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How a Photocopied Zine from San Francisco Helped Turntablism Go Global

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A black-and-white illustration features graffiti characters with exaggerated features, spray cans and other details.
The cover 'The Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine' issue N0. 46, illustrated by Serkit.  (Courtesy of Dave Paul)

Editor’s note: This story is part of That’s My Word, KQED’s year-long exploration of Bay Area hip-hop history.

B

ack in the ’90s, a free, photocopied hip-hop zine from San Francisco gave rise to a record label that helped further one of the culture’s central elements worldwide.

More Bay Area Hip-Hop History

The Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine (1991-1996) and Bomb Hip-Hop Records (1995-2009) gave dozens of DJs — including Z-Trip, Rob Swift and Stones Throw Records’ Peanut Butter Wolf — crucial early support, and launched the careers of numerous writers. If you browse The Bomb’s index of issues, you’ll see interviews with future global stars like Ice Cube and A Tribe Called Quest — plus instructional articles on starting your own label and shooting your own music video.

The Bomb’s creator, DJ Dave Paul, found his calling as a connector at KCSF, the radio station at City College of San Francisco. Through his show and the zine, he met artists and like-minded people, who plied him with demos and promotional records. In 1992, he added show promoter to his resume. He booked local hip-hop acts like Blackalicious, DJ Shadow and global championship-winning DJ crew Invisibl Skratch Piklz, as well as out-of-towners such as House of Pain, Ultramagnetic MCs, The Pharcyde, Masta Ace and the Beat Junkies.

“In the early ’90s, college and community radio were mostly the only ones playing rap music, other than late night DJ mix shows and [Los Angeles radio station] KDAY,” Paul recalls. “The club scene in the Bay Area was great at the time — I don’t think we all realized how fun it was until years later.”

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The Bomb is where I learned to write,” reveals Joseph Patel, an Academy Award-winning filmmaker who produced Questlove’s documentary Summer of Soul. Patel was a college student at UC Davis when he started contributing to the zine under his DJ name, Jazzbo. For The Bomb, he interviewed acts such as Nas, the Fugees, Souls of Mischief and Cypress Hill early in their careers.

A black-and-white, illustrated zine cover features a skull crashing through a brick wall.
The cover of ‘The Bomb’ issue No. 21, drawn by Scape One. (Courtesy of Dave Paul)

“I couldn’t believe I got to interview some of my favorite artists and ask them about the creative process,” Patel says. “And then to see my name in print! It was a dream. That was really the first non-friends-in-high-school publication I wrote for and it ignited my love of writing and desire to ultimately pursue it as a career.”

Other illustrious writers in the making who contributed were the late record label boss David “Funken” Klein, Rap Coalition founder Wendy Day, DJ Shadow and Cheo Hodari Coker, a Stanford grad who later became the creator and showrunner of Marvel’s Luke Cage.

DJ Dave Paul created ‘The Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine’ in 1991. (Dirk Wyse )

Bomb Hip-Hop Records is born

After releasing two flexi discs as inserts with his zine, Paul decided to put out more permanent forms of vinyl. He launched Bomb Hip-Hop Records in 1995 with Return of the DJ Vol. 1, a compilation that quickly became a calling card for a skilled sector of selectors that would soon be called turntablists. DJs and crews on the compilation included Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Beat Junkies, Peanut Butter Wolf, Cut Chemist, Z-Trip and Rob Swift.

“I was bummed that a lot of the rap albums coming out didn’t have that one DJ track anymore like albums used to. So it dawned on me, why not just do a whole album of just DJs scratching?” Paul remembers. “It wasn’t even called turntablism back then, and I remember labeling the project an all-DJ, all-scratching album. I just told contributing DJs to try to not go over five minutes in length and go heavy on the scratching.”

Z-Trip DJs on a stage illuminated with his name.
Z-Trip performs during the “Feel the Bern” fundraiser for Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at the Ace Theater Downtown LA on February 5, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Scott Dudelson/WireImage)

Paul couldn’t have predicted the worldwide impact on DJs and hip-hop fans that this release would have. The first time Zach Sciacca appeared on vinyl as Z-Trip, it was for Return of the DJ Vol. 1. At the time, he was beginning to make a name for himself while working at an Arizona location of a long-departed record store chain, The Wherehouse. Today, he tours with LL Cool J.

Sciacca is the only DJ to appear on the influential first three volumes of Return of the DJ (there are seven total if you count the version Paul labeled 5.5), an honor that still means a lot to him. “[They] were all critical and instrumental in getting people to understand what I was doing,” he says.

A black-and-white, illustrated zine cover features a menacing figure in a hoodie, the words "the mag you love to hate," and the title 'The Bomb' in graffiti letters.
The cover of ‘The Bomb’ issue No. 28, drawn by Dario Sanchez. (Courtesy of Dave Paul)

But it was his track “Rockstar” for Vol. 2 that introduced DJ Z-Trip to college radio and the alternative rock world, which helped blow up his career along with his popular mixtapes.

“That track ended up standing out to a lot of people because it was completely different from everything else and that’s when, I think, I started getting people really checking me out,” he says.

The compilation didn’t sell enough to get a gold or platinum plaque, but it still had outsized influence, says Rob Swift (Rob Aguilar), whose track “Rob Get’s Busy” appears in the lineup.

Return of the DJ may not have achieved mainstream success, but on the underground, people worldwide were moved by the project and supported it,” remembers Swift. He called the album a “benchmark moment for DJs” to be respected and appreciated on their own, not as a backdrop to rappers.

Turntablists carry on

Paul released Return of the DJ compilations every two years from 1995 to 2009. The Bomb published from 1991 to 1996, with a “comeback issue” in 2003.

“The music industry took a fall after the ’90s,” he explains. “Record distributors weren’t paying on monies due, and companies started busting folks for samples. I was in debt from trying to keep the label afloat, so I had to put it to bed.”

Invisibl Skratch Piklz perform with Dan the Automator at Outside Lands on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023. (Estefany Gonzalez for KQED)

Many of the turntablists The Bomb championed are still going strong. The Invisibl Skratch Piklz performed to enthusiastic crowds during all three days of Outside Lands in August. They and Mix Master Mike will perform at the DMC World DJ Finals at the Midway in San Francisco on Nov. 3.

Paul currently maintains a busy schedule of throwing and DJing his Kings of Theme parties across the country, including monthly events held at Madrone Art Bar in San Francisco. He isn’t long on free time, but he may one day make a final, 50th Bomb issue.

“It would make sense to do it since this is the 50th year celebration of hip-hop,” he says. “It’s also been in the back of my mind to do a book, but I should probably get the magazine done first.”

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