Black history month is a celebration of Black culture for centuries and one of the biggest links to Black culture is Hip Hop. Hip Hop has given artists the ability to express themselves or use Hip Hop as a commentary on social issues in the form of art. If Hip Hop is a canvas, DJ’s are like brushes that blend the colors of sound and voice to create beautiful portraits. DJ Dummy is one of those artists that brings an eclectic flair to his work; he is talented enough to masterfully capture the essence of a Henry Ossawa Tanner painting and recreate the artistic imaginings of a Faith Ringgold in his works of art. He is able to adapt and create in the world of Hip Hop sounds that are both palatable to ear and enriching to the soul. Taji Mag had the chance to interview the ageless, musical virtuoso to discuss his journey and his love of Hip Hop.
What influenced you to become a DJ?
DJ Dummy: “I was surrounded by DJ’s. My father is a DJ, my brother (DJ LS1) is a DJ. I also had uncles and three cousin’s that were also DJ’s. Going back to the 80’s, I used to go the park and DJ’s would have their equipment out and I am watching these guys, seeing that they were doing things that my father wasn’t doing. All my father did was mix two records together to continuously keep the beat going and now I’m seeing these guys in the park, they are scratching, making the record double. I was like, ‘this is something different!’ So that’s what made me want to get into it. I was 8 years old at the time and I knew I was going to DJ.”
You’ve performed at the White House, almost all of the late night shows, NBA All-Star games, and Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. You cover pretty much everything! How are getting all of these nice gigs?
DJ Dummy: I’ve been with the right people and I can honestly say that. I’ve been with Common for the last 17 years and I can’t take anything away from that man. He has put me in such amazing places. I get to shine [and] walk away with people knowing my name. I owe a lot of those experiences to Common. Because of him, I have performed at the White House three times!
What are your top three favorite gigs?
DJ Dummy: I change the order of them all the time but… When I got to perform at the White House it was out of this world. First of all, it was President Barack Obama’s first party at the White House, this was the biggest thing ever. The fact that the President and the First Lady were partying with us was great! Secret Service was there but they weren’t crowding them. Barrack was in the middle of the dance floor partying with his guests. You have to think, this was our first Black president, we didn’t think we would ever have a Black president. That’s what was going through our minds as guests as we partied with him.
The next big gig was the Dave Chappelle Block Party. I tell people that you may have seen the DVD but you weren’t there! It was amazing and so great! First of all, to be in Brooklyn and to have all those artists on one stage with artist like Kanye, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Common, The Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and the Fugees was awesome! I tell people that you don’t know what that meant for Hip Hop that night! There were so many other artists that jumped on stage that they didn’t put in the movie. It started at 10 am and didn’t end until midnight. It was like our Hip Hop Woodstock! It rained all day and we still rocked! I really, really loved that night! There were no fights or anything it was all about the music.
My next big event was the first time I performed at Madison Square Garden. That was a big moment for me. I never thought I would be performing there. Here I am, in my hometown, where I was born and raised. but there I was on the stage performing. I was doing the opening set with Common. During the set, I had a 5-minute solo and after I was done, the crowd went bananas and if I would’ve blinked I would’ve cried. It got no better than that!
Tell me about a few other famous artists that you have worked with?
DJ Dummy: Queen Latifah, every time she calls me I am always available. I love working with her. She is such an amazing person and she has a great personality. I respect her more than I respect Oprah, no discredit to Oprah because she isn’t my Hip Hop era. Latifah came straight out of Jersey and to be the woman that she is in Hollywood, you have to be proud of her.
J.Cole taught me about putting out great work, like whole albums and not just singles. Each of his albums are full stories. Like the album J.Cole: Sideline Story was about him trying to break into the music industry or his album Born Sinner which was about him making it big but making so many mistakes. His approach to music is if the radio picks it up as a single, OK, but if he is in the studio he is not trying to make a single because that is not what he is about.
With Alicia Keys, I felt like I was working with God’s angels. I just kept thinking, ‘Is this person really this nice?’ I had to keep asking myself because she is so amazing. As soon as she walks in a room, the whole room lights up. She just brings that energy with her. If you are in the studio and you make a mistake, she would look at you with an amazing smile and say ‘Oh it’s ok, let’s just do it again.’ She is just an amazing person.
Why do you love Hip Hop?
DJ Dummy: I grew up in Brooklyn, NY in the late 70’s and early 80’s. All I heard was disco music played by my parents. Like Motown from that era, I loved music from there. Then when I heard somebody rapping these words over one of my fathers’ old records, I was like ‘Hey that’s Good Times but they are actually doing some raps over it!’ It grabbed me like holy cow! I was thinking this is was something we could relate to. It wasn’t about shaking your booty or love, this rap was about how we were talking growing up in the streets. It was just something we could relate to. Not saying we couldn’t relate to disco, disco was just there at the time. Once I heard groups like Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, and the Cold Crush Brothers rapping over my fathers’ old records, it was the best of both worlds. Then there used to be jams outside of the park where the DJ would bring out the big bottom bass speakers and he would have control of the crowd that consisted of break dancers and other people dancing. That was Hip Hop. The music wasn’t Hip Hop, the whole environment was Hip Hop. That is when and why I fell in love with Hip Hop.
When it comes to Hip Hop, DJ Dummy truly exemplifies the quote, “To find joy in work, is to discover the fountain of youth.”