People talk about the future of music like it isn’t right now. No, it’s dead before us, with a few brave ones taking it where it’s going. Some you’ve heard of and know well, others are in the making.
Amerigo Gazaway knows a thing or two. And what he knows he serves up, re-imagining classics and drawing our attention to their lasting brilliance. But the 28-year-old DJ/producer doesn’t stop there. What Gazaway does is own the entire process, firmly placing a thumb print on some of music’s most treasured compositions. And while he’s certainly not the first to mashup tunes we love and revere, he’s no doubt one of the brightest doing it today.
His most acclaimed release, Yasiin Gaye (side one and two) blends Mos Def and Marvin Gaye what seems like effortlessly—and to powerful effect. As one would expect, the propers have reigned in, earning Gazaway shouts from Questlove, Diddy and Talib Kweli. “I’d be doing it regardless,” he tells me from his studio in Nashville. “But the support has been so encouraging.”
The son of a jazz trumpeter, Gazaway grew up in a home that emphasized the greatness of Motown and pioneers like Fela Kuti and Otis Redding. This set the groundwork for where he’d one day take his own creative impulse. His approach is not only unique, it’s transformative, with Gazaway stripping down and reconstructing samples and instrumentation like some musical chemist.
Over the phone, Gazaway’s humility is endearing. I mean, the guy just sounds grateful, which makes him all the more likable as an artist and performer. Thing is, he seems surprised at having won over so many ears. And somehow, this attitude has managed to come through in his art, which, if we’re being frank, has been pretty flawless. With the pressure on to keep delivering, he cites the importance of moving at his own pace: “I realize that everything I put out there is my stamp. I can’t afford to rush anything.” It’s obvious he respects the music too much to deliver anything but his best.
With other well-received projects like 2011’s Fela Soul, Bizarre Tribe: Quest To The Pharcyde in 2012, and a host of remixes and mashups, Gazaway understands more than ever the responsibility that comes with a growing platform. His most recent undertaking —The Big Payback Vol. 3: J.B. & The Soul Mates (a follow up to DJ Scratch and J. Period’s volumes)—pairs James Brown with a host of today’s greats, including Nas and Busta Rhymes. And if that sounds ambitious, it’s because it motherfreaking is. So, naturally, the last couple of years have been busy, with Gazaway participating in tours around the country as well as in Canada and Brazil. Not to mention sharing the stage with The Pharcyde—longtime heroes and now fans of his—at SXSW in 2013.
“I love trying new things at the live show,” he says. “It’s not necessarily what you might expect from one of my projects but certain things tend to go over well so I keep them on hand. You may hear me dropping joints like ‘So Fresh So Clean In My White T’ or ‘Billie Jean’s a Superfreak’. I did a Lorde/Kendrick Lamar mashup that people loved on a spring break tour earlier this year. And of course, there’s this Ginuwine/Little Dragon piece that I dubbed ‘My Little Pony.'”
The success hasn’t come without its fair share of legalities, frustrations and setbacks.
“I remember waking up in the morning and seeing that Bizarre Tribe had been taken down,” Gazaway says. “It was tough but only added more fuel to the fire. Almost immediately, we started to get letters from fans, and people were emailing to Sony explaining how our stuff should be protected under ‘fair use’ copyright law. People have seen the value in it and that’s been amazing.”
Are any artists off limits? “At this point, not really,” he says. “There’s definitely a consideration in terms of not wanting to piss off the same label or publisher too many times but if I get passionate about a particular artist or combination that I want to use, then I’ll just do it and worry about the backlash later.”
Then there’s the wax floating around. “People assume that we’re part of it but really we have nothing to do with the vinyl being sold on places like eBay,” he says. “It’s all bootlegged. But, hey, that support just keeps me pushing forward.”
As far as future projects, Gazaway is tightlipped, but says he’s got something brewing.
“I’ve got two concepts that I’ve started to research so we’ll see how those play out. Can’t reveal them now but I’ll be really excited if I can make them happen. I’d love to keep touring and start collaborating with labels officially. This is a viable artform and I want to keep showing that in any way I can. I was fortunate to do a presentation at USC recently and that’s another thing: teaching and helping others find their talent.” —Juan Vidal
Download Amerigo Gazaway’s releases HERE and make way for the future of hip-hop experimentation.