Return of the Hustle
Unlike his name suggests, there’s not much DJ Envy should be jealous of these days. In a little over a decade, the Queens native has risen from professional obscurity to becoming one of the most popular mixtape and radio personalities in New York City. Breaking ground in the mid ’90s, Envy was tutored by DJ Clue, a neighborhood acquaintance who introduced the new jack to the burgeoning mixtape circuit. With the backing of Clue’s Desert Storm imprint, Envy went on to amass a successful career, releasing mixtapes with the likes of G-Unit and D-Block, and dropping The Desert Storm Mixtape: Block Party, Vol. 1 in 2003. Two years later, Envy moved to radio, landing the role of co-host on the Miss Jones in the Morning Show on New York City’s Hot 97 FM. His success on the airwaves, however, spurred animosity from Troi “Star” Torain of the Star & Buc Wild Morning Show on rival station, Power 105. The beef culminated in 2006 when Star was fired for making racist and sexual remarks about Envy’s wife and daughter on the air. Putting the incident behind him, the focused jock has gone on to host his own show on Sirius Satellite Radio, create his own production company, Blok Entertainment, and is an artist-relations consultant for So So Def Records. In fact, Envy was the one who brought rapper Jason Fox and his Harlem hit and accompanying dance, “Aunt Jackie,” to the attention of Jermaine Dupri. In addition, the People’s Choice is set to release The Co-Op, a collaborative album with Brooklyn MC, Red Café, on Koch Records this September. XXLMag.com caught up with DJ Envy to discuss his new projects, the dying art of DJin’ and his controversial beef with Star.
In the mid ’90s Clue was the biggest DJ in the game. What was it like living across the street from him?
I used to see Clue driving all these expensive cars and I thought he was a drug dealer. One day I asked him and he told me he was a DJ. I didn’t believe him, so he told me to come to his crib. So I came to his crib and he had all his mixtapes and records lined up in his mom’s basement. At that point, I was too short to play basketball and I couldn’t rap, so I said, “Alright, this is something I wanna try.” He told me what equipment to buy and showed me basically how to DJ, how to blend [and] how to do different things like that. I took it from there and basically mimicked a lot of the stuff that he was doing.
Block Party, Vol.1 was your debut mixtape album. Were you satisfied with how it did?
It wasn’t that successful. That was one of the reasons why I had the itch not to do records anymore. I put my heart into that record and I don’t think it was promoted and done right. [When] you put your heart into something people around [you don’t] have the same motivation as you do. So what sense does it make to do it again? But being back at it, learning things I know now, seeing some of things and knowing how to promote myself makes it easier [now].
Everyone seems to be on radio or putting out compilations. Do you feel like the essence of turntable culture is dying?
It got to the point where everybody was a DJ. You look now at some of these Web sites, or some of these bootleg stands that still have mixtapes, and you see a million and one DJs but you never see them anywhere else. That tells you that DJ can’t really DJ. They are just gettin’ MP3s and puttin’ it on one CD and calling it a mixtape. But when we were DJin’—like Craig G, S&S, Ron G, Clue, Doo Wop—we really DJed. We did blends. We did parties. We did shows. We still do those types of things, but now you don’t see that ’cause nobody DJs. So it kinda kills the art form. It doesn’t make it interesting anymore. It doesn’t make it fun.
Are you still affiliated with DJ Clue and Desert Storm?
I’m not signed to Clue or Desert Storm. They gave me my first opportunity [and] my first deal, so I love ’em to death. Me and Clue [are] still tight. He brought me into the game. I always tell people there’s three people that I will never turn on in this game and that’s Clue, Jermaine Dupri, and Miss Jones… Oh, and [VP of A&R at Def Jam] Lenny S., too.
Why Jermaine Dupri?
Well, when I was trying to expand a little bit, I wanted to do something in the record business as far as A&Ring and consulting. A lot of labels turned their back, but [JD] gave me an opportunity. We were able to break Dem Franchize Boyz in New York. I signed the kid Jason Fox, who created that Aunt Jackie dance in Harlem. He gave me a lot of creative control and allowed me to do things outside of music that he believed in. He always came through and everything just worked out.
How did The Co-Op album with Red Café come about?
Red Café was an artist I used to see out in the streets, in the clubs and all types of different events. I really didn’t know too much about him. We kept bumpin’ into each other so I started playing his records and we started getting cool. So we started making records and we got to the point where we had like 30 songs. We kicked an idea around and at first we were going to do a mixtape and then we brought the idea to Koch, who loved it and was like, “Yo, we want to do this.” This is perfect because it helps his solo project with Akon and helps out my solo project.
Being on Hot 97, how do you feel the about the accusations of payola in hip-hop radio?
They say some DJs take money to play records. I’m not too sure. I don’t because like anything else, it kind of changes the art form. I look it as to each his own. I’d rather play a record ’cause it’s hard, not because it’s anything else. A lot of people they say, “I won’t play this South record,” coming from New York. But I could care less. Whatever is gon’ make people move, that’s what I’m mostly concerned with.
Recently your co-host Miss Jones revealed her relationship with Busta Rhymes in her new book. Yet, when Karrine “Superhead” Steffans was a guest on your show, you criticized her for airing dirty laundry. What’s the difference?
You got to understand two things. With Superhead, [she] wasn’t having relationships with people. She was having relations with people. Jones and Busta had a relationship. I don’t know how deep that went ’cause it’s really none of my business or concern. But that’s two different things. Superhead knew she was breaking up marriages, relationships and happy homes. What Jones and Busta had was something that was theirs and personal. They weren’t each other’s sidepieces. They were a couple. So it’s two different things.
Looking back, how do you feel about your situation with Star and the comments he made about your wife and kid on the Star & Buc Wild Show?
Truthfully, it was then what it is now. I don’t look at it either way. That’s something I really can’t discuss. I just put it in this short form: when you go to war—whether you’re talking [about] drug dealers or the government—there’s two things you never touch. You don’t touch civilians and you don’t touch kids. And that’s just being men. If you have a problem with a man, you handle it like a man. But don’t be a coward and go at a child or civilian.