I was born in Managua, Nicaragua, in 1977. I moved to San Francisco with my family when I was 3, and when I was 5 we moved to Miami where I grew up. My mom didn’t like the San Francisco weather and heard Miami was more Latino, so she wanted to be here, and she never left.
When I was around 13, my brother began DJing with my cousin. I started playing around with the records, and that’s how I got into DJing. At that time, back in the early 1990s, it was all radio DJs like DJ Laz, Eddie B, and DJs on records like Magic Mike and Jock D. There were VHS tapes, like the New Music Seminar battle in New York, the DMC DJ Competition videos, and that was it. If you wanted to learn about DJing, you needed to get a VHS tape or listen to the radio and record stuff while trying to mimic it.
Being from Miami, which has a very Caribbean vibe, influenced me a lot. There’s a lot of bass culture here, not just Miami bass, but also dub, reggae, merengue, salsa. It’s very bass-driven music. Miami bass and freestyle music were the first styles of music that I was mixing. That was what was playing on the radio when I was growing up. There was no hip hop, no electronic music, no nothing – it was just Miami bass, freestyle music, salsa and merengue on Power 96.
Back then it was all about record digging. You had to find the record that said what you wanted to say. You went to the record store, and you might be there for hours digging through records, listening to new music, and discovering stuff. It was part of the culture. Every weekend, my boys and I would get together and go to the record store and see what we could find.
I was practicing a lot, and when I was about 16, I entered my first competition. I won because I was this little kid stepping against this 20-year-old guy. I had mad attitude and records that dissed him. That was my first time on stage, and I was already winning. After that, I knew I wanted to be a DJ.
The competitions were just part of hip-hop culture. There were breaking competitions, emcee competitions, DJ competitions. As long as hip hop has been around, it’s been competitive. I was into the whole culture, but I just couldn’t do it all. DJing was the only thing I felt that I was good at, and that’s what I focused on. Back then, hip-hop culture gave you status. It was people who wanted to be the best at what they did. And for me, it was DJing.
I wanted more. I was practicing more, watching more videos, and then I met my first manager, G Smooth. He entered me into my first DMC regionals in Philadelphia. I lost. So I came back, practiced more, and went to New York for a Zulu Nation battle. I won that two years in a row.
In the early days, when I was just battling, I started a crew with A-Trak called The Allies, and we were on top of the whole DJ battle world. We started traveling the world and winning battles. We were known to incorporate all of the elements of turntablism (the art of manipulating record players and transforming them into musical instruments) into one. We weren’t just good at scratching or beat juggling or body tricks. We were good at everything.
I was also rocking some clubs in Miami. I was DJing at one of the first big, real hip-hop clubs. This club, The Gates, was bringing big names like Fugees, Biggie Smalls, and Wu-Tang. I was the resident DJ, so it was my stomping ground for a couple of years. I was also scratching up jungle music, hip hop, and Miami bass at parties and rave clubs.
At the rave clubs, it was more about psychedelics, freedom, and experimentation with everything. At the hip hop clubs, it about the culture, the style of dressing, and talking, and at Miami Bass freestyle parties, it was just Miami. I wanted to try it all and experience it all.
In 2001, I was named America’s Best DJ by Time Magazine. That was tight. I’ve won the World ITF Scratch Off Championship, Zulu Nation battles, the Source battle, and the 2015 Global Spin Turntablist of the Year. I’m most proud of being the three-time consecutive DMC World Champion. My winning streak has never been matched, so now I’m in the books. It was in London, and I flew my parents out there for it. It was awesome.
After that, I quit. I’m not competing, but I’m still making routines. I put out a new routine almost two years ago with a message within it about the state of DJing, and what’s going on now with the whole culture.
It was at Ultra Music Fest that I noticed that DJing had started to become different. DJs just stand up there and cheerlead the whole time with fireworks. It’s like a weird pep rally and not about the music anymore. I saw a Tosh.0 episode and he said, “Anyone can DJ. Just press play and you’re a DJ.” He was right, it is a joke now. So I decided to make a new routine and use that message.
I used the audio clip, footage of the people that I think are ruining DJing, and I busted out this new routine on video. It reminded people that the culture is not just about the party – it’s about turntables, and DJing, and crowd-rocking. People really took the message and the whole DJ culture blew up after that. Instead of pushing it on people, I started focusing on showing them my mixes and my new routines.
I like people who do great things by pushing it to the next level, being original, standing out, being a leader, and being different, period. You have to make people question everything, and give people something new and fresh.
I run my label (Slow Roast Records), make music for my label, and DJ. The number one thing is that I’m doing what I love. That’s what I value most. That, and that I can provide for my family. My upbringing was completely different. It’s cool to be able to give my daughter what she wants or my wife whatever she wants. I do what I love and travel the world doing it, and I’m able to provide. I wake up every morning and it’s fun. I would not want to be doing anything else but this.