Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Ryan Goldade and Cornelius Suen
Photography by Jenkin Au
How did you get into DJ’ing?
Well… it’s been about 20 years now. I was 11 or 12 when I first started getting the idea to be a DJ. I have always been around music because I come from a very musical family; I was always attracted to music. When I was a kid there was Herbie Hancock’s “Rock-It”. I was like, “What the hell is this?” What actually got me into DJ’ing itself was when I was 13 and going to house parties, and realizing that all the music was on cassettes. I found that people would want to listen to songs that were on different cassettes and there would be a pause in the music between switching the cassettes and cuing them up. There was no vibe in the party. I was a kid so I didn’t fully understand it, but it felt like going on a rollercoaster. The first thing I did was say, “Let me take care of this.” I went home and I’d cue all my tapes to the start of the song, so the pauses were a lot shorter. I said, “There has to be a faster way… let me get two tape decks.” Then I asked, “How do you plug in two tape decks.” Then I learned about a mixer. So I started with two tape decks and a mixer.
I knew about records because my parents had records, but I didn’t know that the music I liked was on records still. I remember going downtown and shopping at HMV, which at the time had an import section and it was all vinyl (12 inches). I bought my first record there. There is something about vinyl that’s just sexy. It was music in my hands. If you think about it, it’s magical… it’s this piece of plastic that you put a needle on and music comes out. To this day, I still don’t understand how it works. For my first jobs, all my money was going towards records. I bought everything I could and everything I liked. At first I had one turntable and a tape deck. It wasn’t even a Technics 1200. It was my dad’s stereo record player and it was really tricky to learn how to mix properly with one of those. That’s how I learned to DJ: off of a belt-driven turntable. My parents realized that I really liked this and it was keeping me out of trouble, so they got me a used Technics 1200 (which I still have to this day). When I travel and I have to bring my tables, it’s still one that I bring. I’ve had it for 20 plus years and it was used. Then I got the second turntable and I started learning all about beat matching. I did my school dances at first. Those were the first paid gigs that I had.
I had a friend whose dad owned a bar in the town next to mine and on weekends during the summer he’d have softball teams come in and they’d have parties and whatever. He said, “Why don’t you come DJ during those?” This was my first experience at a bar, DJ’ing at 14 or 15. The manager said to me, “How old are you? As soon as you’re 18, come see me, you have a job.” He was true to his word. They’d let me sneak in when I was underage too and hang out in the DJ booth. Sometimes the DJ’s there would let me spin while they went to the washroom or whatever. The day I turned 18, I went there and the manager said, “You have a job here!” Unfortunately, the DJ that was giving me those little sets before was let go! I felt bad cause this guy gave me opportunities. I always made sure I wasn’t stealing another DJ’s job after that. After that I got into clubs… and that’s how I got into DJ’ing.
Some older DJ’s believe that people should learn to mix on vinyl first. What can vinyl teach you that Serato or similar setups can’t?
It’s hands on. Being a DJ, you need good hand-eye coordination. When I started, vinyl was your only choice. They didn’t have CDJs at the time… then they came in and they were okay at the beginning, but now they’re awesome. They’re just as good as vinyl turntables, but when I use them, it feels like something’s missing. Eventually, out came mp3s and I made the jump to Serato. I still use vinyl as the outlet for it, but you almost had to make the jump because less and less records were being produced and music being released was all mp3. It was also because of convenience. I remember carrying six or seven crates of records into the club. I DJ’d in Whistler and I paid so many extra fees to bring everything. I was thinking, “How does Jazzy Jeff do this?” I was thinking, “There’s got to be an easier way to do this,” and then Serato came out. Unfortunately today, anybody can be a DJ. When I was growing up people would say, “Hey that’s so cool, how do you get into it?” I’d say, “First of all, be prepared to have no money because you spend all the money you make buying more records and the 1200s cost $800 each… etc.” By the end of the conversation they’d be like, “Oh… nevermind.” I wasn’t trying to turn them off from it but I was trying to tell them that it takes a lot of time and money. But now there are programs that allow you to plug in your mp3s and they’ll mix it for you and people say, “Hey, now I’m a DJ.” I think for the “true DJ”… that circle is getting smaller and smaller. I still have my vinyl collection at home so I feel like I’ve paid my dues; I have the right to do this. I’ve made the transition and I know where my roots are and I’ve used those roots to do what I do now. It’s weird because Serato pretty much killed vinyl but it still needs vinyl to work.
Tell us about your radio show.
Diamond in the Rough started as a 15 minute mix that was on K103. I grew up with the guy hosting the show. He saw me DJ’ing when I was 15 and he liked what he saw. He liked the way I was mixing. I would mix these little mixes that were different… like Beach Boys mixed with Missy Elliot. It started as a 15 minute mix and just grew from that. I found with mixtapes and shows that there was no mixing. The worst example is a DJ Clue mixtape. It’s just one song after the other. It was about whoever had the newest stuff first, it wasn’t about the mixing. My strength was technically sound mixing. I learned how to mix from house music, which is all mixing. I wanted to take that format and bring it into hip-hop. My show started as that… these pretty cool mixes. I wanted to do an hour tribute to certain artists. For the week leading up to a concert or an album release, all you listen to is that artist. I wanted to do that. I started paying more attention to album release dates and saying, “Oh that would be cool.” When James Brown passed away, I felt it would only be right if someone did a tribute mix. The first tribute mix I ever did was for J Dilla. I LOVED J DILLA! I did a tribute to him and word got around in Detroit about the tribute and it grew and grew and grew.
My radio show is a midnight show. They’re a little looser so I have free reign on what I want to do. It’s a smaller radio station so there’s more freedom. Their formatting is as follows: weekdays after 6 p.m. it’s all hip-hop, and then Saturdays… it’s country. It’s all over the place because they have so many different kinds of listeners and it’s a community station.
I did an Isaac Hayes tribute after his death. It forced me to learn a lot of his music because I only knew a few of his songs. As I learned them I found a lot of songs that had been sampled from his music… like a Geto Boys song … etc. The person that influenced me the most on sampling is Kanye West. I remembered hearing Kanye and thinking, “That’s cool.” I remember hearing “The Truth” by Beanie Sigel and thinking, “OMG! This beat is crazy.” I would do my homework and find out what song he would sample and where in the song he sampled from. There would be blogs that would post the stuff and I would listen to it for weeks. What was more amazing was that I would listen to the original and think, “How did he do that?” He was the catalyst… after that I was like, “How did Premier do all this?” When Primo turned 40 two years ago, I did a Premier mix and then a Gangstarr mix. The radio show is known more for its tributes. When I put out a regular mix I’ll be like, “Hey don’t forget there are actual regular mixes that come on.” It’s because there’s some recognition of that and people will be like, “Hey I really liked your Premier mix.” It’s fun. I don’t get paid to do it but it’s like a business card.
The name of the show “Diamond in the Rough” was from Aladdin. I remember thinking, “That line makes sense.” It’s not polished but it still has value that isn’t seen by everybody.
How did you get your alias?
It actually came from a Lords of the Underground song called “Psycho.” When I was younger I was kind of nicknamed “Psycho.” I was never a bad kid… it was more like, “You’re wearing shorts in April? You’re crazy; that’s psycho.” And then the song came out and it was my favourite song. As I got older, it came to be too aggressive… I’m not psycho… but the name’s already established. So I was talking to a few people and it was like psychology: the psycho is still there… psycho-logy. That makes sense! It sounds right and it rolls off the tongue right. That was a few years ago and I roll with it and it still works. It’s funny because it came full circle and it just fit who I was.
With the emerging DJ technology allowing new sub-genres within the art, where do you see this culture going?
It’s weird right now because as much as I love hip-hop and soul music, I don’t get to play a lot of it right now. My residency on Saturday nights is anything goes. I’ll play Biggie and then I’ll play Miley Cyrus… but that’s where it’s going. There are no more lines in the sand saying, “This is a hip-hop club.” Everybody, as far as the culture, likes listening to everything. I remember going to clubs and saying, “I’m gonna play this, I won’t play that,” but now, it’s not about me, it’s about people at the club. I remember back in the day when you could go into certain clubs and you could play whatever you felt like playing and now, if it’s not a hit on the radio people look at you like you’re on crack. But… your job as a DJ is that sometimes you need to break a song and educate people on music.
I think the most important thing a DJ has to have is an education of music. Just be open to playing whatever. It’s not about you, it’s about the situation you’re in. If it calls for a strict electro house theme then play that… you’re being paid to do it. There are guys like the Eh Team and Freshest Kids who are awesome and they don’t just stick to one genre… but if we had a one-on-one conversation with them, we could talk about Biggie for hours. They know their stuff. They know what they like and they know what they play. When I’m driving I’m not listening to the music I play in the club. Right now I’m listening to Weezer in the car but I don’t necessarily play Weezer. I know what I like and I know what’s in my computer and what I play. What’s in my computer isn’t necessarily what I listen to but I know the music that’s there. Yeah there’s more folders of hip-hop but there’s also electro, house, etc. Everyone has to learn to play everything and be happy playing it. You’re there as a DJ to help other people have fun with music, but some DJ’s get into it for the wrong reasons.
What is HYPE?
Growing up, HYPE was excitement and fun! But it’s become more of a derogatory word that describes a trend, when it should describe anything that is fresh and exciting!