Def Rok - Born To Rok
Resident at rnbsuperclub and jointly responsible for the latest instalment in the urban mega-brand’s mix series, DJ Def Rok opens up to 3D’s Cyclone about his partnership with G-Wizard, and the current state of the nation’s RNB.
Once it was virtually impossible for Australian clubbers to purchase a mix compilation from their favourite local DJ, or one branded by a homegrown club, with only international sets available. But rnbsuperclub helped change all that. In 2008 the national superclub is up to the ninth volume in its compilation series (with 11 issues in total).
And Sydney's DJ Def Rok is back on mixing duties with G-Wizard.
Undoubtedly, rnbsuperclub, launched by Designer Entertainment at Fox Studios in 2001, is Australia's major urban club. It's franchised across the country in cities like Cairns, Darwin and Hobart. Sydney's rnbsuperclub rocks at Tank every Friday.
Def Rok belongs to a roster of experienced residents along with the aforementioned G-Wizard, Troy T, Lilo, Kevin Watts and Eko.
The rnbsuperclub CDs attract not just regular patrons, but also future clubbers. “I know a lot of kids buy these CDs - like the kids who don't come to the clubs,” Def Rok says. “They're very popular among young people. They don't get to come to the clubs so they'll buy these CDs and go, 'Oh, this is what they must be playing at rnbsuperclub - one day when I turn 18, I can go there!'”
Def Rok determined to study turntablism after watching a battle between Mix Master Mike and DJ 8 Ball on video in the mid-'90s. He went 'pro' when a career as a footballer came to a sorry end due to injury. His first proper gig was DJing at a Ruff Endz after-party in 1999. However, Def Rok's big break at an rnbsuperclub event happened in 2002 - another DJ felt crook and the easygoing newcomer was asked to step in.
Volume 9.0 again serves up urban anthem after urban anthem. There are commercial hits, such as Flo Rida's Low, Estelle's American Boy and Kelly Rowland's Work, in addition to tracks that the real heads will recognise, like Ryan Leslie's Diamond Girl. (Leslie is being touted as the RNB Kanye West.)
Def Rok mixed his first rnbsuperclub comp, 5.0, in 2006 with SeFu. Then, the DJs each had a single CD. He and G-Wizard have now combined forces for the one - accompanied by MC Jayson.
It can't be easy to share, but Def Rok insists that his style complements that of G-Wizard. “I'm from more of a turntablist background, I do more of a hip hop kinda thing, whereas he does more of a party kinda thing - like Hype. He'll play a lot of breaks and that. I'm more into the fresher side of stuff.”
In fact, the pair worked together on the double rnbsuperclub 6.0. “I use turntables, he uses CDs, so I was cutting and he was doing everything on CDs. It worked out all right in the end.”
With three rnbsuperclub CDs to his name, Def Rok knows the ropes. He was pleased that the licensing was straightforward with 9.0. “We got a lot more tracks cleared,” he reveals.
The DJs were given frequent updates, meaning less pressure to suddenly finish the project.
Though the rnbsuperclub series is marketed through Warner, many of the tracks are picked up from the rival Universal. And the DJs confronted the inevitable complications. “With American Boy, Estelle's track, we couldn't get Kanye on it, so we had to use the radio version without Kanye,” Def Rok says.
The DJs utilised Jayson as their hypeman. “We tried to push for an original track from him but, in the end, we ran out of time, so we just used him as a voiceover.”
Despite the Aussie hip hop explosion, our RNB is in a poor state, Def Rok maintains. “I think RNB is lagging big-time in Australia. Hip hop's massive, hey! It's just the quality of [the hip hop] artists and what they're bringing out - like there's Bliss N Eso and Hilltop [Hoods] and even the Melbourne dudes Justice & Kaos. “With RNB, there are no artists we could push in Australia like that at the moment. There was about five years ago. But maybe labels are just not pushing them. I don't think they're still around doing it.”
“If Jade MacRae was in America and had a good producer behind her, I reckon she would have blown up, because she's got a lot of talent. Here in Australia, I don't understand why the labels don't push more RNB - it saturates the market and it's selling, anyway.”
Gabriella Cilmi is mining the neo-soul equated with Amy Winehouse, and is an example of a successful Australian RNB artist, but Def Rok is unconvinced that she connects with the urban crowd. “I wouldn't say she was RNB.”
The DJ is excited by urban music from overseas. He digs Ne-Yo's Year Of The Gentleman, believing that the shiny suit soulster has displaced Usher, the latter no longer representing "that playa lifestyle" that intrigues younger fans. Def Rok digs the edgy Rihanna, too. And he admires Estelle, who's developing a UK sound. He's currently spinning Kardinal Offishall's Not 4 Sale.
Nor is Def Rok a purist. The DJ favours the electro influence permeating urban, which he credits to producers like will.i.am. He notes that the BPMs of some RNB tracks are closer to those of house. And Def Rok namechecks Australian electro-rocker Dirty South, who's remixed Mark Ronson. “Even in my live sets now I've been pushing a lot of that electro-pop sound. A lot of tracks that have been coming out from RNB artists have electro remixes - and it's been working lately just to mash it up in my club sets. It's appealing to the crowd.”
Def Rok envisages himself moving into music making, having assisted the Battlestar crew (G-Wizard, Eko and Tom Piper) on rnbsuperclub 9.0's (post) production. “I see myself going towards that, 'cause I've got a lot of ideas that I just wanna get out there one day”" he says. “I've got a lot of tastes in music, from reggae to house to RNB to rock, so I'd love to see what kind of sound I'd make. It'd be crazy!”
WHO: Def Rok
WHAT: Resident at rnbsuperclub / rnbsuperclub 9.0 through Warner
WHEN: Tank every Friday / Out now