So This is De La Heaven: DJ Platurn Explains How De La Soul Turned His Music World Upside Down
After 20 plus years of and honing his craft and rocking venues all over the world, DJ Platurn’s impressive resume boasts performances alongside the likes of A-Trak, Mayer Hawthorne, MF Doom, Pete Rock, and Questlove, as well as client work with MTV, Red Bull, Scion (Toyota), and Pixar. In addition to his extensive credentials, Platurn has earned a reputation as a Native Tongues expert thanks to his love of all things A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. With two mixes for both Tribe and De La already under his belt, Platurn is poised to re-issue the classic So This is De La Heavan Pt. 2 on March 23rd, 2016. Fans of the mixtape already include DJ Nu-Mark, DJ Z-Trip, and Michael Rapaport. With the re-release date coming almost 30 years after he first discovered their music, I reached out to Platurn to discuss how De La Soul continues to influence his DJing and production today.
“As far as creating a hip-hop wall of sound, nobody was really fuckin’ with Prince Paul and Q-Tip at the time. Those guys really knew their music and all the production tricks that went along with it.”
Gino: Do you remember the time and place you first heard De La?
DJ Platurn: Yep. I heard 3 Feet High and Rising back in ’88 in the motherland, Iceland. My cousin played it for me at the local youth club where he played soccer. They had a DJ set up with Technics, which was pretty damn rare in Reykjavik at the time. I remember trippin’ out on the inner sleeve artwork and thinking to myself how I could really get into all this comic book type shit.
Gino: Do you remember the first song you heard?
DJ Platurn: Pretty sure the first song I heard from them was “The Magic Number”. Turned my whole music world upside down man.
“Turned my whole music world upside down man.”
Gino: Several people I’ve talked to say the original vinyl pressing of 3 Feet High sounded like shit. Do you remember that being the case? Was the early Tommy Boy mastering that poor?
DJ Platurn: Oh yeah. Way too many tracks on each side, plus they crammed all the skits on the LP too. Couldn’t DJ with it for sure, and you had to turn that shit up loud for it to bump, but when you did it would rumble hella bad on shitty stereo equipment. I wore the fuck out of the tape in the Walkman though.
“It would rumble hella bad on shitty stereo equipment. I wore the fuck out of the tape in the Walkman though.”
Gino: You have an obvious appreciation for the upbeat, positive sound of 3 Feet High. Many fans of that album were shocked when they heard De La Soul Is Dead because the tone of the album is so different. When you first heard De La Soul Is Dead did it take some time to sink in before you could appreciate it?
DJ Platurn: I remember being excited when it came out but not necessarily surprised by the overall sound. De La came out the gate sounding so vastly different from everyone out at the time that you almost didn’t know what to expect from each release. They were a bit of a challenging listen with their inside jokes and deep samples. I’ve always agreed that the true artists in every genre of music are the ones that adapt and redefine themselves from project to project, because they have to keep themselves interested in what they’re doing first and foremost. I loved the fact that they kinda came out on some b-boy, shit-talking vibes with De La Soul Is Dead, but they still had the bugged out skits and uptempo dance stuff. That’s still my favorite record of theirs, a perfect listen from beginning to end.
“The true artists in every genre of music are the ones that adapt and redefine themselves from project to project, because they have to keep themselves interested in what they’re doing first and foremost.”
Gino: It’s always hard to say with an album like that, but do you have a favorite track?
DJ Platurn: Oh man. That’s brutal. It’s impossible to say with that one, but if I had a gun to my head kinda shit, I’d say “Pass the Plugs”. That sample still gives me fuckin’ goosebumps man.
Gino: It’s so ill. And Prince Paul raps on it, which is an added bonus .
DJ Platurn: Paul is a cot damn genius. Still is. One of the most unique and underrated producers in the history of the genre.
Gino: I’ve interviewed several DJs and producers about De La Soul is Dead and they all share a sense of awe for how intricate and layered the production is.
DJ Platurn: Dude, “Saturdays” has like 8 different samples and they are all perfectly in sync. Pocket, melody, everything. You have to know records and know them very well in order to put stuff like that together. Same with Q-Tip and “Award Tour”, that ear for putting sounds together is everything.
“I loved the fact that they kinda came out on some b-boy, shit-talking vibes with De La Soul Is Dead, but they still had the bugged out skits and uptempo dance stuff.”
Gino: Even the scratching is perfectly in sync and meshes so well with everything else.
DJ Platurn: Yeah, it’s pretty insane that the scratching is actually a looped sample from The Fearless Four.
Gino: Holy shit, that’s crazy! I never knew that was a sampled scratch until now.
DJ Platurn: I seriously bugged out when I realized that from listening to “F-4000”.
Gino: Prince Paul told me he and De La almost saw themselves as a second-tier Bomb Squad when I interviewed him about the layered production on that album. He didn’t think De La Soul is Dead was that revolutionary from a musical perspective. I’m not as well versed in early Public Enemy, but to me what De La was doing was unprecedented.
DJ Platurn: Yeah the Bomb Squad analogy is definitely on point, they just went with a different vibe. But as far as creating a hip-hop wall of sound, nobody was really fuckin’ with Paul and Tip at the time. Those guys really knew their music and all the production tricks that went along with it, to hear those records separately and think, “These one or two or seven records will lock in well together.” I’m sure there was some experimentation going on, but you really had to understand pocket, funk, and melody to make it all come together like they did. When I say pocket I mean the tracks locking into one another rhythmically. If you’re producing strictly with loops and not chops, which Paul and Tip were doing 90 percent of the time during that era, finding multiple sources that sounded like they belonged together was really fuckin’ difficult. I’ve been a producer for many years and used to just fuck with loops and I could never come close to that level of intricacy.
“I’m sure there was some experimentation going on but you really had to understand pocket, funk, and melody to make it all come together like they did.”
Gino: On both This is De La Heaven mixtapes you demonstrate a deep knowledge of the samples and sound sources they were using. Did sifting through those records to create your own interpretation of De La’s production make you appreciate what they were doing then even more?
DJ Platurn: The De La Heaven tapes were simply streams of consciousness man. When I really starting getting into the intricacies of how those songs were put together, it was like I put myself in the driver’s seat and thought, “If I came across these records, how would I put them together with my style?” As a DJ nerd and being into Bay Area turntablist shit the way I’ve always been, I just pieced it together in a very similar way, but with my own little angle. All I’ve done with those and the Tribe mixes is recreate with a fresh approach by extending parts here and there, dropping some tasteful cuts, and simply paying homage to the brilliance of the original composition
Gino: You mentioned making your own beats. What equipment did you use and what do you use today?
DJ Platurn: An Akai S-20. That was my joint. It’s a shitty little sampler, but I had a ton of fun with that one. I also did lots of 4-track action back then too. Strictly turntable shit, live layering and everything. That was pretty typical for the DJs in the Bay in the late 90s and early 2000s. I had the S-20 for years, then got into some MPC stuff, and eventually ended up with Pro Tools. I basically make all of my beats in Pro Tools now.
Gino: Do you find you are able to have more success with that layered style in Pro Tools? Or has your production evolved into something different?
DJ Platurn: Oh yeah, Pro Tools is like photoshop for designers. There are no limits to what you can achieve if you know how to use that program. If you can think of it, you can create it. But it all comes back to those turntables and records man. No matter what you end up using, if you’re from that era, that’s where the best shit will always come from. That’s still my number one source of inspiration to this day.
I am a director of academic support/special education teacher who loves to write about books, movies, music, records, and samplers. I also love interviewing people about these things. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, and recommending it on Medium.
You can also check out my Bookshelf Beats publication.