Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Ryan Goldade and Alan Ng
Photography by Jenkin Au
The justalilhype! crew had the opportunity to sit down with one of Canada’s most renowned party rockers, DJ Jester. He has held Toronto down for over 10 years with campus radio shows, club nights, concerts and various events in between. While he would describe himself as a hip-hop DJ, his versatility is evident given his ability cater to the local West Indian community through reggae and soca and hold down large mainstream events with the recent electro dance movement. He’s worked with local talents such as Kid Kut (of Baby Blue Soundcrew fame) for the Kill Da Dance mixtapes, as well as internationally known DJs like Clinton Sparks. His relationship with Clinton Sparks (and other well known Toronto DJs) has led him to join the ranks of the Smash Squad DJ crew. Jester has also ventured into the realm of composition and production, where he has been successful enough to have his work available on iTunes. Many DJs we interview have done a lot in their careers, but seldom do we encounter DJs who seem to have done it all; he’s rocked parties worldwide, hosted radio shows, produced commercially available music and shows no signs of stopping.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
What’s up! It’s your man Jester, all the way from the T-dot. Toronto, Canada — holding it down.
What first interested you in DJ’ing and how did you get started?
For me, it goes way back. A lot of friends would ask me for those tapes that you would call cassettes. I would make little mixtapes for my friends although they weren’t really “mixtapes” but they were something then.
Back when I was in high school, I wanted to do a lot of the high school parties and dances. I wanted to be that guy to play at those parties ‘cause I loved the music, so I started collecting a lot of vinyl when I was in high school. That was my start.
What styles of music do you like playing the most? What do you rock in the clubs?
Everything. As a DJ, you have to grow with the music. There are so many different genres, especially these days. A lot of club music is very electronic dance music based so you have to keep with that as well. I grew up playing hip-hop and R&B and because of my West Indian heritage, I would play reggae and soca–whatever it needed to be and whatever goes these days in the clubs.
What would you say sets you aside from the other DJ’s in this city?
Versatility. The amount of musical knowledge and what I like definitely sets me apart.
You were saying a DJ needs to grow and adapt to the music. What was one genre that you were hesitant to take on?
I can’t really say there was a genre that I was hesitant to take on. If it’s good music, it’s good music. That’s the way I see it.
Do you have any projects or collaborations coming up with emcees from your city?
Not really any collaborations with emcees. I’ve done it. I did a mixtape collaboration with Rochester. I’ve done a few collaborations with Toronto DJ’s. Wristpect and I did one called Brain Candy. It was pretty popular and more dance based. It was something fun that we just wanted to put out there. I did a collaboration last year for my birthday party with Wristpect, Scratch and Clinton Sparks. We’re a part of a crew called Smash Squad. It was a fusion of all genres of music; something Scratch liked, something I liked, etc.
Tell us about your involvement with Smash Squad and how you got in the crew.
Clinton was one of the hardest working DJ’s I had ever seen and I thought he was from Toronto! That’s how often he was here. We would always cross paths and I brought him to my college radio show. He played some of his exclusive records at the time and we just had that friendship for years. It was just a natural move to become part of Smash Squad.
What kind of opportunities does being in that group open up for you?
For all of us, we all venture into so many different avenues where we’ve all done our touring. It’s something where we all feed off each other’s success. That’s basically the best way to put it. It’s not something where we rely on others to get us certain gigs; everybody does their own thing. We prove why we are Smash Squad.
As you progress through anything, you have to pay your dues. What would you say would be ‘paying your dues’ in the DJ world?
A lot of young DJ’s come to me for advice and sometimes the simplest thing is paying dues, whether it’s playing at a store opening or a small event. It may seem small to you in your eyes but you never know who’s going to be there and what it may become. It may grow into something bigger. I also think that part of paying dues is starting off small. Don’t expect to be in the mega club the day you start DJ’ing. You have to work your way to those little clubs that only hold 150 people. You have to take it to that extent. It doesn’t mean you’ll be there for the rest of your career but you build your base as you go along.
The context of a DJ is expanding as DJ’s now are jumping on official records and doing production. Where do you see the “DJ” heading in the future?
I’m glad you asked me that because I’ve already started dabbling in those sorts of things. I produced a remix for an artist out of Toronto name Aleesia. The record’s called Not That Girl and I did it with De La Vega. It’s her official remix; you can download it on iTunes. Plus, I have a few records coming down the pipe soon. I don’t want to say it just yet but it will be pretty big. It’s featuring a certain fire-starter. That’s all I will say.
Would you say DJ’s these days need to be on the remix and production side of things?
Yeah. Especially now with the ‘digital dj’, anybody can pick up Serato or Traktor or any of these programs and play the exact same records you’re playing. Obviously I’ll play them differently but at the end of the day, anybody can be a DJ. Now what got me into production was that I wanted to play my own records and remixes in the club. That’s where my head’s been at lately.
As you were coming up as a DJ, what would you say is that hardest challenge you’ve faced?
Exposure. Really and truly. You didn’t have the Twitter and MySpace or any of those social media spots. You had to hustle and literally record on a cassette deck to get yourself out there. That’s been my hustle.
What are some of the achievements you’ve had throughout your career that have left a lasting impact?
In terms of achievements, I’m pretty blessed. I can honestly say that I’ve opened for a lot of artists, from Kanye to Kardinal to Jermaine Dupri. I’ve done a Drake video release party. The list goes on. I’m pretty thankful for those things and to have those opportunities.
In terms of achievements: four time Stylus Award winner, Flavour Pool DJ of the year. I’ve won a few awards and I’m very thankful for that. I’ve worked very hard to get those awards.
What’s next for you as a DJ?
Producer. Remixer. I know a lot of DJ’s become artists off of those accolades. Nowadays you’re looking at DJ’s and DJ’s are the focal point of certain events. These days a lot of DJ’s are being used to promote products like Blackberry, HP, iPhone, whatever. That’s the next step for all of us DJ’s. For myself, I’m focused on the production side of things.
It seems that on a lot of songs on the internet introduce the song title and the artist (and maybe the feature) but they often don’t credit the DJ or producer. What are your thoughts on that?
I think those who know will know. Like the Pitbull record [Give Me Everything]; people only know Pitbull, Ne-Yo and Nayer. Nobody ever says Afrojack. He gets completely pushed aside and it’s his record but I think the people who know, know. I’m sure he sees it but he’s not really complaining about it because he has a fat check off of it. That’s the shitty side of things but the people who are fans of Afrojack will know. It goes both ways but at the end of the day, you’ll get your shine.
Growing up, which DJ in the scene did you look up to the most?
I’ll name three. The first being Jazzy Jeff. I think he inspired a lot of DJ’s. He inspired me to get onto Serato. I told him that to his face! I had the honour of playing with him and meeting him and I told him, “You are the one that got me onto Serato.” I wasn’t going to. I was stubborn. I didn’t believe that this new technology was going to be the way of the world. I was convinced that I’d be bringing my crate of vinyl around until I flew to Vancouver and they charged me for being overweight. Thank you Air Canada. That’s one.
The second being Starting From Scratch. His drive and determination is like none other. The third is a recent one, and that’s DJ AM. From the times I’ve seen that guy rock the club, it was just phenomenal. Nobody will go up to him and request a record because you’re going there to hear him play and let him do what he does. Rest in peace to him! Definitely DJ AM.
What is HYPE?
It’s energy. It’s what you should be if you’re an artist or a performer. You have to be HYPE.