Dj Neil Armstrong is a hip hop Renaissance man slowly but surely making a name for himself in the late 1990s alongside Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J and the like in his hometown of New York City, DJ Neil Armstrong was catapulted to international acclaim in 2008 when he was invited by Jay-Z to perform at Barack Obama’s inauguration ball. The president’s seal of approval was good enough for Jay-Z and the world’s biggest selling rapper anointed Armstrong as his permanent World Tour DJ soon after. He has created some of hip hop’s most iconic mix tapes toured with the who’s who of the music world and played to 80 thousand people at the 2010 Soccer world cup for adidas. We sit down with Neil and talk life, hip hop not drinking on the job and being on tour with some of the worlds most iconic music artists.
He’s since shared the stage with Mary J Blige, Rihanna, Kanye West, Method Man and Neil Young. DJ’s don’t come any bigger.
NAME*: Neil Armstrong
SPONSORS*: Adidas, Pommedesgarcons
HOME TOWN*: Queens NYC
B.O.B: Can you tell us how you originally got into Djing?
Neil Armstrong:Â I grew up in NYC during the golden age of hip hop. When I was in highschool was when De La Souls 1st album came out, when Slick Ricks albumÂ 1st dropped and Public Enemyâ€™s â€˜It takes a Nation of Millionsâ€™ dropped.Â IÂ became a super fan of the music and the culture. In 1995 I went to see myÂ first DJ battle, and from that point I was hooked.
B.O.B: Describe growing up in New York during the golden era of Hip Hop?
Neil Armstrong:Â All the stuff that people read about was just there for you to enjoy. Rocksteady Reunion every summer. BBoys and DJâ€™s and rappers and graphÂ artists all hangin out. You could go to a show on a Wednesday night and seeÂ some of the biggest names perform. KRS, Mos Def, I even got to see BiggieÂ and Tupac on stage together performing party and Bullsh*t.
B.O.B: Who were your musical influences coming up?
Neil Armstrong:Â Â Just pick anyone from that era of hip hop. I was also listening to a lot ofÂ R &B and soul from the 90s/2000s, like Intro, or Shai and of course 70â€™sÂ stuff â€“ stylistics etc etc etc.
B.O.B: You are the founding father of the DJ crew 5th Platoon, what are the rest
of the members up to now and are there any legendary battles you
can remember from back then?
Neil Armstrong:Â Â Everyoneâ€™s grown up now. Some of the members are married, have kids. Some are djing, some arenâ€™t. None of us are in the battle scene anymore. Battles I remember the most were the last big ones that I Emerge one. He won the DMC world championships back to back 2004, 2005.
B.O.B: What kind of traditional music background if any do you have and how did
this influence your taste in the music you play, listen to and
Neil Armstrong:Â Â I can play a bunch of instruments: violin, piano, flute, guitarâ€”or at leastÂ I learned how to when I was younger. I canâ€™t really play anymore. I playedÂ classical violin for about 10 years, learned a lot of music theory etc.Â etc. etc. Having music knowledge of course helps any musical endeavor.
B.O.B: Most memorable/favorite gig to date that you have ever played?Â
Neil Armstrong:Â Playing at Madison square garden with Jay-z. That was a dream come true.
B.O.B: What do you think of the overall state of hip hop and music in general atm?
Neil Armstrong:Â Music is in a weird state. The masses treat it as something veryÂ disposable, and peopleâ€™s attention span is so short these days. But itâ€™s
not necessarily â€œbad” . Because of the internet, an artist can make a songÂ and literally right after its done everyone around the world can hear it.
Thatâ€™s an amazing thing.
B.O.B: What music or which tracks are you enjoying playing during your sets ATM
Neil Armstrong:Â That always changes, but I just always do my best to play â€œclassicâ€ good music.
B.O.B: You are renowned for your series of mixtapes, what has been your favourite*
one to make and why?
Neil Armstrong:Â My favorite is probably the first one I did, called â€œoriginalâ€. I made theÂ 1st one 11 years agoâ€”all about hip hop and the original samples that makeÂ up the songs. Lot of cutting and scratching and creativity done on thatÂ one.
B.O.B: What makes a good mixtape?
Neil Armstrong:Â I think a good mixtape tells a story with the music. Good ones are super
creative and memorable, if you can listen to it over and over, then it
passes the test.
B.O.B: How did you get to be Jay-Zâ€™s tour DJ?
Neil Armstrong:Â Jay and I have a mutual friend named Vashtie Kola. She was working for him at Def Jam when he was about to start doing his tour with Mary J back in 2008. He was looking for a dj who had a background like A-Trak (at the time A Trak was djing for Kanye West) that could do turntablist stuff, and dj with a Live band. Vashtie told him I was the person he should work with. Got an email on Wednesday, and by that Friday was in the studio with Jay and the band.
B.O.B: How do you look back on working for one of the greatest Hip Hop artists ofÂ all time?
Neil Armstrong:Â Of course it was a great experience, one of the highlights of my career.
B.O.B: Whatâ€™s the best/worst thing about being a DJ?
Neil Armstrong:Â Best thing probably is that I never know whatâ€™s coming up next. Fits myÂ character well, never a dull moment. Worst thing, with the crazy hours andÂ all the travelling etc. etc. I never sleep. If I was in my 20â€™s it would be
great, but it starts to really wear you down.
B.O.B: Take us through a normal day in the life? Say when you are Djing/producingâ€¦
Neil Armstrong:Â I donâ€™t produce. You know what is easier to do â€“ go check this day in the
life video â€“
B.O.B: The turntablist scene has died down from its heyday in the mid to
late 90s.Â Why do you think this is?
Neil Armstrong:Â Turntablism is a very niche part of the culture. In a nutshell, it just
doesnâ€™t really have mass appeal anymore. Kind of like jazz. At one point
jazz was one of the most popular American music art forms. Unfortunately
thatâ€™s just not true anymore.
B.O.B: You are also an Adidas Global Ambassador. What does your role entail??
Neil Armstrong:Â Iâ€™m following in the footsteps of the late great Jam Master Jay. I end up
doing a lot of events for them, for the NBA. Parties like the Do OverÂ which, with the help of adidas, brought the Los Angeles Party to a global
level â€“ from New York to Osaka to Moscow. When the world cup comes around
Iâ€™ve been able to do some activations with them as well. Iâ€™ve also done a
couple of add campaigns too â€“ for star wars and one with Jeremy Scott.
B.O.B: Coolest place being DJ has taken you so far?
Neil Armstrong:Â Thatâ€™s a tough one. Iâ€™d say one of my favorite places by far though is the
Gold Coast of Australia, and Iâ€™m not just saying it because of yâ€™all 😉
B.O.B: If you were not a DJ what would you be doing?
Neil Armstrong:Â I always wonder about that. I dunnoâ€¦ I imagine Iâ€™d be a really normal guy.
Have a day job, have a family. Something really boring, like being a
computer programmer 😉
B.O.B: How have things changed since you were first getting into Djing andÂ turntabalismÂ and where do you see it going in the future?
Neil Armstrong: Well, musical taste in the last few years changes over so fast. Currently Iâ€™d say â€œEDMâ€ type music â€“ i.e. dubstep is on its way out, being replaced by â€œtrapâ€. Thatâ€™s just an example of how it keeps changing. When I first started djing, what was played in most clubs would be simple â€“ Hip Hop , R& B, reggae . Then later people started playing 80s and rock, and mash ups.
Then all the more electronic stuff. As an example, look at Rihanna. When she came out her first single was like, on da replay, which was a simple reggae beat, maybe 100 bpm speed. Now, her biggest hits are dance songs
with David Guetta at 130 BPM. The role of the DJ has changed. Back when IÂ started we weren’t celebrities. There was no such thing as a celebrity DJ.
Nowadays you have someone like Pauly D, or even Paris Hilton getting DJ
Gigs. So unfortunately the artform of DJing has kind of died downÂ significantly. Thatâ€™s not to say that there arenâ€™t some great djâ€™s out
still now. DJ A-Trak for example. Thereâ€™s a DJ named Enferno who is doingÂ amazing stuff, this other kid DJ Shiftee â€“ all in the more â€œEDMâ€ genre.
There are still great party rockers like Jazzy Jeff out there, even one ofÂ Hip Hopâ€™s First DJâ€™s Grand Master Flash is still out there doing his thing.
B.O.B: What advice would you give to up and coming DJs?
Neil Armstrong:Â Donâ€™t let money be your sole motivation. You need to do things for the
B.O.B: If we are at the bar and its our round what are you drinking?
Neil Armstrong:Â When I DJ I donâ€™t drink, so Iâ€™d just probably get a diet red bull 😉
B.O.B: If money wasn’t an issue and you had 1 day left to live where would you go
and what would you do?
Neil Armstrong:Â Man, Iâ€™d go to Byron Bay and surf. Definitely.
B.O.B: What does the future hold for DJ Neil Armstrong?
Neil Armstrong:Â Djing around the world still, always repping the 3 stripes of adidas.
B.O.B: Who’s the most famous person in your phone contacts?
Neil Armstrong:Â Hmmmâ€¦ I dunno? That would be a tough one. I have J.Coleâ€™s number cause we
were on tour together a while ago. I have q-bertâ€™s number too I think. Oh.
Russell Peters the comedian. Iâ€™d say him.