Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Cornelius Suen and Alan Ng
Photography by Jenkin Au
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Shez Mehra aka Wristpect. I am a 25 year old, Toronto based DJ & entrepreneur. I’ve been DJ’ing professionally for seven years, since I was 18. I play at nightclubs around the world, have a show on commercial radio in Toronto on Saturday nights and also put together and release mix-tape projects. I try and work with people whom inspire me and that I look up to. Thus, I’m always working on collaborative efforts and joint ventures. I am also a partner in a music consultation firm and creative agency. I’m really just an individual who is passionate about good music and am constantly doing my best to share it with the masses!
What got you introduced to DJ’ing?
Hmm.. Watching the movie ‘Juice’ definitely played a part.. I’d also always listen to people like DJ Premier & Mix Master Mike scratching on the hooks of certain records.. I also used to go to DMC battles and watched people like Jr. Flo, Dopey, Grouch, and M-Rock. These guys were pushing boundaries and creating completely new sounds out of 2 records and a mixer and that always blew me away. I never even wanted to be a club DJ, I just wanted to scratch and buy records and just mess around with the sound. I wanted to take two records and make a new beat out of it by juggling it, etc. I saved a lot of money and on my 15th birthday, I treated myself to my first pair of turntables and a mixer. Every day after school, I messed around with vinyl. I tried experimenting with different sounds and ideas. One thing led to another, and here we are! I just wanted to have fun with my music.
At club nights, you are obviously going to cater to the audience, and at corporate events, you cater towards a different crowd with a different purpose as well. There’s always a sense of disappointment for a DJ when he’s not allowed to play his own music. What’s the biggest problem you see in catering to different types of crowds?
I don’t see catering to different crowds as a problem at all. In fact, I enjoy and welcome challenges. If a certain crowd is out of my comfort zone, I really don’t mind because it forces me to think outside of the box and pushes me to work harder to win them over. As for the corporate crowds, they can actually be really fun to play for because you can dig deeper and play some 70s music for instance and people will know it and are excited to hear it. Generally speaking, most mainstream club goers do not have a broad musical spectrum and those nights are often contained/limited, so it can be hard for me to step too far out of their boundaries. If it is a commercial venue, I’ll still stick to what they know, but I’ll do my best to add my flavour to it.. A lot of times I’ll remix acapellas from different genres and eras over the music they are familiar with. I do what I have to do to keep my interest in the night as well.. Otherwise, I am just a jukebox and it’s the same shit as hearing the radio or any other cookie-cutter DJ.
Throughout the years, you have created many successful mixtapes. One of the most notable mentions is the ‘Bridging the Gap’ series. Tell us about these mixtapes that you have worked on, and what does a mixtape tell us about a DJ?
I’ve never sold a mix-tape in my life! In fact, I have given out over 50,000 hard copies for free to date. For me, the mix-tape is a creative outlet and I put them together strictly for the love of doing so. These tapes also work as a networking tool for me to build relationships with the artists, producers, managers, labels, etc.. As far as the ‘Bridging the Gap series’ is concerned, it may sound corny but I actually dreamed about the concept and I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote it down. From there, I just hustled and worked tirelessly to build connections for Volume 1: Toronto to New York. Before I knew it, I was on the phone with AZ’s people, Rakim’s people, Capone, etc.. People who were hip hop icons to me! Often times as a DJ or an artist, you have hundreds of people approaching you to work together so I tried to take it a little bit more seriously and put together formal proposals and marketing plans for the people I was reaching out to. I explained to these artists why it would be beneficial for them to work with me and support my venture. I just took it very seriously and one thing led to another.
Before I knew it, I had all these artists that I grew up listening to on my own mixture project. Volume 1 to NYC was very well received both in the streets of Toronto/New York, as well as online and internationally. I then used some of my New York connects to help me with Volume 2: Toronto to Chicago. I got in touch with Lupe’s camp, the entire G.O.O.D music family, etc.. Now I had Chicago underway. I kept it moving.. I just wanted to pick cities and work with people whom I admire, like Little Brother in North Carolina (Vol 3), The Clipse in Virginia (Vol 4). The backend process for these tapes are 3-6 months before I can even begin mixing anything.. It takes a lot of networking and groundwork; trying to get people from another city to collaborate with someone in Toronto is not always an easy task – especially in 2006 when I dropped Volume 1. It has been a great learning process because I am essentially A&R’ing the entire project. My goal for the whole series is to eventually put out 100% original material on these mix-tapes.
The whole concept is really good for the Toronto hip-hop community because you are helping a lot of the local cats. Tell us about the involvement you have with the local artists.
Locally, I’ve had the opportunity to work with almost everyone in the game, young and old. I’ve had people like Drake, Saukrates, JD Era, Theo3, Eddie Brock, Rich Kidd, Tona, etc. all bless my mix-tapes.. I would explain to them that I needed exclusive records, whether it was a dubplate or an original track. I made sure that everybody in the city I was ‘Bridging The Gap’ to would hear their music and I also partnered up with NahRight, and 2DopeBoyz for online releases. At then at the end of the day, I was getting these artists hundreds of thousands of listens and downloads worldwide.. If you were a local artist, it only made sense for you to jump on my mix-tape!
It’s dope that you are trying to build on this Toronto sound.
Showcasing Toronto talent has always been important to me.. If we don’t put ourselves on, who will? We’re the greatest city in the world and have so much to offer musically. I am just trying to play my part.
Tell us a bit more about the name Wristpect and what makes your mix-tapes unique?
Well, I was always scratching in my basement and one day my boy Asim said, “Yo, you should call yourself terra-wrist.” Then 9/11 went down and I figured the name wouldn’t be a good look. I was also always making mixes for people and they’d say “respect, thanks for the mix!” I think it was my same friend who said “what about Wristpect”? Truthfully, I didn’t even care about a DJ name; I just wanted to do music! One day I needed a name for an all ages flyer and that’s what we went with.. Since then I have been building the “Wristpect” brand.
As far as my mix-tapes, I just want people to know that they are going to get a quality experience in terms of how it’s put together all around. Quality mixing, blends, cuts, etc. I take great pride in putting together a tasteful selection of music and a quality product all around. Anyone can go through the drive through and get a $5 burger. When you get a Wristpect mix-tape, I want you feeling like you are going to Ruth-Chris to eat a $70 steak. I want it to be something timeless.. Not something that is hot for just one week, but rather a product that you can listen to two years down the line and still enjoy. I try to give my projects a classic feel. I came up listening to Green Lantern, Neil Armstrong, Baby Yu, Mick Boogie, Clinton Sparks and Jr. Flo mix-tapes.. I try to incorporate elements from all of those guys, while still figuring out a way to flip it and present it in a way that is my own unique sound. The goal is to provide the consumer with a quality product and something that can stand the test of time.
Tell us about your relationship with Clinton Sparks and your involvement with the Smash Squad DJ Crew. What have you learned through spinning in so many different cities in the world?
Clinton Sparks is someone who’s hustle is respect. I felt like I needed to be down with the crew and that I would be a great representative for the brand. Starting From Scratch and Jester (the other two Canadian members) are like big brothers to me, so it just felt like it would be a good fit.. At the end of the day, we help each other out. When Clinton has a new record to promote, I will help break it for him early. If I have something going on, he’ll connect me with his people.. It is a great support structure. I look at him as a mentor in the game. As far as spinning in cities around the world, it has taught me a lot about adapting to different scenarios and situations.. We were just in France a couple months ago and nobody understood English. Some of the biggest records in North America had no reactions or crowd response out there. Travelling the world playing music really opens your mind up in terms of adapting to and catering to different cultures.
With your education, how does that contribute to the way you think and how has it caused you to think differently about things?
The biggest for me while attending University and working towards my degree was that it forced me to realize how to multitask and deal with people. When I went to school, no one would let me DJ anywhere so I stole my entire school’s mailing list and built a mailing list program with my computer science roommate and we started spamming everyone. As a result, I started throwing my own parties and had my whole year following me week to week to different venues in the university market. I did that for the sole reason that no one would let me DJ anywhere.
My education taught me how to think critically, network, and multitask. I think I learnt more about life skills, as opposed to academic knowledge. I was very bored in economics class. I would be telling my marketing professor, “Look, I am putting together a party. I am trying to get this brand to sponsor it and this is my marketing proposal. Help me out.” My professors saw that I was already applying classroom material, so they were happy to help me. I learned how to build relationships and capitalize on these relationships. My professors knew that I was passionate about music and still cared enough about school to talk to them about academics. Those four years in Guelph, just hustling and talking with professors, throwing parties and dealing with sponsors, etc. have helped me a lot because it allowed me to gain a whole new perspective on the business side of things, as opposed to just going to a club and DJ’ing. It was almost a blessing that no one would let me DJ! Instead of quitting and giving up, I figured out my own way to turn a shitty situation into a successful one. That was the biggest thing with University.. It was great to leave with a double major in economics and the marketing, but the experience and hustle was more important to me.
Throughout the years, you’ve received numerous awards and accomplishments. You have definitely taken DJ’ing to the next level. Tell us what it takes for someone to become an internationally recognized DJ.
You just have to work 25/8. At the end of the day, no one is cutting you a cheque. No one’s giving you anything in this world. If you want something, regardless of what industry you are in, be prepared to make huge sacrifices. Work tirelessly and sleeplessly until the goals are met. Sometimes your oaks will be met and sometimes they won’t. For me, it came down to perseverance, passion, practice, and persistence. When I was 17, I was working with Baby Yu. I was his warm up guy, and he taught me a lot. At that time, he was 25 and I told myself that when I turned 21, I wanted to be doing what he was doing then (touring Canada, mix-tapes, etc). I wrote down all of these goals and made plans on how to reach each of them. I took it very seriously. I was working at Scotia Bank too. I had a summer position there and I got to a point where I told my parents that I had to quit the bank job and focus on DJ’ing. They were sceptical about it at first and thought DJ’ing was just a hobby, but I told them it could be more than a hobby.
I put together a proposal for them and explained why and how it could be more, and what the top DJs in the world make, how it’s a valid career path and that I could take it professionally. They supported me and told me to do my best in whatever I wanted to do. I just worked. There’s not really an easy answer to it. I never had a manager or any of that stuff. Five years ago, there were people in the city that wouldn’t give me the time of the day and promoters that wouldn’t talk to me. It was really hard.. Toronto has a cut throat DJ market. At the end of the day, if you want to do something, you can get it done. I don’t let anyone tell me that I can’t do something. There’s not any time in my books for that.. Life’s way too short and I don’t want to wake up one day at 40 years old and regret not trying something. I’d rather go out and fail miserably knowing that I tried. That’s my mentality. There’s nothing to lose. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Obviously, everything else such as talent and business, networking, etc. will help you but really, all that stuff is innate because it comes back to your mind state anyway. If you want to practice and develop your talent, then that’s on you. If you want to stay up those extra hours to network, that’s on you. There’s not really any excuse on not being able to do something. There’s also no easy answer in terms of how things come about in international markets like Asia, Costa Rica, Europe, etc. No one handed me anything at the end of the day. Today, there are a million DJs in the game – it is a very saturated market. As sad as it is to admit, the game has turned into 80% marketing and 20% talent. There are certain people out there that shouldn’t even be DJ’ing. It’s sad to see, but you can either sit down and cry and complain about it or you can do something. I’d rather take a proactive approach and worry about my own brand and how to build it, as opposed to worry about other people and what they are doing. I’m in this for the long-haul.
It seems like you have a very strong mentality and dedication to DJ’ing. It’s very hard for someone from Canada in the hip-hop scene whether it’s a DJ or artist to progress. Hailing from Toronto and growing up from Canada, tell us about your experiences of being a Canadian in the music industry.
Coming up as a DJ in Toronto is probably one of the biggest blessings because the calibre of DJ talent in the city is so high. There were so many dope DJs before my come up, before there was even Serato. I was constantly surrounded by amazing DJs whether I was listening to radio or going to the club. The standard and level of talent around you was really high in terms of a kid coming up immersed in the culture. I had no choice but to be on point and learn my music. Trying to warm up and compete with these guys and trying to get my foot in, I had better take it seriously because it was no joke.
Toronto is a very cutthroat and competitive market and used to be called the Screw Face Capital for a reason. You have to be well rounded because there’s so many different cultures intertwined in the city at any given night. Coming up in Toronto really affected the way a DJ was raised – at least it used to. On an international scale, Canada is at the forefront of the music industry right now. With people like Drake, Justin Bieber and Melanie Fiona on top of the hip hop, pop, and soul charts, there is no stopping us. Canada has always been talented and now the world is finally getting to see it. There is so much talent over here and only now A&Rs and promoters are looking to the North to see what’s next. We are in a beautiful place right now and the future looks very bright.. I am proud to represent worldwide for Toronto and for Canada.
What is HYPE?
Traditionally, the word HYPE means excitement, advertising and marketing. For me, HYPE is talent, HYPE is passion, HYPE is skill, HYPE is creativity, HYPE is innovation, HYPE is pushing the boundaries. That’s how I see it. HYPE is really just connecting with individuals and connecting with minds through talent, creativity and passion. In my mindset, it’s HYPE when I see something creative, or someone really talented. That’s what HYPE means to me.