In a local Peruvian restaurant, located in historic Gastown in Vancouver, we had the opportunity to meet with DJ Kemo and Jay Swing, two artists that have greatly influenced the music industry, specifically the urban and hip-hop scene, both locally and throughout Canada.
In a three part exclusive blog series, we will share with you the low-down on their early years, career highlights, and advice to aspiring DJ’s.
It was the early 90s when Kemo and Jay met. DJ Kemo originally resided from east Van, while Jay Swing grew up in the Valley and White Rock. Jay jokes that they were ‘child prodigies’, reluctant to age themselves.
These two met back in the day, in the basement of producer Roger Swans where different crews from the lower mainland would connect. The Rascalz, then known as the Raggae Muffin Rascals, part of the Vancouver Crew would party with the Burnaby Crew and Surrey Crew all in the pursuit of hip-hop.
Kemo got into DJing when he was fifteen but then took it seriously right after high school. He recalls getting a few little gigs here and there and then it just progressed. With Jay, DJing began earlier.
“I think I was always a DJ, before I knew I was a DJ. I made the grade 7 dance tape for graduation dance and stuff like that. I was the guy with all the music. After high school, I bought my first turntables and I started learning how to DJ. Finally, it wasn’t until I linked up with these guys that I started going to parties downtown and getting gigs myself”.
It was the music itself that peaked their interest in DJing.
As Kemo explains: “I knew of hip-hop when I was younger but I didn’t really love, love, love the music until certain groups that came out. Like Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy KRS1, Eric B and Rakim.” or ‘the Golden Era’ as Jay calls it.
In a scene that was predominately Top 40 and big house and hip-hop was very underground. They reminisced about the days of hitting up, Starship in Burnaby, Casa Blanca’s in New West, Burnaby and in Vancouver there was the only one place to hear hip-hop, The Warehouse.
Back then the music that was played in the majority of clubs was predominantly top 40.
“Big House was coming in too and Love Affair and those clubs were all dance music.” stated Kemo, “Coming out of the 80s you had new wave and then it moved into dance music, like 90s dance music, ravey shit started.”
Yet did either expect DJing to be part of their careers? Jay knew early on that music was a career choice.
“I know thinking back that I wanted it to be my career. Not just being a DJ but the music industry in general. To me DJing has always been almost like a side hustle because I spent the 90s working for record labels doing street marketing in Vancouver…, music, and the Rascalz stuff, Tommy Boy, BMG, Virgin just a ton of labels. And that’s what I did in the 90s. I also DJ’d on the radio CITR on a college show. and that college show that we did for ten years landed us, landed me on The Beat. And that became the radio thing. It’s always been a music thing and its always based around being a DJ, DJing and hip-hop, so it wasn’t a specific – I want to be a DJ that’s it. I want a career in the music industry and DJing took me there.”
For Kemo, it was about following his heart.
“I honestly didn’t put too much thought into it. I did what I loved doing and I didn’t stop. It panned out.”
Jay jumps in here: “He’s being humble because he’s making beats, and making music is kind of like what took off for him. And I mean this more than the DJing.”
And Kemo went further:
“Being in the music, at first I was really into DJing and then I decided to do music production, right, which is what enabled me to keep doing music.”
While both DJ Kemo and Jay Swing boast a long history as friends and colleagues, they both continue to lead paths in the music industry.
Tomorrow part two of this interview.
Interview by Youki Harada
Written by Suzanne Guerino
Editor: Paz Pino