Interview: DJ Slugo
DJ Slugo is a ghetto house producer and DJ from Chicago, Illinois. He’s best known for his prolific output and close involvement with Dance Mania, as well as the genre-defining “Wouldn't You Like To Be A Hoe Too."
Do you want to talk a little bit about where you’re from originally?
Southside Chicago, grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes. That’s like 49th and State Street.
What were your exposure to music like growing up?
Mostly, my family was into music - my uncle was a singer in a group. But really, I got the DJing stuff from one of my cousins, he was a real popular DJ in that area where I grew up at. That’s what made me fascinated, seeing all the crowds. At first I couldn’t understand it, like why is all these crowds dancing, so frantic about them when they’re just playing records? He said he’d teach me, but I had to be serious about it, and once he started teachin’ me I kind of took a liking to it. I ended up doing one party and that was it for me, like “hold on, you can make money for this?" I already had a love for music already, but once I started playing parties I was hooked.
What year was this that you were starting out?
I would say ‘90 is when I kind of broke out onto the scene, but he was teaching me when I got out of high school. I got out of high school in ‘87, so he was teaching me in, like, ‘88, ‘89. I think ‘90 is when I probably wanted to show myself, come out and let everybody know that I knew how to DJ. But he started teaching me in ‘85. When I came out of high school, that’s what made me not wanna do a regular job. But I still worked a regular job, ‘cause my moms wasn’t having it.
What job were you working?
Aw man, I worked at Burger King before, I worked at Taco Bell before. I worked at UPS. I’d work Pitney Bowes half of the day and then go and work for Kraft, they almost in the same building. Actually, the whole time I was on Dance Mania I was working at Pitney Bowes. It’s a picture out where Me, Milton, and Deeon got these Playground Productions jackets on, if you look at it I got on dress slacks and dress shoes because I’d just got off work.
Did you share that part of your life with the people you worked with at all, or was it totally separate?
No, they knew! The guy who was teaching me and groomin’ me at Pitney Bowes, showing me how to work the machines and all that stuff, he knew. He kind of knew who I was, and the days I had to go to gigs he would fill in for me, he’d do a shift and then when I get back I’d do his shift. The schedule started gettin’ so hectic that I just quit to pursue music full-time.
You said you weren’t that impressed by your cousin’s DJing at first - were you not much of a dancer?
Nah, I don’t know how to dance at all [laughs]. I got a mean two-step though. I always wanted to be the person that have everybody dancing, dancing wasn’t something that I was ever really interested in. A lot of the newer guys who came behind us, like Spinn, Rashad, all those guys, those guys were originally dancers first. But not us, we were always into the music first. Deeon can’t dance, Milton can’t dance. We were making tracks for the dance groups.
How would you know if a track was gonna work then?
50% of the time, I would make a track and grab one of the dancers whose opinion mattered to me and bring ‘em around to the crib or bring ‘em to the studio and be like “what you think?" Even with some of the tracks, I would change my drums because one of the dancers would be like “no, right there you should do this, so I can do this." I would go to some of the dance practices and watch them dance, makin’ the beats in my head while they’re practicing. “Ooh, when they do that little move right there I’ll make the beat do this." I was always adamant about knowin’ what the name of the dances was, what the move was, why you did that particular move on that beat, what was you thinkin’ in your head. I used to be a connoisseur of watchin’ the dancers, then making the beat fit their dance moves. But majority of the time, we’d just be like “this is the way the beat go, you’re gonna have to figure it out the way we made it." I learned that the bigger tracks were the ones built around the dance groups, but a lot of the tracks we did were more slogan-like than they was dance things - we were doin’ more chants than trying to come up with records for dancers to dance to. We wasn’t really makin’ records for dancers, we was makin’ records for the hood.
Did any of the dancers ever say something that stuck with you?
Some of ‘em would do these little pops, or these little whips. I don’t know if you ever heard the record, that “ride, shake, whip, whip / ride, shake, whip, whip." These guys would do this little dance and they called it a whip. They always liked bassy tracks, that’s why we always used heavy 808s. The snaps - I was one of the only people to use snaps in the record, which I liked because people would do certain moves when the snaps come on.
You had a couple real distinct production tendencies, I noticed that you liked to use, I think, the 808 conga to play melodies instead of synths.
When I first started, I didn’t like synths. I never like the “doom doom, do doom doom," I hated that. I used to be like nah, why are you makin’ the bass sound with a synth when you can multi-set the toms and play that. I used to fine-tune the toms, that’s why my records sound different than yours. You gotta sit there and work with it, I would sit with one sound for an hour or two to get it to sound exactly how I wanted it to sound.
Did you feel strongly one way or the other about sampling?
Samples was something I never really leaned towards, I was adamant about not takin’ other people’s music ‘cause I didn’t want nobody touchin’ mine. I could preach that - don’t mess with my music, don’t remake my records - and then I’m samplin’ somebody else. I was never big on samples at all, still not. If you listen to 90%, maybe 95% of my songs, that’s either somebody I brought into the studio or it’s my voice. Now certain records, I’d be like “I gotta chop that up," but I would always even try to reach out to the artist themselves and ask. That’s how I built a lot of my relationships with the bigger artists, I’d reach out to them after I made the record and a lot of them would be cool with it.
Mine was actually official, I’m Do Or Die’s tour DJ. We’ve been friends for over twenty years. Even the “Pimp Like Me" record I did with Twista, I cleared that one too. If it’s a Chicago artist, nine out of ten won’t have a problem with it. Ain’t too many Chicago artists that would tell me no for a juke remix, they respect that. But other places, I would have to call people because a lot of people don’t know what it is. Back then, a lot of those artists would be like “you finna make a what version?" But I’d send the track and a lot of ‘em would be cool with it. I did one with Nicki Minaj and Big Sean, they said it was cool as long as I was just givin’ it away.
How’d you fall in with Do Or Die? It seems like there was never a ton of crossover out of the juke scene.
I have a cousin named Lucky, who at that time ran a record label called CWAL, and he’s the person who put out the Adrenaline Rush, the Twista album, the Do Or Die “Po Pimp," and all that. He was they CEO. So he brought me to the studio a couple times and happened to meet all those guys, so I’d hear the record and ask him “hey, can I mess with that?" And I’ve always - Johnny P, Do Or Die, Twista, DA Smart, the majority of the guys from Chicago on the rap side had a mutual respect.
But rap and juke, for Chicago, are two different playing fields. A lot of rappers weren’t into juke, and the juke people wasn’t into rap. But we always took some of the records that we were fascinated with, that were hot in Chicago, and one of us would always end up remixing it. Even though you got a hot rap record in Chicago, it’s a lot of people who don’t listen to rap, they listen to dance music. So we would chop it up and turn your record into a juke record with rap in it. I still to this day don’t understand why each Chicago artists who were bigger artists didn’t have at least one juke record as a bonus track on every national album that they done.
It seems like you all had a shared interest in fast tempos.
Ok, so I don’t know if you’re familiar with Traxster. He’s one of my best friends. He actually did all of they old stuff that they classics for, so I had access to that because of him. Actually me, him, and Belo [Zero] did a track where he gave me the stems and I went crazy to it. So I just met all of them by being there, and I’d actually been signed to the same label at one point. CWAL was actually one of the biggest labels in Chicago before all that other stuff started happenin’.
Going back to when you kind of came out onto the scene in 1990, I have an idea of what was big then, but when did you notice ghetto house starting to come on?
I think I released my first record on Dance Mania in either ‘93 or ‘94; I had already been recordin’ the records and got real popular in the neighborhood. Me and Deeon were from different buildings - I was on 49th, he was on 39th - and somebody introduced us. He was already doin’ stuff with Dance Mania, so he introduced me to Ray [Barney]. I gave Ray a DAT with some of my early stuff, and he said “I don’t have to listen to it - if Deeon say you dope, you dope." He put it out, and that was it. Every six months or so, I was doin’ another album on Dance Mania off that one introduction.
When had you shifted from DJing only into production?
For me, in the ‘90s it was already MPCs. First I used to do the sampling keyboards, and then somebody introduced me to the R-70. And then being around Traxster, Traxster was an equipment freak. So if he bought something new, he would let me see his old piece and see if I wanted to use it or buy it.
When I first started out, I wasn’t even into equipment like that. I was using a R-70 and a Gemini mixer that had the little four pad banks as a sampler. I would do the beats, put ‘em in song mode, then say whatever I’m gonna say - you only had two, three seconds per bank on the Gemini mixer. So on A I’d put “whoop," on B I’d put “where the rats at," on C I’d put “uh oh," then I had to keep switching it. So I’m clicking A, start button, B, start button, C… if you listen to the records, you can tell it was nothing synced. You had to do everything manual. The beats is on beat, but the samples slide in when you can catch ‘em.
Right after that, got enough money to afford a Akai S01 sampler, which I learned how to MIDI up to the bottom four pad banks on the R-70. And it was over from there - wait a minute, I can put the samples in here? I think it had eight seconds per bank and I was like “oh man, I can do a whole song in this!" That was basically what I ended up using, the Gemini mixer to the R-70 with the Akai S01. Then from there, they came out with the DR8s and the DR16s, then the MPC. Every time something new came out that I could work better with - once I got that MPC, I was like “this the best machine ever." And then I got introduced to Logic, and was like “nah, the MPC is not the best machine ever."
What had made you want to start making tracks originally?
Well, we used to use the records that Steve Hurley, Farley, the Hot Mix 5 and those guys were making back then, but they were only 135 BPM. Comin’ up in our era, for a minute it worked but then it started getting too slow for the dancers. Somebody had made a suggestion like “well if you don’t like the beats, then make your own!" Oh, ok. So we started puttin’ the chants from the neighborhood with the beats and people started likin’ it.
Actually, the people in the old-school house world started calling us the bastard children of house music because we just broke off and started cursin’ on the records - bitch this, ho that - and they was like “you can’t say that!" Because house music was nice, friendly, it was happy music. They kept sayin’ we came and fucked it all up. Bitch ain’t nothin’ but a ho, suck this, fuck that, and they was like “what?! Aw, hell no." For a minute, everybody kept saying it wasn’t gonna work, boy nobody ever gonna play that music, nobody likes that shit. And we was like “so? We not making it for everybody, we makin’ it for the hood." We never thought it would be on vinyl, in other countries, where people said “no, that shit is the best shit ever."
What was the root of the cursing, do you think? Just being young?
You gotta understand - me, Deeon, Milton, Waxmaster, Jammin’ Gerald, we come from ratchet lifestyles. Pottymouths, fuckin’ with broads, wild-ass parties. We really just put that shit in song mode. Everything we said on these records is shit that was goin’ on in our neighborhoods. This wasn’t no fly by night, this ain’t no makin’ shit up. When we said, like “Nation Hoe," these were girls who were for their organizations, you know? “Where the Rats," we’d call girls “aw, that bitch a rat." Ol’ motherfucker come in the party like “where the rats at?," it’d be like “aw shit, we gon’ make that a track!" A lot of the stuff that we had on records was shit that people was sayin’ in the neighborhoods. “Uhh oh" was actually a call, like if you upstairs and I’m tryin’ to holler and get your attention I’ll “uhh uhh!"
All this stuff is neighborhood stuff that we put beats behind, and that’s what made our era and people we grew up with familiar with this stuff. The “point ‘em out" shit, people used to say that all the time on the microphone. “Man, there some bum-ass bitches in the house, there some hoes in this bitch, point them bitches out!" And it’d be like “oh, she right here, right here!" It was like a joke, funny shit. We’ll hear people under the building, guys in the hood maybe gambling or selling drugs, and they sayin’ something slick. They would come up with they own slang, they own little words, and it’d be like “damn, that’s cold - I’ma put a beat behind that." And everybody in the hood familiar with it because they already sayin’ it. It’s a record now. That’s why everybody can’t do ghetto house music, because you can’t do ghetto house music you grew up in the suburbs. That shit ain’t gon’ resonate with you right. You can’t do ghetto house and you ain’t ghetto, it don’t make sense. And then somebody gonna expose you - “nah dude, you grew up in fuckin’ Pill Hill, what is you talkin’ about?"
Was it real common for kids around the neighborhood to be into making music?
Well, it was uncommon for neighborhood guys to do it. I never thought I would see my name on a record, not in a million years. We were doin’ that shit strictly for the hood, bro; those records were made for the hood, in the hood, by hood motherfuckers. We never expected that shit to go outside the projects. We made it for the parties, like I would always make tracks and try to have a track that nobody else had, so I could DJ this party and play this track and nobody else got the track ‘cause I made it. That’s the type of shit we was doin’, competitive shit like that; we wasn’t makin’ no tracks to put on no records.
I actually think that is what kind of tainted it, and what kind of messed it up a little bit. When we started doin’ records, people wanted to make it sound different, the clarity and all that. Back in the party days, you ain’t give a fuck about the - it could be muddy, the record could be havin’ all type of shit goin’ on in the background. The mics didn’t have to be clear, none of that back then. We had handheld mic with cords, with the little plug on the end. All the samples was through that! Wasn’t no studio; your studio was your fuckin’ bedroom. As we went further, I think it took all the grit and the grime out of it.
How’d you meet Deeon and Milton originally?
I’m from the red buildings down on 49th, and they from these buildings called Stateway down between 39th and 35th. Actually, when we first met we were enemies, because our buildings didn’t jam well with their buildings. A lot of people don’t know that we got diss tracks and everything out about each other. Now Milton and Deeon always been friends, but I was their enemy at one point. People convinced us to do one party together, get this crowd from this area and the crowd from that area all together in one of these gyms. So we said we’d do it one time, and we made so much fuckin’ money doin’ it that we was like hold up! That’s how we all became cool; end up talkin’ to each other and found out that we was beefin’ about bullshit. Other people keepin’ up the beef, throwin’ back shit that neither one of us said.
Was it hard to convince somebody to rent you a gym for a party?
Hell nah, as long as they was able to get a cut. Back then, we could rent out any spot - they just wanted a cut. ‘Cause they knew that if we threw the party, it was gonna be a gang of people in there at $10, $20 a person. So they’d do the numbers, like “hey, my place fits such-and-such, so if y’all can get me like $500, $600…" You gotta understand, it wasn’t no gym makin’ no $500 back then just for opening its doors. We brought all the music, all the equipment, just a gymnasium with a bunch of equipment, the DJs, and people coming to hear them play records. It was the simplest thing ever. And you the park district supervisor, so whatever you pocket you just got five hundred extra dollars tax-free, just to open the door and supervise the party.
We could rent any gym; they used to be tellin’ us “come over to this gym, man! My gym bigger than this gym, we got air conditioning," and all that. We had a good time back then. But then the fights started, certain areas wasn’t gettin’ along with other areas, the gyms started tricklin’ down. It was actually a time in Chicago where if you said the words “juke party" the answer was no. You couldn’t throw no teenaged parties in Chicago at no facilities. It’s almost still like thht to this day - anything with teens, they don’t want no parts of it. They was tearin’ up these people’s places, breakin’ out windows, tearin’ up the bars. Just ignorant, just stupid. And so first thing, people would say “what you have?" and they’d say “oh, they had a juke party." I still got a newspaper clipping where the front page of the news said “No jukin’ in the high schools." On the front cover, you got one of those people standin’ up there on the ladder where they judge the volleyball game to make sure that when the kids was dancin’ in those circles they wasn’t bendin’ over and the boys jukin’ all behind them and all that.
What do you think changed in the culture?
It got too sexual, like it wasn’t cool that thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year old girls was grabbin’ the wall, pokin’ they ass out and some dude was behind them pumpin’ on ‘em and all that. Once the parents and shit started seeing that, like “what the fuck? That’s what my daughter doin’ at these parties?!" Yeah, your daughter ratchet [laughs]. So the parents start complaining to the schools, the schools started trying to ban us. You can play any music, but as soon as you turn on a juke record we stoppin’ the party. But now they don’t give a fuck; they tryin’ to bring it back because the hip-hop parties are way more violent. They killin’ each other on the records, about the records, at the parties, at the concerts. At the parties we was doin’, all you had to worry about is maybe somebody getting pregnant. And y’all took that away. Now they ain’t havin’ no fun no more, now they just killin’ each other.
If it was $500 just for the gym, what was the money like for doing the shows, the Dance Mania releases, all that other stuff?
It’s never been, like, a lot of money when it comes to it. When we first started doin’ it, it really wasn’t about the money. Ray would probably give us anywhere from $500 to $1000 advance, and back then $500 or $1000 was a lot of money. Plus we had the mixtapes, we were making money off the albums, we had a little multiple incomes. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to maintain, buy new equipment. We were really more into equipment than anything else, we never did the flashy cars and all that stupid stuff. I would buy a drum machine before I’d go purchase a car, you know?
Were you still living at the Robert Taylor Homes at this point, or had you moved?
Uh huh, the entire time. I didn’t move out the Robert Taylors until after high school. Maybe even a couple years after that, and then got my own place. I had moved out my mom’s house, though, but me and my sister had an apartment together. Then I moved outta the projects and got me a regular apartment. Still was in the hood though, it wasn’t like I moved into the suburbs or nothin’.
Did your mom ever come around to you DJing as a career?
Yeah, yeah. It took a while, because in high school I was athletic, plus I was a super smart kid. My moms was like how the fuck did that come into DJing? She wanted me to go to college, all that, but I wanted to do music. At first she didn’t like it, but once she saw that I could maintain, take care of myself and not have to do anything illegal, she was like alright. As long as I wasn’t doin’ nothing stupid, she’d live with it. But then as soon as I started getting awards, when I got bigger than my cousin who taught me, that’s when she really knew.
What were you like in school?
Really, I was the jokester in school. I was the one kickin’ off all the jokes. I played a lot, because you know how the work was kind of easy for you, and you finish your work and you bored? I was that kid. Bored, I fuck with everybody. We finna start crackin’ jokes on each other, fuckin’ up everybody else work. High school was great for me, ‘cause I balled in high school. Grammar school was so-so; I was smart, but I didn’t really like school. I went to school strictly because if I didn’t, my mom was gonna kill me. I really got my diploma for my mother, I always looked at school like I need the education, but I don’t need the education. I think I was too smart for my own good, I always tell my mama that I’m glad she made me stay in school. I hated gettin’ up early in the morning like that, but then when I got to school it was like “I’m already here, I might as well do what I’m supposed to do."
It was cool, because I’m still in tune and cool with all of my high school friends. We always throw events together, we might do a quick reunion for everybody that graduated with us, and everybody show up. We all reminisce about stuff we did in high school, people we dated, what you doin’ now. I did a record release party for a record I did called The Co-Sign, and 80% of my graduating class showed up to buy an album. We support each other’s businesses and everything. The class of ‘87 from DuSable High School is one of the best graduating classes ever. I still have my same best friends from kindergarten to high school graduation, and they’re all still my day ones. When I go out and I buy food, I go to my friend’s restaurant; whatever it is they got in there, I’ma find something to eat. I’ma support your business, rather than go somewhere else and spend some money with somebody I don’t know.
I was wondering how that I-94 record with Disco D came together. When had you become aware of what was going on up in Detroit?
I met him because he knew I was Do Or Die’s tour DJ, and he was trying to get a song with Twista. And somebody told him to get in touch with Slugo, ‘cause they was more familiar with me because of the dance music. And he reached out to me, I listened to his music and heard he was doin’ the jit stuff. He said he was gonna reach out when he came to Chicago. So he came to Chicago, I took him around and introduced him to T, they worked something out and did the record together. Out of gratitude, he said we should do a record together. He was cool as hell, too - I never knew that he was goin’ through depression and all that. I’d never have figured that out, he was cool as hell. I never even knew he was that big until I saw him do the record on that major label like damn, this ain’t no regular DJ.
A little while after that, maybe ‘03, ‘04, you slowed down releasing stuff for a while.
I went to prison, I didn’t get back out until 2005. Everybody was lookin’ like “he’s gone!" I just never told nobody I was fightin’ a case. When I turned myself in, I didn’t tell nobody; went and did my time, then came home and started back. When I got out, I was a little discouraged because everybody had quit. Deeon wasn’t doin’ anything; Waxmaster, Funk, Gerald, and all them. Funk was travelling doing the overseas stuff, Waxmaster and Jammin’ Gerald were workin’ regular jobs. D-Man was working a regular job. Milton was runnin’ from the police, he actually ended up getting a lot of time. It was just over with, the guys who I came up with basically had quit. I was confused about what I was gonna do. But I wasn’t gonna give up on the music that made me who I am, so I just took it upon myself to take the sound and put it on my back.
And then shortly after that, there was the big revival of interest in Dance Mania right? What’s been going on with the label since Ray Barney left?
So, he’s back - he got it back now. When Ray decided to quit, he was goin’ through some things - he was going through some financial things, and he was going through some things back and forth with Funk. It was a big thing about who owned Dance Mania. Funk was the one who went and got the paperwork done on Dance Mania, he got it done under Ray’s nose. Ray had never did the paperwork on Dance Mania, there was no actual legal… when we released all those records under Dance Mania, it wasn’t even really a legal company. It was just a name. So Funk went and did it without Ray permission, he licensed the name and put it under his name. So everybody was a little upset with Funk, like “you wrong for that, all the stuff Ray did for you." Then he got a little bit beside himself, saying that everything that was on Dance Mania he owned. And that’s when we was like “boy, look - you don’t want that type of problem at all."
We never signed any deals with Ray, ain’t no paperwork, but we all still own 100% of the rights to our records, so sit your ass down somewhere. He blackballed himself like that, because a lot of people don’t rock with Funk no more after he did that. But he let the name default, and Ray went and got it back. I don’t know what he’s gonna do with it, because a lot of guys who was on Dance Mania aren’t interested in doing records anymore, but the rightful person has it. If it wasn’t for Ray Barney, nobody on Dance Mania would be who they are today. Period. He’s the only person who took the money out of his pocket and took a chance on every one of those records he released.
I wanted to ask about one more collaboration - a couple years ago you did that track “Ghetto" with Nicolas Jaar, how’d that come together?
I can’t remember how I met Nicolas - they’d reached out to me before, and then me and him hit it off real cool. He had me play a few of his birthday parties. And then one morning he called me like “hey bro, this is gonna sound crazy, but I just made this beat, and when I did the beat I thought about you, I want you to do some vocals on it." But when he sent the beat I called him back like “what? The fuck I’m ‘posed to do with this? This ain’t ghetto." So I sat with it for a few days and realized that they only think I could do was talk over this goddamn beat. He just said to do what I feel, do it from my heart. So I started talkin’ about my life, and how I grew up, and sent it back, and he said “oh my gosh, and you’re talking ‘bout this shit wasn’t ghetto. That’s what we’re gonna name it: ‘Ghetto.’"
Now honestly, I didn’t think the record was shit. Even the guy who engineers my songs for me was saying it was kind of special, I was like “what the fuck is wrong with everybody?" ‘Cause I didn’t like the beat, and I was just talkin’ on the motherfuckin’ record. And he said “no, it’s the way you’re delivering it, blah blah blah" and I was like “aight, your ass weird too." And then Nicolas told me motherfuckers were goin’ crazy about the record, said “I ain’t gon’ lie, I heard some things in here I ain’t even know you been through!" That’s what I was feelin’ - fuck it, let me tell people about my life.
It’s funny tracing your collaborators - Deeon and Milton were ten blocks away, then a few years later Disco D was down I-94. Was it odd when that began to shift to people who might be reaching out to you across the internet, coming from somewhere with no concept of your background?
Yeah, exactly. ‘Cause when they meet me, I’m very easy to get along with. I’ll vibe with you. When I get to tellin’ them the shit I been through, the lifestyle - when I say the word “prison," twice, they look at me like “get the fuck outta here!" No, I wish I could, but this is the truth. Motherfuckers ask how I survive all that shit, and that’s it - I’m a survivor. Me talking about it publicly on “Ghetto" was the first time I ever did that.
I ain’t gon’ lie to you - every country I go to, every city I go to, it’s weird for me. It’s weird but amazing. I’ll be looking at these people like “how the fuck did these records, and this style of music, make it here?" How do these people even fuckin’ know about me way over here? You’ll feel weird coming into the club, but then once I start playing, they cheerin’ and they dancing, everything changes. I grew up in the projects, in the hood in Chicago making this music, and I’m in a whole fuckin’ foreign country. I don’t take not one day for granted, because I know how bad it can be. And they losin’ they mind to this shit.