By José Otto Campos
The New York City nightlife scene is synonymous with music, booze, and friends that don’t go to sleep until the sunlight touches their feet. The music heard in Manhattan is mainstream club jams that are played on your everyday radio, but louder. It’s too dark to see the crowd, and the stage is too high to connect with the DJ. But who cares?! It’s the strong drinks and your sweaty body grinding to your favorite radio hit that brought you to the City.
But then you grew up. Your appreciation for music evolved to less Pop and more Funk. More Rock and Punk. You want to hear more grooves of old school hip-hop, disco, and house. The MP3 is getting full of eclectic sounds of music that won’t be played out there in the island of Manhattan. They used to, but not as much anymore.
Now you come to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the DJ has set the mood. Yeah, the décor is nice but the rhythm and blues feels nicer. You came with your friends, but now you’re leaving for a musical journey the DJ is taking you on.
That’s how real DJs perform. It’s not just about the vinyls, mixers, and turntables, and the software on their laptops. It’s not about the money or the fame. It’s about how the music connects to the audience and the audience connects to the DJ. It’s about the love of music, music they’ve invested time in studying, to take the crowd away from the everyday radio mixes. It’s about the beats, the breaks, grooves, rhythms, melody, and tempo. It’s about the history of sound created in different decades and cataloged in genres. These real DJs are known to perform in Williamsburg. They have performed in bars, lounges, and clubs to give our night a soundtrack.
The legendary DJ Rob Swift is mostly known for battling other turntablists at the DMC competitions for the right to be called “The Best DJ”. Now, he simply rocks the crowd. He continues to perform in venues all over the world and still returns to New York to play in smaller venues, especially in Williamsburg. “They let their DJ do their thing,” said DJ Rob Swift. “And they just enjoy the music. Also, they know their music. I love DJing in Williamsburg.” DJ Rob Swift also DJs for the online radio, Scion AV, and teaches at Scratch DJ Academy in New York. Yet, he makes time to promote the mix-tape CD, Roc-for-Raida. DJ Roc Raida was Rob’s partner in the DJ battle group the X-cutioners. Raida died two-and-a-half years ago from a freak martial arts accident that stopped his heart. “I wanted to do my part to carry on his legacy and also raise money for his family,” DJ Rob Swift said. “Proceeds of the CD sales go to his wife and three kids. People have supported and I’m really happy about that.”
One of DJ Rob Swift’s protégés is Dr. Unos and Dubs. This DJ’s ability to operate like a surgeon on the ones and twos with house grooves, hip-hop, and funk and soul sets him apart from anybody pretending to be a DJ. Dr. Unos and Dubs DJs at the popular online BBox Radio, stationed in Williamsburg. He also DJs in live shows with hip-hop artist Josh Baze, who recently opened up for a Ludacris concert.
Resident of Williamsburg is DJ Sammy Needlz. He has DJed all around the country since he was 19 years old and toured with rap artists 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Kanye West, and many more. He said, “There is no high that could match” rocking a crowd of twenty to thirty thousand people in an arena or stadium. Needlz is also a co-host for “Show Off Radio” with Statik Selektah on the Emenem’s Shade 45 Sirius/XM. Producing music has become Needlz new passion. But that hasn’t stopped him from DJing and noticing, “In a place like Williamsburg, a lot of people are educated in music.” He started as a hip-hop DJ, but has developed an understanding of funk, disco, and soul. Needlz appreciates the Williamsburg crowds because “they understand where these records come from,” he said. “They’re music aficionados”.
A crate-digger is also known as a “music aficionado.” DJ $mall Change has collected over 50,000 records. Yep, he is an official music aficionado. So if you’ve heard him DJ at the APT in the Meatpacking District before it closed down, or recently at the Commodore in Williamsburg, then you can testify to his eclectic taste in music. DJ $mall Change is a master of transitioning in and out of genres. He loves to rock parties that “within an hour or two you can go to different genres of junk blues to early soul, funk and disco to hip-hop, reggae to dubstep, and then back to reggae”. He said, “When you’re going from one genre to another it’s like you’re rattling the dance floor.” But don’t rattle DJ $mall Change and request a Rihanna song in the middle of his set, because he might lose his funk. He said, “I do not cater to crowds that want to hear pop music all night long.” Since he’s been a DJ for over fifteen years, his fan base strongly supports him.
Another DJ that does not like to play in pop-riddled venues is Maticulous. The up-and-coming producer that has grown a passion for making music, and not just playing it, still finds time to DJ in Manhattan and Brooklyn. “I like to play what I want,” he said. “If the crowd is feeling that, then there is no better feeling.” Maticulous was inspired to DJ at the age of ten when he first saw the movie Juice. He then bought himself a pair of turntables and started mixing and blending hip-hop records. Now, his catalog has developed to more genres. This DJ has created beats for many popular underground MCs and continues to work with more artists.
Like many DJs, Benny B. started out as a hip-hop DJ. His music selection has grown immensely, and his soulful transitions of dance music play with the energy of the crowd. He lifts them up and keeps them there so their feet can keep moving. Benny B. said he only takes requests when “playing in Manhattan. But in Williamsburg I don’t have to. The crowd is open to what I’m playing.”
In amongst the hipster crowds are Williamsburg’s Latinos. They have their own style and taste in music. That’s where DJ Locorious walks in. The local product of the Southside has been rocking all the Latin clubs in the New York metro area, and is also popular in Boston and D.C. The Williamsburg native has mastered the mixing of typical Caribbean hits as well as Latin urban jams. He’s also the local celebrity recently nominated for a Latin Mixx Award 2012.
This DJ’s mother offered to pay for a cooking class when she was younger. Instead, she took the money and went to DJ school, Scratch DJ Academy. “I always had a crazy love for music since I was little,” said DJ K-Styles. Now the long and slender Brooklyn resident plays in the big venues in Atlantic City almost every weekend. She has her own online show on Beatminerz Radio, and is working with the “She So Fresh” brand to create a mix-tape.
DJ K-Styles is in a male-dominated industry but says it doesn’t affect her because the Atlantic City crowd wants to dance, and the Williamsburg crowd wants to groove, and that’s all that matters.