Remembering DJ AM

Posted on Aug 30th, 2009 in Mindspray by A-Trak

This was the first time I met DJ AM in 2004.

The DJ world just lost one of its brightest shining stars. As I type this less than 2 days after the fact, I’m still in disbelief. Perhaps last fall’s plane crash made us all recollect on how much we cared about him, but also made us feel that after such a close brush with death he was now here to stay. I wrote a post about it at the time. It’s unbelievably tragic to lose such a talented, kind and generous man just a few months later.

For me personally, AM’s passing is a shock on many levels. First of all we lost a friend, and a true stand-up guy. A mensch, as we call them. Anyone who ever met Adam will tell you the same thing: he was such a likable character. Always full of energy and motivation, bursting with an almost child-like liveliness. You felt like this guy was just happy to be doing what he was doing. I’ve never seen him in a crummy mood. For all the flak that he may have caught over the years, especially with early doubters, I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anyone. He systematically took the high road, he was consistently humble and knew how to make you feel appreciated. I’ve rarely received as many compliments from a fellow DJ as from AM. As I type this I wonder if I ever conveyed to him how much I appreciated him not just as a DJ but as I person. I hope I did. We shared the same birthday, March 30th. We also shared a love for bad puns. One time he said “fo’ sheez” in a sentence, to which I replied “fo’ sheez pizza” (four cheese pizza). It’s lousy, but he loved it. Then he kept saying “fo’ sheez pizza” to me for years, it was our little joke.

We also lost a phenomenal DJ. Whenever a purist naysayer tried to doubt him, I’d reply: “AM’s career is where it is for a reason.” My man worked hard. I remember an old (admittedly low-fi) version of what was probably his first website. It had the AC/DC-inspired logo and when your mouse hovered over a button it played the classic Kool Moe Dee sample: “I go to WORK!” That exemplified 2 sides of AM: 1) he wasn’t a new jack, he loved the old school, and 2) literally, he worked his ass off! For some reason, in the DJ-geek community AM wasn’t necessarily regarded as a turntablist; maybe because he didn’t do the DMC’s, maybe because he played jiggy clubs. But watch any DJ that used to do the DMC’s play in a regular club and watch AM spin, I guarantee you that Adam freaked his records more. Playing those glitzy Hollywood and Las Vegas clubs is not easy, trust me. This guy was DJ’ing in a hostile territory and managed to play the most fast-paced, scratch-happy, genre-hopping sets you could find. He could have easily settled for spinning the hits, but he used to tell me: “I get bored”. So he set the bar higher for himself and never stopped striving. He genuinely loved music and DJing. I remember seeing him play at Studio B in New York back in 2007. The first Kid Sister single had just come out and I went there with her. AM played “Damn Girl” when she and I were on stage and after his set I realized that he neither knew that I produced it nor what Kid Sister looked like. In other words he played the song purely because he liked it, and I took that as the biggest compliment of them all. Often times when I played more commercial clubs I used to hold back on the turntablism and whenever he was there he relentlessly urged me to do a routine. I mean he pushed me until I had to do it! He would grab the mic and tell the crowd “A-Trak didn’t want to do a routine but I’m forcing him, you guys need to see this” and really got them psyched! Then he’d do air scratches during my juggles.

The first time he pulled that trick on me was at Avalon in 2007, check him out behind me:

The following picture was taken back in 2005. AM invited both Mixmaster Mike and myself to his house to have a scratch session and he was ecstatic. He filmed me doing my “Go DJ” routine and talked to me about it for years after.

AM was not only a great DJ but also a trailblazer, hands down one of the most important DJs in America and this is a topic that’s very dear to me as well. I used to DJ just for the sake of it but in recent years by growing older, by starting Fool’s Gold and whatnot, I became more concerned with what has an impact on people culturally, and what drives our scene in North America. AM broke down barriers for other DJs. Just a few years back, playing in the celebrity circles where he originally thrived meant having to play Top 40 records exclusively. But every time AM scratched and every time he played a record from “our scene”, something a bit more underground or left-field, he opened his audience’s ears and eventually opened the doors for the DJs and producers whose tracks he was playing. This had a tremendous impact for us. Remember when Justice beat Kanye at the European VMA’s with “We Are Your Friends”? A couple weeks later I was touring overseas with ‘Ye and AM hit me on BBM. He said something to the essence of: “Yo that song that your boy shitted on is actually killing it at my parties!” I think my first reaction, mentally, was: “no shit! It already won a VMA”. But then I took a step back and realized how significant it was for him to play that record to the mainstream crowds. The floodgates were just starting to crack.

There’s only a handful of DJs that have their own style, and there’s definitely such a thing as an “AM set”. There’s a whole army of DJs who play those sets now, and they’re booked by the agency that he launched. I’ll even go further and say: there’s only a handful of DJs that make kids want to start DJing. AM was without a doubt one of these pioneers in America and his absence leaves a huge gap.

The last time I saw AM was at Hard Fest in LA. He was wearing a Fool’s Gold shirt and I smiled from ear to ear.

Adam, you changed your life around and stayed on a positive path for years. You touched thousands of people and made them dance night after night. You were a king among DJs, a role model and also a wonderful friend. My thoughts are with your family and loved ones. Rest in peace.

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