Noise An Arts Blog

Scavenger’s Delight: DJ Booman and DJ Kool Breez are record-scouring duo Dust Addicts

City Paper

"My gold mine is flea markets," Kool Breez tells me. "I love flea markets, man. As long as we have gas money, and money to get there, we are good. I don't even need a lot of money. We have been dealing with some of the same dealers for 20 years. And you can give these dealers a wish list, and they will come back in a month or two, and they will pretty much fill your list."

Kool Breez and DJ Booman are DJs and record junkies. We assembled at a McDonald's on to talk about their recent record "Dust Addicts," 24 tracks of red meat for those who love grimy '90s-style New York street rap.

While I waited, I admired the framed hotrod posters lining the walls and nibbled on a crispy cassette-shaped potato tucked inside of a paper sleeve.

"It's like a game, it's a big game," Boo says.

The two beatmakers and club music veterans frequent garage sales, record shows, storage units, and the basements of the recently deceased looking for their fix. Record collectors are like vultures, Boo tells me, sorting through crates of cardboard squares, salvaging parts for their sound sculptures like two old mechanics building their dream cars. Rather than calendars, the models are displayed on albums by Gang Starr, Nas, and Wu-Tang Clan.

"I am always looking for something I've never seen," Breez says. "A lot of the smaller, regional stuff, because it is limited. Half of the stuff we sample are the records that didn't make the cut back in the day. They didn't have any hits on them so the groups never went anywhere. I look for crazy artwork and if the group is very ethnically diverse. If they look like they take drugs, that's a plus. You know you are going to get some wild shit. I also look for certain producers and players. Like, 'Oh, David Axelrod produced that.' You gotta keep your game face on. Like, I will be going through stuff, and [the sellers] don't have their stuff marked a lot. So you're going through and you find something, it's like, 'Okay, keep a straight face.' Like, 'Hmm, what is this?' And you know damn well what it is."

"There was a fight at Record and Tape Traders when they did that 45 sale," Boo remembers. "You could fill up a bag with 45's for a buck, or three dollars, or some weird price."

"When it comes to those 45's, I've got some older guys," Breez tells me. "It will be guys in their sixties and they are serious. There's one little guy, he looks like he is half-Asian. Real greasy looking dude. He will grab a stack of 45's, and while he is going through them, he is adding them up. I've seen this dude hit $1,600 before for a small stack. He pulls the cash from a little fanny pack. He will have like ten grand. It gets serious man."

Hip-hop producers are the music world's scavengers and recyclers. Through hundreds of hours of tinkering and toiling, dusty bins of waste material are transformed into soundtracks for our storytellers. "Dust Addicts," released back in December, is a collection of instrumentals worthy of the icons, and Breez and Boo's first joint venture. "We were always talking about doing a hip-hop project together," Breez says, "but it was always in passing."

The album's strongest tracks sound like lost boom-bap gems: 'Funk Rock' is a diabolical spell—a recurring guitar clang alarms over and over on top of an organ bed and the hypnotizing sound of Vincent Price's voice (if you're really high, the beat traps your mind inside of a K-Hole, and sounds custom made for Killah Priest or GZA to spit some shit about ancient aliens or alchemy over); 'Zion' could easily accompany a cocaine odyssey by Cam'ron, or the kind of confessional that the bard from Harlem specializes in; 'Blue Love' also brings Dipset to mind, the whines and stops reminiscent of Just Blaze and Cam's "Come Home With Me" days.

Since the release of "Dust Addicts," the duo has released three volumes of additional beats titled "In The Crates"—the third volume came out Friday.

Twenty years ago the Dust Addicts were brought together through Baltimore Club music.

"We started doing the club stuff when that became prevalent," Breez says. "We met through Unruly, we both signed with Unruly Records. That's how a lot of people got their name out in Baltimore. We used it as a springboard, I guess you would say. Boo is very active in the production of club music. I dabble in it from time to time, but he is royalty in Baltimore club music."

Baltimore club music is rooted in hip-hop: "It's all hip-hop breaks just sped up. I mean it takes a lot of cues from house and electronic dance music, especially the European stuff from the late '80s, the deep house stuff. But Baltimore is such a hip-hop city that we just took a lot of hip-hop stuff and sped it up. Hence the birth of Baltimore club music," Breez says.

"The first thing I ever sampled was from my parents' collection," Boo tells me. "I have baby pictures of me holding 45's. My father had an extensive collection: James Brown, Richard Pryor, Pigmeat Markham. We used to sneak and listen to that stuff. He had Redd Foxx. He had Rudy Ray Moore, a bunch of Rudy Ray Moore. I used to sit and listen like, 'Yeah, this shit's crazy.' And from way back then, it just kind of progressed from there. A cousin of mine had a party, when I was like 11 and she was 15, and I remember seeing the DJs come in, and I didn't leave the table the whole time. I was like, 'What are these guys doing?' And that Christmas I asked for turntables, and I got one. And I got a little bullshit Realistic mixer. And that was it, I was hooked. Eleven years old, it was done. My whole life, that was it."

"I remember watching 'Saturday Night Live' when I was little," Breez says, "and Funky Four 4 +1 was on there. I was probably 4 years old. My dad was into rock 'n' roll, Pink Floyd and stuff like that. He used to always turn me on to music. I saw a PBS special on hip-hop in the 1980's, 'Style Wars,' with Crazy Legs and the Rock Steady Crew, and started breakdancing. That's honestly what got me into everything. I got a residency at a club in Essex when I was 14."

New York producer Pete Rock pushed Breez further into digging: "[Pete Rock] was the reason I bought my SP-1200. That was my first standalone piece. I got it in 1993 because he had one. I knew nothing about it, I just knew Pete had it, so I had to get it. I bought it and stared at it like, 'What do I do?' I didn't know how to use it. I didn't know nothing about it. But I got it. Pete Rock and Premiere were big influences."

"For me was it Q-Tip, cause I'm a die-hard Tribe fan," Boo says.

"Back in the '90s, even the most commercial albums, there would be one or two tracks like, 'That shit was crazy,'" Boo says. "Nobody ever liked it. We are the guys that liked those records. It's just that, that's what it is."

"Like I said, we dig," Breez says. "We find records for like 50 cents, a dollar. Don't get me wrong, I'll pay. If I am looking for something, and it's there, and I have the money to buy it, I will buy it. Cause I might not ever see it again. I have found a thousand dollar record for a buck. Sealed."

There are records that the general public doesn't know about, by artists too crazy and unique to be mainstream, and mainstream artists often have low-key albums, such as Van Morrison's "Veedon Fleece," that are often wilder and more personal than the bestsellers. One such album is Link Wray's self-titled Polydor record from 1971, a sought-after country-funk classic sometimes called the "indian-head" album. The album cover is a die-cut side profile of Link's face with a patterned headband wrapped around his shaggy mop; he looks like a cross between Crazy Horse and Willie Nelson. Wray, a pioneering electric guitar player and half-Shawnee Indian, is not well known for his singing, but he should be—he sounds like a hillbilly Van Morrison, his voice ragged and strained from a missing lung. 

"That [Link Wray album] was a white whale of mine for a while. It took me so long to find it, and when I did, I found two of them. Two original pressings with the die-cut cover and everything. 'Fire and Brimstone'—I have covered that song so much. It's such a big record, I want to do it right," Breez says.

The album was recorded at Wray's backyard studio in Accokeek, Maryland, down in Prince George's County, where he hid out in the 1970s and played the local honky-tonks. His next-door neighbor was guitar legend Danny Gatton who plays mandolin on one track. Link was an early experimenter; to achieve the unique guitar sounds on "Link Wray," he cranked a small amp and a microphone down an old well sitting on the property, creating a natural echo chamber. The album was a critical success, but didn't sell well. 

"I love country music, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. I have found a good amount of stuff through country music," Breez says. "You will go to certain Kenny Rogers records and be like, 'Whoa, look at the keys on that, or the horn section.' Like Johnny Mathis, I skipped over Johnny Mathis for years, and it was the Gravediggaz sample. The song is called 'No Love' I think, but it's the little eerie singing part from the beginning of Gravediggaz 'Diary of A Madman.' I love Prince Paul. I put him in the same category as the RZA. Music either helps you forget or helps you remember. If you can either help somebody forget their day or remember the day, you have accomplished something."

"That's the best thing about what we do," Boo says. "It's not just some bullshit like we woke up one day and wanted to make a pop record to get on the radio. Nobody cares about that shit. It's not what we are doing this for."

"Baltimore is a very hard city to get out of," Breez says. "It's like crabs in a barrel. Because nobody supports anybody; everybody wants to do things on their own. And I think that is what is great about me and him, we decided that there is power in numbers. If I do great beats and he does great beats, imagine what we can do together. We are more about trying to make classic music than hit music. I would rather have a record that is relevant in 20 years than have that joint that is big today. There's a meme on Facebook that's like, 'Good music doesn't go out of style in three months.' And that's true. I would rather make good music than hit music."

"You either get it or you don't," Breez says. "And if you don't, that's fine."

"I'm cool with that," Boo says.

"We'll get you next time," Breez says. "'Cause there is going to be a next time."

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