Ken Leighton 4:11 p.m., Sept. 3
Genre: Electro | DJ
RIYL: Run-D.M.C., DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Felt1, DJ Pacman, DJ Artistic
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Influences: Run-D.M.C., DJ Jazzy Jeff
DJ Pacman’s handle was bestowed by a friend after Pacman shaved his head for the first time. Like many DJs, Pacman began his forays into hip-hop through a spray can before turning to the turntable.
“It’s different skills,” he says, “but the same as far as expression goes. When I was a kid, I used to see all those writings — people call it graffiti. All the techniques were really fascinating to me. The closer in your can, the thinner the line, almost like an airbrush technique.”
Enchanted, Pacman set out to become a hip-hop artist. “A lot of people have mistaken hip-hop, the actual subculture, for rap. But when I moved from National City to Paradise Hills in elementary school, I just saw it as what people did in the neighborhood. It influences how you walk, how you dress, how you talk. When people said, ‘That’s wack,’ that’s just what people said.”
The music was just part of the scene. “I think hip-hop artists grab from the environment and translate it into how they see or feel” — techno, house, rap, etc. “I was just in love with the music, the beats — when you heard it, it made you feel a certain way.” Then Run-D.M.C. broke out on television in ’85, and Pacman realized he was part of a thing. And then, on “The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff,” the Fresh Prince asked DJ Jazzy Jeff to make the record sound like a bird, and Pacman realized he wanted to be a DJ. “It’s called a chirp scratch. When I first heard it, I thought, ‘Wow, how do you do that?’ I was working at an ice cream shop, and I saved up and bought two turntables for probably $1000. A decent mixer was maybe $100.”
Figuring out how Jazzy Jeff did his chirp scratch meant hours of practice away from the public eye, same as any other musical instrument. “Even though the turntable plays songs that are already made,” says Pacman, “the way you use it to manipulate the sound, to create a rhythmic pattern, changes the songs. You can change the pace that’s going for the crowd — the way you transition and put songs together. To me, that’s kind of like an instrument.”
Figuring out how he did that also meant respect. “Where we grew up, there weren’t so many Laotian-Americans. But as far as hip-hop was concerned, it didn’t really matter. It just mattered what your skill set was.” At first, he grants, the race thing might have made things a bit awkward, “but if you executed well, you were respected. D.M.C. from Run-D.M.C. would have these DJ battles, and the Filipino DJ QBert won it three times. They actually retired him from defending his title.”
Back in the mid-’90s, when Pacman was starting out, it was undergrounds in the ballroom at the Red Lion Hotel in Mission Valley. Or the Scottish Rite Center. Or the Ramada Inn on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. Somebody rents the hall, somebody prints the flyers. “You’d call a pager to find out where to get more info. You’d go there, and if you looked cool” — i.e., not a cop — “you’d go to the party. A thousand kids would come, 16 and up. There would be competitions — breakdancing battles, DJ battles, graffiti battles.”
Pacman and friends began by attending undergrounds hosted by locals like Kutfather and Z90’s Big Daddy, but it wasn’t long before they were hosting their own, printing flyers at Kinko’s and passing the word. “We were all just teenagers. It’s crazy to think about it now.” It started with house parties. After that, “You started doing quinceañeras or sweet 16s. If I knew someone’s birthday was coming up, I’d ask them if I could DJ their party. I’d charge 20 or 40 bucks — it was worth it to have people hear me. And you’re making the flyers, and it says who’s playing,” and people come because, hey, the guy’s name is on a flyer, and then they like the music, and here comes the reputation.”
“I remember my first paying gig, some hole-in-the-wall where they charged $5 to get in. They even had a booty contest for a pager. These girls were, like, 16, and I was 17, and just seeing that, I was, like, ‘Oh my God.’ That was how it all started.” And after a while, you hooked up with some DJs you knew and respected and formed a crew, just to help market the brand. So that today, when people hear Sharpshooters, they know they’re getting “hip-hop DJs who have been doing this for well over 15 years.”
As of 2010, Pacman is with the Sharpshooters.