The art of DJing is still alive.
For most of the time in hip-hop, DJs have played the background while the MC got most of the shine. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, during the early days of hip-hip, it was the DJ that got top billing. Just look at the names of some of the pioneering groups in hip-hop – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (Flash was the DJ), DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, (DJ) Eric B & Rakim.
But at some point the culture shifted.
It became about the MC and the producer. The DJ was phased out on records. The sound of a record scratching has all but disappeared from hip-hop recordings. But during shows, no hip-hop artist would dare take the stage without a capable DJ. And no party is complete without a skilled technician behind the turntables. And despite the fact many pop parties are being turned into a joke; clumsily spun by celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Pauly D, true, masterful DJs are rocking parties and exciting crowds throughout the world.
Thank goodness for DJ Charlie Chan Soprano.
Born Quentenas Charles Beason, Charlie Chan (he added the Soprano later) has been electrifying crowds since his days in middle school in University City, Mo. – a suburb of St. Louis. From the beginning, Chan was considered one of the best street and club DJs in the area. And when Radio One announced it was launching a hip-hop station in St. Louis, the first person executives reached out to was Chan, who was hired as an on-air DJ and mix-show director. Chan went on to be named the Riverfront Times (the entertainment bible for the region) Best DJ – he won the award four times – and eventually landed a gig opening for Run DMC. When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame duo decided to reunite, Charlie Chan was on stage with them, spinning where the late Jam Master Jay once spun.
“The night 2 Pac died, there was a DJ battle in Lawrence, Kan. and I drove down and won the battle and first prize was $500 and a chance to open for Run DMC a few weeks later,” said Chan, recalling how he became affiliated with the group. “I get back to St. Louis and Run DMC is there at a club where I was the regular DJ. They were coming off stage and I stopped Jay and said, ‘Stand right here.’ I went to the mic and announced to the people that I won the contest to open for them in Kansas and I did the routine I did to win the battle.”
That routine was a scratch of Run DMC’s hit song, “Peter Piper,” which was the group’s homage to Jam Master Jay.
“Jay loved it, so he said we’ll see you in a couple days. Then I rocked the Kansas show and after Jay said, ‘Look, if you want, you can go on tour with us and open and close the shows, but we can’t pay you, but we’ll make sure you get the exposure.’ So I said bet,” recalled Chan. “I was on the road with them and Jay and I got real cool. He introduced me to Jermaine Dupri and told Jermaine he should hire me to DJ for Da Brat. Next thing you know, I’m on the road with her. I did that from 1997 until 1999.”
Following his stint with Da Brat, Chan, who is a Core DJ and founded 24 Scientist One Way Production, DJed for fellow University City native, Nelly. He appears in Nelly’s video, “Air Force Ones.”
Though Chan was no longer touring with Run DMC, he and Jam Master Jay remained close. Chan said he was devastated when he got word of Jay’s murder in 2002. Following Jay’s death, Chan would routinely pay tribute to Jay with the routine he used to win the Kansas DJ battle. Then in 2004 when DMC decided to begin touring solo (DMC and Run had decided not to perform or record without Jay), he called on Chan to tour with him – a gig Chan maintains today. Last year when Run DMC reunited, Chan was on stage with the group, spinning the records once spun by Jam Master Jay. Chan and others, including Jay’s son, continue to perform with the group, which only performs select dates.
The turntable wizard is coming to town on Saturday, Sept. 21 for Thee Urbane Life’s Expressions Vol. II – Road Trip Edition at Darby’s, 315 N. 5th Ave., downtown Minneapolis. Expression is a graphic T-shirt party where partygoers wear various decorated shirts and dresses.
The event begins at 9 p.m. and goes until 1 a.m. Admission is $10. The party is a 21 and up show presented by Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, Big Frog Custom T-Shirts, Wilson’s Image Barber & Stylists and Realistic Manes Hair Boutique and Salon.
“I can’t wait to get up there to Minneapolis,” said Chan. “It’s gonna be nothing but party rockin’ – none of that jukebox playing. We’re gonna give you something from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and some new stuff, too. Man, I’m so lookin’ forward to this gig. It’s gonna be about skills and straight party rocking.”
Expressions Vol. II – Road Trip Edition
Twin Cities’ Official Graphic Tanks & T-Shirt Party
Feat. DJ Charlie Chan Soprano and DJ Dell Dilla of Mashwell Brothers.
Saturday, Sept. 21
9 p.m. – 1 a.m.
315 N. 5th Ave., downtown Minneapolis
21 and up