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Skratch Bastid: Maritime Royalty

We spoke to Halifax's hip-hop historian about his career, hometown, and barbecue.
May 29, 2014, 5:55pm

Skratch Bastid knows a lot about Halifax’s hip-hop history, due to the fact that he essentially witnessed its conception. Before the genre was widely known throughout Eastern Canada, back when the biggest source of pride for Maritimers came from a rock group called Sloan, and Buck 65 was nothing more than an amateur radio personality, Paul “Skratch Bastid” Murphy was already enamoured with rap. “I just think in that period of time, when Halifax was so isolated, it was just something to do for fun. We also had our own identity thanks to the fact that we were cut off from everyone else,” explains Skratch. “Halifax is the end of the Underground Railroad and the home of Africville, so there is a prominent Black culture out there, it’s a very deep history. The Halifax hip-hop scene was really rich at the time. There was Buck 65, who was a really strong local artist so a lot of people looked up to him. And then there was Sixtoo, he and Buck had a group called the Sebutones. There were all these local rap collectives, like Tachichi and The Goods, then there was also indie guys like Jorun and Classified too.”

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Jorun is a DJ who, until a recent tweet from ?uestlove, has been an unknown figure to most. “Jorun is a real hip-hop junkie, he’s got such a great ear for that breakbeat culture. He’s been producing since the late 80s and he used to BE Halifax hip-hop: he ran underground shows, performed everywhere, and really embodied that ‘old-school’ sound.” Jorun’s embrace of traditional hip-hop sounds found him fans, but it also allowed for a hip-hop counter-culture to emerge. “At the time when I started getting into Halifax hip-hop, it was Buck 65 versus Jorun. Jo was more traditional, what you would call ‘real hip-hop,’ and Buck was all about the anti, that super nerdy scene. Jorun is undoubtedly the godfather of Halifax hip-hop though, everyone went through him. Classified recorded his first record with Jo, and even Buck started with him. Everything dealing with hip-hop from Halifax started at Jorun.”

Skratch’s father was a bit of an audiophile, having worked as a sound technician for hotels and resorts, but it wasn’t until he heard Buck 65’s radio show that Skratch Bastid realized that he wanted to be a DJ. But before DatPiff allowed you access to millions of hip-hop albums, the only option for an aspiring DJ was to travel to the Mecca: New York. “When I was 15 I drove down to New York and bought records with my best friend, who’s a lawyer now. We would make these mixtapes full of Dre, Snoop, Wu Tang and all that, we’d buy our own cassettes and CDs, and we’d make a master mixtape of what we thought were the best songs on each of our collections. We started making them for girls, these specialized mixtapes, on some DJ screw shit, like special dedication!” The only place at the time that sold hip-hop records was a Halifax shop called Revolution, which prided itself on it’s diversity. That was the venue where Skratch made his first dollar off hip-hop, “we put our cassette into the store and it sold out in like a week. I still have an old copy. It was called maybe like, ‘The New New York’ or some shit. It was so dumb, and we literally drew pencil covers. The guys in the store were like ‘where did you get these records?’ and we were like ‘we got them in New York!’ We knew that would be our way to create an identity.

When he turned 16, Skratch entered something called the DJ Olympics at the behest of his mom. “She drove by the store and saw a sign for the battle, and she knew that it’s something I’d like because she knew I was really into these mixtapes and just watching MuchMusic all the time.” His mother’s blessing proved to be valuable, since Skratch—then known as DJ Stimulus—wasn’t legally allowed in the nightclub without a guardian. “I was supremely nervous and just sweating, waiting for my set to start. There were about seven people in it, Jorun and Buck were both in it, and the prize was like $500 and some records. That night I placed fourth, and Buck and Jo both placed above me, but the beef between them was so real at the time that Jo backed out of the finals. I ended up placing third in my first battle! I still have that medal.” As for the transition from DJ Stimulus to Skratch Bastid, the catalyst for change came from Sixtoo. “People thought it came from Austin Powers, but I got the name before the movie, back in ‘98 or ‘99. Sixtoo has a local radio show and he put on of my mixes on his playlist, but he credited me as Skratch Bastid because DJ Stimulus was a terrible name. He said it’s cause I was a little bastard, stealing everyone’s scratches. But it stuck.”

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After competing and playing locally for a few years, Skratch realized that if he ever wanted to raise his profile, he would have to leave Halifax. His first trip as a DJ was to Scribble Jam in Cincinnati, where he and six others shared a king-sized bed to save on costs while they entered battles; battles that Skratch would often make his mark on with his signature sound, which involved him flipping the Star Wars “Imperial March” and making it soulful. Although he didn’t win anything at Scribble Jam, the experience showed him that life on the road was infinitely more interesting than the one in Halifax. “I went home and all I wanted to do was tour, so I contacted friends and we’d try to figure out a way to tour and break even, or even just make $100.”

“I started touring locally: PEI, New Brunswick, eventually Montreal. We did a couple van trips with some underground dudes. Sometimes we’d fly out to the West Coast, go down South, out to the Midwest, and I would make like $25 for a month of work. I did that a couple times, but I was also getting more busy with DJing in Halifax.” Skratch’s raised profile led to him getting more club gigs within driving distance of his house, and although it was a different experience from the hectic tour life, it did teach him an invaluable skill. “That’s how I learned how girls danced, and that was a great discovery for me: how to move asses. That’s when I understood why some records had a “club mix” that would sound terrible when you were, say, moving the lawn, but they sounded amazing in the club.”

Skratch’s repertoire of skills had now doubled. Not only did he know how to scratch records to make new songs entirely, but he also knew how to get people to have fun at the club. “I needed to find a way to accommodate both the club hits and the tasteful scratches, so I ended up creating my own style that incorporated both, without too much of either.”

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“I was doing well in Halifax, but I didn’t know there was more out there, even though I was travelling. There was this girl that I was dating who told me I could better than this, and I was like ‘Oh, really!?’” Skratch moved to Montreal first, figuring Toronto to be too difficult of a market to penetrate so early into his career, but found it be be just as difficult to break into the local scene in Montreal. “This was like, 10 years ago. A-Trak was still living there at the time, and when I started battling A-Trak was entered in the same competitions. He was already a champion at that point, but that’s how I connected with him, before he became Kanye’s DJ.”

Skratch left Montreal in 2009 after living there for five years. His new destination would be Toronto, but he cemented a sort of OG status in the DJ game after Redbull had named him as a judge for one of their 3Style events. Soon after making the move to Toronto, Skratch found a residency at The Drake Hotel due to the fact that a majority of the staff was composed of Halifax ex-pats who were familiar with Skratch’s legendary club nights. “They made a bet with the club manager that they would sell a certain amount of booze, and they ended up making double what they thought they would. Through that, I started to pick up traction and got a monthly night.”

After playing all over Canada, what audience does Skratch Bastid love playing for the most? “It’s always good to play at home, but I do like Toronto crowds too. I love how deep you can go with dancehall and reggae. I like small Toronto crowds. There is a ‘don’t give a shit’ going on here, but there’s also entitlement, like the audience thinks they should be on the stage. I’m a small city guy, so I do find that the small cities go crazy.”

Now, with years of DJ experience under his belt, Skratch is looking to bring his brand of party all over Canada with Skratch Bastid’s BBQ. Making four stops across Canada, the event will combine great music with great food and will feature a number of special guests. Find tickets here.

“AMA about Halifax hip-hop” - @SlavaP

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