Kirk Kirkpatrick represents the old guard of Portland hip-hop. The turntablist known as DJ Wicked is old-school not just by tenure, having held down his Wicked Wednesdays night at various venues over 13 years, but by presentation. Kirkpatrick is near the last of a dying breed: A fiercely independent vinyl purist in the age of digital DJs, and a student of the underground who once named a mix CD Fuck the Radio (Volume 1).
So it was a little surreal to see Kirkpatrick, an understated, ballcap-wearing 37-year-old who usually lets his dexterous fingers do the talking, appealing for YouTube thumbs-ups in a video this June. Surrounded by crates of records and looking a touch like an escaped convict in a bright blue button-up shirt, Kirkpatrick engaged the camera with some pre-written dialogue: "I've been showing you for 20 years on these turntables why I'm a Master of the Mix; today is no different."
But it was different, and not just because the video showed Kirkpatrick using Serato's digital software for the first time. Portland's best turntablist had been bitten by the reality-TV bug. When his Detroit audition for season two of the BET network's Master of the Mix failed to yield him a spot on the show, the producers encouraged him to try for an online vote-driven final spot. That's when Kirkpatrick found out that he had a posse. Fans voted, tweeted and posted to Facebook in support of the contest's only Northwest participant.
"A lot more people came out to support me than I ever imagined," Kirkpatrick says. "I saw people [online] that I always figured, for whatever reason, didn't care for me. That feels good, seeing that many people go to bat for you."
In Portland hip-hop's heyday, that might not have been a surprise. Kirkpatrick has been involved in the local scene since he was a teenager, when he practiced his art form by scratching on his parents' console turntable. He gravitated as much toward visual art as he did turntablism in his early days, but a graffiti-related arrest at 21 compelled him to take the craft more seriously. Kirpatrick met local MC Terrance "Cool Nutz" Scott in community college in 1992, not long before the rapper became Portland's biggest hip-hop star.
"In '94 or '95, you could sell out the Roseland with Cool Nutz," Kirkpatrick remembers. "You could get a thousand people at La Luna for POH-Hop." But over time, the local scene's popularity faded and the crowds began to dwindle. "The stars just never aligned," Kirkpatrick says. Many of the era's artists left the scene, but DJ Wicked carried on, releasing mixtapes, playing parties and opening for everyone from the Wu-Tang Clan to Eminem. But the audience for hardcore underground rap—which Kirkpatrick refers to as "my shit"—isn't what it once was.
"When you're just hardcore underground, you get the five hardcore underground backpack guys to come out to your show," he says. "It's cool, those are the heads, but it's like, 'This dude's about to fire me because there's five people here.'" Music being Kirkpatrick's sole means of employment, five people wasn't going to cut it. So over the past few years, DJ Wicked has expanded his horizons. He's played corporate parties and even dropped a few Top 40 singles on his crowds—still on vinyl, of course, though Kirkpatrick figures he may eventually have to make the digital leap if he wants to stay relevant.
"I'm trying to be open-minded," Kirkpatrick says of his latest career phase. Hence his transition from mean-mugging radio-hater to minor reality-TV star. Not that he's gone Hollywood. "The whole [Master of the Mix] thing reminded me of how much I love Oregon," says Kirkpatrick, who prefers camping and bike-riding to hanging out at bars when he's not performing. But he hopes the exposure will get him a few more gigs—and perhaps a little well-earned respect. "I'm the underground dude. I'm the dude who plays the basement parties and smoky bars and after-hours parties," he says. "So the chance to be in that spotlight, it's priceless.â
SEE IT: DJ Wicked plays the Black Star after party at Someday Lounge on Friday, Nov. 4. 9 pm. $5. 21+. A viewing of the first episode of Master of the Mix (season two) is Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Up Front Bar and Grill, 833 SW Naito Parkway. 10:30 pm. Free. 21+. Master of the Mix airs Saturday, Nov. 5, at midnight on BET.