The gift of hip-hop


Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010

Being a hip-hop DJ is a lot more than simply playing music - it's a technical art form that takes time and dedication to master.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

"There's a lot of different aspects to it," said DJ Gift, aka Gabe Nyholm. "A well-rounded DJ can blend, scratch, beat juggle, play live shows, do battles and stuff like that. I think a lot of people call themselves DJs when they don't even know what a well-rounded hip-hop DJ is."

Gift has emerged as one of the premiere DJs in Juneau, playing weekly hip-hop shows on Wednesdays at the Rendezvous and spinning reggae on Thursdays at the Imperial. He also plays gigs around downtown some weekends and has spun records for local charity events.

DJ Gift, 27, got into the business after being hooked on hip-hop music when he was younger. He was influenced by groups like Cypress Hill and House of Pain while growing up in Juneau and Pelican, and shortly after began listening to Wu-Tang Clan.

"That's really where I started going, 'Well, instead of listening to this music, maybe I can make it,'" he said. "I guess that's where the change came in. From Wu-Tang I started listening to a lot more underground hip-hop and conscious rap."

Gift began collecting records, got some turntables and began to perfect his craft.

"After you bust your first scratch, you're like, 'I get it, kinda,'" he said. "And then you can really get into it after that and you realize how technical and difficult it is and it gives you a lot more respect for other DJs out there."

Spinning reggae is a lot of fun because there is a lot of music out there on 45 records, he said.

"There's just something special about spinning reggae," he said. "It's different than spinning hip-hop. It's just such a beautiful music in general, and the beats are pretty similar, so it's pretty user friendly. You just got to get the records."

Gift plays strictly vinyl, which has been making a comeback in recent years because of a growing respect for DJing, he said.

"Some of them don't spin vinyl. Some of them just spin CDs," he said. "That's definitely where we differ as DJs. I think that makes a big difference."

Being a hip-hop DJ is also a lot different than being a radio Disc Jockey. Gift doesn't make a set list prior to a show, he just brings a selection of music and feels the flow.

"A big part of it for me is watching the crowd and who's in the crowd," he said. "It's not necessarily what kind of music they want to listen to, but what kind of music you think they would want to listen to ..."

And a good DJ has lot of music at his or her disposal, Gift said.

"Oh man, I've got all kinds of stuff, anything from rock to heavy metal to probably a bunch of country in there," he said. "Pretty much everything in there. Usually if I see a record I'll get it, even if I don't think it's that great of a record I'll usually get it anyway."

Being a well-rounded DJ is not a cheap hobby to pursue.

"You could probably get into DJing for about the same price as a car, $2,000 or something," Gift said. "It's not too bad. It is expensive but it's worth it. I advise people to go for the more expensive, high-end equipment because it's worth it in the long run."

Gift can't even begin to imagine how much he's spent on music over the years to increase his selection.

"Sometimes you come along some gems and you get hooked up with records along the way too from different people," he said. "I can't really estimate how much I've ever spent on music."

DJ Gift is always looking to spin a beat for any local rappers that want to flaunt their lyrical prowess.

"Any rappers in town should come down to Wednesday Wildstyle and kick a rap," he said.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or

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