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Big N Tasty

by Ali Hibbs on February 7, 2013

The San Francisco 49ers may have lost the Super Bowl, but it’s still been a big week for Joe Montana, better known in these parts as DeeJay Element, who spins Friday and Saturday nights at the Pearl Street Pub. On Tuesday, Montana’s debut album of original production work—Reality Kings and Reason—saw its first light of the Internet, and by the time you read this, he’ll be in Miami competing against two other national finalists in the final round of the McDonald’s Flavor Battle.

Battle-ready: DeeJay Element. Photo by Julia Zave.

“I’m not a battle DJ,” Montana humbly admits, although this fact hasn’t prevented him from besting 21 of the contest’s other finalists. At heart, he’s a touring DJ, performing solo at clubs and backing rap groups like the Brown Bag Allstars, Sene, ScienZe and others. Although he presently splits his time between Albany and Brooklyn, Montana’s roots are in the Capital Region, where he played his first show on turntables at Bogie’s. His present crew largely consists of MCs he worked alongside at Brooklyn’s venerable hip-hop record shop Fat Beats, and the new EP is similarly a posse record, featuring some of the above lyrical talent, as well as J57, Koncept, Audible Doctor, Chaundon, K Swiss and Gorilla Tao of 518 fame.

It was on tour in North Carolina with rapper Soul Khan that Montana was asked to join the McDonald’s contest by DJ Shogun. The competition was invite-only, and after submitting his mixes, he was selected to represent the East Coast Region (and the Angus Third Pounder burger, through a weird marketing tie-in). At Club Cameo, Montana will set up onstage alongside DJ Arty J, DJ Jenna Red and the winner of the Sprite Spin Off Wild Card Round, DJ Kue. Each will perform three-minute rounds in front of an American Idol-style panel of celebrity judges, including Just Blaze, DJ Clue? and Spinderella. To top it off, the legendary Funk Master Flex will host the event, which you can view via live stream at flavorbattle.com.

“I did my research,” Montana says of his opponents, but he says, “I’m still gonna do what I do.” Which in his case is a fairly traditional approach to the art of turntablism. Like most vinyl-oriented DJs these days, Montana uses the laptop program Serato, which allows the selector to run MP3s through his decks. There are certain criteria that the judges will be considering, and there are McDonald’s house rules that the content must be clean (he had to transcribe his material beforehand) and that you can’t slander your opponent, but Montana mostly plans to approach the contest just like a night at the club, juggling and scratching his way through party-rocking records.

Whether or not DeeJay Element returns with the $10,000 prize in his pocket, he maintains that this battle is just a one-off and that he’s most excited to be back touring and pushing the new record.