In the world of music, the DJ has always played an important part. Either breaking a record or testing the crowd’s reaction to it, the DJ has made or broken careers. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that the people we go to in order to see what is rocking, would become the builders or tracks that are rocking. One of those DJs turned Producer that has been using his skills and knows how to craft bangers is DJ Semi.
Jack Nickelz: So let’s get right down to it. How long have you been making beats?
DJ Semi: I’ve been making beats for about 2 years now. I’ve been DJing for 13 years (since the age of 12), so I’ve been incorporating all of my DJ/music knowledge into all of my production. I love that producing is the natural progression of being a DJ.
Jack Nickelz: what made you make that transition over to Production?
DJ Semi: I’ve always been a fan of that vintage hip-hop sound. Sampling always intrigued me. So many people frown upon it, but I look at it like I’m tipping my hat to our musical ancestors. I don’t have a band, so I consider all of the samples I use my band mates. I might have Clyde Stubblefield on drums and Jimi Hendrix on guitar. What’s better than that? Long live real hip-hop.
Jack Nickelz: Now before we get too deep into your Production, I wanted to cover some of your DJ work. Now you’ve done a lot of work with many top artists ranging from Lil Wayne to RedCafe. How did you get the pleasure of working with such big industry names?
DJ Semi: My first entrance into the industry was on the mixtape circuit. When I was 17 and 18, all I wanted to do was make the illest blend/remix tapes. My first big mixtape release was with Lloyd Banks, and I think that earned me a lot of respect. Since then, I’ve kept up the mixtape grind and started to do more clubs and radio and was lucky enough to be an opening DJ for the tours of Lil’ Wayne, T.I., and a few others. It’s been an incredible ride.
Jack Nickelz: Now being around all these artists did you get a chance to find out what they look for in tracks or talk to any producers?
DJ Semi: Not so much influence as it is motivation. I’m influenced by the music that I listen to on my own time, such as old 70’s soul and funk, and 90’s rock. Me and Chris Webby, who I tour DJ for, have a huge love for a lot of 90’s stuff that we grew up listening to. So on his last project; we incorporated a few recognizable 90’s samples, like Fastball’s “The Way”.
Jack Nickelz: Being a 90’s fan, what producers from that time did you like to hear from?
DJ Semi: Most of my favorites are from that era… Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, RZA. What these cats did absolutely molded me as a musician and as a creator in general. People don’t see what goes on behind the scenes… the digging for rare records, the learning process, trial and error. Sample based hip-hop is like a religion to us.
Jack Nickelz: Talk to us a little about that. Digging for samples. How big of a part to making a beat is it?
DJ Semi: For me, it’s the most important part. You can’t cook a great soup without great ingredients. I’m from Connecticut, so I’ve been digging at a lot of the record stores out here. As of lately, I’ve been blessed with the gift of travel, so whenever we get a chance to stop at a record store I like to take my time. It’s crazy how all of these used records from certain regions end up all over the country. Like funk might be easy to come by in Cali, but out in CT, it’s a little bit tougher. There’s so much history to be found in records and record stores. That’s why I keep that tradition alive. Primo did it; Dilla did it, that’s how I like to do it. Not to knock those using the internet and YouTube, but there’s just a certain feel that comes from sampling your own records.
Jack Nickelz: Are there certain artists or eras of music that you look for when sample digging?
DJ Semi: Not really. That’s where the fun part comes in. I try to dig for weird looking records, soundtracks. Anything that I can pull sounds from. It’s more of a vibe search than an artist search. Sometimes the artwork says it all. An ugly artist or a crazy ass cartoon could have the illest shit on it!
Jack Nickelz: To you what comes first…do you hear a sample or sound and then craft the beat or do you have an idea that you build off of?
DJ Semi: I usually start with a sound or drums and go from there. It’s like a giant collage or puzzle. Nothing is more fun than chopping something up and putting it together to create something new.
Jack Nickelz: Have you ever been in the middle of crafting one thing and then just been hit with another idea?
DJ Semi: Yeah, more often than you’d think. But I think it’s a good thing. Your ears can get burnt out really fast when making music. I think it’s healthy to put something to the side to start something new
Jack Nickelz: So I bet you got a stockpile of half finished bangers that are waiting to be finished.
DJ Semi: I’m almost afraid to look! I might have to go through them one day and finish. Haha
Jack Nickelz: Now you also do remixes. How different is crafting a remix to crafting a track for an artist?
DJ Semi: Not very different at all. I just look for beats and verses that have matching vibes. The best example of my work with remixes is my Notorious B.I.G. “Forever” mixtape. Google it if you haven’t heard it. I put my heart into that one and giving Biggie a fitting tribute!
Jack Nickelz: Since we are mentioning remixes are there any other remix projects that you’ve done that people should be looking for?
DJ Semi: Oh man, let me think. I had a dope 2 part Eminem remix series called “White America”, a 2 part series with Lloyd Banks titled “South Side Story”. I also had a crazy project that Lil’ Wayne had hosted with me titled “Southern G’z” in 2007. I’m really proud of my mixtape career. I always think of “Quality, Not Quantity” when it comes to my catalog. Some DJs have hundreds of mixtapes, with little to no long-term value. I love it when someone runs up to me in the club and says “I remember that Biggie tape you did… that was dope”. In the future I have a mixtape with Webby coming, and a mixtape with a certain Queens’s legend. That’s all I can say on that one for right now!
Jack Nickelz: Darn, no breaking news for me today I see
DJ Semi: There’s a ton of dope emcees from Queens, but how many of them do you consider legendary? haha
Jack Nickelz: point taken. Tell us about your connection with Chris Webby.
DJ Semi: I’ve been working with Webby for almost a year now. It’s been a crazy ride ever since. We linked up last fall and had a few meetings and one day I got the call that they wanted a tour DJ that could bring a more hip-hop and turntablist element to their show. Since then, we’ve been traveling the country and selling out venues. Musically, me and Chris are like brothers. Once we get to vibing out and creating, there’s really no telling what might come of it. I’m really proud of the work we did on his last mixtape, Webster’s Laboratory
Jack Nickelz: So has being a tour DJ lessen the time you have to craft tracks?
DJ Semi: Not really. I’ve got the MacBook on the bus and in the hotel with me at all times. The only thing it affects is my comfort. Making a beat on a laptop is a big step down from being in your own lab with your regular tools. I do a lot of chopping samples and conceptualizing on the road. We just got off of a month long tour, so I was happy to come home with a clean slate and fresh ideas.
Jack Nickelz: Do you ever do Producer Showcases
DJ Semi: I did my first showcase at last year’s New England Music Seminar. The whole day was a great time. So many ill producers in the building. It’ss nerve wracking though, especially as a sample based cat. There’s some HEAT out here in CT. Artists, pay attention!
Jack Nickelz: Cool, do you mind if we switch to a serious matter.
DJ Semi: Not at all
Jack Nickelz: Lately there has been a lot of news on Producers not getting paid for making hits and shady business deals as it comes to beat makers. How do you feel about this?
DJ Semi: It’s scary, because I hear about it all too often. That’s why I feel it’s necessary to have a proper blueprint before getting involved in the business aspect of producing. I definitely recommend attending the music seminars and listening to all of the panels. Talk to entertainment lawyers. The music industry is a changing climate. It’s important to stay up on your business tactics.
Jack Nickelz: Do you feel that all the shady practices has muddy the production waters?
DJ Semi: Yeah. And it’s tough as an artist, because naturally artists aren’t the greatest when it comes to business. Most of us just want to be heard. If you’re serious enough about the craft, get deep into it and link with others who have done it for their advice. The music industry is notorious. Get great management and legal teams. The creative aspect should always be a priority.
Jack Nickelz: Do you feel the access to software has created too many “beatmakers” thus messing things up for actual producers?
DJ Semi: To a certain degree. But a lot of new producers have learned from that. I respect the ones that evolve and take it further with every batch of beats they make. These sites that sell 99 cent beat leases on the other hand… I can’t wrap my head around that.
Jack Nickelz: Do you feel it partly falls in the hands of the industry for trying to find that next Kanye or Lex Luger style hit?
DJ Semi: I mean… the industry is out to make money however they can get it. But looking for carbon copies of great producers is super wack. Look for something new. I don’t know if the music industry realizes this – but some of the biggest hits in history were “different”.
Jack Nickelz: I should make sure I send a copy of this to all the A+Rs, lol. As a producer, can you give me at least five joints that shaped who you are as a producer today?
DJ Semi: Damn that’s a good one, but I think I can answer it pretty easily. In no order… Pete Rock & CL Smooth “They Reminisce Over You”, Gangstarr “Moment of Truth”, Jay-Z “Dead Presidents”, Common “Misunderstood”, and Dr. Dre “What’s The Difference”
Jack Nickelz: Nice choices. Now for the fun part of this interview. I’m going to name some producers and I want you to tell me the first thing that comes to your mind ok?
DJ Semi: For sure!
Jack Nickelz: J Dilla
DJ Semi: Creative genius, neck breaking drums
Jack Nickelz: Dr. Dre
DJ Semi: Perfectionist
Jack Nickelz: Timberland
DJ Semi: Light years ahead
Jack Nickelz: Black Milk
DJ Semi: Detroit to the fullest.
Jack Nickelz: Ryan Leslie
DJ Semi: True one man band
Jack Nickelz: Rick Rubin
DJ Semi: Rock Rap Infusion
Jack Nickelz: Just Blaze
DJ Semi: One of the illest DJs turned producer ever.
Jack Nickelz: Easy Moe Bee
DJ Semi: SLEPT ON! Can flip jazz like none other!!
Jack Nickelz: Ali Sheed Mommand
DJ Semi: Low End Theory
Jack Nickelz: And the last name… DJ Semi
DJ Semi: Student of the culture. The definition of progression.
Jack Nickelz: Well I think that wraps up everything up. Is there anything else you wanna say to the readers?
DJ Semi: Thanks to everyone who’s been supporting me. From the mixtapes, to the tours, to the radio. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with y’all. NodFactor STAYS on my Bookmark Bar! Keep listening and look out for my production work in the future! Check me out at www.DJSemi.com and on Twitter @DJSemi. Peace!
You can check DJ semi out at http://twitter.com/#!/djsemi , www.DJSemi.com .