DJ Shortkut is driven by his passion for every genre of music. A member of three of the arguably most-influential DJ crews in history — the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Beat Junkies and Triple Threat DJs — Shortkut, born Jonathan Cruz, began his career in the mobile DJ sound system scene in San Francisco in 1987 before he started competing in international DJ championships in 1994.
As a seasoned veteran in battle DJ competitions, Shortkut is known for creating new techniques and constantly innovating in the turntablist culture while maintaining dance floors internationally and playing music that spans countless genres. Now, he’s joining The F.O.R.C.E. (Frequencies of Real Creative Energy) Tour, presented by Rock The Bells & Live Nation Urban and headlined and curated by legendary rapper LL COOL J, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.
Traktivist writer Stephanie Lamond caught up with Shortkut to talk about his memories of the early years of Bay Area DJing, the power of the community around the genre and what he’s looking forward to the most about the upcoming tour.
Traktivist: Since this tour celebrates the 50th anniversary of hip-hop and has gathered such an impressive lineup from the community, let’s go back in time for a moment to when you were just starting out. Give us a snapshot of what it was like in the Bay Area underground scene at the time — where were you playing, who were you often playing with, and what was special about this particular corner of the world of hip-hop?
Shortkut: I started in 1987 when the Bay Area had a deep mobile DJ sound system scene where the pro dominant music was Miami bass and freestyle music. This was definitely a special era for me as I was influenced heavy from the scratching I heard from records I played during the time and trying to mimic what I heard. This eventually led me to entering local DJ battles and taking it further to national and world championships.
For some growing up Filipino in the Bay Area, their experience and love of hip-hop and turntablism was intrinsically tied with pride in identity and place. For others like my husband, growing up mixed Filipino in Chicago, what made it special to him was that it was such a diverse community overall, gathering around their shared love of this art form as an equalizer. What have you loved most about being part of hip-hop, and what has the community meant to you over the years as it’s evolved?
I love that hip-hop gave me a way to express myself creatively and keep me out of trouble and focused on my passion for DJing. It’s brought me around the world to make friends with people where we shared a common language of the music and its culture, even though we didn’t speak the same native language. And to be able to make a living off something I love doing is one of the biggest blessings from being a hip-hop DJ.
With the 50th anniversary, the music industry has been celebrating big and honoring you all rightly as legends. What does it feel like to be in this collective moment, “getting your flowers” on such a scale?
It feels great! This moment makes me feel [like] all the efforts and struggles were worth it all to get to this point in my career.
Is there a particular artist on the tour that you’re most excited to share the stage with?
I’m excited to meet all these icons and just be mentioned alongside every legendary artist on this tour.
What does it mean to you as a Filipino American artist to be on this tour, especially being the only AAPI artist on it?
It means a lot to me. Filipinos have always been involved in hip-hop, but not highly recognized. Thanks to icons like my brothers Qbert and Mix Master Mike, they were really the first ones to put Filipinos out there as contributors to hip-hop and DJ culture. I’m honored to be part of that lineage and to represent Pinoys on The F.O.R.C.E. Tour alongside all these hip-hop legends.
Now looking to the future — what are you excited about that’s coming out of the DJ world these days? Who are the artists or emerging scenes we all should be paying attention to? Which AAPI DJs do you think we all should have on our radar?
I’m excited for all the new technology that’s available to all the DJs, but I still try to encourage most new DJs to expand their music knowledge by researching all the classic and timeless music that still makes an impact now. If you haven’t checked for him already (but you should), Miles Medina has carried the torch for the Bay’s tradition of exporting Filipino DJs to the world.
Get tickets to The F.O.R.C.E Tour here, and keep up with DJ Shortkut here.