DJ ID is Keeping The Culture Strong

Posted on Posted in Features, Interviews

Lets create a story with person A and person B. They both have the same career goals and dreams and begin the story with the same amount of knowledge and drive. Person A experiences zero set-backs and challenges on his journey towards attaining this dream, while person B, on the other hand, has been put through the mill and is about ready to call it quits. In a perfect world, we’d all be person A, but most of us are person B. 

Akio Kawahito, or DJ ID, I’d describe as a rare kind of person B. Despite his obstacles, new beginnings, and detours on his journey, he still continues to push his abilities, tick his goal boxes, learn more and produce work of a stellar quality. DJ ID has steadily become more well-known in South Africa over the past couple of years for being a respectable DJ, and all-round hip-hop culture preserver both in South Africa and abroad. His beginnings as a hip-hop DJ trace back to 2002 when he was living in Japan as a hip-hop fan. “When you first start off in hip-hop – especially when you’re a kid – everybody raps, everybody dances, everybody does graffiti, everybody fucks around with everything. At this point I was kind of like ‘Maybe the DJing thing could be a little more fun.’ I said to my roommate at the time, ‘I’ll go buy a turntable and a mixer if you go buy the other turntable, and let’s just fuck around and do some house parties,’ and he was like ‘Cool.’ So we started doing some house parties. This was back in the days of vinyls and that whole pat of the culture really grabbed me.”

“Whenever we’d get paid, we’d go to the record store. There were five or six really good record stores that sold hip-hop records in the city that I was living in, and we’d just go smoke blunts, hit all the record shops. He would start on one end, I would start on the other end, and we would just meet in the middle. The only rule that we had was that we couldn’t buy any of the same things.”

 

Hunting for records and playing at house parties stayed with him for a while. When DJ ID moved to Cape Town in 2007, still getting the same kick from the fun of DJing, he steadily began getting more gigs through getting his own equipment and doing free sets. “Coming up, we had our own equipment. We went out to Cash Crusaders, and bought our own speakers and stuff so we had everything,” he explains. “So we had this thing going. We said ‘Cool, house parties are a thing. If you pay for our taxi, and our drinks, we’ll come and play for free.’ So we did like all of the UCT parties from like 2009/2010. It was cool – it built a fan base. That is like the main thing I would try and tell DJ’s that are coming up: if you have your own sound and your own equipment, you can play anywhere.”

 

 

But between then and now, there’s been quite the shift in DJ ID’s career and how its all panned out. For a few years he managed Reason, but in September last year, their artist/manager relationship ended and he is now focusing on his own career with even more vigour than before. He’s gone from doing unpaid opening sets to earning money from being the main act and, along the way, has had some exciting experiences. “I would say the Kendrick Lamar tour was pretty cool,” he begins after I ask about some of the highlights his had along his journey. “That was the first proper tour that we went on with buses and planes and moving around. That was the first time I felt like I was involved in something big time. I would say opening up for Nas was cool just because that’s something that you kind of dream of. Opening up for Nas is something I dreamed of but there was this thing when NBA Africa launched. There’s a former basketball player named Cedric Ceballos and he won the Slam Dunk competition in the early 90s. He won a blind-folded dunk.” DJ ID got the opportunity to DJ with him and, with the same kind of glee that he probably had when watching the slam dunk, he describes the moment.

“That was a moment where I was like ‘I’m doing shit that I didn’t even dream of!’ So that was a different kind of highlight. That’s the point where you kind of start thinking to yourself: this has gone in a direction that I never foresaw.”

 

When I arrive for the interview with DJ ID, he welcomes me and immediately turns to his record player. He begins sorting through his music and pulls out a blues record and the smooth vocals play out throughout the interview. “If you love food, the more you dive into it, the more you’re going to learn about different kinds of food. It’s the same thing with music,” he says as he begins to explain why he enjoys being exposed to a larger range of music. “Hip hop is the foundation for everything I do musically but you’re always going to be exposed to new things, so I love all types of music from a DJ standpoint. I make sure that I can play a lot of different stuff as well. And also, in this day and age there are so many DJ’s so you need to be very sharp with what you do as your main genre but at the same time you need to be able to branch out. I tour a lot overseas so how do I connect with these audiences? If I get booked for a Thursday night in Braamfontein, I know that it’s straight-up commercial hip hop – its easy. But if I get booked for something else, I need to have multiple directions that I can go in. Some audiences don’t know you, you don’t know them. So how do you relate? I always call it like a first date: you figure out what does this person like, what do they not like. I like to be quite diverse, and it’s always fun learning about new music too. I looked at a lot of DJ’s and how they’ve kind of gotten passed by because you see that a lot of them don’t like the new school hip hop.”

 

 

With the different variations and styles of hip-hop that have evolved around the world, it’s interesting to note what DJ ID finds so unique about South Africa’s hip-hop culture. He attributes much of his excitement to the distinguishing thing about the hip-hop industry in South Africa being the strong sense of culture and pride that the country has and the hip-hop community’s way of displaying that through the support and quick growth of hip-hop in South Africa. “When I played in Japan three years ago, at this spot, I was listening to the music that all the other DJ’s were playing – all Japanese hip-hop DJ’s – and in the three-and-a-half hours that I was there, I didn’t hear a single local track. What that told me is that the hip-hop market there isn’t developed. There’s not enough people listening to it. It’s too niche and, at the same time, the general public hasn’t accepted it as an authentic genre as opposed to like J-Pop or any of the other stuff that’s going on.”

“I remember when I moved to Cape Town in 2007, hip-hop was still quite raw, but cool. To me, it reminded me of what hip-hop was like in the 90s. It was almost like going back in time to a certain point and then within four or five years it just leaped from the 90s to present day.”

 

The hip-hop culture in South Africa has experienced lively growth in a relatively short period of time. It’s becoming common for rappers, producers, DJs and even dancers to support themselves in and culture that initially wasn’t fully embraced. “The industry [in Johannesburg] blew up,” DJ ID continues. “It became viable and everybody started being taken seriously, so now it became very modern. I think to me South Africa really embraced it in a sense that you created an industry. I think here more so than a lot of other places, you can make a living off of hip hop.”

 

 

Kool Out has been running for close to 9 years now and as time passes and attention grows, it’s becoming a stronger force within the nightlife and hip-hop scenes. If you haven’t been to one of the Koolin In The City parties, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. The Kool Out rooftop is perfectly situated in Newtown and is unparalleled in the unique experience it provides on a monthly basis. My first time at a Koolin In The City event was early last year. After continually being told to go and check it out, I gave in. Walking onto the rooftop was different. It was a lot smaller than I had imagined, a tiny surprise that quickly made sense the minute the intimate and warm atmosphere began to kick in, creating an exciting kind of experience.  “When you’re not trying for numbers, you’re trying for experience,” explains DJ ID as he begins to delve into the significance that he sees in the work that Kool Out has done with artists such as Badbadnotgood, and Tom Misch, who will be performing in April. “How do you create these events that are not genre specific and not racially demographic specific as well? That’s kind of interesting to me as well – doing things that not lots of people are doing. It’s not like 10 or 15 years ago when, if there was a hip-hop night, everybody would go to this party. Now it’s like random clubs in Rivonia that you haven’t even heard of now have hip-hop nights. The club owner probably hates hip-hop but at the same time he’s like ‘Hip-hop is big. Who can we book?’ So now everybody’s got a hip-hop night. There’s such little authenticity and any type of heart that goes into most hip-hop nights. People just do it because it makes money. Everybody’s eating off of it these days.”

“Diluted” is the word that DJ ID used to describe how he sees much of the DJing field right now. Diluted in the sense that there is a lack of skill as well as effort being put into a lot of sets and their song selection, resulting in a whole lot of reduce and very little diversity – something he makes it very clear that the Kool Out team tries to avoid at all costs. As DJ ID outlines his goals for the year and his ultimate wishes for his career, it becomes clearer to me that the plan is not restricted to him and his personal growth – it seems to go a lot deeper than that. This is someone with the intention of seeing collective growth within the culture. Earlier this year, DJ ID along with P-Kuttah, DJ Switch and DJ Soosh began their free Sunday DJing workshops which are set to be a monthly event, in an attempt to create a platform for DJs, or people just looking to have fun, with the technicality of mixing and scratching on a turntable. In addition to that, Akio will be continuing his move into international music scenes with his plans to cover a lot more ground touring this year. “How do you as a DJ differentiate yourself from all these other people that are doing the same thing?” he asks. “I’ve got a bit of resources to be able to try do some of these things. My thing is that I want to tour internationally as much as possible, because nobody is doing that. Consistently, I’m the only guy in hip-hop that’s in Europe every single year touring. That’s the way you make yourself a better DJ because you’re putting yourself in these positions where you’re getting tested by new crowds.”

“This year my motto is that I’m not going to chase money – I’m going to chase dreams. In the past, for practical reasons, the cash and cheques were my main things. But this year, I’m doing everything I want to do, even if it’s with my money. That’s the way it must be….”

 

 

DJ ID breaks down some of his favourite albums for us. In no particular order:

 

Nas – Illmatic: “This album was extremely influential in terms of solidifying my interest in Hip Hop as a kid. The way Nas painted his subject matter lyrically and the beats make this an album that you can listen to start to finish and every joint is dope.”

Jurassic 5 – Quality Control: “I loved this album because of the old school crew concept that has pretty much disappeared today. The diverse sounds of the 4 rappers mixed with the technicality of the 2 DJs is something that hasn’t been replicated in a while.”

Wu Tang Clan – Enter 36 Chambers: “This album just blew my mind by how different it was. We had never heard this type of raps before and the consistent Shaolin theme made it so unique to what was coming out at the time. Having so many dope rappers in one crew made each a different experience.”

Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel: “I’m a huge R&B fan and this album really stands out as one of my favorites from my childhood. Bobby killed it with upbeat dance tracks ‘Every Little Step’, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, and ‘My Prerogative’ while dropping classic ballads like ‘Roni’. Bobby even Drake-ed the game by rapping and singing in the same song over 2 decades before it became a thing.”
MF Doom – Operation: Doomsday: “I loved MF Doom for his creativeness. Yes, the superhero alter ego had been done before, but not to the level that Doom brought. The beats on the album coupled with the wordplay make this a classic for me.”

D’Angelo – Brown Sugar: “At a time when a lot of R&B acts were going pop, D’Angelo delivered an old school Soul classic. I dig this about all his work and that is that its timeless.”

Kanye West – My Dark Twisted Fantasy: “I’m an admitted huge Kanye fan, so its tough to choose which album to list. MDTF stands at the top for me. Outside of the genius production, I love how Kanye combines pride, ego, self-doubt, love, heartbreak, invincibility, and vulnerability all in one album.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication: “I’ve been a big fan of all their work and they really stand out as one of the truly great rock bands of my generation. This album to me was their most refined with Rick Rubin on production.”

TLC – Crazy Sexy Cool: “Love me some TLC and as great as “Ooooh on the TLC Tip” was, this album represented an evolution in their sound. T Boz has always been my girl and this album really focused more on her deep sultry voice. While the first album was fun, this was a deeply sensual album.”

Flying Lotus – Reset: “Even though this was an EP, I’m going to list it here, because it represented a shift in my musical tastes. I had never really heard anything like it before and opened my mind to a while new sound which has evolved today with my love for Kaytranada, Sango, etc.”

 

For more from Akio keep a close eye on his Instagram (@akio_kawahito) and Twitter (@akio_kawahito) to see what more he does as the rest of 2017 pans out.

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