Kansas homeboy Joc Max has been on the scene long enough to wear a general’s uniform, but he still gets down in the trenches making music of his own

To the Max 

Kansas homeboy Joc Max has been on the scene long enough to wear a general’s uniform, but he still gets down in the trenches making music of his own

Thomas McIntosh's mother wouldn't let him have a bicycle. It was Kansas City, Kansas, in the 1970s, and she'd heard about some bad things that had happened to a couple of kids who'd gone out bike riding. She gave her son music instead. Mrs. McIntosh may have deprived the country of a Tour de France winner, but in forbidding young Thomas his bike, she gave birth to one of the best DJs Kansas City has ever known.

You probably don't know Thomas McIntosh. Instead, you know Joc Max. And if you don't know Joc Max, you should.

The 33-year-old McIntosh has a wife of 11 years, a 7-year-old daughter, a job as a case manager at a middle school — and a long history of badass beatmaking. He was just 9 when he first took music into his own hands, spinning Stevie Wonder, James Brown and classic rock when his relatives wanted to get down at family functions.

By 14, he had cut a song. It was called "Bust a Move" (and it busted a move on Young MC, who put out a hit single by the same name more than 10 years later). The song appeared on a compilation album of KC artists called KC Missouri Cityboys; McIntosh produced the track, and the Twin City Trio, ACA and Vell Bacardi did the rhymes.

McIntosh fell in love with hip-hop because he already loved soul, jazz, funk and rock, all genres that hip-hop radically combined into a new urban sound. McIntosh studied and deconstructed the music and taught himself how to make it.

"To me, the whole hip-hop thing came from extending the break," he explains. "That's what hip-hop DJs did. They'd take a break of an old soul record and get two copies and extend it. Basically, my making beats came from making tape loops — tape one part for five minutes and go over on the other tape, put another little piece on it for five minutes and just build this composition on tapes."

He "junkyarded" his equipment together from family discards but eventually saved enough money for a pair of Technics 1200s. Around this time, he took the name Joc Max, abbreviating the notion of, he says, "a disc jockey giving his maximum effort to the people."

National attention came in 1995, when he did a remix for the platinum-earning group Das EFX. Elektra released the single (which is now on McIntosh's MySpace page, www.myspace.com/jocmax). McIntosh had also become a producer for the Basement Khemists, with Taha (aka Brother Neves) and Jay Lee. The Khemists are legendary in underground hip-hop circles, but their records are hard to find, probably because even though they produced a record for Elektra, the label never released it. That didn't keep their music from getting out, though.

McIntosh remembers when their records started getting airplay in New York, birthplace of the traditional, true-school hip-hop to which the Khemists adhered.

"Pete Rock played one of our records ['Correct Techniques'] on Hot 97 on a show he had called Future Flavors of the '90s, and I feel like that was a shining moment for us as a group because we knew that we had finally won over," he says.

McIntosh built another bridge to New York through his friendship with Brooklyn's DJ Spinna, who had his own group, the Jigmasters, and made beats for '90s indie heroes like Talib Kweli and Mos Def. Spinna was dating a Kansas City girl, and one day he went into 7th Heaven, where McIntosh worked, though McIntosh was off that day.

"A co-worker of mine told him, 'Come back and meet Thomas,' so he came back and met me, and we kicked names of records that we enjoyed, artists that we enjoyed. One thing led to another, and he came to my mother's house, where I was staying at the time, and boom, there it was — love at first sound."

Over the next decade, McIntosh and Spinna would remain friends and collaborators, and McIntosh would continue to make music of his own — which, for the most part, rarely made it out to the public.

"I'm very, very self-conscious and very protective of my art," McIntosh says. His music is personal. "I developed my sound from just applying how I view life and putting it into my music." The drums beat out the hard times, he says, and the melodies key the good things in his life.

Though he's been a reluctant record releaser, he may soon produce albums featuring original music with live musicians. That's how he prefers to work nowadays.

"I wouldn't want to put out a 12-song CD with just beats and turntable business on it. I'd want it to be a musical odyssey — bass players, lead guitar players, trumpets, saxophones, vocalists," he says. "That takes time. That takes money. So I'm just kind of building relationships with people who would be able to provide those sort of services to me and me to them." In addition to local musicians (he has recorded with Malachy Papers and TJ Dovebelly in the recent past), McIntosh is working with a jazz-funk trio out of Chicago.

McIntosh is a Kansan at heart. Last Saturday night at the Record Bar found him and fellow scene veteran Josh Powers presiding over a masterful set. Inexplicably, few people were there, but those of us who were couldn't help from dancing — which is unusual in KC, where it takes a big crowd and lots of drinks to make we Midwesterners get down.

Not when Joc Max is in control.

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