In our culture, hip-hop has become the one common thread connecting different demographics in ways that no other form of music has. At the center of hip-hop’s existence stands not an emcee, a “beef” or a rhyme but the DJ.
Since hip-hop’s creation, the DJ has played a vital role in hip-hop from shows, the actual production, the symbol and etc. Without the DJ, hip-hop as a music and a culture would virtually be nothing, reflected in hip-hop’s solid representation and lineage throughout the years.
Realizing that this is definitely true, Bay Area bred DJ Jason Donnelly, better known by DJ Jack has been making a name for himself in an out of the Bay Area. Proving to be inspired by the culture of hip-hop, and the greats before him, Jack’s name is an acronym meaning, Jason The Amazing Cut King, which pays homage to slain legend of Run DMC Fame, Jam Master Jay.
Getting his start as part of a DJ group with a few different friends and essentially an apprentice for DJ Backside, DJ Jack has made a name for himself, djaying tours with The Pack, Lil’B, djaying at one of the biggest hip-hop festivals—Guerilla Union’s Rock The Bells, as well as opening for several artists everywhere from DJ Quik or the Jacka, to G.O.O.D Music counterpart Big Sean.
With the affiliation of Ankh Marketing, Brooklyn Circus, Pink Dolphin and Ineffable Music Group, as well as his pure talent and drive, DJ Jack is on his way to making huge noise in music this year, and luckily I got a chance to speak with him before all the mayhem he will be experiencing soon. In this interview, I speak with DJ Jack about tips for upcoming artists and song creation, The Bay Area vs. New West Movement differences in terms of region, Kanye West and his start with DJaying. Below I have the video from our interview just in case, however it’s kind of out of focus (new camera).
Erin: What’s your favorite song out right now?
DJ Jack: I would say “Start It Up” that Lloyd Banks, with Kanye West on it and a bunch of other people on it. Fabolous is on it—he has a great verse. But, I’m really into Kanye, like Kanye’s really killing it right now. He’s known for being a producer but he wants to let people know he can rhyme with the best of them and he sure can. He’s up there at number one right now for being the hottest. He’s got all the “G.O.O.D Friday’s” and stuff like that. But yeah, that song gets me amped, when I put that on that get’s the party going.
Erin: So what do you think of Kanye West’s latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy?
DJ Jack: Man his album is like musical theater like from top to bottom. I kind of want to emulate that with my music, like the whole visuals, and everything. He put in a lot of man-hours into producing that and putting it out there. The songs just blend into each other. It’s unheard of for a hip-hop song to be 7 minutes long and have guitar solos. I just like how he really visualizes and puts it into music and sound and I think that’s awesome. Plus, the visuals are always on point like Kanye is a beast with that.
DJ Jack: I always wanted to rap. My cousin’s were rapping, my friends were rapping like everyone comes up beating on the table in high school freestyling or whatever. My friends started recording and I’d always be around them and be like “Yo! Teach me how to write a verse.” Or teach me how to write a chorus so I could rap with them and be with them or whatever, and they were like “you should be the DJ” and I was like “ooh okay.” So I talked to my mentor who was a DJ and he told me I could just go get equipment, so I rushed over to Guitar Center with my little money, put some turn tables on layaway and basically from there got them off layaway and started practicing, I was like 21 or 22 so it’s been a minute. After that, me and my friends, the same friends, we started a company and we started djaying anything from comedy shows, basketball games, fraternity parties, weddings anything we could do where they needed a DJ.
Basically, I always wanted to be in the club because that’s where a DJ needs to be. The mobile DJ thing is cool but I wanted to have a presence in the club. I started getting at all the DJ’s in my area that are doing it and emailed all of them and the only one that emailed me back was DJ Backside. Basically, my email went something like this “I’ll get your coffee, I’ll carry your crates, and I’ll do whatever.” I just wanted to be in it and learn about Draying and try to elevate. I started opening for her and promoting from her and she really put me on in the club my friends didn’t really like that because we got double booked. Sometime and I would go with her because we got double booked sometime and I would go her because I wasn’t getting paid with them—we’d put our money in a pot but with her she put me on.
I’d open for her and she’d give me a little money. I started doing that and there were conflicts, so I left them and started doing my own thing with her. Pretty much she moved to Los Angeles to further her career and it was lie when I was djaying with her I was happy to be djaying so I wouldn’t think to meet the promoters and exchange information so I could continue on with them with my name. After she left, I basically had to start from zero and build myself up and meet promoters.
I could say the biggest thing that helped with my career was getting on Twitter. My friend Eric Junior was telling me that I needed to get on Twitter, and I was all anti-Twitter like who’s going to follow me I’m a nobody. But I got on, and people started following me and pretty soon Lil’ B hit me, and he wanted me to DJ for him, like his first ever event that he ever did and it was a 3-day tour. First we did San Francisco, then Sacramento and then Tahoe. We did that pretty much and I was struggling between a day job and doing that because in my head I thought this could really blow—the DJ career. So I quit my job, I thought I was on my way pretty much.
Erin: Speaking of The Pack and Lil’ B, since the days of The Pack, Lil’B has turned into this huge phenomena. What are your opinions of the evolution of Lil’ B?
DJ Jack: I’m so thankful and lucky that I was able to go on that 3-Day tour with him because we listened to all 1,000 of those songs he put out all the way to Tahoe. So if you can imagine, we are riding in this little scrapper he’s got the beat, and he’s playing all this stuff for me and I’m like oh my gosh, this is going to take over—like I already knew. We were talking about knowing the whole “Based” thing was going to take over. I already knew all the adlibs, he was cooking already and everything, like I saw it before it all happened. I’m really proud of him that he could get the light that he wanted he needs that. It’s really deserved because he’s really stepped out on a limb, he’s said a lot of things for shock value, but if you think about it he’s really smart about it because the shock value has you listening and you’re asking who’s Lil’ B and now you know all about him.
Some people are probably thinking it’s annoying and think he’s not a real emcee but he really is an emcee because he’s showing you the different layers and I think as a true artist that’s what you got to do. In hip-hop we all get stuck in, oh no you can’t say that, that’s wrong and people would get down on you and people would blackball you but an artist should have the freedom to do whatever they want. You’re an artist, you’re drawing, you’re creating. It’s all about being creative. At the end of the day, you could say its entertainment. You say whatever you want to entertain the crowd and that’s all he’s doing When you see that crazy stuff that he says, it’s all entertainment, he’s tweeting all that crazy stuff and your like aw he’s crazy, you’re talking about him, you’re doing the free promo for him so it works. That’s basically what Lil’ B is. He made it cool to be weird and everybody’s weird in someway.
Erin: California is having some big “movements” but ours hasn’t caught on the way that LA’s movement has. Do you feel we have a movement and what do you feel like artists need to do to get more exposure from our region?
DJ Jack: I would say LA has a movement, because LA has a lot of money and celebrity flowing through it. There’s an industry out there they have Capitol Records; they have all the record labels down there in LA. In the Bay we have to make more noise than they do. In LA, you can make a little noise to get in contact with record labels, easily, with one song. Out here, that one song will get you on the radio and then you’ll fizzle out because no one’s taking notice. For a minute the hyphy movement was our movement and it made it far to MTV and outside of our little niche but I don’t think the people at the radio were liking the facade that went with the hyphy movement like going dumb, it wasn’t moving us forward. So it kind of put a dead end to it. Artists like Mistah F.A.B who were the front-runners of the hyphy movement they got pushed to the back and their careers got put on a hold on the radio.
If you know the process of getting signed you have to have a hot song, it has to be hot in the streets, then it goes to the radio and then you get spins on the radio and then the record labels see that and then the artists get signed, that’s how it works. So if the radio isn’t playing it and the artists aren’t getting signed and they are just staying here. With this new crop of artists like the Erk Tha Jerk’s, Armani Depaul’s they are pretty much viral you got the internet you got Twitter and you can put it out there to the fans and you don’t have to go through the radio so it kind of works out. But I think the artists right now just have to work on their image. Image is everything. It’s all about your photo shoots, your videos because that’s what people see and they’re going to keep watching it because the song could be hot but the visual has to go along with it and I think that’s where some artists in the bay are lacking. Erk The Jerk does a really good job; everything he puts out is quality. His photo shoots, his videos, the sound of the music is all quality and he can compete on a MTV with a Freeway or another artists that is out there, he can stand with it. I think a lot of artists need to put more into their visuals even me, I’m not going to put anything out unless the visual is correct. That’s how I feel artists out here really need to work on that and I think they’d go further.
DJ Jack: Your hooks or your rhymes have to be memorable. You want to be clear so everyone can remember you. Keak da Sneak has his own style, and people understand him because we’re right here, but I don’t know if people are going to understand it like that. We’ll understand it because we are from the Bay and we understand the language. I say make it more universal for everybody to understand and you got to identify with it. Like if your song has a certain emotion, people can identify with it and say I’ve felt that way they can sing along with it they’ve been there before and they can empathize with you.
Erin: What songs are hot right now?
DJ Jack: “Exhibit C” is a hot one right now. All Kanye is Hot right now. You got to know the crowd when you go out there. Like for the Big Sean show I know I got to play all his peers like J.Cole, Dom Kennedy, Curren$y. That 18-year-old crowd is very viral. As far as Emcees, I like Kanye. I like Kid Cudi a lot because he’s outside the box. He is Hip-Hop but he’s bigger than Hip-Hop because he can sing and do rock songs. He’s crossing genres all over the place and I can really respect that. I’ve always been a fan of Jadakiss because he has the voice, and hard lyrics. He always surprises me when he rhymes. Someone like Drake has a nice flow but you can always tell what’s coming next because of it. I really like Mos Def and soul artist like that who are really saying something. A lot of people have microphones, but they aren’t saying anything. They’re just rapping. I like Curren$y also. The first Curren$y song I heard was “My house” with Lil Wayne, and every since then I’ve been following all his mixtapes. I like how he’s got the lazy flow. He’s smooth to me. He always talks about being fly and fly clothes. It’s like listening to me if I was rapping. That’s how I see Curren$y.
Erin: Any upcoming events?
DJ Jack: I’m working with Brooklyn Circus who’s located on Fillmore. They have dope stuff, real quality stuff. I’m also working with IMG. They’re throwing a lot of concerts and I would like to open up for them. I’m also working with my friend Moe Green who’s opening for Dom Kennedy, I believe, on the 27th so hopefully we can get together and put a set together and work on that. Ankh Marketing, I’m working with them also. They work with the artist I’d like to work with like the Mos Def’ and the Talib Kweli’s. I don’t have anything set in stone yet but it’s coming. It’s going to be a good year in 2011. I’m looking to get a residency so that’s going to happen real soon. So I’m going to be knocking ya’ll over the head with the tweets, and all over FaceBook real soon.