You know DJ Nice from mixtapes like Joel Ortiz’s “Brooklyn Bomber,” Joe Budden’s “Lost Sessions” and Juelz Santana’s “Presidential Dope.” The 20 year old from New Haven, CT kicked it with Nodfactor for a minute to discuss his rise through the ranks as a DJ and Producer in the digital age.
Interview By Aaron Matthews
Nice: Well, I got my first DJ kit when I was about 13, but I didn’t start to take it serious till about 16. That’s when I became interested in the mixtape scene and improving my skills.
Were you making mixes then?
I actually started out by making CDs that would have 18-20 different tracks but [were] not actually mixed. They were like pause tapes. I would have kids in school give me a list of songs and $5 and then I’d go home, make a track list order, and make the CD. I didn’t start recording and making actual mixes until [I was] around 16-17.
That was around the time Napster first came out and I was the only kid in 8th grade that knew how to download new music.
What were your mixes like at 16-17 years old? Lots of exclusives?
At 16-17, my mixes were pretty basic. I’d do simple blends with the end of one track into another or simple stabs with the first hit of a track and then drop it in. As for exclusives, I didn’t really chase them; I was more concerned with having dope solid mixes to enjoy.
The exclusive game is a whole skill in itself with having to get tracks ahead of all the competition. You have to print, press, and get your tape out before the next man or before all whole new batch of music comes out. On the exclusive tip, music gets old within a few days. I’m more on the concept/full artist tapes now.
When did you start getting into artist based and conceptual tapes?
It was actually with the Joe Budden Lost Sessions tape which dropped about eight months back. That was my real first impact on the scene. It landed me my first mention on MTV’s Mixtape Monday as well as the Joell Ortiz Brooklyn Bomber tape landing me my 2nd.
Were these tapes only available digitally?
The Joe Budden tape was digital only when it initially dropped but a week or two after doing a couple of 1000 downloads and spreading like wildfire, MixtapeKings.com decided to pick up and distribute it [as] hardcopy. Then with the Joell Ortiz tape following up they decided to sponsor, promote, and distribute the tape hardcopy. After first couple 100 copies were moved, then we released it digitally and it also spread like wildfire, doing a couple 1000 downloads in a short period of time.
Damn, that must have been pretty gratifying.
It definitely was as I kind of doubted myself. The Joe Budden tape initially started out as just a tape for myself and it took on a life of its own once it touched the net. After that happened, I realized I could actually break out and really start making a name for myself. Before that I was just pretty much a bedroom DJ and I also was into producing beats for artists here and there.
When did you start producing?
I started producing in the summer of ‘05 right after graduating high school with a Korg Electribe RMK II. After realizing it wasn’t well suited for hip hop I ditched it for FL Studio 5.
Which producers and DJs would you say have influenced you?
Production wise I definitely would have to say Just Blaze and the Heatmakerz with the sound they were providing the Diplomats, followed by Alchemist with his dark and grimy style of beats. As for DJs I was always a fan of DJ Clue with the way he established [himself] and stood out from the rest. Green Lantern and Clinton Sparks for their skills and the way they each evolved into producing and more.
You’ve come up in an age where digital distribution is probably the most viable way to promote your tape. What’s the difference between making a physical tape vs. making a tape for digital download?
I honestly feel that digital is the fastest way to get a tape seen and heard by a large amount of people, [given] you have a dope tape that people want to hear. The difference is pretty much the business side of it. With releasing digitally you don’t have to worry about covers being printed up, getting CDs duplicated with thermal printing, getting however many cases are needed, packaging, shipping out on time to distributers, and then seeing how many you need to sell to break even or see a profit.
With digital you can just drop and sell yourself by your own means with none of those hassles. Also if you release it to the sites and blogs it will spread ten times quicker and build a buzz quickly.
Do you think it has changed mixtape distribution for the better?
It depends who you ask and how you look at it. Personally I feel it’s for the better. A lot of older DJs feel it has oversaturated it… Which it has but it has also revolutionized it being that now people in Germany or Japan can download your music with just a click.
I’ve started to break my artist Cambatta onto the scene in just three months with the net and the help of major sites and blogs. As to where it would take six months to a year to slowly break him in across hardcopy mixtape releases. So I definitely feel it’s for the better.
I want to expand on that a bit – it seems like artist development has changed with the advent of the internet. An emcee who hasn’t gotten a push from the mainstream news outlets can get a lot of press online if he knows how to work online promotion.
That is definitely true and that is something I love about the net. It’s the new form of word-of-mouth, which is the best form of promotion. If someone personally tells you to check something out, you are more likely to do so. Without even touching on the major sites such as HipHopDX, HipHopGame, AllHipHop, etc., there are more than enough blogs that generate tons of views and promo as well, for example.
With my artist Cambatta it has been the same way. We were able to do a track with Skyzoo, [and] release it on the net with the a capella for producers to remix, which in turn led to a whole new batch of people to hear the song as well as try their hand at remixing it.
A lot of veteran rap artists have been getting press online and promoting themselves there to rebuild their buzz. Like the Lox, Camp Lo – I think Joe Budden is another good example. Of the veteran emcees out there, that we haven’t heard from in a while, which ones do you think could rebuild their followings online?
I honestly don’t think we will see many more vets taking the online approach. A lot of them are stuck in denial and won’t take advantage of the net. I have noticed a lot of stigma towards it. For instance, a few weeks ago Jadakiss was on video saying he hates the internet and MySpace. If some of the vets or better yet, the labels, take advantage of the viral marketing that could be done on the net a lot of followings could be rebuilt … Not just an ad banner here or there.
I personally like when artists give you a view into their world with blog videos, a blog entry, remix contests, and etc. All those things can be done for free and generate fans coming back again and again for content, which in turn gets people talking and builds a buzz. Sadly none of them will take advantage.
What’s in your record bag/crates right now?
Right now I haven’t been bumping anything fairly new. I’m a big fan of Joe Budden so his Mood Muzik 2.
We went through the process of making the packaging for a mixtape and distributing it. Could you take me through the process of actually putting a tape together?
Once I come up with a solid concept I usually sit on it for a few days and brainstorm. If I feel I want to run with it, then I’ll start digging through my music and browsing the net for anything that I need. Tracks, audio interviews, sounds, pretty much anything that can contribute to the tape. After I have a good amount of material to play with I just start mixing and seeing what tracks sound good together and making a rough track list. Once I have a rough track list, I’ll usually get the cover done. It usually provides inspiration when I’m mixing. After I have the final track listing, I’ll go in and do the final mix. Once finished with that, I’ll go back and polish it up with sound effects, transitions, add some more cuts here and there, and then it’s a wrap.
5 records you can’t live without?
Joe Budden’s Mood Muzik 2, the Diplomats’ Diplomatic Immunity, Capone-N-Noreaga’s The Reunion, DJ Clue’s The Professional, and Trey Songz’ Trey Day for some R & B. A pretty different listing for a hip hop head [laughs].
5 favorite tracks?
Joe Budden”5th Gear”, Ransom “No Introduction”, Juelz Santana “More Gangsta Music”, Jay Z “The Dynasty Intro”, and Capone N Noreaga “Invincible” … I can rock to those five all day everyday.