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DJ Times

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way for Leor DiMant. I mean, it was, of course, in some ways, meant to be this way—world tours, sold-out arenas, girls eager to make his acquaintance, fluted glasses of champagne, exercise bike and a masseuse in the dressing room, filet mignon, top-shelf, top rung, top dog. Just file under “allgood.” But not in this manner—no, it was not supposed to happen in quite this manner for Leor DiMant.

You know Leor DiMant—hell, you probably wouldn’t mind being Leor DiMant. Better known as DJ Lethal, he’s the guy who jumped around behind the turntables for corned-beef-and-red-knuckle rap act House of Pain. Behind Everlast’s 100-proof bluster, it was Lethal’s swooning horns, swinging beatnik bass and wail of fence-post blues that staked the group’s sound somewhere between DJ Muggs—the Cypress Hill alum who produced much of House of Pain’s first two records—and DJ Premier. And nearly 10 years after its release, “Jump Around” still jump-starts the party, continually spilling from Jeeps, frat houses, hip-hop clubs and the occasional smoky Irish gin-joint jukebox.

Although they found “Jump Around” impossible to top, House of Pain stuck around in the rap game for five years. It was long enough to cement a legacy—a legacy that extends beyond their upper-bracket I.R.S tax returns and Everlast’s recent rise up the pop chart with Whitey Ford Sings The Blues. For instance, occupying the undercard on several House of Pain tours throughout the ’90s were Rage Against the Machine and Korn. With varying degrees of success, both bands absorbed rap into their own fiery sonic assaults. Furthermore, Lethal produced a record in 1995 that hybridized less weightier rock and hip hop. Lemonade and Brownies was the record; the band called itself Sugar Ray. And now—now there’s this.

“This” is Limp Bizkit, the 1999 model of subversive rap-n-roll, a redneck metal band from Jacksonville, Fla., with a skate-punk sneer—a reform-school version of the Backstreet Boys. This is the Bizkit that was accused of inciting the infamous “consumer rebellion” at Woodstock, the same Bizkit whose concerts inspire young girls to flip the bird and bare nipple at the request of frontman Fred Durst.

Like Rage and Korn before them, Limp Bizkit were on a bill with House of Pain, too—during the rap trio’s last gasp in 1996. With the intent of adding hardcore hip-hop street cred to his band, Durst slipped some demos to DJ Lethal. Months later, after the Bizkit recorded an EP at Lethal’s L.A. home studio, Durst asked him to join the fold. Lethal remembered seeing their live version of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up.” It was cheesy, he thought, and it might compromise his hardcore rep. Despite this, Lethal said yes. He considered it a gamble.

Three years and two records later, Limp Bizkit is neon-lettered on marquees coast-to-coast, its consummation of rap and metal triple-platinum with a bullet, MTV in the back pocket of its baggy-fit jeans. Playing hunches the way he does, Lethal is the kind of guy you want seated next to you at the race track. You thought Fatboy Slim had the magic touch? DJ Lethal is money. And he knows it.

Still, what’s a beat-boxing, graffiti-spraying hip-hop DJ from the streets of Los Angeles doing in a metal band from the swamplands of north Florida? Is this the same 27-year-old Latvian-born Leor DiMant? The one who was expelled from his Jersey City grade-school Yeshiva for flinging yarmulkes like Frisbees down the hallway?

No, it wasn’t supposed to happen quite this way for DJ Lethal. He got into the game for the booty, not the nookie. But he isn’t one to argue. Meanwhile, he has helped inaugurate a seismic shift in the role of the DJ in rock-n-roll, from an incidental position to one at center stage, the eye of the sonic storm. To millions of Limp Bizkit’s young fans, the turntable is an instrument in its own right.

DJ Times hooked up with DJ Lethal in the bowels of Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum hours before the New York leg of The Family Values Tour, which Limp Bizkit is headlining, supported by Staind, Mobb Deep, Run-DMC, Filter and Crystal Method.

It was 5:00 on a Saturday and Lethal, sporting three-day old facial scruff, his trademark blue Pumas, black button-down shirt and slacks, a thick rope of gold around his wrist and a dark blue Yankee baseball cap with the white interlocking NY, had just awakened from his slumber. The interview was scheduled to start one hour ago. “Sorry, dude,” he said groggily as he rubbed his eyes. “I was working late last night.”

Good work if you can get it.

DJ Times: How does a kid born in Latvia find himself in two of the biggest bands in the ’90s?

Lethal: It was my parents. They moved from Latvia so their son would have a better life. But it was my dad who got me interested in music.

DJ Times: Your pops was a musician?

Lethal: I had a rock rebel dad. In Russia you couldn’t even have an electric guitar and play loud music. He and all his buddies were making their own guitars and amplifiers and they would listen to the BBC radio station and play the American stuff in Russia—the KGB used to go after them and all this crazy stuff. In fact, in the December 1989 issue of Guitar Player magazine, he’s got like nine pages in there with pictures of all his old bands. They were doing their own songs, but also playing The Who and Stevie Wonder, because nobody had ever heard it before.

DJ Times: But they had to get out of Latvia.

Lethal: Yeah, it was like mandatory to go in the army over there when you’re 16, so they hopped on a train and went to Italy for a year, because you weren’t allowed to leave. I still haven’t found out the details of what we did, but we stayed in Italy for a year until we got a visa, and we were allowed to go to Toronto, Los Angeles or New York. My parents chose New York, where my dad started playing the Russian club scene, the old Russian gangster restaurants of Brighton Beach.

DJ Times: You were a kid who didn’t speak any English, right?

Lethal: Yeah, I was seven when we moved to New York. We lived on Montgomery Street in Jersey City, and then we moved to L.A. in 1987, when a new Russian restaurant opened out there and my dad got a job there.

DJ Times: Was L.A. your first introduction to hip hop?

Lethal: Actually, my first introduction to hip hop was in Jersey City. There was a talent show at school and these kids went up there and started popping, and I didn’t know what the hell it was, and they were playing some electronic, Afrika Bambaataa Soulsonic Force-sounding shit and I was like, tripping, “Holy shit, look at that!” And then when I moved out to L.A., I went to Bancroft Junior High and Fairfax High in Hollywood, I got into breaking a lot, and Chaka Khan came out with Melle Mel [“I Feel For You”], Herbie Hancock “Rockit,” “Tour de France” by Kraftwerk, and I was tripping. I was hooked. Soon as I heard “Tour de France,” I was on my little stereo at home going like, “Mom, check this out!” She was like, “What the hell is that?” But after that, it was the whole L.A. Hollywood hip-hop culture for me—breaking, graffiti. That was for me.

DJ Times: Was DJing part of that graffiti culture for you?

Lethal: First, what I really started doing, and what I was good at, was beat boxing. That’s all I would do is beat box. I would go around with these two kids, and they were like these super kids—older, brothers, one was a rapper and one was a beat boxer—and they would go around in Westwood to these crazy parties, thousands of people walking around. And these guys would go around battling crews, and I was their bait. They would put me out first to do my thing, and then they would come out and just slaughter them.

DJ Times: Where did DJing come in?

Lethal: All my friends had turntables. One was this graffiti guy named Mek and this other guy, was Sir, from West Coast Artists. And they had turntables back in the day, and after graffiti we’d go to their house and just DJ for fun. It was like, “Oh, you’ve got turntables and a mixer. Wow!” And we’d battle each other in the house and just hang out. And then I got my own turntables—actually, I stole one of my dad’s turntables. So I had one Technics old-school 1100 with great pickup speed, like a 1200 before they came out with the 1200. And I had one of those old Gemini belt-drives that you couldn’t even scratch with and a Gemini mixer, too, and I started doing it for fun.

DJ Times: Were you much of a battle jock?

Lethal: Actually, then I got into trying to make tracks. I got a four-track—actually I took my dad’s Lin Drum, he had all the gear, but I was such a bad kid he wouldn’t let me touch his stuff. I would take his records, and they would be all over the place, out of their covers, scratched up, whatever. He’d always get mad at me. That’s when I started taking it a little seriously, but I was still taking it as a hobby, for fun. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. I started messing around with samples, taking some of my dad’s old records. Then a couple of years went by, I was still beat boxing, and I met this girl, she was a rapper, and we became friends. Six months later, she calls me up and she tells me, “Hey, my boyfriend, this guy called Everlast, is going on tour with Ice T and Rhyme Syndicate, and he wants to hear you beatbox.” So I said, cool.

DJ Times: Tell me about your first meeting with Everlast?

Lethal: I put on one of my dad’s suits and I go to meet Everlast, and I was trying to be cool. And Everlast was just cool as hell. We wound up hanging out and I beat boxed for him, and we became friends. We were kind of on the same page. So, mostly, I caught a break because I beat boxed, not because I DJed.

DJ Times: At that time, Everlast was touring with the Rhyme Syndicate, right?

Lethal: Yeah, he was just Everlast, it was a solo gig. He was in the Rhyme Syndicate with Ice-T, Donald D. He was rapping with those guys.

DJ Times: And playing guitar?

Lethal: He always played a little bit of acoustic guitar and stuff, but that came more later. He already had a record done, he was like 75-percent done with his record when I met him, but he needed somebody to go on tour with him, that’s what it was. So basically, I left school and went on tour with Ice-T and Rhyme Syndicate to Europe. I was 16. So I was tripping. I’m on a tour bus with Ice T, Donald D, Evil-E, Matt the Cat, and I’m this 16-year-old white kid, going, “Whoa, look at Ice-T! Will you take a picture with me next to the tour bus?” That was a big eye-opener, DJing on tour with Everlast.

DJ Times: So you were drafted based on your beat-boxing ability, but you had to DJ for the tour.

Lethal: Right, which meant that I had to get better at it—quick. I was there with Evil E and he’s doing these transforms, and I’m on, like, basic chirp scratches. So I had to get better at it.

DJ Times: How much did you practice your scratches?

Lethal: I was more interested in doing different things than the traditional things. So I just went home and started messing with different records. Everyone was using Simon Harris scratch records, Simon Harris break beats, and they were all using the Ultimate Breaks collections, using all the stabs off those. I was going more for weird sound effects records, my dad’s stuff, just weird things. I’m still not the sickest scratch battle guy there is; that’s not what I want to do. What caught me more was production. Production stole me away from DJing. DJing was cool, but you really couldn’t make any money at it. So I went, “Whoa, I can actually make the stuff that DJs are playing; instead of playing other people’s stuff—I can play my own stuff.” That really caught me, creating a song and putting together 20 different records from different parts of the world from different eras to make one new thing. To me, it was like, forget DJing. I mean, it was still there for me, but I kind of made that a hobby and production a job. DJing is a hard thing to do. It’s sick, there are still things that I don’t even want to try to do because people are already so good at it. I look at kids like A-Track. That stuff is already there.

DJ Times: Let’s get back to how you and Everlast started up House of Pain.

Lethal: We came back from the European tour, and then Everlast’s record kind of fell off—people didn’t really accept the idea of a white man in rap yet. He was young, like 18, and I was 16. The label had some influence on him, and they were like, “Hey, wear this and wear that.” So he wore a suit in one video that killed his whole thing. It was like, “Oh, look at this pretty boy trying to rap.” When, really, he was hardcore as a motherfucker. But for that one thing, he wore a suit.

DJ Times: It was after Everlast’s failure that House of Pain began?

Lethal: Yeah, so me and him became best friends, worked together, and were like, “Hey man, let’s start a group.” And Eric [Everlast] had this friend Danny Boy, who he was friends with for a long time from high school. Danny had a lot of ideas; he was a real creative guy. Before I met him, he had his own apartment, he was printing T-shirts and going up to the colleges, and selling them and making all kinds of mad dough. It was like this guy had some shit going on. So he’s the one that came up with the name, House of Pain, and we started jamming and we met DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill. I still wasn’t serious about making tracks, making beats, so I didn’t have any beats. So we did some demos with Muggs, came up with a couple of killer songs, and got a record deal and then when we got the record deal. I was like, “Dude, I better take my ass into the studio.”

DJ Times: So you found yourself in House of Pain, with a record deal, and no beats?

Lethal: Oh, man, I finally convinced my dad to lock me in the garage, with a [Roland] W30 keyboard, turntables, couple of other things, and sat in there for three or four months and came up with tracks that went on the first album.

DJ Times: What was the first song you ever came up with?

Lethal: The first song I ever came up with was “The House of Pain Anthem,” which was on the B-side of “Jump Around.” I just remember asking my dad if the horns were in key, because I had no clue just going by ear. He helped me tune them a little. I think to this day they’re a little out of tune, but that’s what makes it what it is. That’s what makes hip hop special. You can sample something at 45 and put it in the middle somewhere and some tuning makes it microtonal. You could never achieve that if you just played something live.

DJ Times: House of Pain’s first record blew up, so you’re no stranger to this type of success.

Lethal: It was amazing. It was a great learning experience. I traveled the world and got the chance to learn a lot of stuff real young. I learned to not take anything for granted. You start appreciating the smaller things after they’re gone. When everything’s taken away, it’s like, “Holy shit!” Still today, in any club you’re still going to hear “Jump Around,” but I’ve got a million “Jump Arounds” in me.

DJ Times: When did it all get weird?

Lethal: By the third album, things started getting weird internally. Danny Boy started bugging out a little bit, Everlast brought in a couple of new guys for some fun, and they wound up being on quite a few tracks. I don’t know, it just started feeling a little different. It was more like it was becoming a hassle and it wasn’t fun anymore.

DJ Times: And two-thirds of House of Pain has gone on to subsequent success…

Lethal: Here we are: Everlast is triple platinum, Bizkit is triple platinum, and Danny Boy is trying to put together his own thing. He’s got a band thing going on and he does a lot of graphics art stuff. I was the music, Everlast was the words, and it worked out really good.

DJ Times: Was Everlast a freestyler?

Lethal: We’d just be at my house, smoking up and he’d drop some vocals over a track that I made. That guy’s a fucking genius, dude. That guy never wrote one lyric down on a piece of paper. I’ve never seen him touch a piece of paper with a pen when he’s writing lyrics—and half the stuff was on the fly. He’s just great.

DJ Times: Will House Of Pain ever jump around again?

Lethal: There are definitely talks. It’s definitely brewing that there’ll probably be a House of Pain reunion album. It’ll probably be the best of all the old stuff remixed, and come out with 10 or 15 new songs.

DJ Times: How was your life in the wake of House of Pain?

Lethal: A lot of hard times, really. I had to say, “Take everything away and I’m gonna get it all back.” If House of Pain was all I was good for, then I might as well go to real estate school. There was a lot of self-exploration, a lot of time with myself, my parents, people I was close with. In House of Pain, I blinked and five years went by. It was like, “OK, what am I going to do now? Am I going to going to produce every rapper I can find? Am I just going to DJ clubs? Or am I going to go out and try to find some bands?”

DJ Times: Where did Limp Bizkit come in?

Lethal: On our last tour in 1996, we wound up doing a couple of last shows, and we did them in Florida – and Limp Bizkit opened up for us.

DJ Times: Did they have a DJ at the time?

Lethal: They had no DJ, but a keyboard player—actually it was Wes’ brother. And we all became friends. And it was like, dude, these guys have something going on. There was something new about these guys and I got a demo of some of their songs and I thought it was pretty phat. At first, I was like, “Whoa, [laughs] these fucking guys suck—they were doing Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up.” I was like, maybe they could change a couple things, but I figured it was cool that they had the balls to do that. I wanted to sign them, and we ended up hooking up and going to New York to do some demos—we did “Stuck,” “Counterfeit” and I think “Pollution”—and sent it out and everybody jumped on it.

DJ Times: And that’s when Flip Records jumped on it?

Lethal: Yeah, they signed a deal with Flip Records and they were going to come out to L.A. to do an EP with me. They rented a van and a U-Haul and started trekking from Florida to L.A. So the day they’re supposed to get there, I’m cleaning my studio, hooking shit up, times going by, hour after hour, and I’m like “Where are these guys?” So I start calling around, and I call somebody in Jacksonville and they say, “You didn’t hear what happened?” And I said, “What are you talking about?” “Oh, man, they flipped the van on the freeway and they’re all in the hospital.” The guy driving the van fell asleep driving and flipped it off the side of the freeway and the whole band almost died. So they end up coming down to my studio two days later and they’re all scratched and cut, bruised, with casts.

DJ Times: They almost died for rock-n-roll.

Lethal: They walk into the studio and say, “By the way, here’s the new guitar player.” Wes either got fired or left the band, and some other guys had come in to fill in, and it was a weird vibe. I had like 13 guys sleeping on my living room floor, crashed out. And somehow, soon after, they left the Flip Records deal and signed with Mojo Records, so [as a producer] I had to deal with Mojo Records. I was in the studio and I made a list of things I needed—certain microphones—and I send it in to the label and I don’t get anything, not one microphone, nothing that I asked for. So I sat down with the guys and told them they were getting screwed. I said, “Here you had this deal with Flip Records that gave you way more points, way more money, way more backing—they’re gung-ho for you. And here you’ve got Mojo Records, which is just trying to get a piece of your action and not give you shit. They’re giving you a regular record deal with a small royalty rate. You guys are getting screwed. My suggestion is you guys call [Flip Records A&R] Jordan Schur right now and work it out with him.”

DJ Times: So you gave Limp Bizkit some valuable A&R advice.

Lethal: Within an hour Jordan Schur was at my house and they re-talked everything and Jordan bought them back from Mojo Records and that was it. They went back to Florida and we re-grouped to do the album with Ross Roberston at the Indigo Ranch.

DJ Times: At the time you recorded the first album, did you want to be part of the band?

Lethal: Even then still, I was like, “Hmmm, do I want to just DJ, go back on the road and start from ground zero and be on a bus with 15 guys?” I said, “I might as well take a chance. What the hell? Either I’m going to make it or I’m not.” Luckily. And people say Limp Bizkit blew up out of nowhere, but there were three years where we toured relentlessly—15 guys on a bus, dirty, unshowered, Warped Tour, all these tours. It’s a good feeling to see it work like this.

DJ Times: At what point did you feel Limp Bizkit was really taking off?

Lethal: I would say when “Faith” came out. It was the last single on the album and we were just about to go record the second album. When that happened, I really thought shit was starting to kick in. And we planned it like that, but we had already caught people with our live show. We already had 500,000 kids coming to our shows across the country checking us out before anything had happened. That’s where we really got our foundation—live shows.

DJ Times: In the beginning of Limp Bizkit, what was viewed as your input to the band’s sound?

Lethal: There really wasn’t anything, just let me do my thing. I knew that if I was going to do this, I just didn’t want to be like a traditional DJ doing fresh sounds in the rock thing. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it to be one of the first to do something like this—a DJ in a rock band doing rock guitars and crazy distorted sounds, distorted scratching, Marshalls, and pedals. I want- ed to incorporate the [Rage Against the Machine guitarist] Tom Moreno thing to the turntable. But, unlike him, I had an infinite amount of sounds available that I could use, while the guitar player is limited to what his pedals can do to change his sound. I can play an accordion, or a Rhodes, or a ‘57 Les Paul, or something off some rock record. It’s infinite. So I can work that with the effects and the Marshall just to make it its own thing. There are a couple of other rock bands that have DJs and they’re just like, [mimics a chirp scratch] “Hey, what’s going on? Let me spin around a couple of times and show off that I can spin two records.” So I definitely knew I didn’t want to be just another DJ in a rock band. I wanted to be another instrument—a part of the band, like another guitar player.

DJ Times: So you’re approaching Limp Bizkit as a guitarist.

Lethal: Yeah, but I have a lot of things that I’m doing myself. A lot of effects-type stuff that’s out now are just not practical. It’s very typical-sounding stuff—standard effects. There’s always something that’s not right about it. It’s more like someone has just put a guitar effects thing in something else and says it’s for DJs. I have ideas that will apply more to DJs and scratching than just effecting sounds or putting a phaser or distortion on it.

DJ Times: In the studio, what’s your preferred sampler?

Lethal: Right now, the [Akai] MPC2000XL, [E-MU] SP-1200 and E-MU E4XT. The MPC is just so convenient. It’s got a good amount of sample time, SCSI, and the new ones have time-stretch. Good controller, it’s small. I’m used to it. I started with a 3000, but it doesn’t have as much memory as the 2000. I’ve got a ProTools rig, 24 Mix Plus, run Logic audio. And Recycle I use a lot, especially with the E-MU E4XT, just SCSI sample dump right into it and spreads your beat right over the keyboard mapped perfectly already. I’m the biggest Internet/software/shareware junkie there is.

DJ Times: Any luck downloading any MP3 stuff?

Lethal: Oh, yeah, just search every day. I go to, like, some Japanese site and search for samples. Anything that you can think of you can pull out of your computer and have it right in your house. I have a DSL modem and it just sucks stuff out. When I’m on the road I use a Program called PC Anywhere, and I’ll dial in my computer at home and my screen pops up and I start downloading stuff. When I get home my hard drive is just full of brand new beats and samples. It’s killer. The Internet is the musician’s best friend. For me, it’s a box that I can pull anything out of – and not have to go to a record store and not have to go to some field and put a microphone and sample me banging a telephone pole.

DJ Times: So you type in what type of sound you want, and the search engine takes you there…

Lethal: I type in Ludwig snare, search the world for it, kick drum, hip-hop drum loops. There’s a bunch of crap that’ll pop up, but there are a lot of set places for sounds. People are trading sample CDs on the Internet with MP3 files. There are sites on the Internet—like if you go to the Guitar Center and you can just write down what sample CDs you want and you can go home and you can find those CDs.

DJ Times: So will the Internet replace records as a source of samples?

Lethal: Well, I’ve got 60,000 LPs and 30,000 45s. So I dig. One day I’ll just sit on the Internet and get a bunch of samples, then go to my records and get a bunch of samples—you can even sample off a DSS dish. They have, like, the New Age Channel. I look at everything as: How can I put it in my sampler and make it my own and put it through effects and change it to get new sounds?

DJ Times: What are some of the sources you find cool?

Lethal: Everything now is geared toward the hip-hop minor sound. Today it all sounds like Russian polkas. So anything different is what makes it. Most American music is standard 1-4-3, 1-4-3. But international records have a bit more flavor, more like a Portishead-type of vibe.

DJ Times: And you’ve also done some A&R for Staind.

Lethal: There’s a few bands, but Staind is the one out right now because we’re bringing them on tour with us, trying to bring them up. Me and Fred produced their demos that got them signed to Flip Records. Basically, I’m always looking for bands. Hook me up, give me a demo. And there’s always something, I produced Sugar Ray’s first record. I did all the DJing on that album, and that’s why they had to get DJ Homicide. At the time, I was in House of Pain, and I was like, “Well, [Sugar Ray] is kind of fruity.” So I didn’t want to risk my hardcore-ness. Don’t get me wrong, if it had worked out, it would have been great—they sell a lot of records. But my mentality was like, “Yo, I’m in House of Pain. Yo!”

DJ Times: So you’ve been mixing rock and hip hop as far back as the first Sugar Ray album.

Lethal: That’s the thing that kicked me into gear, mixing the hip-hop drum loops with live guitar, choruses with the whole band coming in dropping back into SP-1200 loops and DJing things in there and sounds. That gave me my niche.

But as far as putting together rock and rap, I’m organizing an album, talking to a bunch of labels, and it’ll be the new Judgement Night-type of thing, where hip hop meets Trent Reznor meets House of Pain meets Limp Bizkit meets Korn meets 311 meets Sugar Ray. An all-star collaboration. And I’ll do the sonic landscape. That Judgement Night soundtrack really was a good collaboration, Cypress Hill and Pearl Jam, 808s with rock, a groundbreaking record. Remember, the first tour Korn ever did was opening up for House of Pain, and the first tour Rage Against The Machine did was opening for House of Pain. The rock-rap thing is right in DJ Lethal’s back pocket.

DJ Times: You assemble beats tirelessly, I hear.

Lethal: I’m just writing, trying to be like Prince and have 1,000 songs in the vault. I’d rather do one or two things here and there to keep me going, a long continuous career of good stuff rather than one amazing year where 1,000 people hire me to do a remix. Music is all I do. It hurts me to be away from home. When I am home, I wake up and go right into the studio without saying good morning to my girlfriend. It really sucks when in my dreams I make the phattest song ever and you realize you lost it in the morning. I’ve definitely made some super-phat hit songs in my dreams.