DJ Mars: Never in the Back…From Outkast to Ciara and Ne-Yo

When did DJs start getting so much publicity, start producing full length albums, and begin booking shoe, clothing, and other financially viable endorsements?  Although some think this is a recent occurrence, DJs such as Grandmaster Flash, Marly Marl, Jazzy Jeff, and others were at the forefront of the Hip-Hop scene in the late 70s and […]

When did DJs start getting so much publicity, start producing full length albums, and begin booking shoe, clothing, and other financially viable endorsements?  Although some think this is a recent occurrence, DJs such as Grandmaster Flash, Marly Marl, Jazzy Jeff, and others were at the forefront of the Hip-Hop scene in the late 70s and early 80s, and had larger profiles than the rappers they DeeJayed for.  As Hip-Hop moved through various phases, the DJ became somewhat expendable and lost the momentum that was powered by the pioneers. DJ Mars decided that this downward spiral needed to change.  Raised in the North Eastern part of the country, he grew up watching DJs rock the radio on his favorite stations. Upon his arrival at Clark Atlanta University, he saw little attention being paid to the men and women behind the tables making the crowds move. Mars, founded The World Famous Superfriends in an effort to shine a much needed spotlight on the individuals that kept the parties in Atlanta rocking.  The SuperFriends became a much needed blueprint for many of the DJ crews that are currently taking the industry by storm.In addition to being the President and Founder of The World Famous Superfriends, Mars is an accomplished tour DJ, as well as the goto DJ for all of the major events in Atlanta.  Mars took time out with to discuss everything from the decline of The Justo Mixtape Awards, to why Mike Vick’s sentence was unfair. Take notes DJs… How did you get started DeeJaying?DJ Mars: I guess it was just a neighborhood thing, growing up in Springfield (Massachusetts.)  The age that I was then, you were either break dancing, rapping, writing graffiti, or deejaying.  So i just gravitated towards the deejaying.  So I guess that’s how I was introduced to the whole Hip-Hop thing.  The very first record I ever bought was “Planet Rock,” and that came out in like ’81 or ’82, so I guess that’s where my history starts in terms of  How did you end up in Atlanta?DJ Mars:  College. I attended and graduated from Clark Atlanta University. I got down here right out of High School in ’91. Right after I graduated, I just stayed. There was no reason to go back to Massachusetts so I was like, “I’m staying right here.”  Was Clark where you founded The Superfriends?DJ Mars: Oh yeah,  Tell me how that came about.DJ Mars: That whole movement started because the DJ market in Atlanta and the South period wasn’t like it was in New York. Meaning the DJs never had any rights down here.  You would be on the radio but the radio station wouldn’t promote the DJ’s name. They wouldn’t promote the DJ period. I didn’t grow up like that. Growing up in the NorthEast, the DJ was everything. You went to a party because of the DJ.  If you came to New York and turned on WBLS or KISS, you turned those stations on because of Marly Marl, or because of Red Alert.  Down here the DJ was like last on the list.  I figured as opposed to one person shouting, and screaming, and crying about what the DJ isn’t getting, I just formed a crew of a bunch of DJs that felt the same way.  Do you feel like a pioneer? Because now DJs are running things and The Superfriends were instrumental in putting DJs in the forefront more.DJ Mars:  Definitely. In Atlanta we weren’t the first DJ crew. It probably started before us, but we just made it popular. I would say like the J-Team, they were big before we got out there, and Big Oomp camp, they were out here first. What we did was make all the DJs highlight their personal attributes.  So, once the Superfriends formed, you got ten other crews that formed after us, but they followed the same model that we put  You started deejaying for Outkast really early in the day. How did you get that gig?DJ Mars: A friend of mine introduced me to ‘Dre, and Big at least a year before their first single came out.  As soon as I met them I was like ” Damn these n****s is hot. They are on some different s**t.”  At the time, everybody had their own opinion of what Atlanta Hip-Hop was like but they were just on straight flavor.  So I used to go to the spot that they refer to as “The Dungeon.” I used to be there with them all the time recording. My mistake was, I went home for the summer. That was early on in my college career. You know out of sight, out of mind. I was gone for damn near three months. By the time I came back, they had recorded “Player’s Ball” for Laface (Records), and their movement was moving.  So they had to find somebody to replace me. So I missed the boat, and that’s when I decided that I’m never leaving  Obviously your buzz was still high, because you went on to DJ for more very famous Atlanta artists.DJ Mars: From that opportunity, the next year I was able to work with Usher on his first album.  After I graduated, I went from Usher to Monica, from Monica to Kelis, to Ciara, and now I do Ciara and Ne-Yo.  Who are some DJs that you feel are on your level in the DeeJaying game?DJ Mars:  First off on the national side, I gotta say Kid Capri.  The kind of DJ that I am, I basically learned from the Kid Capri mixtape school. On the local scene, and I don’t say local to belittle them,  I’d say my man DJ Tron who’s been killin the clubs since I got here. My man DJ Searcy, who’s been killin the clubs and turned into an incredible business man. Those are the guys that at the end of the day I want to end up where they are.  Talk to me about The Justo Mixtape Awards and how after Justo passed on, it wasn’t respected as much. Do you feel any pressure to take the torch and run with it?DJ Mars: He was one of the few people in the beginning, not for profit, that really put his neck out there. That’s why mixtape DJs love what he did for us so heavy. Now it’s cool to talk about the mixtape DJ. It’s kinda corny now because that’s what everybody talks about.  When it wasn’t cool, he was doing it. He not only saw the importance, but celebrated it, early on. I think there was some mis-management issues with how that whole organization fell apart. It’s kinda sad because it seems like that tree will never grow to the extent that it’s supposed to.  It’s like the legacy died right after he did. On the sad side of things you feel bad because he was taking it to a level of where it’s supposed to be. Like for a DJ , that was the DJ’s version of The Grammy Awards.  After the last one went down and you could tell that wasn’t really how it was supposed to be, you can tell that was the end of it.  So how do we pick that back up? Or does it just die?DJ Mars:  I don’t know who’s involved internally. But those who are in charge of his estate, just need to get their s**t together. (laughs) I can’t say it no other way.  Maybe just for some DJs to come inside and get it right, along with his family.  Honestly I can’t say because I don’t know what’s going on internally. Maybe it’s for us to get with them and get it the way that he had it.  For the DJ side, we need it. He was the only dude that was reppin’ for us 200 percent. And in the early years that was coming out of his pockets.  With Justo I guess it helped DJs to be more on some celebrity status. Do you have endorsements or albums that put you in a different light? DJ Mars:  I’m brand ambassador for Sean Jean, I work with Akademiks, Adidas, Nike. Inside Atlanta a lot of our parties are related to Dr. Pepper. They come and sponsor a lot of our events. The corporate relationship is already there.  In terms of the albums, personally I was working on a deal with Arista a few years ago, but now The Superfriends are working on a project that hopefully will come out next year.  But  you’re right, we are now attaching ourselves with corporations, as we should. We are just as visible as the artists we represent.  How is your relationship with former Superfriends members and DJs like Drama, Cannon, and Greg Street?DJ Mars:  It’s good. At the end of the day, everybody is competitive. At certain points and times, it may have seemed like the relationship wasn’t where it needed to be.  I would just say that people are competitive.  At the end of the day, I’m a good guy, and they are all good guys. When I see them in the Clubs, I give them a pound real quick.  At times we were competing. Everybody wants to be number one. I consider myself number one, Drama is number one at what he does, Cannon is becoming number one at production. Greg was never actually a Superfriend so I can’t really speak on  What did you think of the whole DJ Drama Raid?DJ Mars: I feel like it was a whole waste of time. At the end of the day the record labels were paying them to make those tapes. If the RIAA says that they are here to protect the interest of the record labels, I don’t see what the argument is. Drama’s claim to fame is that he does tapes that record labels request him to do.  So if that’s what it is, then I don’t see what the hassle is. It wasn’t like he was going off on his own and doing it. They come at him to put the tape together. Them dudes aren’t violent dudes. Them dudes are out here trying to get their hustle on like everybody  Do you see a larger issue where people in Hip-Hop or Urban society  start getting money?DJ Mars:  Do I think it’s a conspiracy theory? No. In terms of when we get to a certain level, do they come at us? Yeah, they definitely come at us. I think we make mistakes that give them the legal right to come at us. It’s certain things that we have to be cognizant about doing to keep them from coming at us.  If we were cognizant about the fact that yeah we are being watched, and we don’t do the dumb s**t, there wouldn’t be a conspiracy Slightly off the DeeJaying topic, but what do you think of what happened to Mike Vick?DJ Mars: I think he’s paid his debt to society already. I was watching the news cast and I saw when his sentence came down.  What he did was wrong. Do I agree with his involvement with them dogs? No, I do not, I absolutely do not. But, do I think that this man should go sit down for two and a half or three years because of it? Nah. Do I think all of his money and his lively hood should be taken away? Nah.  I think what happened to him was extremely excessive. It was excessive and it was unfair. Our country’s funny because you’ll get sent to the cross for certain things, but then you do something else that’s way more out of line and nothing will happen to you.  Well ya’ll got a ways to go before the Falcons get back up in contention.DJ Mars: I’m from Massachusetts homeboy, my team is 16 and zero right now. (laughs)