DJ Schemes is a well-respected DJ, music curator, and producer. The Brooklyn, NY native spent his college years at West Virginia University, where he obtained his degree. Schemes consistently grew his clientele and DJ’d at popular night clubs like Rosebar in D.C, and Focus DC and even expanded to corporate events such as conferences. Schemes also took his talents internationally in places like Dubai.
I got the opportunity to speak with DJ Schemes, and he discussed his beginnings, and career challenges, Schemes also shared insight into DJing and the music industry.
You recently traveled to Duba, what was the occasion? Business, vacation? Both?
It was a little bit of both. A year ago, I went for my birthday, and I tapped in with a promoter there, a friend of a friend they played high school basketball together in Maryland. It was meant to be. I suggested a group trip since we always travel together. We set it up to where we vacation and work, we did a few parties and excursions, and the experience was fun.
Was it a special edition of the Schemey tour you got going?
Haha, I guess you can say that. I didn’t announce it, but when people started to see it on the gram’ I got a lot of feedback saying, “oh you out there doing your things!”
So with your name “DJ Schemes, ” the word “scheme” does not usually have a positive connotation behind it? What does it mean?
Well, it’s not negative either, depends on what context. In football terms, you have a defensive scheme, and that’s how you plan against the other team. My cousin gave me the name in high school, for a reason that’s not positive haha, but hey. My name means that I’m always on the hustle and the grind. I’m always finding ways to work smarter, not harder.
I hear your accent, you’re from New York!? Brooklyn, right? I do my research, and I found that you have Jamaican background. Did you use to take your dad’s records and sneak into the club? Is that true?
Yeah! Because growing up the only way I was getting into the nightclub was by carrying the crates, and security wasn’t paying attention, it was the best way to get in there. I always loved music and being in the club and seeing people’s reactions to certain songs stuck with me. I love that sh*t. You can be in the spot and feel the whole place shaking off of one song. You know it’s Brooklyn, so it’s all NY-heavy sh*t, it’s rowdy as hell but it’s fun as well. That is one of my fondest memories of me falling in love with music.
So, that was your moment like, “I really love music and got to find my fit in this industry/career path?”
Yeah, because at that I was still in high school at that time. My folks knew that I was interested but wanted to make sure I was serious. From there, I was taught the art of DJing and we talkin’ bout’ actual records, and with one mistake you could mess up the record. You have to be serious, and that’s what started it for me. When I got to college, I got my equipment, and I was like “Aite I’m ready to go and build from there.”
So, gearing back to your upbringing and career beginnings and you migrated to the DMV… Well, why?
Honestly, it was the path that led me here through school. I went to West Virginia University, and whatever the pipeline is, it’s a lot of people from the DMV come to that side. There’s West Virginia University and Fairmont State University, which is 15-20 mins away. Frostburg State is 45 mins away, it was lowkey like a mini-D.C. At that time, I was getting’ introduced to Gogo heavy, Baltimore club music, and I’m starting to love it because people are reacting to it. I’m a DJ, I want them to party.
Everybody that I made strong connections with during college is from the DMV. If I would’ve gone back to NY after college, it would’ve been like starting over. I would have to prove myself again… It made the most sense to come here. I’m always welcomed with open arms.
That’s interesting because when I speak to rappers/entertainers from the DMV area, they always say they got to relocate to Atlanta, California, etc. to get their big break. I always thought of New York as the land of opportunity and dreams, and I still do.
True, it is oversaturated. There is an extra hustle that you don’t have to do in certain places. There is a lot of gatekeeping in NY versus in the DMV. If you are dope and consistent, you are going to get the opportunity. When I first got here, of course, I wasn’t doing the big spots or getting the money I was like I am getting now. I was consistent and stuck with it. So long as you are hungry and keep up with it, you can make it. You have to roll with the punches, you got janky promoters, with the equipment in the club but you have got to roll with it.
Your first actual gig was DJing in Ultrabar?
(We both chuckled) It’s funny because my first opportunity there was on the fourth floor. It was the reggae floor. They were like, “You’re Jamaican!?” “Oh, you got the reggae vibes. Come on, let’s bring it!” As I was getting more notoriety, I eventually moved down to the second floor. Eventually, I made my way downstairs (the bottom floor is the most popular/lively)
The downstairs level of Ultrabar felt like a Passa Passa l swear! (Passa Passa is a weekly street party that originated in Kingston, Jamaica and has spread to other areas in the Caribbean.)
For sure! What do you know about Passa Passa ha-ha!?
My neighbors are Jamaican. I grew up with them, and they engulfed me in the culture! I am not trying to age you ha-ha’ but you were handing out mixtapes at one point?
Yeah, I come from all that. I’m not ashamed. I’m thankful because I can adjust to each era. The real hustle people get your mixtape, give you feedback, and still have it after time has passed. That means something to me. People randomly send me pics of CDs and ask, “remember you did this?” and I’m like, “why do you still have that?” But that’s how impactful things like that are and nowadays everything is easily accessible to us.
At that time, there were certain songs you weren’t gonna’ hear because there wasn’t any crazy use of the internet. If you heard it on my tape, falling in love with it like, “damn, what is this? I never heard this”, and now it’s your favorite song. I think it was a stronger connection to people in that era who was like, “Yo I’m waiting on the next one. I need this!”
And What year was that?
Between 2009-2012,13 was the height of the CD era for me.
Can you recall the first tape? Could you give me five tracks if you remember?
Wow, haha. Hmm, that would be tough. I can’t remember five tracks, but I just remember when I was doing the tapes, people always remembered what I was saying. I was always tryna host similar to DJ Drama, or something like that because I was trying to get the listener’s attention. That was one of the strong points of my tapes.
At that time, I was trying to put things people liked and songs people didn’t know. In 2009, I would go around getting drops, from Wiz Khalifa, and Kevin Hart (just an example). I would take their drops and say that their mixtape was hosted by said artist/entertainer and implement their songs. It was like a loophole because I have the drop and met these people before. It was a finesse move to keep it appealing. It was fun.
Do you know what I used to do back in the day? I used to leave a reggae song at the very end (we both chuckle) so the culture was always there, you gon’ get at least one song!
When you say culture, I remember getting CDs and hearing reggae artists remix popular American songs and adding their spin to them. Let me just say Jamaicans are creative. I can never sing the original version of Ms. Independent (Neyo’s 2008 hit “Miss Independent was remixed by Jamaican artist, Vybz Kartel, titled “Romping Shop” which uses the instrumental from Neyo’s song)
Yo, you know what’s funny about that. I was in Dubai and Neyo was in the club. I wanted to play ‘Ramping Shop’ so badly! Oh my god, they played the original version but you gotta play the Vybz Kartel version. I know he knows it. Iconic. The streets made that official remix!
Pivoting back to D.C. nightlife, what were some challenges besides getting your foot in the door?
Yeah, I think the most challenging thing was knowing how to balance having a regular job and DJing because I never liked the whole 9-5 situation. So, I never had a career path that was my security blanket. I did little jobs here and there because I needed to get money. Given that it was tough to think about “when should I take that leap of faith and DJ full time” at the time, I wasn’t doing it.
I was working at a guitar center, it had all the DJ and recording stuff. I was getting an employee discount and was running em’ up, speakers EVERYWHERE haha! One night, it was around 9 PM and the store was closed. I had to be at Ultrabar around 10. The dude was like “I need you to clean the bathroom” I was like “Yo I am not cleaning a bathroom, I gotta be in DC in 30 min” I left.
That’s when I knew I was getting too busy for a regular job to dictate how I move. I haven’t had a traditional job since, been a full-time DJ for about 5 plus years. I am on the radio, but I don’t treat that as a 9-5.
As a fellow member of the African diaspora, given that you have Caribbean parents, were they supportive of your career choice?
I wouldn’t say they were super supportive; however, my mom and pop knew what I wanted to do. My objective was still to go to school, get a degree and go from there. My parents didn’t know that DJing could be lucrative. I had to show them the consistency of my DJing and once had my pops come to a party I was doing in NY, and when I tell you, he had a ball! When he finally saw me in action, my dad finally understood. We did a couple more joints out of town and was like, “damn, you was rockin’ the place” One thing I do as a DJ is I play for the people, I do like what I like, but I’m not playing to please myself. I can play the Baltimore club music and Gogo music and not feel no way because look at how the people are reacting. I love that. I want that.
I agree you stay fresh on new music because you have lived through different eras, party styles, and nightlife and watched an interview where you shared that various labels send you early releases. How were you form those partnerships? For example, you received the CMG album early. How did that happen?
It started at first when I started attending the DJ conferences (Core DJS), and when you go, you meet a lot of DJs, artists, and labels. Also, radio because I played my shows on Friday nights. I started meeting various labels. Professionals would come up to the station, they would present their music, so we could consider adding it to the rotation. I started building relationships with those people, and before you knew it, you were on the mailing list and getting everything damn near early. Whenever they have something coming out, they want the early spins as long as the program director okay’s it, we can get it done. It’s cool when you can start networking. Well, I built friendships with some of them too. It’s not all business.
Seeing you pivot from djing in college, clubs, and corporate events and seeing you go up, how did you branch out?
The oldest style of promotion is word of mouth, and what I love about this city (the DMV) is that it’s a lot of young professionals, and those events happen often. Usually, I’m referred, and the same thing goes for weddings. When people rockin’ with you in the club, they want you at their wedding reception. I like them better because the money is more, and what you’re allowed to play is less restrictive. Nightclubs are trap heavy, and sometimes that gets boring when you are in there 5-6 days a week like I am, and regardless of how big the internet is, it’s still word of mouth.
Being a DJ, I know you hate this: a person is lit off Hennessy, spitting in your face, requesting a song. What are some of your other pet peeves?
I think now that I get older it annoys me a lot more, but one of my pet peeves is when people come up to me and think they have to touch me. For example, grabbing’ my shoulder or putting’ their hand on my back like I don’t need any of that, I can hear you loud and clear. Especially when they’ve been drinking it’s a bit more aggressive like, bro get off of me Haha.
People are gonna have their requests, and it’s cool. However, you can’t come up to me and tell me when to play a song. I’ve had instances where people that wanna hang in the DJ booth, charge their phones, and put their coats near you. I’m like what are we doing here? It’s crazy the kind of things you go through in the nightlife.
So like, what if I wanted to hear Glorilla and slid you $200, you wouldn’t play it?
The thing is you sliding me $200 for the Glorilla means you wanna hear it now. Which makes sense, I don’t think somebody should come up and ask for Glorilla because she’s hot right now. Enjoy your drink, it’s coming! You know what I’m saying? And that’s the thing people want what they want right now. in my mindset everything, it’s a time frame.
If I’m there at 12:30 AM? And we don’t close till 3:00 AM. I’m personally not gonna play Glorilla at 12:30. Ima wait till the peak of the party because I don’t repeat too many songs like that.
When the pandemic hit, it was hard for everyone. DJs like D-Nice pivoted by playing music via Instagram live. How did you manage to make income due to the clubs being closed?
Man, it was pretty rough. I was honestly trying to get any assistance I could haha. Give me all of that unemployment and PPP! During the first 3-6 months I was figuring it out. I think I went live on Instagram a few times but they were trying to flag it due to copyright issues. At the time, I was able to make sure my rent was paid. Whatever little money I had left over I was going to figure it out. Then late 2020, Virginia changed the rules on bars and lounges opening.
So, we all started doing parties in VA, it saved us. But we saved Virginia as well cause they were getting all of D.C.’s nightlife revenue since the city was closed. It was a blessing. It was a point where I thought, “what if this never goes back to normal?” I was applying for remote jobs and even tried driving for Uber. I guess I’m meant to be a DJ because none of those ever worked out, a blessing in disguise.
It’s THE Jamaican in you. Jamaicans always have a job and income. I admire your hustle and ambition. Being a DJ are you critical of other DJs? I consider myself a music connoisseur, I’m quick to say, “that transition/blend was trash!”
I can’t turn my ears off when I’m out and if the transitions are bad, I’m def very disappointed. I wish I could go out and hear stuff and be cool, my friends will look at me and be like, “yo, you peep this?” I try not to be super critical of people. I dislike when sh*t doesn’t make sense. Is your transition a little rough? Okay cool. But when two songs don’t make sense, from fast to slow, or when genres don’t make sense like why? What was the thought process in that? I try not to but literally anyone can buy equipment and be a DJ these days.
I’ve tried my hand at DJing and failed miserably, haha, but pivoting back to music. You have got into your producer bag?
The pandemic helped me do that. I never had the time to sit and do it. Once we were in lockdown, I finally picked up that skill. I went through like three or four programs tryna get comfortable with it and the beats weren’t that good at first, but you have to go through that to understand what good beats are. Right now, I’m using FL studio, which is the industry standard damn near. I’m more comfortable with this. I now understand what a beat needs, especially using YouTube.
What are you working on now?
Apart from the Schemey tour, I’m pushing a drill single “I Wanna” ft Statiic Gz. I am currently working on an EP with a Virginian artist Krown Vic, and I will be producing all of our collabs. Similar to Nas and Hitboy, I wanna collab with certain artists in the area and get my production out there and build from that.
I also want to set up an official tour in different cities and countries based on the connection I’ve built in Dubai. Jamaica, of course, and I got good friends in Africa and Canada. Just tryna expand the brand, I’ve done everything I needed to do in D.C., so they know me well enough, and I can venture if I decide to come back.