You could assume an internationally touring artist like DJ Vadim might have some good travel tips, but the globetrotting wax-spinner comes up surprisingly short on suggestions.
"I'm not much of an expert on advice, I'm still figuring it all out myself," he says. "Never drink before you get on a bus. Never. I figured out that one real quick."
Adding some other common sense pointers like "never lose your passport or your credit cards," prove that he's right: He's not much of an expert on advice. What he is good at is keeping busy. The hip-hop producer and DJ has just finished up a 70-stop tour in Europe and embarked on another 50-plus gigs in the U.S. and Canada. Days off are almost out of the question, even if it's his birthday. Vadim turns 30 on Feb. 27, but instead of blowing out birthday candles, he will blow out The Social with his distinctive hip-hop sound. Touring more often than Ja Rule sings duets, Vadim delivers an intense show with vocal acrobatics and turntablists executing techniques like they were performing surgery on vinyl.
The Russian-born, London-residing hip-hop ambassador to the world got started in 1992, releasing tracks on his label Jazz Fudge Recordings. Later that year, Ninja Tune signed him, and he went on to record with DJ Krush and Kid Koala. Now, in addition to recording and producing, he tours relentlessly, taking his music to at least 24 countries and performing with the likes of Public Enemy, The Roots, and Kraftwerk, to name a few. Add to the mix a BBC radio show, "Around the World in Eight Relays," in which he trots around the globe interviewing musicians, and you get an idea of how busy he stays.
Playing shows in Japan, Australia, Brazil and anywhere else he can plug in a sampler has given him an international view of the hip-hop scene, or at least a glimpse of what kind of beat the world likes to dance to. And it's given Vadim a dire outlook on contemporary American hip-hop, the music that originally inspired him.
"So much rap music is all about selling units," says Vadim. "It's about living the dream of running around the pool with a bunch of girls. You watch rap videos and its women, jewels, cars, girls, fast cars, more girls. Nowadays you are more likely to see a breakdancer in a Madonna video `than in a rap video`."
He said hip-hop has its place in pop music, and he even likes a lot of it; he just doesn't want to hear "Ja Rule and Ashanti 80 times a day." He would much rather hear some low-budget (or no-budget) acts get some airtime on the radio. The music industry has placed too much emphasis on album sales, he says.
"Take for instance, Busta Rhymes or Missy Elliot. The stuff they do is pretty wacky for mainstream hip-hop. But they are still considered mainstream because they sell so many records. Now a group like Blackalicious, who has a lot more of a traditional hip-hop sound but only sells like 30,000 records is considered alternative, or underground or whatever. Sales gives you status, status gives you power, and power lets you define who you are."
Power, as he also found out after a battle with the FCC, also lets other people define what you can say. In May 2001, the FCC severely restricted when radio stations could play "Your Revolution," a track he made with singer Sarah Jones in 1999. The FCC said the song's language was too offensive for daytime airplay because of its sexually explicit lyrics. Those sexually explicit lyrics were an obvious satire of what Jones heard on the radio all the time, with plays on lyrics from the Fugees and L.L. Cool J and lines such as, "Your revolution ain't gonna knock me up without no ring." Apparently the FCC tunes into a different station.
"I think America is a country of great contradictions," says Vadim. "Compared to the other countries I've been to, America has some of the tightest regulations."
Banned or not, he continues to put out music.
"What matters to me is who's going to be listening to it five years from now," he says. "If you make honest music, you make it for yourself. I don't think Jimi Hendrix was thinking about if what he was making was going to play well on the radio."
For his latest tour to promote his new album "USSR: The Art of Listening," Vadim is bringing along The Russian Percussion, a "hip-hop collective" featuring a beatboxer, a keyboardist, an MC and other contributors. Assembled by the DJ in 1999 to energize live performances, the lineup on this tour includes Vadim's wife -- MC Yarah Bravo -- and the 2000 DMC Champion, DJ First Rate. (1999's DMC Champion, Mr. Thing, was also a member of The Russian Percussion, so it's clear Vadim has an eye for talent.) The inclusion of The Russian Percussion in a Vadim live set means that the star of the show is actually rendered quite secondary to the mad skills displayed by the troupe.
And though he may not be the only one on stage making music, it's clear that Vadim remains invigorated by his work -- even if it means playing on his birthday, something he has done for the past six years.
"Maybe," says the road-weary traveler, "somebody at the show will bring me a nice cake."