Turntables and records were once toys for Thomas McIntosh.
His mama showered him with the gift of music as early as his first steps, and by the age of 12 he was a resident DJ at the old Skateland roller rink in KCK. These days, anybody who knows Kansas City hip-hop knows him as Joc Max. For almost 30 years he’s been a leader, a mentor, a friend, a producer, a party starter to this community.
On Saturday, his peers and fans will come together at the RecordBar to pay homage to one of Kansas City’s most acclaimed hip-hop DJs.
Reach, the rapper behind this “Hip Hop Honors Show,” says for him, Joc’s influence started with a song. In the mid-’90s, in addition to DJ-ing and producing, Joc rapped in a group, the Basement Khemist, alongside Taha and J Lee. They scored a deal with Elektra. Although the record was never officially released, the music made it to radio, in Kansas City and New York alike. And a song called“Everybody (L.I.F.E.)”
has a sound so special that it holds up today.
Everybody on the streets should know
The devil’s after your mind and after your soul
If you let him take it, then you never gonna make it
If you resist with the words of Jah you’ll persist to exist
Reach still feels its impact.
“That song helped me to bridge the gap between my religious upbringing and the hip-hop I had grown up loving,” he says. “That record really inspired me to be who I am as an artist. … That’s such a significant contribution to my life and musical journey.”
Joc produced that song and rapped passionately about God, peace and living fruitfully. Joc had the record deal, a nationally acclaimed remix for 1990s It-Duo Das EFX, producing for De La Soul and a budding friendship and musical partnership with Brooklyn’s legendary DJ Spinna. But through it all Joc remained committed to Kansas City’s scene. At 41, he still spins at parties around the city. For that reason, Reach wanted to honor him. It started with apodcast
and will end in Saturday’s show.
“I felt it necessary to give him flowers while he can smell them,” he says. “I appreciate what he has meant to me. Joc’s still spry and very much a part of Kansas City’s music community. This show frames just how iconic he is.”
There’s no shortage of stories about Joc’s impact. In the earliest stages of his career as a musician, DJ and producer, Miles Bonny says Joc supported his efforts. He even did the intro to “Worldwide,” a song released 10 years ago by SoundsGood (Miles Bonny and Joe Good).
“He has been like an older brother and a mentor to me,” Miles says. “I still learn from him every day we interact. As he said on that intro, ‘You don’t really hear music, you feel it.’ And the room will feel great the night of the tribute.”
Back when no one in the city had yet carved out a distinct hip-hop sound, Joc was in his mother’s basement doing just that, says KC rapper Mac Lethal. He remembers visiting the producer-DJ at his family home off Quindaro.
“He was using an SP-1200 (drum machine) and making this new East Coast, neo-soul, hip-hop music. I think it inspired so many other bigger producers. All of the Basement Khemist stuff was truly ahead of its time. He should be very proud of his hip-hop influence in this community, and the community should pay full respect to him and be proud.”
DJ Ataxic, who will perform at the tribute, met Joc at Jilly’s on Broadway back in the day. They became friends spinning together more than five years ago when “Hip-Hop and Hotwings” was a weekly staple at the Peanut downtown.
“His style is so classic. He has the basics mastered like no other. His scratches are so precise and his mixing is impeccable. His track selection is phenomenal,” Ataxic says. “His sets are so seamless and it flows together so effortlessly. I have never heard someone so put together on the decks. When he would play at the Peanut with us, I would literally study his style. He made me realize that DJ-ing is not about playing the biggest clubs and chasing fame, it is about human connection.”
Joc’s influence, Ataxic says, goes beyond his amazing turntable skills.
“He has mentored me on more than just music, but also on fatherhood and most importantly on my path to follow Jesus. Thomas is my go-to guy when it comes to my personal dilemmas with today’s music and following God’s plan. We have had many discussions on this topic when I have been at a crossroads in my life, and I hold his insight and opinions higher than advice from anyone else. He is an amazing musician, man and friend.”
It’s not just rappers and DJs that are moved by his music. It’s partygoers, breakdancers and artists like Kansas City’s own Scribe who will be painting live at Saturday’s celebration.
“He is more than a humble man who I admire because of his relationship with his family first and the community as a whole,” Scribe says. “If Joc didn’t play and do music, then I think this quality would also shine through whatever he did. The music is the vehicle. People can’t help but know it is authentic because of the inner man.”
Joc is still wrapping his head around all of this love.
“I am dumbfounded and blindsided by the tribute,” says Joc. “It’s pretty humbling. As it inches closer, I am nervous and embarrassed and happy and honored. My mother, she created the atmosphere for me to experiment and take in all of this music. She has always shaped me and pushed and encouraged me even when I didn’t believe in myself.”
He is floored to see so many people he respects and admires come together in his name.
“I love Kansas City and the artists here,” he says. “I feel like I owe Kansas City so much more because they made me. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for this city. They say they are proud of me. I am proud of Kansas City. In Kansas and Missouri.”