In a musical world that's full of egos and attitudes, it is refreshing to come across a talented, humble spirit that's hungry to do his thing. DJ Righteous embodies all of that. Born and raised in Chicago and now making his home in Detroit, DJ Righteous is excited to be making his Summer Oasis Debut! I had a chance to chat with him about his career, his background in Spoken Word and his thoughts on his Summer Oasis Debut!
Black Widow: Did you have a lot of music in your home growing up? What were some of those influences?
DJ Righteous: My grandmother always played Latin music like Celia Cruz and Tito Puente and my mom was an avid jazz enthusiast. I personally love Stevie Wonder, Roy Ayers, Earth Wind and Fire and of course, Chaka Khan!!! I love her forever! [Laughter] Those were all big influences.
Black Widow: What was your introduction to House Music? When did you decide you wanted to DJ?
DJ Righteous: I’d have to say Ron and Nate Carroll and these guys who were aspiring DJs in my neighborhood, The Harris Brothers. Ron Carroll used to bring records to school whenever we would have our parties. He would play these songs and we just fell in love with them. Then of course, I was listening to the radio WBMX and the Hot Mix 5.
Black Widow: Are you a self-taught DJ?
DJ Righteous: I learned by putting records together. [LAUGHTER] Definitely self-taught.
Black Widow: In doing these interviews I always find it interesting to listen to how DJs select music. Typically, the longer someone has been DJing they tend to have a very specific process of how they choose and select music. You come from the era were DJs were actually looking for music, going thru crates and such.
DJ Righteous: Oh absolutely, you had to dig and look for music. There was an art to digging for records. You didn’t want to play what everyone else was playing. You wanted to find that nugget and play that. You tried to find something fly. You start off digging through your mom’s stack and your dad’s stack. Then when you were able to afford it, you got to digging in the records stores. I was always looking for records. I still do.
Black Widow: How does that affect how you choose music now? It’s different since we are mostly digital nowadays.
DJ Righteous: Honestly, I very seldom go to Traxsource unless it’s something I just have to have.
Black Widow: Like a Black Widow release! [LAUGHTER]
DJ Righteous: OH FOR SURE! All your stuff! [LAUGHTER] I try to go to different sites but I also still dig. I play a lot of digital music but I also still buy vinyl. I order vinyl. It’s just a lot of stuff that you just cannot get digitally. It doesn’t matter where I go; I try to dig for records! I don’t want to sound like anyone else and for me, especially coming back into this scene, I thought that was the formula. I thought I had to sound like “this” in order for people to book me. When I really found my own voice and flipped the script, that’s when things really started happening for me.
Black Widow: I definitely relate. When I started doing poetry, I thought I had to sound a certain type of way. When you are new and coming into this scene, it can be a challenge if you don’t find your voice.
DJ Righteous: Yeah I got that a lot as a poet too! You and I have similar stories! That’s why I used to call my stuff “Unapologetic poetic”. You either accept it or reject it but you gotta respect it. People I grew up with had no idea I was an undercover lover of Haki Madhubuti, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni but I grew up on the south side and we weren’t spitting poetry in the streets you know?
Black Widow: Absolutely! Finding your voice and your own style comes with time as you evolve. There has been a lot of discussion about the categorization of house music. It’s disco, soulful, classics, afro etc. Do you subscribe to that? If not, what are your thoughts on the sub genres of house music?
DJ Righteous: For me personally, I love unscripted melodies. It’s disco, house, soulful, afro beats. It’s everything. I like my sets like gumbo. I want to take people on a journey of sounds. I like to give them textures. For me that’s has helped my evolution as a DJ.
Black Widow: It’s about giving your audience a good mix and honestly, it’s such a personal thing. I see it in my friends who are DJs. I can see them through the music they play. That’s what gravitates me to certain DJs. They give me a piece of them when they play. I don’t want a DJ to just give me what I want. Give me you. It the same as a writer/poet, I want to give you a piece of myself thru my art. That requires a certain amount of vulnerability.
DJ Righteous: That’s that authenticity! I completely get it!
Black Widow: A lot of people don't know you have an extensive background as a Spoken Word Artist.
DJ Righteous: Yeah. I'm known as Righteous Knowledge in those circles. I remember my 1st open mic was on 35th & King Drive in 1999/2000. I wasn’t spitting at the time I was just coming because I enjoyed it. About two years later, I really started writing and we had a group called Third Eye Open Poetry Collective. We started our group on May 19th 2002 and we used that date in particular in the spirit of Malcolm X and The Last Poets. I remember meeting Umar Bin Hassan from The Last Poets and he said that the only way we could use that date was if we show and prove we were worthy of that date. We started performing at festivals and open mics and a year later we had our anniversary show with The Last Poets. It was so dope! Fred Hampton Jr and his mother came. From there, I traveled all around the country performing at colleges and universities, opening up for Common, Eryka Badu, KRS One, ICE-T, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy. I’ve performed at the Essence music festival twice. My spoken word history is deep.
Black Widow: Wow! Has you being a spoken word artist influenced you as a DJ? Do you approach DJing differently because you have a writing background?
DJ Righteous: From a writer’s perspective, I write my poems like puzzles. It's putting those pieces together. As a DJ selecting music I approach it the same way. Sometimes, I challenge myself not to play a particular song, even when I know it will get the people going. You don’t want to be the DJ that people know what you are going to play before you play it. You don’t want to be predictable. With writing and selecting music, it’s a very similar process. I don’t have a folder or formula. I go with what I feel. That is what helps me the most in both, playing and writing exactly what I feel. Like I said earlier, I used to think I had to play and sound a certain way. When I started to just play what I felt, the people felt it as well. If I ain’t feeling it, I’m not playing it. How are your people going to feel it if you don’t? I’m going to rock out whether it’s 10 people or 1000s of people. I have to.
Black Widow: Let’s talk about Summer Oasis. What makes Summer Oasis special and different?
DJ Righteous: Because I’m a first timer. I’ve watched from afar. I think what makes it different is that it’s not in your usual location. This is a location that is historic for us. This is the Martha’s Vineyard of the Midwest, where the heavy hitters came to play back in the day. It has serenity to it. When you wake up and look at the lake in the morning, it’s breathtaking and it gives you peace of mind. The fact that I get to play music that started in my hometown at a festival where the greats have all been…it’s just surreal. I get to play house music in Idlewild with people I respect and have been fans of for years. I feel like a kid in a candy store. I’m just honored and humbled to be a part of this. I really am! I can’t wait to express and share my vision with people who may have never heard of me.
Black Widow: You know when I was researching Idlewild and its history I was shocked to discover that my grandfather performed regularly at the Idlewild clubs and jazz festivals. Do you have a personal connection to Idlewild as well?
DJ Righteous: WOW! That’s dope! Yeah I do actually. My great grandfather owned a club called Lead Sensations in Detroit. They used to take artists from Detroit to go to Idlewild all the time. I’ve also performed in Idlewild twice with the Last Poets. We did poetry in the woods with The Last Poets and Savion Glover. I’ve been fortunate enough to perform there twice in a different capacity.
Black Widow: What does the future hold for DJ Righteous?
DJ Righteous: I just want to continue to get booked! I want to do some traveling and have other people hear me play! I’m just trying to do my best and give my all in what I do. I want to continue to build the brand that is DJ Righteous and continue to learn and grow in this thing called house.
Black Widow: I have no doubt that you will. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I’m looking forward to hearing your set at Summer Oasis!
DJ Righteous: Oh no doubt. It was my pleasure! I’m really looking forward to it.
The countdown to Summer Oasis is ON!!! I hope you enjoyed this interview with this talented artist! The Summer Oasis Festival Blog Series continues this week with more interviews and a special article on creating the perfect camp kitchen, complete with receipes! Stay tuned to the blog and subscribe to get every article delivered right to your inbox!
Until next time!
See you at Summer Oasis