The legendary turntablist – best known for his work with Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill, and as a co-founder of Invisibl Skratch Picklz– stopped in to chat with DewTour.com about hip-hop’s history, future, and forever association with action sports.
Colin Bane: Mike, am I right that you’ve played Dew Tour before?
Mix Master Mike: Yeah, I have! probably seven, eight years ago or something like that. So hopefully, we can extend that fun.
When people talk about the essential elements of hip-hop, they talk about turntablism, emceeing, breakdancing, graffiti, beatboxing. But I’d argue that skateboarding, snowboarding, and freeskiing belong on that table of elements, too. Why do you think the association between these cultures is so strong?
It goes hand in hand and has always been going hand in hand, especially with the skate community: it’s all street culture, so it’s all pretty much the same thing. Snowboarding evolved directly from skateboarding and picked up that hip-hop influence from the start, so it’s a seamless connection between hip-hop and the art of snowboarding. Hip-hop music has really become the soundtrack to the lives of a lot of pro skaters, pro snowboarders, pro skiers. For me, from a standpoint of being an artist, I consider myself not only a musician, I’m an athlete too: the way I spin is not your normal DJing, you know? I’m a performer as well. I’m a risk-taker. So that influence between cultures cuts both ways.
In 2021 we did a big anniversary story on Boarding For Breast Cancer, a long-time Dew Tour partner, and I was reminded that Beastie Boys played the first-ever B4BC snowboard event, back in the 90s. Now people have pro skate and snowboard video parts set to Mix Master Mike tracks and you were even in a snowboard video game at one point…
Yes! SSX Tricky! Too bad I couldn’t really snowboard like that in real life. I’d be a multi-champion.
Already this year you performed at the World Winter Games in Lake Placid, and for the National Brotherhood of Skiers party last week in Vail. Tell me more about the personal connection you have with snowsports, since it seems like you have a foot in both worlds.
It’s always been that way, first with Beastie Boys and then I’ve always been a solo artist as well, always branching off into different sectors. Fortunately, this winter sports sector has become one of my homes. I love rocking snowboard events and have even performed at the winter Olympics! Sometimes the shows can get a little cold when we’re performing outdoors but it’s an amazing community and it’s always an amazing experience being out in the snow. Last month I got a chance to go dogsledding while we were in Lake Placid, so that was awesome. Bucket list stuff.
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I was going to ask, is it all business or do you get some laps in on your board when you’re at these gigs?
It depends if I extend my stay but usually, I have another gig booked the next day, so I’m always on the run. Unfortunately, I have to say “bye” to the snow most of the time, but I do try to get some turns in.
Do you have a favorite snowboarder?
I’m gonna go with an old-school answer: Noah Salasnek, rest in peace.
I know Adam Yauch – MCA from Beastie Boys – was a pretty legit snowboarder. Do you ever get out there riding with Mike D or Ad-Rock?
It was Yauch that was really into snowboarding. He loved going to Utah a lot to snowboard, and that was his thing. Rest in peace, my brother from another.
I saw you’re doing another tour opening for Metallica. What do you love about digging into different parts of your record crate for wildly different kinds of events?
For me, it’s always been a full clip of everything. It’s not just hip-hop, it’s all of these other avenues of music and I love it all: rap, rock, punk, metal, jazz, whatever. When people think “Mix Master Mike” it’s all that and more, just building with the most out-there sounds there are. And I love to build a bit of mystery, you know what I mean? That’s what’s so cool about it: I’ll go on a whim and just break a whole new style out, a whole new genre, and play a whole different set that people aren’t really used to, just to create a memorable experience. Every time, it’s a one-of-one: I’m always channeling whatever is going on with the audience and what they’re ready for, based on intuition, then letting them into my world.
Your show at Copper Mountain is going to be right in the middle of the new Super Streetstyle contests at Dew Tour. Do you have a theme or vibe that you’re aiming for with that backdrop?
A build-up to aggression, so towards the end it gets aggressive, and it gets awesome. High-power sonic dopamine injection.
Ha, I love it! That reminds me: I’m a fan, and I did a bunch of listening to get ready for this interview, and I was struck by how much sci-fi courses through your work, from the earliest days with DJ Q-Bert to “Intergalactic” with Beastie Boys – which was a lot of people’s first taste of the Mix Master Mike era of Beastie Boys – and right up to your newest releases.
It’s just a vibe I was always drawn to. I was a big Rod Sterling fan, you know – Twilight Zone and Outer Limits – and just loved all the old sci-fi. Morphing that futurism vibe to hip-hop became a seamless mutation, and it’s pretty much what I’m known for: bending the genre and reshaping it as far as the constellations go. Hip-hop is endless and unpredictable, and that’s what I love about it.
There have been a lot of hip-hop history deep dives already this year: you kicked off the year with Grandmaster Flash doing a 50th-anniversary look-back for SiriusXM, and there was the big 50th-anniversary performance at the Grammys. Now there’s the Public Enemy show on PBS, Fight The Power: How Hip-Hop Changed The World. As people are doing these big-picture reflections on the first 50 years of hip-hop, what’s foremost on your mind?
Ultimately, hip-hop saved my life and made me who I am. Hip-hop has provided me freedom for more than three decades, has allowed me to provide for my family, has helped in aid of my charities, and all this beautiful stuff. You know, it’s just an amazing thing. Thank God for the creator, DJ Kool Herc, for inventing hip-hop because if there wasn’t hip-hop, there wouldn’t be Mix Master Mike and that’s it.
How do you want your own role to be remembered in that history?
I want to be remembered as someone that was always pushing the boundaries, someone that was using his platform for the greater good to help others who are struggling, someone who wasn’t afraid: the ultimate risk-taker, artist, and visionary. There you go.
All through your career, you’ve been known for doing a lot with very little in terms of equipment – two turntables and a microphone. Have you expanded your basic setup much over the years or is it still pretty spare?
For me, it’s always less is more. I like to be a performer that is so wild and out there that I’m making two turntables sound like six turntables. New technology is definitely very useful: anyone learning how to manipulate sounds these days could have a full studio in their backpack. I could make an album on an iPad now, which is awesome. But it’s still all about how you use whatever tools you have and I love that.
Are there new techniques you’re playing with? Do you still feel like you’re always in the process of discovery and innovation?
Absolutely. I’m a work in progress every day. I learn every day. I wake up in the morning, I’ll have my green tea, and I just start by making a song, just trying to be better than I was yesterday, trying to outdo myself.
Anything else you’d like to say to the fans who might be coming up to Copper Mountain?
Come through! It’s gonna be an awesome experience. Expect the unexpected.