DJ J. Blase on the art of mixing

DJ J. Blase and Friends
DJ. J. Blase (courtesy the artist)

There's a lot of things that I've been missing from the Twin Cities since I've moved away. Obviously, I miss my friends and family and the amazing people. As a native East Sider, I miss Lake Phalen and the sleeper taco spots on that side of St. Paul. I miss Juicy Lucy's, the crazy crowd at Minnesota United games, hitting up Harriet Island and aimlessly walking around Uptown and Downtown on weekends.

While I miss all these things, the first imma do when I get back to the Cities is pull up to wherever DJ J.Blasé and Blasé N Friends are at. Some of my fondest recent memories have been attending his First Friday shows and helping him host Vikings watch parties at Basement Bar.

There's a lot of dope DJs in Minnesota, but few speak about their trade as passionately as Blasé. Over the last year, he's made a name for himself as one the Cities' "mix-gawds," with shows at Monarch, Gold Room and many of the Twin Cities' finest clubs and bars. When he's not curating weekend vibes, he's hosting R&B shows on Thursday nights and DJing for kids, through the program Young Life, and setting the vibe for women's fitness classes.

Before taking off for Mexico City, I sat down with Mr. Blasé N Friends about how he kicked off his DJing career, his thoughts on the night life in Minnesota and why it's so important to get the vibe right.

The interview below was transcribed and edited.

JEFFREY BISSOY: You weren't always a DJ; this is a new profession for you in the last few years. When did you decide to stop what you were doing before and start DJing?

DJ J. BLASÉ: I've always been into music — going way back to my house party days. I was always the dude running the aux cord, but DJing wasn't really an option to me. When I was younger, I really was fascinated by turntables. But having a single Black parent, who just couldn't afford turntables, and I don't know else to learn … Fast-forward to a couple of years ago, I was running the aux in the car with one of my home girls, and she was like, "Why don't you ever think about DJing?" I kind of shrugged it off and was like, "Oh, yeah, whatever."

What were you doing at the time?

I was working at Wells Fargo as a banker, and I hated my job at the time. And basically, what happened was I quit my job, went on a year sabbatical of traveling and seeing all the things … and I ended up in Miami for an event called Art Basel, which starts the second week of December, which is just a curation of everything that's dope. Basically, imagine Uptown Minneapolis, but every venue is a different vibe. So, you can go to one place it's afrobeats, one place, super Trap/Hip-Hop. One place could be Latin vibes, just whatever Miami has to offer. And I looked at my homie like, "Bro, I could do this. I really think I could do this."

He said, "Of course you could."

So, I went back home, did my research on YouTube, bought myself a little $250 mixer.

It's crazy to hear that you were working in corporate, before falling back in love and committing to music. When you got started, how did you know you had the right equipment?

I was trying to think of the most affordable way to do it and then just kind of going to YouTube … Once I did it kinda seemed like the pioneer SB2 at the time, which they promoted very heavily as the starter kit to DJing. I was like, let me just see if I do this. If I lose money, it's only two hundred dollars … I did a couple of mixes that will never see the light of day — so don't ask me. And then I kept it really low key. I think a lot of people sometimes try to brag about their successes before it happens … Once I had gotten it down, I made a SoundCloud account, put out my first mix and it went pretty crazy … It sounds terrible compared to what I can do now, but it got that buzz to kind of show that, "OK, this dude's serious about what he does."

The art of the DJing is challenging to master. I've interviewed a lot of artists and when they're creating their vibe, they're often in their private studio or working with a select group of friends and producers. But as a DJ, you are literally face to face with your audience. You're up there in real time with a couple of hundred people that are trying to dance and socialize. You got ladies that could be out for ladies' night and fellas out doing their thing. How do you prepare to curate for something like that?

It's kinda funny, but I think my background of me working in corporate America and being able to read people in that setting, and then me always being around a lot of friends who like music and me liking music myself … A lot of people don't realize DJing is really all reading the crowd. You could have your favorite 10 songs that you love that you always play in the privacy of your car to and from work. But the crowd might not like those songs. They might not be onto that artist yet, they might not like the vibe for that venue.

I look at DJing as like a science, you know, just kind of like coming up with that perfect chemistry of when this song is going to be the right time to play with throughout the night — when's that song going to hit the best. Because you can play a song throughout that night, you might play it at 10 p.m. and it might not get the respect that it wants if you played in at 1:30 a.m.

DJ J. Blase
DJ J. Blasé at work. (courtesy the artist)

Learning how to read the crowd and figure out your style has led you to DJing at various shows and events throughout the Twin Cities. From a Juneteeth event, Basement Bar shows, Monarch shows. You've even travelled out of state to DJ. What's it like to DJ for all these gigs in various spots and what has that taught you about DJing and connecting with the audience?

It's dope because every space is a new thing. So, it's like I can never really get tired of my job, which is what I was loved. When I was working a 9 to 5, you were always expecting the same thing … [With DJing], every venue, I've got to make sure that these people get the best J. Blasé that is available. So that's really just taught me how to curate my vibe…

I'm constantly adapting. I'm constantly wanting to get better. It's like, "OK, this mix was dope. What can I make better about it?" I don't think you can hit perfection of deejaying. There's DJ's that can be your favorite person, but I think even if you interview them, whether it's from Diplo or DJ Jazzy Jeff, they have nights where they go, "Dang, I could've gone a little harder. I think this could have been this way." And I think that's what keeps me humble about the success that I've gotten.

What's your method for finding new music?

It's a plethora of things, honestly. It's really just like finding a needle in the haystack. I have to listen to every project that comes out on Fridays on Apple Music — I listen to every project. I try to listen everything, especially in the hip hop genre. It's really just going through every album and listening to that one song that could be a banger … Where can I find those B-side records that don't get enough love or that upcoming artist who might not have that many followers?

Like you and countless others, I think I'm the greatest on the aux, but unlike you I don't think I could ever DJ. Personally, if I ever DJ'd, I think I'd be having too much fun dancing and acting a fool that I'd forget to cue the next song. How do you stop yourself from getting too hype, while maintaining the energy of the crowd?

When I start DJing, it really turns into like tunnel vision — it's kind of like I'm on autopilot. My hands just kind of know what to do and I think of songs that I didn't even know that would go well. Like, a lot of my best mixes come on the fly. But to answer your question, that's another reason why I left liquor alone. Before I started DJing, I used to go out and have an occasional drink. My first show I was really nervous to drink I was like, "What if I mess up? What if do I do this?" And then it just became a thing. I stopped doing it. And now it's just like I look at it like I'm clocking in. I gotta always be on my stuff, because I get excitement when the crowd gets excited … How do I get this person in the corner over to the left that seems little bit shy. What song do I think will get them moving? That's my enjoyment.

DJ J. Blase
DJ J. Blasé in the zone. (courtesy the artist)

When you're on the stage and in the zone, you're on autopilot, making us move, but do you miss being part of the audience and listening to somebody else mix? Or is it more like, "I like what I'm doing and I don't want to go back?"

One thing I'll say is that if you ever pursue a career in DJing, it'll change the way you look at music for the rest of your life, which is bittersweet. I try not to go to other DJs' events, because I find myself critiquing work that shouldn't even be what I'm doing. That's just like the perfectionist in me and nothing against that DJ …

I try to go out as much as I can to get put on to new sounds. If someone is doing an Afrobeat set, I might want to go hear that. It definitely changes the way I look at the nightlife, because I always feel like I'm punched in … But that's kind of like a sacrifice. The reason that I got into DJing is because I wanted to give people the vibe that I never thought we were getting when we were going out … Back when Travis $cott was really hot, I was like, "Oh, I want to hear that new Trav record." I wouldn't hear it. "Oh, I want to hear that new Young Thug record." Didn't hear it. I want to give people the vibe that I was missing out on.

So, at the end of the night, when I'm unplugging all my equipment and someone walks up to me and says, "Bro, that was crazy what you did. I never heard a set like that." That's my enjoyment.

I look at the Twin Cities as a place with amazing opportunities, a place where there's a lot of creativity, but it has not all come to fruition yet. The city has seen a lot of DJs prosper, and you're certainly among them. As you continue to grow your brand, how do you set yourself apart and create your identity for spectators to be like, "Yeah, that's J. Blasé?"

I'm not scared to take risks. A lot of deejays, and this is kind of Minnesota nightlife in general, we have such a small community here that people can find themselves getting complacent really easily, by mistake too. They do these same venues every Saturday and the crowd's not complaining to them. So, they feel like they're doing a good job. Me, I'm always just like, "What's going to make the crowd shocked?" I like playing a song that makes you uncomfortable so that it makes them pay attention to my mix, so then I go into something even crazier.

Are there things that you try to do, as like as like branding, that helps you stick out even more?

I'm really, honestly, just blessed in that sense. I've known a lot of people through my walks of life and meet people so randomly that when I started DJing it was very organic that people wanted to come to my events. It wasn't J.Blasé throwing on his promoter hat and saying, "Come to my event." People kind of naturally gravitated to me, because they knew me as a person and my personality.

That's kinda of how Blasé N Friends got started too, right?

I noticed a lot of people, when they think of DJs, they think very egotistical … and me, I'm the opposite. I would DJ with a paper bag on my head and people not know it's me under there. I don't do it for the credit. I do it for the vibe. That's where Blasé N Friends came from … when you come to my events, it's like you're my friend for a moment. You get to be kind of behind the curtains about how me in my homies hang out, how we vibe … You can come dap me up and can say whatever you want. It's always love. All my friends are really cool in that way, where they dap people up and they see people having fun. So it just becomes like almost like a house party in that sense.

You also have a unique mix you do, "Thousand Miles" by Vanessa Carlton, which you remix and transition into "Thotiana" by Blueface. How do you think of stuff like that, blending polar opposite sounds to create a unique club song?

I was on my computer the night before a show and I was just like, "I need to do something different tonight." I think I saw White Chicks on the Netflix selection. And I was like, "This would be crazy!" So, I downloaded the song … and I was like, "What song can I put through this that would just make this song go crazy?" And "Thottiana" was the song.

I sent it to one of my homies who's a producer. I said, "Bro, look at this mix. I did it from my computer." And he was like, "Bro, this is nuts." So, I was like, "OK, we're gonna play it." And a lot of DJs know this, if the crowd isn't reacting to the song, it's an awkward time. If you let a song play for a minute that the crowd's not liking it, the minute feels like hours. I was prepared for that.

So, when I dropped the song, I said on the mic, "Now it's time to have fun." So, I played the song and everyone's kind of like, "What is this dude on?" And a lot of the girls were liking it … everyone knows that guilty pleasure song. So, everyone's singing the song. When the song comes up, it says, "If I can just see you," so I looped that part of the song so it kept saying, "If I could just see you" and I brought in "Thotiana." So then if you think about it, it makes a sentence, "If I could just see you bust down." So, when I transitioned out of it, it was like if I could just see you bust down and then everyone started doing the dance … That was my most prideful moment in DJing.

Recently, you started DJing R&B nights on Thursday nights at Gold Room. I love R&B, but every true R&B fan knows that they'd rather listen to it in the comfort of their own homes or with close friends. What made you think this was a good idea and how has it been?

I'm an only child. My mom used to drive me to school every day. My mom had me at a young age, so she was a young parent, so she was always playing the newest R&B at the time. So naturally I just would catch on with the songs as a young kid … It was very relaxing and gave you a good vibe, but it was one of those things I never thought it was possible to do an R&B night. Just like you, I was like, "No one's gonna come listen — that can't be a thing." And I actually did an event at the Moxie. They were booking DJs to just kind of do whatever. A lot of dudes were coming in there playing trap stuff and they weren't getting success. And I was like, you can't really play trap with, like, pink lighting … So, I prepared myself and I was like, imma do R&B tonight. So, I named the event, "Baby Girl."

Fast forward, [my home girl got me into Gold Room] for an R&B Thursdays. At the end of the day, the way nightlife supposed to be, you were supposed to go out and get somebody's number and now it's like we kind of got away from that. Now you go out to rage with their homies and sweat, but a lot of the ladies still want that same romantic vibe. So, with R&B night you can have people turn up like it's trap music and you can have people on a date night just having their drinks in the corner.

You've done so many different sets, thus far. In a week how many gigs do you do?

It really varies month to month. I can have months where I don't have any shows and that's just part of the growing process of becoming more successful. But I mean the most events I probably have in a week would be five or six … A lot of these people I reach out to me. Shout out to Amanda Fitness, she's really big on fitness and she does cake by the pound, which is like a booty busting class for ladies. And she was like, "This might be crazy, but would you DJ this?" And I was like, "Yeah, let's do it. That sounds fun." So I was like, "What kind of vibe do you want?" She was like, "I just want to be high energy." So we did all like the booty shaking songs … I always tell people, if everyone got paid the same amount of money in whatever field you're in, whether you're a CEO or whatever, I would still pick DJing.

On top of that you've done some recently done some stuff with Young Life, where you DJ inside an elementary school gym and let the kids run wild.

I donate my time every Monday to do that because those kids, they need a platform, they need an outlet. They can't go to clubs, they can't have a party. But it's like music speaks to the soul. If you play the right song, that it gives you some type of endorphin release … Me and Hope, the Young Life leader, we have conversations all the time. She's like, "The music really breaks down barriers for those kids to be relaxed." These kids are from the North Side and not all of them live great … So when my homie Juice reached out to me about doing that, he's like "Bro, would you be willing to do this?" So, we did it and I just kind of observe the kids.

What does it mean to you to be able to DJ for these kids?

Young Life is one of the things I'm most proud of and my success because I get to see how it touches those kids and how they get to just have relaxation. And they come out to me and ask me, "Bro, how do you get into DJing?" And I'm like, "Yeah, come here. I'll teach you," like, "You DJ for the rest of the time. I'm good. Imma sit down. You're the king." And those kids love it — they get to be seen like no one else sees them.

What do you think is missing in the nightlife in Minnesota?

A lot of the consumers are scared to say their opinion on things. So lot of people go places and they know the vibe is not dope, but they don't know who really to report it to, to say it's not. They don't want to be the person behind the face saying, "Yo, Jeff was a terrible DJ," because then you might get judged. They're nervous they might not get let into the venue, whatever it may be.

One thing I want to create for people is a way for them to be able to speak their mind about if they like a set. I always tell people I want you to be able to tell me if you didn't like something I did or you loved it … I want people to feel like they're part of my event, so that the event it tailored to them … I want people in the city to be outspoken about what they want from the city, because it makes our jobs as DJs easier.

DJ J. Blase
Don't believe the "hush" gesture — DJ J. Blasé supports audience feedback. (courtesy the artist)

Sometimes the clubs you're performing have a certain vibe that they want you to curate as well. As the DJ, how do you find the balance between pleasing the crowd and appeasing the venue?

I think that's probably one of the most slippery slopes of DJing. A lot of DJs don't focus on their brand. They just kind of are a third-party vendor to the club. [For example], if you go to Monarch, it's typically Hip-Hop/Trap. So, a lot of DJs kind of get stuck in that system of only being a Hip-Hop/Trap DJ …

If I'm playing somewhere that's like a top-40 bar and I'm only playing Ariana Grande or whatever it may be. I have to make sure there's a balance in another event for my followers that tailors to everybody … Some venues I won't even go to because I already know that our relationship won't match … You have to let your pride aside and stand on your actual true beliefs and be like, "You know, this event isn't for me. This isn't what I want to do."

Clearly, you've put in some thought about some of the challenges of DJing in the Cities. Have you thought about how you would improve the art of DJing here?

I want to have my own event where I'm renting out the venues. A lot of these places I'm getting booked to DJ versus actually renting out the whole venue and hiring everyone on staff … Me and my team are really working towards that as a goal, so we can have our own standalone night and we can kind of curate with every DJ. A lot of lot of these venues kind of just get lazy. They hit up whoever is the cheapest, whoever is the most affordable. They have an X, Y, Z budget so they'll go, "OK. I only have a hundred fifty dollars." So then, you get a hundred-dollar quality, you get a DJs who's newer, which is fine. I'm always for giving new DJs chances, but you have to kind of critique them, you have to bring them along. There needs to be some sort of mentor system to say, "I love what you did tonight. How about we try this next time or add a little bit more of this," because if you're going to keep paying 150 for each DJ or two hundred bucks you're gonna get low quality because people are in it for the money, not for the vibe.

How do you view the role of the DJ in hip hop today and not just in the Twin Cities, but just in Hip-Hop at large?

DJing is in a really weird role because a lot of work goes into DJing, if you really appreciate the craft. But it's one of those things that the consumer doesn't know. If you're a good DJ, people don't think anything of it. They think the night was just dope. If you're a bad DJ, then people will let you know it was a bad night. So, it's really a slippery slope…

DJs and producers go hand-in-hand. Metro Boomin is one of those DJs that I saw in Miami and I actually got to meet him and I got to see him DJ and he DJ'd the whole Future set. And I was like, this is crazy. Like, he's DJing as a side gig to his producing, but he's good at DJing, so it's going hand-in-hand. So, I was like, that's what I want to do.

DJ J. Blase
Blasé N Friends. (courtesy the artist)

This is different from what DJ's used to be, right?

The DJ was always known as the mixtape host. You think of DJ Drama, who was really like a producer, he wasn't really DJing, but his brand was DJ Drama. So, he was coming out with his dope Gangsta Grillz mixtapes … That's kind of lost as everything goes to streaming services or DJs can't really host mixtapes, because you can't put it on a platform. So DJs now are just kinda becoming like the brand ambassadors of certain venues or they're coming up with their own events.

So, you're telling me that you won't be dropping a mixtape soon or even tease us with an album or something like that?

I don't think so. I mean, my next natural progression is getting into production. I've done a couple beats that will never see the light of day. But that's my next thing is getting into production and help out a lot of these local artists … I don't think I'll be doing any mixtape anytime soon. But if something presents itself and someone wants my art involved, I'd love to curate someone's mixtape or do something along those lines.

You don't release mixtapes, yet, but you've released different playlists on Spotify for folks to vibe to daily, as they anxiously wait to see you DJ on the weekend. Why?

So, my idea behind the playlist was I noticed Minnesota can be late to a lot of songs that are popping down south. So, I was like how can I put people on in the city to music early, so that when they get to the venues they expect some of those songs? … I've been having people curate the playlists and me kind of giving the final approval of the setlist and what order it's in … People really been gravitating to the playlist, because it's a Blasé N Friends playlist for them.

If you want to check out DJ J. Blasé's playlists or find out where he and Blasé N Friends are showing out next, make sure to follow him on Instagram and check out his website.

Jeffrey Bissoy is a former assistant producer at MPR News. Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, raised in The Twin Cities and now based in Mexico City, Jeffrey has grown a passion for representation and identity, Hip-Hop, and the impact of sports on society. He's also the host of the podcast — The Come-Up — which stays current with the weekly drama of the NBA.

External Link

DJ J. Blasé - official site

2 Photos

  • DJ J. Blase and Friends
    DJ. J. Blase (courtesy the artist)
  • DJ J. Blase and Friends
    DJ. J. Blase (courtesy the artist)