“The Greatest DJ in the world.” ~ Lil’ Wayne
If you aren’t heavily immersed in the land of DJs, don’t let that stop you from getting to know NOLA’s veteran DJ Raj Smoove. With one impressive resume including deejaying for the Cash Money/Ruff Ryder Tour back in 2000, appearing on one of BET’s classic shows like “Rap City: Tha Basement” as the premiere DJ and working alongside Lil’ Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment imprint as the in-house producer and DJ— that’s just a few of his many hats.
In today’s world of careers and pursuits, one can never get enough information on early beginnings to help nurture their motivation. We caught up with Smoove at one of his local residents, the AC Hotel, and chatted with him about his path leading up to becoming a DJ and more. Check out some highlights below:
On how it all started:
DJing had always interested me. Watching movies like Beat Street where the DJ was the hero of the story had a big impact on me. I started djing in the 8th grade. We had a project for social studies that my friends and I wanted to do a rap for, and I was trying to figure out how to put the Super Mario Brother’s theme over a beat. I realized I needed a mixer for that. First chance I got, I acquired a DJ mixer and never looked back. Had my first paid gig at 15, made 150 dollars. I still remember the check [laughs].
On early influences:
DJ Jazzy Jeff was my biggest influence. Hearing his song “Live At Union Square” was the point at which I was like ‘man, that is so cold. I can do that!’ That put the vision in my mind of rocking in front of thousands of people. I also took inspiration from DJ Cash Money, DJ Scratch, from New Orleans DJ Rob Fresh and DJ Money Fresh. I picked up a lot of stuff from cats in my crew like EF Cuttin, Wop and Bigg Cheeez as well.
On recalling a memorable night as a DJ:
I think the dopest club night I ever performed was probably around '99 when the Hot Boys Guerrilla Warfare came out. We did Thursday nights at House of Blues every week and this one night everything was just in sync. The vibe, the people, me, everything was on the same page. I played I Need A Hot Girl back to back and some chick had jumped up on the stage and in the blink of an eye she was butt naked dancing lol. It was a really great party all around. We had a lot of great Thursdays during that Soul to Soul run. The Cash Money concert in Detroit in 2000 was the livest show I've DJed. Everybody in the arena had their hands in the air from start to finish of the show, like 20,000 people. More recently I did a party for the Urban League that Stevie Wonder was at and he ended up coming up and singing with me while I was backspinning some breakbeats. He even brought out the harmonica. It was such a dope impromptu live set. It’s on youtube. It was insane.
On the mishaps he sees up-and-coming DJs make:
Getting stuck in one niche or crowd is something a lot of DJs do. There's a big world out there. There are parties out there that you aren't djing. Go see what other people are playing. How they mix their records. How the crowds react to certain songs. Some DJs playlists are extremely limited and that will end up limiting the types of gigs you can do and crowds you can touch.
On the current nightlife climate in New Orleans:
I think overall the nightlife in New Orleans has been stagnant. Before Katrina you could put 800+ people in a venue on a weekly basis. Now things have gotten smaller. The lounges and smaller intimate spots seem to be the wave right now. I see that growing over the next few years, especially with the development in the CBD. Eventually we will get back to the larger venues in due time.
On which year he wouldn’t mind being eternally stuck in music wise:
If I had to pick one year I think it would be '98. There was such diversity in sounds at that time. You had Cash Money, No Limit, Ruff Ryders, Wu Tang, Roc A Fella, Three Six, Bad Boy, Death Row, OutKast...everybody had their own sound and it was dope. I feel like now the scene has gotten extremely homogenized. Whatever is the "sound," everybody is doing it. Whether you are from the east coast, dirty south, or west coast, everybody (generally speaking) is making the same types of records. We still have our standouts that push the envelope. But in that year, I feel like everybody had a clear identity and sound and it was ok to be different as long as you were dope.
On the downside of becoming a DJ in today’s market:
It’s too easy to become a DJ today. A laptop and free software makes anybody a "DJ". There aren't dues paid. It used to be extremely competitive and everybody had to earn their spot. It’s affected the quality of the parties, the mass crowd's musical aptitude, pay scale etc. We are kind of oversaturated with DJs today.
On one track that never gets old:
BBD ‘s “Poison.” That’s one record that never misses.
On one song he’s not a fan of:
I hated “Laffy Taffy.” First time I heard it I thought it was the stupidest song in the world and then all of a sudden it was all everybody wanted to hear. I was not disappointed when it fell off [laughs].
Smoove’s conversation and humility are as synonymous as his moniker. His other residencies include the Foundation Room at the HOB, airing Saturday nights on Old School's 106.7 station and more. He’ll also resume his position at various parties during this week’s Essence Festival Weekend. Smoove did remind us all of one simple fact when attending events that includes a DJ saying, “They [people] just want to hear their favorite songs and at the end of the day, that’s all that it’s about.”