Photo by Aaron “zu” Keeny
Written by: E Major
Once you become known as a DJ how do one transition from behind the decks to the front of the stage without everyone calling you a rapping DJ? Kanye successfully became an MC after being known solely as a producer but has there ever been a DJ that successfully holds down the tables and the mic? Considering that MCing was created by DJ’s bragging and boasting over their mixes, you would think there would be more of this happening. Sean Armstrong also known as DJ Face, one of the DJ’s in 9th Wonder‘s respected True School DJ crew, appears to be one of the few that has the skill to do both with admirable skill.
I’ve known Sean for some time and for as long as I’ve known him he has always been a DJ and an MC. as well as a producer I shot some questions over to him so those that don’t know him could find out more about a guy that I know is one of the best MC’s that Baltimore has given birth to.
Lets start with a generic question. What got you started in Hip Hop?
In the second grade I was really into hip-hop music and my friends and I choreographed a break dance routine for the school talent show and we actually won. From there I remember the first tape I bought was a mantronix cassette…After that came BDP Criminal Minded and Public Enemy It takes a Nation of Millions….My family would take trips to Hilton Head South Carolina during the summers and when those tapes came out my brother and I played them in our radio over and over again for the entire trip up and back. Drove our parents nuts! Then at the age of 12 my brother taught me how to DJ and thats when I really fell completely in love with Hip-hop. I built up my skills as a DJ over the years and when I reached high school, around my junior year I began to write rhymes and make beats.
How has being from Baltimore, a town not known widely for it’s Hip Hop music, affected the music that you make?
Baltimore is interesting to me, I love it, don’t get me wrong but I’m not sure it’s a city that has identified itself. By that I mean, you have artists here doing all styles and sounds from the New York landscape to the Southern landscape and I think that has allowed me to explore my own style and create music they way I want to. Baltimore is not widely known for it’s Hip-hop culture or artists, sure but there is definitely talent here and some great individuals as well as groups that are out there representing the city well, I hope to be another one.
And now that you’re living in DC, has that affected your music?
Living in DC hasn’t really affected my music much more than Baltimore has. I still create with my own style and design, kind of in my own world because both places are very similar to me.
You’re a DJ too and part of 9th Wonder’s True School DJ crew. How has being a DJ informed the music you make as an MC?
First I’ll say that I am definitely blessed to be a part of 9th’s True School team of talented dj’s, I’m very thankful for that. Being a dj though affects my music in a few ways. First, I always consider how a song starts and ends, I like to make my music as DJ friendly as possible as far as how another dj can mix it in and mix it out. It also makes me pay closer attention to the final mix of my songs, are they clear, are they crisp etc…What it doesn’t do is change the music I make. I never sit down and say this song will be for the club or the Dj’s, I just make make what feels right to me. The DJ element only really affects the overall sound and structure of my songs.
Do you ever play any of your own music when you’re DJing?
Sometimes I play my own music when I’m out somewhere but I treat my music like everyone else’s. This may come as a shock but I don’t play favorites to my music. I play my music where I feel it fits. If I can play it at a party then I will but if I have another local artist who I feel has a strong record that will work or I just really like the song I will play their song as well. I still believe in breaking songs, my own or someone else’s.
How do you balance being a DJ, producer and an MC? Do you find it difficult to switch gears from one to another?
It’s not really difficult for me to balance because I feel like they all go hand in hand. What happens is, whichever element I am in at the moment I sometimes think as the other. For example, when I sit down to make a beat, the DJ in me might say something like, “that’s cool but throw an intro on it so a DJ can get loose with it.” On the other hand, I may sit down to write and the producer in me might say something like, “those drums flip up right there, you should make your words and flow follow the pattern of those drums for that part.” Sometimes I write and something another rapper said will come to mind and I will find it and create a hook with it and scratch it myself. It’s things like that, that I feel give me an advantage sometimes when I create.
On your upcoming mixtape, Truth Be Told, you work solely with the Baltimore producer Dischoe. How did you guys originally link up and what was behind the decision to do an entire mixtape with one producer?
I met up with Dischoe back in the early 2000’s . At the time I was running a site with my friend and fellow DJ, DJ KaBoom, called BaltimoreHipHop.com. A friend of mine set up an event for producers to come through and play their beats and emcees could get on the mic or just network with Baltimore producers. He posted it on the site and Dischoe asked a few questions about it. I answered them, and Dischoe said he would be there. I went down there with my partner in rhyme Black Classic, who is featured on the mixtape, and as soon as we walked in I heard the dopest beats banging out! I asked my friend who’s beats were being played and he said Dischoe and pointed him out to me. I introduced myself and he asked me what I thought, I said hold on…Classic and I went on stage since nobody was up and grabbed the mics and got loose. I spit some of the illest freestyles I think I ever have and immediately after he hit me with a beat cd….Classic and I left, popped the beats in, about 30 some odd beats and rhymed all night. At that moment I told Classic, “we need him on our team!” We set up a meeting and the rest is history.
After we teamed up we worked on a We & Us album, myself Black Classic and Dischoe but we kind of sat on the material and never released it but during that time Classic would work on solo cuts and so would I. At the time I was going by the name Arkitek so we thought we would do an album, the two of us and call it Discotek. That was 5 years ago, lol! The song “Thank You” is the only song that made “Truth Be Told” from the original Discotek concept. I re-recorded my vocals but everything else is from 5 years ago.
What can folks that download Truth Be Told expect from the mixtape?
What you can expect to hear is music created from the heart. No gimmicks, no dances to go along with the song just me spitting rhymes and Dischoe on the beat. I feel like we have created a solid project. Some of my stories may be personal but I feel like the audience will still be able to relate to the subjects. I have songs that talk about life situations, death, family, relationships and songs that are just straight up battle rhymes. I think there is something for everybody on here and I hoe the people enjoy it.
Do you have any other projects in the works for 2010?
This project is just the beginning and hopefully it will get people excited about what’s to come. Later this summer I will be releasing another mixtape called the 9th inning where I will be rhyming solely over known 9th Wonder produced instrumentals. I’m still working out some details with it but that’s the basic concept. Then finally I will be releasing the album, which I have recorded some songs to already. It features production by Roddy Rod (Low Budget Crew), Khrysis, three tracks from Illmind, Dischoe of course and another surprise or two that’s being worked on. Should be a great album, the beats are sick and I’m really looking forward to that!
Any final thoughts?
I just want people to download and take a listen, if you like it, pass it on and tell a friend. I’m not on a crusade to “save” hip-hop, I’m just trying to make GOOD music, that’s my only mission.
“Truth Be Told” will be available online Monday, June 7th. You can catch Sean DJing under the name DJ Face every Saturday at Recess in Washington, DC. Follow Sean on Twitter for further updates on his DJ gigs and performances.