Being the DJ to Justin Bieber, one of the biggest pop stars in the world, is already a huge undertaking. But DJ Tay James has found a way to keep his footing in hip-hop, too.
While touring with Bieber, the 24-year-old Baltimore native has created mixtapes with the likes of Bun B and J. Cole and says he’s just getting started. “I wanted to keep my balance in hip-hop and also keep my balance in Top 40, so although I am with Bieber, you’ll see me drop a classic mixtape with Bun B or drop another tape with J. Cole that get a lot of hits in the hip-hop community,” James says.
Here, James tells XXL how he became Bieber’s DJ, how he keeps the Biebz’ ears keen to the newest rap songs and why Lil Wayne should cut a record with the teen sensation. —Mark Lelinwalla
XXL: How did you become Bieber’s DJ?
DJ Tay James: Honestly, I was sitting down and a good friend of mine, Blake Kelly—he’s a rapper too and he cuts my hair—he was cutting my hair and I graduated from school like two months before him and I get a random call. A homeboy of mine gets a call randomly from a friend of his saying, ‘Know any new DJs? We’re looking for a DJ for an upcoming artist named Justin Bieber.’ Me being on my blogs, I already seen the kid. I told him, Just give me a call. I didn’t expect anything to happen and then like literally 20 minutes later a 2-1-2 number came up and I already knew it was New York. It was [Bieber’s manager] Scooter [Braun’s] assistant and he’s asking if I could try to deejay for Biebz in Oklahoma on Saturday. Mind you, it’s Thursday. I’m like, Yeah, send me. I dropped everything I was doing. Every single thing.
How long have you been Bieber’s DJ now?
Almost two and a half years. Every concert tour date, TV appearance or date he needs a DJ. For example, when we did “Baby” live on 106 & Park, I’ll be there for that. In-store somewhere… anytime my services are needed, I’ll be there to help out. I been on tour with him the last two years, so it’s good to be back home and see my family. I opened up for Bieber too when we were on the international tour. They gave me a 30-minute set to deejay in front of the crowd.
XXL interviewed Bieber in the July/August issue and the story touched a lot on his love for hip-hop.
Yeah, he loves Tupac. That’s one of his favorite artists.
How responsible are you for Justin’s knowledge of hip-hop? Do you put him on to the newest records?
A lot of times with him being in the position he’s in now, he gets a lot of music before me, but you’d be surprised that I also do put him on to a lot of new music that’s hot. Like I knew back when Drake was coming out with all new freestyles and me and [Bieber] would listen to them and send text messages back and forth like, ‘Did you hear this new verse from Drake?’ Or, ‘Did you hear this new verse by Busta Rhymes?’ Bieber really likes Busta Rhymes right now. He recognizes new artists too and recognizes what’s hip. I let him know what’s hot in the club. I tell him, This is a banger right here. This is a club smash, you’ll kill it, and this one’s for the ladies…they’ll love it. I’m definitely happy to be in a position to do that.
Did you have anything to do with Bieber’s rap alter ego Shawty Mane?
[Laughs]. One of the first rap songs he did was “Omaha Mall” and that’s actually a song that me, him and his stylist came up with together. We were in Omaha, Nebraska, randomly and it went from us walking around the mall to a full-fledged rap song. It got so popular on Twitter that it became a trending topic. That was all in the beginning of his rap career. Even before that, rapping on Tim Westwood. He used to write little raps while we were on tour. He does it for fun and he’s actually pretty good at it. I tell him, As long as you’re having fun, keep having fun with it.
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