DJ Neil Armstrong has established himself as a prominent figure within the mixtape culture that assured him industry and media recognition alike. Besides touring with none other than Jay-Z and being ambassador for adidas, his impressive resume further contains DJ work for the likes of The Roots, De La Soul, Kanye West, and Wyclef Jean and more. The New York native decided to re-release the third installment of his Sweeet mixtape series (now streamable on our audio player) that explores the complex nature of hip-hop ten years ago — different times, different sounds one might say. We met up with him during his recent stay in Hong Kong and talked about his latest release, his relationship with adidas, his profession and much more. And on top of that, we are celebrating the launch of our new Audio Player with this special re-release.
Tell us about your project Sweeet3. What was the inspiration behind it and what made you re-release it?
Sweeet Part 3 was finished last December 2012 and only came out as part of the 10 year anniversary Sweeet BoxSet. I made Sweeet back in 2002, when the musical landscape was vastly different from today’s crazy itunes/spotify/pandora culture. Keep it real in a time when hip-hop heads were listening to maybe… Def Jux ,mad lib or Wu Tang . Commercial hip-hop folk were listening to DMX , Ludacris, 50 cent , D-Block. Jay-Z’s Blueprint was only a year old. If you did listen to R&B we were talking Destiny’s Child, 112 and Sunshine Anderson. There was no dubstep remixes by Skrillex yet, mash-ups hadn’t taken over the club scene. If you listened to Wu-Tang, you sure as hell didn’t admit that you listened to Morissey, even if you did. So making something like Sweeet back then, especially with my background as a turntablist was different.
A DJ from my background made mixtapes full of scratching, all about bravado, talking about whoopin sucka DJs with skills. They didn’t make a mixtape with Bill Withers and Bobby Brown, and New Kids on the Block. But I did and it turned out that most folk out there were vibing with it. Eventually the mixtapes found their way to important people, and eventually they even helped me land my gig as Jay-z’s tour DJ & also helped me become an adidas global ambassador. Sweeet Part 3 was made to celebrate a 10-year old classic.
How do you evaluate the importance of your mixtapes nowadays?
Now these are a different time for mixtapes, for official music in general. People don’t really buy physical cds, physical music. I’ve been fortunate enough though, that I’ve built a super loyal fanbase that don’t consider what I do disposable, and will go out of their way to pick up real official copies of my mixes. On top of that, the tendency is that the people who pick up my stuff do NOT put my mixes up online, so the work I’ve put up in the last 3 years in particular, unless people bought em, they haven’t heard them. With HYPETRAK’s new player I thought it would be a perfect time to let the masses get a taste of Sweeet Part 3. A perfect way to set off the launch of some good music.
What is the conceptual approach you applied for it?
All the Sweeet series runs a wide gambit of music – with the general theme of lovey dovey goodness. Oddly enough fits right in with a lot of this emo hip hop thats out — i.e. Kendrick Lamars joint Poetic Justice and a bunch of Drakes stuff). The mixtapes includes a lot of remixes, lot of blending and definitely has this “old school” feel. Example:
Frank Ocean’s “Thinking Bout You” meets ATL’s Ghost Town DJ’s.
You have been representing adidas Originals. Can you tell us a little bit about this alliance?
I’ve been rockin with the three stripes in an official capacity since 2010 – with my first “duty” being rocking with some aliens in the mos eisley cantina scene from star wars along with Snoop Dogg and some guys called daft punk. My relationship with adidas started organically. Some of the heads who worked for adidas ,in particular this guy Oliver Kahn who worked in the NY office heard my mixes, He wanted me to DJ an event called Fanatic / Adicup — a football (soccer) tournament in NYC where I would end up djing for six hours straight. That gig let to more gigs and the rest is history.
As a DJ, you are travelling a lot. What has been your favorite destination so far and where is the livest audience?
When I was backing up Jay-z, we did the Glastonbury festival in England. For those that don’t know that year was the first year that a hip-hop act was headlining what was historically a “rock” festival. Noel Gallagher of Oasis made some off comments about this and the controversy made Jay-Z performance even more scrutinized. That year over 120,000 people witnessed a historic performance by Jay. To give you some reference, Madison Square when there is a concert holds about 10,000. That means 12 times as many people that fits into the greatest stage in the world. Literally from the stage, looked like a sea of people as far as the eye could see.
What has been your biggest lesson regarding your career?
Do it for the love, do NOT let money be your main motivation — cliche but true. When I did Sweeet I got a lot of crap for it. “Yo, what’s this soft shieeet.” But I loved the music, did the mixtape cause I loved it, not worried about sales. Turned out not listening to everyone was the best move, put me on the right path.
You are also a self-proclaimed foodie. What is your favorite dish and what is the most convienent snack for a DJ while spinning?
I definitely love to eat. Just check my Instagram feed. Travelling I get to eat a lot of local cuisine, plus I can hold it down in the kitchen. I couldn’t name a favorite dish, but i definitely love Asian-inspired eats the most. A convenient snack for a dj?? Man, I can’t eat when I dj. If you are eating while you dj then you probably not doing your job killin the party. But if you need an answer, go for anything that doesn’t get your hands greasy or any food that won’t spill on your records.