Meet The Musicians Behind Lower Haight Crew ‘Change The Beat’

Things have changed since the Lower Haight’s heyday in the DJ, hip-hop and rave culture of the ’90s, but the two guys behind neighborhood DJ crew Change The Beat and its associated label, CB Records, have been doing what they can to keep some of that old flavor alive.

Back in 2006, Benji Illgen (DJ Centipede aka Mophono) and Justin Smith (Citizen Ten aka The Zap Tap) started Change The Beat with two other DJs: Aspect McCarthy and The Gaslamp Killer.

Citizen Ten, The Gaslamp Killer, and DJ Centipede. | Photo: Beryl Fine

Illgen grew up in the North Bay, and cut his teeth playing underground parties in San Francisco and Oakland in the mid-’90s. By 2000, he was a Lower Haight resident, hosting weekly shows in San Francisco with well-respected acts like Z-trip, Madlib, Peanut Butter Wolf and DJ Design. 

“The Lower Haight was wild back then, tons of hookers and street people,” said Illgen, noting that parking was plentiful, because people were too scared to go to the neighborhood. “During the day, it was definitely more fun. I remember usually being the youngest and only white person around. That all unfortunately has changed since then.”

Meanwhile, Smith was down south in San Diego, tapping into the underground rave and hip-hop scene through mixtapes, which eventually introduced him to Illgen’s music. By the time Smith arrived in San Francisco in 2000, he was already “music nerd buddies” with Illgen.

That year, the two moved into a house together at Webster and Haight, which they affectionately dubbed “two dirty seven.” As they became roommates and music collaborators, the two formed a partnership that became Change The Beat.

Mophono and The Zap Tap at Madrone. | Photo: Daisy San Luis

Change The Beat had a five-year Tuesday-night residency at Madrone, with an impressive lineup of independent artists.

“The party was packed every Tuesday night for over five years, hosting all of [independent record label] Brain Feeders’ artists first gigs in San…

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