DJ Tay James has a boss who’s still a teenager. Armed with turntables and a business management degree from Hampton University, the Baltimore native serves the beat during performances for pop marvel Justin Bieber. The 24-year-old record spinner landed the coveted gig just three months after throwing his cap in the air at his graduation ceremony. “I called my dad and said, ‘I’m about to go on tour,'” Tay recalls. “He said something like, ‘It’s about damn time.'”
Though his parents weren’t keen on their son digging through crates and picking through Serato selections at first, Tay says his mom is now his No. 1 fan, especially after watching him on the “Today” show. She should be, considering he created a lucrative business as a professional DJ at the tender age of 16. With his beat-matching abilities and party-rocking skills landing him in clubs throughout the world, Tay, who cites DJ Alizay as a mentor and DJ Jazzy Jeff as an inspiration, surprises his listeners.
“I’m the type of DJ who will play Katy Perry and mix it with Soulja Boy,” he admits. “I’m unorthodox.” Read on as he explains the method to some of his madness.
1. How long have you been a DJ?
I started DJing when I was 12. I got my turntables and what not. I was watching MTV Jams and I think like “The Grind” was on and DJ Skribble was up there mixing. I was like amazed by him when I was 12. I just remember telling my dad, “I wanna do what he’s doing.”
2. What are you currently working on?
Right now I’m on 95.5 WPGC in D.C. It’s the No. 1 rhythmic station in the area. I have a mixshow every Friday from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. called “We Know the DJ Radio.” I also DJ in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area. I went to Hampton University, so before I was with Bieber I was doing all the college network parties. That’s how I was able to get my name out there. Now what I’m doing, I run a website called WeKnowtheDJ.com and it’s a multimedia blog—it integrates Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube all at once. It offers music downloads to the newest Justin Bieber video. My demographic is from 4 [years old] to 40. I’m just trying to build that website up.
3. How did you get your first big break?
I started with Justin. I was literally getting my haircut and minding my business, not expecting a call from Scooter Braun [Bieber’s manager]. He hit me and asked if I wanted to DJ for a new artist off Def Jam. It was a Thursday, they needed a DJ by Saturday. I told them to send me. I had just graduated college, it was July 2009. I did well on the first show and the next thing you know I’m on tour.
4. Moment when you knew you had made it?
The crazy thing about that is I thought I needed to go this route. I knew something big was gonna happen for me, I just didn’t know when. Like before Justin, I did Bow Wow’s birthday party on MTV. You know it was supposed to be a Sweet 16, but he just turned 21. That was one of the big things I was doing. I did Chris Brown’s birthday party when Rihanna came and Kanye West showed up. Those were the type of events I was doing before [I worked for] Justin. In my head I thought I was doing big things.
5. Favorite artists right now?
I’m really listening to Drake right now. That’s the only artist I can say I can relate to at my age. He’s coming out with hits. He’s been on everyone’s radio since last summer and it wasn’t even his songs. Then there’s my little man Jawan Harris. He’s doing his thing too. He’s a young R&B artist that’s about to blow up.
6. Artists to look out for in 2012?
This artist named Blake Kelly. I’ve been working with him recently. He’s young and he’s from Virginia. He’s a dope rapper and he’ll definitely be making some major moves in 2012. He’s like a Chip Tha Ripper and Kanye mixed. He has a dope flow, but he can rhyme.
7. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
As of right now, seeing the world before the age of 25. I wanted to do that. I didn’t expect to be going to Europe or Australia when I was graduating from college. And making my parents smile. My mom didn’t expect me to be a DJ for the rest of my life. So for me to actually make a career out of something she considered a hobby, I feel like it’s my biggest accomplishment. And for me to have a college degree.
8. Future goals?
For the future, I want to go back and get my master’s [degree]. I’m also working on a non-profit that hopefully I’ll start in 2012. I would give more information about it, but I don’t like to talk about things that are not absolutely settled. Definitely building the name of WeKnowtheDJ.com, so that every person knows the brand. I’ll be dropping mixtapes with artists and what not and just trying to keep my name out there.
9. What record always gets the party started?
Someone put it to me like this: “What song would you play if you had to come on behind a DJ and you had to play a song to get the whole party started?” I always say Juvenile, “Back That Thang Up”—anywhere, any demographic. Or you could do “In Da Club” by 50 Cent, “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé. There’s a bunch of different records.
10. What’s your advice to aspiring DJs?
Honestly, just follow your dreams and don’t let anyone say you can’t be what you wanna be. Keep working at it. If I would’ve listened to everyone who said I couldn’t be a professional DJ, I’d still be living in my parents’ house right now.