DJ Area4 on Being a Jedi and How Hip-Hop Culture Helped Saved His Life

DJ Area4 kicks it way old school
DJ Area4 kicks it way old school

Of the many pearls of wisdom that Yoda dropped on Luke Skywalker's ass in The Empire Strikes Back ("Size matters not," "Wars not make one great") it was the green-skinned Jedi guru's Zen-like mantra of "Do or do not...there is no try" that probably resonates the most with Joe Maldonado.

That's because the local turntablist and selector, who performs as Area4, was at a major crossroads in 2005 when he hit an emotional rock bottom. He was unsure whether or not give up on the world or to instead suck it up, endure through the drama, and push forward with his life and DJ career. Essentially, whether to do...or do not.

Thankfully, Maldonado forged ahead, thanks in no small part to the inspiration he got from hip-hop, and hasn't looked back. He's become a member of the nationwide Bum Squad DJ collective, recently toured Europe, and is one of the fiercest scratchers in the Valley.

And -- as the lifelong Star Wars fan told us in tongue-in-cheek fashion during our recent interview -- he's also a Jedi. Whether or not you believe this (likely) facetious claim, the Force seems to be strong with the 37-year-old when he's working the turntables. Judge for yourself by checkout out this week's DJ Dossier with Maldonado or witness him in action at the Bum Squad's toy drive on December 15. Just don't try to snag a blood sample for his midichlorian count while he's on the decks.

See also: Bum Squad DJs Holiday Toy Drive at All-Starz (Slideshow)

Name: Joe Maldonado

AKA: DJ Area4

Preferred genres: Hip-hop and EDM.

Current gigs: I spin every Friday with T3PO at Macayo's Depot Cantina in Tempe. I just got back from Europe so now its time to focus on the BumSquad ToyDrive and get some more gigs.

Where else have you performed? School of Rock, Venue Scottsdale, Celebrity Theater, Martini Ranch, Club Red, and the Clubhouse.

How did you get into the DJ game? I started in the eighth grade. Doing house parties and making little mixes, if you could call them that. In 1998, I learned the right way to DJ by DJ Top Speed in Indianapolis. In 2000, I decided to [make it a] career. Started at Ball State University at a bar called The Chug. Cut my teeth as a club DJ then moved to Arizona in 2004 and started to expand on [my] skills.

So didn't get your DJ training at the Jedi Temple in Coruscant, like it says on your Facebook? That was my life training.

Um...okay. You're really a Jedi then? Yup.

Do you ever use the force when DJing? Of course...when the music and the people are moving in harmony the force takes over and controls their feet.  

DJ Area4 performs in Barcelona
DJ Area4 performs in Barcelona

What was it like gigging in Europe? It was great. My first time going over to DJ. Medium to large clubs. So crazy. One night [I] had to use CD-Js for the first time. Really was working that night. All the other nights were on turntables. The people were so friendly and the DJs were real good. Barcelona was more Top 40, hip-hop, and EDM. UK was like '50s malt shop music to Top 40 to hip-hop and EDM. The girls were crazy. Good times. I'm looking to go back in March.

What's the craziest shit you've seen at a gig? I was DJing the YG concert and when the crowd and the artist got in a water bottle throwing fight. On a good note, I DJ'd a private party and was playing some Michael Jackson song and this five year old was dancing his ass off. I was like good music moves no matter what.

Do you have a mantra when it comes do DJing? Show and prove. Show your skill and prove it to the haters.

What's the inspiration behind your DJ name? The "4" has two representations. [It] reps the four elements of hip-hop and it was my football number. Since I'm a turntable athlete, that's my number. The area means if you like what I'm doing as a DJ, you are in Area4. Something like that.

What are some of the perks of being a Bum Squad DJ? The brotherhood with the Bum Squad, plus being able to network and meet some of the best music industry DJs in the world.

Do you have an projects in the works with the rest of the Bum Squad DJs? We have been working on bringing in new members for the most. We just released the Bum Squad Radio November Mix with DJ T3P0 and DJ Phlava.

So what's the Bum Squad's Toy Drive all about? We are working with UMOM [New Day Centers] and donating all the toys for the shelter. It will be open turntables. So the DJ that can make it we just hop on and rip for a few. DJ Tyger, DJ Balo, DJ illmatic, and me. That's who have confirmed for now.  

So if you could get any sort of DJ toys that you wanted for Christmas, what would it be? Rane 62 mixer, Z-Trip model.

Did you ever want turntables for Christmas as a kid? No...Star Wars toys and Voltron stuff. Never knew anything about DJing until I saw Beat Street, but then I was only into b-boying and tagging.

What's your favorite hip-hop track from that era? "Radio," LL Cool J. That boom clak clak of the drums. Plus, that was the hottest song at that time for me. I was living in Germany then, so it was hard to get new music.

Have you ever performed as a b-boy? Yes. I was a b-boy since I was six. Stopped in 1994 so I could DJ. Did not want to injure my hands.

How important is hip-hop to you? Hip-hop has always been with me and never let me down. When I was at my lowest point in 2005, it picked me up and gave me purpose and focus. So, to me, it saved my life. Meaning when I was at my lowest point I felt like there was no point to keep living. But then I was still a padawan and was in training.

How did hip-hop save your life? I just moved out here with my girlfriend of seven years. And three months out here I found myself with nothing. No friends, no family, no job, no love, only DJing. So the two years of grinding, riding the bus and trying to make things happen was hella stressful and I almost gave up. But look at me now. I'm better for it. Women. Geez.

Were there particular hip-hop songs that helped you back then? Nas, "I Can." I would loop the hook and it would get me pumped up. And Jay-Z's The Blueprint album.

Is hip-hop ultimately music of redemption? Yes. Hip-hop at it's heart is loved by many, which [is] where it gains its strength. So even if you're beaten down you still can rise above it all.

How much of a scratch nerd are you? Scale [of] one to 10, I'm an 11.

What do you dig about scratching? It's the sound, like the sound of a strum or a cowbell. It makes me smile and moves me somehow. It's simple and complex at the same time. I also love the look it puts on people's faces when they scratch for the first time or when they witness scratching live. They seem to be so amazed.

Should scratching be a required skill for any DJ? Yes, I think it should be a required skill. If you want to be a skilled DJ and be able to DJ in any type of setting. You would learn all the tricks of the trade. By scratching you're adding yourself into the music on the fly. You don't need to be the best scratcher. If you do a simple or complex scratch, you're contributing to the current composition. So that's what makes scratching special. Every DJ likes to cut, some just do it more than others. Plus, it's fun. The key is know when to add yourself into the music.

The Bum Squad DJs Toy Drive takes place on Saturday, December 15, at All Starz inside Arizona Mills Mall.

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All Starz

5000 S. Arizona Mills Circle
Tempe, AZ 85282

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