DJ Spinbad Recorded 'Rock The Casbah' on a Broken 4-Track

A look back at the late legend's timeless masterwork.

On Wednesday, November 10th, 2020, the world lost DJ Spinbad. He was one of the all-time greats behind the turntables. He was only 46 years old.

Spinbad first found his love for DJing at age 13. His older step brother’s friend picked up turntables and he subsequently immersed himself in beat matching and blending whenever they visited his house. Heavily inspired by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s 1988 LP He’s The DJ, I’m the Rapper, Spinbad also developed a passion for scratching after studying Jazzy Jeff’s cuts on the album.

Though Spinbad had a lengthy resume with many notable highlights, his career really took off when he released Spinbad Rocks the Casbah: ‘80s Megamix Vol. 1 featuring A.Vee and frequent collaborator JS-1. Discogs and a few different media outlets have the release date listed as 1995, but an archived post from Spinbad’s old website has it set as 1996, so it’s hard to say precisely when this tape first dropped.

Whatever the actual release date, Spinbad Rocks the Casbah was a game-changer.

Although it was a massively influential and widely bootlegged release, recording options were far from ideal when Spinbad first set out to lay down his innovate mix idea. “I actually did this mix on a broken analog Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder,” he wrote in a 2009 website post. “One track was broken so everything was recorded on 3.”

Like so many innovative DJs and producers before him, he embraced the paltry limitations of his initial setup and made it work. Using three-track recording capability, two turntables, a mixer, and a stack of records, his love letter to the 1980s expertly rode the line between accessibility and technical mastery. Every section of the tape included enough beat juggles, scratches, and DJ tricks to wow technical nerds while simultaneously keeping the casual listener’s interest.

The DJ skills and song selection on Spinbad Rocks the Casbah were impeccable, but a unique creative flair and sense of humor also elevated it to the next level. For example, while playing The Human League’s hit single “Don’t You Want Me” Spinbad scratches in the words “hell no.”

He also layers in Kevin Spacey’s lines, “Wanting people to listen, you can't just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you'll notice you've got their strict attention,” from the 1995 movie Seven—all while beat juggling Hall & Oates “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” on the tape’s opening.

Beyond Hall & Oates, the entire opening of the tape begs for repeat listens and careful study. After Spinbad kicks things off with the “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” sequence, listeners are treated to a scratched and doubled up version of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” with some dialogue from The Breakfast Club blended in for good measure.

Then there’s a smooth transition into Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” before he follows up M’s “Pop Muzik” with flawless doubles of Annie Lennox singing,“Some of them want to be abused” on “Sweet Dreams”—perhaps taking a not so subtle shot at lesser DJs in the process.

Skipping ahead, the aforementioned bit featuring “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League is perhaps one of the most impressive sequences on the tape. Before Spinbad Rocks The Casbah, very few DJs likely considered beat juggling the British synth pop band’s massive 1981 hit. Spinbad tackles the challenge of flipping such an unconventional track by juggling and scratching the song’s opening with ease, proving that a gifted and imaginative DJ can give any musical moment a hip-hop feel. Once you experience his take on this early-‘80s gem you’ll likely never hear it quite the same way again.

Spinbad also tastefully sprinkles in some ‘80s songs mixed with rap beats around the 40-minute mark. Once again leaning on the Human League, he lets the opening of “Human” ride for a bit while Jazzy Jeff tells him to “drop that shit” before blending the song with Run-DMC’s “Sucker MCs” instrumental. In a somewhat risky move, he proceeds to keep the same beat rocking while also mixing in Men at Work’s “Down Under” and “Moonlighting Theme” by Al Jarreau—a strategy that ultimately works quite well.

Once this sequence is complete, Spinbad again shows his flair for darker artistic elements as he transitions from a triple “Sucker MCs” blend to dialogue from Wes Craven’s classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. Then he drops Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and beat juggles the hell out of the opening.

There’s so much magic crammed into the first 45 minutes of music and these sequences only bring us to the halfway mark. The second half of the mixtape is just as essential as the first, as Spinbad runs through classics like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,’ David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” Nena’s “99 Luftballons,” and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”—all the while adding his twists and turns to keep listeners on their toes.

The tape is a feat of true artistry and it’s a shame that nobody ever tapped Spinbad for an in-depth breakdown of this classic while he was still with us. I certainly feel a great deal of regret over not making more of an effort to interview him.

Spinbad Rocks the Casbah: ‘80s Megamix Vol. 1 was the very beginning of a long and successful career for Spinbad. He dropped a whole cache of classic mixes like the 1996 JS-1 collaboration Cold Cutz Remixes (If I Ruled The Radio), an equally insane and impressive rap blend/remix tape that also apparently utilized broken 4-track cassette recorders. Beyond his feats as a mixtape master, he had a successful career in radio, toured extensively with Moby and comedian Russell Peters, and continued to wow crowds from around the world with his epic live sets.

Other elements of Spinbad’s catalog and career are certainly worthy of further examination, but for now it’s time to celebrate a truly unique talent with the one tape that started it all.

Rest easy Spinbad. Your presence will be missed.

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