FLASHBACK: Interview with DJ Mastermind
interviewed by Mark V. Campbell
DJ Mastermind is now a host on 93.5 the Move (in Toronto) and formerly the Music Director at Vibe 98.5 in Calgary, Alberta. Mastermind started his career as a DJ in Toronto back in the late 1980s. Northsidehiphop.ca caught up with DJ Mastermind to talk about some of his best memories and reflect on Mastermind’s hugely successful DJ career.
What was your very first experience with Toronto hip hop and what element did you encounter and what was your reaction or your thoughts?
I was 11 or 12 years old and saw some kids breakdancing outside Eaton Centre and was hooked…Went back to my neighbourhood and tried to find anyone who breakdanced and asked them what music they were listening to…somehow I was told about Saturdays on CKLN…that same Saturday I was on my backyard deck (in the snow) with my shitty-ass radio with coat hangers for antennas trying to listen to and record the “Fantastic Voyage” radio show hosted by RON NELSON…It was magical…I remember hearing La Di Da Di in between the static…and from that moment on it was nothing but Rap/Hip-Hop for me. I lived it, studied it, learned it…I also somehow found out about Carnival Records & Starsound Records on Yonge Street and when ever I had $10.00 I would head down and buy ONE record…because I could only afford ONE it would take me hours to decide…I would go back and forth from store to store until I could decide which one it would be (too funny)…As for the “Fantastic Voyage”, I listened religiously EVERY Saturday…One day I called in to play a contest and wound up winning tickets to see LL COOL J live at Concert Hall…I think I may have been 12 or 13…When I went down to Ryerson to pick up the tickets I was so nervous…Ron was a hero to me…I got his autograph and everything. I went to the concert with my older sister and loved every minute of it…I must have looked like such a punk with all the older people there LOL. As time went on I somehow became one of Ron’s street team members and would help him put posters up during the night around the city for his concerts & parties…Somehow that parlayed into calling into his show one Saturday to answer some trivia questions…Ron put me on live and we played “Name That Tune”, I got every question correct and on the air he says “Damn, you’re like a Mastermind” (the funny part is Ron used the name “Mastermind” as his alter-ego when he would play house/dance parties so he called me “Mastermind II” but after I got my own radio show he graciously gave up the name and let me have it and from there it stuck.
How did your first radio show in 1987 at CHRY come to be?
There was an older guy on my street (Steve Perry) who was going to York University, he had a ska/reggae show at CHRY (the new campus radio station that just started at York University) he said the Program Director (who was really into Hip-Hop) was in search of someone to host a Hip-Hop show, he knew I was really into hip-hop and suggested I go down and try to get a show. I was only 15 years old and thought he was nuts but he was persistent and eventually took me to the station. I met with Kaan Yigit (the program Director) and introduced myself and explained how I would love to do a hip-hop show, not a few minutes into our chat he stops me and says and I quote, ” ok, ok, cool but do you know that “Mastermind” kid that I heard a week or two ago on Ron Nelson’s show?”…Stunned, I said “That was me!”, he says “We’ve been looking for you to host this show!” It was some sort of “stars aligning” moment…we started talking about Hip-Hop and how we both love it and he eventually gave me a show that day.
How did you learn to dj and who were your role models?
When I got my show I couldn’t DJ (not in the sense of 2 turntables) I had a crappy 1 piece type record player at home that I learned to scratch with using the volume control but I still couldn’t mix on 1200’s…my first DJ on my show was “Howie D”, he was there for a few months and we had a falling out and then Al Capone came on board (it was Al that showed me the basics of spinning/mixing on 1200’s) after me & Al had a falling out, my PD said “No more DJ’s, you have to do it” so I jumped in head first and did the whole “Sink or swim” thing…Luckily for I could “swim” and fairly well too 🙂
As for “Role Models”, Ron Nelson for sure, without him, you wouldn’t have had me. Before I knew Ron, I would go to his parties and sit at the front of the stage and just watch him spin. (I was a very shy/awkward kid so I would dance but I loved watching the DJ). NYC legend Mr.Magic (who I was lucky enough to meet) was an idol, as was DJ Red Alert (who I eventually became friends with). I’ve had so many people small and big shape and influence me that there are too many to mention.
What has been your most memorable Toronto hip hop moment as a fan (not as a DJ)?
So many….one that stands out was going to the legendary “NYC Invades T.O. battle Part 2″ in 1987…Cash Money & Marvelous VS (I forget the DJ) but the rapper was MC Melody (who later became Maestro Fresh-Wes) and Wes killed Marvelous…that was nuts…Biz Markie was there to battle T.O. beatboxers Mighty Mouth Rock and Kid Icy Beats (but instead he went on and did a full on show and performed “Nobody Beats The Biz” for the first time anywhere…the song wasn’t even out yet and it tore the place down…Man there are so many…In ’88, Ice-T came to town for press and he picked my show to do an interview, I remember he rolled up to the small CHRY parking area in a limo, came up to the small humble studio and we recorded an interview in the back cuz it was on a Monday or something and my show was on Wednesday’s…this is when “Power” came out. The Jungle Brothers came to town in ’88 or ’89 and Chris Lighty was their road manager at the time. They came by my show to do an interview and later that night they call me cuz the promoter stiffed them, no hotel, no money, etc…I get a car together and we all squeeze into it, 4 of them me & Al and we take care of them…Later that year, we go to NYC and thru some Def Jam connects I had got invited to a concert/party on a boat in the harbour…Well, it just so happens the JB’s are to perform on the boat, we bump into Chris at the dock, he remembers the hospitality we showed him when they were in T.O. and takes us on board as guests…Big Daddy Kane is the headliner, we’re chillin in the VIP where I meet a still un-released Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. No one knew who they were yet…pretty cool. I also remember hanging out with KRS-One & Scot La Rock in front of Eaton Centre after we hung out at CKLN with Ron. This was just after “Criminal Minded” came out and some random girl came up to Kris and was like “Reggae is hotness or the future” or something like that and Kris says “No, Hip-Hop is” and kept it moving…There was this bravado about him that oozed “Hip-Hop”.
The mixtapes! They were legendary and still talked about today, still bumpin volume 49. If there was one facet of your game (others being radio show and concerts) what would say made you most proud what would it be and why?
I prided myself (and in some cases tortured myself) to make sure I had the newest music. Period! If it wasn’t out I had to have it – by any means necessary. There was a DJ out of London Tim Westwood…For some reason, he would get music BEFORE anyone else…it was crazy. I thought it was BS when I would see his charts and see songs that no one else had…I said I want that to be me…So I made it a point of developing my contacts and ensuring that my show was so hot, important and not to be missed that it turned into a thing that if it was being sent to Canada it had to come thru me & my show…I remember doing the “Powemove Show” with DJ X, one Saturday, my boy from “Wild Pitch” came to town to see a girl he met at Caribana and made a point of coming thru to give me 2 white labels of this new unheard MC named “O.C.” we played “Times Up” like 4 times that day! Another time, I was spinning a whole bunch of new music and some unknown DJ made his way to the station to find out who I was and what I was playing and how I got my hands on these tracks. That DJ ended up being “Green Lantern” BEFORE he got big, when he was still in Rochester or Syracuse…So for me it has always been about the “new” music. Being able to “hear” or “pick” what WILL be hot and play it for my audience.
The title of the exhibition Tdot Pioneers is taken from a Kneedeep record from the 1990s. Here is the logo I just stumbled upon this one day and I was wondering what do you think constitutes a T-Dot Pioneer and why should the next generation bother with event asking these questions?
A “T-Dot Pioneer” is someone who in some way big or small made a contribution to help shape the current atmosphere of Hip-Hop culture in Toronto (and Canada on a whole). It could be a breaker or dancer, a DJ, an MC, radio host, a manager, etc. If they influenced ONE person then they contributed…The fact that Kardinal and now Drake has taken over the world is a testament to our “breeding ground”…I would love to hear Drake talk about his early days and who he listened to or whose parties he wouldn’t miss, etc. That is where you’ll find out some history…Because he has gotten so big, his story would be interesting to know…And hopefully he is currently influencing the NEXT young talent that will come from T.O. because they’re seeing him do it and they feel they can do it too!