Marcus “Kutfather” Tufono, who as a DJ was a major influence on Seattle’s hip-hop scene, died Dec. 30. He was 48. The cause was septic shock related to a rare, degenerative spinal disease, according to family.
“It’s really hard as a club DJ to play anything besides hit records and still move the party,” said Jake “Jake One” Dutton, a renowned Seattle-based hip-hop producer and former DJ.
“But Kutfather,” he said, “had a rare talent for hyping up a crowd by making them enjoy non-obvious music that only he’d enjoyed. I’d never seen anyone do that in Seattle.”
Kutfather, who also rapped, was influential on the Seattle music scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Along with two of his four brothers, he migrated from San Diego to make a name for himself here.
Kutfather quickly succeeded with his natural confidence and advanced skills using a DJ’s tools: a turntable and microphone. He soon proved a powerful influence on Seattle DJs who, said Jake One, could play a succession of records, but not “host” — give a more charismatic DJ performance at the mic while making bold choices with music. Kutfather seemed born to host.
“He would have a crowd in the palm of his hand,” said Matthew “DJ Pryme Tyme” Tufono, Kutfather’s younger brother.
Along with Jake One, Kutfather was one of several DJs at Seattle’s now-defunct Art Bar. Pryme Tyme said other DJs soon became wary of taking a time slot before or after Kutfather.
“You could tell when he was at the turntables without even looking to see,” he said.
While Kutfather pushed the envelope for DJing at many venues in Seattle, he was nothing but encouraging to his peers and aspiring artists.
“That’s one reason he was admired and respected,” said Pryme Tyme.
Born in Daly City, California, to Alatina and Siva Tufono, young Marcus was the fifth-youngest of six kids. His parents had moved from Samoa, where Alatina, his father, had been a choir director in large churches. After the family moved to L.A. County, Marcus, still in elementary school, slipped into dances where he closely observed a pre-fame Dr. Dre and other DJs applying their gifts. By the time he was 14, he was ready to host, and he acquired the necessary equipment.
While achieving academic success in high school, Kutfather DJed constantly. Upon graduating, he turned professional, DJing at a San Diego club called Geraldine’s.
“He spun true-school hip hop, not the commercial stuff so much,” said Daniel “King Khazm” Kogita, a Seattle-based rapper, producer and head of 206 Zulu, which promotes Seattle activism via hip hop culture.
Khazm knew Kutfather first in San Diego and credits the DJ for giving him confidence to pursue his own dreams.
“He was also a connector in the community,” said Khazm. “He opened a lot of doors for younger people,” including breakdancers and graffiti artists.
“He spoke from the heart and told you like it was,” Khazm said. “He was transparent.”
Jake One, who produced his first records with Kutfather rapping, said the latter pushed him so hard to be more visible in the industry that at times he felt embarrassed. Yet that aggressiveness led to Jake One meeting his first manager and getting his first national break.
Kutfather was also involved in early hip-hop radio shows in the Seattle area, co-hosting KCMU’s “Rap Attack” with DJ Nasty Nes and KEXP’s long-running “Street Sounds” with DJ Supreme La Rock.
Kutfather was diagnosed with a spinal disease in the early 2000s. He used a wheelchair for some years, and then lived with quadriplegia the last eight years of his life. In 2009, his fiancée, Keisha Kearse, died.
“Even with all that,” said Jake One, “I couldn’t believe how he managed to maintain his spirit. He was 1,000% the same guy. You’d go see him thinking you’re supposed to feel sorry for him, but he’d make you feel good about everything. I’ve never met anybody like him.”
In addition to his brother Pryme Tyme, Kutfather is survived by his daughter, Elan Tufono; brothers Alatina Jr., Tony and Robin (“DJ Rage”); and sister Tyati Tufono-Chaussee.
A campaign to raise money for a May 15 memorial is posted on GoFundMe.