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Interview with Orig the DJ Part Three: Big Smo, Spoken Nerd, & Teaching DJs
This is part three of my interview with Orig the DJ. If you missed part one or part two, you can click the links to read it. In this section, he discusses Big Smo, Spoken Nerd, and his philosophy as a DJ teacher.
Orig: Well, Smo is a good friend of mine. John Smith. We’ve known each other a long time. I think I was still in high school. We met in 96. I was already a DJ in my bedroom. I knew how to make beats and sample just a little bit. I was real amateur at it. So, Smo wrote poetry on a personal level. He wanted to take that and do something with it. He figured rapping would be the route to go. We already knew each other at the time. He started to introduce to me his ideas. I told him “Come over. I’ll make some beats for you or whatever and we can figure something out.” Several years later, we’re continuing to do it. We created our own studio. We kind of went half and half on studio equipment. We got other people involved just so we could practice recording. It was really for me. I was the engineer, producer, and beatmaker involved with it. We made an album. His brother helped make it a reality. We took a bunch of our recordings. I did the best I could to make it sound the best I could. He helped us get it put on an actual CD. Shrink-wrapped with a barcode and everything. He helped us create a website for it back in 2002. It was called the Country Kitchen. It was cool. It showcased a lot of talent in our area. In Shelbyville of all places. You probably don’t even know about Shelbyville unless they’re into walking horses. Walking Horse Capital of the world.
Orig: At the Time, Smo and I were just doing hip hop. Straight rapping about what everybody else was rapping about. He eventually hired Haystak to be featured on a song. Haystak was really impressed with him. Kind of took him under his wing. Smo not only was a rapper at the time. He could make beats, but that wasn’t his forte. That wasn’t his thing. He could also record. He did a lot of recording for local artists. I went to school at SAE. Every day I’d get out of school I’d come home and show Smo what I learned. So, that’s kind of how he developed his professional recording abilities and skills. We were also doing music videos. I was helping him back in 2003 doing our own home music videos and trying to figure stuff out. Trying to sync the music with the video. Anyway back to Haystak. Haystak started to hire Smo to do his music videos for him. And then he got Smo to be his backup. His right hand man on the stage when he did shows. Smo got to learn a lot about the business on an independent level through Haystak. Got to travel around the country on a tour that Haystak was on with the Dark Lotus tour with ICP. Smo was promoting his album. I made a mixtape for him. We had already done an album together called The True South. So there was Country Kitchen. There was True South. So that was what Smo was promoting out there. Selling whatever he could. He got to meet a lot of people along the way. that’s where he started to develop the idea of the hick-hop sound.
He didn’t pioneer it. But he realized that the urban hip hop was not his true passion. It was too much of trying to do that. Like the hood, hip hop dirty south type deal. So he actually did his third album, American Made. I wasn’t around at that time. He hired a guy, Charlie Bonnett, who was a guitar player. kind of a heavy metal rock singer, country singer to work with him on certain song ideas. He had other beatmakers working with him and I made a few beats for him to help him out. American Made was really the beginning of that sound that was Smo was able to pinpoint. The Hick Hop sound. Basically, hip hop beats with southern rock guitars. And southern rock type of hooks but with rap verses. Instead of rapping about the hood, he raps about back roads, cornfields, John Deere tractors, moonshine, home grown pot, all that good stuff. (laughs)
QE: yeah man.
Orig: So that’s what he’s been doing since last year. He called me and asked me to get involved in a new project called KinFoke. It was Smo, Charlie Bonnett, Brahma Bull, Mr. Sneed who really helped Smo develop his sound also. He needed me to come in and help him finalize the album. He had a lot of tracks on his album that he needed to finalize. He asked me to come in and finalize it. Make it sound like a mixtape. Master it. I was responsible for turning all these song ideas. I was more or less just the DJ portion of it. The songs were already done and recorded. I had some beats on it but I was mixing it together. Last fall was when I went abroad to do a show for the first time. It was the first time I went away from Tennessee to DJ. It was an awesome experience. Unfortunately, Kinfoke’s not really around anymore. couple of guys went different ways. Kind of left us in the air. But we’re back at it. Smo and I have been together for a long time. I’m still his DJ but Smo is the main focus. We’re working on a new album called Grassroots. Smo’s been able to land a legitimate management deal with a guy out of LA, Dan Nelson. His father is Jay Nelson who managed Queen. Hopefully I’ll be able to land a management deal sometime soon. Everyone needs a manager man.
QE: This is great stuff. Who else have you been making beats for? You did an album for Spoken Nerd as well, right?
Orig: Yeah. Spoken Nerd came to me. He was digging me as a DJ. When he found out I made beats, he approached me with an idea for an album. He wanted me to help produce it. So I said “OK cool.” So he came over. It started out with him. He brought his acoustic bass guitar. He had a melody and played it for me and I recorded it. I took that recording and chopped it up and edited it in Ableton. Made a loop out of it; and started making beats to complement and support that and then make a bass line. And whatever else. We’d make a basic beat. Then we recorded vocals. After the vocals were on, I started to tailor the beat to go along with the vocals. Maybe a drop here, add something there. A Scratch there. For the most part that’s how that went.
Orig: I also made some beats on the side that I’d let him go through. A list of beats that I’d made. He would pick some stuff that he liked. So it was a combination of him on guitar and then also me with beats from years ago that he picked through. But it wasn’t that simple. About halfway through the album production, I lost everything from my computer. It was my fault. It was a stupid dumb mistake. I hope nobody has to go through this. I was doing what I thought was the right thing. I was cleaning my computer, I was backing stuff up. So I go through my music folder and I dragged all my important stuff to my external hard drive. I was mainly focusing on music that I use to DJ with because that took up a lot of space. And all the music I used for producing, that wasn’t backed up. I was going to leave on my computer because I was working on it. So what I accidentally did in the middle of all this dragging and dropping, I drug the entire music folder to my trash. I didn’t even realize it; I didn’t notice I had done that. And when I clicked empty trash it was taking SO LONG. I was wondering why. After it was done, I noticed my music folder wasn’t there anymore. I lost so many beats…
Orig: Man, I had to break the news to Nathan. He’s such a good guy. He just said “Oh well; let’s re-do it. Are you up for re-doing it?” And I was like “Of course, it’s the least I could do.” So, I had to remake a bunch of the beats. It was hard to recapture some of that feeling and emotion of the originals. Even when you’re chopping and editing, programming drum machines and stuff; there’s still an emotion there. It’s very similar to capturing sound from a microphone. There’s littlie mistakes you make in the editing. Very subtle things that aren’t otherwise reproduced. But anyway, we got back on there and started the album in 08. It took a long time because of that and all the other stuff I was doing. All the beats for Smo… Get Got…. my own thing…. Really my own thing, which usually ends up being things for other people. I’ll do little beat sketches in my program. Then, I’ll come back at it with another artist or rapper; or turn it into a Get Got song. Well, we had the album near completion. Nathan had a guitar player, 2Shon. He’s a very interesting guy; I got along with him really well. He laid down guitar. The funny thing about it; we had no guitar parts for him. We had no melodies for him, no sheet music. We just said, “play along and do whatever the heck you want.’ All I did was hit record and just let him play from the beginning to the end. I captured whatever ideas that he put on the recording. I’d take those and slice, chop them, and piece them until I came up with something that I liked. Even the guitar solos on some of the tracks are just pieced together parts from somewhere in the song. You can’t really tell because I’d splice them together where a snare hits. You can use a snare to cover up an edit.
QE: How about that, learning all the tricks! So you were saying about you never get to work on your own stuff… Why are you always helping people?
Orig: Yeah that’s become my style, man. It’s fortunate, but unfortunately I don’t focus on myself. I’m always helping people out. Everything I’ve been doing as a DJ, producer, an engineer; it’s been for other people. I DJ for a crowd. I DJ for a wedding. I DJ for a birthday. I DJ for a rapper. I DJ for a band. I DJ… You name it: I DJ. That’s what usually DJs do; they take care of the crowd anyway, right? Then as an engineer, I’m recording other people. Recording rappers, singers, guitarists… whatever. Capturing sounds. Capturing videos. Live sound; I’m making sure that whoever’s on stage sounds great. Even when I make beats, I think I started out making stuff for myself. But as soon as I started getting involved with other people, I was more selfless. Everything was for my friend. I make a beat for my friend. I’d do whatever I can for whoever whether it’s Smo, or my band Get Got, or MASHVILLE. Even going to school for engineering; the best thing that’s come out of that has been the ability to teach other friends. How to work software, engineering, acoustics, tips and tricks, techniques, philosophy. I learned a lot from school. And mostly from magazines and a lot of trial and error. I wish I could say that I learned a lot from others that are above me in the industry, but I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to be around mentors. I’ve always played the role of mentor for my fellow DJs. Whether it’s scratching, or letting people borrow equipment, you name it. If there’s help to be done, I’m there to help.
QE: Is that part of your personality? or are you doing it on purpose?
Orig: I think it’s part of my personality. I do get frustrated sometimes where I help and help and help and when I need help I don’t get it. So I do get frustrated. But I think it’s just that I come across as such a nice guy and really I’m willing to help. I always ask if I can help. I am always making myself available for stuff like that. When I probably should be in the studio working on my own stuff or practicing my own set, I’m at a friend’s house with my hard drive letting them have my music. When I should be making my own beats, I’m at another friend’s house helping them learn how to make beats. So actually, I think it’s a combination of doing it on purpose and also accidentally being someone that someone else can call. I’m not gonna stop.
Orig: As a matter a fact, I’m taking this helping curse…but really it’s a blessing to be the unofficial teacher to my fellow DJs and producers. I can’t tell you how many times I’m navigating through a program over the program saying “Go to Options, and go down to Preferences, and go to Audio, and blah blah blah.” I can troubleshoot any program over the phone. Anyway, I’m going to take that skill and I have the opportunity now to be a teacher. Thanks to a guy I met: Victor Chatman. At the last MASHVILLE, I was trying to kill some time before we set up. So I went to Guitar Center. That’s my Toys R Us. They have the DJ room, so I went over there and I was messing with the Numark NS7 with the Serato Itch. This older guy came up to me and said “Hey, that’s pretty good! Where else do you DJ?” and I was saying ” I don’t really have a club or anything; I do this thing called MAASHVILLE.” We were just chatting. Anyway, he had this idea to teach children how to set up sound systems and how to DJ. and I was like “Yes! That’s my vision too! That’s my dream and I’m teaching a lot of my friends how to do stuff anyway!” So we exchanged numbers, and even as busy as I am; I just called him on a weekly basis. We never were able to get together. “I’d just say “Hey this is Ray. Just wanted to call in. I wish I could come out to your spot sometime but I’m really swamped right now.” And he’d say “Oh, I appreciate you calling man. That’s cool.” When we finally got a chance to sit down to talk about it; he said his idea launched and it blew up more than he expected. He’s got a bunch of kids and they’re really eager to learn. He’s already got the ball rolling. Probably within a month; I’ll be teaching my first class. it’s at the Hickory Hollow Mall next to Macy’s is Victor Chatman Studios. So I’ll be able to take that dilemma I had of helping all these people and getting frustrated. Now I’m getting the help I wanted to get. That just goes to show: Don’t expect anything. Just do it. Unconditionally. Just like you love your family. Love your art. Love our THING. You know? don’t expect money back. Until you get a manager. Then your manager will be the one that will fight and get that money for you. Be smart in choosing your manager! Yeah so that’s what happens when you’re selfless. You always get rewarded.
QE: Man, this was awesome. Anything else you want to say to people who might be reading this? DJs? Musicians?
Orig: I’m not going to say what most people say in their closing and just say “Love the art and keep practicing.” That’s known. That’s a given. It should be a default. I think that you should take care of yourself first and foremost. If you want to pursue a career, no matter what it is, make sure you’re prepared. There’s really no guideline because everyone has a unique list of things to do. So make sure you know that list. An make sure you ACT on that list. Whether it’s financially, relationship-wise, emotionally. Take care of that list. Clean your room.
Orig: (laughs) As silly as it sounds, it’s true. You got to organize yourself before you can organize stuff around you. It’s all about organizing schedules. gigs. Being prepared. Prepare Yourself for your dream. Figure out what your dream is and start preparing for it because it’s going to happen. The more you prepare for it; the easier it’s going to get to you. Or it’s not going to be easy at all. Really, it’s still not going to be easy, but at least you’ll be somewhat prepared. Love your family as best you can; they’re your first audience. Take their opinions under considerations all the time but then do what you really feel you want to do. Don’t just go with the crowd. Don’t go with what everyone else is digging on. You can dig on it too, but don’t use that as YOUR platform. Everybody has their own unique sound. Everyone has their own two cents. Stick to your two cents. Stick to your sound. Listen to everybody and soak as much as you can. Listen; that way you can develop your style. The more you listen, the better words you can speak without speaking so much.
QE: That is absolutely relevant to me. That was great.