College radio DJs are responsible for giving the world some of the best new music before it goes mainstream. Leading the charge of bringing the underground to the forefront is the University of Georgia’s own DJ Blacquestarr.We recently sat down with the host of the Halftime Hip-Hop Show (HHHS) and this is what he had to say:
Where are you from?
DJB: I’m originally from Gainesville, Georgia. Born and raised there. It’s about an hour away from Atlanta. Though it has grown a lot over the years, it’s a small town compared to ATL, but I love it. Growing up in the Ville, there wasn’t like a huge Hip-Hop scene, but we had a few hometown heroes most notably artist/producer DJ Taz that was one of the forefathers of the Booty Shake/Bass era in the South. I can’t forget about the SouthSide Crew and The Red Dawgz. Though Hip-Hop was a bit on the underground, it was very much booming within the underground. Crystal Jukebox, The Valley, and Streamers were the main venues where you were guaranteed to get a great show. Of course, I was too young to go to these places, but I would always know who was performing that weekend by checking the flyer that was posted on a tree when coming into my neighborhood. When I finally was old enough to go these spots, a majority of them shut down. (laughs) But it is what it is.
Everyone has a story on how his or her name came to fruition. How did you get the name DJ Blacquestarr?
DJB: Actually, I really haven’t had the name DJ BlacqueStarr for that long. I originally went by my government name, Akeeme Martin, when I first started because I really had no clue as to what DJ name I would want. I was really content with just going by own name. But I adopted the name DJ BlacqueStarr back in 2006 as a nod of respect to the group Black Star (Mos Def & Talib Kweli) because I was hoping that they would drop an album that year, but I also felt that Black Star was something empowering for the soul so I stuck with it. I just spelled it differently so if I ever became a big-time celebrity or whatever, I wouldn’t get sued or go through the drama that DJ Drama had to go through. (Laughs). But there is actually another DJ that has the name Black Star out of Baltimore, if I am not mistaken, and he has done some work with M.I.A. recently. He spells his name B-L-A-Q-S-T-A-R-R and mine is B-L-A-C-Q-U-E-S-T-A-R-R. It has caused a little bit of confusion with some of my peers when they see a track that has BlaqStarr on it, but it’s not me. So, I just decided to do Akeeme “DJ BlacqueStarr” Martin when I contact people and say this is Akeeme a.k.a. DJ BlacqueStarr whenever I’m on the air or doing a drop for someone. People address me as either Akeeme or DJ BlacqueStarr, it doesn’t matter. It’s still me!! (laughs)
How long have you been DJing?
DJB: I started out as a mixtape DJ back in 1998-99, but I’ve been a lover of music ever since I was in kindergarten. When I was younger, my older brother would babysit me while our parents were working the 2nd shift at their respective jobs, and while he was working out, I would be listening to the music like actually listening to the words and dancing to the beats and whatnot. He was the one that introduced me to a lot of the popular artists that were out that time from MC Shy D to N.W.A. So, I got my hip hop fix from him until he went away to college. He really didn’t think that I was into music at the time, so he would fuss at me for messing with his stereo both at home and in his car because being the older brother, he was thinking that I was gonna break his stuff. When he heard some of the mix CDs that I started giving out to people 2001-2002, he actually apologized for giving me grief when I was younger. (laughs) Gotta love karma. But throughout high school and into college I started to get a huge reputation for my mix CDs because there was a lot more love involved in putting it together. I would do my own interludes, intros, and outros for special occasions just for fun but to also make people feel like they wasn’t getting just a regular mix CD. It was an Akeeme Martin and SoulOStarr Entertainment original. (Laughs) I still have some of them around my place, and I’m pretty sure a lot of my friends still have the CDs I gave them. And another difference with my mix CDs versus others was that I never charged anyone. I wasn’t doing it for a profit, though I very much knew that I could get paid beaucoup amounts of money, it was just giving people great music. And though I don’t do mix CDs on the regular anymore, I’ve just transferred that idea of giving people great music into what I do at the radio station.
How did you become the host of Athens’ hottest college Hip-Hop show?
DJB: Haha, you had to take it there didn’t you? I’m really not the type to gas myself up like that, but it’s always flattering to hear that. I just do what I can to give people a hot show every week. But back to your question. The road to hosting the HHHS was a bit of a long one. The HHHS that you hear now has not always been this way. This a little known fact to the mass media but one of the original hosts of the Halftime Hip Hop Show was DJ Danger Mouse of The Grey Album & Gnarls Barkley fame. After he graduated, DJ Vera was the successor as host. I became a part of WUOG in Spring 2005 as a member of the music staff and after going through DJ training, I had my own DJ shift by that summer. And conveniently enough, my shift was right after the HHHS. I was still a bit new to the vibe at the station because it was primarily indie rock being played at the station and the only Hip-Hop that was really getting showcased was on the HHHS. So, I started going to the station early before my shift just to chill out with DJ Vera and get a feel of what kind of Hip-Hop was being played there. The HHHS at that time was more focused on like the real conscious and deep underground Hip-Hop which I never really was exposed to until then. It was great and all, but I believed that Hip-Hop wasn’t just that you know? But nonetheless, DJ Vera turned me onto some underground artists that I end up incorporating into my own musical arsenal. Not long after that, I got asked to sub in for Vera a few times during the summer, and I wanted to showcase a more diverse mix of urban music to the masses because you can’t be conscious all the time. Some people like to wild out and dance or just listen to something a bit more uplifting. My version of the HHHS won over some people during that summer while I still did my 12AM-3AM rotation shift.
All that came to a screeching halt by Fall 2005. I got asked at the last minute (two hours before the show started) to do the HHHS because DJ Vera was sick with the flu. So, I came in and 10-15 minutes into it I was already getting mad calls saying that my version of the HHHS was a whole lot better than Vera’s, but I’ve always been humble about it by saying I’m just giving the people something different. Around 10:20PM, Vera comes up sniffling and raspy telling me that she couldn’t allow me to do the HHHS because I was apparently destroying what it took her 3 years to build. I was shocked and appalled at what was being said and I’m trying to make even smallest bit of sense as to what she is talking about. She went on this rampage about how I was playing “gangsta music,” which really wasn’t gangsta at all, and how I was (excuse my French) kissing her ass and trying to take her place. By that time, I was heated and I just left the station and honestly I was seriously contemplating giving up being a DJ at the station because earlier in the week I had to have a meeting with Programming Director about complaints that what I was playing was going against the station’s music philosophy, which I still was trying to understand and I’ve fought a majority of career at WUOG, and then the argument with Vera. The PD called me not long afterwards wanting to get my side of the story and if I was going to do my shift on Saturday. When I calmed down, I decided to not even work with the HHHS, boycotting it completely because why support something that’s not supporting you. So, I just focused on working my own shift, learning more about the underground urban music scene, and working on bettering myself as a DJ/Radio personality until the opportunity came to apply to host the show the following semester. At the time, I didn’t think anyone was doing Hip-Hop at the station except me, so I felt like I was going to be the heir to the HHHS throne, but the board of directors chose someone else to do the show. A guy by the name of Trey Pollard, who I’ve never heard of or met personally at that time. As disappointing as it was to not be the host, on MLK day 2006, I went in and did my own version of the HHHS called the Overtime Hip-Hop Show. It was a 3-hour block, similarly to the HHHS is now, where I featured some local artists as well as some other underground artists that I was finding on my own. A few days after that show, I get a message from the new host Trey, saying that he was digging what I did on MLK Day and extended the invitation to bring some of my music and just talk about music on the show. So, I came that Friday and the rest is history really. Come to find out, Trey P. had his share of issues with the previous host, and I sort of became the unofficial co-host of the show. He and I had the same vision that Hip-Hop in general is more than just the conscious. The show had such a narrow view of urban music while there were other types of urban music out there, so it was our goal to broaden that view, and it has been the goal ever since. Months after I started coming through to the HHHS, Trey P. and I began to etch our own path, taking the HHHS to a greater level and after Trey P. left, I continued the movement, even to this day. Oh and Trey actually ran into DJ Vera at an event in Atlanta, and she told him to tell me that she apologized for going off on me that night after hearing about all the things Trey and I accomplished in such a period of time. (Laughs) Karma is something serious. I tell ya.
How long have you been hosting the show?
DJB: I’ve officially been hosting the show since 2006, so about 3 years now. It really feels longer than that though. (Laughs)
What is the mission of the HHHS?
DJB: The HHHS mission is made up of two parts. First part is to let artists, producers, DJs, etc. know that the HHHS is the mouthpiece to get their music heard. We are willing to work with anybody as long as they are in this primarily for the love of music. The HHHS will make sure to give the artist that extra push, but it also has to be up to the artist to take it to that next level you know what I mean? And I can honestly say there have been many artists that started out on the HHHS and have gone on to do great things. Nobody Famous is a prime example. He’s had the opportunity to have his music heard and perform all over the globe and featured in video games, most notably WWE’s Smackdown vs. Raw, and to think that almost three years ago, he was here in Athens, winning beat battles and being a part of the HHHS movement. Second part; give listeners an alternative urban music experience that you won’t hear on mainstream radio. That is not a disrespect to the mainstream, but there is a lot more to Hip-Hop than Lil’ Wayne or Soulja Boy and I strive to showcase that every week. The HHHS is the only urban radio show on Friday nights here in Athens, and the mission is to give people something new, mixed with something old, with a pinch of the underground, but it all comes together so nicely and I guarantee listeners that they will be satisfied once the show is over.
As a DJ, you’ve had the opportunity to help launch the careers of a variety of unsigned/independent artists. I’m sure you get tons of submissions each week from artists who are looking to get airplay. How do you determine who gets spins?
DJB: Believe it or not, I really don’t get that many submissions as you may think. When I started to do the HHHS, I would just go to various record pools and Hip-Hop sites looking for new and upcoming artists to premiere on the show. The process is very time consuming. I would listen to different artists and pick which ones that I think would be something great for the listeners to check out, and I would write those artists down on my clipboard and put a star by ones that I have to edit myself. Then I would have to go into my editing software and clean up any profanity, so I don’t have to do impromptu edits live on the show (laughs). As far as determining who gets spins, I strive to give listeners variety because I know the HHHS has a diverse fan base that is spread out all over the globe. So, I make sure to showcase as many different styles as I can, ranging from the thought-provoking and deep lyrics with the laid-back jazz-type beats to the off-the-wall make-you-wanna-dance kind of stuff. I keep it as fresh and as diverse as I can every week and so far that mentality has worked. I’m always willing to listen to new and upcoming artists, and I make sure to say that at least once or twice during the show.
Where can people tune in to hear the Halftime Hip-Hop Show (HHHS)?
DJB: The HHHS goes down EVERY (well almost every) Friday at 9PM-12AM on WUOG 90.5FM in Athens, Georgia and www.wuog.org/live for all my folks that don’t live in the Athens area. The live radio stream has really been the key to me having the opportunity to have the show be as internationally known as it is. So, in that regard, thank you Internet (laughs)
The HHHS also has a segment called Live In The Lobby. Can you elaborate on what Live In The Lobby is?
DJB:Well, Live in the Lobby is actually WUOG’s long-running event where artists have come through and perform for 15-30 minutes in the station’s lobby and the performance is broadcasted live on air and online. It’s basically like a free concert and usually happens on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A lot of the artists that are big time mainstream now at one point and time performed at the radio station early in their careers, most notably R.E.M. February 2006 was when the HHHS had its own version of Live in the Lobby but we kinda changed it up. Instead of having one act perform, we invited 4-5 acts to come through and rock the lobby. It was orignally a performance to help promote a show that was happening on Valentine’s Day, so the artists that were on that bill came through and performed just to give listeners a taste of what to expect. That LITL was so successful that Trey P. and I decided to let it be a bi-monthly thing, so Crunk in the Lobby was born. It was just another step of taking the HHHS to greater heights, and it turned out to be one of our great accomplishments. And it also spawned another live segment called T.R.I.N.I.T.E.E. where we showcase poetry and spoken word live on the air.
Who are some of the artists that have performed on Live In The Lobby?
DJB: I can probably name just about everybody who has performed or have been apart of CITL simply because I have all the CITLs recorded. There have been nine and a half installments of Crunk in the Lobby. Artists that have officially performed on Crunk in the Lobby include: Thieves of Always, Marvelous Rejections, Tommy Valentine, The Renegadez, Iron Triangle, G. Da War Don, D-Money, Southern Kreation, Rorshach, Deaf Judges, Illa Funk the Grand Verbalizer, BoJeezy, Robeezy (no relation), P.K. (Pretty Ken), Fese, DJ Killacut, DJ Other Voices Other Rooms, Gus D., Produce Man, BIG K.R.I.T., Elite tha Showstoppa, BEAR, F.L.Y., Ben Stevens, Figaro, Travis Williams, Son-1, Badkat, Nobody Famous, Ivan Ives, eLeMeN.O.P., D-Money, Rockwell Jones, SouthWest Click, North East Posse Boyz, Profound Breath, and B.F.A.W. (Brain Fine as Wine). I believe that is everybody. Only G. Da War Don and Travis Williams have performed on CITL the most at three times, and there have been some CITLs that were done in the newsroom or the DJ booth of the station because the sound equipment for the lobby was not working or being used elsewhere, but we’ve made it happen regardless.
What was your most memorable moment on the show?
DJB: I mentioned earlier that though I’ve only been doing the show for 3 years, it feels longer because a lot has happened in that time period. A LOT. Good and bad, so it’s really difficult to decide on one memorable moment. But if I had to choose one and I’m not talking about personal accomplishments, just a memorable moment, it would have to be the freestyles. Freestyling is definitely an intergral part of the Hip-Hop culture and having that live on a radio show always has a place on my heart. There have been many great freestyles from Badkat & Mykestro tag-teaming it while DJ Killacut was going through beats to the freestyle battle between Son-1, T-NUTZ of North East Posse Boyz, and SouthWest Click where the tension was so thick we thought a fight was going to erupt, but Gimme the Loot would that to you. Or when Illa Funk went hard over the Deep Cover track and the mic had to be retired. But the most memorable freestyle had to be back in Summer 2006 when Jay Qwest of the Alpha Noize Project, Southern Kreation, Miami Moon, and a few others all went in for an hour straight. But you know how certain tracks just bring out that inner beast? It was both Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm” and most notably Nas “Ether” where it went to a whole other level. That was a great moment for the HHHS and just Hip-Hop in general because you really don’t get it that often on radio.
There was a moment when many fans of the HHHS thought that the show had seen its last day. The HHHS was put on a brief hiatus for allegedly violating some of the school’s regulations. During this defining moment, you put your career as a host and as a DJ on the line and stood up for all of the artists, listeners and fans of the HHHS. Eventually you returned to the air and continued to provide your audience with the music that made us all fall in love with the HHHS. What did you do to keep the show on the air?
DJB: When you’ve put your heart and soul into something for so long, it is really difficult to let it go especially when it’s by force. As you mentioned there were a lot of allegations saying some of the people that I’ve had up for the show violated school regulations, most notably the drug and alcohol policy. I personally live a straight-edge lifestyle, I don’t drink alcohol or smoke anything, because I believe my body is a temple and I have to treat it as such. So, you won’t catch me on the air or hosting an event, buzzed, drunk, high or any of the sort, and I always stress that to artists prior to them coming to the show. I don’t care what you do before coming inside the station, but don’t let me catch you with anything like that or I will politely ask you to leave. Now, I will say that there have been some artists that have brought such stuff to the station and thought it was smart enough to dispose of it in the trash cans where the custodians would see it that following week. These instances had happened during the last few Crunk in the Lobbies. I am not going to mention names of who did have drugs and/or alcohol because they know exactly who they are, but as a result of their negligence and disrespect to my own guidelines, there hasn’t been another Crunk in the Lobby in a little over a year because the board of directors at that time thought that was the cause of the violation of the school regulations, and violations like that could’ve shut the station down indefinitely. It wasn’t just the drug and alcohol, it was also the language. When you do a live show, words slip up. It happens, but when it happens on more than one occasion in one show, it gets to be a bit murky and when you don’t document it, it could lead to fines by the FCC and quite possibly having the station shut down. So it was the drug and alcohol allegations and the language that led to the board deciding not allow me to do the show. It was heartbreaking to actually go on the air and tell listeners that I was not going to return to something that I’ve worked so hard for and wasn’t ready to give it up just yet. This was around the holidays when it happened, so a petition was started to keep me on the air, people would call the station wanting to talk to the directors and express their dislike of not letting me to do the show, while I did the HHHS almost every day for two weeks leading up to the final show in January 2008. At the time, I felt that if I was being forced out, then let me go out with a bang and I definitely did. How I managed to come back on the air in Summer 2008, the opportunity came to apply to host the show for the summer after the replacement host wasn’t gonna do it, and though it was agreed by the new administration to let me do the show, I was originally given these rules that I had to abide by or I would be removed as host. And by that time, I had enough of being ostracized by the Programming Director, I sent a very long and detailed message getting off everything that I held in for nine months ranging from the CITL incident to the philosophy, and how this whole situation was a huge mess that left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths. As a result, there was a meeting set up between myself, the Programming Director and the General Manager of the station, and everything that needed to be said was said without hurting anyone’s feelings and we all came into agreement and I was officially back on the HHHS and they were glad I was back because believe it or not they were fans of me and the show so it all worked out. (Laughs) But I had to spend that summer of getting the show back up to par before I left, and now I can honestly say that the HHHS is better than ever.
How much longer will you host the show?
DJB: I can’t host the show forever as much as I would love to. I know that so I always take it one show at a time. There is going to be a time where I will no longer be a part of the WUOG family. That’s inevitable, but I don’t focus on that. When it gets close to the time of me relinquishing my hosting duties on the HHHS, it’ll be made public, but it won’t happen anytime soon so to those that are reading this can breathe easy. (Laughs) But even when I’m long gone, WUOG and the HHHS will always remain a part of me and vice versa.
Now for the question I’m sure all of the starving artists have been waiting hear the answer to. How can artists submit their music to you to be played on WUOG?
DJB: You can contact me in a number of ways. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or head over to myspace.com/halftimehiphopshow or my personal one myspace.com/s_soulostarr. I check all three religiously so don’t hesitate to hit me up. And no I don’t have Twitter. I’m debating whether or not to get one of those though. (Laughs)
You’ve also developed a successful mixtape series, Diamonds in the Rough. How did this project come about and who are some of the artists that are featured on it?
DJB: Diamonds in the Rough is both a segment on the HHHS and a mixtape series. Diamonds was originally going to be a separate show from the HHHS, but the goal was, and still is, to dedicate a block of time to showcase upcoming artists, regardless of the genre, to help them get heard on a global level. We’ve always focused on that, but I just wanted to do it in a bit more organized manner, so when a listener is wondering why I’m playing borderline acoustic country on a primarily urban music show, I can just tell them that it’s our Diamonds in the Rough segment and we’ll get back to the Hip-Hop soon. (Laughs) But it’s also to show people that though I love urban music, I’m an overall lover of music regardless of the genre or where it’s from because I have played international tracks before. It goes back to giving listeners that broaden scope of music. As far as the Diamonds mixtape series, I decided to do that because I just wanted to give listeners that opportunity to get the music that they may request on the regular during the show so they don’t have to wait until Friday night to hear it, but again turn them on to other artists that may not have been heard on the HHHS but still worth checking out. Also, I had a lot of live stuff from the HHHS that I wanted to give to listeners as well. It’s a digital-only double-disc compilation and Vol. 1 was released last year with Vol. 2 coming soon this year. You won’t hear me screaming all over the tracks because I feel it’s a bit distracting to the listeners. It kinda harkens back to my mixtape days in high school. I may have done interludes, intros, and outros, but never would you hear me talking over a track. Vol. 1 has featured artists like Giovonni Pratt, Jeremiah, BIG K.R.I.T., Nasaya, Shakti, Triple Threat, Ivan Ives, Illa Funk, Rockwell Jones, Lyric Jones, among others.
What other projects are you involved in?
DJB: Currently, I’m working on Diamonds Vol. 2, the Please No Bacon mixtape series with Giovonni Pratt, and some other projects I don’t want to reveal to the public yet, but once it happens you will know about it. (Laughs)
What’s next for DJ Blacquestarr?
DJB: What’s next for me as a DJ? Honestly, I don’t have a set plan. The sky is the limit really. I know right now that I’m going to be doing some more stuff with kevinnottingham.com in the near future and I will continue to work with different artists and producers. But besides that and the HHHS, I want to continue to better myself as an actual DJ and learn more about the art and lifestyle of what it means to be an authentic DJ. I would like to do some live events outside of the radio station and work with more campus organizations to build up that relationship between the station and the rest of the student body. I always like to keep my mind open to different experiences. As far as Akeeme Martin, the next step is getting my Masters and eventually my Ph D in Counseling Psychology working with Interpersonal Relationships and Human Sexuality and bettering myself as a cook. Who knows, I may open up my own practice that incorporates all three things: music, counseling, and food. (Laughs)
What advice do you have for people that would like to pursue a career in radio?
I would definitely encourage anybody that has even a bit of interest in radio, wanting to run a record label, or just have a love for music go for it. It is a great experience and college radio will give you a lot of knowledge to get your foot in the door when it comes to the logicistcs of the music industry. Even if you don’t want to be an on-air personality, there are other departments that help keep the radio station running besides the music such as promotions, public affairs, etc. So if you are a college student and have a passionate love for music, by all means look into it and most importantly stay true to yourself and your passion. And speaking from a four plus years experience, it is your passion that will keep you going through the hard times in order to make your accomplishments that much sweeter.
IF you could sum your artistic abilities up in one word, what would it be?
DJB: Passion. Everything that I have accomplished on the air, in the classroom, etc. has all been due tome being passionate and putting my heart and soul into it. I believe that if you are not passionate about something, then why are you doing it? My reason for doing the HHHS and just being a DJ in general is simply because I have a passion for music and just want to be able to share that passion with the people.