Keeping It Real In The South: An Interview With DJ DX

by | Aug 2, 2022 | MUSIC

DJ DX was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, but due to a health complication his mother developed, he and his family moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Looking for anything to do in the sparsely populated Delmarva Peninsula, DJ DX began playing basketball, playing frequently enough that he became quite the skilled player. After seven years of living in Maryland the sport took him back to Jersey City to live with his uncle and attend high school. An artistic man, he would frequently play music with fellow musicians in his basement. The room that DX’s uncle set aside for him to use as a bedroom was also his personal music studio. Thus music was constantly surrounding DX. One day, he went to his uncle and asked him to teach him to spin records and make beats. His uncle, wishing to pass the tradition on to the next generation, agreed to do so. 

By the end of his high school career, DX was frequenting record shops in Manhattan to try to find interesting sounds, using them for mixtapes that he would create and sell at school. Due to his close proximity to New York City, DJ DX was no stranger to the well developed east coast rap scene. He fell in with a group called Double X, who were produced by a friend’s father. At one point, he took a break from the scene, but after the birth of his first child, he returned to the hip-hop game, and remains active to this day.

DJ DX’s music hearkens back to the age when beats were produced by spinning and looping sections of records, with classic, authentic scratching and distortion at the forefront of the beats. Sampling from just about anything, but with a focus on classic R&B and gospel music, his tracks serve as the foundation on which he can discuss the issues on his mind. DX’s lyrics focus mainly on deeply emotional and personal experiences, as well the tribulations of what it means to be a Black man in the United States. His voice is a melancholy echo of the problems voiced by artists and rappers since the earliest days of hip-hop. Forty years later, they’re still pertinent. With a hammer-like flow DJ DX’s voice does not let up or provide respite, overwhelming the listener with whatever happens to be on his mind. Letting up only in the occasional syncopated line, he brings attention to words that anchor the themes of the song — as in the track “Don’t Worry,” from his album Made From Scratch, where he lands hard and fast words like “meal,” “family,” and “daughter.” 

DJ DX collaborated with Hourglass Sessions and Vybe House to produce a live performance of his track “Blessings,” which you can watch on Tuesday August 2nd at 1PM on RVA MAG TV. Read below for our interview with DJ DX, in which we talk about how labels can be confining, making money as a musician, the hip-hop scene’s use of the internet to promote itself, and the problems and advantages that came along with that.  

What do you think about Richmond, and being here making music?

This scene is very soulful. It’s very diverse. There’s so much talent here that reminds me of Jersey City. Coming up you have that feeling, like, that nostalgic feeling. Even with the art around the city — you see the murals, it reminds me of home. And then, you know, the people are different from here. Up north is more fast-paced, but it’s slowed down here, and people are more open-minded, you get what I’m sayin? There’s nothing to be competitive about in the country; it’s just: either we work together or we don’t. It’s just so many different sounds where you don’t have to worry about it. [It’s not like] ‘I need to do what this person is doing now.’ That’s not the case here; everyone’s different. There’s a lot of musicians, for one; a lot of great singers; and the style, the culture, and the food along with that. It’s a really soulful area, and that helps music go a long way, because you could be somewhere and it’s just a small town. What’s happening? You got to make something happen there, or, God forbid, try to stand out. You know? Here it’s a really huge community, and people don’t look at it like that. I think this is probably the next scene to blow up. It’s ahead of its time.

What exactly brought you here? Because you built a decent following in Jersey City, and then you up and moved here. Why?

My grandfather had passed away. Music was going good, and I was performing twice, three times a week, and then he passed away. But he played a really big part of my life, as far as being there and being a father figure in my life, because my father passed away before my senior high school. He told me how to cook, told me how to save money, told me about women, how to drive, all types of things that my father couldn’t do because he passed away. I ended up like coming down to Virginia with family, and I was just like, “Oh my God, [Richmond] reminds me of Jersey City and Newark, but it’s like, way laid back.” But it helped me heal. I was so healed from being here for a while, when I went back home I actually walked past my grandfather’s house and thought that he was still there. I was like, “Oh shit!” But I didn’t feel the pain inside anymore, so I thought, ‘Wow, Richmond really did that for me, you know?’

Moving away from your background, I want to hear more about how you make music. I’ve spoken to brass ensembles, solo artists, and rock bands, and I’ve learned how they make music, but what goes into making music for a DJ and a rapper? What’s your process?

I can write about practically anything, and just rap. A lot of people would say, “Oh, I don’t write,” but I write a lot. I like to do it in confinement, and then from that, it takes something impactful like an event, or something traumatic to happen in my life, for me to really say, “All right, now ready to put out material.” Because I feel like that’s the art of me; it’s that form of expression. Because I’m not too open-minded with expressing myself to any and everybody, you get what I’m saying? But the process of creating music for me is now… I’m back making beats on my Akai so I’ll be happy, and I was thinking, “Oh, I want to flip REO Speedwagon, or I want to touch Janet Jackson.” That is basically how I’m feeling in the moment. And then from that, while I’m making beats, I literally see things I haven’t even spoken about yet, because that’s just a form of expression. What I really like is using the turntables. I like having like a [Technics] 1210 [turntable] hooked up on the side. Serato, you know? Akai, PC, a mic and a pad on the side, and that’s probably how I made a majority of my music. Just BOOM, something’s happened. I go into my own domain, shut down, and I just write and record a lot of music, and put it away. I don’t even let people know until I feel that I’m ready to really show something.

So you call yourself DJ DX, but you also rap and sing. You started spinning first, but when did the rapping and singing come about?

Well I wouldn’t call myself a singer, but a lot of people say I can. I think it was from my aunt. She had cancer, and I used to go to her mansion in Plainfield [NJ] and spend time with her before she passed away. And the whole time, I didn’t even know that she had cancer. I would be harmonizing — I think I’m really good at harmonizing in bathrooms and stuff like that — and I can hear myself. What’s given me the confidence to actually do it now is my partner also sings, and she used to tell me, “No, you’re out of key,” and “You need to sing a little better, sing it lighter.” She tried to teach me different keys on the piano, and stuff like that. I just feel more confident now doing it.

At one point in time I was reflecting on my name and my brand; I wanted to change my name as far as the rapping, but then someone told me not to do that, because that’s not smart. So I’m DJ DX, and it’s short for “Double X.” I come from Jersey City, and there used to be a rap group there called Double X Posse. One of my friends, who is a DJ, [is] from that coalition that we were all in together with his father — who was Double X; he was the one who started the group. And that’s where I got my name from. They gave me that name, and then I just made it short because I didn’t want to be confused with an iconic rap group from my city. I wanted to be known by my own name, so I shortened it at school one day. I was like, “DX DJ, it’s perfect!”

And do you do this full-time? 

I’m able to make music anytime that I want to, but I also own three companies aside from music. I’m actually an internet guru. I do SEO, Google knowledge graphs, brand awareness for small and big businesses, and verifications — on any social media platform, but my main ones are Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube. I started this during the pandemic, and it became a big deal for me, you know? It’s put me in the position to make way more money than I ever saw in music, and probably in the streets too.

And you release music by yourself through your company, DJ DX LLC. You have a pretty big following, and a lot of songs that have gotten quite popular on streaming services. Have you found any financial success in streaming alone?

I was actually signed to a company where they were helping with mashups, remixes, and cover songs, so they were able to get the license for it and put it out. At the time I released one song, and it was “Make it a Better Day.” I let someone hear it, and they were like, “Oh my God is that the stems from Red Hot Chili Peppers?” I was like, “yeah.” But I actually put it in the piano and changed it around and sprinkled it. Then I ended up taking Tupac’s studio vocals I got from someone that worked with him, and I chopped up his verse, put it together on the first verse, and then I did the harmonizing and singing then my verse and put it out. When I put it out I didn’t even go back to look at it; like, I wasn’t promoting it or anything. I ended up checking two months later and I saw that it had over 100,000 streams. I was like, “oh my God!” Then I went and checked on it the next month and it was at 500,000. So then I ended up getting an app, because the company wasn’t doing it for me.

That’s the thing with some of these companies: they’ll get talent, but they’re not promoting it or anything. They just take a percentage. So what I thought, I was like, “I’m gonna just promote the hell out of it. I’m going to make what I make, and the publishing company is gonna make what they need to make.” I set up to promote it, and it ended up turning into like 7,000,000 streams, and I got another [song] that was about 3,000,000. So on the streaming side, I’ve seen success organically; no bots or anything like that. It was just basically using an app where I was able to post to any Facebook account that I had. So at the time, I had five Facebook accounts with thousands of people on it, and then my Twitter, and I had it set on autopilot. I thought like a DJ, because I DJed on the radio in Jersey, and I was like, “I’m going to autopilot this, and I’m going to set timers every 15 to 30 minutes so that there’s going to be music of mine being posted to my Twitter and my Facebook.” You know how the algorithm is: the more you’re active on it, the more that they cater to you. Because they want you a slave to the app in order to give you the perks of it. And I don’t have time to be on it, so I’ll just set a schedule and my music is going. Then I’m able to work and do other things. And it worked.

Which side of your music business generates the most, if it’s not streaming: is it touring, is it selling merch, or is it selling beats? 

The most that I make comes from my blends; people are downloading them everyday, and I don’t even promote. I have a lot of people from France that download blends off of my bandcamp page every single day, and that brings in a steady [income]. It’s passive money, but it’s also like, “Oh look, people are actually checking it out.” I don’t know if it’s coming from the people that’s actually on Bandcamp, or if it’s just word of mouth, because for a couple years I was just putting out free blends through a company called promo DJ, and I noticed the metrics. I was remixing Nicki Minaj, and I would take her stems, then I would do a verse, I would record it, then I would remix it with another a capella, and then I would put it out for free. And I said to myself, “This is promotion, because it’s actually putting my name out there attached to major artists.”

Now that we’re talking about streaming and the internet; the hip-hop scene was a very early adopter of the internet, in terms of using streaming services such as Soundcloud and BandCamp, and it was also very early in utilizing the internet to build online presences with social media. Do you think that because of this, hip-hop has succumbed to the shortcomings of these new avenues, and is an overly saturated market? More so than other genres?

Yes yes yes yes. I agree one hundred percent. It is oversaturated, because for one — this is no disrespect to any art, or any artists and their art at all — but I feel like you have these genres where people think, “This person made it doing this, so I’m going to do it.” And then you have so much of it, like crabs in a barrel, and there’s just so much of it at the bottom. You don’t have to be something that you’re not, you get what I mean? In hip-hop there’s so many people doing drill music, there’s so many people talking about drugs and stuff that they never did in their life. After a while, people don’t want to hear that, because they are already listening to Lil Durk, or Chief Keef, or whoever else. So, me personally, that’s why I love Richmond, because you can get with musicians if you’re a rapper. I did an Hourglass Session with Vybe House, and I love that, because they never expected what I was walking in with. I picked up the mic and came in ready to go, and it just felt like home, so soulful. And [that] is how you stand out: with live musicians. If you’re a real musician, a real artist, people respect that. How the market is now, you put these artists in front of a band, they won’t be able to perform right now. Not too many.

There’s a lot of people that don’t know how to think outside the box. A lot of people, like you said, just rapping about drugs and money because that’s what they heard in the old school rap, gangster rap, back in the nineties, and they’re trying to emulate it instead of just being themselves.

I’m not gonna rap about something I haven’t experienced in my life. I’m gonna rap about things that I feel, things that I see around me. That’s what all my music has been about. I just look at people and I’m like, “Wait a minute. You actually had a really good upbringing. What are you talking about?”

Your Hourglass Session that you did with Vybe House was fantastic. They’re such a great band, and you fit in so well with them. How did that come about? Do you often work with live bands, and how did you put that session together?

With Vybe House it actually came through Hourglass, and they were the ones to suggest that I reach out and work with them. But prior to coming here to Richmond, I actually did a lot of shows with live musicians in Jersey: violinists, drummers, and I was actually working with this guy named Kenny Ashburn. I was doing the song called “Proud of Me,” and we never rehearsed together or anything, and he pulled me to the side after. He was like, “You know, plenty of rappers would have choked playing with a live drummer like that. I’m going to hook you up with some people.” We were going to get together, and I knew he was serious because these musicians travel to New Orleans, California, Memphis… they were everywhere. And I was like, “Yo, this could be a door of opportunity.” Performing around musicians is just, like, natural. I think that one of my skills is that I have a really great rhythm, so I’m able to attach quickly to sound and just fit in.

Tell me about what’s coming next for DJ DX.

I’m actually working on a project now. It’s actually completed, but I’m really hard on myself as far as putting out stuff. I put out “Blessings,” but to me it’s a thing where I want to put out some of my best material — because I haven’t put out an album in years. I put out singles, but I haven’t put out an album in years. The name of it is called Southern Yawn, and I actually got that from being here. You know, you can go get some candied yams at Mama J’s, or some fried chicken anywhere in the city. You could be out near the water with your shirt off and your jewels out, you know, and people are just chill. You can make money in the South, but you’re still going to get that yawn. So that’s what I’m working on now. It’s primarily my production, because I always said I want to make my own thing. I want to get back to making my own beats. I work so hard to study and hone my skills, and I want to work on a project where it sounds authentically like me, no 808 computerized stuff. I want the real stuff, and then people can understand: I produced the whole album, I wrote the whole album, I didn’t really have any features on it, and I did it in the south.

Can you give us a date when it’s coming out?

I’m pushing towards maybe November or late December. Before the new year. I still have to go through the process of engineering. I want the best sound, you know? Here in Richmond, you have a lot of really great lyricists. A lot of people don’t know that, but I do, and one thing I pay attention to is the sound. All I’m missing now is someone to mix and master it so I sound like the real deal. In the past, I did all the engineering, and I didn’t go to school for that. I didn’t go to school to learn how to DJ. Someone taught me this stuff, and I feel like I need to work with people who are professionals. I’m keeping it real, you know? I was taught that if you’re going to do any type of art — music is art — you be yourself, you be true, and don’t be anything less than that.

You can watch DJ DX’s Hourglass Session, featuring his song “Blessings” on RVA MAG TV, and find the rest of his music at his Bandcamp site or anywhere that you stream music.

Andrew Bonieskie

Andrew Bonieskie

The 2022 Weekend Editor of RVA Magazine, Andrew Bonieskie is a writer and composer living in Richmond, Virginia. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in music and a minor in creative writing Bonieskie has gone on to score feature and short films, released a book of poetry, and frequently performs lead vocals with the band Pebbles Palace.

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