In Los Angeles, DJ Felli Fel controls the airwaves on urban music destination Power 106 FM. But recently, the Southern-bred jock grabbed national headlines when it was announced that he had signed a deal with Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def/Island Urban Music, a division of Def Jam. As it turns out, Felli Fel is much more than a local radio personality—he’s a hitmaking producer with enough juice to get Diddy, Akon, Ludacirs and Lil Jon on his debut single “Get Buck.” With the single’s video getting spins and his debut album Go DJ currently in the works, the Heavy Hitters member is out to conquer the world by making universal hit records that will keep the party live (look no further than his recently-leaked second single “Finer Things” with Dupri, Kanye West, Fabolous and Ne-Yo). This triple threat took time out of his busy schedule to talk with XXLMAG.com about his history, how he got his deal, and how he feels about radio DJs playing their own records.
For those outside of L.A. who might not be familiar with you, give a quick introduction.
For those that don’t know, I do radio in Los Angeles for Power 106 FM. People should also know that what got me to radio was actually producing music. I’m originally from Atlanta and I used to do jingles out there. I moved to L.A. during high school but then my family moved to Dallas, Texas. That’s where I got involved in radio.
So you were producing music before you actually got on the airwaves as a DJ and personality?
I started off as a house party DJ. A buddy of mine that would do house parties with me showed up one day at a party with a SP-1200 drum machine. That’s what got me in to producing. I was probably 16 years old at the time. I learned how to work that machine and I ended up getting one of my own later. I kept learning the machine and doing house parties up until I was 19 and that’s when I DJ’d my first club. I wasn’t even old enough to drink, but yet I was working clubs. By age 22 I was working all of the big clubs in Dallas. I started DJing on a community station every Saturday night doing a mix-show. I then got the opportunity to do commercial radio for a Spanish Tejano station, which played stuff like Selena and La Mafia type music. I took that job just for the opportunity of doing commercial radio. I ended up going back to community radio just so I could play the music that I wanted to play.
I was still working on jingles and I ended doing an intro for the big hip-hop station in Dallas, K-104. There was a show called “Tight At Night” and the intro I did was an original track and a rap. They ran that jingle for a whole year and one day I received a call from the Program Director and he offered me a job. The jingle that I did for them kept getting requested by callers, and this was just an intro for a show!
So then you made your jump back to commercial radio?
Yeah, they gave me my own four hour mix-show late at night. After doing that for a year, they gave me the six to ten p.m. slot.
What brought you to L.A.?
I initially came out here to just shop my beats. I ran in to E-Man from Power 106, who just happened to be the music director for the station. He was familiar with me and it just so happened that they were looking for a night-jock. I didn’t even know about the job opening, but he explained that they were looking for Mix DJ/Air Personality. He set up a meeting with Jimmy Steele, the Program Director at Power and he asked me to make a tape. I went back to Dallas and I recorded the next show that I did on the air. I sent that in and within a couple of weeks they offered me the job at Power.
You’ve been there now for about seven years now?
It’s been eight years that I’ve been out here breaking music. I’ve always produced and done tracks for a lot of different artists. I did one on Cassidy’s first album. I’ve also done stuff with Fat Joe and 2Pac & The Outlawz.
With the position that you have at one of the largest hip-hop stations in the country, do people often raise their eyebrows when you’re shopping beats to artists or playing stuff that you’ve worked on? You know, like a conflict of interest?
Nah man, only people like you who ask those questions. Not people at the labels. Anybody that knows me will know that I won’t play a record if I don’t think it’s hot. I also don’t expect anybody to buy one of my beats unless it’s hot. I don’t mix radio with my music shit. If that was the case, I would be playing three artists on the air every night.
I ask that because I know that people do talk…
I try not to talk about it so people won’t talk. People tend to take things out of context in interviews and that’s not cool. Everybody thinks that in radio the DJs are getting paid on the side to play records and that’s not how it works. That’s not how it works at Power 106. If you’ve got a hot record, it’s going to get played. If you don’t, then it’s not going to get played. Any executive at any label will tell you that’s how we get down here at this radio station.
I wouldn’t expect anything less when it comes to my own music, which is why it’s taken me this long to solidify a record deal and to get my music played on the radio. People think that just because I am here [on Power 106] that I can get my own music played on the station. But what they don’t think about is all of the years that I didn’t have my music played on the radio. It doesn’t matter that I work there. You are not getting your record played if it’s not hot. Working at a station can actually be to your disadvantage because more people won’t take you serious as an artist or producer because you are work there. They just look at you as some on-air personality and don’t give you that respect you deserve.
How do you overcome that?
By doing a hot record. That’s one thing I want to tell any artist or producer and anybody that is trying to get their music on the radio. Go out and do a hit record. There is no radio station in the country that will say, “This record is hot and it will bring listeners to our station but we are still not going to play it.” I’m sure there’s an exception some places, but for the most part that’s how it is. A station at any big market in the country is going to play big hits. If you want your record played, then you have to do a hit. That’s what I had to do and the end result was me getting a record deal out of it.
Give us the details on that record deal…
Jermaine Dupri is out in L.A. a lot because of Ms. Jackson and he heard the “Get Buck” record. He came out for an interview one night on the air and he asked me to the play the record. He wanted to hear it again right there. He introduced the song on air and blasted it off. It had only been out for two weeks. At the end of the show, Jermaine came back in the room and asked me what I wanted to do with this record. He told me about his new situation over at Island/Def Jam and expressed interest in making something happen. I had already been presented with a few other offers from other majors, so I told Jermaine that I would think about it all and get back to him.
A month later after much consideration I ended up rolling with Jermaine’s situation. His offer was still there and the record was getting even bigger. He understood me as a DJ and being from Atlanta that helped. We have a similar style and saw my potential as a DJ/Producer.
You produce all of your own stuff alone?
I don’t use outside producers. I do everything. I explained to Jermaine about my vision of doing an album that gears more towards partying with a little splash of street. That’s the kind of records that Jermaine does, so it was a good fit. Plus Island/Def Jam is a big company and I want to do a big album. They have leverage to get these songs cleared. Just because I have a relationship with Akon or Lil Jon doesn’t mean that I would have gotten them cleared if I was on a smaller label. Their labels want to know what you can do for them, and Def Jam can do something for them.
When is the album coming out?
It’s tentative. There is no exact release date for it right now. But as soon as the “Get Buck” video drops, I will shortly release my 2nd single called “The Finer Things.” The album is called Go DJ and it’s exactly what the title says. DJs are going to love this album because most of my beats are very club with a feel good/mix-show type of sound.
You are on the air almost every night. How do you find the time to make all of this music? I know that you still DJ clubs and probably have a life of your own on your own time.
My schedule is non-stop. When I came out here to L.A. eight years ago, I came out here to work. I am also on-air in the afternoons with a mix-show that I do at two p.m. It’s the “New at 2″ show with Yesi Ortiz. Then I come back later that night and do another show. It’s challenging but I love it. I’m able to do all of this stuff because I put together a team. My manager, engineer, assistant and attorneys all get behind me and help me on a daily basis.
Did you ever consider leaving behind the radio job to fully concentrate on making this album?
Yeah, I have, but as long as this radio station wants me, I’ll be here. Power 106 has done so much to help me out. They’ve believed in me over the years. I’ve seen DJs and air personalities come and go. I know what I have here and I’m real blessed. Am I ready to put all of my eggs in one basket and just produce music? No. Even if I could, I wouldn’t because I still love radio and I still love DJ’ing.
Doing radio is kind of like a fuel for me to produce music. I’m inspired constantly. I will admit that I often hear something that makes me want to go back home and do something along those lines. Being in radio and going to the clubs help me stay on the pulse of what’s happening right now. If you’re a producer and you’re not in the clubs or listening to the radio, then that is the beginning of the end for you.
Speaking of the radio, you guys at Power 106 have dominated the L.A. market with no question. Competitors come and then end up switching their formats.
When you have a morning show like Big Boy’s Neighborhood that puts it down and has a beautiful girl like Lucious Liz, Jeff Garcia doing sports, Big Boy, Fuzzy and DJ E-Man, that’s a combination that is second to none and un-matched. It’s the dopest morning show that I’ve ever heard and I’ve heard quite a few morning shows. Everybody that works here—Yesi Ortiz in the afternoon, Syphe, D-Lux & Tito after her, then the homie Miguel in the evenings—makes a solid staff. We probably have the best team that we’ve ever had here. Stations try to duplicate us but they can’t. We crush other radio stations.