Grand Master Roc Raida. A brother with an ill name, and with even iller talent that backed it up. He wasn’t a man of many words if you weren’t part of his inner circle. The Harlem reppa was quick to smile, laugh, crack jokes and give you love, but if you were on the opposite turntables as an opponent…you hated him. Small in stature, but a giant in wheels-of-steel wizardry, Anthony “Roc Raida” Williams made the most out of what the art of DJing had to offer. His stance was always confident, anchored with what seemed to be a permanent smirk as he ripped system after system, annihilating an adversary or amazing a crowd of revelers.
Rob Swift, Raida’s brother-in-arms in the battle DJ crew The X-Men (later renamed The X-Ecutioners), introduced me to him in the mid ‘90s. Rob was the big brother and Raida was the cool cat who would throw me lines on what was happening in the practice sessions at Rob’s Mom’s crib in Queens. I was an honored Stan during those days, bewildered by how these superstars of the battle DJ scene just let me roll with them so easily. I wasn’t connected to any publications at the time, just a young dude fascinated with their skills. They inspired me to be great. How so? They showed dedication to the craft of DJing. Not rock-a-party DJing, but the kind where you manually manipulate music on wax. Raida and company use the turntable as an instrument and I along with scores of others couldn’t get enough of it. Still can’t.
As the crew would practice in the ‘war room’ of Rob’s crib, I would mark up a makeshift cardboard poster into a playoff style bracket. The crew’s members name would go into the first round boxes; most notable being Rob Swift, Total Eclipse, Mr. Sinister and Roc Raida. Their success in real battles was a testament to their all-out wars on each other in training sessions. I recall so many afternoons turning into late-night sessions where the team worked as a unit and discussed how they would execute the smallest of details that added to the whole of the performance. It could have been a shoulder lean to emphasize a cut or a dramatic pause that needed to be held a second longer for full effect.
Raida was a master at it all. While Rob was the vocal leader, Raida was the group’s voice of reason. Oftentimes, his input seemed to put the perfect solution to the issue at hand. I’d say it was his advantage of being a battle-tested DJ. His 1995 DMC World Championship title (among others) was his badge of honor, as he kept alive the dying art form for the East Coast. The uprising of the formidable foes from the West Coast (the Invisible Scratch Pickles) and the world’s talent quotient began to soar in status, so his presence meant that much more.
Raida was instrumental in the way the X-Ecutioners transitioned from strictly battle DJs to becoming world-renowned artists in their own right. Making albums and collabing with the likes of Linkin Park and smashing stages on international tours, spreading the gospel of turntablism.
His showmanship on the wheels garnered him such respect and admiration that he was given the title of Grand Master by the Grand Masters of the DJ world. Only a few can hold that moniker and it mean something more than a nickname. He was rightfully “knighted” into a special club of the most elite DJs to spin creatively and push the art to new levels.
While the masses of fans whose lives Raida and the X-Men touched mourn the loss of a true spirit, let’s not forget that in this day of technology, Raida is but a computer click away. His mixtapes, his battles, his productions, and his interviews…this internet thing is good for something after all.
Much love goes out to Raida’s family (especially his three daughters) and to his extended X-Men team. If you have ever been in his presence then you know you met a special individual. He will be missed.