Interview by Jenkin Au & Alan Ng
Words by Cornelius Suen
Photography by Jenkin Au
DJ Mel Boogie has been a major force in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada hip-hop scene for eighteen years, both as a radio host and as a DJ. Mel has spent much of her time in the college radio circuit as the host and co-DJ of the Droppin’ Dimez show, giving airtime to female DJs with the talent but not the exposure to make it to the top. Coming from a musical family and having been interested in hip-hop since she was a child, Mel believes in the importance of understanding the music that one plays and knowing the history behind the evolution of the genre. This is knowledge she believes is essential to anybody trying to make it in the hip-hop industry.
Mel tells justalilhype! about how her relationship with her father planted the musical roots that now form the foundation of her current career in Toronto’s music industry. She also shares her thoughts on Toronto status as Canada’s hip-hop mecca, what Canadian scenes need to do to support their local artists, and the overall importance of college radio in showcasing up and coming talent. Mel has dedicated her life to her musical passions and with her recent decision to take time away from the airwaves to focus on her own music, we are keeping an ear to the streets in anticipation of Mel’s latest boogie.
Tell us more about yourself.
I am DJ Mel Boogie. I have been DJing on radio for 18 years now. I’ve been the host and co-DJ of Droppin’ Dimez Canada’s only all female hip-hop radio show show, for the past 10 years. I’ve been in love with hip-hop since the ‘80s. My older brother is an MC, my younger brother is a producer, and my husband is a DJ. It runs in the family.
What inspired you to be a DJ?
A couple of things inspired me to be a DJ. Growing up, my brothers and I would listen to Ron Nelson on CKLN. Back in the 80’s, he had a show called the Fantastic Voyage. Back then, he was one of the main sources from which people learned about hip-hop and he was the bridge between the hip-hop communities of Toronto and New York. A lot of people got introduced to hip-hop by his show. Growing up listening to him, i realized that I wanted to be involved in hip-hop. I was a little too shy to get up on stage and I didn’t crave all the attention that comes with being a DJ but I loved playing music. My love for music stems from my relationship with my dad, who was a huge record collector. He exposed us to many different types of music and we grew up with an appreciation for music and we got to see the natural progression of hip-hop evolution. I really loved it and now it’s my life.
How did you get your DJ name?
My older brother suggested it. It stuck.
Who is your favourite DJ and why?
There are a lot of DJs that I really admire, both locally and internationally. DJ Starting from Scratch started out before me and I love him because he understands music. There is a difference between just playing music and understanding it. I like DJ Mensa too. He is dope. I also like A-Trak as well. There is a difference between Canadian and American DJs. Canadian DJs tell stories between each song. There is a certain logical progression throughout the set. The DJs are not just dropping random tracks. A true DJ knows the music and can control and manipulate a crowd through the turntable.
A lot of DJs say that you have to know how to manipulate the turntable and not just know how to mix. How do you feel about some of the newer guys who only know how to mix?
I like mix DJs. I consider myself more of a mix DJ than a turntablist. I can scratch but I won’t be winning many competitions, let’s be serious. I think that for most DJs, they are either one or the other. I am fine with any DJ as long as they know what they are good at, tries to excel at that, and as long as they know the music and the history of hip-hop.
You have been involved with college radio for many years. What is it about college radio that got you hooked?
There is a certain level of freedom. There aren’t many rules and regulations on introducing new artists and supporting new artists. Most commercial stations mostly have, especially nowadays, only six to ten songs that are in rotation the whole day. College radio hosts and DJs have an opportunity to introduce a new artist to a whole new audience by having more freedom in the songs they want to play. College radio knew about artists like Rich Kidd and Drake before they made it big. Drake got some support at the college radio level. Commercial radio stations don’t really support true hip-hop. Artists need to rely on college radio stations and the relationships that they have with artists. A whole slew of great hip-hop acts that can’t get their material out can use the foundation of college radio to have their music heard.
Is the college radio scene more prominent in Canada versus the U.S.?
Essentially, the basic elements of college radio stations like an ear to the streets and relationships with new artists are the same here and south of the border. However, I do notice that a lot of U.S. radio stations support artists that come up in the scene a lot more than radio stations here. We are beginning to notice more of that in Toronto than Montreal and Vancouver as well. I think if you are an artist from Vancouver, you really got to work hard and you have to have connections with somebody. Otherwise, people don’t want to hear what you have to say. You can be a wicked MC, but it will still be difficult. Toronto is the hip-hop mecca of Canada and it has been this way for a while. That is the one thing I notice. American’s support their local artists a lot and we don’t do that enough here.
What plans do you have now that your current college radio post is over?
I want to refocus on Mel Boogie. For the past ten years, Droppin’ Dimez has been very proactive in getting female DJs to perform. We are the only radio show that invites female DJs to come in and drop a set. We know how few outlets there are for that. As far as what my plans are, I still want to do something along those same lines but not necessarily under the Droppin’ Dimez umbrella. I think I have earned the right to be a little selfish and focus on myself instead of only focusing on being a mother figure to up and comers.
As a woman, how does it feel to be such a dominant force in the local scene in a male dominated industry?
I am just me. I have been doing this for so long that I don’t really see my sex and gender as being anything extraordinary. I love hip-hop as much as the next person and I am a female. There are things that unite us all, regardless of gender, and it gradually becomes all about the music.
How did you establish yourself as a DJ after working in the radio industry for such a long time?
When I first started, I learned through trial and error. I worked hard to get respect. Once people saw that I knew music and hip-hop history, that all changed. I cannot stress this enough: do not burn bridges. The person you call an asshole today might be influential in the scene later on. Building relationships is extremely important. Respect and treat others how you would like to be treated. Stand up for yourself if you need to but make sure you help people if you can. People remember those things for the most part.
Have you had any humbling experiences with artists that you admire or artists that you have worked with and seen rise to the top?
Throughout my radio career I have been able to interview some people that I really look up to. I would not have had the opportunity to speak to them had it not been for radio. One of them is Pete Rock. I also got to interview Silk Smooth and Common. Probably one of the biggest interviews I did is one with DJ Premiere and MC Guru. Premiere gave me the moniker “Canada’s Ambassador” because I gave him a bunch of Canadian records. There are local artists who I admire as well, like Rumble. Grant Knight is another one. Growing up, Knight and Smooth was my everyday soundtrack in high school. Then we were in the studio together, playing together and hanging out. it was a priceless moment. I was interviewing someone I looked up to for so long. Aya is an artist who I saw rise up in the scene. She progressed a lot. She didn’t have a lot of material when I first started playing her but she had raw talent and an amazing voice. She went from meeting Jazzy Jeff on MySpace to working on an album with Jazzy Jeff. It was amazing. I am really proud of her and I am happy to see all the good stuff going on for her. On the MC side, I really admire Boi-1da. We had him in the studio and he was really fresh and new. It was crazy to see him go from being a young dude to a global superstar.
What’s next for you?
I am finally going to get my own website. I have been so focused on other things that I am finally deciding to focus on myself. It’s basic to others but I have been pushing it aside for a while. The time I will rededicate to myself will give me an outlet to do my podcast and blog.
What is HYPE?
HYPE can be a good thing or a bad thing. A regular joe who can express his love and enthusiasm for something in a positive way and spreads it to the masses like a crazy laugh is positive. The negative side of HYPE is when you have somebody who is a DJ or artist and uses certain tools, like the internet, to build a certain type of awareness about them but then can’t deliver when it comes time to do it, like in a live setting. That is negative HYPE.