What DJing means to me! By DJLAB
June 11, 2019
I have been DJing off and on for the past 35 years now. It has always been a source of relaxation and shear pleasure. To understand my passion and love for this art, I will need to take you back a few years to my early teenage years in Chicago. It was early summer 1983, and I was doing the typical things young teenage kid do, just hanging out trying to find something to get into. As a child that came from a family of meager means, there was never any summer vacations out of the state or any such things like that. For the most part, you either worked or went to school for the summer, just to past the time away. Usually, I did both! Even though, I worked and went to summer school, summer times in Chicago were always fun for me as a teenage child. Anyway, I loosing site of why we are here. Summer 1983 was the first summer, I discovered music and DJing on a higher level. Granted, there was always music in my house, I was raised with 10 aunts and uncles, so music was always prevalent, in our house, it was generally the way we escaped our reality! From rock, jazz, blues, funk and R&B, and that devil music called rap! My musical exposure was vast and eclectic. There were many days of playing records on our component set for my mom and her drunk and rowdy friends. This gave me the practice to try and read the crowd to keep that crowd happy and dancing, which kept the liquor flowing and plentiful. As time went on, I started spending my summers over my Grandmother’s houses. My Great Grandmother on the westside of Chicago, and my Grandmother on the southside of Chicago. I figured, I should explain that, as I just called them both Mudear. Anyway. As the summers got longer and hotter, the music of the summer begins to change. It started changing from R&B and love ballets to Rap, and then to gangster rap. But we had one more element, and genre of music in Chicago, that was a lot more prevalent then either of those genres I spoke of earlier. And that genre was House Music! And, house music was the genre of my child hood, and the genre of which, I began my DJing “career”! Chicago house music was so eclectic and it encompassed anything that wasn’t rap just about. Disco, some R&B, and then there was the original house tracks, made in Chicago, just for us. Then came the Hot Mix 5! Which, most people, don’t know or remember, started in 1979, but didn’t gain popularity until around 1982 or 83, I’m not real sure. Anyway, we use to always try to listen to the hot mix, but, since most of us didn’t own a radio and wanted to be outside where it was cooler at night, we often missed it. But, in 1983 one of us got a boom box, and it was on from there. We used to listen to the hot mix 5 from start to finish, and from the beginning I/We were hooked to the mix! I never owed my own boom box, but I used to have friends that had no problem with me using theirs. And, with their boom box, I would practice the mix on the 2 tape decks, beat matching and later I even figured out how to scratch with the tape decks. I was completely hooked, making mixes from my friends, trying to figure out how to records the mixes, just anything to do with mixes, music and DJing was all I cared about. DJing back then for me took me to places I had never been, and never expected to get to! When you are a 13-year-old poor kid from the ghettos of Chicago, you really don’t have much to look forward to, and DJing was my way forward! Now mind you, I didn’t own my own equipment, and never had any way of afford my own equipment. But, I had friends who could afford their own equipment and had no problem letting me practice and use theirs. I tried my best to be the best DJ I could, I would practice mixing for hours, sometimes my friends mother would ask me to leave. I had to get the practice in where I could, because I never knew when I would have a chance to practice again! So, I would always take full advantage of the time allowed to me by my friends. I had a best friend named Ike whose mother had a good job and she could afford DJ equipment for him, and he and his family had no issues with me using his equipment, even if he wasn’t home, and for that, I will be forever grateful! So, In 1985 I had the pleasure of meeting a friend of mines brother who just happen to be a DJ. But, it was on another scale, he would work the tables and mixer like I never heard before, and his collection of records was so large and vast, from classical to house. But, he never owned any rap! He would say that rap takes samples from the originals he was already mixing. This guy was such an inspiration to me. He made me want to know the history of the song, he made me want to learn the complexity of the mix in it’s simplest form. I think I need to pause, and let all the readers of today know, that back then scratching was not as prominent, as it is today, so, we were not into scratching. It was all about the mix, the blend the matching of those beats, making 2 songs one, period! So, my friends brother, or one of my best friends by now, put me in touch with my inner producer, engineer etc. He would always call himself and anyone else that could mix properly a Mixologist! I would carry records for him, watch his child, anything he needed me to do, I would do, for the chance to practice on his tables and learn from him. I was always striving to have him call me a Mixologist. But, it was never meant to be. Because, I moved to the southside of Chicago in 1986 and my connection with him was lost. Enter Fella…he was one of the first DJs in my neighborhood on the southside of Chicago, that I would consider to be a producer, because, he just had so many keyboards and synthesizers that he would use during his mixes. Fellow was also the first DJ I was able to throw parties with, in his garage. We would often switch up mixing duties or take turns on the decks, while the other rested, flirted with the girls at the party, or whatever! We were the first duo to do B2B mixing, decades before any of the DJs of the day did it, we did it first, as far as I’m concerned! Fella was great at helping me realize my creativity in DJing, he had no preconceived notions of what genres could be mixed together, so we would try any and every genre together. There were rainy days in Chicago, that Fella and I would just lock in and mix all day. The interest in DJing and producing between us was great and we made some great instrumentals, that was never released! I don’t know if any of those productions even still exist. Well, anyway. After 2 years on the southside of Chicago and going to college and having a new baby, my responsibilities changed and my locations did as well. Back on the Westside of Chicago, my friend Ike was still into DJing, but he had responsibilities as well. So, for us we would DJ when time permitted, but still getting it in as long as possible. And, yes during all this time, I still was never able to afford my own equipment. I had so many great friends back then, and we all contributed the best ways we could. Since, I didn’t have any equipment, I would contribute by buying records, back then, records were between 4 and 5 dollars, and since I had a job, I could afford records quicker than I could afford equipment. DJing always seem to bring us together, because we were not trying to celebrity DJs, we were just having fun. Unlike the DJs of today, we helped each other learn new styles and blending technics, then when scratching became a technic, we taught each other how to scratch. Once we learned a new scratch, we couldn’t wait to show the others how to accomplish it. DJing has never been far from me, I have always been able to get back to DJing no matter where my journey took me. After finishing college and having more kids, and getting married, I moved to Atlanta, where I totally lost touch with the DJ life for about 12 years. I never was able to by my own equipment, at this time as life took over. But, I was able to keep up with the tech and evolution of DJing. I noticed the equipment got more expensive, which made my chances of me owning my own, more elusive! So, after years of using someone else’s equipment, you can imagine the joy I felt, when in 2012 I finally got my first used CDJs and mixer. I have always bought used equipment and still buy it to this day. I’m not a celebrity DJ who can afford $10,000.00 worth of equipment, but that does nothing to calm my love of it! In most cases, my friends will help me with my equipment, or get me something for my birthday, or just pick up equipment somewhere and always seen fit to give that equipment to me, and that in itself, will make me forever grateful to them all! I will maybe one day be able to get that ultimate set, but as my age gets higher up my aspects of accomplishing that get lower. I always say, that I can DJ on a fisher price turntable, and turn the party out! DJs need to understand that we are the party, we bring the party with us and there is no real party without us! I truly believe that a DJ, is not just a mixer of music, or a scratcher of sound waves, but also a historian, if he applies himself correctly. We as DJs have such a great gift with in our hands, the gift to make people smile, to make people reminisce, to make people dance until their feet hurt. And, we should always take those gifts seriously! I often look in the mirror and say to myself, “this is a young man’s game, I’m to old to be playing with such things! But, the feeling I get, when I do a good mix, when I can get the party jumping, when I discover new music, always seems to draw me back in! If you only got into the DJ game to make money, then you got into for the wrong reasons in my opinion! When we started out DJing it was for our pleasure first, our enjoyment, the understanding, that this is special and it is something that should never be taken for granted. DJing has always been one of my greatest joys, it has always had a special place in my heart. No matter the distance or obstacles put between us, we always seem to find each other! Even though, I’m older now, and long gone are the days of setting in a bedroom with all your friends who are DJs just vibin for hours, I still reminisce and think back to my first days how DJing and I just smile. As time passes and the equipment gets more advanced, I’m hoping that the DJ will remain, I’m hoping that we can get back to DJing for the joy and not just the money. Because, once the joy is gone, we will start to let the technology replace us more and more. I’m hoping we don’t let the joy of touching the tables diminish, the pleasure and excitement of blending or first 2 songs dissipate, the excitement we get from the crowd disappear. Because, once those feelings are gone, so goes the DJ!