With a career spanning over 20 years, DJ Nix in the Mix has amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience in the craft of being a hip-hop DJ. From his humble beginnings at Kean University, he was able to establish a successful relationship with BET. He made numerous appearances on two of BET’s most popular television shows at the time Rap City and 106 and Park. Using this platform, he was able to grow and expand his own successful brand. DJ Nix in the Mix has performed at hundreds of college campuses across the country and rubbed shoulders with many of the top artists from the world of hip-hop. I had the chance to speak to DJ Nix in the Mix about a number of topics including the importance of building a brand. Advice for up and coming DJs, especially how to promote yourself properly. As well as which venue is his favorite to perform at. The answer may surprise you.
So what inspired you to become a DJ? I know in doing some research I saw that your father was a huge inspiration for you.
Wow, good research. Yeah, he was a DJ. So that’s what made me think about doing it. I gotta be honest, and I mean no disrespect to my craft. At first, I didn’t think you could earn enough as a DJ to do it as a full career. I was nervous and was thinking maybe I should go get a job. Maybe I should get an education. I went to Kean (University) for my bachelors in communications. I started to go there and was like, ‘I really think this DJ thing is what it is’. Because by that time I had been DJing for like six years. I started DJing when I was like 13-14. Halfway through my third year at Kean, I said you know what, I’m just gonna pursue this full time. From connects that I had at Kean University I moved on to BET. I was kind of like a freelance person for BET. I would be a consultant for some of their events. I would get locations for events for BET. Do you remember that show Rap City?
See, in doing my research and looking you up on YouTube, I had no idea you were on Rap City. From like ’04 to ’05, 4 ‘o clock in the afternoon that’s what I was watching. Especially in the summertime when I was out of school. Personally, I liked it better when it was the basement, and then they changed things around.
Yeah, my original show was in ’04. That was the first show I ever did. I was on there about 38 times. But, the original time I was on there, the very first one was with (Big Tigger). And then over the years Mad Lynx was a host. Q45 was a host. There were just so many different hosts, and I think that’s where the ratings started to fall. They moved the time of the show. And then when 106 and Park came out that was the landmark show at that point. But, the cool thing was I had such a great relationship with BET that they put me on 106 and Park as well. I did it once with Free and AJ. Then I did it with Rocsi and Terrance a few times. Then finally I did it with Bow Wow, which he was one of the final hosts. They had their ups and downs with that show as well because of the fluctuation in hosts they had for the show.
I always thought that YouTube pretty much led to the end of 106 and Park. In the mid-2000’s everyone was watching that show. But, once you didn’t have to wait to vote to see your favorite video, you could just pull it up on your phone that was pretty much the end of it.
I was a fan of both shows. So to see you on there was like oh wow? I didn’t even know.
So you could tell my career pretty much extends over a 20 year period. And for the longest time I was having a tough time trying to figure out if I was going to do this as a career. But literally once I was on TV and on the radio it was kind of like a no-brainer at that point. Like this is what I want to do forever. As long as people will have me. (Laughs)
Once you made it to BET through your connections at Kean University, would you say that was the big break for you? The moment when you said you know what, I can make this happen.
That was the big break. That was a huge break for me because pretty much everybody that knew me, everybody that was doing business with me, actually the respect and money had changed. People started to pay me more. People started to call me more. And then, of course, people respected me more. Because I wasn’t just the local kid anymore that was just walking around. I was on television. I have over 200 universities that I work for right now. And out of the 200 schools, I would say about ten of them really took me to the next level where the checks went from a few hundred to a few thousand literally overnight. I was able to sustain that financial luxury pretty much since then. They respected the brand from that point. And that was it.
I’m going to get to building up the brand in a second. But, I was reading the list of schools that you’ve DJ’d at. Rutgers, University of Maryland, etc. I have to ask because I’m a Howard grad myself, you’ve never been through Howard?
No, I’ve never been there.
Really? Are you serious?
Yeah, I did your homecoming. It was this club called 2K9. It was me and The Band. Remember them?
Yeah. E. Ness was from right over here in Philly. Choppa, Babs, etc.
Yeah. So it was me and The Band and we did 2K9 off campus. But, I’ve never done an on campus Howard party. Look I’ve done them all, and I still do a lot of them. Bowie, Morgan, Delaware State University, Norfolk, Maryland Eastern Shore, Savannah State, I do a lot of HBCUs. I’ve just never done Howard.
We have to get you down there then.
I’d love to be there for that. I’m in the building you just let me know. I got my go-go on smack. Like that was the thing that separated me from a lot of DJs too. Because you got to remember go-go was like a sound that was really just DC.
It’s like it’s exclusive to them. It’s an acquired taste.
Exactly. Being that I was a DJ that had a New York sound, but I knew go-go extensively. That made me extremely successful with the HBCU crowds. They really respected the fact that I did my music research and I knew every town. Because usually when you go to an HBCU, especially in the north you have DC, New York, Philly all represented in the same school.
I have friends who DJ, and they’re trying to make it to the level you’re at now. People think it’s easy, but it’s like with any craft it takes years to perfect it. So what are some of the challenges you face as a DJ?
The biggest challenge, believe it or not, is getting your money (laughs). The biggest challenge is getting what you want. Here you are in a situation where you want to get your just due or just payment, but not everybody wants to pay you a thousand dollars to DJ. So here you are in a situation where you’re trying to sell yourself. And if I was going to give advice to any new DJs I would tell them do not try to sell yourself. Once you get too wordy about how you feel you’re worth this, then you’ve kind of lost the negotiation. Because now it almost sounds like you’re begging.
If you’re trying to negotiate something of a higher number, you should have someone talk for you. Anybody but you. Because you can’t tell somebody how great you are without sounding arrogant. It’s better if somebody else says how great you are.
It’s like word of mouth spreads and that’s what puts you over.
Exactly. Like if somebody else says, “This is a world-renowned DJ and he’s the hottest DJ I’ve ever heard.” If somebody else says that, that holds credibility. But if your mother says it, I don’t really care. That’s the only problem with having what I call a ‘Mom’ager. People who have their Mom as their manager. That’s cool, but if you have that person talk for you, they should never let the buyer know like, “I’m his Mother.” Because then it almost takes away from the negotiation. You might as well be on the phone yourself at that point.
At that point, they stop taking you seriously.
Yeah! But, if it’s like, “Hi, I’m Rene and I’m calling in regards to Keith, and he’s going to be doing your party…” Then it’s like wow this is serious. Rene actually tells the other person (the buyer) that you are now really in business because you actually hired somebody to talk for you. That means you’re serious! I’m paying someone to tell you how good I am. That just takes the whole negotiation to another level, and I think a lot of DJs miss that.
Now it’s a whole new level of communication. What I would say to most DJs is, first of all, get your grammar skills together, or get somebody that really writes well. Somebody who has really good verbal communication skills. 99% of a successful DJ company right now is your business. The other 1% is how good a DJ you are. I know some horrible DJs that are famous because they have some great business skills.
Oh no (laughs). Ok, so now I guess we can talk about branding. You have DJs, and then you have celebrity DJs. You have rappers, and then you have celebrity rappers. You have actors, and then you have celebrity actors. It’s not the same. I’m sorry it’s just not the same. Everyone can tell me about Lupe Fiasco. To me, Lupe Fiasco is Lupe Fiasco. But, Rick Ross is a celebrity outside of being a rapper. Will Smith is not only an actor or a rapper, he is a celebrity actor/rapper because of his fame. There are some people that are famous. Like they can’t even walk through the airport. And then there are some people that are just in the craft. It’s a difference. I wouldn’t say that I’m a famous DJ. And that separates me from Kid Capri who is famous, or Funkmaster Flex, DJ Khaled, DJ Mustard, etc. They’re famous because their brand extended them outside of the DJ world. They do stuff other than DJ. That makes them more famous. They became producers, they release albums, they get behind artists, and they have other things that sell them. I think those are the things that make them a celebrity.
How long would you say it took you to build up your brand? Or is it still an ongoing process?
Let me tell you, you can never be too big. Unless you’re Donald Trump, and I hate to use that example, there’s always room. And even Donald Trump is trying to figure out how to make more money. I’m pretty sure this presidential thing for him is a new hustle. But as long as you’re out there and you consider yourself as a business, there’s always room for improvement and growth. Unless you’re Tim Cook from Apple or the CEO of Google, and even with them, they’re still looking for growth. Some of these companies have more money than the US government, but they’re still looking for growth. No matter how big you think you are, you could lose that money in that same amount of time. There’s always room for you to grow.
One more thing about growth. Growth doesn’t mean that you’re going to do it by yourself. I only have two pieces of advice on business for new DJs. Number one, you can’t do it by yourself. If you think you can build a brand all alone then you might as well go to work because you’re not gonna be successful. You have to have people that are smart and know what they are doing around you. The second rule is you have to love what you do. Because people can smell that you don’t like what you do a mile away. If you come to a party and you’re like ‘oh brother’, and you’re walking around like you don’t want to be there. You don’t talk on the mic and you’re not engaging, you’re not nice to your clients. You’re not gonna succeed. The only way you succeed in this business because this is a people based business, a relationship based business. The only way you succeed is you really have to be nice, and you have to love what you do.
I looked at the list of celebrities that you’ve been in the room with and attended functions with. It’s basically everyone I grew up listening to. Jay-Z, Kanye, 50 Cent, T.I., Rick Ross. Do you have a favorite celebrity that you’ve run into or worked with?
My favorite celebrity moment absolutely, hands down I would have to say is Jay-Z. The only reason I’m gonna say Jay-Z is because first of all, he was absolutely cool. I mean he is kind of elusive. He’s not really gonna talk to you. It’s not like he’s gonna sit down and have this long conversation with you. And he can be a jerk if there’s a lot of people around and they want to talk to him. When I met Jay-Z I can tell you that was one of my best experiences because I was a big fan at the time when I met him. And this was around the time Crazy in Love was out and he had just hooked up with Beyonce’.
I remember Beyonce’ was in the other room doing makeup because they were at BET. So he was cool to actually talk to me for a little while. But, there was one thing I said to him and I’ll never forget it, and I’ll never forget what he said back to me. And that’s what made him one of my favorites. I said, “You know I really don’t see you interviewed that much. And I don’t see you on TV a lot. Why?” Because you’re like the man. You could be on TV all the time, or maybe even in movies. He said to me, “Less is more.” Like the less they see you, the more they want you.
It adds to the aura. The mystic surrounding him.
Yeah, he was like, “If you give them too much then they might not like what they see.” And I’ve always been intrigued by that with Jay-Z.
One more ‘favorite’ question. What is your favorite city or venue to perform at?
Harvard University. It’s my favorite to this day.
You have to explain because with schools like Bowie, Morgan, and all the other HBCUs, why Harvard is your favorite to perform at?
I’m gonna tell you the reason why I liked Harvard. I’m gonna keep it real. Harvard is a white school. You know that. I know that.
That’s why I’m surprised. You wouldn’t think that they listen to some of this music.
Exactly. First of all the culture of Harvard. These kids are going to be icons in whatever field of study they’re in, and whatever they do. Because not only are they in the minority, but they’re going to the number one school in the country. Number two, they are extremely stressed. They are extremely underappreciated on their campus because they are probably looked down upon by some of their white counterparts that are there through privilege. These kids worked hard and they got in through stipends, maybe through athletics, some of them maybe because they’re super smart. So they totally appreciate the experience of being a Harvard student. And they’re just happy to be there.
So when I go there, being that all that stress is on them, I let them be something that they’re not used to being. And that’s black. I don’t go there trying to play you know Britney Spears. I go there and I thug it out! I make it like it’s a club in New York, in the middle of Harlem, and they love me for that.
They enjoy the change of pace.
I think it’s just the realness and the rawness that I bring to the table when I’m on the yard. Because what happens is a lot of DJs come there and are like, “I’m at Harvard. I better do it like this.” No, I got it. And I give them what they want. And they love me for it. Because that’s what they want. If they wanted something dumbed down then they would’ve hired a white DJ or someone like Paulie D. They want a raw DJ that’s gonna curse. They want a DJ that’s gonna play hip hop records with curses in it. They want a DJ that’s gonna play the newest Lil Uzi Vert record and know it. Not try to fake it ‘til I make it because a lot of DJs up there, of course, are white and don’t really know the culture.
So the experience at Harvard is also amazing because these are students not just from all over the country, but all over the world. I know this student from Ghana. She’s never lived in the US before Harvard. She calls me and tells me the hottest African records. I got a kid from Louisiana. He tells me about that dirty south that he needs to hear when I come. I got kids from the west coast that tell me about all these artists I’ve never even heard of. So they’re coming up and they have all these requests. And it helps me because when I go to other schools in these areas, my Harvard kids kind of had me up on it already. And being that I’m there four or five times a semester, they keep me up on the global African experience versus the local African experience.