Last Collector Standing: DJ Mahf on the Relationship Between Hip-Hop & Art, His Formative Years and His Brother Jim Mahfood's Influence
When not out competing in national DJ tournaments, DJ Mahf (a.k.a. Dan Mahfood) can be found scouring local record stores for hours on end, sometimes with a portable record player by his side. A life-long fan of funk, soul and hip-hop, Mahf used to use a fake I.D. to sneak into Blueberry Hill's Science of Hip-Hop, where he discovered his musical calling. We met up with the DJ for a personal interview where he discussed the influence of his brother, artist Jim Mahfood, performing with Cut Chemist and Z-Trip, and learning to scratch in the halls of Vianney.
Last Collector Standing: How have vinyl records shaped hip-hop and DJ culture?
DJ Mahf: Well, [in the] pre-digital days, obviously vinyl was the go-to format. One of the things that is missing, that I miss, is the sound quality of vinyl. That analog sound had such warmth to it. If you were listening to it on a good system or in a good club, it makes a big difference from us spinning MP3s like we are nowadays.
As far as hip-hop, one of the things that vinyl was great for was turntablists and scratch DJs. The tactile feeling of vinyl grooves when you're scratching just feels really different than anything else. CD turntables and digital vinyl really [don't] compare. For hip-hop and turntablists, if you were making a set and marking cue points on the record, there was such an art form to that. Being in a dark club spinning and trying to find the right groove on the record and to cue it up on time to mix it in with the next thing... there was so much more to it then. Nowadays, you just click a button, and you're on to the next song.
I was collecting CDs for years before I got into records. One of the things that got me excited about going record shopping was twelve-inch singles. Even before full-length albums came out, they had twelve-inch singles. I loved to get the single a couple months before the full-length came out, because no one had it.
Was that specific to hip-hop?
They made twelve inches for every genre, but hip-hop there was more quantity. Twelve-inch singles were eventually geared more towards hip-hop and radio DJs.
How did you first get into music?
I grew up in a house where I was the youngest of four kids. There was just music playing all the time. My mom was really big into funk and soul. My dad had more of a classic rock collection, mixed with everything from Frank Sinatra to Sergio Mendes. Of course, since I had older siblings and we had MTV back in the day, I just remember watching MTV all the time with my brothers and sisters. I would always sneak into my brother Jim's room, he was in high school at the time. He's ten years older than me. He would let me hang out as long as I didn't talk. (Laughs) I would read his comics and he would draw. He was constantly playing ska and punk rock and early hip-hop like Public Enemy and KRS-One.
That was my earliest memories of hip-hop, just sitting in my [brother's] room and seeing Run DMC on Yo! MTV Raps. I remember seeing Jam Master Jay scratch and I was like, "What the hell is that?" [Laughs]. I remember sneaking into my sister's room because she had one of the big stereo systems that on the top had a record player. She never used it. She never played records. I remember taking old Christmas records that I knew my parents would never play, and I would put them on the turntable and try scratching 'em. I did nothing but destroy the records, but I still had fun.
Having a family that was all about music shaped me. Once I hit high school I lost all interest in sports, and music was all I was obsessed with. To this day I follow music and what's going on in the hip-hop world like most guys would follow sports stats.
When I was at Vianney High School there was a kid who had turntables that had no idea what the fuck he was doing. (Laughs) A couple months later I got turntables and we started spinning records together. [We] started this after school hip-hop thing. There were a bunch of dudes who were B-Boys in my high school and were always break dancing. We would set up shop in a classroom after school and spin records, dudes would bring in canvases and do graffiti style artwork, and guys would break dance. That was one of things I got into when I first got turntables. I didn't know what the hell I was doing either.
My brother Jim went to college and he started mailing me cassette tapes. He would draw his own covers and make a track-list and booklet. It would be a compilation of just everything - amazing DJs, classic hip-hop albums, new underground stuff, ska, reggae - everything I was into at the time. I would take the sleeves that he made and go record shopping as a kid at Sam Goody or Best Buy. I would find the song by the artist and then find the CD that was attached to it and buy that album. That was my checklist. I had to buy the album of every song that Jim put on so I knew more about these artists. That's how I started obsessing over hip-hop.
The first time I went record shopping when I bought turntables, I went to Vintage Vinyl. When I first started record shopping, I was out to get hip-hop records. I was on a mission to find those essential, must-have albums in hip-hop. Some of the first records I got were Public Enemy It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Eric B & Rakim Paid in Full and Jurassic 5 Quality Control. I wanted to learn how to scratch too, so I picked up a whole bunch of scratch records.