain, meditate and learn all the shit you’ve got in your head and put it out there. No one else can think like you.
What I hear you saying and not necessarily directly stating is that in the act of creation there is a widening of perspective because I am, especially if I am creating some new shit, creating something that maybe doesn’t exist or at the very least I am using my mind in a way that isn’t typically used. But that involves me inhabiting a different perspective. But it can’t just be about my own kind of ego driven behavior. So I’m wondering if you could speak about how DJing – at least how you do it – it’s almost disrespectful to just call what you do DJing, but how Djing or turntablism widens your perspective of yourself, your self-identity, perspective of others and the perspective of the world?
Q-Bert: Well when I first started DJing I didn’t know anything about spirituality. I was like OK. Let’s just try to do some – make up some cool stuff. And then I started learning about all this other music and how it can translate into scratching. And I was like, OK. I’m playing a musical instrument. So let me learn about what all these musicians out here – what they do and incorporate that into my music and I started learning about all these weird countries like East Africa got their own rhythms, West Africans got their own rhythms. You go to Cuba, they’ve got their own style added to like whatever, their percussion. And I had learned later that this planet – a lot of planets out there in the star systems – like one planet could be all white people. Another planet could be all black people. Another planet could be all Meso-American. One could be all Asian. This planet is special because they did what’s called the grand experiment, where they put all these different cultures on Earth and mixed them to see what would happen and what kind of culture they would come with. So as these cultures were mixing, they were making up all these new styles. And, like, you go to South America, they’ve got the African (unintelligible) there and now they’ve got their own like (unintelligible) thing going on. And I was like OK. So that’s what it is. I wonder what what is it out there in the universe? What other kind of stuff they got out there? And I started learning about all these alien cultures, what kind of art they’ve got out there and stuff. And I’m still in hunts for that. NASA has just revealed there’s 40 billion Earth like planets in just this little-ass galaxy. There’s a gang of music out there. All kinds of – there’s so much things to discover. So that had got me into my brain and I started thinking about all these possibilities. And I was like, what is this? What is that? What if this alien did this? What if this was different? I started making up all these ideas. And maybe I was channeling on accident other music from other planets. And all these ideas started coming to my head when I was becoming like a little kid just saying what if it was like this? What if the aliens did it like this? So that has made me discover like a whole new part of my brain (unintelligible) the whole imagination thing. And I always had it. Everybody got it when we were kids. We imagine all kinds of stuff. But that kind of brought me back to square one. It’s like when you are a white belt, you go to like yellow belt, green belt, brown belt, black belt, and then when you are a black belt, after that, you become a white belt again. You become a child again. You play with all your skills.
I have been a fan of yours since early DMC stuff, the Shiggar Fraggar show and all that kind of good stuff. And so one thing that you and a whole bunch of DJ crews out there did for me as a young budding DJ was widen my perspective on what I allowed myself to embrace and hear; that the way that I dug for records changed. The way that I scratched the record changed because of you. But what also changed is kind of what you were saying earlier, that now – I mean, I’ve been digging for 25, 26 years and I don’t even know – like, I’m not digging for like your normal stuff. I want that – I want Zambian jazz. I want – you know, I want Thai funk. You know what I mean? So, you know, in a way it helped me to embrace other cultures, embrace other races, embrace other foods, language, you know, just even being able to read a record – I get the jacket and you know I look at it and I’m looking at instruments I’ve never heard of and people I’ve never heard of. So I’m wondering how as you have grown as a DJ and turntablist, how allowing yourself to access all different kinds of music kind of widens your world view?
Absolutely. It’s all about embracing different cultures and different places and even different dimensions that we don’t even know about that’s got different music probably, too. You know, it’s deep. Yeah, I hate to say it, but sometimes when I was younger I took psychedelics and that got me to another dimension. And I heard a lot of stuff there too. But in a way, it’s natural. It’s God-given. It’s not like, how do you call, a chemical drug. But it is in nature, so. Sometimes that stuff is necessary. A lot of plants can open you up, you know?
I’ve been there, brother – been there. (Laughing)
Q-Bert: I’m still there!! (Laughing)
You brought up nature. I’m wondering what is your view of human nature?
Q-Bert: Well, you know, it is like – human nature is like – I guess like I said earlier, the most powerful thing is to create. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things. There is like, how do you say, I’m talking about this kid that’s a really wild kid. Really wild kids can be, you know, negative and positive. There’s like a really wild ass kid. He is so wild. And has a lot of energy. When you’re talking about a kid that got all this energy, they can turn into a really crazy surrogate. But if they use it for positivity, all that energy will become a creative energy and it will make them – you know, make them a hero – a world hero, you know? So you got a wild ass kid, that is a blessing. You’ve got to hone them. And you know – they may be very mischievous and all that, but that’s because they have a lot of creative energy and you need to let them find what they love the best.
I agree with you. My own experience has been that nature is neither positive nor negative.
Q-Bert: It is really about what you choose to do with it, you know? Yeah it is neutral, and – you know and even the people that I think aren’t doing what they should do with that energy, they are not absent. That is still there for them. You know, that goodness is still there for them. It’s never too late.
Never. Never too late. How is or isn’t your ego present when you are DJing?
Q-Bert: I’m a slave to the people. I’m here to heal them. I’m not – you know, I am a chef serving food. I’m not here to serve myself. I am here to help others, you know? So the ego is out the window, you know? It is, like, did I practice enough for them? You know, is it making them happy? The ultimate happiness is giving. The ultimate evil is selfishness.
Now did you start that way? When you were first starting out, was it you know was it just ego-absent or was the ego there earlier on in your development?
Q-Bert: You know, I was very, very blessed to have a wise teacher tell me that if you humble yourself, you will be exalted. If you exalt yourself, you will be humbled. So I’m going to be humble.
The reason I asked the question is that, psychologically speaking, as children, when you are young, you still have that mind that’s imaginative and creative. I have a seven year old daughter. I remember when she was, you know, one or two. She was highly attuned and aware, but she was also very egocentric. She wanted what she wanted when she wanted it, you know?
Q-Bert: Sure sure sure.
So I’m wondering if you have seen that then, in your own life, a maturity in terms of your relationship with your ego versus earlier when maybe you were just trying to do some dope shit, you know? Maybe you were like I’m trying to be a master, you know what I mean? Or I’m trying to crush these other mother fuckers, or I can’t wait until the next DMC comes around because I’m going to smash your shit.
Q-Bert: I mean, you know there is that side of me (unintelligible) when it was like yeah, we’re going to battle these guys. Take them out. That’s the b-boy side of me. But then on this special side, I was like, you know, you’ve got to stay humble, even though you’ve got to get paid. After you battle, hang out, going to dinner.
What do you see as the role of battling today or competition today?
Q-Bert: Well there is an energy that I have learned later that battling brings out a little bit of kind of negative things if you get carried away. So I’m more about collaborating rather than battling nowadays. I feel that energy is more – I mean in the big scheme of things, a collaboration is more than beneficial for everyone else. Two heads are better than one, shit like that.
In the last 10 years or so, there’s been this really big shift in terms of MCing. MC battles used to be different. Heads used to freestyle for props now it’s all gone. It is all about making a whole bunch of money, I’m going to pre-write my rhymes and I’m going to shit on you as much as I can. What, if anything, do you see as the benefit of that?
Q-Bert: I watch those battles because, you know, it’s fun. Some of it’s funny. But it also kind of makes me feel sick to my stomach that they are just talking shit about each other. Like, it almost hurts, you know? But it’s almost like damn. They don’t know anything about spirituality. They’re ill. They’re turned up. It is a little bit moving forward. They’ve got these funny new battles where they’re complimenting each other.
Yes I like those.
Q-Bert: Yeah. It’s just all in fun, you know? It’s a cool battle. But when they start taking it serious and start getting deep with like super personal issues, like some guy’s calling him out (unintelligible) – I mean, that’s what you are supposed to do, but it’s funny on one hand. But on the other hand, it is like, that’s fucked up.
Yeah that’s kind of my feelings too. It is hard not to appreciate what it actually takes to do it. And I appreciate that, but sometimes I feel like it is a waste of energy. And that energy could be better used for something else.
Q-Bert: You know, it’s also causing separatism. And we’re trying to enlighten the world about how we are all one. We’re all, you know, part of each other, we’re all trying to help each other, but it’s almost going backwards when they are doing that. And again, they’re so talented but they don’t even see that almost they are stupid, a little bit.
When I first started DJing, when I was engaged in the practice a lot of it was very self-serving. And then at another point in my DJing life, it was really about other people and influencing them through music introducing them to new music. And then at another level, it was, well, how am I manipulating time and space with this instrument? And so looking at the spectrum of DJing in terms of just my own personal growth, it helps me to also look and say well what was happening for me at that time? You know, what made me give a fuck about other people? What made me give a fuck about the world? And if I can answer those questions, maybe I can help someone else who is a deejay, but who is also trying to grow consciously. You know, I can say, OK, well what was that for me? Maybe I can assist you with your own personal development.
Q-Bert: Oh OK. So what happened is as I was reading about these monks and they – I learned that they ultimate happiness is giving – sometimes these monks – they will make presents for each other. They will on the present – they won’t write their name. And I was like, damn. How are they supposed to like – how were they supposed to get credit? And the only thing the monk wanted is to see that other person happy. And that made them happy. OK, so it was like – OK, so that’s very – you ain’t got to get credit or it’s like I did this, I did that. A lot of these new artists, they will give you free stuff without putting their name on it. Take it for free. It’s all good. You know, as long as they know that they are making people happy, then they’re fulfilled.
Do you meditate?
Q-Bert: My girl does. And I’m learning. Not just meditation in itself, but to clear my mind and all that, I’m still learning. It is really tough. She is teaching me. But I be like thinking about all kinds of other stuff, just falling asleep. She be like man, you fell asleep?
And can you talk about DJing as meditation.
Q-Bert: Well, whenever you are in that zone working on something, that is a different form of meditation. For me it takes 20 minutes. Normally with meditating and I want to get into that blank space, it takes me 20 minutes to sit there and close my eyes, clear my mind. Then when I’m scratching, I’m like oh wait. This is the same thing. When I’m scratching, I am in that zone, I’m flowing. Both are the same.
Exactly. I agree with you, bro. And I’ve begun looking at it like that as well when I practice. But when I practice kind of without intention, when I let myself go – when I let everything go. Not does it sound good? Does it sound bad? I just kind of pull myself out of it. You know what I mean? And it takes a while. And the correlation between that meditation practice is that it takes a while for the mind to settle down. You know, giving yourself…there is this weird dichotomy between relaxation and effort that has to take place where I have to – my attention has to be there. I have to stay with it, but ultimately I have to stay with the relaxation. And the more I relax, the more the DJing becomes a meditation for me.
Sometimes I just want to get right into the meditation, and I learned this one guy named OSHO…
Oh yeah! I know Osho. Love his stuff! I used to read him a long time ago.
Q-Bert: Yeah. Yeah. Brilliant. He said, all you’ve got to do if you want to get into it right away is close your eyes, but don’t close it all the way. Just let the eyelids touch each other. Let the tips of the eyelids touch barely, but your eyes are still open and your eyelashes are barely touching each other – that is how to get in the zone in seconds. So now when I scratch I just do that and it looks like you know, I look like I’m super high, but I’m not high. You know how it is when you can barely see through your eyes. It is like, OK. That was it. He’s got a whole book. It’s called The Book of Secrets that’s out.
Yes I have the Book of Secrets on my shelf. Big, thick-ass book.
Q-Bert: It helps you a lot.
Yeah I love that book, man. That is a great text, man. That is a great book to have. And it’s interesting that you said kind of about the eyes being half open because I practice Tibetan Buddhism and the main practice, which means calm abiding or peacefully abiding – it is just that. It is sitting in a relaxed, upright posture with your eyes halfway – you know, halfway open, halfway shut, however you want to look at it. But the reason that the eyes are open is because you’re not trying to escape. You’re not trying to get away. When you shut your eyes, you have the tendency to go further inside.
Q-Bert: Or you go to sleep, right.
Yup! Shit, I’ve gone to sleep so many times. But when your eyes are open you’re not actually focusing on anything, you know? It’s just like allowing whatever is in your field of vision to come in. And that helps you to learn the object of the practice and the achievement of peace is about not running away. The achievement of peace is learning how to be here with what’s around us, not trying to run away from it.
What about physiologically? Is there any connection between DJing and the body for you?
Q-Bert: Oh man, well for one thing, I’ve got to work out all the time. I’ve got to stretch like crazy. My girl does yoga every morning so I’m like OK, I’ve got to join that one day. I get on the bike, I do my cardio. I stretch. I drink a lot of spring water. I’ve got to bless my spring water to make it good for the body. I’ve got to bless my food to make it good. She also is a holistic coach, so everything I eat is organic. It is sustainable and it is, like, I’ve got to make the body a vessel so I can transmit. So that’s another thing too. It is all about you know you’ve got to look at your body as a bunch of atoms. You’ve got to move around. You’ve got to imagine life in your body. It can all be like healing and all this stuff. It’s all these things. You’ve got to look at all the little photons in your body. You’ve got to collect photons from the light sources, from the sun and not too much. But I’ve got to do all this grounding work. She helped me to go take your shoes off go outside and step on the backyard to ground yourself. What else is there? All that kind of stuff. We are still learning. It’s a constant learning process in that world, too. I’m so glad she’s my partner. She’s like teaching me all this stuff. It’s good that you have her. And a lot of sleep. I remember this guy told me. You’re so fast. How do you scratch so fast? The secret to being fast is sleep. You’ve got to get eight hours of sleep a day, you’ll be fast as fuck on scratching. I was like, all right. I’m like if I have to wake up in four hours, I’ll be like I need to take a nap after sound check. And I’m good.
Are there any sacred or spiritual experiences that you’ve had while DJing?
Q-Bert: All the time. Every time I do something good, I’ll look at the clock and it will be a weird number on the clock like 333 or something. It’s like OK. I’m on the right path. And it’s just like – I don’t know, a little bit off. Like for 4:43. You’re like, oh it could have been 4 4 4. But it means it’s God is saying, oh you are almost there. You know, keep going. Or right now I’m looking right now. This is a very important conversation. My dog is humping the pillow over there. Like what? Why do you have to – come here? I like this interview because it is going to enlighten people. And so maybe God was saying hey you’re doing a good thing…
What is ultimately good about DJing?
Q-Bert: I mean, well, in my path I learned a lot of stuff. I mean this whole conversation is about all these things. I learned about life I learned about the secrets of life all kinds of stuff. It keeps you healthy. It makes you happy. You know it keeps you active. You know you don’t want to be – and then also it teaches you about balance. And in Buddhism, there’s like you get too happy, it’s going to swing back to sadness one day. Then you’re going to be happy the next day. It is all good. But you’ve got to practice being in the middle, with the middle path for peace, you know? It has taught me that. A lot of stuff man.
What is ultimately true about DJing?
Q-Bert: And it makes people happy, you know? That’s very true. And you know all these things, all these proverbs you’re learning, things that you will find, that always happens. I’m trying to find this sound and if I keep digging, it always happens. You are guided by a spiritual – what do you call – your guide is there for you. You know, you think no one is looking, but when you are jacking off, you got 3:00, you’re like no, what is going on?
A lot of people are not on that vibe. They’re not on that trip. But to a lot of people their ancestors are important. In Buddhism, a lot of practices are about remembering that the Buddhas are always there with you. They are always there with you. The lineage is always there with you. And there’s a lot of practices where you imagine them actually being there in the room with you. That the energy isn’t gone, you know what I mean? It’s always there in the background supporting you.
Q-Bert: When I’m in the studio late night, I’m always imagining there’s a special guide there. My girl every time I go away she looks in the mirror she’s like I’m a bodhisattva.
My own theory is that B-Boys are the bodhisattvas of hip hop culture. Like to even consider yourself to be a B-boy – it doesn’t just mean that – to me it’s not just a label. That is saying that I take responsibility for whatever element I’m engaged in, whether you are the MC b-boy, you know, or dancing B-Boy, the DJ b-boy – the point is that I’m taking responsibility for what I am doing with this element. And my primary responsibility is how this influences people and how this is waking people up to their own goodness you know and how can I help to liberate you from your suffering through what it is that I am doing. And so I’m right there with you brother.
Q-Bert: That’s wonderful, beautiful, brother.
What is ultimately beautiful about DJing?
Q-Bert: Once again, it makes the world a better place. And it makes me happy, you know, when I’m in my own space of course the energy of creation. You know, you feel God going through you when you are making all these things. It is just a beautiful thing. It’s just a beautiful thing you know it’s like we came here on Earth, blank slated. So we don’t know anything, but we are actually part of God. Hey, stop peeing on the rug. That dog is God too. He doesn’t know he’s God too. Maybe that’s like – yes, we are all part of God. We are blank slates. It is just to relearn all these things all over again.
What is your next level? What are you working on terms of taking what you do to another level?
If you already haven’t done that. (Laughing)
Q-Bert: Oh no, there’s always something next. You know what? I’ve been doing a lot of research on alien life forums and man, they be walking around vibrating music. You Know, music just comes out of their souls. But they don’t need instruments. They are the instruments. And so it’s like you know you’ve got a talk show and a guest comes on and his music plays – something like that. They just walk on and music plays, you know? Like yeah. So I don’t think I can get to that in this lifetime, unless I’m walking around with a boom box. But they just emanate music. And so, you know, I’m just at a very earthy level where I’m trying to get the music out of my head. I’m sure there will be devices in the future where you can hear the music in your head and then maybe there will be advanced than that and you don’t need that, the device is like part of the spirit, shoots music out of you. You know, yeah. So I’m just trying to make a mixer right now. Where they’ve got a computer in it.
I saw that. What was that? It was last year right.
Q-Bert: That’s us. We’re making that mixer.
What all is in it?
Q-Bert: It’s a prototype right now. So it’s like half a million dollars to develop it. A thousand dollars a piece for the people. That is like right now, straight set up. Yeah, there are a lot of companies that are watching our patent for it. So we are trying to pick the right one, I guess. We’re trying to pick a company that’s more on the spiritual path as well to help rather than just make it and be like, okay cool whatever. It’s going to be wack and whatever. We want to make it dope man with the right people.
I do have one last question. What happened to Scratchcon? I have a DVD of the 2000 one, and that just blew my mind. I remember Radar was there doing the notation thing. It felt like this was just the best of the deejay world, you know, showing the newest and dopest of innovations in the scratch world. So I was really hoping that would come back around.
Q-Bert: That is another part of my business. You know, we should do it again. Yeah, other than that we have brought back turn table TV, which is – we are going to do another turntable TV this Tuesday. I freestyle scratch. We will be joking. That’s going to be this Tuesday, so we are doing that. And Scratchcon yeah. I’m going to bring that up to him in the show. I’ll be like, hey, when are we doing the next Scratchcon. Yeah I will bring that up to him again. He was talking about it, so I’m glad you reminded me.
Q-Bert: Super nerd world.
Hey that’s my world brother. I really appreciate your time, man. I know you’re there with your family and your dog. And so I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
Q-Bert: I really enjoyed talking to you. I think that this interview was really important. Keep doing what you’re doing man.
No doubt man. Thanks again.
Principles, Practices and texts that Q-Bert touched on in this interview: Right Livelihood, Meditation As Practice, The Importance of Self Care, Healthy Eating, Remembering the Presence of Ancestors and Protectors, Taking Hallucinogens, Practicing a “Middle Path” Approach in life, Taking Time To Bless Your Food and Drink, Unity Consciousness, Cultural Curiosity, Musician As Healer, Acknowledging and Experiencing Your Subtle Body, Unconditional Generosity, Collaboration as a Tool of Cultivating Harmony and Accepting and Manifesting your unique message.
Texts mentioned: The Children of The Law Of One by John Peniel and The Book Of Secrets by Osho.
– Ascience Gnown bka J-Who? Worldwise dba Justin F. Miles is a licensed psychotherapist, Buddhist teacher, Hip Hop producer emcee, dj, beatboxer and human turntablist.