"I like noir films the best. I like how they are framed and cut," Adrian Willis informed me after I picked up a copy of Le Deuxieme souffle, a Jean-Pierre Melville movie in the staff-picks section at North Campus Video.
Willis, aka DJ Tru Skills, is a constant curator of culture. And in 1997, his taste and good timing led to a fateful connection for the Columbus hip-hop group MHz.
"I went in to Bobbito's Footwork in New York. I gave the MHz demo to DJ Eli, who was working there," Willis recalled. "At first he kind of fronted. But later that night he ran up on us and was like, 'Yo.'
"Two weeks later we were on the Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito Radio Show in New York," he continued. "Bobbito offered MHz a deal with Fondle Em Records ... MHz just took it from there."
Willis' ear and eye has been honed since 1988, when he started spinning at house parties. He later moved on to clubs like Flyers and Skankland, and after the influential record store Groove Shack closed, he opened Thieves World in 1997. The back of the record shop was used for all-ages hip-hop shows.
These shows gave early exposure to the careers of MHz and the Weightless crew, as well as letting Columbus see burgeoning national acts like DJ Hi-Tek, Doseone, Aesop Rock and the Boogiemonsters.
Thieves World went out of business in 2000; since then, Willis' role in selling records has centered on record shows. He's set up booths at fests and conventions all over the country, selling rare and out-of-print funk, disco, soul and jazz slabs.
But deejaying in the literal sense of putting the needle on the record has always been his primary love. As DJ Tru Skills, he currently leads the monthly dance party Moral Tales, named after Six Moral Tales, Eric Rohmer's saga of temptation. The night's soundtrack centers around higher-end dance music like Italo-disco, early electronic music and psychedelic funk.
Willis is readying a mix CD called The L-Word. Still standing in North Campus Video, where he works, I jokingly asked if his CD was named after the cable TV show.
"The L-Word isn't about lesbians," he clarified. "When I first created the mix three years ago, the L-word was just love. In the past three years, I lost my dad, Daymon [Dodson], Camu and Przm. I have changed some songs on it. Now the L-word stands for life, love and loss."