Rich Medina on Fela Kuti, DJ Technology, and Having a Massive Vinyl Collection
By Wanz Dover
Cratedigging for vinyl is an art form that has served as the connective tissue of hip hop since the very beginning. Today that art is made all the more difficult due to far fewer retail shops to make use of. This makes infamous DJ and vinyl hoarder Rich Medina part of an ever shrinking rare breed of collectors. Medina is a crate digger of the highest order with a vinyl collection topping 30,000 in number. He keeps that number rising as a active daily digger looking for lost treasures of black wax at shops all over the country and abroad.
Sunday night Medina brings the fruits of his labor and extensive collection to Club Dada to play alongside local Dallas cratedigger's Jt Donaldson, Tony Schwa, Jay Clipp, Luke Sardello and Tyrone Smiley.
Medina boasts complete catalogue collections from the entire Black Jazz label, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Fela and Femi Kuti, Earth,Wind and Fire, The Ultimate Breaks and Beats series and, according to a recent interview with Dust and Grooves, he is close to completing the Impulse jazz catalogue. No small feat buy any vinyl collecting standard. A true connoisseur, his music palette covers a wide array of genres like punk, funk, soul, afrobeat, disco, garage classics, house and beyond.
A veteran of Philadelphia and New York City residencies since the late '90s, Medina is largely responsible for introducing the music of Fela Kuti to a new generation of NYC club goers, thanks to his groundbreaking Jump 'n' Funk even, which he started back in 2001. He also teaches an extensive course on the history of hip hop at Cornell University alongside hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaata. medina is also an a DJ instructor for New York based Dubspot.
Spinning this many plates makes Medina a hard man to track down for an interview, but he was able to squeeze a few answers off on what to expect out of his Dallas appearance this Memorial day weekend, his take on DJ technology, his relationship with Fela Kuti and a few recent releases to look out for.
DC9 At Night: You are known for covering a wide range of genres. What can we expect for your Dallas set this weekend?
Medina: I just plan to come to Dallas and have fun with Mr. Donaldson & Co. at Club Dada. I'll follow my host's lead and do my best to add on to the vibrations, no matter what the genre. Every room requires a dosage relative to the atmosphere in that room, but considering the musical range of JT & my other hosts, I'm expecting a crazy night of music.
What are your thoughts on the developing technology behind DJ Culture?
Technology is an unavoidable fact of life in 2014. I don't care much for rhetorically tearing down the advances of technology. Technology is amazing, and is doing incredible things to advance the possibilities of what a DJ can or cannot do with their tool kit. With regard to being a working-class DJ, those who are in it for fun and those who are in it for the craft will separate and the cream will rise to the top, regardless.
Does it take away from the artform?
Technology only takes away from the artform when people are paid ridiculous amounts of money to play ridiculous music, with a ridiculous lack of actual creative effort, using new technology as a mask to hide behind pre-programmed mixes and live lip synching.
What was your first exposure to Fela Kuti?
I remember hearing his music via some Nigerian friends of my older sister Bonita. I didn't know songs or much else about him then, but I was definitely moved by the sound. After that, my next experience with Fela's music was via Randall Grass of Shanachie Records, on the radio, and that stuck with me until I had my first real personal experience with Fela's music.
Did you stumble on to him or did someone turn you on to his music?
In 1992 a record dealer friend named Ari Saxe blessed me with a copy of The Best Best of Fela Kuti and Fela and Ginger Baker Live! on vinyl, after another long day of digging with him. That was the first time I took a Fela record home, played it, and got my skull truly cracked open musically. I am forever in debt to Ari for that gift because it is something I have carried with me since that very day.
After you heard about his music what was the moment when it clicked with you?
I was hooked seeing the album art, as soon as it hit my hand.
Do you have problems storing and organizing such a massive collection?
Like anything else in life, we can get messy with our collections of course. When you have large quantities of records, it's important to maintain a system of organization that forces purging and sorting, constantly. Otherwise, my problems regarding my records are what me and my fiends call "First World Problems" and therefore nothing worth complaining about. What a great "problem" to have.
You have been a teacher for Dubspot and at Cornell. Was teaching always a goal?
I've been a DJ Class Instructor at Dub Spot Music School for the better part of 3 years now, and I've taught at Cornell via The Cornell Hip Hop Collection since 2012. At Cornell, I've been a guest lecturer in Professor Steve pond's Musi 2309: Beats, Rhymes and Life" class. My lectures have covered the mechanics of DJing, Entrepreneurialism, Hip Hop Culture vs Rap Music, and I introduced Afrika Bambaataa as Cornell's first ever Visiting scholar in Hip Hop in early 2013.
How do you approach teaching a topic like DJing in such a setting?
Having always been an athlete and a student who has thrived under sound coaching, I guess teaching has always been in my fabric. I don't know if I am worthy of considering myself a teacher just yet, but I could indeed see myself getting deeper into that world should the opportunity arise on a serious level.
What new releases have caught your eye over the past year?
Hiatus Kaiyote, Robert Glasper, Isiah Rashied, Dosage, Bucie, Culoe De Song, 1200 Warriors, King, Danny Brown, DJ Spinna. I could go on...
RICH MEDINA plays with Jt Donaldson, Tony Schwa, Tyrone Smiley, Jay Clip, and Luke Sardello on Sunday, May 25, 1 p.m., at Club Dada, 2720 Elm St., $15