"I know hits when I hear them," Miss DJ MJ says, hanging out in the New Times office.
I believe her. She's been on the air for 10 years, working as music director at Power 98.3. She recently left the station, but not before becoming the first female on-air mixer in Arizona.
I ask DJ MJ for her album of the year, and she states Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Technically, that's a 2010 release, but we get it. DJ MJ likes pop music, but pop music that isn't afraid to explore sounds and themes.
With that in mind, we tuned into three local tracks by "Mighty" Mouse Powell, Ladylike, and Sluggo ft. HavocNdeeD.
Mouse Powell released a new album, Where Its Cloudy. He performs tonight as part of The How the Grouch Stole Christmas show tonight at Club Red.
Up on the Sun: What did you think about that?
Miss DJ MJ: Very nice! I loved it. He gives a shout out to Phoenix, "60 and the 10." He's not talking about dumb stuff, he's actually talking about how he wants to make it. He has dreams and goals, and the sample and just everything [in the song] sounds good.
It's interesting, because it has a beat that refuses to be predictable. Every time you start to get into the groove, bobbing your head, it backs off, and the rhythm fades away. And then comes back. Fantastic production.
It's not boring. It flows, and he has an underground appeal, which could generate him a following. I love his style, and the singing on the hook is just "lala," just cute singing," but it's "rollin'," and it's him doing it.
We mentioned Kanye before, and one of the things I love about Kanye is when he sings his hooks. He doesn't have a traditionally great voice, he's not even on key, but it's him. It feels like it's really him. 808s and Heartbreak, where everything was Auto Tuned...I like some of that record a lot, but it didn't feel as real as his other stuff.
It didn't feel real, but with that album, I could feel his pain. [It felt like] I was in his shoes; I understood.
It demonstrated the risks he was willing to take. He lost some people with that, but that willingness was just such a big step. And then he followed it was Fantasy. He proved he was willing to take the risks, and then came back with a record that had that riskiness but also hits.
Everyone's life is different. He took a risk by telling us what he was going through at that moment. I like that he didn't put himself into one corner, like, "This is the only Kanye West you'll hear." He said, "I'm a broader person, I'm an artist. I can do different things."
Which is why something like this is really indicative of what's going on: he's talking about himself. All hip-hop is that, the MC sharing themselves, but more and more it feels like some of the "rules" about creating multidimensional pictures of yourself have changed. Someone like The Game isn't rapping about being insecure, or scared, but more popular rappers (records like Drake, Childish Gambino) are moving toward that, and Mouse is doing that, too.
We could be going into something different with the music. This "Rollin'" record and this artist demonstrates a side of himself where he doesn't have to be [anything but] himself. This sample, the singing on the hook, that risk...he's doing his own thing. He didn't go get a girl and say, "Can you sing "rollin'" like this? He did it.
Cinema Kiss by Ladylike Ladylike released its debut album on November 1. The band is scheduled to perform Friday, December 9, at Crescent Ballroom. Member Rob Kroehler also writes for the print edition of Phoenix New Times.
Miss DJ MJ: From start to finish, that song was amazing. The way they lead you in with the riff in the beginning, the way they finished it out with that energy. It was just amazing. Man, there was a lot going on, but there was never a dull moment. Everything switched up, but they stayed with the flow of it. Whoever plays that guitar is on some next level stuff...
Some of the band used to be in The Loveblisters, Fun, and Dorsey. I hear a lot of stuff that gets defined as "indie rock," but I would be hesitant to call this anything other than just rock 'n' roll. It sounds like it could be a radio hit.
That could definitely be on the radio. They might get upset for me to say this, but that's one of "Moves Like Jagger" crossover-pop feel. Sometimes people get like, I don't want to be that pop whatever, but the way that song made me feel was like, "Holy crap, that's a good song." To be honest with you, the lyrics were perfect. Very feel good. It was just well put together.
I'm not a huge fan of that Maroon 5 song, but I know exactly what you're talking about. It has that insistent rhythm, and that lead synth hook -- something the Stones did on "Miss You" or some of the disco stuff. This was more Exile or Goat Head Soup. It really lead by the guitar. It never stops. They do a piano break --
That piano break could have been a whole different song. Another band could use that as a whole song. They put a lot of effort into this.
Sluggo Ft. HavocNdeed - Killing Kasidy ( Ultragore ) by SluggoDubstep Sluggo is a dubstep producer, and this song features HavocNdeeD, a dubstep production team from Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas. For more information, visit Sluggo on Soundcloud.
DJ MJ: Impressed. I haven't heard any dubstep from Phoenix, and I was really impressed by these guys.
I guess I just don't get dubstep [laughs].
I think the ending should be in the middle, and end with that [mimes the beat]. I feel like they are really talented, and I could see some remixes from them.
HavocNdeed did a Linkin Park remix, and Sluggo has remixed all sorts of stuff. These guys have made a really big marks on the national dubstep scene. I could really hear this on much, much bigger speakers [laughs, points to tiny, cheapest-available-at-Fry's Electronics desk setup].
Yeah, these do it no justice.
You can tell with those drops that they are really serious about this insanely aggressive sound. But I guess, the dubstep thing for me is just not cool. I feel like a really old, out of touch guy, but I just don't get it.
I like it in the right place. I like it in the Britney Spears song, "Hold It Against Me." In the right place, and I'm admitting to my pop sense -- I'm a DJ, and I play a lot of pop -- but at the end of that song, "you hold it against me," and then it hits, it just makes that song something else. It's placed perfectly. Or in "I Can't Stop," on the Kanye Jay-Z's Watch the Throne album -- this record is more complex than that, but they go right into it really hard.
Dubstep has really crossed over into the mainstream. Skrillex, Korn...this is where things are going.
That's where I first heard it. I got into it because of mainstream stuff. I didn't get into it when it was underground. But I was like, "Oh, it sounds good with this song."
This is not the kind of record I'm going to put on, but I absolutely understand the physicality to it. I think of Aphex Twin, glitchy stuff that combines the physical presence of industrial or metal, and I get that, but dubstep has just become one of those words, like "hipster" or "chillwave," where you just get sick of hearing the word. Not sick of the music or the scene or the artists, but it's like..is everything dubstep?
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Me being part of the mainstream thing, because of my radio background, sometimes it steers me to focus on the pop sounds. But you're hearing sounds like this in the mainstream. I know when I hear it, and it's in the right context, it sounds amazing. In a club, you go into this, and then back out into a pop song. You blend it together.
When I was at the Odd Future show, Syd the Kid dropped in elements of dubstep into her opening set, and people were going nuts. I can see this when you're in a room with a thousand other people, but not just hanging out. I understand it more after hearing it in clubs, and at shows, but I'll go into my buddy Benjamin Leatherman's office and he'll be sitting at his desk listening to this filthy, art-damaged dubstep, just cranked way up. Just sitting there typing. I'm like...what? I'm in here listening to Gordon Lightfoot or something [laughs].
I can't picture that [laughs]. In a club, it makes a lot of sense.