How bootleggers and dubplate thieves caused Kenny Dope to become a digital DJ
There are many reasons to develop your set up from the traditional vinyl turntables and mixer. More creative scope, more room for improvisation, more challenges, more channels, a more unique performance signature. Or, simply, to prevent sticky fingered chancers stealing your wax loot…
This was the case for Master At Work and all round Brooklyn DJ legend Kenny Dope. He admits he was “a late bloomer” when it came to changing his set up from traditional analog to a digital one… And that one of the main reasons that triggered this development was theft.
“Records used to get stolen in the airports,” he explains. “It was infamous in Italy. They knew our names and when we were coming to town. You would turn up to the club and you would open your box and there’d be things out of whack, empty covers and stuff like that. And at that time, too we were making acetate 12s because that was the only way to play stuff fresh out of the studio. Those went missing, there was a lot of bootlegging at the time. So it was like ‘okay now it’s CDs, let’s move to the CDs.”
Even then, the transition wasn’t simple. Kenny explains how the CDs were also the subject to petty pilferers. “Even those started to get stolen!” laughs the House music pioneer when we met him for our Inside The Mind Of series. “You’d turn around, you’d go like this, turn back and go ‘where’d the CD go?’ They were swiping CDs!”
Pack the Jams
Perhaps the most invasive and brazen form of piracy imaginable, it’s hard to even comprehend someone reaching over the DJ booth and physically taking a CD out of a deck these days. But credit to the thieves; at least they had good taste. Span Kenny Dope’s history right back to his early years working in record stores from 1985, learning his craft and honing his selector/collector skills, right the way through to the present day in the thick of his busiest year to date as he’s toured non-stop from January to November that’s a serious consistency; Kenny has always packed his box, wallet, playlist or USBs (depending on which period of his career you’re talking about) with impeccable selections and records people would sell organs for. Be they one off dubs or rare-as-hens-teeth collectors items.
kids would come up and be like ‘what’s this?‘ And I was playing a $1500/$2000 record
In fact that’s another thing we learnt about Dope in our deep career-spanning video interview Inside The Mind Of Kenny Dope; his 45” vinyl label Kay-Dee was established because he was playing records sometimes worth four figures in nightclubs and realised this wasn’t very helpful to fans who dug the same records he was drawing and wanted to own the music themselves. In a stark contrast from people robbing his tunes, Kenny has also democratised hundreds of old funk records to ensure fans weren’t stung by high collector prices themselves. “I was playing rare 45s. Expensive 45s as well,” explains card carrying collector Dope who has admitted to having over 60,000 records in his collection in a past interview. “I was playing these records out, kids would come up and be like ‘what’s this?‘ And I was playing a $1500/$2000 record. So the whole concept came about to reissue these titles.”
16 years deep, Kay-Dee has seen Kenny salvaging old masters and tapes, restoring them with care (and no additional elements besides a strong EQing and DJ friendly intros and outros) and giving old funk and soul records entirely new leases of life, ensuring they live on for another generation. It’s one of many labels Kenny’s been responsible for including Dopewax, his first label that’s now 28 years old, and of course MAW Recordings which was responsible for some of Kenny and his partner in vibe Louie Vega’s most influential records as Masters At Work. While his labels have all endured long tenures, Kenny’s set-up is now always developing.
“It’s been a wild trip for the last 30 years going from records to CDs to playing out of laptops to USB sticks,” he explains. “It’s crazy, the evolution, you can carry so much music thought now, you can move around with 30/40/50,000 records on keys. Little keys too. It’s amazing.”
And they’re not as easy to steal these days, either. For more amazing insight and facts about Kenny’s craft watch the full video now…