Music: Flipping Scripts

Anonymous moniker aside, John Doe/1200 Hobos' mixtapes carry distinction

Graham Lienhart

Local mixmaster John Doe/1200 Hobos brings artistry and musicality back to the mixtape format.

John Doe/1200 Hobos doesn't claim to be an aficionado. Knowing music just comes with his territory. "Like most Hip Hop DJs, I am pretty much a nerd," he says. "I'll admit it. But others won't."

In any case, his tirelessly constructed mix tapes, like 2007's The Last Amateur-One Hour Photo, sound like a professor gone mad. As John Doe puts it, Last Amateur is "a combination of a blend tape, a battle tape and him 'talking to you' throughout." On it, he takes manifold '90s Hip Hop records and weaves them into unbroken call-and-response patterns, such as blocks of bass drums from sampled songs followed by songs that loop those drums.

"At least every 16 bars," he points out, "stuff changes. I really, really stuck to the whole 16 and tried to compose it as intricately as I could within those 16 bars."

Some intricacies are John Doe acting as a puppet-master playing with his ability to manipulate records into grudge matches.

Like, if one record taunts something like, "punks jump up to get beat down," the record that follows has a response to that dis.

"A lot of it is just me trying to be funny," Doe explains. "It's like I think I'm being clever by putting these two things together — 'Yeah, I'm gonna put this Foreigner here — oh man, that's hilarious!' And I don't care if anyone else thinks that's hilarious.

"Or, 'I'm gonna put this Ramsey Lewis record here, then I'm gonna find several records that say, "flip the script" and then I'm gonna drop "Flip Da Script" by Da King and I ... oh, no one's gonna get that, but I'm gonna get it!"

Elements like the twice repetition of "Yes, I flip da script, da script gets flipped" cosigns what Doe does on his "one hour photo." As expected, he doesn't divulge much about the hardware he uses but will state flat out, "I do not use a computer. And I use vinyl."

Regardless of means, his mixes sound like they take forever to make, like hand-stitching a quilt from thousands of one-inch swatches.

"Every time I'm working on something, I get a notebook and I date and time every time I start," he says. "I'd say a year total is probably pretty accurate. There were times I didn't have time to work on it because I was busy with other things."

Actually, Doe's mixing notes trace steps as far back as 2004, mainly because he made mandatory stops along the way. In the time since Last Amateur's inception, he got married, bought a house and traveled. Still, the mix's continuity stayed because he listened to where he left off until he came up with another logical piece.

Doing that, he says, "Something will formulate in my mind and it will be based on, 'What sample did they use, what did he say, what drums were there in the background?' 'Did he say something funny that would make sense another way?' And if I get stuck, then it only takes a few days of me listening to it again and formulating an idea from that to continue."

These ideas turned into an abounding catalog of definitive breaks and '90s Hip Hop, and since the process itself was so calculated, one could assume he intended to create a survey of Hip Hop's 'tween years that younger fans can study.

"That's never something that I meant to do, but when I get e-mails or people come up to me and they are obviously younger than I am, I think it's really cool that they are interested in what they are hearing," he says.

In 1996, he met 1200 Hobos' first two members, Skip and Mr. Dibbs and eventually became the third, spinning with them on their WAIF radio show, "B-Boys' Underground." Other Hobos live in San Diego, Alabama, Brooklyn and Florida. After placing second in the 1999 U.S. DMC DJ Championship Battle, John Doe became a known name, but without "1200 Hobos" serving as his surname, his work is sometimes confused with Jon Doe from Atlanta or DJ John Doe from Las Vegas.

"I get e-mails from people asking, 'Oh, did you do this (CD), or, 'I have this (CD), and I thought it was by you,' " he says. "I tell them, 'If you don't see "1200 Hobos," then it's not me.' "

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