Written by: Richy Jones
I had the opportunity to sit down with DJ DX before the TEDxYouth@RVA event where he was asked to perform. He had been reached out to by one of the student organizers from the Collegiate School, where the event was being held. I thought it was pretty cool that kids from an affluent private school in west Henrico invited a rapper with a sound that reflected the earlier roots of Hip Hop.
Talking with DJ DX felt familiar. Having heard his music, I quickly realized that he’s one of those folks that is the same in person as they are in their music. Whether he’s rapping about family, money, coming of age in the streets, heartbreak, or the plight of the Black man in America, you can feel his passion bar for bar.
Currently based in Richmond, DJ DX found his sound in Jersey City where he’s from. He elaborated for me what the hip hop scene is like in “The Sixth Burrow,” just across the river from New York City, where the sound was birthed.
“See, Jersey… we are a little bit different like you know. I mean we all sound the same but just like the way we carry ourselves is totally different. People would think that it’s [Jersey City] small but it’s actually big and we got our own coalition of DJs who blend, you know, we got a lot of rappers, a lot of singers… It's like that 90s feel is still there.
It's like a loyal section where somebody could be listening to an Andrea Martin that I probably remixed in probably like 1999. They are probably still listening to it. Somebody is still trying to mix it… We’re a very nostalgic city as far as music. And culture-wise, we're with the trends. I feel like where I’m from, I’ve always been labeled as a trendsetter. I wouldn’t say that I’m responsible for everything but as far as the blends and everything about my city, it’s more like that. People look up to the legends and it's a very “mixtape city” ya know what I mean?”
DJ DX describes himself as an artist in general, not just in music. His father taught him to draw as a youngster, and he honed his skills in art programs throughout the school. Family is a big theme in his music. His song “Shining Stars” is a tender letter to his late father, then to his mother, reminiscing on his life and growing through hard times. In the music, as well as our conversation, there’s a greater theme of honoring those who came before you, passing on tradition and knowledge, then taking all of that to find your authentic self.
“I’m a turntablist, a lyricist, and a producer. So, I try to stay as loyal to my sound as possible and keep all those elements combined in the music.”
Through high school, DX was staying in the same room where his uncle would produce records. Finding his voice as a hip-hop artist was sort of accidental. He had gone to live with his uncle because he was seeking a more competitive environment for school sports.
“There were nights when, like, I just got used to it. I would fall asleep while he was producing… And then after a while ya know, the Universe will make sure that things are aligned for you. Through basketball, I started meeting, like, famous people in my city and they actually started clicking with me…”
DJ DX got connected with one of his uncle’s close friends, Dirty Fingers, who ended up taking him under his wing and lent him some VHS tapes of old DJ battles. These videos, combined with hands-on mentorship from his uncle and Dirty Fingers, mixed with the influences of the soul music played in the home were critical in DX’s development as an artist.
“A lot of my sound comes from my city. I owe a lot of thanks to all the people before me from my city like Wimpy B, DJ Flash, 007, DJ Wizard… Nelly Nel, Fresh Jeff. Ya know? It's a lot of people that I actually looked up to and I supported them through the years. I saw what they did and I kind of, as I told you, I pay attention. So I’m like ‘I see what they are not doing. My sounds are gonna be better. My mixes are gonna sound like original remixes. My pitch game is gonna be good. I’m gonna make sure that I’m that person. Like, I’m him when they talk about Jersey City.”
In an environment booming with talent, inspiration, and distractions, DJ DX’s love for sound led him to put in the hours it’d take to become a notable DJ around his city. Bumping shoulders with some of the legends of the sound in his city, DX felt like he was locked into the art. He recounts spending countless hours doing tons of remixes. Before music had transitioned to being an internet-based commodity that we’re quite familiar with today, crates of DJ DX CDs were being sold out in local record stores.
“By the time I was a Junior in High School I was selling four, five, cases out of my locker.
… I went through that wave where I saw boxes, like five hundred pieces, sold just literally off the streets of New York… Distributors hitting me like ‘we need more. People bootlegged them in Japan. Mixtape sites like calling and emailing for bulks of mixtapes.”
But as the world moved into a new era of how music and the money attached to it was transferred, DJ DX stayed sharp, studying website algorithms, and taking advantage of marketing his music to Hip Hop heads outside of the U.S.
“I just started studying how to run ads and stay afloat and gain more people. Overseas people go crazy for us more than America, believe it or not.”
Through the 2000s and early 2010s, his remixing skills were undeniable. But as DJ DX explains, it wasn’t until around 2012 when he started taking his pen game seriously. During a studio session when he was engineering for a friend who was signed to Sony Latin at the time, DX found himself fooling around with some lyrics in the studio.
“He looked at me and was like ‘you need to take it seriously, and I’m like ‘what, you for real?’ ‘yeah’. And one of my other friends, DJ Madden, just told me ‘you want it or you don’t.’
And I always knew I could write, you know?… This generation, send emails. I grew up in the times when I used to write love letters to my girlfriend, so that honed my skills–my pen game. And then on top of that my grandmother made me read the Daily Times at a very young age on Sundays. The actual newspaper. She’d have one for me and one for herself… She just didn’t play around with that with education. In her house it was like vocabulary is a thing, ya know? We’re not gonna walk outside and not understand what people are saying to us.”
This influence his grandmother had on him as a lyricist is yet another thread in the colorful tapestry of DJ DX’s sound.
“My sound is my city, my lyrics are me, what I see around me, is very authentic to my life, ya know, a lot of people do understand it, some people don’t understand. Because they see me, they see a smile but behind that are a lot of stories.”
DX writes and releases his music with great intentionality. Whether it’s processing his feelings of love, making sense of tragedy, or speaking on topics he feels should be explored a little deeper. Spirituality is an important part of his life. He pointed out how he’s a Gemini born on June 7, the same day as Prince.
“How the stars aligned I feel like God’s given me a lot of gifts–a lot of talents. But in order to reach these pinnacles in life, ya know, you gonna go through some loopholes to actually understand. You know, as they say, “your heart needs to be lighter than a feather”. So through these experiences, should I choose hatred or should I learn from this experience?”
Within the therapeutic process of putting together records where he unpacks topics such as heartbreak and betrayal, DJ DX is able to be bigger than his circumstances. Of course, that’s great from a mental health standpoint, but I was curious about the sustainability of the whole process. DX even drops games in some of his songs about things to avoid as an artist and things that will put you in a position to win. How to fund your passion, or hobby of making music is an age-old question and there are many ways to go about it. DJ DX encourages artists to take inventory of their skills and resources to brainstorm ways to help others accomplish their goals in order to make income.
“… We have the internet, so you can’t just foster on one lane… If you know how to sow then you should be sowing and showing people you know how to show so that could be a passive income. If you know how to design shirts, you should be designing shirts. You should be on Fiverr, you should be on all these other platforms behind the scenes doing stuff for other people.”
“... You need to be doing at least five different things… Service people. Help people. Just don’t be catered to yourself. Especially in these times, people need help. So you wanna actually have something to fund your career and not stress and not get angry when someone isn’t supporting you. Have those other things going on so then you can put back in yourself and you can feel good.”
DJ DX hopes that his art and the performance at the TEDxYouth@RVA are revisited time after time and help motivate these kids and maybe even their kids down the road.
“I drive off of creation. I don’t drive off of money and that’s just how God blessed me. And it took me a long time to learn that. Don’t chase money. Create, and every opportunity will be there for you. The people that are supposed to be in your life will be there for you… You chase money and you're gonna end up in two places, dead or in jail… Handcuffs ain’t nothing, but being away from your family is everything, you know what I’m saying? So create, it’s free. We live in the time of the internet, it's free. You can go to the library and get on the internet, you can get on wi-fi, public, it’s free. Do you know? That's pretty much it.”
You can stream DJ DX’s music on all platforms, and keep up with his journey on Instagram @djdx
Blog Author - Richy Jones: Hey, my name is Richy Jones (they/them) and I’m a freelance creative holding it down in RVA. In 2017 I earned a bachelors degree from Virginia Commonwealth University with a discipline in music education. As a former school music teacher, I maintain a passion for sharing my love of music through various media. I’m happy to be apart of the HearRVA team, being a proponent of Richmond’s vibrant and growing music scene. As a hip hop artist, I record and perform under the stage name Qing Richy.