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Whether he’s droppin’ beats hard and strong as one third of the groundbreaking turntable band the X-ecutioners, or rockin’ a salsoul beat with jazz master Bob James, turntable composer Rob Swift is all killa and no filla on the decks. A dedicated artist, a turntable maverick and the Ablist DJ to come along since the form’s mixmaster pioneers, it’s Swift’s destiny to be a major deal on the wheels of steel.
Born in 1972 and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, Swift (born Robert Aguilar) initially learned to rock the house with some hands-on help from his DJ dad and older brother. “My dad was a salsa and merengue DJ. My brother learned how to scratch and do all the hip hop deejaying stuff on my dad’s equipment (without his permission) and I’d sit there and watch him. When I entered the sixth grade, I decided I wanted to learn.” And so, Swift got busy educating himself in the classic turntable beats of the early ‘80s New York playground pioneers while listening to cool funk and hot jazz sides at home. “My older brother exposed me to all that,” he says. "All the stuff I create as a DJ is rooted in the songs that I heard from Bob James, Herbie Hancock and James Brown to Quincy Jones and old DJs like Grandmaster Flash and Grandwizard Theodore. That’s where my roots are." In 1990, Swift enrolled as a student at Baruch College in New York and in 1995, graduated with a degree in psychology.
By 1991 he turned pro musician when he joined the world-class crew of turntablists, the X-ecutioners. In 1992, he was named DMC East Coast turntable champion. In 1993, he began producing and remixing tracks for other artists: Cornershop, Lords of Acid and the Altered Beats album for Bill Laswell’s Axiom label are among his growing list of credits. In 1999, Rob dropped his first solo album, The Ablist (Asphodel). SPIN called his two-Technics technique “Mind-boggling,” comparing it to “Wizardry.” VIBE called it a “Brilliant debut.” In 2001, Swift added his scratches to Herbie Hancock’s Future 2 Future album. He contributed “Blues for Bob and Rob” with Bob James to the compilation Turntable Essence (Silva Screen Records). When it was time for Rob to record his second solo album, Sound Event, (Table Turns, Fall 2002) it was only natural he call in his friend James for a cut. The pair cooked-up “Salsa Scratch.” "It involved executing scratches with a Latin flavor. It’s for DJs to understand that you can perform scratches rhythmically and musically. You don’t have to scratch to impress other DJs. He pulled in old friends and repeat collaborators Dan “The Automator,” DJ Melo-D, the Human Orchestra Kenny Muhammed, Large Professor, Dujeous? and Gudtyme and Lee. Rapper Supernatural improvised by namechecking twelve of the album’s thirteen tracks on “A Super Natural Intro”; he also takes the mic on “Interview With Colored Man.” “I bumped into an album called The Adventures of Colored Man, about this comic book hero. Because Supernatural’s so spontaneous, I thought I could take the questions off the song and scratch ‘em in, leave room for him to respond in eight or twelve bars. I told him the concept and sure enough, he didn’t write one word on paper. What you hear on that song is all freestyle.”
In 2002 Swift performed at the World Economic Forum in New York with Herbie Hancock and Chaka Khan. “That was incredible. At the rehearsal my friend Dr. Butcher said to me, ‘Yo, I just heard someone say that somebody named Quincy’s here,’ and I’m like, ‘Whatever,’ then in comes Quincy Jones ‘cause he was overseeing the musical portion of the event. It was an incredible feeling. I came up doing this as a fun thing, as a hobby, and now this skill I learned to have fun is introducing me to people who I’ve always respected. It’s crazy!” “I’m very, very lucky,” says Swift. “I always try to be traditional, pay homage to where my influences lie, but in doing so, I try to be updated, innovative and current so newer kids can identify.”
Rob still works the deck with the X-ecutioners. The group’s 2002 release, Built From Scratch (Loud/SONY) got the nod from VIBE: “Rocking and rock solid.” Paper calls the crew “Virtuoso.” Swift also continues to score hi-tech games and television projects (Blue Torch TV); he was recently chosen to be part of the Gap’s vanguard artist ad campaign. On deck is Fusion, a mix record for the Six Degrees label. “Artists like Stevie Wonder go in to cut records and they think, ‘Well, we can get him on drums and him for guitars .’ My thing is to get people to think, ’Who’s gonna play the turntable?’”