Since signing with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group in August, Atlanta’s DJ Scream has been grinding hard. Scream is working on a star-studded debut album, dropping in early 2012 via MMG, and promoting his new banger, “Shinin,” which features fellow ATL upstarts 2Chainz and Future. But even with all those moves to make, he’s found time to give back to his native Atlanta. Last Thursday, he and Stuey Rock hosted the first annual Big Give Back event in a number of shelters, retirement homes and low-income neighborhoods throughout Atlanta. BET.com spoke with the generous DJ to get his take on rappers giving back, the mixtape’s place in the music industry and why hip hop listeners need to appreciate DJs.
BET.com: Tell me about the Big Give Back event that you and Stuey Rock put together for the people of Atlanta.
DJ Scream: This is the first annual big giveback. This year, we’re focusing on canned goods and other non-perishable items to give to shelters and other underprivileged situations in the Atlanta area. We just basically wanted to do something to feed people, man. There’s a lot of people out there that’s not gonna have a holiday as happy as my holiday or your holiday. This is one of many. Hopefully it will become an annual or biannual event.
A couple weeks ago, Uncle Luke came down hard on Lil Wayne, Diddy and other rappers who he feels are exploiting the luxury of South Beach without giving back to the less fortunate areas of Miami. Do you feel that artists do enough to give back to the community in general?
I think the first thing you have to look at is, the event I’m doing happens to be publicized but, I personally know some artists that give back to the community but it’s not necessarily publicized. I don’t think there’s ever a situation where people should jump out and say this person hasn’t done this or that. You really don’t know what anyone’s doing with their finances or they spare time when they’re not in the public. But to answer the question, if it’s an artist that knows that they came from a situation that wasn’t the greatest of situations and they not giving back, I definitely think it’s time to check themselves and know that they should definitely try to create situations for youth or other people so they won’t have to go through some of the things that that artist went through growing up. So it’s kind of like a Catch 22. For one, don’t just get up and say this person is not doing this or that if you don’t know what they’re doing. But on the other hand, I definitely say to the artists that aren’t giving back their time or finances to give something back.
You have plans to drop a CD next year through Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group. How have projects like DJ Clue’s Professional series and DJ Khaled recent work, which combine talent from throughout the hip hop world, inspired and influenced you?
They’re the reason I’m so motivated to keep the torch going, to carry the torch. I remember buying the Clue Professional albums and just listening to it like, Wow, this is mixtapes beefed up times 100. I had all the Clue tapes and I rolled to ‘em, but the album was a more polished and a bigger version of that. Same thing with Khaled. Khaled has been behind some of the biggest hit records that hip hop has had to offer. Funkmaster Flex, big up to him for putting out three or four consecutive platinum or gold projects. And any other names — all these names that are keeping the artistry going for people to understand that DJs are like A&Rs too.
What’s it like having to defend the artistry of DJing in today’s hip hop game? I often hear people say, “DJ Khaled isn’t producing or performing on these tracks, how is this his song? What does he do?”
It’s funny to me because in other genres they respect it. David Guetta and all these people, they respect it. They understand that the DJ is the visionary. To put Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Drake together with an exceptional producer and for a record to sit at the top of hip hop and Top 40 charts for the longest after another phenomenal record like “All I Do Is Win” is just commendable. People have to just look over the “all he does is yell.” This is what you call 'branding'. This is what you hear about a mixtape, “Shut up, why you yelling?” Well, this is my style, this is me. There’s obviously more people that like it than don’t like it. So, I think you just have to look at situations for what it is. These DJs are composers, they’re visionaries, they’re putting stuff together that might not happen for artists. An artist might not reach out to another artist but there’s been some phenomenal records that Khaled has put out and others that I mentioned before. I think that’s the best way to look at it. People just gotta open their minds, because in other genres in pop and dance, they hold the DJ highest. They understand that without the DJ, the rest of the music is not even gon’ work. We have to get back to understanding what the DJ is and that’s the backbone of this hip hop culture.
Atlanta has a track record of producing great mixtape DJs. From yourself to DJ Holiday and even including DJ Drama and Don Cannon, who aren’t from ATL but went there to really build their empires. What is it about Atlanta that fosters great DJs?
I think it’s the fact that Atlanta’s been the mecca of music for a while. We’ve had a lot of different ways we could go. When I started doin’ tapes they were more dance-oriented, like during the snap era and the crunk era I was doin’ a lot of mixtapes. I was in the circle of the Crime Mobs, the Trillvilles and the Scrappy’s and the party music. As I’ve began to grow, I’ve said I want to branch out. I’m a fan of street music. I came up with NWA and other street music, that’s when I kinda started my street mixtapes. I think it’s because there’s so much music and so many different lanes and subcultures within the Atlanta culture. You got spitters down here, the people that focus on lyricism and that spit. And there’s people that’s just focused on making club records. It’s an R&B mecca — a lot of the great R&B artists come from here. So I think that’s the main thing. Some of the best music for the time period has been coming from Atlanta for some time. So that gives the mixtapes a lot of swag, you know what I’m saying?
It seems like mixtapes have become like the minor leagues for major label releases. You have to graduate from that level to even get to the point where a label will be willing to invest in a retail release.
I think mixtapes are the new albums because just like reality TV has flourished, mixtapes are like reality music. No stipulations to your album artwork, no stipulation to what you can talk about on these mixtapes. It’s just uncut and raw. The label might say, “Hey man, tone this down, we’re trying to make a Top 40 record or trying to do this on the charts.” Nah, it’s just Fabolous goin’ in doin’ what he does. It’s [Lil] Wayne goin’ in doin’ what he does. I think that’s why fans have taken such a liking to the mixtapes and the mixtape culture.
It seems like the effect of that has been that music has improved because that barrier kind of distills the talent pool in the game. Has the mixtape game made hip hop music better?
I agree completely because I think back in the day labels had something called artist development. They’d sign artists and let them sit for a while and let them understand the industry and how to perform and how to interview and how to make music and how to collab and so forth. But now it’s almost like the professional sporting leagues where if you get a hit record, your album coming out 60 days later and these people came from, some of ‘em, the projects. They don’t know nothin’ ‘bout the world. They don’t know nothin’ ‘bout the Internet, they don’t know nothing about managing finances, mixing, mastering, publishing, royalties—
You know where I’m coming from? I think it’s a very good thing that’s helping that mixtape world and not necessarily using it for practice. But just get yourself exposed to what this music industry is and what this hip hop grind really is.
(Photo: Maybach Music Group)