Who’s the badass mother who can use 4 turntables at once? Who’s the slick cat who’s worked with everyone from DJ Shadow to Blackalicious? Who’s the street-smart beat artist who started Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli at the same time? No, it’s not John Shaft, it’s Cut Chemist and with his upcoming Australian tour in support of De La Soul just around the corner Music Feeds paid a visit to the famous beat maker to sift through his thoughts with a sieve.
Upon entering the laboratory of Lucas MacFadden AKA Cut Chemist I quickly realise his alias is more than just a witty name. Spotting me at the door, he tells me to take a seat and to start the interview as he’s in the middle of an experiment and needs to continue.
Average height with ruffled hair: if you pointed him out to me in the street, I’d finger him as a science teacher rather than one of the most influential figures in hip hop in the last decade. But as we chat over his bubbling beaker it’s instantly obvious this man has a passion for music, a passion of which he is not entirely in control.
We start discussing the topic of his workaholism and he’s quick to dismiss my assumption. “If only you could be a bug on the wall you wouldn’t say that,” he laughs. “I’d say I’m more schizophrenic than anything. I get bored real easy so when I work on something for a while I have to do something else. It keeps me interested in music cos it can get boring very fast for me.”
Just looking around the lab littered with half finished prototypes and beakers covered in dust it’s easy to see he doesn’t have the longest attention span. It’s unsurprising then that in his early 20s he was playing in multiple bands as well as DJing and studying.
“At that time I was in Ozomatli, Jurassic 5 and doing Cut Chemist stuff and I was used to that. Now that I’ve left Ozomatli and I’ve left J5 and it’s just kind of me floating around in space all by myself it’s kind of tough to keep motivated and interested, because I don’t have those other groups to keep things fresh,” he confides.
“I think that what was so special about that time was that I never even thought these groups would go on to be as successful as they were. They were certainly a lot of fun to play in though and that’s why I did it. They were pretty much started at the same time, J5 formed in 94 and Ozomatli in 95. One weekend I’d be doing shows with Ozomatli, driving up and down California and the next week I’d be with J5 at a talent show or something. It was all very crazy, I mean I also had a residency DJing at some club and I was going to school, I look back at it and I’m like, how did I do all that stuff?”
While he was undoubtedly busy juggling his many projects it turns out that leaving them proved harder than expected for the chemically inclined vinyl-wizard. “I went through a whole bunch of strange mental breakdowns because I’d never had to work by myself before, I’d always had all these different people to bounce off. It was nice to have a break, but I definitely prefer working with other people.”
He starts to elaborate but one of the test tubes he’s been heating cracks and purple fluid leaks out over the table. I hand him a towel and he starts wiping up the mess, simultaneously checking all the other tubes and beakers and making adjustments to the Bunsen burners as we continue to discuss his love of collaborating.
“Nu Mark and Shadow are really good people to partner up with,” he exclaims, lighting up at my mention of the two.
“They’re really good at what they do and it forces me to be better. With both of those teams we build off each other and kind of outdo each other, you know like friendly competition. I’ll drop something and Shadow’ll be like ‘oh man that scratch solo was dope let me see if I can outdo that’ and then he does so I have to top that and then before you know it we’re on the top of this mountain just looking down.”
A timer goes off and he hurriedly runs over to inspect a jar which barely contains a bubbling mixture of different brown sludges. Lending him a hand, I start to ask him about the battle between underground and mainstream hip hop for the prize of capture ing up-and-coming audiences.
“I don’t know,” he sighs, “I think the underground versus mainstream thing is sort of dissipating, the lines are kinda being blurred with the internet and downloads.”
He seems taken with this line of thought as he grabs a test-tube full of black fluid and dumps it into the beaker of brown sludge. “I see hip hop kind of blending itself with all the other genres at the moment,” he tells me as he stirs in another test-tube, this time pink. “It’s just kinda becoming a texture for all these other genres. I mean it will always be its own genre but I just think it’s permeating into all music. I think that’s a good thing because it will be harder to kill that way, it’s like a chameleon, it’ll adapt itself to whatever environment it finds itself in.”
He’s mixed in three more test tubes by this point and the beaker has turned into a chunky grey soup. Walking over to what looks like a blender he dumps the soup in the top and holds down the lid as he leans towards me.
“You can really see that in the indie rock movement, there’s more hip hop appeal in it now than there was say ten years ago,” he screams over the noise, the soup now all bubbles, its colour in a constant state of flux.
“Besides when you’re in the clubs you see the rock kids are dancing to hip hop records and hip hop kids are getting down to rock records,” he says as he pours the now clear fluid into a teapot and pours us both a glass. “It’s all just sort of blending into one.”
Cut Chemist will be playing with De La Soul at the Metro on May 4th, but with the first show having sold out already, you’ll want to get in quick.