DJ279 is the hip-hop veteran’s veteran. Rob Boffard asks him how he keeps it up
279 talks. A lot. He’s a radio DJ, so you can hardly blame him, but even so he does tend to go on a bit.
You’ll ask him when his Choice FM show started and ten minutes later he’ll wrap up an anecdote about an obscure conversation he once had with the RZA and his station boss.
When asked about why one should pick On the Real – the night he’s doing with DJs Spin Doctor, Shortee Blitz, MK and Snuff at Plan B – he gives an uncharacteristically concise answer.
“People should come to On the Real because it’s one of the few places where you can hear a wide assortment of proper hip-hop,” he says. “There aren’t many in the UK, let alone London. If you love hip-hop culture and the music, it will be one of the best places you can go. Not just myself, but for a line-up of DJs who know their music back to front and also skilled on the turntables, just so you get the proper package.”
If there is one thing 279 knows, it is how to play hip-hop live. He may be better known for his radio show – which we’ll get to in a minute – but he is first and foremost someone who loves to rock a party. He’s also a little bit scathing about the kind of crowds and clubs he sees in London.
For example, when asked about the kind of live hip-hop scene London has, he puts forward something we hadn’t considered before; namely, the impact alcohol has on hip-hop, or rather, the lack of impact it has had. “I think that the nightclubs are very insistent on maximising their bar take,” he explains, dissecting the problem. “People who come out to hip-hop parties tend not to want to get paralytically drunk. They tend to want to come and listen to the music – they’ll buy a couple of drinks but they won’t go crazy. Whereas the club owners in the current climate are only interested in the people that drink the most. And I’d say that hip-hop is probably at the bottom of that particular food chain.”
It’s an interesting point – and one that is not often considered in the debate of how to get people to come to your party. Of course, being the kind of guy who never lets an opportunity to talk pass him by, 279 continues with a rather more pressing point. “I think that journalists have a part to play. Sometimes they sensationalise stuff that they write. I think a lot of the time, the word hip-hop gets used loosely in a lot of scenarios. It sets in like dry rot, and suddenly people start believing that hip-hop parties are very dangerous to go to, you need to be careful when actually, a hip-hop party is where you’ll find the least amount of problems because everyone is just there for the music. Clubs are like, we don’t want trouble, we don’t really like trainers or baseball caps, basically everything that goes with the kind of hip-hop music in terms of culture and fashion. A club owner that wants people dressing up in smart shoes, trousers, ties, jackets, and obviously hip-hop is at the other end of that scale.”
279 has been a part of UK hip-hop since…well, certainly longer than we can remember. He first started as a DJ at Choice FM in October 1993, and his Friday Night Flavas show has become, if not the last word in UK rap radio, then certainly one of the touchstones of the medium.
His playlist – both live and in studio – is achingly dope. He’s as likely to feature joints by Reks and Slaughterhouse as he is to drop as KRS-One track. It’s a strategy which has brough him into conflict once or twice, notably with Choice FM programme controller Patrick Berry in 1995. He came out shining though, and he’s adamant that his modus operandi has worked for him.
“I think I’ve tried to maintain what I started,” he explains, “which is: I like your record, I don’t care if you’re famous, black, white, English, American, I like it, I play it. I don’t like it, I’m not playing it, and I’ll tell you I’m not playing it. I know that’s a bit difficult for some people but I’m just honest with them…I will continue to do so until they kick me off! After a while people start to believe in you because you show them you can do it.”
Things have changed since 279 started rocking stages – although he spends time detailing how he’s gone from chopping tape reels to emailing DJ Premier to request digital tracks, he’s most proud of his substantial record collection. “Last time I tried to estimate it, it’s a bit over 30,000,” he says, though he does admit to using the DJ program Serato to rock a club. “I had to have…any record I heard. Even if I never had the opportunity to play it, I’d buy it. Once I got a bit more into the game, I’d get myself a mailing list. For three years, I was on a special mailing list with Sony where I could get two copies of every record pressed up, no matter the genre. I didn’t miss out on anything! Special remixes, unreleased versions…If I thought a record was good, I’d buy every copy I could get. I’ve got about eight copies of ‘The World Is Yours’. It’s a bit stupid but that’s what I did.”
Judge for yourself whether his obsession has been stupid or not, as 279 rocks the On the Real party with the Doctor’s Orders crowd. If there is one party that has continued to be consistent, it’s Doc’s Orders, and 279 has been a major part of that. You’d be mad not to catch him live.
We even promise that he’ll let the music do the talking...
DJ 279 plays On the Real at Plan B on 17 April. For ticket info call 08444 771 000.