Scratchmaster Joe is a dick. He's got a short temper, tells off-color jokes, and can be pretty intolerant of things he doesn't understand (like laptop DJing). Musically, he's an egotistical showman, a championship-level turntablist who shows off the results of years planted in front of a pair of decks. He favors ghettotech, a genre so excessive in its offensiveness—popular track titles include "Ass-N-Titties," "Gimme Head," and "Pushin' Dik"—that it provokes smiles instead of protests. Known as much for his brash personality as his musical output, the alter ego of Joe Martinez has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years, even Martinez himself. Now, Martinez has created a kinder, gentler persona—Nicemaster Nice—and after taking some time off for community service, he's ready to bring his new name out to the club.
Scratchmaster Joe is perhaps best known as one half of Famous Players, the DJ duo he formed with Seattle-to–New York transplant Samuel Kirkland. The two bonded over a mutual appreciation for electro and ghettotech, and in 2003 they released their first mix CD, the provocatively titled Taliban Sam and Jihad Joe Are Dropping Bombs on Islam. Checking the shelf life on those names, they began calling themselves "The Infamous DJ Team Known as Famous Players," later shortened to Famous Players. In 2005, they started a label under the same name, releasing Scratchmaster Joe and freakdat! Are Famous Players, which added vocals, beat juggling, and an extra turntable (upping the count to four) to their initial setup. The mix CD was 18 months in the making, prolonged by Kirkland's move and the difficulty the vinyl purists had in attaining a single "perfect" take.
Following the CD's release, Martinez focused his attention on solo endeavors, such as organizing the well-received Battle of the Mega-Mixes, a vinyl-centric DJ mixing competition. But he found himself feeling increasingly frustrated and alienated in Seattle's music scene, loudly kicking people out of his shared house during roommate-initiated afterparties, or ranting wildly online about the shift toward digital DJing.
"I didn't and still don't like that so much of the music scene I'm into is about partying, staying up all night drinking," says Martinez. "I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to give back. I grew up in foster care for most of my teenage years, and there were people that looked out for me, and I wanted to do the same for other people."
Thus Nicemaster Nice was born. Martinez took a year off from performing live, turning his energy toward bettering both his community and himself.
"[Scratchmaster Joe] came about because I wanted to have a name that I was forced to live up to," says Martinez. "I couldn't go into a club with that name and not scratch. Nicemaster Nice came from the same place."
To live up to his new name, in 2007, Martinez took on the graffiti problem at his family's Georgetown shop by turning its wall into a community art project. He coordinated 14 local graffiti artists to paint a mural on the 160-foot-long surface, attracting national attention and, recently, an audience of docents from the Smithsonian. He's already planning another wall on Capitol Hill highlighting Nko, one of the artists featured on the Georgetown wall.
With some prodding from his sister, Martinez also started an electronic-music production class at the Meadowbrook Teen Center in Lake City, keeping kids occupied with instruction on drum machine and synth programming, recording, and song structure. He successfully solicited donations of money, equipment, and expertise from the Seattle music community to help the Center build a fully functioning studio where kids can go from baby steps to producing their own material.
Now, Scratchmaster Joe is bringing his friendlier persona to the music world with his latest release, Scratchmaster Joe Is Nicemaster Nice. Originally, the megamix CD—again recorded using only vinyl—was to be a bit of a sendoff to DJing.
"I was moving more into production, I wanted to have another name that wasn't so DJ specific," says Martinez. But recording the mix reinvigorated his love for being behind the decks and cemented his overall change in perspective. "After that separation, I grew to see the things that I liked in the community instead of the things I didn't like," says Martinez. "In making the disc, I learned to love DJing again."
But Joe the dick hasn't completely succumbed to the Nice. Martinez sees his dual personas as complementary, rather than conflicting, halves.
"It's kind of a yin/yang thing," says Martinez. "Scratchmaster Joe is an overbearing, egotistical asshole. Nicemaster Nice is this community-oriented, family-friendly, engaging, patient individual—everything Scratchmaster Joe isn't. They need each other to exist, because neither of them is a whole person."