DJ Scream: Five Essential Qualities For Being a DJ
Anyone paying attention to Southern hip-hop over the past decade knows about DJ Scream. The producer, radio jock, mixtape host and, yes, club DJ, has been spinning records and performing throughout the South from his home base of Atlanta for more than a decade now, taking his Hoodrich company from a regional tastemaker to a national movement. Along the way, he's become one of the most in-demand DJs in a region that places a premium on the club circuit, helping to break artists such as Crime Mob and Soulja Boy in Atlanta and cultivating a reputation as a mixtape host to keep an eye on when looking for fresh talent, helming some of the first tapes from Future, Migos and Soulja Boy, among others.
These days, Scream is still out breaking records and searching for the next big hit. During a recent trip to New York City, the former MMG signee split his time between press appearances by hunting for the freshest kicks and scrolling through the more than 52,000 emails that are filling up his inbox with new music. "I try to listen to what I can," he says about sifting through the deluge. "I’m really into beats, because it excites me to hear an amazing beat before it becomes what it becomes. I just try to go through it as much as I can and you just can’t go through all of it. You just gotta kinda live it and pay attention to everything that’s going on."
With a new, as-yet-untitled EP on the way and a roster of both established and up-and-coming producers like DJ Spinz (Rich Homie Quan, Future), Danny Wolf (iLoveMakonnen) and DJ Supastar J. Kwik (Gucci Mane), among others, DJ Scream takes us through some of the most essential things he's learned in his years spinning and breaking records throughout the South. —Dan Rys
Role: Mixtape host, Radio DJ on SiriusXM, Touring DJ
Records He Helped Break: Crime Mob's "Knuck If You Buck," Shawty Lo's "Dey Know," Rick Ross' "B.M.F.," Rich Homie Quan's "Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)" (via DJ Spinz)
Hosted Mixtapes: Future's 1,000, Dirty Sprite and Astronaut Status, Gucci Mane and Future's Free Bricks, Gucci Mane's Trap God 2 and Gucci Sosa, Migos' Young Rich Niggas, Soulja Boy's Supaman
On What Makes a Hit:
DJ Scream: It has to be unique. When you hear the sound, the tempo and everything it's like, it's easy to chase the sound of what everybody else is doing. When you take that risk and you go left field, you can completely take out or you can win big. And that's kind of what we all... When Spinz did "Cashin' Out" with Cash Out, he had never had a major hit record before that time. He was so excited he called me, I think it was sunrise, like, "Yo, I think this record is gonna be special." When you listen to the melody and the progression of it and the meaning of it, it was not like anything else at the time. At the time in Atlanta, Future was poppin'—still is; 2 Chainz, he still is—and everybody was trying to chase that.
When you come back around now, when I first heard "Commas" and "Flex," everybody was chasing Migos. Same flows, same everything. It's like, Man, y'all gotta wake up and understand how to be creative. So Rich Homie Quan is giving you a different tempo, he's giving you this wild dance and it's different, you know what I'm sayin'? People are accepting artists like that because they're different and they're doing something new. I always tell people, music is not that much different from fashion. People want new sounds, they want new stuff. And then sometimes that stuff comes back. Sometimes we wanna go back the '90s and wear Ewings and old Jordans and retro stuff. So everything does come 360. But I always just encourage artists and writers and producers, do something different. But don't just do something different for the sake of being different, do it for the sake of, "I think it's dope, I stand on it, win or lose." I put out records that people didn't like before, but to this day I still like it. You gotta be creators. You have to service the people, but the people aren't creators, they're consumers.
On The Importance of DJs In Atlanta:
DJ Scream: We come from a very club heavy and strip club heavy city. I don't know the process of everybody else of delivering the music to the people, but we could go cut a record today, take it to the club tonight and test it out on everybody and then literally take it to three strip clubs in Atlanta and test it out on people. And the DJs and the girls will let you know immediately. I think that's why the success rate is what it is; you might have a good record but if you can't get it through the strip clubs in Atlanta, it's not gonna work. And if it can't work in your hometown, what's the odds of it working? And there's obviously some different areas; if you look at the Trinidad Jame$ and the OG Maco's, they kinda came up through what's called the hipster movements, so Atlanta has diversified in that sense of, if you make a certain type of music you can take it through different avenues. But for most street records, club records, they start in that strip club and that's the testing ground and you just have to go through the DJs, there's no way around it.
Radio already is in the space that they're in; they get their nighttime playlist from, "Alright, what's hot in the club?" I started listening to hip-hop in 1990 and since then, Atlanta's always been about the club. It is what it is; if it doesn't go in the club, it's gonna be real hard.
The Essential Qualities of Being a DJ:
1. Pay Attention To Detail
DJ Scream: Regardless of how many records you get, it might not be the most intelligent thing to say, "Alright, I'm gonna listen to all of these records." But you have to say, "Where are all the hit records coming from in my city? I need to go to this place. I need to go to that party, I need to pay attention to what's going on." Sometimes it's a temporary hype, but you gotta pay attention to detail. You just have to pay attention to things and find out what's needed. You can follow any trend, but what's needed?
2. Have An Ear For It
DJ Scream: Something that you can't buy is an ear. I think me being from Atlanta and still staying there—I've had a lot of other opportunities—I understand Atlanta. I might not come to New York or Houston or this place and understand it fully. I understand Atlanta, I understand what this 808 or this hi-hat does to people in the club in Atlanta. Being there 90 percent of my life, I understand it. So you gotta understand where you're from, what excites people.
3. Be Open-Minded
DJ Scream: Some DJs are like, "Okay, this is the sound, this is what I'm playing and I can't play that because it's too slow." I'm a DJ where I'm gonna break up my whole set. I'ma play something that's slower, faster, I think we were some of the first DJs in Atlanta playing Mustard records; they were so fast, but I was like, "Yo, these are hits, period, you can't deny it." You can't get into the ball of, this is what everything sounds like, this is the tempo, this is what works and I'm not willing to take any risks. Because that makes you different, too. When Crime Mob was coming through it was real dance music heavy; Lil Jon and all these guys were coming through with crunk. So the thought of playing a record in the club where these guys are talking about beating each other's brains out for five minutes is kind of scary, you know what I'm sayin'? But to me it was all about the beat, the energy in this record that was amazing.
4. Have A Vision
DJ Scream: I tell people; I always had this vision of a modern day Woodstock. 50,000 people get together and just party, get high, party peacefully, no fights or nothin', all races, everybody. And when I hear big records, man, it just reminds me of that, whether it be that record or the new Weeknd record or whatever the case is. I love music that brings people together, because that's one of the reasons I got into it. It brings people together who might not sit down and have a conversation otherwise.
5. Be Innovative
DJ Scream: Be willing to say, "This is a whole new thing." Think about the people who walked into the room with Drake at the time. It's like, "This dude doesn't look like..." Same thing with Kendrick; people used to ignore Kendrick, like, "Ah, he's just a regular whatever..." But when you put these artists into this room it's amazing what they can create.