R.I.P. Grandmaster Roc Raida

September 23rd, 2009

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I can’t believe I’m writing another eulogy for a close friend and icon just a few short weeks after AM’s untimely passing. I apologize for taking a few days to write but quite simply, I had to muster up the strength again. The pain and sorrow that I have felt in the last few days are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. But I do it out of duty, because I owe so much to Raida and it’s so important for me to honor his legacy, so here goes…

At the very core of me, before all else, before the party rocking, before the producing and remixing, before the record labels, before Kanye, I am a battle DJ; a very ambitious one who strived to be the absolute best. When you’re this passionate about your craft, when it feels like your true calling in life, you have icons in whose footsteps you want to follow. Any battle DJ will tell you about the countless hours that they spent on a daily basis studying videotapes of the champs. When I was 13, 14, 15, that was Roc Raida to me. He was the 1995 DMC World Champion and I won in 97, so he was my direct source of inspiration. I remember the feeling that I got as a kid watching his videos: he had so much attitude and confidence. He was so fast. To this young Jewish whippersnapper from Canada, he was such an embodiment of New York and hip hop! Roc Raida just seemed untouchable.

The 1997 DMC DJ championship was the first battle that I ever entered, and in what felt like an eyeblink I was sent to the World finals in Rimini, Italy accompanied by my mom. I was 15 but looked about 11. As it turns out, that year DMC organized an extra event called the Summit where they invited all past champions to come together for a concert the day after the battle, so when I arrived in Italy most of my idols were actually there too. That’s where I first met Roc Raida and I remember my reaction like it was yesterday. Wow, he’s short! He’s actually soft spoken! And more than anything, he’s so kind, such a cool, laid-back and respectful guy. My mom loved him right away. I couldn’t believe that the great Roc Raida, the intrepid menace from the DMC videos, was actually talking to me like a peer and showing genuine interest in me. What’s more, I had just been snatched up by a rival crew! Just a month before, Q-bert, another idol of mine, invited me to join his prestigious Invisibl Skratch Piklz and of course there was friendly competition between the East Coast and West Coast DJs (ISP were from the Bay Area). Raida didn’t seem to care though. He met me when my career was just about to take off and we remained close ever since.

For years, every time I went to New York for a gig, usually accompanied by my big brother Dave, Raida would invite me to his house. He quickly gave Dave the nickname Stretch, for obvious reasons of lanky resemblance with Mr. Armstrong. He used to move around New York a lot so every time I visited it was somewhere different, from various parts of the Bronx to Harlem and back to the Bronx again. Dave and I would hop on the train petrified but inevitably he met us at the train stop. Like a pilgrimage I went to his house with my record bag and showed him my new routines. He showed me his, as well as his studio equipment and when he noticed something that I was fascinated with, he shared stories too. He always made time for this. I recall one trip in particular when I went by myself and he was a bit more pensive than usual. He apologized in the car, explaining that a close friend of his had just been sent to jail. I remember thinking “I can’t believe he still spent the afternoon with me.” But that’s who Raida was: he was selfless and endlessly giving. We also saw each other on the road a lot. At the time turntablism was experiencing a massive growth and we used to get booked across the world just to display these virtuosic routines for packed audiences. My first trip to Winter Music Conference in Miami was also with Roc Raida and his crew the X-Men in 1998. I remember getting driven to the hotel with him; he was obsessed with Scarface and he would peer out the window as we drove through South Beach, reciting every quote from the movie in his best Tony Montana.

Raida went further than just making time to hang out with me, though. I can’t even count the number of times he went out of his way to help me with my endeavors. In 1997 a few months after my DMC victory, my brother and I founded a record label called Audio Research in the prime of the indie hip hop revival. The Rawkus era. Remember when Company Flow’s vinyl said “Independent as fuck and loving it”? We ate that stuff up, and in that world the New York-based distributor Fat Beats was the powerhouse. Coming out of Montreal, Dave and I quickly got disillusioned by the politics of the Toronto-centered Canadian record industry. Dave’s plan was to go straight to the source and get a P&D deal with Fat Beats. It worked and, to my knowledge, we were the first Canadian label to do so, a point of great pride for us. How did we get Fat Beats’ attention in the first place? Roc Raida. Yes, Raida called Rich King and told him to listen to that demo that A-Trak sent. He liked what he heard and the rest was history. Nine years later when I wanted to make a song with Dipset and was growing weary of dealing with their multiple managers, I went to Raida and once again he made it happen.

As the years went by, inevitably every time I linked up with him he greeted me with the same questions: “How’s Stretch? How’s your mom? That’s good” with that close-eyed head nod of approval that any friend of Raida will know. I would ask him how his wife and daughters were doing and we proceeded to kick it like we always did. Eventually Dave moved to New York to study at Columbia. Not just anywhere in New York… Harlem! To Raida that was unbelievable. “I give him one year” he said, with his famous smirk. Proved him wrong. But after eons of hanging out without my old chaperon, we brought Dave back into the mix and our little posse was reunited. God’s Son had just dropped. My brother was starting to rock motorcycle jackets, tight jeans and a mustache. None of my hip hop friends knew about Chromeo yet. But to Raida he was still the same old Stretch, and he was thrilled to bring us to his favorite soul food spot Uptown. It was great to reconnect with him and his friends around that time, whether it be with Lord Sear, Boogie Blind or Sean C, who used to tell me stories about A&R-ing the first dead prez and Big Pun albums (a huge inspiration for what I do now with Fool’s Gold and Kid Sister). Raida was so proud of me when I got the Kanye gig. One time I was in Australia touring with Ye at the same time as Raida was there touring with Lord Finesse. I went to see their show and Finesse brought me out on stage unprompted. In moments like these, the fact that my Kanye shows were in front of roaring stadium fans took the backseat. In my heart of hearts, being acknowledged by Roc Raida and Lord Finesse meant the world to me. Around the time that I moved to New York, he moved to Maryland with his family so I didn’t see him as regularly in the last 2 years or so. But when he came back to play at APT with Boogie Blind I linked up with them (pictured below) and it was just like old times: “How’s Stretch? How’s your mom? That’s good.”

Grandmaster Roc Raida.

If you’re too young to know who Grandmaster Roc Raida was, that’s understandable. Maybe that title in front of his name will help situate him in the pantheon. He was one of the elite few DJs to literally get knighted by the pioneers of our culture. He DJed for Show & AG, Big L, Lord Finesse and in more recent years, Busta Rhymes. His group the X-Ecutioners (renamed from the X-Men) were the first turntablists to release an album on a major label. Think about how monumental that is. Raida recorded scratches on multiple classics, most famously on OC’s “Time’s Up” and Big Pun’s “Tres Leches”. And closer to home, he appeared in my DVD Sunglasses Is A Must… wearing a horse mask. I loved that dude.

I found out about Roc Raida’s accident the day after DJ AM’s memorial and I was completely shattered. It hit me like an anvil. I flew home to New York and the next day I went to visit him in the hospital in Maryland. I’m so glad I did. If I was able to show him how much he meant to me by doing so, then maybe, just maybe, I did at least a tiny fraction of my part for everything that he’s done for me in the 12 years of our friendship. Honestly that’s my only glimmer of consolation right now. He left us so suddenly, so inexplicably. I might never get over this.

Rest In Peace Roc Raida. A true mentor, a true friend and a role model. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones. I hope that one day I can mean as much to someone on a personal level as what he meant to me.

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43 Responses to “R.I.P. Grandmaster Roc Raida”

  1. Flipp says:

    Man, you have been lucky to know so many talented people, and i feel for you, losing two friends recently.

    keep playin, you know they are

    Flipp.

  2. CROS1 says:

    Very dope words. Roc Raida was a true inspiration. Rest in Peace big homie.
    peace
    CROS1

  3. hkm says:

    well said, alain. sorry for your recent losses. :( RIP roc raida and AM.

  4. a2kx says:

    Amazing post Atrak.
    I also recall the old DMC battle videos and so wanted to be like Raida too.
    My friends and I would practice stuff after watching the videos or while the videos were playing. This man was a true artist and in my opinion the best of the performance battle DJs. His moves and speed could not be touched.

    Raida was just so graceful on the decks and made the hardest moves look so easy.

    I agree 100% with the Grandmaster title because that is exactly what Raida was and forever will be to those of us who remember him.

    RIP Roc Raida and thank you for the memories.

    Thanks again for the wonderful post Atrak, keep your head up.

  5. Thanks for sharing your story about him.
    My prayers goes to his family.
    RIP.

  6. Che says:

    Roc Raida was a true legend, he will be missed. Thanks for sharing your stories with us, shit made me a little teary-eyed.

    RIP Roc Raida

  7. Jonas Hartz says:

    This put a tear in my ear. From NYC to CPH, this man tought us so much, and shared even more. From my first parties in 1996 to this day, I will always know the true meaning of his talent and how he paved the way to far away places like Denmark and beyond. I am forever greatful, and even more for these words so truthfully spoken from one of his true exessors (excuse my spellin’). Thank you for the music Roc, and thank you A-Trak for giving voice to my own feeling of one true LEGEND. Roc Raida Rest In Peace – you are missed and appreciated. 1 Love.

    Way Too Many, Way Too Soon this year. I know they will live forever.

  8. shoop says:

    Awesome words. I was there with you guys in Australia at the show with Lord Finesse and Roc Raida in Melbourne which I was working on, when Raida heard you were in town he wanted to try and get in touch, and when I got through to you he was excited to hear you could come down to the show. I remember the moment standing side of stage when they called you out and the crowd went bananas. RIP GM Roc Raida, we love you and miss you always.

  9. Jen Z. says:

    A-Trak:

    I continue to eagerly read your postings. Tragically however, you’ve contended with two cruel blows, one right after the other, all in one month. It’s a hell of a thing to process, and I know writing about it helps. However, regarding any regrets you may be feeling at the moment, to me, it’s a NO-BRAINER that both Raida and AM know/knew what a considerate, wonderful friend you were to them and how much you dearly loved them! You are an amazingly articulate, thoughtful person as well as an amazingly talented artist and turntablist; you inspire many and write with great feeling, deliberation, and passion about all the things/folks that you love. I know they are looking down from heaven at you and remain proud to have called you ‘friend’. These memories are wonderful, funny, and sad all at once. So glad you shared them with us. :)

  10. Movado says:

    As someone that was in NYU from 94-97, the original Fat Beats on 9th Street opened my eyes to so much more musically and the X Men was one of those things I learned about then. I remember 5th Platoon, The Union and a whole bunch of other crews starting to get notoriety back at that time. I knew Raida only in passing but truly was one of the most humble people I have run across, this loss hit me like a ton of bricks and I feel priviledged to be part of that time. May he rest in peace and may his wif and daughters have strength and peace of mind.

  11. kd says:

    very nice tribute to a legend.

  12. Peter Agoston says:

    Hey man, having really gotten to know Raida over the last 2 years from booking shows with him in NYC, I really felt your post. I know you guys were close friends
    and I commend you for bringing the words together to write this. He was such
    an understated giant in his field, and as a DJ myself I spent a lot of the 90′s watching VHS tapes of his flawless routines. I mail-ordered the o.g. X-Men t-shirt,
    and wore it last nite while I was DJing in a club. Raida was just like the nicest
    guy, as were the rest of the X-ecutioner’s crew. He was one of the more versatile
    DJ/producer/performer/label-owners/promoters I’ve met. I’ll personally really miss
    him quite a bit for a good long time.

  13. Dj Cyberia says:

    That was a great story A-Trak. Thank you for sharing the memories. I got to meet Raida at NAMM and he was real cool. I’ll always remember him as one of my greatest influences along with yourself. Keep rocking it man, I’m sure he would want you to. It would be great to hear a tribute track or routine you come up with. Peace.

    RIP Raida.

  14. Jerome says:

    Jerome,

    Thanks for sharing.

    RIP Roc Raida

  15. Obvious Alias says:

    Rest in peace, mighty Roc Raida. I met him briefly once in Asheville NC when the Executioners were doing a performance there. He was just walking around downtown Asheville the afternoon of the show, and I happened to bump into him. In about 4 seconds I knew that he was a genuinely polite, honest, and nice guy. We didn’t get to chat long, but I have always valued that brief moment with a legend.

    And such a madman on the decks. So many routines, legendary body tricks.

    Thank you for the tribute, A Trak. He will be missed.

  16. Barry Coughlan says:

    Great words. I was merely a teenager in Ottawa Canada when I first heard of Roc Raida. I had probably the most common musical tastes growing up. From my folks FM radio Paul Simon style to the Beatles, and onwards to ‘alternative’ rock. However, around 98, I got to know about turntable based music through Mixmaster Mike’s involvement with the Beastie Boys. From then on, I was hooked. From ISP, A-Trak, 1200 hobos, 5th Platoon to the incomparable X-Men, I finally found a style of music to call my own. My friends were mildly interested but never really understood why I was so drawn to this music. For me, It always seemed very personal, like these cats were totally relatable.

    Not only that, I’ve never seen such studious musicians. Always practicing and preparing for a mind blowing routine that would be like a sunburst of 5 minutes. What made all of this attainable was that these guys seemed so normal. Not Roc Raida however. This guy was untouchable. The way he manipulated the turntable seemed impossible to me. He was truly a idol, someone to look towards to achieve perfection. He WAS hip hop and was a much a legend to me as any. I’ve missed that scene in recent years, and this only deepens my nostalgia for a time in hip hop that was so fortuitous.

  17. Bastid says:

    Thanks for sharing, A.

  18. x El says:

    RIP Grandmaster Roc Raida!
    nice words their A-Trak…
    i have been a hip-hop fan for donkeys (i would do breakdance routines to rockit’ when it first came out as an indication of age)… but in more recent times gained aspirations of DJing… (mainly make my own party mixtapes…)
    it all began with me getting into Spank Rock in ’06, who from i learnt about Kentaro, which made me re-look at some DMC footage (which i hadn’t seen since DJ ASK use to win oz dj comps), which made me get more into you DJ A-Trak, which made me order Sunglasses is a Must DVD, i also purchased Scratch and DJ Kentaro Enter Live…and then eventually roc raida’s dj instructional dvd…
    i already had patton vs the executioners years ago so knew full well of roc raida’s skills…. but seeing all the other footage of him i can see how inspirational he could be…
    he was a legend and will be remembered… for anyone who hasn’t seen or heard roc raida or the executioners… track down their stuff…
    peace, love & mung beans

  19. J-$ki-Love says:

    R.I.P from Copenhagen Denmark
    I remember a concert in Züric @ the Urban Skillz festival back in 98 – Executioners where he was taking everybody to school on the one and two´s.
    Roc was one of those people who had time to talk to everybody, fans, the graffitti writers, me and the rest of the crew guys – everybody, even the waiter sat down to listen.

    Hes style and infuence on the culture speaks for it self. A grandmaster- no doubt
    A thought goes to his family and friends

    Rest in Peace

  20. M.E.G.A says:

    beautiful words man.

  21. JABAone says:

    speechless… beautifully spoken A Trak…

  22. nik39 says:

    Very kind words, A-Trak.

    May Roc Raida rest in peace.

  23. Lonan says:

    RIP Grandmaster Roc Raida.

    speechless. such a great dj. was so shocked when heard the bad news.

  24. Theo3 says:

    unbelievable, def. gotta celebrate fam as they mark the World with their innovation and in this case, truly humble and caring nature. Very cruel blow to music in general. RIP Raida, appreciate the insights A.

  25. -DIVINEWIND says:

    Raida was a huge influence for me in 96, I knew I was hooked after seeing him. I finally meet raida over seas djing. It meant alot to me to talk with the Dj who I had studied and looked up to. He will be missed by many. Rip grandmaster roc raida

  26. yessur says:

    Hows Stretch, Hows your Mom, Thats good.
    Priceless.

    RIP Raida

  27. MES1 (OAK Bay Area) says:

    Dope words Trizzy, I can’t believe we lost yet another pillar of hiphop so suddenly.
    “I hope that one day I can mean as much to someone on a personal level as what he meant to me.”
    If its any consolation, you have been an inspirational mentor for me in my DJ career, party rocking and producing.
    My condolences to Raida’s family, and the X-Men

  28. lil' ernie groove says:

    Roc Raida R.I.P…Damn another soldier left us! Raida was turntablism@its best! Ne routine I saw from him or even video of him practicing looked like cake to him & just da dopest shit I had ever seen a dj do! Raida, had mad talent & he is gonna b missed! U could tell just from seeing him in ne video dat he was a good person! My heart goes out to him & his loved ones…may he rest in peace…DJ ROC RAIDA R.I.P.

  29. [...] reading here Tweet This!Share this on FacebookShare this on del.icio.usDigg this!Buzz up!Stumble upon something [...]

  30. Thanks for sharing those stories! I met him twice in Paris: once with D.I.T.C., once while I was opening for Busta Rhymes! He was such a cool dude, and one of the most talented DJ ever!
    R.I.P. Grandmaster Roc Raida! We will miss you!

  31. Mathmatics says:

    Yo A-Trak..

    that was a real insight….

    Raida inspired me also when at 15 to get into the whole body tricks and nice switched up juggle routines.. he had mad flow and also rocked some real nice mixtapes !.

    I remember going to see him in my home town, Manchester UK, and when I caught him outside and after a small chat just asked him where horse was tonight.. he just laughed hard and said” I cant believe Ive flown so far and someones askin about where horse is!”

    A cool guy and a real shame on his passing.

    Please Rest Peacefully Grandmaster Roc Raida..!
    A TRUE INFLUENCE TO MY MUSIC!

  32. Noetik 5000 says:

    Dude actually I definitely look up to you for inspiration even though I think I am older than you lol but still this reminds me of my passion I have for djing and the way I looked up to you as a young DJ grinding your way to the top. Only time I met you was through that interview on The Breakdown TV I did with you up in Cleveland,OH in like 2007 I want to say. You were very cool about it an we confirmed it via myspace. Still got the footage (actually uploaded like last week on facebook if you haven’t seen it yet haha or wanted to see it my name on facebook is Noetik Edutainment) even though it seemed we both were nervous at some points in it.I meant to tell you that was my first ever done interview with an artist on that video music show. Peace and thanks! Now I have somewhat of a story to tell my peoples & kids about you. But right now this is about Roc Raida and he was for sure an inspiration to all.

  33. I may not exactly feel your pain, but I do understand how you feel. Roc Raida was a great inspiration. And I admire your eulogy for him.

  34. Dave says:

    R.I.P. to Raida, my original Turntablism idol, from when I bought my first DMC video tape, back in ’95.

  35. DJ DEMIZE says:

    Damn A-Trak, I Cried Reading This.
    Like So Many Kids Around Tha World
    It Was 95 Too When I First Really Took Notice Of
    The Legendary Grandmaster Roc Raida.
    Me & My DJ Friends Loved That Cat, He Had The Dopest Name,
    The Tightest Cuts, Fades & Scratches, He Beat Juggled Like
    A Muthaf*cker. I Saw Him With The Beatnuts & Craze Here In Adelaide
    A Few Yearz Back, He Was Tha Highlight Of My Night
    Just Seeing Him Cuttin Up LL’s 12′s Like It Was ’95
    It’s Funny Coz The “I’m Bad” Single Was The First Record I Ever
    Bought Back In ’95 For Like $5 At A Second Hand Record Store.
    BIG UP TO ALL HIP-HOP DJs & TURNTABLISTS WORLDWIDE

  36. Kuttin Kandi says:

    Thank you A-Trak for writing this…. beautifully written. I am still grieving as well.

  37. [...] not going to dig too deep into my grieving process here. If you’re interested you can read this eulogy that I wrote a few days after the fact. But to say that I was crushed is an understatement, and as [...]

  38. video says:

    Keep rocking it man, I’m sure he would want you to. It would be great to hear a tribute track or routine you come up with. Peace.

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