African American Studies


INTERVIEWER: Oneka LaBennett, Mark Naison

INTERVIEWEE: Robert Caines, Jr. (a.k.a DJ Flawless)

SUMMARY BY: Patrick O’Donnell

Robert Caines, Jr. (aka DJ Flawless) was born on January 23, 1983, and grew up in the Mott Haven Projects in the Bronx. He is the son of Robert Caines, Sr. (aka Rockin’ Rob.) At the time of interview, he was unemployed, but had recently been working for the Scratch DJ Academy. Robert, Jr. was raised by his mother and his grandmother. Although his father was often absent, Robert, Jr. became interested in hip-hop by listening to his father’s music tapes. His mother, Trudy Rashaw, was also a DJ who went by the name of Trudy True. His uncles and aunts were also musically inclined, and each of them did a combination of DJing and MCing. Moreover, Robert, Jr. was exposed to a large variety of music through his grandmother: jazz, 50’s and 60’s vocal, soul, Spanish, country music, etc. Caines’ mother’s side of the family originated in the East Indies, and his father’s side is from the West Indies, especially Antigua. Growing up in the Bronx in the 80’s was difficult: although Caines, Jr. never had any problems with anyone in the neighborhood, thanks to the respect given to his musical family, he saw many of the causes and effects of the crack epidemic. There were many shootings as well, and Robert, Jr. still credits divine intervention with the fact that he was never shot. He never enjoyed school very much, even though he enjoyed meeting friends and playing basketball through school. As a result, he dropped out before finishing his high school diploma, leaving Harry S. Truman public school. Despite his interest in music, he never was taken with his music classes, since they focused on theory and note-reading. In retrospect, Caines wishes he’d taken his schooling more seriously, since he now has an interest in learning that he did not have before. Robert, Jr. got his name “DJ Flawless” from his cousin Mark (aka Crazed One), who first taught Robert the method of flipping turn tables on their side in order to scratch faster. The name came from a series of face-offs and contests in which Robert proved his prowess, and another reason for the name was that Robert is a perfectionist when it comes to his DJing. Robert’s father had a heavy influence on his son’s musical tastes. At one point he conducted a tour of Europe and brought back several records of French, Belgian, and German hip-hop and DJ work. Robert, Jr. says that this was a formative influence, and that as a result he listens to music from all over the world today.

Robert’s mother was very attentive to her son. She made sure that he was home on time and discouraged him from leaving the house needlessly. This was in contrast to the upbringing of many young people in the neighborhood: some parents were drug-addicted, split-up, abused and abusive, careless, apathetic, etc. Even though his parents were split-up, Robert, Sr. was always in the picture, taking his son for the weekend, driving him around town, etc. Because of this open-mindedness, Robert found himself enjoying other parts of town outside the Bronx, including Harlem and the Village in Manhattan. On one trip to the Village, Robert, Jr. noticed an advertisement for Scratch Academy, a school which teaches aspiring DJs to pursue their own careers. He took a business card from the Academy, but did not get a job there until 2 years later, on his father’s recommendation. He became a TA at the academy, and after showing his skills, soon became part of the payroll. He was very popular among both students and staff, both as a session member and as a teacher. However, he became frustrated with the fact that the academy was promoting students and getting them gigs while they refused to promote some of the more talented members of the teaching staff. He left Scratch Academy, and is currently DJing by himself. At the time of interview, he stated that his main goal for the next few years is to become the best DJ in New York, and to return to school, at least for his GED.

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