Droppin’ Dimez Radio [Interview]
Toronto, ON – What happens when you stick 3 of Canada’s hottest females DJs in a room together? The short answer is they spin good music. Droppin’ Dimez Radio is definitely “taking over your mind one week at time” as the hottest all-female radio hip-hop show. Not only do they spin some of the best hip-hop records, you can catch them spinning everything from underground hip-hop to reggae to dance—and they don’t shy away from supporting the indie artist (to all you up and coming artists, this is for you). “If the song is hot, we play it, period”, says DJ Mel Boogie, one of the three co-hosts on Droppin’ Dimez.
Being in the game for over 15 years, DJ Mel Boogie has had her hands in just about everything in the industry, including television appearances on MuchMusic, New Music, Toronto Life, MTV and the list goes on. She’s also produced events and PR’ed for a list of MCs including, Little Brother, Jully Black, Maestro, Ron Artest and Theology 3. When it comes to radio DJing Mel Boogie believes that “radio DJs are still seen as having their ear to the street, and I still think that the attention artists can get from a few spins on a radio show by a respected DJ who has a wide audience goes a long way.”
Co-hosting alongside of Ms. Boogie is JJ Rock, a mixtape guru who has made a name for herself by opening for artists such as, Ray J, Little Brother and Evidence. JJ Rock has been hard at work on her mixtape game, with the previous releases of Girls Gone Ganstga, Extreme Heat Alert, and Time To Rock. Her newest mixtape release, entitled Million Dollar Mixtape, has just dropped and is currently available. I asked JJ Rock to share her thoughts on the future of radio DJing and she had this to say: “Radio DJs will always be around as long as there’s music. We’ll be there to play it over the air waves.”
As a freelance writer and event promoter, Big G runs the shows information pool, making sure the streets are up-to-date on the latest news happenings in and around the community and keeps it moving with radio interviews, podcasts, and consistent airtime bookings. Big G has been in the game for a minute and has put in work for key companies in the industry like BMG Music Canada, Shaman Entertainment, the Toronto Urban Music Festival, PhemPhat/Honey Jam, Soul On Ice Events and Fusicoloy Toronto (to name a few).
College radio has been the new frontier for the underground marketing pool. The face of the music industry is changing and with artists these days doing most of the legwork themselves, pushing out mixtapes and starting their own indie labels. And with artists looking for new ways to break into an industry where commercial radio seems to stick to most of their Top 40 rotations, the Droppin’ Dimez college radio show makes for the perfect fit.
HipHopCanada: What’s happening? Could you describe the roles each of you three DJs play during the Droppin’ Dimez Radio Show?
Mel Boogie: I’m one of the DJs but also “play the role” of co-host, interview booker, publicist, coordinator of meetings, photo shoots, etc. And I’m a self-confessed jack-of-all-trades when it comes to the show. Since I’ve been doing radio for a while it’s easy and comfortable for me to slide into the different roles to make things happen.
Big G: On Droppin Dimez, my primary roles are to research and interview guests, work the soundboard, organize and announce PSAs and giveaways, and transcribe the weekly playlists.
JJ Rock: Well for me I focus more on the music/DJing component of the show and from time to time I co-host the show as well. Usually Mel and I alternate—when she’s DJing I’m hosting with Big G. I’m also responsible for drops, sound effects and other technical aspects of the show. We’re in the process of podcasting our show and I’ll be taking part in putting that together.
HipHopCanada: Sounds like a handful for each of you. Mel Boogie—you’ve been radio DJing for over 15 years now. Take us back to where it all began, what made you decide to get into radio DJing?
Mel Boogie: Listening to Ron Nelson’s Fantastic Voyage and Dave’s Dance Music (both on CKLN) on the weekends when growing up is probably what planted the idea of me being on radio, in some capacity. I’ve always been a vinyl addict and spent the later half of high school fully immersed in music—I went to school with Agile of BrassMunk, who was one of the very few males who gave me unconditional access to his turntables and record collection, but I didn’t really think of DJing publicly until I started attending York University. At CHRY 105.5FM I started a show called Break-A-Dawn, where I paid my dues by doing an overnight show alone for a while, until I finally linked up with DJ Manifest and the chemistry led to the development of an excellent morning primetime mixed show (Friday mornings 7-10AM). I ended up taking some time off to start a family, leaving CHRY permanently, and linked up later on with Lindsay Bess (who took over from Jemeni, who originally started the show). I still have bruises from being elbowed and pushed aside at Traxx and Play De Record Every Thursday when the new vinyl would be delivered. A lot of the guys just thought I was someone’s girlfriend for a while so I was not taken seriously, I got brushed hard! That just added to my drive to prove I could do it.
HipHopCanada: How did you three hook up?
Mel Boogie: Lindsay Bless (former Droppin’ Dimez DJ/host) was looking for some help at Droppin’ Dimez. I think it was supposed to be a one time visit, but I kept going back. She and I had been doing the show for a few years, before I needed to take some time off because I was having another baby (I’m a momma of three), and at the very same time, Lindsay was pl anning on leaving the country to teach in Taiwan. JJ Rock was a member of Soul Choice, had been a guest on the show previously, and was new to the city so we agreed it would be a good opportunity for her and add a fresh sound to the show. Big G had been doing stuff throughout the city for a while—we both knew her well, and it also seemed like a good fit. I took about five months off the show for the family, and the other ladies and I have been building the show steadily ever since.
Big G: [I met Bless] through working with PhemPhat and Honey Jam. [She] invited me to help out with answering phones during the show while she & JJ spun tracks. As time passed, next thing I knew Bless was encouraging me to be on-air. Not long after that, Bless let us know that she was leaving and Mel would be coming back to the show.
JJ Rock: I got involved with the show while Mel was on maternity leave. I filled in for her for about eight months and things just took off from there.
HipHopCanada: JJ Rock—You and Scott Boogie went to University together in Ottawa. How did he become your mentor and what DJing advice did he give you?
JJ Rock: Scott actually saw me in a club. I was always hanging around the DJ booth ‘cause I just loved to watch DJs spin. At the time we met I was just starting out—I had never played in a club or anything. I was a basement DJ to the core. Scott and I got to talking and I just expressed to him that I was really interested in learning how to play. The next day he called and basically offered me to play in his sound crew—which at the time was Groove Train. From there, both he and DJ Choco Groove showed me the ropes on how to become a great DJ. I will always thank Scott Boogie for encouraging me to be the best I can be in this music industry. The most important piece of advice Scott gave me was to work hard, don’t ever expect any handouts in this business because its cutthroat, and that being a female in this industry is an advantage, not a disadvantage.
HipHopCanada: Big G, how do you let the people know what’s happening in their community? I always found that side of radio to be important; how do you make sure the information you provide is presented in an interesting way?
Big G: When I find out pertinent info via the various publications, websites and newsletters I read, I make a point to relay the info on-air to our listeners. Because hip-hop is not only musical—it’s social, political, racial, cultural, and spiritual. Therefore I find it easy to connect the event/community announcements back to the culture of hip-hop. This also helps to keep the topics interesting to our audience.
HipHopCanada: Having been working together for quite a bit, what would “JJ Rock” and “Big G” say about you? What can you say about them? (Same question for JJ and Big G.)
Mel Boogie: They’d probably say I’m a bit of a workaholic, which I would say is true.
JJ Rock: We’ve all been working together for about three years now. Mel Boogie is one of the hardest-working individuals I have ever met. She’s very dedicated to the show and I can say the same for Big G. Big G is well versed when it comes to dealing with community work and events. Working with the both of them has been an honour.
Big G: Mel… she’s an inspiration to me because of the name she’s made for herself over the years. With all of the accomplishments she’s achieved and the work ethic she exhibits, I classify her as a powerhouse (on and off the tables and mic). JJ Rock… JJ has this quiet power that she shows, while on deck, as well as while on the mic. She always happily surprises me with her track selection, as well as her perspective on the various topics we discuss. P.S. Her mixes are DIRTY!
HipHopCanada: [Laughing] Cool. Okay, switching over to the DJing side a bit. How do you conduct your mixes?
Mel Boogie: Unlike a lot of today’s DJs who do the 20-second mixes, I like to give people a chance to hear the song, especially for the old school tracks, so I let at least a verse or chorus run before bringing in the next track.
JJ Rock: Well, usually Mel does the first half of the show then I do the second half. We sometimes rotate, however. With respect to mixes, I usually have an idea of what I’d like to play, and I try to give the listeners fresh new tracks each week. We enjoy being the first to drop exclusive music. Also, what’s unique about our mixes is the fact that between Mel and I we give you a bit of everything, new and old, and a lot of Cancon as well.
HipHopCanada: As a radio DJ, do you get pressure to play certain kinds of songs or do you have complete creative control over what you play? Certainly I have heard cases where some radio stations are pressured to stick their top 40 playlists a fair amount.
Mel Boogie: Because it’s college radio, we’re fortunate enough to have creative control. We like playing a bit of everything, including the unexpected, to keep the listeners on their toes. Although people who haven’t listened to the show before may think we play all female MCs, that’s not the case at all. We play all areas of hip-hop, underground to commercially known, reggae, house and remixes. If the song is hot, we’ll play it. Period. The only time we don’t play something is if the content [is inappropriate].
HipHopCanada: Let’s talk vinyl. Do you have a favourite record?
Mel Boogie: I don’t think you have enough room for this one! But the ones that come to mind first are A Tribe Called Quest:Midnight Marauders, Gangstarr: Step Into the Arena, KRS-One: Return of the Boom Bap and Maestro Fresh-Wes: Symphony in Effect. I’d also have to throw in there, John Coltrane: A Love Supreme, Minnie Ripperton: Adventures in Paradise. Sorry, I know you said one but it’s really hard to narrow it down!
JJ Rock: Wow, favourite vinyl? Well since I started collecting a little later than most DJs in my circle I’d have to say one of the first vinyls I ever bought was Nas’ If I Ruled the World’. I fell in love with vinyl [after that] and from there on out I made it a point to dig hard and find all my favourite real old school pieces.
HipHopCanada: Do you have any most memorable experiences while DJing you’d like to share with us? Any embarrassing ones?
Mel Boogie: One of my first gigs was the very first Honey Jam in ’95. King Lou of the Dream Warriors told me how wicked he thought my set was and carried my crate of records to my car. That was real, real big for me! The best is when I do community or school parties and little girls give me a “screwface” at first, as if to say “What’s a girl doing there?” You can actually see the look change as they’re thinking “I didn’t know girls could do that!”
JJ Rock: I’d say when Mel and I opened for Ray J two summers ago. It was a good vibe and a great opportunity. Also, doing the Little Brother Listening Party last year was cool too. Big Pooh and Phonte came up to me and asked me if I was the person DJing earlier because I had just gotten off the set, and I said, “Yes”. They were like “Damn homegirl, you really working it out!” That was a dope feeling!
HipHopCanada: Switching over to the technical side for a minute. What kind of DJing equipment do you use?
Mel Boogie: 1200s. I tried doing whole CD thing but it just didn’t feel right. It took me a very long time to get used to the idea of Serato—I thought I was selling out and betraying the culture by utilizing that technology, but my back is sure grateful that I decided to make the switch. [Laughing] Also, I’m getting into using Protools now.
JJ Rock: Two turntables and a mic. Oh and Serato. I think Serato has become my saviour for two reasons. The first being the fact that I only just started collecting vinyl in 1996, so there was a lot of catching up to do with respect to collecting all the old school records. Which leads me to my next point: being that collecting vinyl was becoming very expensive. I’d have to get all the new joints and the old school records as well. That took a toll on the pocket after a while.
HipHopCanada: What was the best DJing advice you ever got?
Mel Boogie: I was speaking with [the legendary] DJ Red Alert at the Public Enemy concert about the show and a party that JJ and I were doing featuring an all-female DJ line up, called Royal Touch. I felt that in comparison to what he’d done throughout his career, the little party that I was doing didn’t hold much weight. But he basically told me how huge it was: “A party with an all-female DJ line up?” Just the fact that we are females doing what we do was [in his eyes] amazing.
JJ Rock: Best DJing advice I got was from both Scott Boogie and my club DJ partner DJ XXX-Rated. As DJs you have stay current, fresh and unique and you always have to create opportunities for yourself, especially in T.O.
HipHopCanada: Cool. Aside from the radio show, you guys have other projects going on, correct? Could you tell us a bit about what other things you guys are involved in?
Mel Boogie: JJ Rock and I have a party series called Royal Touch, which features an all-female DJ line up. We’re looking into making it bigger and better by incorporating female DJs from across the country, as well as some female artists, matching big names with up-and-comers. I’m also a freelance writer, namely for Honey Magazine, and I’m the marketing director for Soul Choice, where I handle all their events, and Marketing/PR services. I’m also the resident DJ for the annual Honey Jam–the all female talent showcase.
Big G: At present, I’m not directly involved in any projects. It is an aspiration of mine to take part in community forums and discussions regarding hip-hop and the positive roles it can play in education, and the betterment of society as a whole.
JJ Rock: I’m in the studio working on a mixtape for one of Canada’s hottest MCs, KeeLo, called Money Power Cut The Cheque, which will be in stores soon. Also right now I’m working on some things with my club DJ partner DJ XXX-Rated: we’re starting go heavy in the beat production game. Being a DJ is fun, but you always have to have your hand in other things in this industry.
HipHopCanada: I feel you on that one. JJ Rock—you’ve been called “the first female mixtape heavyweight.” Tell us about your newest mixtape series: Million Dollar Mixtape.
JJ Rock: Well I’ve dropped a lot of mixtapes over the past three years. I’ve done mixtapes with Asiatic, Rock Da House, Verse and many more. I love what I do, so I thought why not stay consistent and come up with something fresh. The Million Dollar Mixtape is digitally released online each month and features various different artists. The Million Dollar Mixtape series also gives us a chance to show the world the kind of beats my partner DJ XXX-Rated and I have to offer. We use a lot of our own production and remix it with the new joints.
HipHopCanada: Mixtapes have been a crucial part in breaking an MC; they’ve been just as important to them as they have been the DJ. With the saturation of mixtapes in the biz today, has it been harder for DJs to break a new artist?
JJ Rock: Yes and no, because now artists are just putting out their own mixtapes with their own original material. As DJs we’re able to capitalize on that still, because artists are always looking for DJs to mix their tracks. In terms of making money off mixtapes these days, it’s more promo than [anything] now. It’s great for marketing yourself.
HipHopCanada: You are also members of Soulchoice—could you touch on that for those who may be unaware of the services you provide?
JJ Rock: Soulchoice gives us our music: it’s a Digital Music Pool. Soulchoice also takes care of all the marketing for our Radio Show.
Mel Boogie: Soulchoice started out as a DJ pool about 15 years ago servicing music to Canadian DJs, and it was one of the first pools to go fully digital. The company has since expanded to offer marketing and publicity services (event pl anning, press kit development, bio writing, corporate sponsorships, and media relations) and has worked with artists such as Little Brother, Maestro, Ron Artest, Evidence and more. Soulchoice DJs across Canada have been instrumental in breaking and supporting new artists on radio, in clubs, on mixtapes and online.
HipHopCanada: What are the changes you’ve seen in the radio business over the years you’ve been DJing? How do you feel about radio presence today—does it have the same impact it did on listeners today as it did in the past?
Mel Boogie: With commercial radio stations playing what they classify as “urban/hip-hop”, they don’t support indie artists as much as they can and should. College radio has been, and is still, the best way for indie artists to get their music heard on the airwaves, and I’ve always felt that being on college/community radio means that we have some responsibility to help develop the Canadian music industry by giving that support and giving airtime to artists on the come-up.
JJ Rock: I’ve seen a big shift as of late from commercial to college radio. There’s a huge emphasis on college radio now because of the simple fact that the market’s changing. Commercial radio stations are not playing the gutter, grimy or even conscious hip-hop anymore. They are playing Billboard Top 40 and that’s cool for those that want to hear that stuff. However, for people that just want to hear hip-hop: college radio is where’s it’s at. We have way more creative control over what we choose to play. Artists can drop off a CD at the station and we will, 99.9% of the time, give it a spin.
HipHopCanada: Hip-hop is based around huge stereotypes, especially against the female gender. Even female MCs have it hard, getting the respect they deserve in hip-hop. Is DJing any different? Do female DJs have it harder in the industry when it comes to DJing?
Mel Boogie: Female DJs do have a tough time being taken seriously in the music industry–you really have to have a thick skin and know the meaning of being persistent. But I think that by positive females in the industry making major moves, focusing on bringing good music to the people as opposed to being w annabe models, it will hopefully be a bit easier for females dedicated to the craft coming up after us, or with us.
JJ Rock: I find female DJs do have a harder time for the simple fact that we feel that we have to prove ourselves and work twice as hard as our male counterparts. However, I find that in spending a lot less time focusing on the negative, I have become more successful. I really had to take a look within and when I did, I realized that the only person stopping me from making a serious mark in the industry was me. I will continue to succeed in this game because I love what I do.
HipHopCanada: Why do you do what you do? To support women in hip-hop? Sheer entertainment? Other?
Mel Boogie: As corny as it may sound, music is truly in my soul and not just hip-hop: music period. I taught classical piano for over ten years, my basement is a record graveyard, and I married a DJ, which was cool because he understands what I do and why I do it. That union also doubled my record collection nice! For all the work we put into the show on a weekly basis, which in itself is practically a full-time job, it is a huge amount of fun. Where else would we get an opportunity to speak with artists like KRS-One, Common, Rumble, Heather B., CL Smooth, Michie Mee, and Remy Ma? As fans, it’s amazing to have a chance to speak with an artist you admire live on the air! The listeners and what they like, much like the music we play, is varied, so while we have their ear, as we talk to Young Joc, they’re also listening as we interview Tona on the same show. They can hear us talk about the pros and cons of Nas calling his album the n-word, the impact of using that word in hip-hop, and can voice their own opinions on the topic when we open up the phone lines. We constantly reach out to other female DJs to do sets on the show, get their names out there and support others wherever and whenever we can.
Big G: I do it because it’s one of the best “jobs” I’ve ever had. I also do it because I love hip-hop culture: Hip-hop has the power to educate and inform, so the blessings I happen to get from it—such as enjoyment, entertainment and enlightenment, are another reason why I do it. Lastly, it is crucial in the hip-hop culture for female participation to be regularly seen, and the female voice and perspective to be regularly heard. It goes without saying that both the perspective and participation from females needs to be positive, so that a balance can occur in the culture overall.
JJ Rock: Our show is a reflection how much the industry has changed and that women are definitely a force to be reckoned with. I enjoy doing radio specifically because it gives us a chance to not only showcase our talents but also to support local artists. Being Canada’s only all female hip-hop show is a privilege that I embrace with great pride and respect.
HipHopCanada: What’s next for the DD crew? Any other upcoming projects you might want the public to be aware of?
Mel Boogie: We’re opening for M.O.P. when they perform at the legendary Opera House in Toronto (Friday March 7th). We’ve been fortunate enough to have some spectacular interviews on the radio show, so we’re working on developing an audio magazine via podcasts. And who knows what else? There are so many possibilities that I feel we’re just at the beginning.
Big G: I am currently pursuing the business of music as a career. Although my heart is with Droppin’ Dimez, I’m open to the possibility of becoming involved in other radio programs.
JJ Rock: Well, we intend to continue to support artists both here and in the States. We’re getting a lot of calls to open for various different artists. We’re opening for M.O.P in March. So we’re really getting the word out there that we’re not just radio DJs, but we can tear it up in the clubs as well. A DD mixtape is also in works as well, and the person who’s hopping on board to host the mixtape is a major artist from the U.S.—we’ll keep ya’ll posted on that one. But let’s just say it’s going to be HOT and a lot of people will be shocked.
Editor’s note: Check out more information about Droppin’ Dimez Radio and its hosts at http://www.myspace.com/droppindimezradio.
Written by Brian Bernard for HipHopCanada