DJ Skribble wrecked my life.
OK, I'm exaggerating a little. After all, could somebody called Skribble truly wreck one's life? That's like being brought to your knees by a club kid named Pimento. Regardless, things took an ugly turn the first time I heard that name, setting in motion a chain of events I'm still recovering from.
In 1998, MTV Books approached me (through my literary agent) about penning a tome on DJ culture. Initially, I declined. Not because of principles, but simply because I was tired of writing about dance music. But eventually, after meeting a savvy editor from MTV Books who assured me I'd have full creative control, I caved.
I felt like a heel for willfully suckling from the corporate teat, yet I wanted this book to reach the widest possible audience. There was talk of on-air promotions and tie-in CD compilations. Yet when it came to writing the text itself, the boys and girls at MTV stayed out of my sandbox. And then along came Skribble.
I was nearly finished with the first draft of my manuscript when my editor called one day and asked if I'd heard of DJ Skribble. I told him no. He explained that Skribble was the co-host of the popular MTV Jams, and that my chances of getting the network fully behind me would improve markedly if I could find a way to incorporate Skribble into my book.
I hesitated. I'd carefully selected 40-odd interview subjects already, and now—at the last minute—MTV was forcing one of their charges on me. Would his inclusion taint the rest of my work? Then, tantalizingly, visions of frat boys in swim trunks shimmying poolside at the MTV Beach House danced through my head. I told my editor I'd consider it.
To my relief, it turned out Skribble had ample experience, starting out with Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee's much-maligned prot駩s Young Black Teenagers and later becoming a key figure at New York's WQHT-FM, "Hot 97." So what if he lacked underground credibility—I wanted to reach neophytes in Idaho, and so, it turned out, did Skribble.
"I'll play a hardcore record, but then I'm going to play Ricky Martin's 'Livin' La Vida Loca,'" he proclaimed in our interview for the book. "If going pop means reaching a wider audience, that doesn't bother me. Just because you don't like that music doesn't mean that Joe Blow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, isn't going to like it. And he or she is going to get to see a DJ doing something they've never seen before and be able to relate to them on their level." Ultimately, Skribble's observations lent my book a much-needed mainstream perspective, and I was glad to include them.
But then the project went awry. My editor resigned and was replaced by a woman who showed so little interest that I joked she'd been promoted up from the mail room. The art and design budget evaporated; right before we went to press, most of the photos were gutted from the manuscript. By the time Looking for the Perfect Beat: The Art and Culture of the DJ finally hit stores, MTV had turned away from "electronica" and was caught up in the throes of rap-rock and teen pop. With no advertising and minimal press, my book died on the vine. MTV Books assured my agent that DJ Skribble had plugged it on the air, but nobody we knew ever witnessed any love for my handiwork on MTV.
Instead of being the work that finally put me on the map as a serious writer, creating Looking for the Perfect Beat left me so discouraged I changed tack and took a job at a dot-com rather than try to sell another literary project. Fortunately, like everyone else in town, I'm about to get laid off—and my creative batteries are sufficiently recharged after a year of office work that I'm ready to resume the nail-biting life of a free agent.
And Skribble? His star has only ascended further since we spoke in 1999. "Because of the MTV machine, everything is accelerated," he said then. "You go international and receive a huge push. When the channel is behind you, forget it." And when they aren't—well, you can forget it then, too.
Skribble's most recent release, Essential Dance 2000, is a flawless survey of big club hits, from Ultra Nat駳 "Desire" and Zombie Nation's creepy "Kernkraft 400" to that damn Bob Marley remix; it's like the best moments of a year's worth of C-89 condensed into a 74-minute set. His forthcoming Essential Spring Break mix looks even better, featuring less obvious choices such as the disco-fried "Salsoul Nugget (If U Wanna)" by M&S Presents the Girl Next Door. DJ Skribble is great at his job. I just wish I'd never heard his name in the first place.
DJ Skribble plays the Showbox Saturday, April 7.