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The Life

January 23, 2003
Scratching an itch
ESPN The Magazine

Bryant McKinnie knows his strengths. "I rap pretty good," the 343-pound offensive lineman boasts. "I've got a real smooth flow."

Bryant McKinnie
McKinnie uses his hands to block defenders, and scratch records.

Today, though, the Vikings rookie has dropped in to the Scratch DJ Academy in New York City to try his hands at the other side of hip-hop. "I've never touched turntables before," he confesses. "I don't know if I can do this."

Rocking the decks may be outside McKinnie's comfort zone, but musically he's right at home. He's pals with rappers like Luke and Trick Daddy and writes his own rhymes. He'll even be rapping a verse on Jackie-O's debut, due in the spring. In fact, the tackle is already thinking about a future in the biz, maybe starting a label someday. But he's a busy man. So today he's stuffing the normally six-hour scratch class into a one-hour boot camp.

At the Academy (co-founded last year by the late Jam Master Jay of Run DMC) his teacher is DJ I.Emerge, the 2002 International Turntable Federation scratch champ. He gives McKinnie a quick demo before they begin. Putting on two copies of Aaliyah's "We Need a Resolution," he flits between the two turntables, furiously whipping his hands across the vinyl. The small studio fills with a fierce beat. "Ready?" I.Emerge asks McKinnie, who laughs in awe.

The lesson starts with a "baby scratch," a simple back-and-forth, accompanied by a beat. McKinnie nervously lays a hefty paw on the record and squeaks out a slow wicka wicka. He looks up, wincing: "How come it doesn't sound like yours?" His second try is better, if still painful. "This is harder than it looks," he says.

I.Emerge cues up a faster, funkier blitz of drums. After 15 minutes, McKinnie starts to get the hang of the improvised style, picking up the pace and scratching in time. And by hour's end, I.Emerge is nodding his approval. McKinnie beams. "I show up to play," he roars.

Still, don't expect McKinnie to DJ your next party. "Rapping is easier," he explains. "You can write stuff down."

This article appears in the February 3 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

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