DJ Luvva J | Hip Hop Royalty
I first met Luvva J at the 2011 Hip Hop For The Homeless event in downtown Olympia. The event was jammed packed and had an eclectic group of Hip Hop artists from all over the Pacific NW. Luvva J was the DJ, and even then his message was very clear – good music + good messages + good people = Hip Hop. Fast forward to the end of 2011 when I had an opportunity to meet with DJ Luvva J outside the 1230 Room where he was preparing to spin. We shared an interesting conversation on the differences between Rap and Hip Hop, what Hip Hop in the NW means, the plight of “Sucka MCs”and much more. And it goes it a little something like this:
LIO: “When we talk about music in the NW we can talk bluegrass, punk, rock, jazz – but Hip Hop in the NW? Where does that come from?”
DJ Luvva J: “Well, Hip Hop in the NW is young. And it probably started, well you know you want to give props first to people like James Brown, rock legends, and people from Jamaica all of these things melded together to inspire Hip Hop. There are some figures you should know about. The first person to be signed to a major recording deal out here was DJ Supreme from Seattle, and keep in mind the b-boys (break-dancers) and graffiti artists from out here as well. It starts in pockets like in Tacoma with groups like High Performance and Criminal Nation in the 80’s – it [hip hop] really started here in the 80’s as a movement. I remember so many graffiti artists, you can never overlook Sir Mix-a Lot – lots of people like to do that and its disrespectful because he’s respected internationally. Your favorite rappers – name somebody and they respect him. In the 80’s we had Nancy-G in Olympia playing Hip Hop. And she was a host that embraced the culture with personality, it wasn’t just her pushing play. She played new hip hop back then. So there really isn’t an epicenter in Washington for Hip Hop – it’s in scattered pockets and it’s been here for some time. You have to do your research and understand that there are countless people that have made their stamp on Hip Hop in Washington State, many of them may not be legends in name but they are legends in service. But wherever I step my feet it’s Hip Hop – it goes where I go.”
LIO: “Tell us a little about your Hip Hop show on KAOS Radio.”
DJ Luvva J: “Nancy-G inspired me to be on the radio before I was in my teen years. My show now is called “Live From I-5”, it had different names at different stations in different periods. I had the “Break Down”, the “Traffic Jam”, “Ginsu Styles” – the original – then it was “Live from Merman Drive” in Pullman where I went to college. It started in 1989 when I was 12 – I wasn’t alone, I was with Nancy-G while she was playing all your favorite music from KRS-One to NWA to name somebody. Olympia has one of the world’s greatest radio stations in KAOS 89.3 because it’s a community station it’s operated through The Evergreen State College, but the purpose of it is to allow anyone like you, me, or any other interested person to train for free and be eligible to be on the air.”
LIO: “You’ve been very vocal in giving props to NW Hip Hop artists and a lot of classic internationally know Hip Hop artists. Talk about your contributions to Hip Hop in the NW and why Luvva J is who he is.”
DJ Luvva J: “Okay well first of all, I guess I’m who I am all by the grace of God or nature or whatever you want to call it. But my sister and I grew up with pop lockin’ and b-boying in the house. I learned graffiti from the walls in L.A. Rapping is something that we grew up with and loved, and it was something we were encouraged to never be away from. And unlike a lot of our peers we were taught and trained to be better than anybody in class (academically speaking). That expectation alone created in us a self image that we were great children. Not better than anyone else, but never beneath. Going into the world with that kind of attitude gave us a lot of confidence. When we were b-boying and breaking, my sister and I, in the early 80’s, we never looked at Hip Hop like it was a fad. We felt like if you weren’t down with Hip Hop we thought something was wrong with you. I remember breaking in a school assembly at the age of 9 to the Ghostbusters theme, I posted some of those pictures on my Facebook profile if you want to see them – they’re up there now! So it [Hip Hop] was something we were – we are, it is not something we do – its engrained in us. B-boying and Hip Hop is in me just like the Transformers is in me.”
LIO: “Some people don’t understand the difference between Rap and Hip Hop – help us out.”
DJ Luvva J: “Hip Hop is the mother of what we do, who we are in terms of the element. Rappers are a part of Hip Hop (the element), the twins (Rapping and MC’ing) are different but they feel the same. They are under Hip Hop. The DJ is an aspect of Hip Hop, the B-boy is an aspect of Hip Hop, the graffiti artist is an aspect of Hip Hip and on and on. In the beginning the DJ was the headliner and the MC was there to hype up the DJ but stayed in the background. Now that’s changed and you don’t even need a DJ to throw a show. For me, and I heard KRS-One validate this without me asking him to do so, Doug E. Fresh is one of the best MC’s out there. Most people look at him as a hype man – he’s so much more. [We banter about how under-rated Doug E. Fresh is an MC, lyricist, producer, and beatboxer ….. you had to be there.] Doug E. Fresh does what a “master” is gifted to do. When Doug E. Fresh says, “get your hands up” everybody does – there are others who get up with the mic in hand and say the same thing and only 17 out of 100 people do. Everyone can’t have the title MC in front of their name. Now rapping, a lot of people can rhyme, they can put words together, they can even recite what you wrote – but that doesn’t make them an MC. A rapper can get away without writing their own rhymes, but that’s kind of watering down what we do. Hip Hop is unique in itself because of the constant need to create and be original. Those who rhyme other people’s lyrics are are in violation – if you are rapping lyrics that you didn’t write you can’t be in the same caliber as Kool G Rap or Ice Cube – it’s a higher level of mastery. We have to keep that edge in Hip Hop where those things are not allowed, those things destroy our culture. We’re about advancement – moving into the bigger greater universe and not fitting into a box that the world has created for us to fit in. When we start fitting in the box we start destroying Hip Hop.
LIO: “What was your experience like in Pullman?”
DJ Luvva J: “I left Olympia out of high school and had just won the MC battle for the city in 1995. Before I arrived in Pullman as a freshman I called the radio and told them that I needed to get on. I couldn’t even afford to DJ or really rock parties because I couldn’t afford the equipment. So I was more of a personality on the station, I played sports and what not so people knew me from a few different things. But when I got to Pullman I stopped rapping because there were no rappers there, which is the exact opposite I should have done after realizing this is who I am not what I do. I studied communication at the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication – much love and respect to him as he is one of my heroes – I learned film, television directing and producing, writing -journalism and whatnot.”
LIO: “You released a project entitled “25360” giving props to both Olympia and Tacoma as one. What’s your take on the tale of two cities?”
DJ Luvva J: “I represent the 253, aspects of it. I think there are a lot of problems up there. And I’d be willing to have a discussion with anybody who wants to be real with it. I lived in Hilltop, Lakewood, Tillicum, [We’re interrupted by Luvva J fans who’ve come to the 1230 Room on a chilly Olympia night to hear Luvva spin…..he continues] so I can’t separate myself from Tacoma – but I’m definitely an Olympian. I love Olympia. I love Olympia like I love the Bay and L.A. the same way – for all the things that this city offers. I love Tacoma too, but I can see what’s going on up there. Tacoma has been plagued by everything from economic troubles, gangs – gangs came for a short time but the impact is lasting. Gangs have got people thinking backwards up there because it ain’t that bad of a place really. But people got to prove stuff, you know they got to prove its “253 A-TAC TOWN”. They got a chip on their shoulders because they feel no one is giving them their respect – Olympia doesn’t have that. Olympia is a different place, it’s calm, liberal – it’s the Capital. I have sympathy for these young people. They lack belonging and I can understand that. Even in Olympia – lots of young people don’t have someone they can turn to.
LIO: “Talk about Hip Hop For The Homeless.”
DJ Luvva J: Hip Hop For the Homeless is an annual event that was started by some people in Canada when I was working in Vancouver, B.C. So when I returned home I brought it here so we could be advocates for people in need and to make sure Hip Hop is attached to that. Hip Hop comes from the so-called bottoms of society, so what better vehicle to advocate for the homeless. I work with incarcerated youth and young adults, helping them to get back on track. I’m a professor, I teach Communications and Humanities at SPSCC and I teach seminars and workshops at Evergreen. I also work with the Edutainment Academy, where we work for youth from difficult communities and help them find their voice and never lose it. So through music, art and motivation we show them that they can do a lot. And at the end of the academy we make an album off the student’s work.
I suspect that we will have much more to bring you from DJ Luvva J, as this year is only getting started for him. Catch DJ Luvva J at The Sampan Restaurant & Grill, on the radio at 89.3 KAOS weekdays from 3-5 p.m., and spinning the 1’s and 2’s at the 1230 Room every Thursday night.