Five House DJs of Color You Need to Know (and 5 who are just dope)

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Thanks to artists like Lady Gaga, Diplo, and Daft Punk Electronic Dance Music (EDM), has become the dominant force in pop music today. When we remember electronic artists of the past thoughts of Fatboy Slim and Moby’s bald head may come to mind but long before it became the soundtrack to European debauchery and car commercials EDM was once the life force that kept minority clubs across America’s innercity’s bumping. If you believe that Skrillex as as soulful as dance music gets here are five names that you need to know.

Larry Levan is often referred to as the ‘Jimi Hendrix of dance music,’ was a progeny of the disco era and a forefather of would become modern house music.  Levan’s residence from the late 1970’s to the late 1980’s at the Paradise Garage, brought people from all over to hear him DJ. Hip-hop dominated the New York DJ scene throughout the 80s but it never abandoned its disco roots. Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation specialized in pioneering hip hop techniques like sampling, scratching, and chanting over the record to create a new electro funk sound. Chicago ran with the post disco sound, and DJs like Frankie Knuckles, also known as the “godfather of house music,” started using  those hip-hop techniques loop popular disco melodies into 10 or 15 minute dance jam records creating a more soulful style of electronic music that became known as “House”.

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Toward the close of the decade three Detroit teens, Kevin Saunders, Juan Atkins, and Derrick May, known as The Bellville Three began working on their interpretation of house music with an afrofuturist focus that they called “Techno”. The trio, as well as a host of other midwestern and New York djs, found much more success in Europe where the sound continued to branch out and evolve into things like Trance, Dubstep, and what we now generally refer to as EDM.

Throughout the 90s, however, the genre continued to grow where it was born, in America’s gay and black dance clubs. As DJ culture grew local sounds began to blend and merge. DJs in Miami, like Maggotron, spent the decade defining a new form of dance music infused with Bass that went on to influence modern urban dance sounds like Ghettotech, New Orleans Bounce, and Baltimore Club Music.

If you’re looking for more people of color making top notch electronic dance music check out classic house torch barer Jeff Mills , club music prodegy Murda Mark, NO Bounce prevacatorr Nicky Da B, chillwave favorite Flying Lotus, or ghettotech legend DJ Assault.

by, Dylan Frand and Justin Jones

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15 Comments

  1. Thanks for these FANTASTIC referrals!!! Larry Levan is a new hero 🙂 I’m running a half-marathon next month and am really excited to add the maestro’s to my mix. Flying Lotus is a West Coast fave, dying to see him perform here in NYC!

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  2. cherm999@newschool.edu

     /  November 1, 2013

    Love learning about new artists, thanks for the leads!! My music collection is now better! Melissa Cherizola

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  3. Pascal

     /  November 13, 2013

    I truly enjoyed reading this blog post and learning about DJs that I did not know. The music examples of the DJs are great choices and made me want to look more into each of them. Thanks for sharing these DJs and their music with us.

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  4. Jonathan

     /  November 11, 2014

    Thanks for such a great article!

    It’s important to remember that house music started in black and gay nightclubs and that those communities continue to be one of the cornerstones of the underground house music movement. It’s certainly easy to forget that fact now that the “EDM” genre has blown up with predominantly heterosexual white stars.

    I’ll never forget the first time I heard Frankie Knuckles play an underground house set that climaxed with “The Whistle Song” live at Club Five in Washington, D.C. in the early 2000s. I heard him a few years back at Toronto Pride and he banged out an epic contemporary tech house set. His ability to stay relevant for so many years, all while being a true gentleman, is something I truly respect.

    Larry Levan is one of the men who really made house music what it is here in NYC. One of the highlights of the Larry Levan street party this summer (http://www.larrylevanway.org/) outside of the old Paradise Garage was another NYC black DJ, Joe Claussel (http://www.joaquinjoeclaussell.com/ ), playing a tribute set. I’d definitely recommend going to the Body & Soul parties here in NYC and on the road.

    There are a few other contemporary black DJs/house music that I would recommend checking out. Derrick Carter is one of my all-time favorite Chicago house DJs who’s still rocking clubs around the world. His music is heavily influenced by the jazz and funk that came out of his city. His fairly recent BBC Radio 1 show is definitely worth checking out, as his his soundcloud page (https://soundcloud.com/blucu), and my favorite track of the housey-house genre, “Where U At” (http://youtu.be/lPd2A1DbG2s).

    DJ Spen from Baltimore is another of my current favorites. His production is pretty epic. He’s a master of drum layering and I always appreciate his killer horns. His soundcloud page is https://soundcloud.com/djspen. Marshall jefferson’s “Move Your Body” (http://youtu.be/w2t0C50b9ik) is a house classic that’s worth a part of anyone’s house education as well.

    Kenny Bobien and Inaya Day are two black house/gospel vocalists worth checking out too: Dennis Ferrer feat Kenny Bobien – “Grateful” (http://youtu.be/g0wsa-ZfvnM) & Inaya Day – “Keep Pushin” (http://youtu.be/I2iZWLoEPsA).

    Long live underground house!

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