The first time music became something I really cared about was in 1991 when I was in sixth grade. I bought a cheap Sony Walkman and two cassette singles: “O.P.P.” by Naughty by Nature and “Black or White” by Michael Jackson. A year later in seventh grade my father drove me to the mall so I could buy Das EFX’s Dead Serious at Tape World. It wouldn’t be long before I went to a dance at the Boys’ Club where there was a real hip hop DJ playing vinyl and doing tricks. That’s when I fell in love with DJing, but being a purebred athlete, my father laughed when I asked him to buy me DJ equipment. That didn’t stop me from trying to scratch my Disney records on my mother’s living room turntable though. I even went as far as trying to stick my hand in the opening of my CD player’s door while the CD was spinning, hoping the motor would stay on (needless to say, it didn’t work).
In 1996 I started going to private school in the city for my junior year of high school. It was then that I met Brandon Pitcher, Joe Brace, and Quan Liddel. Brandon taught me how to DJ, and even though I had been writing rhymes on and off for a long time, they all taught me how to freestyle. My first rap name was Dutchmaster, then when I started focusing more on DJing I changed that to Royal Crown, and finally settled on White Lotus as a moniker that could double as both an MC and DJ name. Wu-Tang Clan was obviously huge in the ’90s, and as a huge fan I started watching kung-fu movies in earnest. Pai Mei, the bad guy in the Shaw Brothers film Fists of the White Lotus, was an old, wise Taoist priest who kicked everybody’s ass in style, which made a lasting impression on me.
That same year I sold the majority of my 100-plus CD collection for money to buy turntables. Those were cheap Geminis, but once I graduated high school my grandfather lent me the money to buy brand new Technics 1200s. I would go to Music Shack on Central Avenue in Albany or go down to Fat Beats and Rock and Soul in New York City to buy records. I started DJing house parties for free my senior year of high school and that continued through college. Between 2000 and 2003 I also released four mixtapes: Music for the Revolution, Clean Your Fader, Two-Inch Sixteen-Track Reel-to-Reel Tape, and Androgyny.
My first attempt at college directly following high school was a failure. No sooner than I enrolled at SUNY Albany in the fall of 1998 had I dropped out. A year later, around the time I started attending Schenectady County Community College, I joined my friend Matt Wemple’s band under the assumption that I would provide DJing and scratches for their Limp Bizkit-flavored group. A couple months later I decided to help out with vocal duties, and though I eventually decided to focus solely on vocals in the band, I would continue DJing house parties. The band was called Constant Elevation and was more a mix of Rage Against the Machine, The Beastie Boys, 311, and Pantera. We made some great music from 1999 to 2003.
In the fall of 2000 I was back at SUNY Albany and the first thing I did was march up to WCDB 90.9 FM, the college radio station, and landed a slot playing every Saturday night from 10:00 until midnight. My show was called Steel Wheel Tai Chi and I held down that slot for about two years. As an undergraduate at SUNY Albany I also did two semesters of a major in music. I was really good at music theory but had no experience playing piano or singing and didn’t make enough time to practice.
Also while in college, I heard that a popular local nine-piece R&B cover band named The Refrigerators were auditioning DJs to join the band and give it more of a ‘hip hop’ feel. When I went in to audition they were pleasantly surprised that I could rap too, and I played with them from 2002 to 2004, covering songs like “In the End” by Linkin Park, “Wild Wild West” by Will Smith, “Hot in Herre” by Nelly, and “Lose Yourself” by Eminem.
Back in 2000 the members of Constant Elevation all scraped together enough money to record and release an EP, but we all agreed that the results left a lot of room for improvement. So in early 2002 I took it upon myself to learn how to record and my mother loaned me the money to buy a PowerMac G4 computer with a Pro Tools rig, and with the help of my recording mentor, John Foshee, I recorded a three-song demo for Constant Elevation. A couple different managers took an interest in us over the years, but after we recorded a second unreleased demo in late 2002 for one of them, nothing came of it and the band broke up shortly after.
Right around that time I started working on a solo project, and after several months spent locked in a studio basement I had built at my mother’s house, I released Intellectual Evolution as White Lotus in 2003. I did everything: writing, rapping, beatmaking, scratching, and engineering. That summer I toured the Hudson Valley with my childhood friend Jeremy Smith as my DJ. Jer was known as Deejay Gyro at the time but would eventually change his name to Angel Hands.
After I released Intellectual Evolution, I tried to make another solo album but I wasn’t really feeling the creative process so I never did. Then in 2007 I rented a house in Averill Park with the intention of building a recording studio. That’s exactly what I did, and over a period of about eight months I recorded my friends’ band, Severe Severe. The album was called Beyond the Pink and it was released on Bad Archer Records in 2008.
In 2011 I discovered Soundcloud and got inspired to create some mashups. So I put a few of them on the website, shared them to a few groups, and then one day saw a huge spike in my profile’s traffic. My mashup of Kanye West’s “We Major” and The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” had gone pseudo-viral and was picked up by several trendy music blogs including Earmilk, Music Ninja, Indie Shuffle, and Hypetrak (now Hypebeast Music). Then about a month later, my mashup of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Suicidal Thoughts” and Kanye’s “Runaway” found even more success. As of 2020 that mashup has close to one million plays on YouTube, and at its peak it had over 2 million plays on Soundcloud before being removed for copyright infringement. I made several more mashups after that but eventually ran out of material since acapellas are a lot more difficult to come by in the digital age.
My next musical adventure was Deep Groove Mono, a blog I launched in 2014 that has documented my experience collecting vintage jazz records. I posted about my new vinyl acquisitions and wrote several nerdy articles. One of the more popular articles is about Blue Note Records’ transition from the mono to stereo format in the 1950s and 1960s and can be found on the London Jazz Collector website. Another article about groove wear was featured on my own blog and praised by renowned mastering engineer Kevin Gray.
When I started getting serious about collecting vintage jazz records in 2012, I also took a strong interest in the work of legendary jazz recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Over the years, I studied his story and methods in great detail. Then in October 2019 I gave a 90-minute presentation on him at the Audio Engineering Society’s annual conference in New York City. After COVID cancelled several plans to give my talk in public again, I decided to present my research online. So I wrote a script in the spring of 2020, designed and developed a website in August, then launched RVG Legacy with the approval of the Van Gelder Estate and Van Gelder Studio in October 2020.
Currently I am exploring the art of sound design and building a Eurorack modular synthesizer. While an undergrad at SUNY Albany taking music courses, I took a two-semester sequence in electronic music with Robert Gluck. I have always been fascinated by the mathematical aspects of sound design and am glad that I have finally found the time and inspiration to explore the field in greater depth.