May 03, 2021
Link to Spotify
Welcome back to another BRL F&F Playlist! This week we caught up with international DJ, professor, manager, and producer: DJ Rasta Root. If you’re looking for chill vibes and a diverse experience and compilation of hip hop, you’re in the right place!
Check out the playlist and the conversation I had with DJ Rasta Root on his recent work in music, life during a pandemic, and his unique experiences with coffee.
Name: Dion Liverpool - DJ Rasta Root
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Occupation: DJ, Professor of Hip Hop Composition at Emory University
BRL Favorite & Brew Style: Love$ick, drip
JM: Hi Dion, thanks for taking the time to chat with me and also for putting together this week’s F&F playlist! Could you start us off by telling us a little about yourself?
RR: Sure, my name is Dion Liverpool but I go by DJ Rasta Root. I’ve been DJing for quite some time. I'm currently a professor, teaching hip hop composition at Emory University. I've been doing that over the past year. We teach students how to make beats in class.
JM: That's so cool that you’re sharing all your experience with the next generation of artists! Up until the pandemic was DJing your main career?
RR: I've always believed in having several streams of income so of course I've been teaching and DJing, but have also done brand marketing, road management, artist management, and tour DJing for other artists. I'm kind of a jack of all trades in that sense. Anything related to or involving music I love to be a part of. For example, there was a Vans collaboration with the group A Tribe Called Quest and I kind of spearheaded that project.
JM: Looking at your career background a bit, I saw that you actually have a pretty deep history with A Tribe Called Quest and now you have a new release and future album that's being released posthumously for Phife.
RR: That's right. That's been one of the things I, along with Phife's family have been working on. We've been holding onto the music and working to finish it. We want to make sure it's right, make sure it's in the vein of what he would have wanted, and make sure we can honor him. That's been the main project on my plate over the last couple years. We have the first single that was just released called “Nutshell Pt. 2” featuring Busta Rhymes and Redman. Now we're working on the next singles that we want to release. In the spirit of making sure we're honoring him, we're taking our time with it and curating what we're releasing, while also doing our best to keep the fans engaged.
JM: I saw the extended cut music video on your Instagram and it was a really fun video! It looked like you all had a great time putting it together.
RR: Yeah we recorded that in 2016 about a month before Phife passed away. We were lucky we got to all spend time together and have fun at the shoot and I think you can kind of feel the energy through the video. It was fun just being around each other with old friends, new friends. We were at the YouTube Studios in New York so it was a really cool experience for us and we were very lucky and honored that we could get that done while Phife was still with us.
JM: That's really wonderful that you got to honor him in that way. It sounds like the work you do takes a lot of thoughtful planning. What is something you do in the mornings that helps to put yourself in the right mindset for that type of work? Is coffee part of that routine?
RR: It's so funny you bring that up. I'm not a coffee drinker in the sense that I use it to wake up. It's actually part of my uniform of feeling like I'm doing something constructive. It gives me a feeling of seriousness. So my routine is waking up, getting cleaned up, and then thinking about what I need to do for the day in a short term manner. Instead of planning my whole day, I'll look at it in smaller blocks so it's less daunting. I can decide what I want to get done by lunch and then the afternoon, rather than looking at the full day and getting overwhelmed and feeling drained by the amount of work that needs to get done.
JM: That’s a great strategy! You can list out all the things you want to do but get so intimidated by the list that you don't end up getting most of it done. Is music usually a part of your routine as well?
RR: Not always. There are times that I will listen to it, especially when I hear something I like or am drawn to. I'll want to listen over and over. That hasn't happened much lately. I'm currently kind of drawing back from my older playlists, but I'm always thinking about music and thinking about mixes. I might hear a song and think, ‘what could I mix that with’, ‘what could I do with that’, ‘could I sample that?’. That's kind of cool because I don't have to always listen to music to be experiencing it. Sometimes the silence is healthy for me. It helps me to reset my ears. It helps me to miss the music...miss playing it, miss listening to it. I like being in silence too.
JM: Yes, I totally get that! The silence really makes you value the music more when you do listen to it.
RR: For sure. It's the silence that helps me to continue to value music. I don't want to take it for granted ever. I want to maintain my passion for it and the love for discovery.
JM: When you do listen to music, what are you usually leaning towards? Is that type of music what we will be hearing on the F&F playlist you put together?
RR: I find myself leaning more towards old hip hop and chillhop. For my playlist I included a lot of lofi, hip hop, chillhop stuff...some Anderson .Paak, Afro Beats. The playlist I think is as diverse as I am.
JM: When you're listening to music, what do you focus more on -- lyrics, melody?
RR: It depends on the mood I'm in, but when I'm trying to put songs together for a mix, I'll be more cognizant of what they're saying and how the song is structured and laid out. When I'm listening for myself, the producer side of me tends to stay on and I’ll listen to how the music is put together, where the snare hits, where the vocals are. I’m always trying to figure out how things work or were created. I try to answer the why.
JM: Circling back to coffee I’d love to hear if you have any childhood memories of it and do you remember when you started drinking it?
RR: I lived in a couple of different countries growing up and two that stand out to me are Brazil and Guatemala. They're big coffee bean producers so coffee is a really important part of your day and of your meals there. In Brazil they call it cafezinho, which is almost like an espresso. It’s a tiny, little coffee that's pretty potent. I didn't really drink it growing up because I always thought of it as an adult drink, almost along the lines of alcohol. I also sleep pretty late so I didn't want the caffeine to affect that. When my parents moved to France and I was 16 or 17, after meals coffee was more of a big thing. It was usually in a smaller, coffee cup with a little brown sugar cube on the side. In some countries you'll even see people hold the sugar between their teeth and sip on the coffee through that so they're getting the sweetness that way. As for when I started drinking it, I wasn't big into coffee through college. I wasn't big on stimulants because I didn't like the addictive qualities. But after college, I started drinking coffee just for taste, not the batteries.
JM: What is your favorite thing to do on a day off?
RR: I normally don't take days off because as a DJ, you might do work during the week and then have events or DJ at clubs over the weekend. Over the past two months I've made sure to be deliberate and take the time to enjoy my weekends and rest. I take my dog to the dog park for a couple of hours, watch movies, and just don't even think about work.
JM: Important questions: What’s your dog’s name and what kind of dog do you have?
RR: His name is Carl and he's a Maltipoo. He's like 11 years old but he still has puppy energy. It's been great to have him around during the pandemic because it helps me to make sure we get out of the house to walk him and let him interact with other dogs. I'm a homebody usually so it's great to have something that will encourage me to get outside more.
JM: It's great you're taking the time to rest and take care of yourself, especially now.
RR: Yes self-care has become really important to me and I've been focusing on it over the past year and half and breaking down what that means to me. That's skin care, hair care, beard care, mental health, physical health, making sure to stimulate my mind. I started doing reiki. It's important. Self-care is often taken for granted. People ask you how you're doing. It's important to be able to answer that question honestly and ask that question genuinely of others.
JM: That's such a good point and an important distinction to make. We're so used to asking "how's it going" in passing and everyone responding with "fine". It's great to take a moment to ask yourself how you're actually feeling. Are you fine? What do I need right now to be ok?
RR: And also if you ask someone how they're doing that you're prepared if they want to take a few minutes to really tell you how they're feeling and that you're authentic that you're wanting to be helpful and open.
JM: What is something you want to do or do more of this year?
RR: I'd like to have more social gatherings outside of DJing. A lot of social interactions I have are often related to work in some way so I'd love to spend time with people outside of that setting. I'd also like to meet more people outside of the music community. Hopefully I'll get to do that once things get back to normal and everyone starts to feel more comfortable.
Hopefully that's in the near future for us all! Best of luck to you, DJ Rasta Root, in teaching the next generation of artists. We also look forward to hearing what else you have in store for us with the release of more of Phife’s music.
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