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FEATURE: DJ Kay Slay, Air It Out

To say that DJ Kay Slay has always kept his ears to the streets is an understatement. With a resume brimming with classic mixtapes and a reference list full of bi-coastal heavyweights, the Harlem-born industry magnate has long been one of the game’s most prominent DJs. Coining himself the Drama King isn’t hyperbolic, though; since the moment he premiered Nas’ “Ether,”

Kay Slay has regularly spun battle records without taking sides, allowing listeners to christen their own champions. Aside from his past Streetsweeper mixtape series, the Hot 97 disc jockey has released a pair of major label LPs (2003’s Streetsweeper, Vol.1 and 2004’s Streetsweeper, Vol. 2: The Pain in the Game), as well as a collaborative disc with Atlanta counterpart Greg Street (2006’s The Champions: North Meets South). Next month, Kay Slay’s third solo compilation, More Than Just a DJ, will hit shelves, boasting lyrics by the likes of Drake, Jim Jones, Plies, L.O.X. and Bun B, as well as production from The Alchemist and Green Lantern, among others. chopped it up with Kay Slay about the new record, the present state of mixtapes and what’s going on with Papoose. Let’s start with the new album’s title. Do you feel pigeonholed at times as only being a DJ?

DJ Kay Slay: At the end of the day, people think that that’s all [a] DJ will do—DJing. Man, I’m way passed that… I’ve been DJing since I was 11, 12 years old. That’s like 31 years ago. So, through my travels, I’ve done a whole lot more than just DJing, from being an A&R for Ray J., to assisting Shaquille O’Neal with [his] record label to being a publisher of my own magazine, Straight Stuntin’, to having two radio shows—Hot 97, and Shade 45 [“Streetsweeper Radio”]—to doing community projects for the kids in the summertime. Basketball tournaments and games and dances and all that. So to label me just a DJ is just ridiculous. You have features from a couple newer artists such as Drake and OJ Da Juiceman on this album. Did any of the new blood stand out more than others?

DJ Kay Slay: Everybody’s participation in the project was about equal. I don’t want to give anybody any more or any less [credit], because I appreciate everybody that participated, and everybody gave their all… Hell, I appreciate working with new artists [such as] Nina B as much as I appreciate working with Cam’ron. It’s all love. As somebody so steeped in New York’s music scene, what attracted you to an artist outside the region like OJ Da Juiceman?

DJ Kay Slay: Well, different regions grab on to what they like, and he’s real strong down South. People are starting to feel him up here, but you just gotta balance yourself in the regions. Like, he’s big in Atlanta, but then we got Dorrough, who’s real big in like Houston and Dallas and all down that way. And Jay Rock is real big on the West Coast; then on the Bay Area we got San Quinn who’s real… So it’s just about the different individuals and the different areas to me that’s really blockstars…OJ Da Juiceman is a blockstar in ATL. Did you purposely set out to not be “too New York” on this album?

DJ Kay Slay: I always make it where I try to be every region, but I’m normally pro-New York ’cause that’s where I’m from. Even though I always say my plight is bigger than just, “Oh, we gotta bring New York, baby.” Now I’m more so on making sure that hip-hop as a whole around the globe maintains its status as being a great culture, because if I don’t think consciously like that being from the era that I’m from and I slip into the, “Hey, it’s just about a simple hook, verse, and a dance step to make a dollar,” then, shit, we fucked. DJs have to play the records that people want to hear. Is it easier for you to completely avoid that requirement due to your OG status?

DJ Kay Slay: At the end of the day, if I’m not feeling it I’m not playing it. I don’t care who it is, who wanna hear it or whatever, they gotta tune in to hear that shit from somebody else. I stick to my guns on what I believe is good music. Do you think enough people on radio are doing that?

DJ Kay Slay: People in radio just got jobs, and they have to do they job. It’s no different than a guy in KFC—he can’t go to work one day and say, “You know what? I don’t wanna put chicken in the boxes no more.” [Laughs] Your ass is fired and you better get outta here. That’s what the hell [the stations] hired you for… The last person you can really blame anything on is the radio DJ. They work for the station; it ain’t like the DJ owns the station and can play what he wants. How do you see the mixtape game these days?

DJ Kay Slay: I ain’t gonna lie, I don’t even pay too much attention to the mixtape dudes. No disrespect, but a lot of them are Internet mixtapes. You got 20, 30 guys taking the same records off the Internet, just putting them in a different order and talking their own shit over them. That ain’t a mixtape DJ, man… Mixtape [DJing] consist of you having relationships with the artists where you can call ’em to get something exclusive that nobody got all the way to emailing ’em a track, telling ’em you need them to do something on this. Speaking of mixtapes, your endless tapes with Papoose led to his reportedly $1.5 million deal with Jive, but that fizzled. What’s his status now?

DJ Kay Slay: He’s grindin’, you know; he’s just putting everything back in order. He’s in a different frame of mind now. We recorded a whole lot of records. Putting an album out ain’t a problem; it’s about putting an album out through a right situation. Would it be smarter to go independent over a major?

DJ Kay Slay: I think [Papoose would] rather an independent than a major. It really don’t make no sense to do a major in this time in age… Papoose would do better on an independent right now because majors are really geared towards Southern artists or high profile artists that’s been known for selling records. They don’t wanna gamble too much with no new artists. Lastly, how has the recent passing of Mr. Magic affected you personally?

DJ Kay Slay: Aww man, Mr. Magic was somebody I used to listen to when I was trying to get my dreams in order. A lot of people need to really understand who’s who in this business and who to salute, man, and everybody that’s on the radio right now who’s a DJ needs to salute Mr. Magic. He was actually an individual who believed in himself and in the culture so much [that] he used to pay for the airtime and do his show. At the time when you would only hear hip-hop at night, Mr. Magic made it possible for a record to break through in the daytime. Why don’t you think he’s being eulogized as much as he should be?

DJ Kay Slay: You can’t blame everybody, ’cause you can’t blame somebody for what they don’t know. There’s no hip-hop education. A hip-hop education class needs to start so people can really know and understand who’s who. It’s always disheartening when today’s generation doesn’t automatically take the initiative to look back. Why do you think that is?

DJ Kay Slay: I don’t think they care. —Matt Barone

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