DJ KU *CLUB MIX* DJ OF THE YEAR – 2011/2012
Best Known For: Musical versatility, turntablism, clever mixing, being able to rock a wide range of crowds, reminding club goers why a good DJ makes a great party… Oh, and being Tampa’s panda of nightlife.
Favorite App: Blackberry Travel… I’m bad with remembering flight times, confirmation codes, etc. It’s also great for booking last minute hotels, checking the weather, and converting currency when abroad. This app has saved my life on more than one occasion.
Tune of 2012 so far: Major Lazer’s “Original Don” – This track has been in my rotation for the past few weeks and it’s just so funky. You can’t help but groove to it.
The Track That Changed your life: Common’s “I Used To Love H.E.R.” – As far as I can remember, this has been my favorite hip hop song of all time and my heart still belongs to it.
What makes a good DJ great? Above all, a great DJ must be able to properly mix, select, and program music. A great DJ must be able to read a crowd, respond with what they want, but at the same time surprise them. And most importantly, a great DJ is humble and always stays learning his craft.
Most underrated DJ? This is a tough question. Tampa Bay is so spread out so not every DJ is on everyone’s radars. There are a TON of “underrated” DJs in our area, meaning they all deserve more credit than what they might have already been given… But some of my favorite people to listen to when I’m out on the town include: Lesage, Black-N-Mild, Jaime Ferreira, Deville, Blaze, Casper, Qeys, Coz, Soltrix, Coro, Da Magician, Knex, Pedro M… This list could go on forever. Haha…
Due to the fact that we have a very diversified readership, give us the true history of where you are from and how you started in Tampa?
I was born in Baltimore, but moved to Tampa Bay as a child. In high school, I was always the kid banging out beats with my hands on the cafeteria tables and selling burned copies of all the newest hip hop CDs to my classmates. New albums always used to come out on Tuesdays, so I’d go buy them, never do my homework, and just stay up all night listening to and burning copies of them. Everyone at my school knew that Wednesdays was “new music day” (don’t sue me RIAA), so naturally I became known as “the music guy.” One day, one of my good friends came up with the idea of starting a mobile DJ business as a side job. I agreed. Mom bought me my first set, and I started learning from there. When high school was over, I continued DJing in college by joining WBUL, the student-run college radio station at the University of South Florida. From there, tons of doors were opened, one thing led to the next, and the rest is history.
How old were you when you first picked up your tables and what was the defining moment that made you want to pursue your dream as a deejay?
It was my sophomore year in high school, so I’d say I was around 15 or 16 years old when my friend had mentioned the idea of DJing. Being naturally into music, I figured picking it up as a hobby couldn’t hurt. I would listen to radio stations like 93.3 FLZ and Wild 98.7 (now Wild 94.1) that would broadcast live from nightclubs before I was even of age to get in. I loved the idea of taking music and manipulating it in the way that they did. And as I kept listening, the idea of becoming a DJ became more and more appealing. It wasn’t until I got to college and started working at the radio station that I started to take things seriously. I learned a lot there, especially from some of the older jocks. My defining moment, I remember, is when a friend of mine showed me a video of DJ Q-Bert at The Summit on YouTube sometime towards the end of my years at the station. My views of everything changed right then and there. There was a whole other side to DJing that I hadn’t been exposed to before. Q-Bert showed me DJing isn’t only about playing records and making people dance, there is an art to it as well. Since then, I have been trying to perfect the delicate balance between rocking a party and preserving the art form.
So when you first started out, did you start out with records and tables or did you go straight to basically MP3s and CDs?
My first DJ set was one of those “DJ-in-a-box” sets: crappy, belt-driven turntables and a mixer that felt like it was made by Fisher Price. It was absolutely horrible. I started to collect vinyl then, but it was hard to keep up with at the time. Vinyl was expensive and I was broke! Then sometime towards the end of high school, I got my hands on some really horrible CD players that I ended up using through most of college (burned CDs were much easier to keep up with). But now, I am 100% back on turntables using Serato. That program has changed everything when it comes to DJing. MP3s are even easier to keep up with than burned CDs and I’m back to the classic feel of vinyl on a pair of Technics!
Did you have any other aspirations before becoming a DJ and if so what were they?
I did actually! I was really into art back in high school and even had my work shown at a few exhibits in town. If DJing never came along, I feel like I would’ve become an architect or something along those lines. I am fascinated with design in all aspects, really. Even now in my free time, I frequent a few architecture and photography blogs to keep me inspired. I love the way someone can take an idea or thought and make it come to life on a canvas, a building, a home, an article of clothing, a piece of furniture, anything really… And even today, aside from DJing, I also dabble in graphic design to keep that side of my brain fed!
Where do you see the Club Scene evolving to in Tampa in the next 5 years?
Good question. I feel the age of the “douchebag” is coming to an end (or at least I’d like to think so). People are slowly starting to remember why it is they go out to clubs in the first place… For the music. In the past few years, much of Tampa has been very act driven, which is a great thing. It exposes people to bigger talent, culture, and sounds that might not be native to our area. At the same time, it’s also putting our city on the map on more of a national scale. Social media outlets like Twitter can do a lot for our town too. For example, when someone as big as Lil Jon or Afrojack comes to town and tweets about how awesome the party is, it makes our city a more desirable destination for other national touring artists/DJs. We as DJs have the power to determine how our city’s nightlife evolves. Lately, I have been taking chances during my Saturday nights at Hyde Park Cafe playing moombahton, a genre that is relatively unheard of in Tampa. Tampa as a city is growing and the club scene is coming up along with it. Music has the power to make a bad venue great, or even a great venue bad. This isn’t only happening in the ritzy, bottle-popping clubs either. Parties like “Ol’ Dirty Sundays” or “One Soul” in Ybor are centered solely around the music. Every time I’m there, I am reminded that people genuinely do possess a love for music and I hope to see the rest of Tampa follow suit in whatever genre it may be.
In this day of age, everyone sees success but they don’t know the hard work, blood, sweat and tears that it takes to get there. Do you feel you have paid your dues as a deejay or are you still paying them?
I am still paying my dues. You’re not done paying dues until you retire. Sure, you might’ve done more work, played more gigs, and put in more years than the next guy, but that doesn’t mean you’re better. They might give you the respect, but it doesn’t mean that you can automatically assume you’ll have the upper hand on them forever. The world of DJing is constantly changing, which means you’re never done working.
In business and especially life, you’re only as strong as the people you surround yourself with. Do you feel that you’ve surrounded yourself around good circles of influences?
Absolutely. It’s very important to surround yourself with positive influences. Most of the DJs I keep in touch with on a daily basis are extremely talented and push me to better myself and my craft. They’re there to help, and so am I. We take each other to the next level and have a mutual respect for one another… And I’m not just talking about Tampa either, but nationally and internationally as well. The DJ crew I am a part of, Critical Beatdown, is a collective of like-minded DJs, turntablists, and party rockers with members in various cities throughout the United States. We’re constantly sharing ideas, parties, music, and more to bring into our own respective markets.
Define what the word GREATNESS means to you.
Oh wow. Getting deep are we? In a nutshell, greatness is Chuck Norris… Haha. Ok just kidding. I think greatness is when you are moving forward in whatever it is you do. Greatness means you are there to take the hit when times are bad, but get right back up and keep going at it no matter what the obstacle.
With Greatness comes Success, what does Success mean to you?
And deeper we go… Success is when you can slap P. Diddy with a Bad Boy Greatest Hits CD and have him walk to Brooklyn to bring YOU back a slice of cheesecake… That’s success! Alright, just kidding again. I think being successful means being happy in life. It has nothing to do with money or fame, what car you drive, or how big your house is. It’s when you never have to work a day in your life because you do what you love for a living. I feel successful.
Extremely. More often than not, when I step in the booth anywhere in town, I can always recognize at least a handful of people that I remember from nights before. I am extremely grateful to have loyal friends and patrons that attend the parties I DJ. It’s also a great thing for me as a DJ because they keep me on my toes! Having so many of my friends and regulars come out so often means that I am always coming up with new stuff. Their support spreads beyond just Tampa too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received love from friends in Tampa even when I’ve been out of town. Thank you!
What places abroad have you had the pleasure to enjoy and which countries stand out the most and why?
I have been fortunate enough to see quite a few places at my age. Outside of the US, I’ve traveled to Canada, China, Japan, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Croatia, Belgium, England, Peru, as well as various parts of the Caribbean. They all stand out for one reason or another. Every place is different and leaves a different impression on your life. People in China drink harder than any human being I’ve ever seen, the kids in Singapore and Japan set trends before anyone else does, the dance music scene in Europe is so far ahead of the rest of the world, people in the UK never sleep, Peru has killer food, and so on and so forth… As far as a DJ though, I would have to say one of my favorite places to play is in Canada. I know that might sound lame considering they’re just our northern neighbors, but that’s exactly why. They’re so close, but their club scene is so different from ours. Canada also has a plethora of extremely talented DJs that I look up to and am always learning from. In Vancouver for example, some of the DJs there have trained their crowds to respond to good music and showmanship, so it’s always a challenge when I play there. I love it!
Have you ever used your success as a Deejay for personal gain or pleasure?
I like this question… Uh, “NO.” I’m just kidding. I’m sure there has been at least a few instances where it’s come into play, but not for the reasons some of you are thinking (get your mind out of the gutter). I think I was seated at the Cheesecake Factory right away without having to wait once. Oh, and I got a free phone case from T-Mobile one time. Haha. But in all honesty, I don’t think the “I’m DJ KU” card could work for me anyways, even if I tried. Does anyone really care? I wouldn’t. Just saying.
After many long nights in the deejay booth what is your favorite deejay hangover remedy?
Ok, listen carefully because this is a full proof system! Before you go to sleep, try to eat something, then take some Tylenol, some sleeping pills, and drink at least two to three cups of water (and keep one beside the bed too). The food is there to soak up the liquor, the Tylenol is for the massive headache you’re bound to have, the sleeping pills are to make sure you actually stay asleep for the full time your body needs to recover, and the water is there to obviously rehydrate you. Gatorade works too. And once you’ve slept forever, go out and get some delicious pho… This works every time. Thank me later.
What advice can you give to anyone starting out in the business?
Above all, stay humble. No one likes a cocky DJ, or a cocky anyone for that matter. Show respect to other DJs and you’ll receive the same respect in return. Let your work do the talking for you. Also, learn to mix, read a crowd, and program a night correctly before you go and play out on your own. If you haven’t perfected your craft at least to some degree, it will show and people will notice. For me, I spent some time following DJ Jaime Ferreira around to his gigs just watching him before I went out and played an actual nightclub on my own. You can learn a lot from that, including what works, what doesn’t, and what to do when something goes wrong. Also, never settle or become comfortable with where you’re at in your career. There will always be someone willing to work harder and longer to get where you are or where you want to get.
Can you elaborate on your family’s influence on your music?
My mother had a lot to do with influencing my music. As a kid, she put me and my sister in piano lessons. During that time, I learned to read music, learn keys, and study chord progression, rhythm, etc. She has always been supportive of me in everything that I do, even when I decided to quit piano eight years later (which I fully regret as an adult). I still remember the day she let me get my first CD and my love for music began. It was Green Day’s “Dookie,” which by the way is still one of my favorite albums of all time. I remember my first hip hop album was Naughty By Nature’s “Poverty’s Paradise,” but the clean version, because I was barely 10 years old. A few months later, however, I convinced her to buy my first parental advisory CD (which was a big deal for a 10 year old back then), which was Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “E. 1999 Eternal.” Haha… I remember in high school, she bought me my first DJ set too. These days she can sometimes be seen out at my nights with a glass of wine in hand. She still gets down! Love you, Mom!
Would you say that your company DynastyEvents.com has had a big influence on your career and also your success in Tampa?
Certainly! My business partner Juan Nuñez and I met as DJs in college at WBUL. So from those roots, DynastyEvents.com has always had a strong focus on music above all other things. Since December of 2005, we’ve thrown some great parties and created a pretty expansive following that has allowed people to really get to know me as a DJ. We’ve also been responsible for booking and promoting some major artists/DJs in the Tampa area that include the likes of DJ Craze, Mac Miller, DJ Scene, Keys N Krates, StoneRokk, Graham Funke, DJ Five, Fashen, DJ Riz, Tina T, DJ Homicide, DJ Bonics, etc. These collaborations have not only created great events, but have also enabled me to spark lasting relationships with talents on both the national and international levels.
Where do you get your music and how do you decide what tracks make the playlist and what tracks don’t?
Serato has made life much easier on DJs. These days, most of my music is found on the internet via DJ pools or other official music download sites, but that doesn’t mean the art of “digging” is lost. Producing music has been made much easier with technology so the amount of music being released these days is infinite. In recent years, blog culture has exploded and through it, tons of independent, or indie, tracks are released into the blogosphere every day. This is where the “digging” can occur. Whether it be an original song, a remix, edit, or anywhere in between, these tracks can be considered more exclusive when not coming from a major/mainstream music download site, but rather, more exclusive since it’s being released by one person to only a handful of readers that come across his or her blog. A DJ can sometimes be measured by the music he carries with him, almost like the weapons he’s bringing to battle, if you will. These little gems can do wonders to make your sets stand out. As far as how I decide what tracks make my cut, it’s all up to my discretion and taste. Obviously the current popular tracks will stay, whether I like it or not. As for everything else, if I like it, I keep it.
If you had one last thing to say to your fans what would it be?
I would like to thank every one of you for allowing me to continue to do what I love every day. I’d like to thank them and everyone at Pulse Magazine for awarding me this year’s “DJ of the Year” award. I’ve been playing music in this town for a while now, and this means a lot to me. You can find me every second Wednesday of the month at “One Soul” at JJ’s in Ybor (neo-soul, r&b, chill hip hop, and soulful house), every Friday night at Blue Martini (top 40, house, and hip hop), and every Saturday night at Hyde Park Cafe (hip hop, reggae, and house)! And if you ever see me, don’t hesitate to come say hi. We’ll do a shot or three. You can stay up to date with everything I do on Facebook or follow me on Twitter at @djku! Feel free to download some of my mixtapes and remixes at soundcloud.com/djku and check out my videos at youtube.com/djku! Drive safe and party responsibly! See you out, Tampa Bay!