A-Trak's Big Breaks: Kanye West And The DMC World DJ Championships In Scratching It was happenstance that brought the Canadian DJ and Kanye West together. But A-Trak — Alain Macklovitch — first made his name by winning an international scratching competition, when he was just 15.
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Before Leaping Onto Kanye's Records, A-Trak Forged A Career From Scratch

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Before Leaping Onto Kanye's Records, A-Trak Forged A Career From Scratch

Before Leaping Onto Kanye's Records, A-Trak Forged A Career From Scratch

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's close things out today with another installment from our occasional series My Big Break. This one is about A-Trak, not eight track but A-Trak. That's the DJ name of Alan Macklovitch. He's kind of a big deal on the electronic music scene. He's a Grammy-nominated DJ and producer. He's headlined shows around the world and has his own record label.

But before all that, Macklovitch was a regular 15-year-old kid who liked hip-hop. That's how he became the youngest person to win the biggest DJ competition in the world. It's called the Technics DMC. You might call it his big break. So we asked him to tell us about it, and he told us that was really just the beginning.

A-TRAK: Just like anyone who was growing up in the '80s and '90s, I was aware of DJing and scratching just from discovering hip-hop and seeing DJ scratching and videos, even in the music video on TV or, you know, maybe it's a scene in "Fresh Prince From Bel-Air" (ph) or something like that.

One day I tried to scratch a record on my dad's record player. Most people have tried at one point to take a vinyl record on their parent's equipment and try to do what that guy does in the rap video, and usually it doesn't work out. Usually the needle skips or breaks or it sounds awful. In my case it just sounded kind of all right. So I stuck to it and next thing you know at the age of 13, I was practicing every day after school and saving up to buy secondhand equipment.

And I would listen to either rap records that had scratching on them and whenever there'd be the section of the song with a scratch solo, I would just rewind that, play it over and over again and try to figure out what those tricks were, what the patterns were.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ SCRATCHING RECORDS)

A-TRAK: The first things that I learned were actual scratching where you manipulate one record, you manipulate one sample, one sound. And by combining some movements on the record with one hand - combine that with cuts on the sound mixer where you're cutting the sound in an out, those combinations - that's what creates the sound of scratching.

(SOUNDBITE OF DJ SCRATCHING RECORDS)

A-TRAK: In '97, I entered the DMC Championships. I had been DJing for barely two years. I had to miss class. I had to speak to my teachers and say that I was going to Italy for a scratching competition, which did not connect, went over people's heads. They looked at me puzzled, but allowed me to miss a few days of school. So my mom and I went to Rimini, Italy, for me to participate in the DMC World Championships. And I came in, and I won.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Well, I've beaten most of the people here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Canada...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Who do you have who could possibly beat me?

A-TRAK: My career spans about 20 years at this point. And so it feels like there's distinct chapters to it, and each chapter has kind of a break.

So 2004 I met Kanye in London. At the time, he had just released his first album called "Dropout," and there was a record shop that organized an in-store performance. And long story short, they booked me the same afternoon as a young man by the name of John Legend. And Kanye came to support John Legend, and by that token he saw me do a scratching performance where notably I used a Jay-Z record. And I remember we spoke after, and he said something to the effect of, you know, what - usually when I see these scratch guys do their tricks, it's, like, too specialized and, like, kind of over people's heads. But the way that you used this Jay-Z record that I know and people would recognize, I like it because people will get it.

And he asked me to come on tour with him. At that point in time, a lot of rappers didn't even need to have a DJ anymore ever since the Puff Daddy era, rappers were just front and center and the DJ who used to be the companion of the rapper was really not that needed anymore. But Kanye West was kind of mentored by two rappers who have great DJs on the road with them, so to Kanye, he felt he needed a DJ. So when he saw me, he thought I found my DJ. That guy's going to be my DJ.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLD DIGGER")

KANYE WEST: (Singing) Get down, girl. Go head, get down. Get down, girl. Go head, get down. Let me hear that back.

A-TRAK: (Scratching records).

MARTIN: That was DJ Alan Macklovitch also known as A-Trak for our ongoing series My Big Break.

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