I was 6 IPAs deep dancing to Zapp at Rain Dogs the first time I ran into DJ KANO. The skinny white dude posted up behind the turntables was playing some of the best hip-hop mixes I’d ever heard, but it wasn’t until I floated over to the turntables that I realized he was spinning vinyl records, and every mix, scratch, cut and sound he played was analog and made only by his ability to time how and when he touched the spinning discs.
We are still deep in the resurgence of analog; 2021 marked the 14th year in a row of growth for vinyl record sales. Vinyl DJing is only a 50 year old art form, but has become a multi billion dollar industry. Unlike photography where people try to emulate film processes from before the time everyone had iPhones and were “photographers,” vinyl DJing has a much different background. At the beginning, the cardinal rule of vinyl record DJing was you weren’t allowed to touch the records, ever. Times have changed, thanks to Grandmaster Flash, the OG pioneer of hip hop djing back in the early 1970’s. Now, the relatively new artform has found its way into the mainstream.
I had the opportunity to sit down with DJ KANO in his home studio to chat about the ins and outs of vinyl deejaying, his inspirations, favorite moves and the weekly cypher he hosts at Shantytown Pub, among other things.
Caine Blaise, aka DJ KANO, has been playing music his whole life. Picking up the violin at 8 years old, he eventually found his way into LaVilla School of the Arts and the Douglas Anderson High School music program. During his time there he picked up and learned how to play over 10 instruments, with the disc jockey table being the on the stuck.
“They basically groom kids to be functioning independent artists in those schools. They give you work ethic, tools and a great education. I had a jazz history course that was very influential in my life, because learning about jazz at 15 set me up with an open mind to be able to hear that sound in other genres. Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Felonious Monk, Bill Evans are some of my favorites. I heard jazz samples in hip hop and immediately fell in love with hip hop,” Kano explained.
Kano takes a mathematical and rhythmic approach to his DJ sets; his deep understanding of music theory has given him a leg up. Rather than only hearing the superficial sound of music, he’s able to pick out the specific instruments, hear key signatures, count the bars and analyze the entire structure of the music. Working with vinyl forces a DJ to understand music theory given that the song is unable to be altered. With vinyl, the music is in the grooves and the only thing you can alter is the speed and rhythm of the rotations, whereas with digital disc jockeying you’re able to break down the entirety of the song, adjust key signatures and alter speed and pitch with the click of a button.
“It’s important to know how to do both, really. I think they’re both important tools that a DJ should know how to use. If you’re not digitally savvy, then you’re going to get left behind, but if you’re also vinyl savvy, then you’ll have a series of techniques that you cannot learn from digital, because there are things about vinyl, that are idiosyncrasies, that make you better as a musician. As far as technique and imposition go, vinyl teaches you how to hold the record and how to release it properly, without making the needle jump out of the groove, which is really hard to do,” Kano said.
Jacksonville has a long history of hip hop and Kano tries to pay homage to those that came before him. After over 4 years of spinning only vinyl, Kano collected a lot of cred with heavy hitters in the scene. He has long looked up to locals such as the late Paten Locke, known for his multifaceted record label, and Chef Rocc known for his smooth rhythmic scratches and ability to keep pushing DJ progression. Both of these artists have unfortunately passed away, and have left an unfulfilled niche in our community.
“When those guys passed away, there was like a big vacancy. And I felt like I wanted to help fill it in a respectful, knowledgeable way. They were really big, important, influential DJs that would rock parties and play bars and do big events all around Jacksonville,” He explained. He continued, “You can’t talk about Duval and hip hop without talking about black history and black culture. I try to support black culture. As a skinny white dude, I make sure to approach the art form respectfully and in a way that I’m going to add something dope to it.”
His weekly cypher at Shantytown Pub is the way that he is both filling the vacancy and pushing the art form forward. A cypher is a freestyle session usually with a few different rappers where one person starts rapping about a certain concept and each person takes turns at spinning the word or phrase into lyrics.
“We’re working on some stuff that nobody else is doing. We’re working on some breakthrough shit,” he claimed.
Check his instagram for when you’ll be able to catch him next at Shanty, or maybe again at Folio HQ.