DJ Jihad Muhammad began exploring his love for music and DJ'ing at the young age of twelve. A native of Newark, New Jersey his love and dedication has lead him to reign as the “prince” of New Jersey’s underground dance music scene.
In 2002, Jihad began exploring the production world, producing songs on labels such as West End Records, Cameo Recordings, King Street Sounds and Offering Recordings. In 2005, Jihad developed his own production label MovmentSoul Recordings. Jihad has worked with House music legends such as Kevin Hedge of Blaze, Louie Vega and Danny Krivit of Body and Soul, to name a few. He has captured the souls of the populace and has secured a loyal following of energetic house music heads and soulful “garage” purist who march to the beat of his drum.
In 2010, Jihad produced one of New Jersey’s hottest Global Soul parties, “Bang the Drum", that’s been going strong for over 5 years. Through hard work, perseverance and faith, Jihad has earned a special place in the hearts of his peers and loyal fans. He has the technical prowess, programming, sense of timing and adaptability to move any audience. His expertise and artistry in the scene has allowed him to play across the world. Jihad has played for audiences in London, Italy, Canada, France and throughout the United States, including at the legendary Apollo and as a guest at Tri – State area’s radio station Kiss F.M. Jihad annually he takes his Bang the Drum sound to Japan touring in places like Fukuoka, Hiroshima and Tokyo. With the musical milestones Jihad has achieved thus far, they are just the beginning of what is yet to come. The sky is the limit and Jihad Muhammad sees no limits in sight thus far!
I had a chance to chat with Jihad about his career and playing at this year’s Summer Oasis Music Festival.
Black Widow: What was your introduction to house music?
Jihad Muhammed: It started in the 80s. For me, it derived from danceable R&B. It’s always been a part of my musical history and background. I didn’t want to be a DJ until about 1981/82. I would listen to the mix shows we had here with Timmy Regisford and Shep Pettibone, and Tony Humphries. Those 3 guys sparked my interest and made me want to become a DJ.
Black Widow: Did you have a mentor or were you self-taught?
Jihad Muhammed: Not really, our mentors were the DJs we heard on the radio. I didn’t have a personal mentor at the time; that came later as I grew and started playing in clubs. I would try to copy what I heard them doing on the radio to the best of my ability. I was “doing them” and that morphed into my own style. I had to create my own sound and identity but I got the basics from them the guys I listened to on the radio.
Once I started playing in clubs and parties, people like DJ Camacho and Naeem served as personal mentors to me at that time. I would travel with them to gigs. Sometimes they’d let me playing during breaks and such. I was almost like a gopher; picking up crates, taking them to gigs, etc. That’s where you have to start sometimes.
Black Widow: The DJ Training Ground?
Jihad Muhammed: Exactly! It’s real life experience. Watching them play and work the crossover; those were things I learned and I paid attention. I would watch how they would play and read the crowd. I would look at the types of records and music they would play and make sure I had those same records. DJ’ing live and hearing something on the radio are two different vibes. Being in front of people requires a different type of energy and I had to learn that…sometimes the hard way.
Black Widow: When did you decide to produce and create your own music?
Jihad Muhammed: At that point in my career, I was pretty good as a DJ. I thought it was good enough. DJ'ing and Producing were things that were always separate. My first love was always DJ’ing but I was told in order to go further in the business, I needed to be a producer. I was reluctant but Kevin Hedge from Blaze was one of my mentors who encouraged me to do it. He took me out to buy my equipment and showed me how to work it. It took me a little while to get the “producer bug”. My first record came out early 2000 and I was hooked. Making music brings out a different type of creativity and I really loved that. Once I started producing, I was definitely getting booked more but I consider myself a DJ first and producer second.
Black Widow: DJ’ing is an art form and the creative process that goes into curating a set or creating and setting a mood for a party is different from the art of creating a song. Did your creative process change when you started to produce?
Jihad Muhammed: Kevin would tell me to listen to my favorite record and try to mimic that. That’s always been my approach. I listen to music I like and try to produce a sound like that. With playing so many records, comes so many styles you want to produce. You don’t want to get stuck on 125 bpms. I like the freedom of being able to do what I like. I’ve heard so many styles of music as a DJ; house music is just one of many styles of music and all that is reflected in my music creatively. It challenges me.
Black Widow: That’s why I call house music, musical gumbo. Its so many different genres mixed into the music. You can hear disco, funk, R&B, punk…Do you feel like people try to put you into a box musically?
Jihad Muhammed: Not really but I’ve been doing this for so long. I think the challenge is getting the audience to go on the journey with you. That can be difficult especially now. The parties have changed. It’s not one DJ all night. Now it’s 3-4 DJs so you don’t get a change to stretch out and express yourself musically. I tend to like to play alone. Timmy Regisford said in an interview once that sometimes it takes two hours to really connect with a crowd and take them on the journey. Once you have them locked into your flow, you can take them anywhere.
Black Widow: I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve had that experience as a dancer. I’ve attended parties with a DJ where there are other DJs on the ticket vs attending a party where it’s just the one DJ and the difference is incredible! I wish they would do more of that…having one DJ for the entire night. You really get to know the DJ and the music in a different way.
Jihad Muhammed: Yeah, a lot of people have a festival mindset thinking they must have multiple DJs on a set because more people will come out. In some cases that is true, like an outdoor event etc., but inside the club it can be a waste of time.
Black Widow: Because you don’t get any time to really stretch?
Jihad Muhammed: Yes and then the mindset is, “I have to play all the hits that I know people are going to dance to”. That can get redundant because how many times have you heard all of the “Hits”? It’s just not as creative. It’s harder for me to do a two hour set vs an 8 hour set.
Black Widow: Where did the idea of “Bang the Drum” come from?
Jihad Muhammed: Bang the Drum derived from a party I used to do called “The Movement”. There was a time when I felt that people wanted to hear newer music here and couldn’t’ so they would travel to NYC to spots like Shelter. I wanted people to get used to newer music. The Movement parties happened around 9/11 so people weren’t going to NYC as much and the Shelter had shut down because it was in the vicinity. We started to get people from NYC coming to Jersey and it grew from there. Bang the Drum started at Club Elevation and then we moved it to the Coffee Cave.
We’ve had a rich history of house music in Jersey but it has been the stepchild of NYC. In order for our people to know who’s who in the scene, I have to bring new people in and introduce our audience to new sounds. It’s not just about me, it’s about a collective of DJs who are playing new music, whether it’s soulful, afro or whatever sub-genre they create, it’s all about us playing new music and introducing the people to a new sounds. That’s the message I preach for bang the drum.
Black Widow: I have such an appreciation for those who create music in this genre because it’s so much music that comes out every week. It’s difficult to stay on top or stay fresh because it doesn’t last. It’s always something new and you have to constantly keep putting out something new. Do you find that it’s a challenge to stay current and relevant with new music while not rushing the creative process?
Jihad Muhammed: Absolutely. I agree…the music changes so fast. You always have to keep your ear to the street.
Black Widow: That’s a struggle for me as an artist.
Jihad Muhammed: I think it’s important that people get to see the performer. This business is so DJ driven that they forget the songs we play have artists who sang on it or artists who have performed spoken word on them. If you keep the artist hidden, the people will never get to know who the artist is.
Black Widow: That’s been a long time discussion among artists!
Jihad Muhammed: When I first started working with artists it was always Jihad Muhammed featuring…”so and so artist”. I had to get away from that. Now it’s Jihad Muhammed and “So and So artist”. It has to be that way because we created a song together. Its collaboration and I title it as such. This is the only genre where the DJ/producer is more famous than the artist.
Black Widow: I think that’s so important that you even acknowledge that. It’s a collaborative process.
Jihad Muhammed: Right! We have to take it back to the way it used to be!
Black Widow: Agreed! Getting in the studio together, bouncing ideas off of one another. That’s a relationship. That kind of energy you can’t really duplicate. When you have that, it’s something special. What’s your greatest lesson you’ve learned as a DJ/producer?
Jihad Muhammed: I’ve learned how to make a proper record and I recognize what my limitations are. For example, I’m not a musician, so I bring in people who are. As a DJ, I’ve learned to be prepared to reinvent yourself. You can’t stay stuck where you were 5 years ago or even a year ago. Always be willing to update who you are as a DJ. You have to be willing to accept change and adapt to it. That doesn’t mean you forget the old school because some things can’t be compromised. You have to know how to balance the two. Technology says you can be a DJ if you press a sync button but the old school knows how to mix, blend, etc.
Black Widow: Absolutely! Some things cannot be compromised! Let’s talk Summer Oasis! Last year was your first year playing the event. What did you love about it?
Jihad Muhammed: I enjoyed it very much last year. I enjoyed the idea of going to a piece of land and making it your own thing. You can play by your own rules. I loved the comradery among everyone. It was a great vibe. It was different from festivals I’ve done in the past.
Black Widow: You gotta stop by my tent! I’m looking forward to hearing your set in Idlewild.
Jihad Muhammed: Yes it’s should be a lot of fun!
Black Widow: Thanks for speaking with me today!
Jihad Muhammed: No problem! My pleasure!
You can catch Jihad Muhammed next weekend as one of the featured DJs at the Summer Oasis Music Festival held in Idlewild, MI. His Bang the Drum party happens each and every 3rd Saturday at The Coffee Cave in Newark and you can hear him every Tuesday on buttersoulcafe.com from 6-8pm. For more information on Jihad Muhammed, his events, and his music, check out the following links!