Dare 2 Struggle: Deejay Ra talks V-Mix, 2Pac, Drake, Maestro & more [Interview]
Toronto, ON _ While interviewing artists and other entertainers is always something I enjoy doing, I often find it more rewarding to pick the brains of the people behind the scenes. Raoul S. Juneja is someone I only just recently met but I was eager to feature his story on HipHopCanada. Juneja, who also goes by the moniker Deejay Ra, is a Music Coordinator for OMNI TV’s V-Mix which is billed as “Canada’s first national TV show covering contemporary South Asian artists and music videos, while also providing indie Canadian musicians and amateur performers a platform to showcase themselves.” Each episode features 75 – 100% Canadian content and the show is now in it’s second season.
But V-Mix is just one of many interesting and impressive experiences that can be found on Juneja’s résumé. He’s got various connections to the late great Tupac Shakur’s legacy including being the lone Canadian in a Makaveli Branded ad campaign and working with Pac’s stepfather, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, on A 2Pac Tribute: Dare 2 Struggle. He’s supported an immense amount of Canadian talent and continues to bridge artists, DJs, entrepreneurs and activists together.
He’s also taken great steps to improve Canadian literacy rates. His Hip-Hop Literacy program was founded back in February 2004 as an alternative method to encouraging elementary and high school students to read. The target was identifying students who negatively associated reading with studying and getting them to read books by or about musicians/artists, as well as books that had been made into popular movies. The program has received a huge amount of support from the entertainment industry including actors like Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), Leon (Above The Rim), Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs), Maria Conchita Alonso (Colors), Jasmine Guy (Harlem Nights), Bill Cobbs (New Jack City), best-selling crime novelist Elmore Leonard, Stan Lee (creator of Spider-Man and X-Men, to name a few), and more.
There’s many different facets to Juneja’s involvement and support for the scene. From penning articles for newspapers (Globe & Mail) and hosting radio shows, to being the very first veejay featured in the HipHopCanada-sponsored Legends of the Fame hip-hop trading card series, Deejay Ra’s story is as unique as they come. It’s got details that give you a peek into his international aspirations, his massive network of contacts, and his fundamental love for hip-hop culture… like the time he finally met a friend in person for the first time, Tupac’s brother Mopreme Shakur, while attending the LA-based funeral for seminal Tupac producer Johnny “J” Jackson. And he’s got many more stories with intriguing opening lines… we’re just scratching the surface.
Check out HipHopCanada.com’s exclusive one-on-one interview with Raoul S. Juneja aka Deejay Ra after the jump.
Raoul S. Juneja (aka Deejay Ra) with V-Mix host Dilshad Burman
Raoul S. Juneja (aka Deejay Ra): Q&A
Written by Jesse Plunkett for HipHopCanada
HipHopCanada: Peace, Raoul aka Deejay Ra. Welcome to HipHopCanada! We originally connected with you through Fred E Fame’s Legends of the Fame trading card collection. What’s your overall view of Legends of the Fame and how do you feel about your first appearance on a trading card?
Raoul: An emcee from Toronto named Adriano Armani first told me about Legends of the Fame – I was surprised and proud that Canada had made history as the first country to have its own hip-hop trading card collection! I setup an interview with Fred E Fame for V-Mix, and my next surprise came when he offered to feature me as the first VJ in the collection during our interview. We premiered my card [seen above] on V-Mix a few weeks after my interview with Fred aired – which was a big honour as I remember collecting all sorts of comic and movie trading cards as a kid.
HipHopCanada: This year’s JUNO Awards were recently held in Regina. What did you think of Classified picking up Best Rap Recording? The Weeknd winning Best R&B?
Raoul: Classified is a great example of yet another artist who never gave up, and kept releasing music year-after-year until the labels and industry as a whole caught on to his talent. It’s amazing the respect he’s also shown to Maestro, which is what hip-hop is supposed to be about – in terms of the newer artists also helping teach the next generation about our classic artists.
When it comes to singers, outside of Nate Dogg I’m more into old school artists like Selena and Frank Sinatra. But any awards recognition to Canadian hip-hop or R&B artists from the mainstream is always a step forward, as we fought so hard for years to have our urban scene be given the respect it deserved. So I’m happy the new generation has artists like The Weeknd to look up to.
HipHopCanada: Are you a Drake fan? Do you think it’s in the cards to see another Canadian rapper/urban artist reach that level of superstardom and success?
Raoul: To be honest, most of what I know about Drake comes from reading my homie Dalton Higgins’ biography about him, so I’m a big fan of Drake’s hustle and how hard he worked for years to get where he’s at. The success of artists like Maestro and Choclair helped pave the way for Drake, so hopefully the cycle will continue and we’ll see more Canadian artists reaching even bigger heights. But as long as Drake stays on the path he’s on – I think the seat is taken for at least another ten years.
HipHopCanada: Comparing the state of Canadian/Toronto hip-hop from present to when you first came into the game, what are the biggest changes that come to mind?
Raoul: Having grown up in New York, it was exciting to see this new scene emerging when I moved to Toronto in high school. But for the most part, Canadian hip-hop artists weren’t covered by mainstream media here, and we only had college radio to keep the community connected.
It’s amazing that the mainstream has come around to supporting local hip-hop artists, and now we have so many digital outlets like HipHopCanada.com to support the underground scene too. When I visit the States these days, everyone knows that Toronto is Drake’s hometown, whereas ten years ago I’d have to explain where Toronto was.
Raoul S. Juneja (aka Deejay Ra) with Mopreme Shakur
HipHopCanada: Your résumé is impressive and showcases a versatile skill set. One of the things that interested me the most was the work you did on Dr. Mutulu Shakur’s “A 2Pac Tribute: Dare 2 Struggle” album. Can you talk about that experience and how it came about?
Raoul: I had actually contacted the head of Dr. Mutulu Shakur’s committee in New York, the late activist Churne Lloyd, about seeing if I could get a radio drop from Dr. Shakur in the early 2000’s. Not only did Churne arrange to get that for me, but after I wrote to Dr. Shakur thanking him, we began speaking via phone and mail quite frequently about raising awareness for his committee in Canada.
I used to setup college radio giveaways of Tupac books during his passing anniversary each year as part of my “Hip-Hop Literacy” campaign. But for Tupac’s ten year anniversary, I wanted to do something special. “A 2Pac Tribute: Dare 2 Struggle” had been previously released in a mixtape form, so Dr. Shakur and I came up with the idea of releasing it as a commemorative album in 2006.
We added recent Tupac inspired tracks by producers like Johnny “J” and artists like Imaan Faith; an excerpt from a historical fiction book Dr. Shakur was working on; and a copy of the “Thug Code” that Dr. Shakur’s son, Tupac’s brother Mopreme (of the legendary group Thug Life) had originally written with Dr. Shakur and Tupac to help decrease gang violence.
We were in talks with a few labels but ended up choosing Kent Entertainment’s First Kut rap imprint. I was very honoured to get to work with Kent’s President Morey Alexander, who used to manage N.W.A. and is responsible for introducing the likes of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre to the world.
[Note: Dr. Mutulu Shakur is a famed civil rights activist, best known as Tupac's adoptive father. Mutulu is currently incarcerated for RICO charges he maintains his innocence for. He's scheduled to be released in 2016.]
Raoul S. Juneja (aka Deejay Ra) with Leon (Above The Rim)
HipHopCanada: How about being featured in a Canadian ad for Makaveli Branded?
Raoul: That came about through a friend of mine named Jon Peters who used to run HitEmUp.com which was the go-to site for all things Tupac related at the time. He had introduced me to the people behind Makaveli Branded, and I had hoped working with them would also help bring some more attention to the work I was doing with Dr. Shakur. It was one of the highlights of my career to be the only Canadian music personality to be featured in an ad for them! I really wish the clothing line had continued and become a permanent brand in the urban scene like Air Jordan.
HipHopCanada: Have you maintained a relationship with Dr. Shakur? Do you have any other 2Pac related projects in your plans?
Raoul: Dr. Shakur is someone who will always have my support, so we still speak whenever possible. I was recently in LA and had a chance to catch up with Mopreme, who is just like family. We’ve known each other for many years, but the first time we met in person was under sad circumstances, when our mutual friend Johnny “J” (producer of many of Tupac’s biggest hits) had passed away in 2008 and I went to LA for the service. This time Mopreme and I were talking about the fact that Dr. Shakur is set to be released in 2016, so I’m sure we’ll have a chance to begin lots more projects once that happens.
Raoul S. Juneja (aka Deejay Ra) with Panjabi MC
HipHopCanada: Switching gears a little. You’re now the Music Coordinator for OMNI Television’s V-Mix. How would you describe the show for someone who had never heard of it?
Raoul: To be honest I would probably show someone an episode of V-Mix before trying to describe it, as even I’m often amazed how much we cover in a single episode. We bill ourselves a Canadian urban music TV show, with a focus on South Asian artists.
We are interview based with 2-3 guests per episode, along with 2-3 music videos played in a mixtape format, including a premiere video each week that has never been shown on national TV in Canada before. We also feature a performance every episode, from amateur beat-boxers and dancers to established music artists giving us acoustic performances.
We’ve been really lucky to have on some of the biggest names in hip-hop and South Asian music during our past 75 episodes and counting – from Saul Williams and Afrika Bambaataa, to Panjabi MC and Priyanka Chopra! Plus getting a 2013 Canadian Screen Award Nomination was a tremendous honour for us, considering we feature 75-100% Canadian content in each episode.
Raoul S. Juneja (aka Deejay Ra) with Saul Williams
HipHopCanada: What are the biggest challenges and duties in your current roles?
Raoul: In addition to presenting the news at the top of the show each week, I work with our producer Nalin Bakhle on a daily basis coordinating every aspect of the show. It involves lots of communication with our supervising producer, director, editors, camera operators, production assistants, and media operations teams who help us get the show done each week.
I’m also in constant touch with our phenomenal host Dilshad Burman and our amazing on-air team Payal Doshi, Nairisha Batada and Mohit Rajhans planning our interviews. Not to mention dealing with all the great artists we feature to plan their interviews, performances, and music videos on our show. Then there’s also coordination with our community relations, promotions, PR and web teams who help us get V-Mix connected with our audience across Canada.
Mike Bullard once said a quote that “showbiz hard work” is still the easiest job in the world compared to “real life hard work” – so while it is challenging to organize all the above in my head every day, I still enjoy every minute of it and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Raoul S. Juneja (aka Deejay Ra) with Michael Madsen
HipHopCanada: You’re currently in your second season. Is there a way for new viewers to start from Season 1 Episode 1? Is there an online archive?
Raoul: All of our season 2 episodes are available online on the Citytv web viewer, and on the official OMNI web site. I really enjoyed our first season but to be honest, we stepped up our game a lot in season two, and I don’t mind the fact that all of the focus is on our current episodes.
HipHopCanada: Most memorable moment on the show to date? Most memorable interview?
Raoul: Personally, my most memorable moment was interviewing Wes “Maestro” Williams backstage at the Manifesto Festival’s Yonge-Dundas Square event last September, which was happening right outside our OMNI/Citytv Studios. Who hasn’t been inspired by Wes? He had mentioned DJ Mastermind, who was also a big inspiration for me – being that Mastermind was of Punjabi Sikh heritage, like myself.
At that exact moment, Mastermind just happened to walk by us, who I didn’t even know was at the festival. We called Mastermind over and he walked right into the interview, as if it was scripted for him the whole time! I remember both Maestro and Mastermind doing the college and university circuit when I was at Western and doing interviews with them, so it was awesome to get to chat with them together this time all these years later.
HipHopCanada: Without necessarily naming any names what’s the worst interview experience you’ve had for the show (or any other medium)?
Raoul: I don’t mind naming names as the story has a happy ending. It wasn’t the worst interview experience due to the artist, but more so the most stressful due to unforeseen circumstances.
I actually did Panjabi MC’s first North American TV interview back in 2001, just a year or so before Jay-Z released his “Beware of the Boys” remix. Panjabi MC happened to be in Toronto for a show in February of last year, and on the way to our OMNI Studios, his driver’s car got a flat tire right outside the Rogers Centre in -10 degree weather.
Our filming time was almost up and Panjabi MC had a flight to catch, so myself and my cameraman decided to jump in our car and see what we could do. We ended up getting Panjabi MC’s interview outside in the freezing cold, with a tow truck and the Rogers Centre in the background. It really was an adventure – and there have been a few instances since where our V-Mix team has continued to do whatever it takes to get our interviews.
Raoul S. Juneja (aka Deejay Ra) with Russell Peters
HipHopCanada: You moved to Toronto 15 years ago. Were you already involved in music at that time? Had music journalism been a career aspiration for long?
Raoul: I grew up amongst hip-hop in New York, but I never thought of music journalism as a career until I moved to Toronto and heard DJ Mastermind and Russell Peters on commercial radio, along with DJ X and Michie Mee on college radio. I chose to go to Western University based on the fact that their CHRW radio station’s program director offered me my own show, when I was still trying to decide which university to go to. Having a show on CHRW and writing a column for the Western Gazette newspaper was what led me to always wanting to be a part of music journalism in some form or the other.
HipHopCanada: Can you give us any clue on who you’ll be inviting on the show next?
Raoul: I recently taped an interview with Snow to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the release of “Informer” this year. 20 years ago when I had bought the “Informer” cassette single, I never would have dreamed that I’d be sitting down with the legend himself 20 years later to discuss his phenomenal career.
Raoul S. Juneja (aka Deejay Ra) with Sway (MTV)
HipHopCanada: Last year, during a trip to New York City, you were invited to MTV Studios in Time Square and met with Sway. Can you talk about that experience?
Raoul: I was actually visiting a friend of mine there, Canadian actress Natasha Chandel, who’s also a digital producer/writer at MTV News.
I stopped getting star struck around music celebrities many years ago when it became my job to work with them. So there are probably only a handful of people in the world who would actually make me star struck, and those are fellow TV personalities who I look up to.
Sway was definitely at the top of that list, but for some reason I hadn’t thought about bumping into him when I was visiting there. Sway and I actually ended up getting off different elevators on their floor at the same time, so I didn’t even have time to think before I ended up just telling him what a big fan I was of his work.
We ended up chilling for a few minutes and grabbing a few photos. Having grown up in New York, it definitely made me appreciate my journey – now hanging out at MTV Studios, talking with one of my biggest inspirations about my TV show in Canada.
HipHopCanada: It was nice chatting with you, Ra. Is there anything else you want to let our viewers know? Shout-outs?
Raoul: It’s an honour being featured on HipHopCanada.com and I’m sure we’ll collaborate on more in the future. Thanks to Fred E Fame for linking us, and much respect to all your readers!
Written by Jesse Plunkett for HipHopCanada