Brooklyn and green tea. Those are the three words I associate most with Emil Herscher, aka DJ Center, one of NY's finest and most soulful DJs. The man likes to hang around 85-95 bpm, dropping tracks that bubble up with low end and thumping kicks, tight snares and dreamy keys. He'll mix in a hip-hop track, might cut into a house song. Mostly he's known for slow hips and sweet ears, a refined taste that swerves between a Jazzanova remix of Fat Freddy's Drop, a Q-Tip banger, and his own "Sangare" take Vieux Farka Toure, without missing a beat.
Eventually that perpetual question arose: When do I release my own album? There's something undeniably gratifying about watching a dance floor move to a song you built from the ground up, a thirst that remixes cannot quite quench. Center started toying with the idea three years ago. Dozens of months of hard work later, the mission is completed with Everything in Time.
"That's really the biggest compliment you can say of anyone," Center tells me, when I first assess the album. "It sounds odd that it's hard to sound like yourself, but it's actually the hardest thing to do."
Center should know. The Romanian native has traveled internationally, tied tightly into the Giant Step crew in New York City. While using a larger vehicle is a gratifying road to drive down, the incessant buzzing of how to create and market an album can confuse producers, especially those pigeonholed in the hip-hop genre. Center has always tried to avoid that affiliation--he may drop tracks from the genre, but he is in no way confined by it. "My background is in the soul/hip-hop world," he says, "There's not too many folks that really catch my ear lyrically, and unfortunately I don't find myself listening to too many emcees these days."
That didn't stop him from linking with Oddisee, a DC-based Sudanese/American emcee, on "Leave the City Outside." Center calls him a "really refreshing voice," heavy on the creative tip. That's an understatement, given his recent Traveling Man, an album created to suit the vibe and temperament of each city he was visiting--Khartoum, Melbourne, Brixton, Sao Paulo, NYC and beyond.
Jazz is a big influence on Center's work; his previous two-disc mixtape, Feel What I'm Feelin', featured one full record devoted to cuts by Yusef Lateef, Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders and other gems. Maurice Brown's trumpet kicks off his collaboration with Oddisee, soon followed by a thumping kick and smooth bass line. The socially-oriented lyrics, as Center expressed, are spot on.
From the upbeat to the chill. The Dilla influence drips from every lush moment of the following track, "A Few Good Words," featuring Bay Area singer Njimole. "That was very much a blind date situation," Center says, pointing to mutual friends in California. "It's a total vibe record. So much of that was captured in the recording. By accident we left the window open a crack. We cut it in the spring, and a friend said you could feel the weather on the record." May breezes and early morning sunshine. Bass up front, keys and acoustic guitar pushed back, Njimole's siren voice in the pocket, it's a song that could break Center through.
Of course, so could "In A Song," featuring Ohio soul singer Middle Child. The album's most upbeat and punchy track, it is certainly the record's most inspired song. Having originally composed the beat as a remix for her, that fell through and this dance floor groover ended up replacing it. Speaking of which, "Center's Groove," the last of ten tracks, is the epitome of a soaring midtempo clubber, again featuring Brown's sweet horns.
At 35 minutes long, Everything in Time is about shaving the excess and getting directly to the point. "I ended up cutting a lot of it," he says. "As a DJ you come at it in terms of linking things so they make sense thematically. That's not to say the record is a DJ mix by any means. But I wanted it to flow in a certain way, and these are the ten tracks that really flowed in the way that I envisioned."
Self-released and self-hustled, DJ Center is in thick of the new culture of producers that barter beats and trade ideas, pimp their records out of backpacks and on tastemaker websites, wrap people's minds into their vibe and inspire others to follow suit. He's in no way disillusioned by the struggle--"If you're doing this purely for finance, this is probably not the time to get into music"--but he's also cognizant of the essential truth of music: "The art is the foundation, and everything has to be built from that."
DJ Center has created a masterful and beautiful album, influenced by a world of rhythms and melodies. Now he's on to the second phase. If the success of the first is any indication, his name will be one you're hearing from often. "When I was in the studio picking up the final copies," he says with a smile, "my mastering guy said, 'Ok, that was the easy part. Now it's the part they call work.'"