Every evening at 7pm, as the Jackie Robinson Parkway fills up with cars and the Verrazano Bridge is clogged with rush-hour traffic, New York City’s famed disc jockey Funkmaster Flex takes over his usual shift at WGHT Hot 97. Flex (born Aston Taylor Jr.) has held down the airwaves at the station “Where hip-hop lives” for two decades, and the underground club scene even longer. He’s become a curator of the culture within the city, pressing play on hits you haven’t heard and goodies from the golden era. As new trends emerge and old ones fade, Flex’s formula remains, “If it’s good, play it. If it’s not, don’t.” That, he says should be the only decision made in music.
Off the air, he’s humble and far less brash than the intimidating voice that blares through speakers for four hours nightly. His bravado has become a part of his own signature sound, as he mixes in jabs at whoever dares defy him over the reverberation of bombs. Hate it or love it, he’s the king of New York radio.
VIBE caught up with DJ Funkmaster Flex to talk about hosting McDonalds’ upcoming DJ competition, the state of New York hip-hop and why he decided to start dropping bombs all over town. —Christopher Harris
VIBE: McDonalds chose you to host this year’s Flavor Battle. You always seem to have a lot on your plate, why’d you choose to participate?
Funkmaster Flex: I like things that big up DJing, for the DJ. It’s showcasing DJs from all over, different clubs, and different states. That’s a great thing. Just the fact that McDonalds is putting the DJ in front and not to the side or behind, it’s great.
How excited are you to be bringing back the Tunnel Party?
I’m excited! The lineup is all New York artists because The Tunnel represents a great time for New York music and now is a great time for New York music. It’s just a New York state of mind. That’s really what I’m pushing for.
What are you most excited about?
I’m excited for the DJs that are going to be there. It’s about the DJs, the music. I’m not taking anything away from the strippers and that element—they exist, but that’s not what New York is based on. We’re really going to show the people something else: A thousand people on the dance floor, good music, new songs, old songs. A good time. Not being about violence. A DJs job is to bring the sound of the street to the forefront. Sometimes we get caught up… because DJs have become celebrities. In that celebrity, sometimes it’s easy to get lost. It’s just about the music. It shouldn’t be about getting that artist on your album or to a party. If it’s good, play it. If it’s not, don’t. That should be the only decision.
You play music from all over the country on Hot 97. What are your thoughts on the state of NYC hip-hop?
Fab said it great: For a second we didn’t have a sound. I think we’re getting back. It’s about Fab, Busta Rhymes, Chinx Drugz, Troy Ave, Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, Flatbush Zombies, A$AP Mob—A$AP Rocky is my favorite. A$AP Ferg, Nast, Twelvy they're a bit more about what I’m about.
There’s this kid Black Dave, I’m not sure if you heard about him.
Someone else said his name to me when I was Uptown. Where’s he from?
I don’t know his music. I gotta listen to it. I really like Bodega Bamz, Chinx and Troy Ave; that’s NY sound.
Do you think these artists can bring the city to the forefront again? Last year, Trinidad James said what he had to say and other artists began to claim they’re the king of a city they’re not from.
I want to say I understand Trinidad’s point but I really didn’t. I understand he was in the moment. New Yorkers are impatient. We gotta do this one record at a time. French Montana is a good example. He was big in his neighborhood, the Bronx. Then he grew to each borough. Then Connecticut, Jersey. That’s how it has to be. A New York artist has to conquer New York, Jersey and Connecticut before he thinks about going anywhere else. That’s really what’s important.
Can you break down how you started dropping bombs all over records?
This might’ve been 20 years ago, 15 years ago. I had a bunch of sound effects. I had different bomb sounds. Michael Kyser from Def Jam Records said to me, "That bomb though! That bomb sound is what you should go with." And maybe I started using it more. It could’ve been any sound but it’s what I play when I’m feeling a record. It’s funny, sometimes rappers ask me, "Are you going to drop the bomb on my song?" I’m like, "I guess so." It’s weird to me because it’s just a sound. I started talking shit because of the bomb, so I pushed it a little further.