To say he was just a Dj would be an insult! A spirit that flows in more ways than one.
How long have you been a Dj?
Emdee: This summer makes 45 years, so far. Thanks to my mother buying a lot of records when I was a kid, I was able to do my first paid gig at age 9, at a house party. With my father owning clubs and my growing up in the club business, I came across a number of DJs. Seeing how they impacted the crowd with the music they played, the way they talked on the mic, and timing of the music, that was what made me want to be a DJ. Along with the style and creativity of Frankie Crocker.
Not a lot of people know that you have traveled to other countries playing music. What was that like?
Emdee: Most definitely a spiritual experience and it helped to expand my music collection and knowledge of world music. People overseas are on a different frequency. They don’t get caught up in asking for requests, like many here stateside. More people FEEL the music. They let the DJ do his/her thing.
Traveling to Africa was most impactful. I’ve visited several countries there and it blew me away. I first touched down in Abijan, Côte d’Ivoire, known to many as the “Ivory Coast”. I was already excited about going to where our ancestors come from, and to land on what I consider to be holy ground, a surge went through my body after stepping off the plane. I felt like I was home.
I went to get checked in at the hotel that was booked for me, and then got the chance to check out the scene. From the slums to the tourist spots. While some things were upsetting to see, there was still a lot of beauty in it all. Resilience in the people sparks a lot of creativity. They took the old adage; “one person’s trash is another one’s treasure”, to higher heights. There’s a slum close to the shore that I visited that has a dump yard near this community of shanties. People would go through the trash looking for things useful to them and repurpose it to fit their needs. I saw a good number of instruments made from discarded items. We’re talking percussion, to flutes, harmonicas, guitars, and so on. There were children playing these instruments like they were masters. A lot of gifted people.
The gig that I was booked for was at an old hall that had a lot of colors inside and out. I don’t recall the name of the spot, but it was a place where a good number of local bands and DJs get their wings, along with bands from other countries doing concerts there. How I got there was from me doing mixtapes. A guy was here visiting and he came to one of my gigs at a friend’s suggestion. He loved the way that I DJ’ed and asked me for a few mixes. He took them back home, and would call and write me to let me know how people there liked what I did. I would ship more tapes to him. Eventually, I got the call to travel there to do it live. Me, my turntables, and a couple of cases of records were on our way to the other side of the world. At the last minute, I decided to do an all Motown and old school set. It’s like the spirit told me to go in that direction. I tell you….the people erupted, shouted, and got excited about the music as if it was the newest, hottest records that came out. It was massive. I’ll never forget it.
I visited other countries there, like Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, and a few more. While each is different, there are still a lot of similarities in the cultures. We think that we have a hard enough time keeping up with music here, try keeping up with music from one of those countries. We get more of the popular artists from a small number of genres. From my bit of knowledge, there are hundreds of genres in one country alone. I’m still learning a lot of the older sounds, as well as being introduced to the newer stuff.
I’ve also traveled extensively through the Caribbean to gig, as well as to Pago, Pago, and New Zealand.
You created a podcast called….?
Emdee: The Record Realm podcast. Roughly, it’s a platform that I created to steadily introduce music to the masses. Time of release doesn’t matter, as well as genres. You’ll hear everything from folk, to Jazz, Soul, Electronica, World Beat, you name it.
How would you describe your artistic style?
Emdee: Abstract and eclectic. I don’t like to be bound by a box. If something catches my ear, I want to play it. I like to describe my sets as creating “soundscapes”. I want to tell a story through an extensive selection of music while making you dance or to relax.
Other musical influences include Jam Master Jay (RIP), DJ Maseo of De La Soul, and DJ Ready Red (RIP), for their skills as show DJs. They had and have great timing. Timing is a key element in being a DJ. My learning to perfect that for my live sets and show performances is what sets the tone to help create the various moods.
What type of music is off limits?
Emdee: Mostly, a lot of mainstream and mumble rap stuff. That stuff doesn’t appeal to me on a sonic level. Some think it has to do with me just not liking it or having an “open mind”. No, it changes my mood. Makes me irritated. Even if it was just the beats. Hella annoying.
With everything happening in the past few years with Police reform being put under the microscope how do you feel it will affect the future black males as they grow up seeing the evolution on that topic?
Emdee: Well, as with anything, there has to be more education. I like the route that the Black Panther Party took with educating its members, as well as the community, to bring awareness of what we’re up against. First, it’s knowledge of self. Then, there’s the power of unity and the community through interdependence. They extended it to teaching how to sustain self, family, and the community by means of basic survival and self-defense. Once you have the foundation laid, then learn how to engage with this matter on all levels. Instead of waiting on politicians to make moves and/or decide how things should go, the people need to push harder to make things happen. Not wait. The people have the power to take issues directly to them by phone, email, visits to the various government institutions, all the way down to civic club meetings, or meetings to get things tabled with local and national government.
Study the various histories of our leaders, key figures, and organizations, from a global point, who helped make greater changes to take our people out of unfavorable conditions. Throughout history, music and art has been a huge purveyor to spark revolutions and change. I agree with the greats who say that we, as artists, have a moral and social responsibility to create art to help wake up the masses and bring awareness.
We cannot leave out black women. This affects them as well. As I made mention of the Black Panther Party, the women were both the main driving force of the organization and the glue that held it all together. This is a fight for all of us as a people. Women birth the nation.
You’re more than music,What other ways do you get your creativity out for others to see?
Emdee: Many don’t know that I’m a multi-instrumentalist. I play French horn (was a first chair, by the way), trumpet, trombone, mellophone, flugelhorn, and percussion. I haven’t been as active as I used to, but I make rare appearances in some cases doing these. I have gone to art school. I can paint and draw. I’ve also attended dance school to study modern dance, as well as done street dancing as a B-Boy. I also do a bit of photography. I get that from my pop. He took a good amount of monochromatic (black and white) photos and knew how to develop film himself. The majority of the photos that I have taken are monochromatic and abstract. I’ve done a bit of acting as well. I have one “made for TV” movie that I was in and a few plays. The last stage play that I acted in was in 2014 and is titled “Little Big Ramayan”, that was produced and directed by Bhaktimarga Swami, the “walking monk”. I was also the music supervisor and did the sound effects for the play.
How did you get started in Graphic Design?
Emdee: From frustration. (LOL) I asked someone to do a flyer for me for an event I planned, paid them, and didn’t hear from them after. So, I grabbed my PC and made a flyer on my own in Powerpoint. I was ok, but it didn’t quite do all that I wanted. Then I learned about Photoshop. I wanted to use my eye for art to put into my design, but had a hard time with the software. I asked a couple of people to help, but they didn’t. So I took it upon myself to learn the function of the basic tools. I’m pretty much self-taught, for the most part, but did earn a degree from, as I call it, “YouTube University”. Once learning the functionality of the software, things took off. I went from crap to creative.
Let’s talk about Production! How did that come about?
Emdee: For a long time, I was fascinated with the work of Leon Ware, Gordon Parks, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, and Stevie Wonder. I wanted to do what they were doing. So I studied them. Then, around 1986 or 1987, I met DJ Ready Red of, what they were then called the “Ghetto Boys”, later changed to “Geto Boys”. I was with one of my friends and we went to a recording session at one of the make-shift Rap-A-Lot studios in the Heights on N. Shepherd and 15th Street at a car lot that J. Prince owned. At the time they were writing and recording “You Ain’t Nothin’ ” and some other tunes. A little later Red was watching the movie “Scarface” on a VCR. He kept rewinding the part where Al Pachino says; “All I have in this world is my balls and my word.” It’s like he was soaked into it. I could see the gears turning in his head. He gets up, walks over to his Roland TR-909 and starts this beat. He’s tweaking it to make it hit harder and laid the foundation of his classic beat interlude “Balls and My Word”. Seeing the process that he did to make that happen is what sealed it for me to get into music production. So I started saving and hustling a few more gigs to get music production equipment. I first started out looping beats and riffs on multiple tape decks, but then saved up to get a Casio keyboard that had a sampler. I was in business with that piece. My next purchase was an Akai s900. Then I got an Ensoniq ASR-10. Those two pieces of equipment really elevated my game. I did a few tracks for some local groups that I didn’t get credit or payment for. One of my tracks got radio airplay. That was the thing that taught me to learn about the music business.
The 1990s brought about me learning more about sound engineering and stage production from doing shows as a performance DJ. I was also in a few scratch battles too. Learning the ins and outs about backline and other things started separating me from the other DJs and brought more opportunities. Mind you, I have previous experience in stage production from my high school drama classes. Long story short, I got booked for tours, and that helped me to learn more about how to properly produce shows, from watching, listening, asking a lot of questions, and internships. There’s a list of minor and major venues that I have produced shows at from the late 1990s to 2000s. Sis. Akua Holt is the biggest impact for me for stage production. I got into music video production in the late 1990s, mainly through local acts.
I have to pay respects to the late Mr. Eugene Foney. He helped me on the visual arts end. He was an art dealer and curator for many exhibits around the world for black visual artists. With him booking me for a good number of exhibits, I learned how to put together a proper exhibit.
A brief internship at KPRC Channel 2, here in Houston helped to push me into TV production. I have only a little bit of experience in that area. However, I did gain enough overall experience to land a Production Manager position at local black owned TV station Urban Houston Network, for a year and a half.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in following some of your accomplishments?
Emdee: Most importantly, learn the business side of things. That will help you to avoid a lot of potential heartbreak. Study your craft and take it seriously. The more well versed and experienced you are, through proof, the more opportunities will open up for you. Great work sells itself.
Who does the Dj listen to?
Emdee: So, so many good artists. It’s a given with artists like Stevie, Miles, Nina, Coltrane, and every other artist who everybody mentions. A lot of UK artists like 4Hero/2000 Black family, that houses artists Kaidi Tathum, Daz-I-Cue, Afronaught, and so on. Shy-X, Congo Natty (formerly Rebel MC), Khemistry, Benga, Scream, Roots Manuva, and a list of others. These are some of the pioneers and foundation of Jungle, Drum n Bass, Broken Beat, 2-Step, UK Garage, Dubstep, Grime, and other genres that spawned from their early contributions of the early Hardcore and Hip-Hop scene in London. Deborah Jordan, Heidi Vogel, SAULT, Omar Lyfook, London Afrobeat Collective, and a host of others from the UK. From Africa, Ali Farka Toure, Samite, African Head Charge, Fela Kuti, Salif Keita, Bhusi Mlongo, Farafina, Samthing Soweto, Bolt Cutter, Msaki, Sho Majozi, Blvckmoon, and my little brothers in Kenya, Saint Evo, Jacob Ngunyi, and Moseh Drummist. I adore singer/model Luedji Luna from Brazil.
I listen to Metal. OTEP is my favorite Metal band. I like the hard shit too. There are so many I can name who I listen to, depending on my mood. It ranges into House, Amapiano, Gqom, Juke/Footwork from Chicago, to Halftime, Soul, Reggae, and classic Rhythm and Blues. I’m not really into a lof of the “R&B” from the 1990s. I like soulful stuff. DJ Nappy G of Groove Collective. Dude is that deal. He inspired me to do a remix of a Louie Ramirez track. Steve Catanzaro of Modern Groove Assembly. He’s super dope as well. I wish I could play keys like him. Tiffany Paige, Brittany Bosco, Electric Wire Hustle, Fitzwa, Georgia Anne Muldrow (coined “woke”), J-Dilla, Kriswontwo, MonoNeon…my gawd! Dude is an alien or something, and is insane on bass. He plays upside down like Hendrix. Little Dragon, Tall Black Guy, Zo!, and Pittsburgh producer Shade Cobain. He’s got that “whew lawd” too.
On a local level, people should listen to artists like Kuumba Freeque, three of the best vocalists in Houston who I hail up and have high regard for, OC Song/Song Byrd, Krystal Hardwick, and Kam Franklin. Song and Kam have that old school soul, bring down the house, style vocals. Krystal…..lawd! Smoother than butter. I’m have tracks ready for Song and Krystal. K-Rino, can lyrically roll with the best of the best of them. There’s guitarist and producer Stephen Oran. His music puts my mind at ease. He’s a Rock star who addresses social issues, as well as other subjects in his music. He’s the type I view as playing his music while you have the top down, cruising up the Pacific Coast Highway. Multi-instrumentalist Chris Hines. A cat who I have regularly worked with since the 1990s. A great musician and one of the best producers in Houston. Has toured with Prince, Maze, The Isley Brothers, and so on. A session musician with Raphael Saadiq and Ice Cube. He has also been the Music Director for a few shows that I produced, as well as, with him and Spencer the Madd Drummer, I developed the early stages of Sunflower Jazz. The Niyat. Mutha-funkin’ David Sha! Dude tears the house down too. My other ace, DJ Blaknificent. Originally from New Orleans who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award for the work he’s done in music. He’s a wealth of musical knowledge. Run-CT…dude produces some bangers! Keith Watson/K-Dubb is a god. His production is beyond amazing.
Lastly, my brother Elliott Keith, formerly known as Elliott Ness of EK Skwad. He’s an emcee and producer who has a long track record. He smashes Japan and other cities overseas. I’m not saying this just because he’s a friend, but folks should peep his tune “Letter To Sandy (Mom)”, which is a dedication piece to his late mother. He wrote and produced it. In my opinion, it’s worthy of being included in Houston music archives. It’s a big tune.
Who would be your dream guest on your podcast?
Emdee: DJ Dawg, DJ Blaknificent, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Mell Starr, Taigo Onez, Anthony Nicholson, Ge-Ology, Andy Mack (DJ Mack Boogaloo), Greg Caz, DJ Nina Sol, Saint Evo, Louie Vega, DJ Whisperwish, DJ Fritz Charles, Ms Melodic, DJ Lady Love…who is one of the women pioneers in Hip-Hop, DJ Nappy G, Shade Cobain, Supa Neil, Fatta Carey and DJ Goldfinga, DJ Griffin (G-Woody), and a list of others. Although she’s not technically a DJ, but a young lady who goes by Afroditey would be great. She knows a lot of good music and has the makings to be a really good DJ.
You’re known for making people dance and leaving them with smiles ….WHat makes you happy?
Emdee: The sheer satisfaction that I’ve made them smile and have a good time. Especially when I play something and they light up, whether it be something they’re already familiar with or it’s something new to them.
How can people find out more about your ventures?
Emdee: Currently, I’m working on updating everything, but they can find out more on my website. therecordrealm.com or Facebook.
Where do you see Emdee in the future?
Emdee: Owning a production company and releasing a lot of music. I’ve been approached twice about starting a record label. Pretty soon, my radio show called “Afrotronik” will be airing on two radio stations, and I hope to expand to more markets overseas. I do have plans to open a “brick and mortar” business in the near future. Also planning to reintroduce and artist named Tishande’. As mentioned previously, I’ve taken a number of photos and would like to have my own exhibit one day. And to sell some of my work.
Open Mic!!! (the stage is all yours!)
Emdee: Encouraging other artists to keep creating and don’t worry about what the next person may think, that’s not of help to you. You may be the next person that starts a new style that’s innovative, that leads to creating another movement and genre. Be unique. Be you.
I wish more people would get back to enjoying music in the true sense of it. To feel and connect with the music. Let the DJ be a tastemaker. There’s a lot of great music that people are overlooking because they’re too busy with the same 15 songs that they hear all the time, then they go some place with the expectation of hearing and requesting those same songs. Requests, in many cases, can be very annoying.
I’m extremely thankful for my mother and her helping to nurture my talents. She busted her chops to provide the means for me to improve what I already have and to open me up to the world of art. She’s also responsible for this insatiable wanderlust. I’m also thankful for my four sisters and one of my best friends Tiffany, who are part of my support system. DJ Dawg, my longest best friend, then person responsible for turning me into the mix machine that I am, through the Casanova Crew, with DJ Lonnie Mack and Prince EZ-Cee (DJ Peter Parker), who were also part of the Def IV on Rap-A-Lot. Big ups to Mikey Faith and Fatta Carey for my soundsystem experience and taking my DJing to the next level. DJ Noyze….the first person who I did the 2 x 4 with, before it was cool. Being introduced to his “flip-flop” mixes. He was also a beast with cookouts for the crew. Elliott Keith, so many thanks to him. It’s how I met DJ Noyze. Bernard “Hawk” Lawes, for the many years of friendship, shows, travel, and extended family. Akua Holt for helping me to fine tune my stage production. Bruce (RIP) and Missy Coley of 3rd Eye Promo for all that they have done and opening up their hearts and home to me. DJ Blaknificent, worthy of the name, keeps me on my toes through brotherhood and music-wise. The Smiths, my extended family from Club Riddims, my other brothers Nasiir Muhammad and Capt. Khallid Green, Dominique Hermez (Skol Hookah Bar & Grill), Bill Milligan (RIP), Darrell Jacobs (RIP), Bobby Phats, Keith Watson (K-Dubb), DJ Whisperwish, Sean Peel (best sound engineer in Houston), and Mr. Eugene Foney (RIP). Big respect to Matthew Clark (DJ Unspoken Notion) of Simplicity 26 Records. Dude laces me up with a lot of world music and has been a great help in other areas.
Special shouts to my version of the “I-Threes”, Rock, Sonya, and Angie, and also to “Mo” (Myretta). Lots of great memories. My other sister Pam, aka Southern Girl. Fine ass Tiffany Dillard, who has always made me light up from day one.
To P.O.W., Shai, and the gifted poets who regularly graced G’s & Z’s Coffee Shop on Monday nights. Rest in peace to my little brother Niyi.
To the funkiest percussionists to help fatten my sets; Spencer the Madd Drummer, Robert Smalls, Baba Ifalade, and Illya. Chris Hines for his axe and bass for a lot of different projects. Bobby Fine for the support and bookings, to be able to rock shows with YZ and Special Ed, as their show DJ.
Extra special crispy shouts to my spiritual brother and sister Eddie and Cheryl. Many thanks to you Miss Dee for this interview.