Most DJs are collectors, known for sifting through digital piles of tracks if not actually digging through crates and shops for rare records to spin. But open-format heavy hitter DJ Ross One is a different kind of collector.
In November, the resident DJ at clubs ranging from 1 OAK in New York City to Drai’s in Las Vegas released Rap Tees: A Collection of Hip-Hop T-Shirts 1980-1999, a lushly produced book (available on Amazon) showcasing more than 500 rare rap-group and concert T-shirts from his own collection and other sources. From Run-D.M.C. and the Fat Boys to Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur, the book, and collection, is wearable music history.
“I started when I was 15 or 16 because I was obsessed with hip-hop, and I really just wanted to represent it by wearing a T-shirt to school,” says the DJ also known as Ross Schwartzman. “I’m a collector by nature, so as I got more into DJing and digging for records, looking for the T-shirts and other items just went hand-in-hand.”
It’s impossible for a DJ to pick his all-time favorite records, and almost as tough for Ross One to choose his favorite rap tees. “My favorite shirts have always been for my favorite artists: A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Nas, Biggie, Jay Z ... But if the house is burning down, I’m probably grabbing a Tribe shirt on the way out.”
Is it true you were inspired to DJ after watching the movie Juice? Juice was a very important movie to a lot of DJs, myself included. The scene of Q practicing routines in his bedroom instantly flipped a switch for me. Especially being a kid in Ohio, it was the first time I had seen any depiction, real or fictional, of the club DJ. Before that I thought of DJing as something you did as part of a hip-hop group. Juice made it all seem a little more accessible, and I immediately wanted to get a setup of my own so I could practice in my bedroom.
You are known for playing some very exclusive private parties. Do you have a different approach for those events than you do for a club gig? If it’s a party for someone specific I’ll try to focus on their taste a bit more. The club is all about trying to keep as many people dancing and having a good time as possible. For private parties the guests tend to follow the lead of whoever is throwing the party, so I’ll try to cater to them a little more directly. Trying to pre-plan for those things rarely works, though ... Gotta see what’s working and then have the experience to take it in that direction.
Are you currently playing elsewhere in Vegas besides your residency at Drai’s? Right now I’m exclusive to Drai’s, which is great for me because they have really been leading the way in bringing hip-hop back to the big rooms of Vegas. Since day one they’ve gone against the grain and embraced hip-hop, while many clubs were staying in more of an electronic dance direction, so I feel right at home there. Over the years I’ve played at a lot of Vegas’ venues ... The city still has so many great clubs and an unmatched stamina for partying.
What inspired your obsession with hip-hop memorabilia and T-shirts? The obsession was inspired by being a lifelong fan of these artists and wanting to preserve the shirts, fliers and other items I’ve collected. I’m a collector by nature, so as I got more into DJing and digging for records (another obsession), looking for the T-shirts and other items just went hand in hand. Now it’s become a bit of a problem, but there’s worse problems to have I guess. The shirts that are the most valuable to me typically aren’t the rarest, but the ones that bring back the most memories.
How has your collection, and putting together the book, influenced your DJ life or deciding how and what to play? It’s a constant reminder of why I got into DJing and how important these groups and artists are to me, and how they’ve shaped my career and the person I am. Making the decision of what to play in the club usually goes back to what’s working for the specific crowd, but I’m always trying to slip in a few classics by my favorite rappers ... and if I can’t, at least I’ll be wearing their T-shirt!