The floor shakes. Top Speed looks over the crowd, his headphones cocked over an ear. His fingers poise over the rim of Nelly"s mega-hit "Hot in Herre." Seamlessly, he releases the record and flips the fader, sending the signal to Eden"s speakers.
Three ladies stride among the dancers, pushing against an invisible force as they part the crowd to take the dance floor. A handful of lithe co-eds shake their rumps at the people below while they hold on to the railing of the upper benches. After two hours at the turntables, Top Speed has worked everyone into a frenzy. He points to me over the crowd, smiling in a kind of silent shout-out.
As one of Indianapolis" premier turntablists, Top Speed gets to work out his skills on the wheels of steel every Wednesday night at Eden"s weekly hip-hop extravaganza, "Forbidden Fruit." While he loves bringing the crowd to a boiling point with contemporary hits, his true love is in weaving together sets of old-school breaks using the original samples and source materials that have become the bricks and mortar of modern hip-hop.
He invited me to his house to see his record collection later that week - giving me the rap on how he got started in the hip-hop culture more than 15 years ago.
There goes the neighborhood
Top Speed"s Eastside home is a sprawling, three-bedroom, two-story house he shares with his girlfriend and one of the city"s biggest collections of hip-hop. The living room floor, protected by a large sheet of vinyl, is covered with crates of records organized in a way only Speed understands.
He"s opening boxes of promotional materials that have come via UPS to his house that day - 12-inch singles that record companies hope he will play on the air and CDs for new releases that may never make it big. It"s quite an armload. More than a normal person could listen to in a day. More records than some people buy in a year.
"It"s kind of a slow day," he says, as he flips through the records. "Do you like the Jurassic 5?" he asks as he hands me a record. The doorbell rings and it is the neighbor boy, looking for some freebies.
Top Speed reaches into a cardboard box sandwiched between records and pulls out an oversized silver necklace with a "$" in garish silver tones.
The boy beams, smiling like a tiny Cash Money as he races out the door. Minutes later, the doorbell rings again. Top Speed knows who it is this time. Grabbing another handful of the plastic gangster necklaces he opens the door to a small group of 8-year-old boys. The rest of the neighborhood has already found out what"s free today.
"One of those guys might be the next DJ in town," he says as he beckons me upstairs.
On the second floor, Top Speed guides me into his production studio - a medium-size room with two folding tables and three solid bookcases packed with what is one of the city"s premier hip-hop collections. He brushes a few records off a small chair and asks me to sit down. As he fiddles with the turntables he explains how he first got into hip-hop.
"It was my mother that first got me interested in music. My mother tricked me into talking into a tape recorder. I was in disbelief that she had stolen my voice out of the air. Later, I snaked into her bedroom and stole a 45 from her. I traced it on some paper and drew Godzilla on it. I cut it out and tried to play it on the record player."
Needless to say, Top Speed"s first attempt at making a record produced a terrible noise as the turntable needle dragged against the paper. But this initial failure didn"t stop him from pursuing records. That first glimmer of fascination quickly became an obsession, thanks to the $5 weekly allowance his mother began to give him in 1980.
He bought all the AC/DC and Kiss records. When Queen"s "Another One Bites the Dust" started making waves in the charts he went down to the record store and tried to buy it. But the owner didn"t have the record in stock. Instead, the owner sold him a rap version of "Another One Bites the Dust" by Sugar Daddy. The next week, he bought "Rapper"s Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang. It was the beginning of one of the city"s largest collections of hip-hop.
Along the way he learned the other elements of hip-hop. He joined the Galactic Rockers, one of the area"s break-dance teams, and continued to break in competition until 1986.
But it wasn"t until the "90s that Top Speed began to DJ full-time. Today he juggles duties on WHHH 96.3, at the many events he hosts and doing his own thing at home - hip-hop production on the side with hip-hop"s instrument of choice: the Akai MPC 2000XL sampler.
A student of the drums
The Akai sampler is little more than a glamorized sampler drum machine and yet its powerful simplicity lends itself to the most complex tasks. Its multiple touch-pads can be programmed to play individual drum samples, painstakingly extracted from original open drum breaks off of classic vinyl. Top Speed demonstrates by poking the touch-pads with his finger. DHUM DHUM. A low bass drum rattles the windows.
A snare drum snaps through the speakers. As his wrist flips over the pads, sounds begin to coalesce, even a flute begins to emerge in the mix. He turns to me and raises an eyebrow, begging my opinion of his creation.
"I"ve been studying the drums since the early "80s," he says, punching the keys some more. "I"ve bought several drum machines!"
In this post-modern world where music is sampled, chopped up and regurgitated - then re-chopped again just for good measure - the sampler has become the new studio musician. Why rent the great studio drummer Idris Muhammed if you can steal his drums off a copy of Grant Green"s Alive? Beat heads and DJs alike are scrambling to identify open drum breaks on all kinds of records - from pure funk to free jazz. Using those open drums, they create the bedrock of hip-hop. Records like James Brown"s The Funky Drummer and the Honey-drippers" Impeach the President have been famously sampled by artists over and over again during the last 10 to 15 years.
"You want the affect of the illest drum sounds you can get," Top Speed explains. "The weirder the sound, the better it is to my ear."
A constant archeologist
For DJs who are able to identify good loops and perfect beats, there is money to be made in an underground economy of beat dealers and traders who hawk their wares to rappers in search of backing tracks.
But Top Speed is more than simply a librarian of the classic breaks which form the foundation of hip-hop today - he"s a constant archeologist searching for new drum sounds he can flip into beats.
"The whole rule of the game is you have to chop it up. You can"t own noise," he says. In the old-school model of sampling, rappers stole loops straight off records. Now you just steal a kick drum from here, a snare from there and reassemble the parts, getting a whole new drum kit and sound in the process. The result is you can"t be sued for arrangement sampling, like Biz Markie did in the mid-"80s. "You can"t own noise!" Speed repeats.
In the competitive world of DJs, obscure beats and strange samples have become the highest form of competitive currency. Breaking a new record can make a DJ"s name in a community where knowledge is often passed down by word-of-mouth. Speed recalls playing local radio personality Rickie Clark"s obscure Time to Throw Down at the 2000 Scribble Jam. As one of Indianapolis" earliest purveyors of hip-hop and probably the first to put out a rap record, Rickie Clark"s Time to Throw Down has all the elements of a great record - a crazy voice box intro followed by a jerky rhythm that demands to be danced to. It"s the kind of new sound dug up from the past that can make a crowd bug out. "I had everyone losing their minds. Cats from New York were asking me about it!" he recalls with excitement.
A year later he became one of the first to turn people on to the Hamilton Movement"s phenomenal "Love Circuit," a hard-driving cross-over funk cut issued on Dick Melvin"s powerful Look-Out record label sometime in the mid-"70s. He describes the powerful feeling of playing something fresh that people immediately accessed. "People had their hands up in the air and they were all dancing. Man, I"ve never seen anything like it!"
Top Speed is beaming at me, holding his copy of "Love Circuit" in the air and waving it like a magic talisman. He"s happiest when he can elicit some kind of reaction from the crowd, so it"s obvious his love for records isn"t insular. His love for records is about how they make people feel and what they make people do.
Top Speed can bee seen every Wednesday night from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. with DJ Noah at Club Eden"s hip-hop night, "Forbidden Fruit." A recent night included a scratch competition, a surprise appearance by the national recording artists the Executioners as well as the camera crews for Girls Gone Wild. Saturday nights he can be found at Mooresville"s Junction splitting turntable duties with DJ Sonic.
Top Speed"s Top 10 on the turntable
1) "The Definition of Nice": DJ Paul Nice, Gennessee, Andre the Giant and DJ Babu 2) "Rocket in the Pocket": Cerrone 3) "E.V.A.": Jean Jaques Perrey (off Moog Indigo LP) 4) "Bitch Slapped Breaks": Dirtstyle Records 5) "What"s Up Now": Syt Scott and Def Squad 6) "Crew Deep": Mad Skills and Missy 7) "Nothin"": Noriega 8) "The Payback": Roxanne ShantÈ 9) "Listen to the Bass": Mantronix 10) "Gimme What You Got": Le Pamplemousse