(Photo: Milan Carter)
DJ R-Tistic is a part of my circle where I live (more like I’ve become a part of his circle, same difference), we get along because we have the shared experience of being FAMU alumni who are hardly ever extra acting. Living out his dreams, he has to roam amongst the turned up crowd and mingle with bourgie and hood folks (neither are my thing for opposite reasons), but really he’s one of the most regular people I know. I aspire to one day be as successful, well respected and still low key as he is.
I spoke with the homie recently where he laid out a blueprint for DJ life and revealed (not surprisingly) he played a small role in the foundation of what has become the present LA club sound.
What initially inspired you to become a DJ?
I always had an interest in music, it just took a while for me to connect that with DJ’ing. I was making beats in ’94 or ’95 because my dad had the equipment, and in high school I considered DJ’ing but I knew it would have been too much because I had to have equipment, speakers and everything else. What really got me into it was college in Florida, we would go to clubs and hear songs from the East coast and Midwest, but we didn’t hear our songs at all. We would have house parties playing our own music if it was a LA party, if it was a New York or Chicago party I’m playing their music. I was just playing on a Windows Media playlist until we actually decided to invest in the equipment to actually do it as a side job.
Going into 2014, what do you feel about the state of the LA party scene?
Right now the black Hollywood scene is pretty much the main thing that’s here as far as Rap/Hip Hop is concerned. The mix scene is always gonna be here, but as far as the black party scenes clubs are faced with people buying bottles vs. filling up the dance floor with a million people. It changes things for DJs because it’s not just playing songs to make them dance the whole time, a lot of times they prefer to hear certain anthems and new hits.
I’d say LA’s party scene is in the top three right just because of the energy of us having our own music for once. We haven’t had our own music to party to in the clubs since the mid to late ’90s, and even then our music wasn’t really made for parties but because it was LA music we partied to it. This might be the first time LA has had its own party sound, it came from the 2009 jerking movement and at this point it’s kind of been refined. I even think R&B artists are gonna start using that sound too, over the last few months Mariah Carey has a song with DJ Mustard and I think by next year people like Beyonce and Mary J. Blige will be using it because there is no real upbeat R&B sound right now. I think it’ll all tie in and it might get us the number one spot next year.
What would you say it takes to be a good DJ?
The main thing is reading the crowd more than anything else. I’ve seen DJs who had no technical skills still kill it because they knew what the crowd wanted. You have to be diverse enough to spin for different crowds, you cant just get used to your crowd and think that’s all you need. Whatever crowd you have, you have to be in tune with them. A lot of DJs might be technically great and into the DMC battle style, but they might not know how to read a crowd and whether they want to be hype and aggressive or just dance. You have to know exactly what they want at that time and be able to get there.
A lot of times you have to pace yourself because if the crowd wants to dance at 10:30 and you’re going until 2 AM, you don’t want to burn them out. It’s about being in sync with them, you have to picture yourself being in the crowd like “What would I want to hear if I was out here?” You might love a DJ Quik song or a Chaka Khan song, but just because you love it doesn’t mean that’s what the crowd wants to hear at the time. Also it’s not about being diverse to where you know a little bit about everyone’s sound, but you have to know how to go deep with whatever types of sounds you’re dealing with at the time.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career as a DJ so far?
There’s a few that are close. As far as an event of high magnitude, I would say this year’s Paid Dues festival is number one overall. As far as a party I’ve done, the School Daze HBCU party I spun in 2012, that’s the best party where I was the sole focus. On a creative side as far as mixes and producing, I would say The Timeline mix I put out earlier this year.
Tell me about how The Timeline came about.
My friend Ashton sent me this mix called A Hip Hop Odyssey four or five years ago, it was similar to what I did but the songs went by a lot faster, it was 800 songs and around 60 minutes. I thought it was dope but the songs went by too fast and it mainly focused on the East coast, I said “I wanna make a West coast version of that” and Ashton told me I should. I started that in 2009 and spent 30 to 40 hours on it and in 2010 I gave up because it was just too much.
I pretty much felt there was no mix that served that purpose, you’ll hear a mix that has all ’90s West coast music, a Bay area mix, or a mix that goes from the ’80s to now but you never hear one that ties everything in at one time. I wanted to highlight everything from Chicano rap to jerking, the ’80s, G-Funk, hyphy and every single style that we’ve been known for.
I attended the School Daze party you mentioned a few moments ago and you definitely killed it. What was it about that night that was so magical?
There’s a few more that are right around that level like 2009 FAMU Homecoming, I thought I killed it but there I was the opener and I didn’t have the whole night. With School Daze, I was the only DJ up there for 4 hours and the feedback on Twitter was crazy, when you get hit up from strangers you know you did a good job. Your friends will always say you killed it but people were looking for me and adding me on Facebook off that party.
A lot of preparation went into that because it was one of those events where I knew I could do more than I’m usually able to at the club. I was able to go way deeper than the surface songs for each region and the crowd was pretty much there for everything I had. I was playing songs the crowd had never heard in LA before and songs they hadn’t heard in 5 to 10 years.
From the outside looking in, DJ life seems fun. If you could pick a few things that annoy you the most about it, what would they be?
I hate the fact that people want to just hear what’s new vs. what’s good, a lot of folks want to hear what’s on the radio rather than what’s out there that they haven’t heard. When it comes to timing, people might think 10 to 11:30 PM is easy but that’s really the hardest time, because when the crowd walks in they want to hear whatever they want and at that time you’re just trying to warm them up.
I might be playing something from the late ’90s or early 2000’s and people might say “He’s playing too much old stuff, play some new songs”. I used to think it was just me, but when I started hanging with other DJs it happened to them too. People will say “Can you play some songs from this year?”. You ask what song they want to hear, they’ll say new Drake and Lil Wayne, not even caring about the specific song. They just want to hear stuff that’s new maybe because it makes them feel younger or in style because they’re dancing to a new song.
I also don’t like the fact that promoters pretty much want us to do their job. That gives us double pressure, we already deal with making sure the music is on point and keeping the crowd there. I can bring in 80 or 100 people if it’s the right event, but I’m not gonna bring my crowd to an event that they’re not gonna enjoy. A lot of promoters don’t realize that DJs have crowds that wont come out if it’s not an event they want to be at. When you have clubs with crowds that are seen as being hood or ratchet, if your crowd hates it then they might stop coming to your events altogether. In this current scene they want DJs to promote more than play music sometimes. Aside from those things…
The groupies in the booth.
People think it’s an amazing thing, but the groupies in the booth are pretty annoying. I cant lie, it makes us look good if you see a picture with a DJ and a hot girl on both sides, but half the time they’re annoying. You try to be nice because it’s a good look to have them at your events, but they’ll ask to play the next song and I’m like “You can ask me what to play”. They ask to scratch, you say no and they’ll scratch anyway, then the music cuts off and the whole crowd just looks at you. I’ve had to signal security over at times because girls that look good are spoiled and they think they can do whatever they want to. I’m too serious, I don’t care about groupies being there. Maybe when the party is over it’s all good but when I’m in the middle of it I’m at work, don’t bother me.
What has been your most challenging gig to date?
There have been a few in different ways. Rock The Bells 2011 wasn’t my fault but I’ll take some blame. MF Doom was supposed to come out, between each act there’s supposed to be a 15 minute gap but 35 to 40 minutes had passed and he still wasn’t there. The crowd was getting restless, they weren’t mad at me but they were mad that he wasn’t there. I hear a few boos from the crowd and I played “All About The Benjamins” because I figured it was a big East coast song from the ’90s, not realizing this was a Hip Hop crowd that probably didn’t like anything commercial. They had been grooving with me before that, but at that point it probably wasn’t the best move, I played that and started hearing more boos.
For 5 or 10 more minutes it was a struggle where every song I played they were coming at my head. At this point Murs came out and said “Doom probably isn’t coming”, and he performed some songs. From there it was all good but in that moment I couldn’t tell if it was me or if the crowd wasn’t happy because Doom wasn’t there. Whenever I do big events now I’m almost 110% prepared so that if the crowd ever wants to go against me I can still keep them in check.
Who’s one DJ you’ve seen spin that really impressed you?
Kid Capri. He was able to go from Hip Hop classics to old ’70s and ’80s classics to new songs and when he was dropping songs in at certain points I started taking that from him. He’d throw in the middle or even the end of a song where I’d start it from the beginning.
You have an extensive knowledge of LA Hip Hop stories. Tell me a few that the average person may not have heard.
The first time I met Game was the day his album got pushed back. It was September 2004, I met him right when he was on the phone with whoever at Interscope and he was in a real pissy mood. He was on the G-Unit cuts and they were coming to FAMU Homecoming that year, I asked his business partner Fat Rat if Game was coming and he said “He aint coming, he aint fuckin with them G-Unit niggas like that.” I was confused because that’s who put him on and helped him get hot. He said “We used them to get out there but we aint fuckin with them. Game already got disses waiting for them.” The only one he was cool with was Tony Yayo, he had disses waiting for 50 Cent and Lloyd Banks.
That was September 2004, I said I was gonna wait to see how this played out. By March, 50 put out The Massacre and said he was dropping Game from G-Unit. I already knew it was going to happen, people thought he had just then gotten kicked out but hearing about it so much earlier let me know that it really just was a business move for him.
I’ve known DJ Mustard since 2008, he was probably producing back then, but he was just getting into it while jerking was still popping. I would play parties for his uncle and Mustard was setting up the equipment for one event, while testing the sound out I played a random song from Florida called “Low 2 Da Flo” by Lil Kee. Mustard kind of stopped and he was like “What’s this? This shit is dope”. When it was over he told me to play it again, he was vibing to it and from there he took that sound along with everything going on down South, the Bay and in LA, and that’s where he got his club sound from. As a DJ he was way better than me back then at 17 or 18 years old, he was way ahead of the game.
What advice would you give to a younger kid who wanted to be a DJ?
Study. If you’re too young to go to a club, pay attention at a party or just listen to the radio and take notes. A lot of times your style happens from the database you have in your head. It all comes from the research you do, also try to become cool with a DJ by helping them out with their equipment and take notes from them if you’re serious about it. Watch Youtube videos, I got a lot of stuff from there, especially when it comes to technique. You cant really learn to play songs from there to see crowd reactions, but study Youtube to get your technique together. Listen to the radio, music changes every few months with something new that comes in and something else that goes out at the same time, make sure you keep your ear to it so that you know where it is at the time.
You recently won the West Coast region for the McDonald’s and Complex Flavor battle. What’s next?
The winners for each region go to New York for the third round. It’s been a good campaign that started off extremely stressful because of the votes being so close and everybody having to campaign. I didn’t think people would be voting for me as much who didn’t know me. The random fans decide it every time they go on Complex and other places where it was advertised, that helped me get a larger lead. It’s made me see my random mixes might be bigger than I realized if people saw me and voted from that.
It’s going good, now I have to prepare a 10 minute set for New York. My main weakness is I’m not an amazing scratcher, I’m decent at it in the clubs but I’ll have to tighten up on that. I’m just going to focus on my strengths which are mainly the transitions, song selections and overall energy with playing songs and bridging them together. I’m ready for that to happen, I have a couple of weeks to prepare for the New York trip in the middle of January and I’m hoping everything goes according to plan.