Interview: DJ Nate

9/11/2019

DJ Nate, a.k.a. BakaMan, is a producer, rapper, singer, and dancer from Chicago. He’s best known for the bop hit “Gucci Goggles," as well as his 2010 footwork record Da Trak Genious. His next project, an r’n’b album titled Purple Storm, will be out at the end of next month.

You’ve got tracks out that are all over the place, style-wise. What type of music did you start out making?

Rap and r’n’b. I actually started at eight, recording on the karaoke. I ended up getting a little small record deal in fifth grade. When I was ten, havin’ a little record deal. It didn’t really work out, but I did it [laughs].

Who was the deal with?

Man, what was the name? It was so long ago. This was like 2000, I’m talkin’ about. Oh! They called theyself Unleashed Entertainment. It was based in New York and Philly, so it was pretty much phone talkin’, working like that. They were trying to put me up against Lil Bow Wow, that was when he was out. He was like thirteen, I was 10, they were trying to put me in his shoes, compare me. But it wasn’t my time back then, I was just startin’ out. But it developed every year, you know? I started out recording real crazy, it wasn’t necessarily a recording studio I was recording on, as far as when I started putting my songs on CDs and shit like that. I recorded on Windows Sound Recorder, had the instrumental playing on the speaker and the little microphone next to the speaker. I used to record songs like that, freestylin’ over them.

Who got you started on music initially?

I actually wanted to sing first, I wanted to be like Usher when I was a shorty. And, uh, Jason Weaver. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Jason Weaver. He act, sing, and rap a little bit. He was out, especially when I was a shorty. So I wanted to be like them, but I listened to everybody. My poppy, he listened to jazz and blues and all that type of shit, then my mom listened to hip-hop and r’n’b. I just had an interest in all kind of music.

Were there specific producers that you were trying to emulate?

I’m a big Kanye West fan. I rock with ‘Ye, rock with Yeezy. But I don’t know man, I listen to all music. Whatever pops up in my head, I’m inspired by a lot of music. But Kanye West fasho, as far as sampling. I was listening to a lot of Dipset, Cam’ron and Juelz Santana, and all their beats had samples, especially soul samples back then. So that kind of started me in the sampling game, listening to those type of artists.

What type of equipment did you settle on once you started getting a little more serious?

Fruity Loops. Yo I got introduced to Fruity Loops when I was thirteen, stuck to that shit. Everything I was doing before then, I gave up. I was a hooper, a baseball player. That was my thing, but once I got Fruity Loops and Mixcraft, to record things on. I barely left the house, or if I did I made sure I had new songs to bring outside, go outside with my homies or whatever. Back then, wasn’t nobody really doin’ music, so it was good timing.

Had you been pretty aware of footwork before this, or was it new to you?

Well you know, that was Chicago culture. I’m from out west Chicago, and it’s from the dancefloor there. So I was definitely familiar with footwork since the early, early ‘90s or whatever, but I didn’t really start going hard with it until 2005.

That’s when you started making some of the material that ended up on Da Trak Genious, right?

Yeah, I got a couple tracks from ‘06 on there, up ‘til 2010. I had other mixtapes or CDs or whatever, and Da Trak Genious is basically tracks picked from a lot of those mixtapes and made into an album. So I got way more music that people probably not on, or ain’t get a chance to hear or whatever. A lot of my music got leaked, and I don’t even have a lot of my old tracks. I just listen on Youtube, people will be uploadin’ my stuff and I’m like “yes, thank you!" I snatch it right up. Imeem was big back then, when I was goin’ hard with it, and they took Imeem down. And man, I put all my favorite tracks on Imeem. I kinda got mad when they took Imeem down, shit if those was out people would be goin’ even more crazy. And then due to a computer crash, I lost all my tracks.

Did it bother you ever when things would get leaked?

It don’t bother me. I look at that shit as love, you feel me? They felt like that shit should be out there. And plus it’s a lot of times that I didn’t have it, so it’s like “yeah, thank you. I needed that." So if anybody’s listenin’ and they got something, they need to leak more [laughs].

When did you start getting a lot of attention for your tracks?

Shit, ‘05. As soon as I started, dancers at school, dancers at the other high schools, they’d take my tracks on their .mp3 players and take it to they schools. It’s like they went crazy right away. They was kind of chargin’ me up. I was turnt up at school in high school, I went to senior high school, on north side Chicago. I had kinda got kicked out, because the whole junior year I had the whole school bussin’, late to class, missin’ class, just to footwork on my camera in the hallways or whatever. I had like a big ol’ series of footwork videos, but due to me leaving my account open in my division class in high school, like probably ‘07, somebody went in there and they - I guess they deactivated the account. So all the videos, like 300 footwork video, they deactivated the account so all the videos got took down. That’s how I got my name, those videos, so it’s probably three videos out of a hundred that are actually up on the internet.

I was real popular at school, especially when I started back, because it gave a lot of people a lane. Like a lot of the dancers that was dancin’ at the school, they actually turned out to be professionals today and tourin’ and all that. I made footworkin’ cool at my school, and a lot of people took off. And I ended up havin’ to get kicked out senior year for other reasons.

Was it right after that that things started to take off?

Yeah, I was supposed to graduate in 2008 and that’s when I dropped my first hit single, “Lil Mama Bad As Hell." It was a big Chicago hit, very popular all over Myspace, and then it went global on me. And like I said, the DJ Nate name was really for making tracks, my rap name was BakaMan, but the “Lil Mama Bad As Hell" beat start off like “DJ, DJ Nate," so anything I posted after that was DJ Nate. Then “Da Trak Genious" was another one of my drops.

What made you want to get back to rap and r’n’b after the footwork stuff blew up?

I never stopped, I was always doin’ it. I never, ever stopped doing rap and r’n’b. The year Trak Genious dropped I was touring and doing shows, recording like crazy. That was always my biggest passion, and footwork was just a hobby. I started getting into it, and then everyone around me started getting into it. And then it became bigger. So no when you type “DJ Nate" it’s a billion damn songs, and people don’t know what to listen to. So they might pass a hundred footwork tracks when they wanted some of my new music. And then people put my shit out with they own captions. Shit is what it is.

What do you think draws people to one sound or the other?

Well, obviously Da Trak Genious is more for dance, and most people who rock with EDM love juke music because it’s fast. Then some people hate juke music, you know… it’s too repetitive or whatever, they have to hear lyrics. Different type of music for different vibes, but it’s all type of people in the world.

Is there a difference for you, going into the studio to make “Gucci Goggles" as opposed to “Hatas Our Motivation" or something?

Nope, because I’m always turnt up like I said. And when you think about beats like “Gucci Goggles" and stuff like that, a lot of my beats have like a rhythm that’s kinda like footwork tracks anyways. You could almost footwork off “Gucci Goggles." But it’s the same thing man, just depends on what my mood is [laughs].

A big part of the way bop was covered was as a reaction to, or against, drill. Do you think that’s accurate?

It was separate, but at the same time when I brought the bop music out I was making turn-up music. So my music really wasn’t drill, but a lot of people turnt my sound into drill. As far as you know, talkin’ more like drill but usin’ my style. I say “I bop, I flex" and then you might see everybody boppin’ with they guns. And I know I said a couple things, but that wasn’t the whole vibe of the song. You know how they try to do that in Chicago, you know “we don’t bop," shit like that, but the real ones know.

Did you see “Gucci Goggles" growing into a whole sound?

Yeah. Because when I have a hit in my head and I can’t get it out, it always pops for me. That’s how “Lil Mama Bad As Hell" was, I had that beat in my head and as soon as I got a chance to get to my crib and record it, it instantly took off. I love when I get those kind of hits. I got a lot more of those, I’m excited.

You wouldn’t have been more than twenty-three, twenty-four, but did you feel like an old man in the bop scene?

Nah, I vibed with ‘em, because we all came from the same place. The kids wanna turn up, they love the energy. Sicko Mobb, they kind of matched my ego, matched my whole style. And we became real, real close, to the point that we would live in the studio together at one point. That was love. We got at least twenty songs that we didn’t really release, we only dropped maybe five. And then they got a lot that I produced that they didn’t release. Well, somebody got ahold of they files, because it’s a Youtube account that’s somebody that we don’t know that leaked all of it.

A ton of your tracks are built around these little vocal loops pitched way, way up - what draws you to that sound?

Back then, I used to have the mind where I just wanted to make the rawest song. To me, to my satisfaction. So I tried to make something that somebody don’t make, or can’t make. And especially when it comes to sampling beats and making a song off of it, people can’t sample a song that wasn’t made originally. So I have some hole in my head that I wish was a song already - shit, I’ll just go sing it myself, mash it up and put it together on my own beat. So a lot of people come to me like “damn, where you get that sample from?" That’s my secret weapon [laughs].

Is it hard to figure out how to convey something in a song when you’ve only got a couple words or a single phrase to work with?

Like I said, it go by my mood. I’ll sit there and scan through beats if it don’t match my mood. If I’m thinkin’ real deep, shit, I’ll probably do a slow song or something. But other than that, half the time I’m thinkin’ go crazy. I’ll make the beat and freestyle the song right after that. I probably wrote like four, five songs out of thousands of songs. Other than that, I just punch in and freestyle.

What’s up with that “Way U Wont 2 Do" track on Take Off Mode that’s like nine seconds long?

Yeah, I kinda don’t understand what they did with that either [laughs]. Maybe it was a mis-cut, I don’t know. I didn’t actually hear it until the copies was out already, so I was like “ok." It was supposed to be a long song, I don’t really know what’s up with that.

You were pretty young when the whole Bangs & Works thing happened - had you already been connected with a lot of the other people on the tape?

Yeah, I knew of ‘em or whatever. I actually recommended most of them, I had the first footwork release on Planet Mu and then I let them know who else had it or whatever. They was already rockin’ with me, based on my Youtube and Myspace feedback. So they contacted my old manager, which, he’s restin’ in peace right now, and it went from there.

Did you think about joining one of the footwork crews at all, or were you pretty much always solo?

Yeah, I always was doin’ it solo. Or started my own groups or whatever. But with the footwork shit I pretty much kept to myself. I was in a dance group, but as far as actually track producer teams, nah. I stuck with myself. I really vibe with the older producers and DJs, like Traxman, RP Boo. I vibe more with them. I learn from ‘em, catch a good vibe with them. Me and Roc and Diamond was actually talkin’ about doing some stuff, when we get around to it.

Did you ever feel like it might’ve been easier to have a group all together?

Yeah. But with “Lil Mama Bad As Hell," I got offered nine different deals. Warner Brothers, Atlantic, all type of labels. And I had two other people on that song, so they was tryin’ to get signed as a group, but I was a solo artist. So it kind of went downward as far as a signing situation. They didn’t want to sign me, they wanted to sign the group.

So you’ve got Purple Storm coming out next month?

Yeah, end of October it’s gonna drop everywhere on all platforms. Mostly r’n’b album, because I like to drop r’n’b around fall or wintertime, but it’s gonna have a lot of dance songs in-between.

Why r’n’b in the wintertime?

It fits the mood, fits the mood. I know you familiar with this Hot Girl Summer shit they they been havin’ goin’ on, all the girls turnt up and actin’ crazy in the summertime. I figure in the fall, a lot of them will be in fake relationships, or even real relationships, everybody come together and be all soft and sensitive or whatever. More babies gettin’ made and shit [laughs].

What about footwork, then?

I like to drop footwork all year around. But the spring and the summer definitely, because there’s more events. People like to dance more in the summertime.

What kind of events are happening for footwork nowadays?

Well sometimes, they still have Da War Zone, you know, Wala Cam. They got like a new little show called Astronaut Flee, shoutout to Astronaut Flee. My boy Detro, King Detro, he a footworker, he got something called Dance N Out. They do little showcases or whatever. And then I’m gonna be doing my thing, tours and shows. Putting something together too, for all the people who support me. Hopefully people around the world can fly in and turn up with me, get some of this work, you know?

I was wondering how your accident, and the experience of recovering fully from paralysis, might have changed your attitude towards music.

Shit, I still look at is as just go hard. Go hard. I look at it like I might go harder now, because the feedback ain’t like it was or whatever. But that don’t make me stop, because the talent got better. So if they not really catchin’ up, that’s they loss - if they liked me then, they’ll love me now. I’ve got all new tracks for a footwork album, that’d really go hard if they liked Take Off Mode. But that’s probably in the future, once I talk it over with Planet Mu or figure out how I’m gonna release it.

As far as while I was in the hospital, I dropped a mixtape called FlexxBabii Wave, that was a hip-hop mixtape from 2017. That was especially during the recovery, because 2017 was basically the year that it happened. It happened November 2016, so 2017 was basically a big workin’ year as far as recovery. But I basically lived in the studio. I made a lot of music then that I don’t really want to release, it’s personal. I was making music based on how I was feeling. I did a freestyle called “Rehab Freestyle." It’s not a good mastered song, as far as the quality, but it’s just because I wanted to give it to ‘em raw. I was in the rehab room, halfway paralyzed, barely could move my fingers, punching in. I made the beat, and then I made the song, all that with a neck brace on.

What, if anything, represented the end of the recovery process for you?

I like challenges, man. In my mind, I always was recovered already. But I’m still in recovery right now to be exact. I’m not actually 100%, but I’m making moves. I’m down there doing backflips [laughs]. But now, I’m definitely - I feel like I’m ready to go crazy. That’s why I’m getting back to shooting my videos, setting up tours and all that.

Anxiety, man, that was my enemy. I was fighting anxiety all the time because I was thinking “damn, now I gotta do slow music, just make tracks for them to dance to." I can’t really put out my energy, because I can’t show it at shows. I can’t jump off the damn stage. My shows used to be wild; stuff everybody doin’ today, that was me ten years ago, eleven years ago. So I feel like if I can’t perform like that, I’m fallin’ off. So that was always in my head, like I can’t go crazy at my shows like my signature shit is. But one thing I do is believe, that’s why I been doing this this long. Every day a different day; I can feel like I can’t do it one day, wake up the next day like “damn, I’m finna kill this shit."