He is only 19 years old, but DJ Piklz already has his own label, 98 Proof Records, a roster full of emcees, and his own LP, Off The Meatrack Vol. 1. Quite an accomplishment at such an early age. With an interesting story and an impressive resume, MVRemix jumped at the chance to speak with DJ Piklz about his career, as well as his new album, which features guest appearances from Q-Unique, Substantial, Oktober, and Des Devious.
MVRemix: You have lived in Neptune, New Jersey, all your life. I'm not familiar with that part of Jersey, so what is it like over there? What was it like growing up there as a kid?
Piklz: Neptune is an interesting spot, right now in particular there’s a slew of talent coming out of there for hip hop and rock. The town is pretty much related with its surrounding towns, Asbury Park, Belmar and so forth, due to the popular shoreline and historic background of the area. I can’t say I ever had a rough childhood in Neptune, but it does have its edge. You got to have a strong support system and be aware of your surroundings but its definitely not Brick City. Due to its remote location to NYC and the coast, its ideal for growing up and making things happen, seeing some real shit along the way. It definitely has an urban community that has influenced me, unlike if I had grown up in Rumson or Colts Neck, with high incomes, high taxes and pop punk music blaring in my ear.
MVRemix: What is your first memory of Hip Hop?
Piklz: Yo! MTV Raps, that show really introduced me to what hip-hop was. I remember being young as hell, waking up in the middle of the night to turn that on. I don’t think I got a real understanding of the culture until I was older though.
MVRemix: What was the one album you constantly listened to growing up?
Piklz: Anything by the Temptations, Supremes, and when at my grandparents, it was always, Fats Waller, Sinatra, Jimmy Roselli, all the old time greats. I didn’t start really hitting hip hop in my stereo until I was about 9. First CD I copped as Coolio – Gangstas Paradise, then onto The Chronic, all west coast up until I was about 14 which is why I’m big into the crazy synth shit.
MVRemix: How did you first get into DJing, then producing?
Piklz: DJing was something that came over time and with a lot of saving up the funds. When I first got into mixing music and all that was back when I was 7-8 years old. I was taking apart tape recorders, reattaching cables, connecting two recorders together, some real low budget Beatles type shit. I only did rock mixtapes. Aerosmith, Led Zep, Genesis, so from there it was easy to move into doing the mobile DJ thing when I hit my teenage years. I first did stuff by mixing self-composed piano joints with commercial stuff, making a mess of music but it was a learning process. From there as I started doing a few different parties and such, I bought a 4 track, mic, and did some bullshit things just to try and get something going. I feel like people who are just learning production now, strictly on digital equipment, are cheating themselves of a lot. You don’t get that hands on, cut up fingers, crazy wire connecting, learning time. All the new things that have been coming out, its idiot proof. Any jackass can go buy Pro Tools, Fruity Loops and make some cheesy music that’s sound quality is perfect just because the equipment is flawless. It should take more work than that to produce and engineer tracks.
MVRemix: Why the name DJ Piklz?
Piklz: Piklz was just a family nick name, I went through a few other DJ names, Twizst, Epic, and some other dumb shit because I just decided to stick with what momma dukes gave me.
MVRemix: Do you think learning how to play the piano at such a young age helped you when you first started to get into producing?
Piklz: It absolutely did. I wouldn’t be here today doing production if it weren’t for me starting on the keys. I use that to my benefit on a daily basis when I’m working on tracks. That’s where all the music theory comes in of harmonizing things, playing live instruments on tracks, and taking it to the next level sonically. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of producers who do some real ill shit without any musical knowledge, which is cool, but its usually only sampling. I’m not mad at that. But, I got a lot more respect for the guy who can go lay down something original off the top of the dome, and make that into an ill beat. As far as the term ‘producing’ that we’re referring to, its not just making a beat, which is what hip-hop, has seemed to limit it to. Production is a process that entails mixing, recording, and have input in the track. This whole redefinition of a producer is a load of shit and isn’t fair to those cats who go out there and really do the true essence of production but get the same amount of credit slapped on their name as the guy who does half the work.
MVRemix: How did you start to make a name for yourself locally as a DJ/producer?
Piklz: Word of mouth. The most powerful tool anyone can use in this world. I still haven’t established my name in my own area to the point that I’m happy with but in due time they’ll see the light.
MVRemix: In your bio, it states that your grandmother played a big role in your life. Did her death motivate you to succeed and strive for your goals?
Piklz: If it weren’t for negativity in my life then there would have been positive results. I'd give anything to have her back in my life but that particular event, really gave me the drive to be and do what I want. There’s no reason for people to be sitting on their asses waiting for something to happen. Those same people are the same people who are the first in line to hate on anyone making moves, very hypocritical.
MVRemix: When did you know you wanted to do this as a career?
Piklz: Since about 9 years old I had it decided but I didn’t really let the cat out of the bag until about 12. It was funny back in middle school listening to kids be the toolbox of the teachers while I’m sitting around telling teachers that I got my career path set already and they can pretty much blow me. They didn’t know what to make of it.
MVRemix: For those who have never heard your beats, how would you describe your sound or style?
Piklz: If you took Don Costas big band arrangement style, mixed that with Dr. Dre’s synths, added Jimmy Page’s guitar solo’s, and a little of Premo , you got something close to what I do. I love the dark shit, real haunting type melodies, laced with harpsichords, violins and ridiculously hot minor progressions. Put me in the lab with a few chemical substances and I’ll come out with some crazy shit. Take a listen.
MVRemix: What equipment do you mainly use? Do you like to sample?
Piklz: I love sampling but originality in sampling is key. Doing things with samples no one has done before and adding my instrumentation to them is the most vital part of any of my tracks. Need that creative edge or else it’s just your average sampled beat. Making the tracks I happen to rely mostly on Reason, Triton, Sonar/Pro Tools/Cool Edit and some pieces that I’ll never disclose.
MVRemix: How did your record label, 98 Proof Recordings form?
Piklz: In 2000 when I dropped ‘Under Attack’ the 9-11 dedication track, I had already come up with the label name but that’s when I really started applying it to everything I did. The 98 is my life, it’s a legacy for me to carry on when I get old and decrepit.
MVRemix: You have a variety of artists on your label. How did you hook up with all of them?
Piklz: A lot of connections through friends of friends and so fourth. I first met 1Self, so he's been with me from the start and its ironic because he will be the last person on the label to drop his own solo effort but when it does drop believe that it will be something that people weren’t ready for. From there I met DeNardo of Little Italy and he brought down GLO, & Nablidon. GLO then introduced me to Hi-Caliber, who was in the midst of putting out his solo debut and caught a few bangers from me for that then he officially joined the squad this year. GLO also introduced me to Rik Dex, who we put out a solo album from and that, I gotta say, was the first time I really had put some substance into my tracks. My “newer” contact, Lady Jayde , hit me up last year after being a fan and decided to start doing press stuff for us. She’s now become one of the biggest hip-hop show promoters in New Jersey. She has also recently introduced me to Final Outlaw, a new artist on the label who is a part of the G.A.M.E. organization (NYC) and is currently working on a 3-volume promo mixtape entitled “Bringin It Back” which will feature some heavy hitters in the underground.
MVRemix: Amazingly, you are only 19 years old. What do you attribute to have so much success at a young age?
Piklz: Drive, Motivation and wanting to be something in life. A lot of people I was forced to be surrounded by throughout my life in school and so fourth, had things handed to them. I always had to put an effort into what I did to get anywhere. That came through a lot of strong family support, good parenting and the people I chose to surround myself with.
MVRemix: How did you learn the business aspect of this game?
Piklz: Its been interesting. I’ve never been one to read the manual before fucking with the product. Same goes for the music business. I screwed up, lost thousands of dollars to learn lessons the hard way. There are certain things that you can read in a book but in entertainment, for the most part, you have to live and learn. I still have things that need to be learned before moving onto new ventures.
MVRemix: Do you have a big team of individuals that help you run 98 Proof? Because it seems hard to imagine one person at the age of 19 is running everything from the promotion, to the production, and artist development.
Piklz: Big team. I wouldn’t exactly call it that. All of the artists put in their fair share of work but on the back end of things, I handle the heavy stuff, Lady Jayde does a lot of the mailings and promo while MW does the web design, which I assist in as well. Up until last year I did just about all administration jobs, which was insane, and it got to a point where I was breaking down mentally. Jayde really blessed me at an ideal time in my life and I’ll never overlook the work she has put in so far. The positive aspect of running everything is that it gets done exactly how you envision it and when you fuck up, the weight is all on you to fix. This creates an extremely powerful educational process. MW recently launched my own site separate from www.98proof.com, which is www.djpiklz.com
MVRemix: I also see you have your 98 Proof Services, tell us about that?
Piklz: We do everything in house. Web design, video editing, graphic design, production, mastering, DJ’ing. The only thing we outsource for is CD duplication/replication and obtaining musicians for certain events. The only way things get done right is to do them yourself so this is how I’ve been able to create an all out entertainment powerhouse. Feel free to contact info@98Proof.com to discuss business, getting tracks and so fourth.
MVRemix: Tell us about your debut album Off The Meatrack Vol. 1?
Piklz: This is my debut production LP that I have spent over 3 years working out and over a year actually recording. It has been a hard road getting it together. A lot of cats that promised me tracks for it flopped out last minute but the ones that did come through really laced the hell out of the songs. I took the production to another level on this release. I’m real tired of the underground right now. Every label putting out their stereotypical sound, there’s no innovation involved in the creation process. I don’t work like that. I brought in musicians that really killed the hell out of tracks. Mike Amaddio of Divine Minds (Cleveland, OH) laced the saxophone parts throughout the album which really is some stand out stuff, and you don’t often hear sax on underground hip hop as most heads reading this probably know. Will Forbes on bass, Jeremy Harris on guitar, who both really came tight for being people who don’t deal in hip hop to often. It brought a real funk/rock edge to some of the tracks, which was a real different vibe to produce with. Georgel Arevalo laced the hook on ‘The Stranger’, which features Nablidon. This is the main single off the album, and has been hitting the college radio circuit pretty hard lately. Maritza Lord and Iris Belson laced all the background vocals for the album. We worked together getting the harmonies together to do some next level type shit. I really wanted to integrate as much original material as possible.
MVRemix: You have your own roster all over the album, but you also have some underground heavyweights such as Oktober, Des Devious, Q-Unique and Substantial. So how did you hook up them?
Piklz: Oktober I had met through Lady Jayde. She was working on booking some shows for him at the time that I was doing the last few joints on the album so he was kind enough to drop a gem of a verse on the album in exchange for some tracks. Q-Unique I reached out to through one of his associates and we’ve built a good relationship since, working on tracks that will be all over my upcoming releases as well as his. Faezone I met at a Jedi Mind Tricks show, he was doing merchandise for them at the time. I knew he had been on the ‘Jedi Mind Presents: Outerspace’ album so I reached out at the show with some beats. He hit me back and brought Des Devious down to my studio with him, they laced some crazy shit about a week before my deadline and I went ahead and laced two joints for his debut album in return. Substantial was real good about everything, coming through at short notice as well. He had a lot of crazy shit going on with work and his album but he came through in crunch time to bang out ‘Tomfoolery’ for the album, that’s the real underground cipher type joint on the album. We’re also working on some upcoming projects together.
MVRemix: What is your main goal for this album? What do you want to accomplish?
Piklz: This album is just the start of a long line of things. Creatively I know there are a few cats in the underground right now trying to branch out from stereotypical sounds that seem to be plaguing it and I’ve been on that same path for a minute now. I really want people to get on some next level type shit, it’s very important for the culture as a whole. On the business tip my main concentration is to get the Soundscan numbers moving to a point where I can present things to a solid distributor for Volume 2. I wasn’t happy with the offers for this album and I couldn’t wait any longer for people to get back to me so I was forced to go ahead with it on my own. I’m still open to discussing things with a few places though so we’ll see what happens over the next few months with getting a good deal. Ideally I want to make enough profit do a ridiculously good promotional campaign for Volume 2 and the other 98 Proof releases that are coming up on the roster.
MVRemix: Unlike most producers, you really don't have one distinct production sound. You have a variety of beats on your album. Is that a conscious effort so fans/critics can't box you in or categorize you style?
Piklz: Its something I can’t help honestly. I get sick of doing the same shit. I don’t know how Eminem makes the same sounding beats over and over without getting tired of that progression he uses constantly. I don’t know how Premo doesn’t get tired of his drum tracks. Lil Johns clap. I could go on for days about this. I personally need to do one beat that’s just a head banger, then another that is some crazy dreamy shit. It gives variety and substance to the music as well as keeping me on my toes to try new shit. I suppose I’ll leave repetition to the major labels.
MVRemix: What else do you have going on in the future?
Piklz: We got GLO’s debut EP entitled “LI7” dropping in August. Final Outlaw’s promo mixtapes “Bringin It Back Vol. 1-3” will be dropping, one per season. Hi-Calibers second album, “Mood Music” will drop early 2006. I can’t announce some of the other dates yet but once the distribution situation is in shape then I will have a full schedule.
MVRemix: Any last words, shout outs, or plugs?
Piklz: Shout out to MVRemix.com and Low-Key for this interview. The squad, 98 Proof. Q-Unique, Substantial, AOTP, Boom Skwad. Divine Minds, All the supporting radio shows, mags and cats that know what’s up to the point where they support the cause. I love the hateration people, keep it coming!