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WYDU Interview with DJ Low Key

by Travis on September 9, 2008

Wow, the story to be told behind this interview. This actually was my first REAL interview of any kind, which was done almost a year ago on a sunny September day in Denver. I had done the Interview with a Blogger thing, but as far as an artist, DJ Low Key of Denver was my first. It’s also my only sit down face to face interview I’ve done as well (no thanks to Kno of Cunnin). Low Key and I hooked up at a little mall like place over by his crib. Neither one of us drank coffee, and we both had lunch already, so we sat down on a planter on the sidewalk and watched the hot MILFs go by while we sat and bullshitted about hip hop.

If you think you’ve heard of DJ Low Key before, you probably have. I kid him all the time and call him the Denver Mick Boogie, but give him time and he’ll be the next Mick Boogie. Low Key is one of the top club DJ’s in Denver as well as a fixture on the city’s hip hop scene for more than six years, doing shows, opening for out of town acts, and down with the well known regional crew Basementalism (who does a wicked radio show out of Boulder). The past year or so, he really started making a name for himself, first as mixing Justus League MC Median and his “Relief in the Making” mixtape that dropped before his dope “Median’s Relief” LP from last year. He was voted the “Best Hip Hop DJ” in Denver by the alternative press Westword Entertainment Mag. He also mixed the “Tanya Morgan presents Ilwil – Beat Thieves 2″ that dropped earlier this summer. He was the tour DJ for the first half of the Tanya Morgan, Hieroglyphics tour that zigged zagged across the nation. He was the executive producer for Blu & Exile’s “Blu Collar Workers” video, where my man gets all P Diddy’d out and makes cameos all up in the video (at the record store and at Exile’s crib). And he has MORE stuff on the way (I just can’t say what yet, but it’ll be HUGE). So if you don’t know him, you NEED to know him and that’s what I’m here to help with.

Today, we have the first interview that we did last year. I meant to get the interview up, but it was around the time I was getting ready to move back home, so time was limited. Then the tape the interview was done on was MIA for quite awhile until I found it again this summer in some boxes while looking for some shorts. Low Key and I stayed in touch, since he is an extremely cool cat and down to earth. We also share some of the same tastes when it comes to music. We did another “update” interview this summer (that also should have been up by now, but again, I’ve been strapped for time) which will be a part two and will be up later this week.

DJ Low Key’s Myspace

DJ Low Key Website

Free Low Key Mixtapes Downloads

- If you are ever in Denver, check out my man’s & DJ Sounds Supreme Friday Night Party, The Solution, at the Funky Buddah

(Photo below by Rae from alainnphotography)

WYDU: What’s good man, so let’s cut to the chase and jump right into it. How long have you been DJing?

DJ Low Key: I first bought my first set of turntables almost ten years ago. That wasn’t 1200′s though, it was some Linear Tech DD 1600′s, shout out to Von Pea, he’s the only other person I know that has heard of Linear Techs, some really hokey stuff. But when I got into DJing, it wasn’t to be a club DJ or anything like that. I actually got into because at the time, like ’97 around that time, there was a lot of dope records that were only coming out on Vinyl. Stuff like DITC records, Stones Throw was first coming out, that kind of thing…

W: The Rawkus stuff….

DJ LK: Yeah, Rawkus, some of that stuff that went along with it like Mike Zoot and Mos Def in his early days….

W: L-Fudge….

DJ LK: Yeah! You know, stuff like that. That was before the days of mp3′s, so I wanted to buy the songs that I couldn’t get any place else. Then I saw a friend rock a party and realized there was more to DJing than the random obscure stuff. I got into the club the stuff as well. Now I like to do all of it. I kinda of got into it cause I was a music nerd, so I can appreciate it all.

W: Are you from Denver originally?

DJ LK: Nah, I’m from Georgia originally, Atlanta actually.

W: How’d did you end up here then?

DJ LK: My step-dad was in the military, so we lived in Colorado about 12 years ago. We lived right outside of Colorado Springs, so Colorado is kind of like home to me. I went to Boulder for school, and now I’m in Denver. I love Colorado, there is no other place I’d rather be. If there was I’d go there…(laughs)

W: True, true…So what about the scene as far as the artists and the such? Cause I moved here like four years ago and I’m still getting into the scene. When I first got here, I was like “damn, this sucks”. But I’m starting to see more of it….

DJ LK: I think Denver has a young, developing scene compared to other cities, which is both good and bad. Obviously there is not a whole lot of Denver rappers blowing up on the national level. But at the same time the Denver scene is really “pure”, it’s big enough that there is a lot going on but small enough that most everybody knows everybody. Not maybe a sense of family, but a lot of people will know if somebody is making moves, they are aware of the other people in the city. I don’t know if you can have that in the bigger cities. On the plus side, it’s kind of a young scene, and it shows when you go out to shows with the crowds. The national acts are amazed at the amount of love they get in Denver. Like if you talk to someone coming through Boulder or Colorado Springs….

W: I was going to say, a lot of the groups have multiple stops through here, I mean Cunninlynguists had, what, four stops here last week?

DJ LK: Yeah! Little Brother did a f
ive city mini tour out here, they weren’t doing that in New York or other places. Maybe something similar in Cali, but Cali is a whole new beast. For Colorado to be getting as many Little Brother shows as Cali is kind of absurd in the first place. We definitely support hip hop, it’s just the matter of things evolving a little more. It’s getting there, I see people making a lot of moves. It’s not just the MC’s, I see some on the come up, but the b-boys and graf artists that are dope too. Maybe it’s because I’m a DJ, but I see a lot of Colorado DJ’s doing big things, even on a national level. DJ Chonz is making noise, DJ Bedz just won a national Pepsi contest, Cysko Rockwell just finished in 2nd place at the 2007 DMC’s. DJ Idle, who DJ’s for Ohmega Watts, it’s not like a lot of places where you can go pick up a publication, I mean they’ve been trying to do stuff like that, but it’s not like you can open up the Westword and expect quality hip hop coverage (trav’s note: and why not?)…

W: (laughing)…nah, nah….

DJ LK: No offense to my homies over there, but it’s true. It seems that they are more interested in covering the rock scene, which obviously Denver is big into as well, and that’s cool. There just really isn’t any place to try to coordinate things. Basementalism does a good job of it, but they up in Boulder, it’s not really a Denver type of thing.

W: I was going to ask you about Basementalism and how you got hooked up with them and that whole thing.

DJ LK: Basementalism is funny and I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story. Whenever I first checked out Basementalism, they were more on a backpacker vibe than what I’m into. I’m open to a lot of random stuff and I’m definitely a hip hop nerd, but I remember when I first of heard of them, it was cool, but at the time I was really getting into the club stuff and it just wasn’t my thing. What happened though was I got a gig opening up for KRS-One at the Ogden and I brought out a bunch of dope hip hop records, and not just necessarily the standard classic, but stuff like the Bush Babee’s, Cru, Nine, you know not the straight rap nerd stuff, but if you go to a KRS one show, you are still in the underground. Just good hip hop records. I got approached by Mike Merriman, who is very instrumental in Colorado hip hop along with the Basementalism crew, and told me he really liked what I was playing and would like me to come down sometime.

I went down to Boulder and really got a better feeling for what they were doing and what was going on at Basementalism, and even I didn’t like every record they were playing, I could still get down with it. They are the homies, and the show has gotten into a wider variety of underground hip hop. I ended up doing guest spots for them for five or six years and I still try do make it down there when I can. What they do up there is they make it a community and make people really feel like they are apart of something and they are. It’s something we need more of in Colorado and not just here, but in other places as well. Basmentalism, you think it’s something just local on 1190AM, but you look at the list of artists they’ve interviewed over the years and you realize they have a pretty good name out there on the scene.

W: Yeah, it’s really impressive list, I was actually kind of surprised when I first ran into their site.

DJ LK: Yeah, I mean people from out of town are always really impressed with what they do up there. You don’t really realize it when your around it all the time, but when you run into other people from out of town and they are like “yeah, I know basementalism.” There is a Basementalism in Poland, that gets like 15k hits a day…in POLAND! It’s crazy.

W: So what about the club scene around here? I noticed you have been DJing at the Funky Buddah and other places around town.

DJ LK: Yeah DJing at night clubs are kind of the new groove for me. I’ve been doing it for five or six years now. DJing in night clubs has led me to stuff like the Medium tape and more random projects. I’ve been lucky enough to make a living off of it. It’s crazy, you have to hustle and chase down checks and all that. I could tell you all sorts of random stories, but it lets me do what I want to do. It’s cool. I don’t want to be a forty year old DJ spinning at a club four or five nights a week, but for right now, it’s awesome. It’s fantastic what we’ve done with our Friday night party at the Funky Buddah. Me and another DJ, Sound Supreme we started this nice over at a place called “The Shelter”, which is closed for remolding (editor note: back in Sept 07). We started this night called “The Solution” and we made it the type of night we’d like to go to. We both DJ out on the club scene, so we had a feel for what we wanted to do. In the clubs, it’s more for the reaction than the quality of music being played. And that’s fine, that’s how it should be.

W: I was going to ask, how do you change from spinning what you want, to spinning what the people want to hear.

DJ LK: There is definitely a line to be walked. When I was doing a more top 40 nights, you can still sneak in stuff, you can boycott records, you can still get quality stuff in there. With the Solution, we made it the kind of night we’d like to go to. We started from scratch with an empty room at “The Shelter” and we worked with all kinds of people to make the night the way we wanted it to be. It’s been a lot of work, I’ll be the first person to say it. Coming home form the club, writing mass emails, hitting up people on myspace, text messages, overrunning your cellphone bill from talking to too many people, it’s a lot of work. At the same time, it’s not even like work, it’s just fun. You play a Jay-Z album cut and people get all excited. It’s just a cool feeling.

We do some cool things out there as well. We did a 400 night, which is a local clothing company here in town. We did the Dilla tribute with Stones Throw…

W: Yeah, I was there that night….

DJ LK: That night was crazy. But it’s all fun. That was a crazy night, it was one of the coolest things I’ve been involved with on that level.We played J Dilla records all night long and we cut off the hook of a record and the people just sing it, or you have someone come up and thank you for playing the remix he did with Eve for “Space Echo”, or some shit like that. We gave away stuff and had people eating donuts, it was just a good time.

So yeah, Denver does have it’s sce
ne, but if your not constantly looking, you can miss a lot of stuff.

W: I’ve noticed that. A lot of times I’ll noticed that I missed a group or something I wanted to see.

DJ LK: And a lot of the time, that’s in the promoters hand. A lot of the time just because you have a good idea to do something doesn’t mean you have the resources to make it happen like it should happen. It’s hard to promote events, that Friday night party we do, it’s a pain in the ass. We get paid really by club standards, but if you broke down by an hourly wage, it’s definitely a lot different than most club nights.

W: So you’re handling the promotion yourselves?

DJ LK: Yeah, yeah, like I said, it’s me and DJ Sound Supreme and we are just on our grind. It’s taken awhile, but it’s been packed at the Funky Buddah lately. When we went in there and within a month, we had tripled their bar sales. Which is crazy. They love the crowd we bring in, and basically the crowd is coming in for the music. You’d think the music would be a pretty big factor, but in reality, I think it’s pretty low on most people’s list. People are going to where ever is close, or going for the girls, or going somewhere their homie works, which is cool, but people are coming to the Friday night stuff for the music and as a DJ, that’s a lot more enjoyable. It’s also cool to work with Stones Throw or Halftooth Records and get some of the artists we’ve been able to get out here, Blu, Common, and others.

W: It’s one of the only things out here right now like it, isn’t it?

DJ LK: Yeah, on a regular basis….

W: There’s hip hop nights in some places, but some of those places are a little on the rough side, if you know what I mean.

DJ LK: Yeah, and that’s the thing, is we’ve been doing this for nine months now and there’s never been a fight and for a hip hop night, that’s pretty unheard of, unfortunately. It’s a different vibe compared to a lot of other spots. It’s a party and people are dancing compared to people standing around with their arms crossed. And that’s cool too, but it’s cool to see girls dancing to a Tanya Morgan song.

W: You’ve been making moves lately, just dropped a mixtape with Median of the Justus League, how did you hook up with him?

DJ LK: I met him through another artist, Free Speech who is down with Ro Blvd and those cats. I’ve known Free Speech as a homie as well as an artist and such. We are talking about dudes we felt and he listed a bunch of rappers and he mentioned Median. Some of the other artists might have been a little more well known, but I was like “this dude Median is ridiculous, you should hook up with him.” So he basically hooked up with him and did a couple songs with him and passed on my info to him and vice versa. I contacted him and I did an interview with him for Basementalism. We were just kinda on the same page as far as music went. From there, I did the Missing In Action Mixtape Vol 1 and he was super down to get on that, he did the hosting and did a ridiculous freestyle for it as well. He got a couple copies of the tape. Then later on I was DJing for Tanya Morgan at a show and one of the dudes for Halftooth got at me and wanted to know if I’d be down to do the promo mixtape and the rest is kind of history. We made the mixtape happen and 9th was down to host it. It’s just been really cool. I know on my site, it’s been downloaded 25,000 times, so that’s cool. Hopefully that translates well, his album is one of the best I’ve heard this year. I know people down with the Justus League stuff are notorious for downloading, (trav breaks out laughing), it’s true! No offense to the people who down, but let’s be honest, they might one of the most disproportionately groups in music as far as that goes. We’ll see what happens.

We had Median come out here and perform at the Shelter. We had a really good time. He’s a really laid back guy. It’s crazy, he was in my car and I put him onto the Blu & Exile album. It was crazy cause he was freestyling over it in my car, it was a crazy experience. You think of Median and you don’t think he is that type of MC, but dude was just crushing it in my car.

W: You are also doing some stuff on, how did you hook up with them?

DJ LK: There is a dude at named Piz, who was a homie for a minute since the Missing In Action Vol 1 mixtape. He reached out to me about writing a blog for them. De La Soul is my favorite group ever, so to be even slightly affiliated with them is pretty big (laughs).

W: So you doing the strictly DJing thing right now, or you hope to move on to production sometime in the near future?

DJ LK: Right now, I’m sticking to the DJ thing. I study producers pretty in depth, but for right now, I think the DJ thing is good enough. I don’t have the time to do it. It takes a lot of time to dedicate to that kind of thing and right now, I’m trying to dumb it down, there’s times when I get four hours of sleep a night, so it’s kinda crazy. I don’t want to slow down, cause I love what I’m doing, but sometimes you gotta. I’d love to produce in the future, but for right now, I can’t handle all my DJ gigs.

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