Recognised primarily for the legendary Kiss FM Rap Show he co-hosted with Max LX, Dave VJ has for over fifteen years been instrumental in the promotion of urban music in the UK. Few dare to question his credentials as a music connoisseur, since his collection of over 30,000 records clearly earns him the title ‘Vinyl Junkie’.
Recently, I caught up with Dave VJ at Peoplesound’s London office to find out more about his role there, and also to learn about his eventful and enduring career in the music biz. I was firstly eager to know how he first got interested in hip hop.
“I actually didn’t like hip-hop when it first started,” VJ confessed. “ What I liked was the Dj-ing techniques. I heard a lot of rap records - but when I actually started to learn to DJ, I used funk records. I was into Aura and Slave and all that Salsoul kind of thing. I used the same DJ techniques that people used on rap records, but on funk records,” he added.
Dave explained how it was actually from an unlikely source that he initially discovered Hip-Hop culture. “Paul Oakenfold [the dance music DJ] used to live in Boston and he kind of got into hip hop Dj-ing. Then he came over here and looked for somebody who did the same style as him. The only people he could find were Mastermind, which was a crew that I was in. He tracked us down and he used to feed us records because he ran a record pool.
“Back then, Westwood was in the soul genre,” VJ added. “He hung out with Steve Walsh and those kind of people. When it came to the rough and rugged stuff back in the day, they came to us.”
So Oakenfold passed on all he knew about this new music scene to Dave and his crew. However, it was when VJ landed himself a job as a 12-inch buyer for a record wholesalers in the early 1980’s that he really developed his knowledge of and feel for hip hop.
“I remember when I first heard Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rock it,’” Dave enthused. I went to Bluebird Record shop and heard it – I was absolutely amazed. So I said to them at my wholesalers ‘We need to order this!’ Somebody initially ordered 100 copies. I was going away to New York to compete in the New Music Seminar DJ competition the next day and I said ‘You know what? This record is gonna be huge.’ I ordered something ridiculous like 2000! They said ‘If you don’t sell them you’re sacked!’ Now, when I came back from my trip, they had sold them all and re-ordered and re-ordered.”
Another of VJ’s early rap heroes was the rhyme-maestro Rakim. “I remember when I first heard ‘Eric B for President’. I know exactly where I was. I was in a club called Bentley’s … Derek B was Dj-ing at the time and put it on and I just lost it! I like disco music, but my whole roots are from reggae, so that whole slow rap flow to me was like ‘yeah, I can relate to this’. Before then, there was a lot of records where they weren’t saying nothing in their raps, and then this brother came out speaking all that and I was like ‘Raaah!, Listen to that style!!’ So I went up to Derek B and said ‘Derek, who’s that?’ He told me who it was. The next day I went straight down to Record Imports where everybody bought their records from and bought it straight away, man! I love that record and that is my number one rap record forever - and unfortunately that’s also the only rap record I know all the words to!!!”
When it came to the art of Dj-ing, a visit to the world famous Roxy Nightclub in New York became an early ‘ear-opening’ experience for Dave. “We walked in and Afrika Islam was on the tables and it was like a big skating rink,” VJ explained. “We walked in and all I heard was ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie getting cut up. Then he played ‘Hot Hot Hot’…then ‘Rock it’ and then he played Run DMC ‘Sucker MCs’…next he was playing Bob Marley. There were no boundaries – he was just letting off good tunes and I thought ‘this is the way a dance should go!’”
Though VJ holds fond memories of the old skool days, he has not desire to go back to them. He stated “It was nice at the time – but I wouldn’t want to go back to it. I actually prefer the way hip-hop is now. The only thing I don’t like is people get to rhyme without real direction. It’s like, if there’s a style that goes around, then it seems like we are willing to accept it. Whatever style of rap it is, it’s all-good as far as I’m concerned – but please, I just wanna hear your rhymes. Just battle rhyme, just give some pure lyrics.”
Back in the mid 1980’s, Dave decided to leave the Mastermind sound system, and teamed up with Max LX to form the Hardrock Soul Movement which ended up signing to Elite Records. At around the same time, Gordon Mac, who was running a pirate radio station called Kiss FM, invited them to present their own show. When Kiss became a legal establishment in 1990, Dave VJ and Max LX were already used to interviewing high profile artists like Public Enemy, KRS 1 and DJ Jazzy Jeff live on-air.
Their weekly Kiss Rap Show was influential in helping to spread the word of Hip-Hop culture throughout the capital. During in the eight years it spend on its Wednesday 7pm to 9pm timeslot, it chalked-up a number of achievements, including being the first radio shows in European to record interviews with Naughty By Nature, The Fugees, and Rza & Gza from the Wu Tang Clan.
However, Dave VJ’s most exciting day on radio was when he organised a freestyle rap session consisting of rhymers Common and Blak Twang’s Taipanic being backed live by acid jazzers the Brand New Heavies. “When I listen to that show, I think ‘that’s radio history,’” Dave declared. “The thing was – none of them had ever met before the show!” VJ eagerly explained how the show came together:
“I saw the Heavies’ bass player Simon [Bartholomew] at the MOBOs one year. I went up to him and introduced myself. He said ‘I know who you are – I listen to your show.’ I was like ‘Really? Damn! Well I’ve got something I wanna do…an experiment. I wanna get you and a couple of rappers in and try and do a live t’ing. What do you say?’ He goes ‘Well look, we’re off on tour to Japan. Here’s my number. Keep calling me and eventually I’ll get back to you.’ So to cut a long story short, I phoned him up one day and he said ‘We’re back from tour. Here are the dates we are free… Pick one of them.’ I said ‘What do you want in return?’ He said ‘You’ve just gotta feed us, pick us up, pick the gear up and take it back the next day. It’s all good man – that’s all it’s gonna cost’. Now, these people get paid about £10,000 to play. We paid for the food – we’re talking about £70, Max drove the van with all their stuff in it and the show was completely wicked.”
A few months later Max ‘n’ Dave attempted to recreate that magic, by inviting soulsters D’influence to provide the live instrumentation for rappers Funky DL, MC Dynamite and Pete Rock to rhyme over. Unfortunately, engineering problems meant that the results were disappointing.
In addition to his work on radio, VJ began making a name for himself through the DJ-ing he performed at concerts for artists like Ice Cube, Public Enemy, De La Soul and The Roots. He also worked as A& R coordinator for female rapper Phoebe 1 early in her career, and with Max in 1995 he put together the ‘This is Hip Hop’ compilation album.
In 1998, Dave began presenting the Kiss Dance Chart in addition to Rap Show and soon he was presenting seven shows a week for the station. Following Kiss FM’s sudden and dramatic reorganisation in the same year, Max LX and Dave VJ left the station and parted company.
Dave began working as Head of A&R for a new record label (Music with Attitude), and after a failed attempt to secure a licence for a contemporary radio station, Dave thought that his days of radio presenting were truly behind him. However, he remained optimistic for the future: “I guess, as much as I kinda said ‘well, you know what? It’s all over!’ and I chilled out, in my heart it’s like there was something telling me that something just might happen to tip things back [again in my favour] – and it did.”
Out of the blue, VJ was invited to present an Internet radio show called the ‘Hip-Hop Comedy Shop’ playing rap and r&b music (old and new), plus comedy sketches. Then in July 2000, a position became available at Peoplesound, one of the world’s largest web sites for unsigned music.
“Kevwon [Kevin Clark] from Definition of Sound used to work here,” Dave explained. "One day he said to me ‘I need someone to do the hip hop’ because he was doing the r&b and he was not on it [with respect to hip hop] like he used to be. So I said ‘I’ll do it.’ So I started and we basically job-shared. Then he went off when he got himself a tasty job with Universal Records, and I took over.”
As Head of A&R for the Hip Hop and R&B, VJ spends his time at work identifying new acts and attracting them to put their music on the web site. “The concept here is to discover new talent and if they’re the business we try and hook them up with record companies and publishing deals,” said Dave. “How it works is you give us your biography, pictures and your music, of which you should allow us to give the consumer two songs for free from our site. This gives the consumer an idea of what it would be like if they bought your whole EP or LP.”
After listening to the free audio downloads, web-headz can purchase the CDs of artists that they like. Once manufacturing and other costs are covered, Peoplesound splits the revenues generated from the sales on a 50:50 basis with the artist. As a result, the web site provides artists with earnings that they might not otherwise have received and at a royalty rate much higher than what is usually offered in record contracts. More importantly though, Peoplesound offers budding talents a free web page on which they can promote their activities and use to gain some international exposure.
One British hip-hop act that has definitely benefited from the attention that being on the Peoplesound web site can bring is 57th Dynasty. Some of the Brixton crew’s tracks have been downloaded thousands of times from the web site and this indication of the group’s popularity was one of the factors that led to them being invited to perform at the V2000 music festival.
So, clearly the potential of Peoplesound is enormous, and the position that Dave VJ’s holds there is pivotal as far as the development of homegrown hip-hop acts is concerned. In addition, VJ is now able to showcase some of this British talent on a new rap, r&b and garage show he is presenting for Choice FM: ‘The Urban Music Shop’.
For VJ, the show allows him to develop as a radio presenter and build a reputation for himself as more than just a specialist hip-hop DJ. “I wanted to bring it back to what I used to do,” he explained. “When we was at pirate Kiss we used to play every kind of music there was – it wasn’t just hip hop. If you had a tune that was firing you’d play it. But then, we’ve moved kinda moved into what I call now ‘musical apartheid’ – now it’s [a case of people categorising music and putting] hip hop here and r&b over there, and so on.” VJ adds “If I had to play three hours of just hip hop, from a personal growth point of view, it probably wouldn’t have worked out as well for me as it has now.”
Nowadays, Dave VJ is busier than ever. “I do three days a week here [at People Sound] and on top of that I’ve just taken on two shows on Choice FM.” He continued, “I’ve got a show on the Internet, a television show and a possible column in Hip Hop Connection.” In addition, Dave VJ currently manages two singers – Jag, who is a male soul vocalist and D’bora, a Chicago-based female r&b singer.
And VJ isn’t finished there: “Now I ain’t stopping - I’m racing through everything. I can’t give enough praise to Peoplesound for giving me the job ‘cos that’s what brought me back into the middle of the music business, ’ he said. “My whole thing now is about making sure I set shit up. My plan is to exploit anything I’m doing to its fullest capability, while still being...I know this sounds kinda cliched, but... while being a hip hopper.”
He concluded: “There are certain things about hip hop that I don’t like – like the way it’s portrayed. So, I wanna do certain things from a hip hop angle and show people that it can be done without people looking at you in an ignorant way. There’s documentaries I wanna do, there’s TV and radio programmes I wanna do... and I definitely wanna do a lot more for the British scene.”
In addition to hip hop and r&b artists, Peoplesound are also currently looking for talented new garage, gospel, soca and comedy acts. Contact Dave VJ for more info.
web site: www.peoplesound.com
Tune into Dave’s radio show: ‘Urban Music Shop’ on Choice FM (107.1 & 96.9) Friday & Saturday Nights (Midnight – 3am).
Log onto The Hip Hop Comedy Show (Fridays 9pm-11pm): www.cnsoholive.co.uk.
Watch ‘Rhythm Room’ on Zee TV, Saturdays 10pm (with Dave VJ as features presenter/producer).