Interview: DJ Raw On Value For Time

Feature, Interview, Music

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 How many people do you know in music, or more specifically the hip hop industry, who have time to stop and help the next man out? Ian Seumanu or DJ Raw is known for being that man or ‘the man’ among his students. They say he has a way of teaching without saying much at all – so it goes without saying he cares for his class. The DJ school at Whitireia will reach its 10 year milestone in 2013. With that in mind, Raw, who’s been an artist, mentor, ITF Australasian DJ Champion, event manager and family man among other things is looking to switch to the business side of the industry. In the interview with whendidyoufallinlovewithhiphop he says it’s now about ‘value for time’. His plans include heavy involvement in Make Music Aotearoa, which is a new record label, backed by Brother D of Dawnraid and Universal Music. The difference it has to Dawn Raid will be that it represents Wellington. Raw being behind the scenes at MMA means we may even see him return to making beats. However, business remains the overall focus now and there is plenty in his mix to come:

HH: I interviewed you before Rumpshaker last month can you explain the story behind how it began?

R: Rumpshaker’s been going for a long time now, originally it was DJ Huntah and Infared from Christchurch. They started it at Coyotes and that was sort of like an old school night where they could play 70’s, 80’s, 90’s style music. Huntah asked me to be a guest, from there, they pretty much wanted me to be a part of it. It’s like a residency for me and Huntah- we’ve got things planned for Rumpshaker. We want to take it on tour and have had some people who approached me, so we’re working through that at the moment, looking at sponsors and some emcees to take on tour.

HH: You play at Rain and all over, are there times you have to play what the occasion calls for instead of what you would play personally?

R: Yup definitely. Definitely. All the clubs, they’ve got their set music they want for each club. So Rain on Wednesdays, you get away with R & B, Hip Hop. Weekends is different again because it’s a different crowd so more commercial-dance styles.

HH: What do you listen to in your own time?

R: I listen to everything really. But it’s weird, people ask me, ‘do you like this album, do you like that album’, I don’t listen to a lot of albums… I just listen to individual songs and singles, that sort of stuff.

HH: Is that a trait of being a DJ?

R: It’s part of the job because you have to sift through lists of music to find the ones that you think are going to work.

HH: What projects are you working on at the moment?

R: Working on getting the DJ Academy back up. [ Separate to the DJ School] It’s a private one owned by me and Shan where we do short courses. One of the problems we have with the DJ School is there’s a whole lot of people who want to do it but they can’t commit a whole year and a lot of people want to try it. That’s why they can do like six weeks, try it out, and if it’s for them they can enroll. Also for the last three years I have been doing Urban Arts which is a program I started with Mission For Youth, it’s part of Wellington City Mission. It’s in its fourth year; basically all the kids at Mission For Youth are under alternative education; they’ve been kicked out of their colleges/high schools and can’t be re-enrolled until they achieve a certain academic level at Mission For Youth. So Urban Arts is a program I started where they can be creative in their downtime and find stuff they’re really passionate about.

HH: Have you always been interested in social work kind of stuff ?

R: A little bit, I’ve done a lot of workshops and that before, starting at Whitireia and all that. A lot of the kids that I performed with all come from hard backgrounds you know. Basically, a friend of my wife, her husband ran an alt-ed course up in Levin and he started to bring his kids down on Fridays to the DJ School to have a look and see if that’s something they’d be interested in. Later on he moved down here and became the manager of Mission For Youth. Once he got there I sat down with him and he asked me what could be done with the kids and that. I put together a program based around what I’d learnt from Whitireia; it has art, music, performance and the other one was drama but we didn’t follow that one through just because we didn’t find the right people. The main thing was that they all had pathways, so if they catch a bug from doing something, they can follow it up.

HH: When you began DJ’ing did you think you would eventually be a teacher?

R: Aw nah. I wasn’t sure I was going to be a DJ you know. It’s something that I always wanted to do, just music, it’s what I love doing. But teaching it’s similar to DJing actually. It doesn’t seem hard because I’m still around music and it’s actually been real cool. I’ve learnt a lot about other genres from the students themselves…It [genres] changes every year, we have drum ‘n bass, dubstep one year, dance hall.

“I used to go to Cuba Mall, Manners Mall and watch the Bboys. There was a whole lot of excitement you know, people gathered round, there was a buzz.” 

HH: What genre is big this year?

R: There’s quite a bit of trap, there was trap last year but it was mostly electronic music.

HH: Are you someone who criticises Trap lovers, like I get a lot of shit for liking Trap.

R: It’s just what it is now, I mean I come from a Hip Hop background. There’s a lot of Hip Hop purists that wont listen to anything else but Hip Hop. It’s sort of like when I started DJ’ing, if I wasn’t open to checking out different DJs I wouldn’t have learnt and taken aspects of what they do and put them into what I do. When I started all I wanted to do was beat mix, beat match and mix in clubs. Then I saw scratching and that for the first time. It was in the hip hop genre, but it was like club mixing’s here [places right hand on one point of the table] and that whole scratch turntablism thing is quite left field [places left hand away from his right ]. I started following that hard out and that’s what’s taken me to all the comps and touring and that sort of stuff.

HH: How did you get into hip hop?

R: I got into Hip Hop from intermediate and the big break dancing craze in the early 80’s. Breakin hit everyone – I was doing back spins and moonwalks, trying to Bboy and all that, but I wasn’t that good. I still liked the music and the vibe and energy of people dancing… I started to collect all the music. There was lot of energy in it.

HH: Who were you listening to back then when you started collecting?

R: To be honest, my household was full with English pop music because my sister was right into that and she was buying music way before me. She always had Duran Duran and all sorts of English pop stuff, like U2. So Sugar Hill Gang was the first sort of stuff I bought, Grandmaster Flash. I bought those on tape and just sort of thrashed those and eventually got a hand me down turntable from my uncle who got a new stereo and started buying singles, albums and that on vinyl.

HH: How did it occur to you to start DJ’ing?

R: Basically college, I really got into it. I had a mate that was more into Hip Hop than myself. I used to go crash over at his place and we’d listen to stuff, like the Wednesday night jam back in it’s early days [at Radio Active].

“There was lot of energy, I used to go to Cuba Mall, Manners Mall and watch the Bboys. There was a whole lot of excitement you know, people gathered round, there was a buzz.”

HH: Who was playing it back then?

R: Guys like TP (Mark Qubey), DJ Glide, Rhys B. There was a lot of guys on rotation and basically you couldn’t find that music in the shops – what they were playing – it’s totally different from now. There used to be a record shop in Kilbirnie called the Soul Mine, they became specialists at importing hip hop records back in the day. We used to go there on a Thursday night, there’d be you know, 20 DJ’s waiting to look at this one pile of records; you’d have to wait in line, and you know you had a good thing going.

HH: At that time what was the popular music, because clearly hip hop hadn’t made its way into the city yet?

R: It was still really underground. It was still English pop, really commercial stuff.

HH: You’re from Wellington, what high school did you go to?

R: Rongotai but I grew up in Newtown, moved out to Newlands for a bit and then back to Lyall Bay.

HH: So you’ve always lived in Wellington…Never left?

R: No. I’ve been lucky because I’ve travelled heaps.

HH: When was your first DJ Battle?

R: 1989 and I had only had gear for just over a month. I had been jamming with other guys so had a go at that, made it to the national finals that year – I didn’t place but was top 10 anyway, and yeah same again the next year. 1990 and 1991 I won the New Zealand DMC, that was the first time I went to the UK.

HH: What was that like for you?

R: Oh yeah it was pretty freaky. I didn’t know anything really, looking back at it now. I should have been more organized, but the guy that took me over, you know, we went two weeks before the competition and I didn’t have any gear or anything like that. By the time the competition came around I hadn’t practiced so it wasn’t the best set. It was a good experience because I had gone to see everyone else and just see the intensity level, if you know what I mean. Like here, if you win the New Zealand title you might beat 10 people in Wellington and then in the New Zealand final there’s another 10 there, so maybe 30 guys in the country. But guys like Americans have gone through over 1000 DJ’s to get their title so they’re whole approach and intensity about it is quite different.

HH: What were the first set of decks you ever owned?

R: Technics 1200’s. When I got them I had just got my first job, saved up for them, went to LV Martin – that was the only place that got them in back in the day. They were out of stock so I paid for them up front. It was like $2400 back in the early 80’s – but it took six months for them to come in.

HH: It’s coming up to 10 years since the DJ school’s been going, what’s that feeling like?

R: Yeah, it’s good for sure. I think when we started the main goal was to get to like five years and then when we hit five years, look at 10. I’m not too sure what lies ahead but I definitely want to up everything. I feel if I keep doing this it’s going to get stagnant. So we want to do stuff like the academy and we need to change things up after this year.

HH: How did the DJ school start, was it you and Shan together?

R: It was Shan who did a couple of workshops in colleges and this guy who started the Whitireia music department, George Packard. They were looking to expand their courses, got in contact with Shan, and started talking with him. I think they would have spoken for about three months. Shan got a hold of me and said it would be really helpful if I came and gave some feedback on it. We met up and went from there. This was probably about nine months before the first course started but a lot of it was based on the music courses.

HH: So it’s had to evolve to suit teaching DJing?

R: Yeah most of the assessments and that were all based around the music department – how you would asses an instrument, the performance and all that sort of stuff.

HH: Was that a challenge?

R: It took a little while to figure it out but it wasn’t too bad.

HH: What were you doing in your career when you began teaching?

R: Well I was still DJing pretty much all the weekends and I was working at DMC at the time, which was like a Rock Shop, but a DJ specialist store.

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HH: What have you found over the past 10 years is the best part of teaching?

R: The best part of teaching is actually seeing people understand and get better. I guess the best things are seeing those guys take it and go out there and be successful. There’s been a few, so it’s like anything you know, like being a musician – you could be real good in your bedroom but it’s not going to get you work. You have to go out and put yourself out there. Then there’s guys who have done the course and have really done well for themselves, like set themselves up and their families, that sort of thing.

HH: Many of your students that I’ve met, have this really strong respect for you. Is that something that you’ve consciously built up so that you can get through to the students?

R: Yeah, I don’t know. People say sometimes I teach things without having to say it. I do things for a reason, they might not understand why at the time – part of its teaching and then part of its strategy to get them to learn the hard way a bit as well. So I’ll set them up [laughs] sometimes so they can learn as well. I think more than anything, the key thing in teaching for me is to build a relationship with the student.  If I don’t have that connection with them they won’t ask the questions and they won’t get the most out of me. So I try not to treat them like ‘I’m the teacher, you’re the student’. Instead just make it more personal so that they can feel comfortable…I get phone calls at three in the morning from different kids wanting to know something or something’s gone wrong. It doesn’t happen every night, but I’m still getting texts from people who did the course six or seven years ago…I had a phone call month ago from a student whose dad was in hospital, so he rang me, asking if I could go pick him up and take him. You know it’s like part teaching, part social work – you deal with their problems just as much.

HH: Have you found that challenging or rewarding, because you have your own family?

R: Yeah, it’s just in my nature. I’m pretty patient with people. It takes a lot for me to get angry over anything. You’ve always got to make time for people you know.

HH: It seems that in the past 10 years then you guys have built more than a school, would you say so?

R: I’d say there’s definitely a culture at DJ school for sure.

HH: Can you describe it?

R: I don’t know. Nah I can’t describe it. It’s one of those things like everything’s there. If they put work in and I can see them working hard then I’ll put work into them.

HH: Okay so what’s something a student might do that you won’t tolerate?

R: The thing with school is if they turn up then they’re going to get through. If they don’t turn up then it’s like they’re wasting their own money because it’s not like a secondary school; they’re paying to be there, you know and it’s like, I won’t have to say anything, the other students will say it. It’s just that it’s very open, the culture, we can talk about anything. Every Monday we have a meeting in the morning and we just talk about the weekend basically, see what everyone’s up to. It allows everyone to feel comfortable speaking in front of everyone.

HH: Is that a skill you’ve developed as well, public speaking?

R: Yeah that’s one of the main reasons I want to do it because that forces them. I was like that, I really struggled in my first year of teaching because I wasn’t used to talking in front of lots of people. Even from college days it’s always been one of my biggest fears, public speaking.

HH: At what point did you realize it wasn’t so bad?

R: Even in second and third years of polytech I wasn’t so confident, you know, but it’s just one of those things I forced myself to do it. I know especially with a lot of Polynesian boys, they’re real shy, and they won’t talk. As far as teaching, if they don’t ask you questions and talk, you don’t know if they actually understand what you’re teaching them. You know you could do a whole lesson and everyone doesn’t say anything and you think they got it but they haven’t. So I just try and really encourage people giving feedback and asking questions. Every Monday they have to say something, and that’s a positive.

HH: What defines a good DJ to you?

R: I guess because there’s so many fields now of DJ’ing and different things you could do, a good DJ should be able to look at what’s in front of him and accommodate that at all levels like technical, sound quality, selecting the right stuff. People always ask me about reading the crowd because it’s one of the hardest things to do. A lot of young guys, they could play a set with a lot of records they know are going to be popular, but then they lose the crowd anyway because they’re so busy cueing stuff up and worrying about the mix. I know guys that have been around a long time that can cue up a song in like 10 or 15 seconds. With all the other time they could be looking at the crowd and observing what works – that sort of level of reading a crowd is of big value to a bar.

HH: Have you found that’s the hardest thing for people to pick up?

R: Yeah and that’s because you can’t teach it in the class room. They have to come out, watch, and get a vibe for the place. Most young DJ’s they’re instant reaction to playing in the club is to play an hour’s worth of the latest hits and then in their second hour they’ve got nothing to play. Their second hour is not as good as that first, so they’ll lose the crowd. DJ’s that have heaps of good filler tracks do really well at holding a crowd for a really long time.

“There was a lot of beef going on between people and it wasn’t over music it was over money and deals basically. The industry played havoc with relationships.” 

HH: Over your career what have been some of the most memorable moments?

R: Yeah there’s a few. I guess definitely traveling, it’s been the best thing about it because you get to experience different things and see different things. Without DJ’ing I would have never have got to see those places or experience those cultures.

HH: What places were they?

R: Just DJ’ing in Samoa, Vanuatu, all over in Australia heaps of times, Singapore, Philippines, London, States, Hawaii.

HH: Was Gifted and Brown your first crew?

R: No not the first crew – first band that was like playing up and down the country. It just came about from King Kaps who used to live down the road here on Onepu Road. He was a couple of years younger than me, I’d left school and he was still at Rongotai. He used to wag school and come over to my place. I’d teach him how to DJ basically and he was into his beat-boxing and rapping. He was hooked up with another guy, Jared Tahu who was doing music. They had a little jam band, and he just asked me to come to a rehearsal one day, bring my turntable and a mixer, and do some scratching. Yeah it started from there. But it was the first group we had that had a manager. We played in Auckland a lot in the early 90’s – that was the first step of networking with guys up there that are still around now like Manuel Bundy and Sir Vere, Che, Dam Native, all those guys.

HH: Having been a part of the hip hop scene in New Zealand from when it started, what’s your opinion on where it’s at, or how far it’s come?

R: At the beginning everyone was in it for the right reasons you know. It was just about music, performing and getting around. The idea of getting rich and that wasn’t really a big thing. But around the early 2000’s where Hip Hop became real popular and the industry started getting involved in it; people started getting involved in labels, everything changed as far as working with people. It’s not so popular now, it’s coming back, but yeah. Like guys that you’re ringing up to come and play for you at a club five years before [the industry got involved] it was just a phone call like,  ‘do you want to come down, we’ll book your flights. Yup. Bla, bla, bla, bla. Sweet.’ Then it became [you get] put on to this person and that person and then the price is like outrageous and everyone’s taking a cut so…

HH: What was the feeling like when it all changed like that?

R: It was pretty negative. I can’t remember when the first hip hop summit was but it was not long after that. The first hip hop summit [in Christchurch] was real cool – lots of networking and guys like the Deceptikonz and that came down, no one had ever heard of them then. Within a few years of that everything exploded. Scribe and P-Money and all that sort of thing. It basically went from, I got Scribe for one of the DJ battles that I ran to come down and emcee and do a set  – I think I paid him like $250 bucks. Within the next year he was going for $5000 and I couldn’t ring him direct. There was a lot of beef going on between people and it wasn’t over music it was over money and deals basically. The industry played havoc with relationships.

HH: Looking back now and I suppose being older, do you think it was inevitable?

R: Yeah it was, and it’s definitely paid off for some guys they’ve made good careers out of it. Some of them have made heaps of money and it’s all gone.

HH: How did you manage to maintain through that time?

R: Just DJing – I was DJing before it blew up and I’m still DJing now, you know, it’s always been my main sort of income. I got a lot of stuff like a record label I started with Footsouljahs – Too Much Records and I’m just in the process of becoming director in Make Music Aotearoa.

HH: What is MMA?

R: It is a label started by Fiso, Flows. Just recently he was signed by Brother D from Dawn Raid – part of Frequency Media/ Universal Music. Brother D wanted to make it a label deal so now anything that comes out of the label can now be pressed up and put through the label. So it’s not a product and distribution deal it’s a 50/50 deal where they pay for 50% of it and the label pays for 50%.

HH: And because you guys are from Wellington will it represent Wellington?

R: Yeah, it will represent Wellington and be run by people from here, yup.

HH: Are there any other projects you’re working on?

R: I’ll be involved in that quite heavily but a lot of it now is just about business. Being artistic and creative takes up a lot of time. I’ve done that for many years you know, and it’s just about looking at the business side of things now, and thinking about how to make some good money and make all these other guys successful as well.

“The worst thing is guys saying they’re busy and they’re always grinding and all that shit but you know they’re smoking weed and playing X-Box.” 

HH: So you look at it like you’ve done a really solid artistic run and now you’re ready to be about the business side of things?

R: Yeah I mean club shows and all that sort of thing is one thing that I have done for a while now, you know, getting guys down – I used to do internationals but it’s a bit risky so I sort of left that behind. Now it’s more DJ orientated business, there’s a mobile DJ company, DJ Academy and a few other things I want to get into like equipment sales.

HH: When will the mobile DJ start?

R: I’ve been building towards it for a little while now so I got most of the gear like sound and lighting,  a van to transport everything, so it’s just getting it all together, my aim was for next year.

HH: You will judge the Super Brawl beat battle coming up…What defines a good beat to you?

R: It could be different things. It could make you move or feel emotion or something you know and I’m not too sure how they’re going to do like whether its actual performance based or if they just play the song itself. It could be partly the performance as well. How they portray their music but yeah you should feel something from what you’re hearing.

HH: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you might want people to know?

R: I don’t know I’m just happy to still be relevant, still be in the game. I think when I stop enjoying playing music and doing what I’m doing it will be time to move on.

HH: Have you ever had stints where you think that might happen?

R: Yeah definitely I think every DJ has. It’s weird because I think like the club stuff has been from four or five years where I’ve just done it solid now like Rain and a couple other clubs, I sort of got that urge to go and do live stuff again, like Pharoahe Monch was pretty cool and it’s a good buzz to get out there and do support for P-Money [at the Huntah Lounge]. The crowd wasn’t that good but it’s just that difference of being in the corner, sort of out of the way, and then being on stage where everything’s on you.

HH: Will there be anymore of that before you move to your business head?

R: Yeah hopefully, I actually enjoy it, it’s a bit more of a challenge.

HH: I interviewed you at Whitireia when I was still a student and you told me something that I’ve never forgotten which was, ‘you’ll never see some of the best people make it because life happens to them’. How have you managed to stay focussed over so many years?

R: It came down to about six, maybe seven years ago. I started hooking up with an old school mate who was doing business marketing and he basically became a business mentor. I went through a lot of stuff where I had to look pretty deeply at myself and the financial side of stuff and look at putting an emphasis on value for time. For the last sort of six/seven years I’ve changed my approach to a lot of things and part of that has been about focussing – being strict with income streams and the business side of it, knowing what was important and what were priorities. I guess that’s why I stopped doing beat making because I was spending so much time making beats. I look back at what I was making and what was coming out of that wasn’t any good, so the DJ thing, there’s still a time for money situation.

HH: Is beat making something you think you’ll come back to later on?

R: With the record label I’ll probably do a bit of it, but I will probably be doing an executive producer-type role.

HH: Are you guys able to say at this point who people can look out for to come out of MMA?

R: Oh I can’t but there’s a few people who I’ve been looking at.

HH: What do you do when you’re not doing music?

R: Play a bit of basketball at TSB – proper league stuff.  Boxing for almost 10 years now and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which I have done that for seven years, those are the main things.

HH: Are you a workaholic? When do you get time to sit still?

R: I don’t…there’s times though. Now I just go for it, you know. I’ve got time that’s dedicated to the family – so I know when it’s family time I’m not doing anything else, I won’t even think about anything else. I don’t know, just work hard when it’s there and when it’s time to relax, just relax, that’s the way I approach it. The worst thing is guys saying they’re busy and they’re always grinding and all that shit but you know they’re smoking weed and playing X-Box. It’s their life. But it’s all talk. I’d rather just go hard. I don’t usually talk about what I do, I like keeping a low profile. I’ve seen all these guys that are well-known DJ’s and everyone wants to know what they’re up to. All their details and all that stuff, I’ve always been low-key.

HH: When did you fall in love with Hip Hop?

R: Pretty much from the first time I heard it, from day one. I think it was actually before I knew it was Hip Hop. It was just a vibe of people together it was probably funk music and probably before break dancing or just on the verge of break dancing becoming huge in New Zealand.

HH: Is Hip Hop not as big as it used to be?

R: I think there’s just so many other things now. When I started hearing music there was only radio, TV – that’s about it. Everything else you just saw by going out and doing and now there’s internet everywhere and everything’s so accessible. There’s a billion and one things to do, and take your interest. I just think Hip Hop is still there for those people who still love it, it’s still as relevant as what it was from the beginning but I think for new listeners there’s so many other choices. You know when I started playing in the clubs, like early nineties, you were just playing music. You played everything. Over the years it’s become Hip Hop and then a certain type of Hip Hop or a certain type of house; this is funky house, this is Dutch house this, you know, progressive house. Even within house music there’ll be guys that are into certain types of house music – not the other. I think, yeah, there’s just so many options for music listeners now. For me it was all about vibe, the overall vibe of that song or track…People take different things out of the music, like emcees obviously listen to lyrics.

One thought on “Interview: DJ Raw On Value For Time

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