Cover Story: Wax Trax

DJ Mista Rare Groove's orchestral maneuvers in the dark

David Sorcher

Smoke 'em if you got 'em. Rare gets air at Tavern Inn the Wood.

There is a 25-year-old urban legend spinning the city. Otherwise known as Daryl Henderson, DJ Mista Rare Groove might as well be Cochise, pourin' it out for the musicians who ain't here and making crowds acknowledge those whose stories deserve a listen.

Usually outfitted in his T-shirt du-jour and a knit cap rocked at a 45 degree angle, he greets acquaintances with the b-boy embrace — a fluid movement locking the hand firmly in his as he pulls in for a brief shoulder pound.

If Minnie Ripperton and Gil-Scott Heron had a love child it would be Groove, the bastard latch-key kid Soul and Jazz dismissed as a Hip Hop delinquent, yet the griot who held onto their legends.

His wax collection is a historical society in itself.

For people in the world who left their vinyl to neglect, Groove has a home for them. Some of the funkiest came from defunct record labels like CTI, Westbound, Volt and Kudu, which he learned about gradually from studying and taking chances.

Although he's among the wax purists who'd rather wade through mildew-tinged LPs than download from the Internet, he isn't anal retentive about his passion. He doesn't hold onto crap.

"If it ain't dope, I don't want it," he says.

"Why keep a record you really don't like? I would rather give it to somebody who'll really play the shit than to say, 'Oh, I got the rarest record in the world.' "

Maybe it's this benevolent demeanor that explains the ever-present warmth at his crib or the stacks and stacks of wax that push the living room furniture back as if anticipating a house party.

Eyes dart around catching glimpses of the numerous funk-laden artifacts leaning lazily against the wall, each with their own story to tell. Many of them knew him when, years ago, he was growing up in California and developing his everlasting relationship with vinyl.

Music was always a part of his culture. The first parties Groove ever rocked were his grandmother's club meetings. He played Blues while the guests played gin.

Influenced early on from an uncle who'd mastered the art of blending with the classic — but third-rate — Realistic turntables, Groove grew fascinated with every record he saw. Whenever he visited family members, they knew how to keep him amused.

"It would be like a field trip for me when they would take me to the record store," he says. "I would rather go to the record store than go to Magic Mountain."

To his mother's disdain, growing up he'd spend most of his school clothes allowance on records.

"I used to get in trouble because she would give me money to buy some new clothes. She'd give me like $300," he says. "I'd buy like a pair of shoes, a couple shirts, a pair of jeans and mass records. I used to get in trouble every year, then she started taking me to the mall."

In 1994, he had an epiphany after seeing a club DJ successfully juggle breaks and still keep the crowd hype.

Before then, he already recognized obvious Hip Hop samples, but he was surprised to learn what icons like Run-D.M.C. and Biz Markie were lacing under their rhymes.

"Mardi Gras" and "Ashley's Roachclip" turned him on to a crate-digging counterculture. It was like discovering a netherworld of hidden gems.

"My head was busted," he says. "I had to collect that shit."

He settled on his DJ-ing moniker once he realized he liked playing essentially rare records. Mista Rare Groove: the storyteller and crypt keeper.

Slowly, he built a reputation for freeing minds and making asses follow. Locally, he was the first to draw a regular audience with an unscripted, multi-formatted set. While many DJs play breakbeats, they lose the crowd by ego-tripping about their refined collection.

On any given Friday night at Clifton's Tavern Inn the Wood, Groove spins his personal discography but keeps it in tune with you.

His eyes flirt with his audience like: "Don't front kid, you know I gotcha open!" as he drags on a freaked Black 'N Mild. All the while, he surveys the crowd's reaction.

He respects the technical aspect of DJ-ing, but for Groove it's the same question Rakim once asked: How can I move the crowd?

"The whole point of you DJ-ing, especially at a party, is to make muthafuckas dance," he points out. "You supposed to rock the party. I mean, it's nice that you tight, but you gotta rock the party. You just gotta read the crowd. It's like, you can still get down, the girls ain't gon' care and shit, as long as you make them dance, somethin' they can bob they heads to."

Groove knows music intoxicates listeners. Timing is everything, and bad timing could lead to a bar brawl.

"When gangsta niggas wanna hear certain shit, I gotta know how to play it and when to play it and be able to judge the intensity of the crowd," he says. "You are responsible — just the way TV is responsible for dumbing down muthafuckas. I'm the orchestrator at that moment. I'm the radio when they walk in."

At home, he orchestrates his own sound.

Within the next five years he wants to own a thriving production company. While many producers have gone digital, Groove prefers a more organic sound.

"I use an MPC 2000 XL, 1200s and a mixer. I am analog," he says. "It has more depth in it, more feelin'. And it does have a crispier sound. I like that raw shit. It don't have to sound dirty like I'm off a cassette, but it's just that warmth. I like for it to sound as wholesome as your sweater so like when you put it on, you like, 'Ooh, this is nice and warm,' rather than feelin' like you up in a suit, lookin' all stiff."

Bypassing industry rule No. 4080, Groove wants to work for self, be happy and still get dap when the day is done.

"I ain't tryin' to necessarily be the Neptunes," he says. "I ain't mad at (the) Neptunes' money, but I could be like (DJ) Premier or Pete Rock and still get paid and not have to compromise shit. I would like to see a No. 1 come outta my shit."

To beginning crate-diggers he advises, "Really learn your basics. You gotta build your ear where it becomes more intricate and in tune where you can listen to the music for breaks and samples."

With Groove as our guide, we shall all be moved. ©