Interview: Steinski (a/k/a Steve Stein), Part I
Tomorrow, look for the world premiere of Steinski's brand-new, never-before-heard mix "What Was Raymond Doing With His Hands?" in this space.
Steve Stein (a/k/a Steinski) is 57 years old, white, Jewish and, improbably enough, an integral part of hip-hop's early days.
In 1983, Stein, at the time an unknown club DJ and ad writer, paired with Douglas DiFranco (a/k/a Double Dee), to win Tommy Boy Records' "G.L.O.B.E. & Whiz Kid's 'Play That Beat Mr. D.J.' Mix Context!"--a much bigger deal than the heinous, horrendous, horrible title suggests. That winning entry, "The Payoff Mix," not only altered the course of Steinski's own life, but, in a certain sense, hip-hop itself. (History buffs and those prone to extracurricular research may look towards Robert Christgau's aptly titled 1986 Voice piece "Down By Law: Great Dance Records You Can't Buy.")
"The Payoff Mix," as well as the soon-to-follow and equally revered "Lesson 2 (James Brown Mix)" and "Lesson 3 (History of Hip Hop)," immediately expanded contemporaneous perimeters by superimposing measured beats with often time mischievous pieces of pop culture (including Culture Club, Little Richard, Herbie Hancock, The Supremes in the case of "Payoff"). However, record company fears of possible sample royalties (see: "Great Dance Records You Can't Buy") kept Steinski's singular remixes on the down low for more than a generation.
But earlier this decade, the figurative head of Illegal Art raised from the record company foxhole without (so far) getting shot. And so as Steinski's work paved the path for more recent acts like Girl Talk, Gregg Gillis's ability to draw more positive reviews than lawyerly fire has more or less returned the favor in clearing the way for the 42-track Steinski compilation, What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective. And with more than half of 2008 already in the books--metacritic.com currently lists What Does It All Mean? as the best-reviewed disc of the year.
We spoke with Steinski on two separate days in late July. In the first interview--just about an hour after he had finished the final mix of a brand new track, "What Was Raymond Doing With His Hands?"--we discussed the evolution of his career. In the second interview, which will run tomorrow alongside the world premiere of that just-completed track, we narrowed our focus to Frank Sinatra and the cut itself.
Sorry I'm a couple minutes late. I was re-reading the Christgau piece and it was a lot longer than I remembered.
I think it surprised everybody even at the time.
First of all, does anyone call you Steinski? What do your friends call you?
Most of them just call me Steve.
So is this purely a professional appellation or do you ever like strut into a bar with your shirt half open . . .
And pronounce, 'Steinski has arrived'?
If you ever saw me you'd realize how ridiculous that statement is. Yeah, strutting is a little bit beyond me at this point, in any case, but nonetheless . . . Occasionally a friend will use it but it's mainly Steve.
Then, Steve, how about telling me something you've never ever done before in your life.
(laughs) That covers quite a bit of ground.
Yes, it should.
Well, I never had a sex with an animal.