Jay Z smashed it in Abu Dhabi last weekend.
‘Excellent performer’, ‘Jay-Z blows Abu Dhabi  - and a generator - away’… just a couple of the glowing tweets that fans posted after the rap superstar’s gig at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Those fans may not be aware, but the rap royal owes some of his onstage prowess to a DJ who’s playing a smaller Dubai gig on Friday. George Spivey, aka DJ Scratch, headlines the Adidas Originals ‘Younique’ event, and is so well-known for his stage presence, mastery of the decks and ability to dazzle that Jay-Z and other big-name stars have swallowed their pride and asked for tips in the past.
Sure, Jay-Z already has a slick style that helped to net stunning wife Beyoncé and launch his own Rocawear clothing range - he could easily challenge anyone to be coolest guy in the room. But he was just too cool, recalls Scratch.
“Jay-Z was not hard to work with - he was so laid back. But he was too laid back on stage,” says Scratch. “I told him you have to enjoy your own music on stage, because if you’re not, the crowd is not going to enjoy you. If you’re not interacting with the crowd, they won’t interact with you. The more you give the crowd, the more they give back. Jay is not that artist who is going to be running back and forth across the stage - that’s not him. But I told him he has to give a little bit more, have fun up there, crack some jokes, make the crowd relax and just enjoy the music.”
Scratch has something of a legendary status in hip hop. With a career that spans three decades, he’s a three-time Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum-selling artist. Starting out at just 15 years old, when he won the right to tour the US in high-level rap battles (his mum didn’t want him to get on the plane alone), his career took off when he was spotted by Run DMC. He was taken under the wing of the late, great Jam Master Jay (JMJ).
Soaking up JMJ’s advice, Scratch says the most vital thing he learned was to read the crowd and relate his show to them. Over the years, applying this advice has helped make him one of the most entertaining DJs in the business, but it has also led to some pretty weird sets. One such set saw him win the crowd in the most unlikely place - the heartland of country and western music.
“I was in Nashville, Tennessee doing a show. And I cut up Billy Ray Cyrus’s ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ for the crowd. They were like ‘why’s he scratching up this?’ And they kept catching ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ and I was grabbing my heart like I was having a heart attack. Everybody just went crazy!”
Post-Run DMC, Scratch DJed for funky duo EPMD. He then went on to establish a top solo career and a reputation as a sought-after producer, helping to bring Busta Rhymes into the limelight. And then, of course, there’s the stage coaching he doles out for stars. Surprising as it might seem, this even included helping muscle-bound hardman 50 Cent out with women.
Scratch recalls: “Fiddy’s problem was that he wouldn’t interact with the ladies. The ladies love Fiddy for his body. I told him, ‘When you come out on stage, interact with the crowd. You have to remember you’re a superstar when on stage, so you have to act like it.’
“For instance, he would take his shirt off in the middle of the show, like on one of his aggressive songs. I’m like ‘don’t take your shirt off then, take your shirt off when you’re doing your big hit record for the ladies, like ‘Candy Shop’ - set it up. Like ‘where are the ladies at? Let me pull some ladies up here on stage’. He really saw a different reaction from the ladies.”
DJ Scratch headlines Adidas Originals’ Unite All Originals by ‘Younique’ on Friday. Check out
this off-the-wall car park gig at Media One Hotel, Dubai Media City. adidas.com/originals