Listen up

West Seattle turntablist Dynomite D finds hip-hop beats in the unlikeliest places.

"WHEN I WAS younger, my grandfather told me that if you don't talk, and just listen, you'll learn more," says Dynomite D. That advice has served the West Seattle denizen well. The beats and samples composing his debut CD, By the Way (Slabco), may be lifted from other artists, but in a marked departure from the blatant appropriation favored by mainstream hip-hop, most of Dynomite D's sources won't register on even the savviest vinyl junkie's radar. Featuring dusty LPs by Anne Murray, Tony Orlando, and Liberace, the album collection shelved in his studio looks suspiciously like your parents', but this 30-year-old producer knows how to sniff out a funky drum break on records by artists that have never even been filed near James Brown.

Dynomite D

By the Way (Slabco)

The concise compositions of By the Way are broken up by comic interludes, and moody tunes like "Lonely Trucker" and "Alki Beach Dr." are augmented by live keyboards. Though newer flavors appear (notably the drum and bass flourishes on "Bombin' Subways"), an old school sensibility infuses the 15 cuts, most of which date back several years. "That's why they have that rough, not-quite-polished sound to 'em, because that's where I was [technically] at the time," says Dynomite. "I tried to put some new tracks in with the old, but then it didn't sound like it was all in the same context."

Born Dylan J. Frombach, Dynomite D grew up in the Seattle suburbs. "I was always drumming beats with my hands," he says. "On my report card it usually said, 'Has trouble focusing.'" His first exposure to DJing came via a friend's older brother, Eric Bell, who had a set of decks at home. "I saw the turntables and had to try it." Pretty soon the pair were cutting up LL Cool J and Mantronix at high school parties. But back then, hip-hop wasn't the music of choice among white suburban teens. "We got a million requests for anything other than what we were playing, but we kept doin' it."

As his love of hip-hop deepened, Dynomite became interested in making his own tracks. He purchased several drum machines, discarding one after another upon realizing they couldn't generate the beats he sought. Only after scrutinizing late '80s masterpieces by Public Enemy did he realize that samples—not programmed preset sounds—typically formed the foundation of his favorite cuts.

Not long after he'd begun cobbling together his own rudimentary tunes, Dynomite met Mario Caldato Jr. through a mutual friend while visiting Los Angeles. The longtime Beastie Boys engineer became an invaluable resource, listening to his efforts and supplying technical advice; he also instructed the fledgling producer to start digging deep into used record bins.

Now Dynomite's ability to listen proved an asset. "Even if I know I don't like a record, I still have to hear it, just to know what's going on," he says. "That curiosity made me figure out where to place elements in the mix. I've never sat down with anyone and had them show me how to do this. It's just been listening and trial and error, figuring out what sounds I like."

Through Caldato, Dynomite D also secured his first commercial release, albeit by accident. "One day, I was working in the studio, and [Mario] called up," he remembers. His mentor had played some rough mixes for the Beastie Boys' DJ, Hurricane. "He likes your beats and wants to use one of them," announced Caldato. Appearing on Hurricane's 1995 solo release The Hurra as "Four Fly Guys," Dynomite's track even garnered guest vocals from Mike D, Ad-Rock, and MCA. Five years later, he still sounds stunned. "Not only is my first track out there on a Capitol Records/Grand Royal release, but now it's got the Beastie Boys rhyming on it?"

Via the Beastie network, Dynomite later encountered Canadian turntablist Kid Koala, his collaborator on the By the Way highlight "No Excuses." "I'd love to do a whole project with Koala," Dynomite reveals. "He's not like other DJs, who feel the need to put forth this 'I'm a bad-ass DJ' attitude. He's very laid back, and he listens. A lot of DJs think more is better, but Koala knows the value of space."

An admitted homebody who rarely plays out, Dynomite's probably best known locally for his remix of the 1998 Modest Mouse/764-HERO single "Whenever You See Fit." The union of seemingly disparate aesthetics worked surprisingly well. "I can hear the hip-hop and funk in Modest Mouse," he insists. "I see them more as a funk band than an indie rock band, because they're trying different things. Their drummer is sick."

Plans for the future include releasing a CD of more recent material and putting together a live show. But assembling a band doesn't represent a step towards abandoning sampling. Though Dynomite recently pared down his LP collection (to around 2,000 titles—just "what I'm going to use and what I'm working with"), merely thinking about the never-ending quest for unknown grooves illuminates his face. "One of the greatest feelings," he notes, "is getting up early in the summer, when the sun's warm outside, and going to a swap meet."

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