Current Bay Area resident/DJ/promoter Ren the Vinyl Archaeologist’s name says it all. A hip-hop head and avid record collector, his events company True Skool showcases the best in emerging Bay Area hip-hop acts along with covering the latest in hip-hop news, parties, and even politics.
Growing up in NYC during the height of the b-boy scene, he was exposed to much of the underground hip-hop movement, which has led him to open for acts such as Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jeff, Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and more. Check him out every first and third Saturday at Bruno’s for Sessions, along with 1st Fridays at Oakland’s Layover for Elevation.
What inspired you to start True Skool events?
I started True Skool events back in ’98 with my DJ friend Stimulus (of the live hip-hop band from NYC, The Real Live Show). The vision was to create a unique venue for quality music whether it be hip hop, reggae, soul, funk, electro, etc. We provided a platform for progressive music cultivating a community of like minded DJs and artists. For the most part, we stayed away from commercial radio music. We booked many local emerging independent artists before they became more popular such as Goapele, Zion I, Crown City Rockers and Aloe Blacc, to name a few. Our mission is to “preserve the legacy of hip hop” and not limited to the music but the culture. In keeping true to the culture, we payed tribute to the pioneers and featured many hip hop legends at our events. Throughout the years, we have been honored to present turntablists like Jazzy Jeff, A-Trak and DJ Cash Money as well as the forefathers of the culture Afrika Bambaataa (Zulu Nation), Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Red Alert and even legendary spoken-word collective, The Last Poets.
How do you choose what events to cover in True Skool?
I’m a fan of music, so the events we feature are some of my favorite artists and some by my favorite promoters. Throughout the years, we have grown into an event marketing company, so some of the events are sponsored listings by our clients, which include premiere venues and promotion companies in San Francisco, such as Yoshi’s, Another Planet Entertainment, Goldenvoice and Mighty.
What does it mean that you are a “vinyl archaeologist?”
Before the age of Serato, vinyl was the standard for DJs mixing. I adopted the name as an analogy to “diggin’ in the crates” meaning to dig in crates of vinyl in search for the ‘perfect beat’. Digging implies searching for rare and hard to find gems that most people weren’t up on. When I started DJing back in ’97, I was digging for hip hop samples, funk classics and rare groove. So I figured, it was an appropriate name as I didn’t like how “DJ Ren” sounded.
What’s your most prized record in your collection and why?
There are too many to mention. I have a huge collection of James Brown records and often felt the James Brown’s music had such an impact on popular music, especially hip-hop. I think that any of those records are prized in my collection. When you read the liner notes and listen to his music, it ain’t hard to tell the connection of the funk to hip-hop, lyrically and musically.
You’ve played with so many memorable artists. Which has been your favorite and why?
Some of my most memorable are Lupe Fiasco and Black Thought (of The Roots). But Afrika Bambaataa is probably my favorite, since he’s the founder of the Universal Zulu Nation and the “Godfather” or as he would say the “Amen-Ra” of Universal Hip-Hop Culture. His contributions as one of the pioneering DJs in hip-hop, as a community leader of the Zulu Nation that emerged from the most notorious gang “The Black Spades” and as a groundbreaking producer that fathered “electro-funk” with his classic “Planet Rock,” which has influenced the electronic music today have had a lasting impact that continues to shape our consciousness of music today.
You have both residencies in S.F. and Oakland. What’s the main difference you have seen in crowds or vibes between spinning these two cities?
Each residency has starkly different vibes, but both are crackin’ parties. I do a party at Bruno’s in SF called Sessions, which showcases the best DJs in the Bay with yours truly and DJ Franky Fresh as the residents. We have featured DJs such as Chuy Gomez, Vinroc, Sake 1, Jah Yzer, Irie Dole, to name a few. The music is diverse, but with more current hits. My other residency is Elevation at the Layover in Oakland. It’s more intimate and I spin four hours of music to a diverse crowd (musically and ethnically), where I can get open more as a DJ.
How have you seen the S.F. scene grow and change since you started DJing?
The S.F. scene has grown quite a bit since I started DJing here. There were much fewer venues and less promoters when I started. The scene is thriving both in SF and Oakland and we have a lot more to choose from.
What is one song you can’t stop bumpin’ currently?
One song. Hmmm. That’s a difficult one to answer, since I love many styles of music. I guess on heavy rotation is the recent one from De La Soul’s first serve album “Must Be the Music”.
Where can we find you hanging out when you’re not DJing?
When I’m not DJing, you can catch me online blogging, spending quality time with the family or seeing some of my favorite shows at Yoshi’s or Mighty. You’ll also see me kickin’ it at some of my favorite concerts at Stern Grove as well.