Inspired early on by rap's golden era, DJ Pickel was determined to make a name for himself behind the decks. As a budding DJ he would attend events with a family member, who was also a DJ, and diligently take notes on how to properly hold down a set. Eventually he got his own tables and his career's been evolving steadily ever since.
Pickel is currently a member of the Come-Ups crew (along with DJs Intel and Maker) and the Analog Addicts, and has been a staple in numerous hotspots around town like Lava Lounge, Rodan, Subterranean and Swig. Pickel's skills have earned him sets alongside some of the finest DJs in the world including Kid Cut Up, Nu Mark and Pase Rock. Centerstage recently sat down with DJ Pickle to talk about Chicago's nightlife and records.
When and how did you first get interested in DJing?
In 1991-'92. I was really into watching DJs on rap videos and I wanted to learn how to do that. A friend of the family who was a DJ offered to take me along to gigs and show me the ropes. I got some practice time in, and I learned a lot about the craft. I eventually bought my first set of tables in 8th grade. I actually got them from DJ Devastation from 2 Young Brothers. They were kind of famous in our neighborhood for the song "Check Out the Hook" (DJ International Records). My mom was Joey's [Devastation] teacher in 7th and 8th grade. So he looked out when I was looking for tables.
What was your first record?
Its hard to say, but I think it was either Urban Dance Squad, "Deeper Shade of Soul," or 2 Live Crew, "Banned in the USA."
Do you remember the first major event you spun at?
Yes, I opened for Tone Loc at the Copper Dragon in Carbondale, Illinois. This was in '97 with my good homie DJ Crucial. I called Crucial at his dorm and we walked over to the venue and offered our services. At this point, Crucial was well-experienced as a show DJ. Me, not so much. I actually put all my records in order in the crate as they would be mixed. Those were the only records I brought with me. So I was limited, but Crucial got on and killed it. Dude was all dropping records hella fast and keeping the crowd totally in his control. He has been a big influence on me since.
Who are some of your favorite artists now?
I'm really feeling what Stones Throw does, Black Spade is on it too, and my dude Pugs [Atomz]. But I'm really more of a DJ fan, I'm really into remixes...The Comeups, Trew, No Requests, Kool Hersh, Mike 2600, The Oakland Faders, Scott Matelic, The Fingerbangerz, Crucial, Mahf, Ztrip, Troublemaker, Tate La Rock, Steinski, B Cause and Doc Delay.
Being in the heart of Chicago nightlife, what's the craziest experience you've ever been a part of?
I don't really get too hype on shit, I'd have to say that the whole thing itself is crazy. Nothing shocks me anymore.
As a DJ however, I'd have to say that the idea of someone requesting music at the spot shocks me. The very idea that someone is so self-centered that they will get all up in your shit to tell a stranger how to do a job they are incapable of doing themselves is a sad statement on humanity. It doesn't matter if the request is a good one or not, it's the principle. No requests asshole. We are not jukeboxes and we are not your iPod.
What are your favorite venues to spin at?
Lava's always great. Nice spot with banging sounds and a true dedication to the DJ. Swig has a great vibe and surprisingly great sound for its size. You would be surprised how many spots can't get that shit right. The Comeups and DJ Trew do Cold Sweat at Subterranean on the first three Fridays. It's more golden-era hip-hop based, that's pretty much the basis of my DJing so I'm feeling it. Rodan is a good time too, we get into some good sets there. It's not really a chotch-y spot at all, gotta love that. Lastly, Crocodile. It's got that basement house-party vibe, and people get down there.
I saw you spin an amazing J Dilla tribute set. How has Dilla's legacy changed hip-hop and who do you see taking over where Dilla had left off?
I have to be careful with the first part of that question. Jay Dee touched so many people and had a huge impact on hip-hop, I don't want to offend his legacy or his fans. That being said, I think he knew records like no other beatsmith, and his beats show it. If you combine those serious digs with Dilla's sample approach and originality, then you add his experience, you get a legend. Thus a legacy.
I really don't see anyone taking over where Dilla left off. His influence will live forever. Either cats will get it, or they won't.
So I was wondering if you could give me a record rundown of your top 5 albums.
1. Beastie Boys, Check Your Head, 1992. Capitol.
2. Eric B & Rakim, Paid In Full, 1987. 4th and Broadway.
3. Nas, Illmatic, 1994. Columbia.
4. De La Soul, Stakes Is High, 1996. Tommy Boy.
5. Pharcyde, Labcabincalifornia, 1995, Delicious Vinyl.