Rhythm runs much deeper than music in longtime DJ's new multidisciplinary show

For Krate Digga, rhythm is the propulsive, central force in music, sure, but it’s also so much more than that.

As Digga explained his concept of rhythm in an engaging, 10-minute interview monologue, one could envision a camera locked onto a fetus’ heartbeat in utero and then slowly pulling back to capture the cadence of the delivery room and then the city, country and planet, until the entire cosmos could be viewed swirling in broadly repetitive motions. And still it’s more than that, Digga said, moving forward and backward through time, echoed in the parts of his ancestors that he still carries with him, and which will be passed on to future generations, receding and moving to the fore in unpredictable but noticeable patterns over millennia.

“A lot of people don’t think in that context of rhythm being something that’s non-musical, or having such a stretched-out timeframe that there’s a wide arc before it comes back around,” Digga said during a mid-February interview at his studio space on the fourth floor of the Lincoln Theatre. “A lot of people want to be able to hear or feel the turn, or comeback, of the rhythm in a space, so rhythm is often thought about in short increments as opposed to seeing life as a rhythm from the start to the end of it, and even after that. … Even after you’re gone from Earth, you have a spirit that reaches back in touch, whether it’s cycling through people you were here with, or through your children and your children’s children. It’s not a linear concept, at all.”

This admittedly complex view of a concept developed in infancy forms the basis of the longtime Columbus DJ’s new stage show, “Let the Rhythm Hit’em,” a multidisciplinary production that will feature a video component and dual DJs spinning alongside a live drummer and myriad singers, dancers, actors and poets. The show, curated by musician, activist and educator Mark Lomax, runs for three nights at the Wexner Center for the Arts beginning on Thursday, Feb. 21.

“Let the Rhythm Hit’em” also doubles as the most complete portrait of Digga as an artist that he’s crafted to date, allowing aspects of his personality that normally don’t surface onstage to bubble to the fore.

“Generally speaking, I’m an outwardly stern person. I’m not one who wears my emotions on my sleeve, and when I’m DJing, I’m very focused, very intense. It’s a cerebral process for me,” Digga said. “But people who really know me know that I joke all the time. … There are parts of this show where people will be like, ‘That’s Krate being Krate,’ and they’ll get it, and they’ll make fun of me later. It’s allowing some of those other parts of my personality to come through and touch people.”

The multidisciplinary aspect of the production is true to his upbringing, too. Growing up, Digga said he was pushed by his parents to try new things, often whether he wanted to or not. (“Mom was like, ‘I signed you up and you’re going to do it,’” he said.) In elementary school, for instance, his parents enrolled him in weekend classes of West African drum and dance taught by Tony West, where Digga was exposed to rhythms that would continually resurface as he got deeper into hip-hop during his middle and high school years.

While Digga experimented with DJing as a child, scratching cheap 45s from Disney productions like “Mary Poppins,” “Davy Crockett” and “The Swamp Fox,” it wasn’t until he attended college at Kentucky State University on a track scholarship that he started to approach the art form with a degree of seriousness.

“I started to get more intentional about learning [the turntables], so I’d get up at 6 o’clock in the morning and go to track practice, and then I would have class, then another practice in the afternoon. … After dinner, I would go to the dorm room and put a 90-minute tape in the recorder, and then I would record myself practicing, going on even after the tape stopped, sometimes until 2 or 3 in the morning,” he said. “I invested a lot of time learning it, and it’s just kind of become a part of who I am.”

Even now, Digga said he’s still developing his skillset, continuing to build on a repertoire developed over more than two decades spent making music. In late 2011, for example, he started learning to play guitar on an old acoustic inherited from his late grandfather, and the skills he has developed strumming the six-string have surfaced in unexpected ways when he DJs.

“The creation of different guitar notes and runs, even just in those fingerings, has changed how I now do different fader control movements on the mixer,” he said. “Something I used to do with three fingers, I can now do with four fingers because I’m now used to plucking or strumming with all of them.”

It also, in a way, allows the spirit of his grandfather to carry on through him, reaffirming Digga’s concept of rhythm as a complex pattern that echoes across generations as loudly as it does in any of the random songs scattered across the radio dial.

“I wholeheartedly believe that I come from a lineage of ancestors who all have a finger on me, so to speak, and they all push influences and spiritual knowledge into me, and that helps dictate my rhythm,” he said. “The production really speaks to that, to how rhythm is something that’s in creation even before we can hear, speak, feel. It’s in our heartbeat, and in that primal rhythm of humanity.”