By, Wendy Day
Tony, my hubby, got me thinking about DJs today. I loooove DJs. All of them. Especially the real ones that break records, and who know how to move the crowd: speeding them up into a frenzy and then slowing the crowd down at the end of the night. I love the ones who know how to mix songs smoothly, one into another. The ones who bring back the best parts of songs whipping the crowd into a madhouse of bodies moving, asses shaking, and arms flailing in the air. Damn I love DJs.
When I started listening to rap in the early 80s, the DJ was the mainstay and the rapper was the sidekick (hence “He’s The DJ and I’m The Rapper” By Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, or Eric B and Rakim, or Grandmaster Flash and The Furious 5–the DJ often came first before the rapper and was the focus). Maybe my love is conditioned by those early days, but I tend to think it came more from feeling the power they had live in the club or the power they had over me alone in my apartment dancing to the radio mix or a mixtape in the early 90s.
My love for DJs started in the late 80s. I went to NY for a weekend and heard Mr Magic and Marley Marl on the radio. I went home to Philly, quit my job, packed up my apartment and moved to New York City. I just HAD to live in a place that had such great music happening–I had no job, no place to live, no friends or family in the world’s biggest city…just great music and awesome DJs to listen to on the radio (back then, much of Friday and Saturday night mixshow radio was mirroring what was in the clubs, in fact, in some east coast cities the Friday and Saturday night mixes on radio were broadcast live from a club).
I had a few favorite DJs that today stand out in my memories of the 90s and 2000s in hip hop. I heard DJ Enuff when he was filling in for super DJ Red Alert on KISS-FM in New York on a Friday night and I noticed how amazing his mixes were. I was moved to write a letter to the Program Director about how this 18 year old DJ had me dancing around my house, alone. Enuff was shown the letter and called me. He was, and is, my all-time favorite New York DJ, even two decades later. His ear was always flawless. [sidebar: DJ Red Alert mixes always played songs in the same order, so every weekend we knew when to start recording to catch our favorite songs, to listen on repeat for the rest of the week!].
When I went to Chicago in the mid-90s to work with Do Or Die and Twista, we put out separate singles with the intent of securing a fan base to prove to the major labels that artists who weren’t from the three coasts (NY, L.A., and the South) had value too. A DJ in Chicago called Pinkhouse saw our vision and played the shit out of our records. This was my introduction to the industry side of DJs. He was on our team…meaning, he helped us win when there was nothing in it for him to do so. He believed in our Movement. So we believed in his. We would do anything for Pinkhouse. Unfortunately, he passed away in the midst of our Midwest takeover. DJ Pharris took his place. He had big shoes to fill in Chicago and did so seamlessly. Pharris is a really good dude. Love him!! And he’s a great DJ.
In the late 90s, I started getting calls from Houston artists who wanted to be signed to major labels. They had enough independent sales to accomplish this. As I spent time in Houston, I stumbled across a DJ who not only slowed down music, but chopped it up in an interesting and artistic way. I became the biggest DJ Screw fan at home in New York City, where no one really seemed to understand or appreciate the “chopped and screwed” sound. Prior to Screw’s death, my goal was to shop him a deal at a major label and spread his sound worldwide. He passed in 2000. I was crushed. For me, it was the day Chopped & Screwed music died.
I used to buy (by mail order) and listen to GoGo mixtapes from DJ Flexx in DC in the 90s. His mixtapes were nothing short of genius. He shared music that was not on my radar, but was just funky, fun, and upbeat. I couldn’t understand why GoGo never caught on outside of the DC area. I’m actually listening to a GoGo mixtape from the 90s as I type this article!
Also in the 90s were the mixes on NY radio by Funkmaster Flex, DJ Kap, DJ Scoop, etc. They always had some interesting mixes that could make the hardest out of towner scream “Hell yeah” when asked by a sample of Cut Master D.C.’s “Is Brooklyn in the house?” All stewed nicely together in a NY mix with “Brooklyn Rocks The Best” instrumental, along with the mandatory air horns, and Mark The 45 King’s The 900 Number–a 1987 staple that got mixed into every New York mix that mattered.
Another favorite hip hop moment was when I used to visit a friend (Big Meech) in the Feds every month or so in 2009, in Jesup, GA. There was nothing for me to do weekends in tiny little Jesup, so I listened to the radio. I soon found a DJ that I liked on Savannah radio called Mike Fresh. He had NY DJ skills that he mixed with super street cutting edge southern music. It was awesome. Even my friends in the Feds at Jesup loved DJ Mike Fresh. Upon meeting him, he was humble and quiet. Great DJ…
But my favorite DJ moment of all time, happened when I was on promo tour with BloodRaw in 2008. We were coming through The Carolina’s, where I-26 meets I-85 (Greenville area) and we were listening to the radio. There was this RIDICULOUSLY talented DJ who was killing it on the mix show. Shit! He mixed Lil Jon with the TV theme to Star Trek. When we stopped at a rest stop, this DJ had me dancing outside the van to Poison Posse and DooDoo Brown. This DJ is king! I was so impressed with DJ Swann that I whipped out my phone and was ready to dial his number….but I couldn’t find it. No one I know, knows him. Rats!! So I pulled out my laptop and logged onto the website of that station. I sent him an email through the Cox Radio website. THAT is how much he impressed me. After 33 years of being a rap music fan, it’s hard to impress me… My favorite DJ is one I only heard for about 45 minutes driving through a city…
A huge shout out and big hug to all real DJs out here. They work super hard, get no sick days off, don’t make enough money to feed their families, and are the last to get paid….all for their love of music! And they still choose to DJ. Yep, I love DJs.