This week, Baltimore is in for a real treat. The folks over at Headnod Entertainment are throwing one of their most impressive shows to date at the 8X10, featuring some legendary names that you don’t normally see paired up together. Names like American Grime, Rational Soul, and local talents Crude Sound and Basse will be laying down some infectious bass lines, setting the tone for headliners Commodo and Joe Nice.
It’s a very special occasion, indeed. This will be Commodo’s first time back in the DMV in nearly eight years. He is an act that brings rarity and unfathomable wizardry to the live stage with his low-frequency excellency. Playing before him, however, is one of the most important figures in dubstep. Born in Great Britain but raised in Baltimore, Joe Nice is without a doubt one of the biggest catalysts for the dubstep scene in North America.
Joe Nice began playing dubstep at the beginning of the millennium before the genre even had a name. He started one of the first dubstep radio shows of its kind (Gourmet Beats, which is now his label that he founded in 2015) and co-founded the first official dubstep night in North America (Dub War NYC), introducing a wide-eyed audience to a new and exciting form of music that had never been heard in the states before.
Ahead of his return to Charm City, we were fortunate enough to spend some time with Joe to discuss a wide range of topics, including the early days of dubstep in North America, the influence Baltimore Club Music had on him and his DJing, the importance of representation in the US festival scene, new music on the way, and so much more. This is a very powerful conversation that we hope you take the time to read.
For more information on this Wednesday’s show at the 8X10, including tickets, please visit here.
HIHF: Thanks so much for taking some time to speak with us! How does it feel to be returning to the 8×10 in Baltimore to play this show alongside a fellow legend like Commodo?
JN: Well, first of all, Dan, I want to thank you for the time for this interview. It’s awesome to connect with you personally here in this space. How’s it feel? It’s homecoming…it’s homecoming. Even though I wasn’t born in Baltimore, that’s the city where I grew up. Baltimore has a way of toughening you up whether you want to be toughened up or not. Baltimore has a way of making you grow up faster than you’re ready to grow up. You see some things in Baltimore….you live life and get the “Spidey Sense” that never leaves you. You’re constantly on guard, but it’s not necessarily paranoia. It’s just something I am used to.
There’s a lot of craziness that’s happened in Baltimore over the past 30 to 40 years, which could only happen in Baltimore. A bunch of people eventually leave Baltimore and never return for lots of reasons. But ultimately, the people who leave Baltimore and never return, they can’t turn their back on Baltimore. When you tell people you’re from Baltimore, they already know what kind of person you are. They already know, “Okay, this cat is serious. This cat is about his or her stuff. They’re not messing around.” And that sort of mentality—it’s part of the character of Baltimore, or as I should say, the charm of Baltimore, because Baltimore is also known as Charm City.
I left Baltimore permanently in April 2017 to move to North Carolina, so I could live closer to my daughter and attend graduate school at Wake Forest University. I’ve been gone for almost six years, but as much as Baltimore has changed since I’ve been gone…come on, man. It’s still the same place. It still feels like home, because — to a certain extent — it is.
HIHF: For some of our readers who may not be as familiar with your background in dubstep and involvement in bringing the genre here to the states, what was your career like as you were first getting into it in the early 2000’s and how did you end up in Baltimore?
JN: Let me answer the second part of that question first. My parents. That’s how I ended up in Baltimore, because I wasn’t born in America. I was born in England. My parents are from Trinidad and Tobago. My mother and my father knew each other since they were children in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. My Mom trained to be a nurse in England, my Dad followed her over there. They got married in South London in 1974. I was born in 1976, I came to America in late 1977. They looked at Baltimore, packed the bags, and away we went…Baltimore it was. I did not have a say in where I would live and grow up when I was 18 months old.
Back to the first part of the question…How did my career go? It started off slow, and I guess that’s understandable when you’re trying to do something that greatly departs from the standard deviation…or something which greatly departs from the norm. Something that is not what everyone else is doing, especially in an underground music culture that somehow feeds on similarity, and the slightest aberration doesn’t necessarily make you stand out as much as you probably should. So, here I am going far away from everything happening, and people are like, “What are you doing? What is this? We have no idea what this is.”…and that’s because it’s so far away from where everyone else is.
There were plenty of times where I played on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights at 8:30pm in front of five people. I tell a lot of DJs that are just starting to make a name for themselves that everybody eventually starts somewhere. Nobody starts playing festivals with their name in the middle of the flier with a larger logo or font…Well, let me put it this way. You shouldn’t be starting there. I think everybody has humble beginnings or humble backgrounds, and I certainly have had that. Obviously, I had to go through a lot of reps to get where I am now, but ultimately reps equal reputation. I had to play a lot of shows where you get paid with drink tickets, or you’re making 50 bucks at the end of the night. S***… I remember those Alias nights back at Nation in 2000 or 2001, playing those Thursday nights at 8:30 for 10 people. But back in those days, I only wanted to play music, because I never imagined I would do what I’m doing now. I never imagined I would travel to 50 countries, playing shows in all these places and visiting every continent except Antarctica. Not even in my wildest dreams.
What I’m most thankful for are the relationships I’ve built with so many people around the world. I cherish those more than anything. Frankly, if you interviewed me 22 years ago and said, “Hey, what do you want to do with music?” I would’ve said, ‘I don’t know, maybe play a show in DC, maybe get a gig in New York, maybe play LA. Alright, that’d be great!’ Now my dreams are bigger. I wonder where else I can play. I still have some countries that I want to visit and play. I’m also only 8 states away from playing in every state. So yeah, I started off slow, but again….reps equal reputation. People started learning about me, and my musical aspirations, and people decided to take interest…and now here we are, 22 years later, having a conversation about my involvement in this music.
HIHF: That’s awesome. And during that period, was there a certain point or year where you started to notice like, “Hey, there’s some growth happening here, there might be some longevity here.” When did you start to really notice like, “Oh wow, this is like actually catching on” ?
JN: Yes, the time when I felt that dubstep had some staying power and started to catch on was probably 2007 or 2008. Part of the reason why I’m saying those two years specifically is because I know Mary Anne Hobbs did The Breezeblock show on BBC during those times, and I think that was in 2006; then, you had Dave Q, Juakali and myself with the DubWar event in June of 2005, which was the first all-dubstep party in North America. Other cities around the United States and Canada noticed what we were doing. Chicago had three dubstep events in the late 2000’s. Boston had parties at the Good Life bar. Los Angeles had SMOG Sessions, Bass Goes Boom, then MASS. Canada had dubstep events also! The Lighta! Crew in Vancouver, Toronto and the 40Hz parties at El Mocambo…Classic times! One thing led to another and we have dubstep as we know it.
Now that I’m thinking about it a bit more…I think when Dave, Jua and I performed at the Camp Bisco Festival in 2008, I think that might have been the first time North American-based DJs played dubstep at a festival. I’m sure someone will probably fact-check me about this, but I don’t recall dubstep being at a festival before then. Obviously, there’s been dubstep after that. Nowadays, entire festivals are dedicated to dubstep….but I think we were first. Now this was when Camp Bisco was in Amsterdam, NY. I know there’s a video of us at Camp Bisco because another member of our crew — Seckle — filmed it. It’s still on his YouTube channel. We played under a big tent for approximately 1,000 people on that Saturday afternoon. At that point, we said, “Yeah, I think we’ve got something going here.” And then other festivals started taking notice. The rest is history.
HIHF: That’s amazing. I think back to even a couple years later, here in Baltimore, you had mentioned Starscape and that was one of the first electronic music festivals that I had been to. Thinking back to some of the names on the lineup…you had guys like Flux Pavilion and Doctor P, for example, as they were just starting out. To have those names already stateside not even three years after this performance that you did at Bisco…it’s just amazing to think about the amount of traction and popularity that could happen in just two years.
JN: And I think part of the reason why is because it was so unexpected. But I guess the flip side is people were looking for something different, because — let’s face it — there are only so many ways you can play drum and bass. There are only so many times you can hear a breaks set from the same 4 DJs who lived in the DC Metro / Northern Virginia area. People wanted something different, and that’s where dubstep came in. It was the right place at the right time, and I was the guy…
HIHF: That’s very cool. So when you were starting to play some shows around here in Baltimore, obviously this city has revolved around the club music scene…when you were first getting started playing shows, what influence did Baltimore club music have on you and your DJ performances?
JN: Everything…Everything, and I’m so happy you asked that question, Dan. Every f****** thing. Without Baltimore Club and soulful house — and I gotta go into more detail here — without 92 Q and 88.9 WEAA, Morgan State University radio; without Pope and Oji on WEAA doing the Underground Experience radio show from 7:00 PM to 12:00 AM, then years later moving the show from 12:00 AM to 5:00 AM playing five hours of non-stop soulful house…incredible!
Then 92 Q? Come on, man. All the legendary DJs that played on 92 Q: Frank Ski, Miss Tony, the club queen K Swift (RIP), Ryan Middleton. And then all the other Baltimore DJs that made that made Baltimore Club what it was and still is to this day. DJ BooMan, DJ Technics. Scottie B, Sean Marshall, Mark Henry, Sean Caesar and the Unruly Records crew, DJ Titan, DJ Kenny K, DJ Kenny B. However, my favorite DJ and maybe the greatest DJ I’ve ever seen or heard is DJ Boobie. If you know Baltimore Club, you know who Boobie is. He used to work at a record store called Metro II in the Reisterstown Road Plaza and I used to buy his mixtapes. I’ll still listen to his mixes, and now that I’ve been DJing for roughly half my life, I can somewhat figure out what he was doing on turntables nearly 30 years ago. He now uses a controller instead of Techs, and he still blows my mind every time I see him appear live on Facebook. Now that I’ve skilled up and can figure out what he does, it deepened my appreciation for Boobie even more. In the early days, you tried to do what he did, and you say to yourself, “How the f*** is he mixing these two tunes together? How do you cut it up like that? What the hell is he doing? How’s he doing this?” The horizon of possibility is so far away, and you never think you would be that skilled, because his mixing was light years ahead of everyone else. But then you start working, you start figuring out what works for you. And then you play….more reps, more practice, more practice with a purpose, more success. Confidence grows…it’s a beautiful thing.
I can’t explain this any other way, but you have to be from Baltimore to truly understand what I’m going to say next. Baltimore DJs that play Baltimore Club mix a certain type of way. I can’t explain it any other way. If you listen to a Baltimore-based DJ play Baltimore Club, you know what I’m talking about. Go listen to my main man James Nasty — I can tell he is from Baltimore simply by the way he mixes. If you listen to a Boobie mix, you know what it is. Same for DJ Technics, or the House legends from Baltimore, like Karizma, DJ Spen, Ultra Naté, or N’Dinga Gaba. You know what it is. So much of the way I mix is — frankly — me being from Baltimore, but also, the genre of music I’ve adopted [dubstep] has its own structure and instrumentation. Dubstep is not just a genre…it is a culture…so, what makes me different from many of the other dubstep DJs is my background. Most dubstep DJ’s came into dubstep from jungle or drum and bass, not Baltimore Club/soulful house. My frame of reference, the way I like to mix, and the way I like to play is different, because Baltimore Club is the DNA of what I do as a DJ.
HIHF: That’s amazing. Speaking of the differentiation in the way that you DJ, I know that you are very dedicated to the vinyl mixing. Are you still vinyl mixing today and if so, how has the rapid pace of the digital age impacted your dedication to that style of mixing?
JN: No, not anymore. The pandemic ruined that for me. When the pandemic began in mid-March 2020, I was touring Eastern Europe, and lived in Vancouver, Canada with my now ex-girlfriend. My turntables, monitor speakers, and nearly 200 hundred records and dubplates are still in Vancouver. (I’m not worried about them at all. I know they are safe with the ex.) So when the world closed for business, the last show I played was in Sarajevo, Bosnia…and I miss that city and the people so much. I remember getting on the last Turkish Airlines flight leaving Bosnia for Istanbul, before they shut down the airport for at least 30 days. No incoming flights, no outgoing flights. Zero. Then a 17 1/2 hour layover in Istanbul, then another 12 1/2 hour nonstop flight to Washington, DC Dulles Airport. The only place I could go back to was my Mom and stepdad’s place, so that’s where I ended up. I didn’t play a show from March 14th of 2020 until the Infrasound Family reunion in May of 2021. I didn’t fly during the DJ break either. No shows. No flights. Nothing.
Plus, weeks before everything went to s***, there was a record pressing plant that had a fire. Mix in the pandemic, then supply chain issues — playing vinyl became unworkable. I got some PPP money, bought some CDJs, a new mixer, monitor speakers…and I was back in the mix.
I’m going to say this — and I know it will make sense to those who started on vinyl and then transitioned to CDJ’s. I can tell when a DJ started on vinyl and then transitioned to CDJs as opposed to a DJ that started on digital and rarely — or never — played on turntables. When you start on vinyl, you have to know your records. You have to know the tunes, and you have to know how to phrase properly. You don’t have the benefit of cue points. Your cue points are your ears. You have to trust your hearing more. Now, with CDJs, so much of what you’re doing is not necessarily monitoring with your ears as much as you’re monitoring with your eyes — and when I initially began playing on CDJs, it was a complete mind f*** because I am looking at a waveform on a digital display, and everything you’re doing becomes sensory misappropriation since your ears are supposed to be for hearing. Your eyes are supposed to be for seeing. But yet, I’m using my eyes to do what my ears are naturally supposed to be doing, and it’s really just warped. And again, for somebody that didn’t start with vinyl, you may not necessarily relate to or understand this, but you have to almost retrain your senses, your thinking, and the mechanics of being a DJ. Again, with CDJs, your eyes are doing a lot of what your ears should naturally do, as opposed to vinyl DJing, where you’re monitoring with your ears and trusting your hearing much more.
HIHF: Wow, that’s super interesting to think about. I’ve never really thought of it as reconfiguring the senses. That’s a really cool way to think about that.
JN: I’ve talked about evaluating my DJ sets similarly to test-taking in school. We have all taken multiple choice exams. You fill in the blanks, you receive the results, and most times the teachers will say, “Class, let’s go over the questions most of you got wrong.” So once you go over the ones you got wrong, you understand why you answered those questions incorrectly…and that only halfway helps you. Why? Because you never understand why you answered the other questions correctly. Sure, you might have guessed. You might have gotten lucky. But you ended up with an 80% on a 50-question test. OK, great. That means you answered 40 of the 50 questions correctly. You go over the 10 that you got incorrect and now you understand why you got those questions wrong, but you don’t necessarily know why you got the other 40 questions right.
So, we take that to DJing — and it took me years to figure this out — you have to analyze your mistakes and successes, because part of being a DJ involves controlling the unpredictable. How do you control the unpredictable? Easy….preparation. You have to figure out how and why you experienced success. You also must understand why you messed up. Learning happens when you understand both…and learning leads to growth and development. In the DJ context, you have revelations: “Oh, this is how I’m supposed to phrase. This is how I’m supposed to EQ. This is how I’m supposed to bring things in. This is how I use the effects on this pioneer 900 Nexus or Nexus 2. This is how I use them. Do I rewind quickly or do I rewind slowly? Do I just stop the tune and then pull it back?” There are all these moving parts that you have to organize. Eventually, you figure out what works, what doesn’t. Most importantly, you figure out how to express yourself.
HIHF: It kind of reminds me of when I was on the varsity sports team in high school, for whatever sport, and something that my coaches would always say is that, “The little things matter. The little things matter.”
JN: When you say that, I’m reminded of a quote from arguably Baltimore’s greatest sports hero…Cal Ripken Jr. When he broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak, he said: “If you take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves.” Thanks, Cal.
HIHF: Yes, thank you for that. This honestly kind of transitions nicely into this next topic I wanted to cover. I’ve seen in some previous interviews and the way you use your voice and platform on Twitter talking about representation in this scene and industry overall really matters. I think we can both agree that it is a challenge to get that representation on festival lineups, especially here in the United States. Why is it so difficult to get that representation and how do we get more and more people involved to increase that representation?
JN: It is a problem because America was founded and built on racism, and racism is a function of economics. So when you think about a lack of diversity, representation, and inclusion in the festival scene – that is merely a microcosm of what we see in other employment circles in the United States. Yes, I am focused on race, but gender is also important. These festival lineups do not have nearly as many women as there should be, and there’s certainly not enough diversity – racially and ethnically – as there should be, given that Black people created these genres of dance music.
So, how do we get more diversity and representation on lineups? About two years ago, I created rider amendments with an inclusion attachment. I think increasing representation involves contracts. Part of the reason why I did that is because there were dozens of promoters, talent buyers, etc. that put up black squares on their Instagram in the summer of 2020 in response to the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Jonathan Price, Walter Wallace Jr., etc….that entire summer. Police murdering Black people seemed to happen weekly. Many of these promoters, festival owners, talent buyers, etc. had Zoom chats, Instagram live videos, and forums with Black artists with promises of “doing better” and “improving our diversity initiatives”, but the moment everyone was allowed to return, everything was business as usual. S***, we’re in 2023, and other than a few names here and there, most of these festival lineups look copied and pasted from a 2018 or 2019 flier. So the reason why I created my rider amendments – which you can access via my Instagram bio – is to make it a community resource. I wanted to hold people accountable. Everyone else said, “We’re gonna do better.” Ok then…do it. The fact that promoters, talent buyers, etc. are barely willing to do the bare minimum shows how far we are from where we should be.
Part of the change involves holding people accountable. Make sure when people say they’re going to do something, they actually do it. And explain to them why this [diversity] is important, why this [representation] matters, because more diversity, inclusion, and representation is not only the right thing to do — it is also a good business practice. Most promoters and talent buyers are not necessarily interested nor invested in the culture.
One of my masters degrees is in nonprofit management from the University of Baltimore. Ideally, a nonprofit or social venture wants to achieve something called the “triple bottom line.” The first bottom line is, “Does it make money or create revenue?” The second bottom line is, “What is the social benefit?” The third bottom line is, “Does this positively affect the environment?
Let’s apply that triple-bottom-line concept to what we were talking about — diversity, inclusion and equity in the festival space. Festival owners want to make money. Representation has two parts: 1) the artists, and 2) the attendees. It is one thing to talk about having more Black people, or Indigenous people, or more women, or more people from the LGBTQIA2S+ community on a lineup. But that only solves part of the problem. Representation from an attendee standpoint is also important. Most of these festivals occur in places that Black people don’t normally visit or have never been to. For some – and I understand this – going to a festival site in the middle of the countryside, where you don’t see any other Black people or people who look like you in the nearby town, or at the festival in any capacity, creates an insecurity that dissuades non-White people from attending. I understand what that feels like. Be honest – why would you go somewhere that does not feel safe? Representation from an attendee perspective at a festival is, at best, under-discussed, and at worst, completely ignored.
So, how do festivals make these events more inclusive for talent and attendees? Making everyone feel welcomed is a start. Build relationships. Make sure everyone feels included and as if they belong there. Safety is also important. Festivals should be much more than spending $500, sleeping in a tent for 4 days, walking 150,000 steps, eating granola bars everyday, and sleeping on an air mattress that never truly feels right.
HIHF: That’s right, the air mattress deflates after one night.
JN: You already know what it is.
And you hope the people in the tent next to you have a pump. But the other part is, how do you make people feel welcomed? How do you make people feel comfortable with a new experience? I know I’m asking a few questions that some festivals probably have not thought to ask of themselves.
HIHF: Yeah, and as you were saying that, I can’t help but think about the monopoly that a giant organization like Insomniac has had over the last decade on the US festival scene where it just seems like it’s been all about the money and then everything else is kind of just swept under the rug, or an afterthought.
JN: When you sweep dust under the rug, all that dust makes a pile under the rug that you can no longer ignore. These festivals can’t keep ignoring that proverbial “dust under the rug”, which is the continual erasure of Black people, indigenous people, women, and members of the LGBTQ community. I want all these festivals to be successful. Also, I strongly support industrial action. I would love for festival attendees to speak with the festival organizers and say, “Hey, we want more participation and representation. We need more diversity. We want more workshops….etc. If you are not willing to listen to our suggestions, then you will not see us next year. “ Many of these festivals are year-to-year, not much different than someone who lives paycheck-to-paycheck. If they have a bad year, [financially], they risk not showing up the following year.
Most people go to festivals for the music, but others go for an “escape”. That “escape” means they temporarily forget about their reality or ignore daily issues that affect their lives or someone else’s life. Obliviousness is a type of privilege…and privilege is a form of blindness. Those blind spots are a microcosm of most people’s unwillingness to fight for anything that actually matters. We’re more concerned about spectacle over substance. We are more worried about who wins the Oscars than people living without healthcare, clean water, or endless wars around the world. We get caught up in superfluous bulls*** and I think part of that is also representative of what happens with festival culture. History gets rewritten. People get ignored. Words get redefined. This happened with dubstep. To the un-nuanced or unfamiliar listener, “Brostep” is dubstep, when in reality they could not be farther apart. The culture becomes unrecognizable.
HIHF: That is beautifully put. It kind of leads me into this next thing, where, at least in these last couple of weeks, especially on Twitter, there’s just been all this noise and back and forth about culture and protecting the culture. Why is it important to protect dubstep culture and how do you think that it can be balanced with the genre’s growing popularity here in the states?
JN: Every culture has norms, roles, and values. Every culture also has a history and heritage. Many of the people who are part of the foundation of the creation of dubstep culture came from other genres. Almost everyone in dubstep comes from humble yet proud backgrounds. Part of preserving the culture comes with understanding the musical history, and the people involved in creating the culture.
When you have artists that take shortcuts, that’s f***** up. It’s disrespectful to the thousands of artists who would love to play a festival, or get a gig at a club. It is disrespectful to the creators/producers who spent 10,000 hours or more in front of a laptop or computer learning Reason, Logic, Fruity Loops, Pro Tools, or Ableton. It’s also disrespectful to all the people – and I don’t mind saying this – that laid the ice that many of these other artists skate on. It’s f****** disrespectful.
Teddy Pendergrass once said, “You can’t hide from yourself everywhere you go, there you are.” Dan, the second question you asked me was, “Hey Joe, how was your career when you first started out?” And what did I tell you? I said, ‘Man, I was playing in front of 10 people, 15 people on a Wednesday night, or Tuesday night…getting paid drink tickets. Maybe I’ll get $50. I knew I had to work harder than everyone. I also had to be exceptional. Getting help is one thing…cool. Taking shortcuts…nah. Can’t get with that at all.
The other part of protecting this culture is to prevent whitewashing. We’ve seen this happen in other genres. Look at techno. Most people think guys named Hans, Jurgen, and Klaus created techno. That is not the case. It is Derrick. It is Juan. It is Jeff. It’s Kevin. It is Detroit, Michigan…not Berlin, Germany (and I love both cities). Now think about that and apply it to dubstep. Guys named Chad, Kyle, and Mike didn’t birth dubstep. It’s brothers from South London named Benga, Mark, Dean, Darren, and Solomon. It’s guys named Oliver and Benny. It’s guys named Lewis and Steve. You see where I am going with this.
HIHF: When you mentioned Benga, I feel like he was definitely one of the first dubstep albums I had listened to [Diary of an Afro Warrior] and then Welcome Reality [by Nero]…those were my first two dubstep albums that I listened to beginning to end, and the differences between the two were crazy. One just felt a little more authentic while the other felt like this insane cinematic journey through sound and while they were two very different things, both were still considered dubstep.
JN: Yeah, and I’m glad you mentioned the Benga album ‘Diary of an Afro Warrior.’ Let us not forget what the album cover looked like. It was Benga with a freshly picked Afro on the album cover, and I think that was deliberate. I think the album cover’s underlying message was, “Black people created this music.” This authenticity you mentioned relates to where Benga grew up. He’s part of the foundation – South London. Recently, a publication listed 12 dubstep pioneers that you should know. Somehow I was #12. I was the only one based in North America. Even though I was born in England, I didn’t grow up there. I grew up in Baltimore. So yeah, that authenticity matters…and the people recognize what real is. You don’t have to describe it, you know it when you feel it and see it. It’s like love. Same thing with the music.
When people come out to me, say “Yo, Joe, you’re an OG. Yo, you’re a pioneer”, part of me thinks, “Nice one. I appreciate that — respect. Thanks!”, because I’m trying to stay humble, and level-headed. Then another part of me takes a step back and says, “Oh shit, I did a lot of this…” So yeah, maybe I am a pioneer, but I’m not letting that get to my head. I can’t. I just can’t.
HIHF: Looking back at the early 2000s compared to today, who would you say inspired you back then as you were first getting into dubstep and who would you say are some artists in today’s day and age that you’re inspired by?
JN: All right, you see that list of pioneers that we just talked about? Yeah, start there – El-B, Benga, Hatcha, Coki, Mala, Mary Anne Hobbs, Horsepower Productions, Burial, Kode9, Skream, Youngsta, Loefah… And obviously some more people who should have been on the list, but aren’t there. And honestly, this list should be more like 25 people, all of which I would also include in this answer. In terms of right now? I mean Ternion Sound. Not only do the three of them work so well together – Andrew, Jack, and Aric – they’re even better people. My brother Dizzy — he lives in Denver, Colorado – super talented brother. Algo, who is originally from Baltimore. He lives in Vegas now. That guy’s awesome. Everything Boneless sends me – unbelievable. Korostyle, he might be the most talented guy I know. Bukez Finezt is a magician. Yoofee is a prodigy. The Widdler is on fire. All the Eastern Europeans: Moscow Legend, Kercha, OddKut, HeadSpace, my bro Bisweed, and my main man Q-100 have some serious heat coming now. Out to my brother Breakfake; we got an EP coming (hopefully) later this year. My guy Siskiyou has some gems. I gotta mention the Slovenian family: Marka San (the legend), Elidan, Gisaza, Flo, Kanomotis, and the entire Deep End Collective. All the guys from Japan: GothTrad (obviously), Karnage, Helktram, Fetus, City 1, Mondaigai, The Canadians are serious too: out to my guys Metafloor and Coltcuts! Torcha is hitting hard. Same for Wraz and Abstrakt Sonance.
I gotta mention my brother Taso. That guy — everything he makes — has me saying, “How the f*** did you do this?” I mean… the two [tracks] that we made together, yeah, they’re fire, obviously, there is a lot more. Plus, his 160 stuff and all the tunes he released on Teklife…incredible. So there’s a lot of people I’ve just mentioned that inspire me…not only as a DJ but also as I learn music production. Gotta mention my guy, Dave Sharma. He’s a music teacher in Houston, TX and an absolute genius. There are lots of dudes doing great work, and you might not know who they are, and I will do my best to mention them. My guy James Nasty from Baltimore. He’s splitting time between Baltimore and North Carolina now. But yeah, James, another supreme talent. Josh Milan can do no wrong. Same for Black Coffee and Masters at Work. Sinistarr is a machine. Anna Morgan is brilliant.
I gotta show some love to the MC’s as well. Yes, I mentioned producers and DJs, but MC’s are important, and they matter. You’re gonna see and hear two of the best to ever do it at the 8X10 in Baltimore. MC Jumanji is an all-time great. MC Twisty and I have been doing our thing together for two decades. The chemistry we have on stage is magical. Crazy D, Killa P, Sgt. Pokes, Sun of Selah…come on, those brothers are important! When we talked about hip-hop from 35 or 40 years ago, you had to mention the DJ and the MC as part of the act. Grandmaster Flash (DJ) and the Furious 5 (MC’s). DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. A bit of a switch-up, but I gotta mention MC Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock. Same for Kool G Rap and DJ Polo; Eric B (DJ) and Rakim (MC); and Pete Rock (DJ) and CL Smooth (MC). Even groups that did not mention the DJ, you knew who the DJ was, for example: Gangstarr — Guru was the MC, Premier was the DJ. Salt n Pepa were the MC’s, and Spinderella was the DJ. Run D.M.C — the DJ was Jam Master Jay. If you remember old school garage back — DJ Luck and MC Neat. The brothers on the mic matter too.
HIHF: I’m so glad you mentioned them [the MCs] because, especially here in the United States, I feel like it’s a complete blind spot or just not even a thing over here. And when it does happen over here, some people are either confused or almost pissed off in a way like, why is this guy here? And I think that is just a lack of an understanding of where this came from and the significance of why they are there.
JN: The easy answer is frame of reference. Most North Americans do not know about soundsystem culture. In other genres, words are part of the song — not the focal point or an equal part of the tune. Soundsystem culture has hosts who were just as important as the DJ’s playing the tunes. Dubstep comes from soundsystem culture. Dubstep is soundsystem culture.
HIHF: This has been truly amazing. To close out here, you mentioned that you’ve obviously been DJing for a while, but you’ve started dabbling in production more and more. I know you have Gourmet Beats, the label that you started in 2015, and a new song coming out soon. When is the song coming out and can you tell us a little bit about it?
JN: Yes, Metafloor and I finally settled on a release date. It was supposed to happen in February, but life events got in the way…so we had to push it back to April 7th. April 7th is the next Bandcamp Friday. That is the release date.
“June 19th” is the name of the track, and the backstory is important. There’s an audio sample in the intro when you hear a voice chanting “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!” That audio came from a Black Lives Matter protest I participated in and attended on June 19th, 2020 in Baltimore.
During the protest, a cop in an unmarked car purposely backed into a car with two activists in it. Hundreds of us were there for the rally, but when the incident happened, all of us surrounded the police car. Crazily enough, one of the other activists called the cops on the cop. I know…wild. The officer ignored everyone. He did not say a word nor leave his vehicle. For at least 10 minutes, activists were saying, “Whose streets? Our streets, whose streets? Our streets” and other familiar mantras like “This is what community looks like”…you get what I’m saying. So another activist grabs a megaphone, calms everybody down, and starts talking. I think the activist read a statement from a placard. The activist said, “As a part of our demands, we are fully aware of the “defund the police” campaign in light of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. If the police are defunded, we demand to know what the alternative will be for survivors who need help with a crisis. If you don’t want survivors to call the police, then who the f*** should we call? We need answers and we need them now.”
Those words and more audio from that video are in the song. Part of the reason why I started making music is because I wanted to make music with a message. Nowadays, music seems disposable. You just hear a song, and three weeks later, it’s not cool anymore. I wanted to make music that actually means something and says something, whether you are on the dancefloor, at the festival, on the train, or in your car. When you hear those words, I want people to feel something inside. I hope those words make you think and unsettle you. I hope the words agitate something inside you that changes your perspective; that makes you look at things differently; that makes you consider other alternatives, or put yourself in a place that you wouldn’t normally put yourself in because of privilege. So, that’s part of the reason why we wanted to put the entire speech in the track. I don’t necessarily think it’s coincidental that the protest happened on June 19th. We call the tune “June 19th”, but June 19th is also Juneteenth in the United States, which is now a federal holiday to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved Africans in 1865.
You take everything the activist said in the video, the date of the protest and its context, police violence inflicted on Black people…it’s the type of tune that, I hope, in 5 to 10 years keeps getting played and is used as a teachable moment. I hope it will be part of the conversations that surround humanity, freedom, equality and survival, but also part of the conversation about fighting for justice, which is not limited to those who suffered violence at the hands of police, but anyone who faces injustice resulting from racism, White supremacy, disenfranchisement, disinvestment, etc. That is why Metafloor and I made the tune. Sure, we’ve got a lovely Serum synth lead. The kicks — do just that — kick. High hats sound crisp. The drums are militant, which is what we wanted in the tune. The bass starts at the bottom and gets lower. All right, that’s all wonderful and all that’s great. People like the tune when it gets played. But I hope people embrace the message as much as the music.
Maybe this song could light a fire under some people to be part of that change that we sorely need in society.Maybe people will fight for something important, like reparations.
HIHF: That’s awesome. And you’re absolutely right, you don’t really get that nowadays because artists are just so concerned about the output and the frequency of output. And like “Oh, is this going to catch on? Oh, this didn’t hit. Oh, it’s time to release the next one.” It feels like there is no real intent or purpose behind what they are putting out.
JN: Yes, correct, no purpose. And production for the means of consumption. Whatever happened to value? What about quality control? Again, spectacle over substance. When I am done with music, I want to look back and say, “Yep, I did something that mattered. I did something important.”
Maybe “June 19th” is part of that shift from quantity to quality. Maybe we will slow down and understand the culture and history. Maybe we will look at equity from a historical perspective. Maybe The Winstons will get the respect they deserve for the “Amen Break”. Maybe John “Jabo” Starks and Lyn Collins will get the respect they deserve for the “Think Break”.
I bet they never got what they deserved for their contributions.
HIHF: Definitely not, no.
JN: And I think you see where I am going with this. You have artists taking shortcuts. You have Whitewashing and Black erasure. You have a culture being redefined. You have individuals who are not getting credit…and that is bulls***. I know some people give a s***, I just wish there were more who did.
HIHF: This has been a very powerful conversation and l could not have expected it to go in this sort of direction. I’m so glad it did, though, because we need more conversations like this. The only way that you get any sort of progress in terms of change is by having these tough conversations and you would like to think that it will ultimately lead to real action, which goes back to what you were talking about earlier re: there being no accountability. No one follows through on what they say. This has been absolutely amazing. Thank you for sharing all of this.
JN: I appreciate that. Thank you so much. I know I talked about a lot of topics in two hours. I’m thankful you took the time to reach out. In my heart, I know I said what needed to be said. I know some people share my feelings, but might not be emboldened or empowered to express themselves publicly. That is fine. No problem. I will keep moving forward. I promise you that!
We can’t thank Joe Nice enough for taking some time to speak with us about a lot of interesting and important topics within our space and industry. If you’re in the Baltimore area this week, definitely come out to the 8X10 for an unforgettable night of music.
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