Growing up in a family of artists, Gregory Keltgen (aka DJ Abilities) had early ambitions of working in the visual medium, but it wasn't until he discovered Hip-Hop that he’d found an art form that he truly identified with, and he immersed himself in all aspects of the culture. However, after trying his hand at B-Boying, MCing, and even drawing graffiti-inspired comics, Abilities ultimately gravitated toward the turntables, becoming a DJ at age 17. He soon found himself deeply embedded in the Hip-Hop scenes of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, linking up with friends and future-collaborators who would become the foundation of Rhymesayers Entertainment, and it wasn’t long before he established a name for himself.
After only two short years of intense practice on the turntables, DJ Abilities went on to compete in the legendary DMC DJ competitions in 1999. He won the regional title and advanced to the U.S. finals that year, before doing it again in 2001. Soon after, Abilities was also garnering attention for performing all the scratches on El-P’s classic debut, Fantastic Damage, as well as contributing his turntable talents and production skills to other cult favorites like The Anti-Album by Semi.Official, and The Taste of Rain… Why Kneel? by Deep Puddle Dynamics, among others. But above all, his name would become most celebrated throughout the 2000s as one-half of the dynamic Hip-Hop duo Eyedea & Abilities.
DJ Abilities had first met Micheal “Eyedea” Larsen in the mid-'90s, and the two soon began a working relationship that would eventually play a prominent role in the burgeoning Indie-Rap movement of the time. Together, the pair developed a near symbiotic creative union that produced three albums—First Born; E&A; and By The Throat—a catalog animated by the burning fusion of Eyedea’s introspective and technically adept rhymes with Abilities’ precise scratches and versatile production. Tragically, his partner Eyedea passed away in 2010 leaving Abilities to soldier on by himself, but the influence of their partnership continues to shape DJ Abilities’ music to this day.
His latest project, Phonograph Phoenix, finds the DJ/Producer returning to the forefront and embracing an entirely new approach to making music. A departure from previous work that was primarily sample-based, Phonograph Phoenix finds Abilities opting to build the album’s compositions from the ground up, creating his own sound through Ableton Live and enveloping synths, with razor sharp cuts and select vocal chops providing a voice where his fallen partner may have once stood.
Abilities’ new production techniques breathe an awakening essence into Phonograph Phoenix, whether that’s in the deep, cavernous bass and funky drum loops of “Worldwide”, the gorgeous atmospheric synths he conjures on “Waves”, or the sinister head-nodding groove of “The Badman” with its vulnerable-but-not-self-pitying vocal samples. Throughout its creation, Abilities sought to remain as truthful as possible, ensuring that each song held qualifying meaning and that the album on a whole made a definitive statement. The process inspired Abilities to dig deep and pull up some heavy, heartfelt beats and, speaking with his hands as all great turntablists do, he used this space to address grief, loss, and his own personal shortcomings, all while making room for hope and optimism.