“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.”
Reggae music legend Bob Marley sang these lyrics in his 1973 track “Trenchtown Rock.” Nearly 50 years later, these words could easily serve as a global anthem as the world practices social distancing while under stay-at-home orders.
For the past two weeks, music has become the salve to heal our hearts, minds and souls after a long day of teleworking, homeschooling and introverting. Next to first responders, DJs might be on their way to earning the MVP title as they take us through a virtual time machine with our favorite hits.
By now, most of us have witnessed the meteoric rise of celebrity DJ D-Nice’s followers since he began hosting sets via Instagram Live. After a nine-hour set on March 21, D-Nice ‘broke the internet’ as his followers jumped to 100,000 as he played hit after hit in his now-famous music party, #ClubQuarantine.
His livestream attracted the likes of former First Lady Michelle Obama, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, media mogul Oprah Winfrey and more. By the following evening, his follower count was up to 1.1 million with 150,000 viewers signing on to party with him within the first 15 minutes.
While this national phenomenon caught our attention, Charlotteans don’t need to look far to find musical relief. Local DJs have been virtually spinning on the “ones and twos” since Gov. Roy Cooper initially limited gatherings to 100 people.
Writer and events curator Shawn D. Allison credits local DJs for providing a broader array of musical experiences and being willing to introduce lesser-known artists into their playlists. He’s been advocating for local DJs to remind residents who they can support virtually and later once the ordinance is lifted.
“People tend to flock to DJs who are well-established and have built a worldwide name for themselves,” he said. “I prefer local DJs because not only are they well-tenured in their craft, but they create soundscapes that most people wouldn’t even think could be possible.”
QCity Metro spoke with three local favorites about the role of music in bringing our community together, connecting with their audiences, and why it’s important to support their industry.
DJ Chief Rocka Aking Allah
Until recently, DJ Chief Rocka Aking Allah and his musical partner Justin “DJ Justice” Driscoll — collectively known as the JETA Team — hosted Off the Wall 704, monthly themed parties billed as an experience for the musically deprived. Along with Off the Wall 704, the JETA Team has hosted an annual summer event for the past nine years.
With his customers at home, Allah hopped onto Instagram as the mood hit him. Gaining followers wasn’t his motivation; he periodically performs live sets to promote upcoming events. In the past week, however, he’s been playing for longer periods, as long as five hours, to keep his audience engaged and entertained.
The DJs specialize in golden-era hip hop, R&B, soul, rare grooves, reggae and go-go music.
“We’re both ‘70s babies, so we play music rooted in New York culture from the 1970s to early 2000s,” said Allah, who’s been DJing for more than 20 years. “It’s important that people support the local DJs in Charlotte because a foundation must be established for the city [to gain] worldwide exposure.”
Allah alleged that local DJs rival national acts booked for large events in the city.
“Charlotte promoters cannot continue hiring national DJs when the talent is already here. It’s important to introduce the national audience entering the city to the local talent,” he added.
DJ Skillz is one of the most sought-after talents from the Southeast. He’s built his brand over the past 17 years, nine of which have been spent in Charlotte. The award-winning DJ is a regular at A-List events, playing for big names in entertainment like Doug E. Fresh, Jay-Z, Kevin Hart, Erykah Badu and others. DJ Skillz also performs during Charlotte Hornets’ home games.
His demanding schedule typically keeps him on the road, but recently, he’s been performing live mixes for his followers on Instagram. His HBCU Live set, alongside Terrence McNeil and Kwagi Heath, streams on Fridays at 9 p.m.
A native of Florence, South Carolina, Skillz is an avid supporter of historically Black colleges and universities. He attended St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh.
“My whole angle [for HBCU Live] was to feed my audience. Mine is the HBCU alumni, the working crowd and music lovers, so I wanted to do something to cater to them,” he said.
He commended DJ D-Nice — a former rapper who became known for playing private celebrity events — for organically building his following by doing what he loves.
“Music is the soul controller and the common denominator that bridges all races, all gaps. It’s never what you play, it’s how you play it,” Skillz said. “If you do something organically, it connects with people, and they will show love because it touches them.”
He likens the stay-at-home order to hitting the reset button and encourages people to avoid watering down their crafts.
“Everybody has a chance to prove themselves and show how bad you want it. The people who love it will gravitate to it,” he said.
DJ Fannie Mae
A few weeks ago, if you had asked Tiffany Berry aka DJ Fannie Mae whether she would regularly host live parties online, her answer would’ve been an emphatic “no.” She craved the energy from performing in person.
She reconsidered after a friend from her hometown of Raleigh insisted she throw him a birthday party. At the same time, Fannie Mae was also getting messages from supporters who were missing her performances. She decided to host a virtual party for her friend via Zoom, a video conferencing platform. It grew into a hometown celebration with friends and fans.
“With it being his birthday, it was more about him than me,” she said. “I see my role in society as an energy healer, and I was finding relief and joy in DJing at home for myself.”
“I felt that we need some light and inspiration, and I’m a church kid, so I’ve had to change my perspective to being online,” she added.
Our community has an opportunity to rally around the local talent who keep us grooving on the dance floor in an entirely different way. DJs have reminded us that whether we break a sweat in our PJs or dressed in our finest weekend attire, they provide the soundtracks to our souls.
While we’re practicing social distancing, show some love to the men and women on the wheels of steel, and don’t forget to tip them as you leave the club.
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