TERMINATOR X: RETURN OF THE JEEP BEATS (INTERVIEW)
Words & Interview By Jake Paine
Just over 30 years ago, Grand Mixer D.ST (now DXT) changed the world for many little boys and girls on Herbie Hancock’s gold-selling single, “Rockit.” The way Miles seduced the horn and the way Jimi Hendrix massaged the electric guitar strings, the turntable had a new, youth-engaged purpose, and it sounded amazing. Later in the decade of the ‘80s, along with the late, great Jam Master Jay, DJ Hurricane, devastating Prince Paul and others, Terminator X was the face of cool to anybody fascinated with advanced equipment, sound selections, and organized, jarring scratch-euphony.
As a member of Public Enemy, Terminator X was highly recognizable. He looked like he cut: futuristic, uncompromising, and downright menacing. However, behind the shades and away from the headphones, the man born Norman Rogers was a student of Hip-Hop’s original superstar: the DJ. Coming up in the infancy of New York City Hip-Hop, X applied his vast knowledge and interest of music across genre into orchestrating a sound like no other. When he came across a young Chuck D, Flava Flav, and Shocklee Brothers, Terminator’s forward-reaching approaching to mixing and scratching made him the perfect complement to a group looking to present a complete package on records, stages, and videos that defined Hip-Hop’s golden-era.
In the years and acclaim that followed, X also developed a solo career. A major label artist backed by Russell Simmons in and out of the group, Terminator integrated his DJ heroes in an early 1990s that was seemingly distancing itself from Hip-Hop’s pioneers. X worked with the likes of DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster Caz and others, across two albums. However, later in the decade, Terminator X made a quiet exit from the group and the industry, leaving many looking above Public Enemy’s turntable coffins and feeling a different sensation.
Following some poignant advice from Quincy Jones, Terminator X is back to creating music. The turntable technician hosts an online radio show through Chuck D’s RapStation platform, and has things brewing. Crazy Hood contacted the veteran to discuss music, his own impact, and clear up some questions. At X’s request, the interview was over email, but is hardly diluted in sharing a man’s thoughts on music, critical aspects of his own story, and some strong views on attaching business to art.
Crazy Hood: You are one of the only Hip-Hop artists to put DJ Kool Herc on an album. That is living, breathing history that seemingly went under-noticed. Can you speak about your vision for Herc’s inclusion on Super Bad, and his reaction to the involvement?
Terminator X: Chuck D actually brought Kool Herc to the album. I was honored to have him obviously. He, as well as the Cold Crush [Brothers] and [Grandwizard Theodore & The] Fantastic Five were thrilled to be involved with the album. At that time, to my knowledge, nobody really was giving the “first generation” old school any love, for the most part. Herc’s wisdom spoken on the album will someday be historical treasure. I don’t think young people check for such wisdom and only hear and understand it when they are older. There are obviously exceptions to this, but it’s a small percentage I think. In recent days I have seen some great tributes to the first generation of Hip Hop through documentaries and events.
Crazy Hood: Do you think that feat/fact, along with Jam Master Jay’s involvement will continue to bring awareness to that album, with time, despite scarcity?
Terminator X: I hope this continues and grows. I think maybe one day this album may become a rare and valuable item—especially because of it’s scarcity. I think it’s too bad that here in the United States so much music is forgotten—not only Hip Hop, but many genres included. Thank God for the Internet, especially YouTube. There is a wealth of old music that you can’t buy on iTunes or anywhere else there. I often browse old music on YouTube. It brings back many memories of music and times forgotten.
Crazy Hood: Your own DJ style was so unique, as was the case for the legends of the ’80s. How would you describe it? You were among the first artists to really incorporate Bass and Freestyle sound into Hip-Hop. Where did that come from, for you?
Terminator X: My scratching is formed from my desire to be different and my love of many genres of music. I grew up hearing all sorts of music, such as Classical, Rock, Country, Jazz, Disco, Funk, R&B, the list goes on… All of this music has had influence on me and I’m sure has influenced my music.
Crazy Hood: What made you gravitate towards the turntables as an instrument, as opposed to others?
Terminator X: In my early years I had interest in piano and drums. I messed around with them here and there. But when I was introduced to turntables and DJ’ing, I was in love—not only just turntables, but the whole aspect of DJ’ing. Back then [it] included sound systems, and building your own turntable “coffin” is what we called them [at the time]. When I went to a party or the park or wherever there was a DJ playing while everybody else was socializing or dancing, I would study the DJ and his equipment. That is why I was there [when I got into the Public Enemy fold]. I was a member of Spectrum, which was a DJ organization. We did mostly college parties and clubs. That is where I met Chuck D, [Hank and Keith] Shockley, Flavor [Flav] and the rest. When the Public Enemy situation came about Chuck came to me and asked me to be a part of the group.
Crazy Hood: History has proven that The Bomb Squad was often more expansive than sometimes credited for. Can you describe your role, and how scratching was incorporated into the overall sound?
Terminator X: The Bomb Squad was a collection of many people we knew in our area, brought together to bring their own particular talent to one place. This made for a powerful unit. I was called to do scratches on songs and sometimes tracks. I was not part of the oversight or any decision-making roles [within The Bomb Squad]. The disbandment of the Bomb Squad was unfortunate, but is typical in the music business.
Crazy Hood: I know it’s a question you’re probably sick of getting, but because the hardcore fans wonder, was there a specific moment—besides the accident—that prompted you to leave the music business and why the ostrich farm?
Terminator X: I left the music business because I was fed up with the greed and cutthroat environment that it is—this includes Public Enemy. That is not an environment I choose to be in. My family started an ostrich farm, which I participated in, but it is not the reason I left the music business.
Crazy Hood: The “Jeep music” term has changed with the car’s redesign. However, as you listen to Trap music and a lot of the dominant sound, how do you feel about your influence?
Terminator X: The street creates its own culture. “Jeep music” was only a reflection of culture that already existed that I just brought to an album. The same it true of the current Trap music.
Crazy Hood: Hip-Hop is happy to have you back, especially with Chuck’s RapStation platform. Was there a moment that made you return?
Terminator X: I am happy to be back to my music. The music “business” took me away from my music. I realized this during some very inspirational words from Quincy Jones at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction. His words made me realize that I made a mistake abandoning my love of music. I decided that I was coming home to my music only on my terms and I would not let the music “business” come between us again.
Crazy Hood: Your music, and especially P.E.’s is politically-informed. Are there any current events that you think MCs should be talking about in their songs these days?
Terminator X: Wow, where do I start? I think the subject matter of modern Rap is, for the most part, the worst it’s ever been. Most of what I hear out there is either sex, violence, or drugs. I would be happy if they would simply find anything else to rap about. That would be a good start…
Crazy Hood: Perhaps a silly question, but in 1991, did “In Living Color’s” catch-phrase have any inspiration behind the single, “Homey Don’t Play That”?
Terminator X: “Homey don’t play dat” was a common saying on the street. It had nothing to do with “In Living Color.” But, we were sued by its owners for using something they stole from the street in the first place…
Crazy Hood: Having lived in the South and been among the torch-carriers in Bass music, how do you think the approach and style of DJ’ing varies regionally? Or is it more universal than people think?
Terminator X: I think the DJ styles of other regions are different. Coming from New York, witnessing and participation in the original days of Hip Hop, I absolutely see a difference. The basics are the same but the style and feel are different. It’s like asking a pioneer of Chicago or Detroit House music do they think House music from other areas is different. Of course it is.
Crazy Hood: In terms of fashion, did you have any idea you would make a specific style of sunglasses as famous as you did?
Terminator X: I had no idea the shades would be so iconic. It just happened.
Crazy Hood: Can you explain your role in the inception of “Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic”?
Terminator X: I did a track intended for P.E. and gave it to Chuck D. He wrote “Edge Of Panic” to it and I did the scratches for it as well. The track came first, the lyrics and title came after.
Crazy Hood: Scratching is occurring on mainstream Hip-Hop records again, thanks to Kendrick Lamar, YG, Rick Ross and others. How do you feel about the current state of the art?
Terminator X: I think the current state of Rap music has been heavily altered by the music “business.” The original Hip Hop has been lost to the music business. The original Hip Hop music was done out of love of Hip Hop music and culture. Rap music today is a product of the music business which decides what it thinks is sellable and marketable. The DJ was one of the most important elements of Hip-Hop. Now, DJs in Rap music are almost irrelevant. The DJ has gone the way of the R&B band. In my opinion, the original Hip Hop music has been altered forever. Times change. Culture develops and changes. Such is life. Music will carry on and change always as everything else does. I hope the DJ and scratching will return to Rap music. Time will tell…
Crazy Hood: Public Enemy had some many role-players. To what extent do you think that’s possible for groups in the contemporary age?
Terminator X: I think anything is possible in new Rap music. It’s up to the new generations to dictate what becomes of Rap music. With the age of Internet downloading, YoutTube and all the new technology the music industry as a whole is going to see major change in the years to come. The age of the major labels is going to end. Hopefully, this will lead to music being more creative and done out of love and not to please business.
Jake Paine has been a music industry professional since 2002. In addition to five years as HipHopDX.com’s Editor-in-Chief, Paine spent five years as AllHipHop’s Features Editor. He has written for Forbes, XXL, The Source, Mass Appeal, among others. He currently resides in his hometown of Pittsburgh.