DJ Assassin is the best deejay in the city -- so says the best deejay in the city, DJ Supa C. One is the best battle deejay, the other the best dance-floor deejay. This particular Assassin ain't into battlin', though. For all the clear and present danger his name evokes, in all his 20 years of deejaying, Dave Collins has never been much of a battle deejay at all.
Instead, "I'm killing the dance floor," says the tentacle-locked Assassin. "The battle thing doesn't mean that much to me. You won't see me doing tricks behind my back and all 'at because the people will have to stop dancing to notice."
This very practical perspective on spinning comes from, if not the best deejay in the city, at 35 certainly one of the oldest. Besides, there are really no deejay battles anymore. The Pittsburgh hip-hop scene is too busy trying to solidify itself as a movement worthy of national mainstream acclaim to burden itself with deejay set-trippin'.
One of the last of the few battles Assassin was involved in nearly matched him against Supa C. -- his friend since their early, early teens. They were two of four deejays in the last heats of a WAMO Juneteenth deejay contest in the late '90s. If they defeated their respective opponents, it would have pitted friend against friend -- a face-off neither wanted.
"I didn't want to battle him because that's my friend before anything," says Supa C., a.k.a. Chip. "A lot of the other deejays were talking a lot of trash, but Dave's not like that. He's got a lot of compassion for the art and the people -- total opposite of a lot of deejays around here."
Where the two intersect is in the blend, perhaps the one element (other than scratching) that renders all previous styles of deejaying for the Flintstones. Blending -- the art of connecting song after song into one seamless musical escapade -- elevated caveman deejaying to the musical equivalent of Romare Bearden collages. A fucked-up blend is to a dance floor what Moses is to a river -- it will clear that sucka out. It's the difference between The Tunnel and the prom, or a New Orleans funeral march and a wake.
This is why Assassin carries another alias: Dr. Analog, embodying the era where skills on wax were just as important as anything else in keeping bodies on the dance floor. It's also the name he uses when producing beats with his partner Lyrical, and focuses on uncanny samples from the jazz and classical artists he grew up listening to from his father's collection.
As analog and ol' school as he is, Assassin still bangs with all the young bucks out there, spinning with the combative, steel brigade Radiohiphop deejay collective run by DJ Big John Stud [see "Desperado," Nov. 10, 2005 City Paper]. Kinda like Bettis, he's the ol' head of the team who's taken a pay cut to stay with a winning franchise.
But the noise Assassin's bringing predates most every hip-hop scene, bar night or club night in the city. We're talking the era when hip hop was cultivated by the likes of Supa C., DJ Shawn-Ski, Ian Wallace, Selecta and Big Phil (who grew up with Assassin and Supa C. in Penn Hills). Assassin picked up his blend skills from following legends such as Nick Nice and Sly Jock, who was on his paper route as a kid.
Those skills have kept the ol' hire with steady gigs for the past 20 years, while many DJ This-and-Thats have come and gone. He's survived by knowing how to read the crowd to move the crowd -- meaning, for one, not trying to slip in that Dangerdoom or Dilated Peoples he listens to in the car when doing, say, Final Fridays -- the very thing purer deejays bemoan about playing clubs.
"When I was younger I would get upset about all that," says Assassin. "Really it's like you're trying to prove a point, but the only point you might be proving is that you won't have a gig next week."