The Summer I Learned the Hustler’s Yes.
How I became a house party DJ in one summer with one turntable.
This is a tribute to Florida A&M, the castle on the hill, and the one summer my love for hip hop became more than a hobby, and to the friends who pushed me there. Warning—if when I say “Go DJ” you don’t instantly shout back “That’s my DJ!” you may not follow all the references below. But stay on the journey anyway—consider this a cultural exchange.
The early aughts was a great time to be a hip hop head.
The Rawkus era made way for an ecosystem of independent record labels and hip-hop collectives. In the post-Napster era, several peer-to-peer music discovery services such as Audio Galaxy and Soulseek blossomed. However, for a true backpack rap enthusiast, the independent record store, emphasis on record, was the center of the music discovery universe.
I knew this, and while I purchased a pawn shop turntable the year before, a belt drive clunker. I wanted, I needed to get an actual turntable to up my game on all things hip hop.
I’m not sure how I hustled up the money, but in Fall 2002 I ordered—the $180 Stanton STR-80 from Zzounds.com. The perfect turntable for an enthusiast that didn’t have 1200 money.
Unboxing it was the closest I’ve experienced as an adult to a child’s Christmas. The glowing blue light provided a gentle warning that when it’s spinning, a party could start at any moment. When I put the needle on the record, I instantly became an audiophile. To this day, I’ve never heard a purer sound than a new needle on freshly pressed vinyl.
In the following months, going to Vinyl Fever became routine. I moved the turntable to the living room to play host as friends dropped.
By Spring 03—I had a notable collection of underground records. And just for kicks, I had a few club singles as well. So when Margo dropped by our Spot (Justin, Brandon, Mikal—and sometimes Rashad), I was already mixing, and owing to the collection, the vibe was right.
Being FAM, the call went out,
“we’re kicking it at the spot, fall through.”
Red cups appeared out of thin air. I’m starting to get more and more nervous as each new face steps in with a drink and their two step.
Without realizing it, me “messing around” on the turntable is now the vibe.
Sweat starts to form.
Alright, I got it
I been gone for a minute now I’m back with the jump off (Jump off)
Goons in the club incase somethin jumps off
And back up before the hive let the pump off
Everyone goes crazy… what the hell did I do?
I had a moment to dial it back, and I did the opposite.
At this point the absorption power of my backwards Orioles cap were being tested.
when was the last time you heard it like this!
And so it continued for 40 more sweat-inducing minutes.
As everyone hit the door to get ready for the party that night, Kalena stopped me.
“That was fun, I have a party in a few weeks you should DJ.”
I laughed and pointed at my one turntable setup.
“I’m not a DJ.”
You may not know Kalena Green, but you know Kalena. She’s the friend who gets shit done, in part due to selective hearing when it comes to the polite no.
Kalena calls a few days later, giving me the details of the party. I take notes (this is Kalena, of course, you take notes) while insisting “I’M NOT A DJ
Kalena, not hearing, “so set up around 9 do you need anything special like an extension cord?”
I ended the call with one thought in mind.
“I need to get another turntable.”
Kalena tried to pay me but I wouldn’t let her. “I’m not a DJ!”
I just owned a turntable and a few records but I put in work that night like my GPA depended on it.
After the party ended, two people were waiting around.
I thought, “It’s a little late for a request…”
But they weren’t requesting a song—they wanted me to DJ another event.
I protested again, a little quieter. “I’m not a DJ”
I found a compromise—if I never called myself a DJ, then I could get paid to play music/set the party off without compromising my firm belief that I wasn’t a DJ.
So, Mikal, The Youngest in Charge was born.
That spring, I went from playing records for friends, to spinning records at a party, to another, then another, to every week, to multiple events each week.
Each time I said yes, more opportunities came my way. In that one spring semester, I DJed: house parties, social events, a “going away party” for someone who wasn’t going to experience a party for some time.
The whole time it was just vibes.
That semester–I never turned down a gig. If you were a friend, I did it for free or the cost of new records.
Set up, take down,
at 2 am in odd parts of town,
the stress of sound systems and records skipping during a house full of people doing the A-Town stomp to Damn!
It didn’t matter.
I said yes and each yes made me better. It forced me to evolve from “feel” to “sets.” With each party, I my record collection expanded, my equipment upgraded, my technique improved.
In one semester, I went from part time cashier to doing what I loved making more money as a part time DJ.
Ironically, that summer was the last time I took on paid gigs.
I decided I’d rather DJ parties for free for good people than get paid to play music I don’t enjoy for people I don’t know.
Yeah, I needed to get another job, but I didn’t buy a turntable because I thought it was a business investment.
I bought it as an investment in my happiness.
It’s been a while, but the last party I DJed was in 2006.
It was a gathering that was in part a family and extended family going away party as I prepared for my move to Seattle.
My mom and family friends turned the family room into a dance floor.
Including, as always, my Aunt Chandra.
Our photos captured her.
Carefree as ever before.
And in the photos from that night, I’m there behind the turntables—laying down the soundtrack.
It was the last time I saw her before she passed. And it’s a memory that continues to bring me great joy.
All because Kalena Green has a hearing deficiency when it comes to the polite no.
And I learned the value of a Hustler’s yes.
’03 set list (from memory)
Typically played the records I wanted.
Reflection Eternal’s The Blast would probably make an appearance as a part of my sound check. Maybe Queen Pen’s Party Ain’t A Party if the early arrivers were in a dancing mood.
When we reached critical mass, I’d drop Jay-Z Excuse Me Miss Remix and follow it up with 400 Degreez…
‘See me I’ll bust ya ass up!‘Juvenile, 400 Degreez
In no particular order
- Killer Mike – Akshun (Yeah) Yes before Run the Jewels and Bernie Sanders, Killer Mike had bangers
- 50 Cent – In the club
- 50 Cent – 21 questions
- Bone Crusher, Killer Mike, T.I. – Never Scared Remix
- YoungBloodz – Damn
- Lil Kim feat. Mr Cheeks – The Jump Off
- Sean Paul – Get Busy
Peak–around 12:45 am with..
badddadump dump dump
da danum dum dum dum
- Lil Jon and Ying Yang Twins – Get Low
- Juvenile – Back That Thang up
Pace Yo Self Set
This set was to keep the party going without you blowing out your knee or sweating out your hair. These songs didn’t require too much work to have a good time.
I liked to mix it up with a sing along, unless I played Biz Marke Just a Friend during the warm up. if so it’s Warren G Regulators
- Ignition Remix (I’m sorry, I knew better, but I was still a DJ!)
This used to be classic records like Sister Nancy Bam Bam but Sean Paul made reggae popping in 03 so there would have been newer records then.
Throw Back Bridge
Doin the Butt
- Frankie Beverly & Maze – Before I let Go
- Common – Come Close
- Jay-Z – Excuse Me Miss
Pastor Troy – Vica Versa (we like to spell things dif’rent) would make an appearance if we vibing we might even go on with some Mystikal – Here I go
This set had one song and one song only.
Special Thanks to Margo, Brandon, Kalena, and Justin for helping me reconstruct this timeline over Facebook Messenger in early April 2020. Thank you to Locos Fam and Cher Chez La House for the years of practice I had before ’03 putting together house party CDs, Cedric for coming down Homecoming ’02 and showing me the basics (also with one turntable). And thank you to everyone, especially Aunt Chandra, who came to party and enjoy themselves when I was on the ones and twos.
Mikal Lewis is a product executive and servant-leader, his current company Praxis Product Leadership is the result of the hustlers yes. You can follow him on Twitter helping current and future generations of product leaders achieve product mastery through servant-leadership.