Cut Chemist talks honoring hip-hop icon Afrika Bambaataa with DJ Shadow on multi-media tour

In the world of contemporary electronic music, few DJs have made a bigger impact than DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. But for musicians like Josh Davis and Lucas McFadden (their legal names, respectively), few artists had a bigger impact on the formation of the hip-hop culture they draw from than Afrika Bambaataa.

To honor the Zulu Nation founder, Shadow and Cut Chemist created the Renegades of Rhythm Tour, which hits the Fillmore Thursday. They borrowed vinyl from Bambaataa’s collection, housed at Cornell University, and use his records as the backbone for a multi-media concert and visual presentation that covers his artistic and political impact.

We spoke to McFadden (a member of Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli before he went solo) about his first exposure to Bambaataa, the scope of the tour, and his own vinyl collecting habits.

Q. Other than picking records, what kinds of things are you thinking about to prepare for this tour?

A. We acquired the records earlier last year. There were a lot of things that were just classics that we know we’re going to use and we’re not quite sure how. There’s a lot of stuff in there we weren’t too familiar with also. This is the time we take with the more obscure things. We never just play records. We’re not those types of DJs. We come from that era when you had to entertain and perform beyond the music. How are you manipulating it? What are you doing? What are we gonna bring other than records – meaning visuals? What kind of set are we going to build? What are we going to wear to paint the entire picture and to give the audience the experience that would drive the concept home of Afrika Bambaattaa and the creation of hip-hop and that time in New York? It’s all a big deal.

Q. Do you recall the first time Bambaataa came to your attention?

A. It was a video. I was already listening to rap and I’d probably heard (Bambaataa’s famed) “Planet Rock” and didn’t know who it was or what it was. I saw the video for one of the songs, “Renegade Response,” in 1984. It blew my mind. It was the first time I got to see all the elements of hip-hop in one package. It had breakdancing, rapping, and deejaying. I was a “Star Wars” sci-fi fan like any other kid. To see rappers in Indian headdresses landing on Earth in the South Bronx and then you see the projects burned down, people burning fires in those barrels on the street, kids riding the subway and doing this graffiti piece. I thought: This is incredible. That’s a crazy name. This is a crazy video. I was just getting into hip-hop at that age and at that time. That was one of the profound moments.

Q. You’ve known Shadow for 20 years. Do you feel like you’ve influenced each other?

A. He definitely has me and I think he’d say the same thing. We probably wouldn’t work together if we weren’t inspiring each other. We always learn something. We work differently. He writes everything down and I just get up and start scratching. It’s the perfect dichotomy between the mathematical mind. One paints in numbers. The other in colors. When we’re together we adopt each other’s thought processes. He’s cuttin’ it up and I’m (planning it out).

Q. You both have huge record collections of your own. Do you shop together on tour and do you ever fight over finds?

A. We do shop together. It’s pretty amicable. I don’t get so competitive. If it’s something I really want, maybe I can trade it. He’s got a lot of records, so he doesn’t care.

Q. But you’re still on the hunt. How much time do you need to spend in a store? It’s not like you can just pop in.

A. I just did a hell of a lot of record shopping on this last tour. The day of the show before sound check for like three hours.