DJ EFN On Staying Relevant in 2015
The mixtape is a strange and wondrous artifact from hip-hop’s history. One will find a few definitions of the term “mixtape” online, including “a recording on a cassette tape, CD, or digital medium, consisting of music or songs selected by a single person” and “a recording consisting of blended or recombined tracks, or a series of tracks with smooth transitions, especially one created by a DJ.”
Both definitions will apply when describing DJ EFN (aka “Miami’s Mixtape King”). The Miami-based DJ is a bit of a hip-hop renaissance type. Over the last twenty years, he’s worked as a radio DJ, promoter, artist manager, label executive, record producer, film producer and that’s not all. He made his first mixtape in ’93 because he “was really pissed off that there was no consistent mixtape DJ in Miami. No one ever really played music from Miami….It was good music, but I didn’t want to hear shouts to Brooklyn or the Bronx. I wanted to shout out Miami and help to put on the local cats.”
EFN built up his Crazy Hood brand in the nineties, which expanded to include Crazy Goods, a hip-hop clothing store open in Miami from 1997-2000 and Crazy Hood Film Academy. In 2012, EFN ran production on Coming Home, a documentary of the first time he traveled to Cuba and learned of his family’s deep roots while exploring the country’s hip-hop scene.
While in Austin last month for SXSW, EFN took a quick break from the festivities to talk with Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble about how he got his start in the scene and what to expect from his latest mixtape, Another Time.
What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?
My earliest memory of hip-hop. Let me think. I would say that hearing N.W.A. for the first time had a huge impact on me. N.W.A. is one of the groups that really got me passionate about hip-hop music. N.W.A. and Public Enemy. Just hearing them basically put the fear in your heart. You were actually scared to go to Compton and run into those guys. That they can translate that fear, that emotion, through music is what captivates me.
When was that?
Ah, I would say probably like late 80s, mid- to late-80s. I was probably in sixth grade or something.
Did you grow up in a musical household?
I wouldn’t say a musical household where everybody actually did music, but music was definitely a part of my life. My family loved music and played music, and I had all kinds of musical styles around me. I come from a Cuban family. There was definitely Spanish music, Salsa, Merengue, and I had cousins listening to a lot of disco and rock. I was very drawn into music through movie soundtracks. The Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack is the illest soundtrack probably.
Do you remember who or what was on your first mixtape?
My first mixtapes were actually pause tapes before I really took it serious. I didn’t have enough money for turntables. You would get two tape decks, and you would try to make mixes and try to put songs together through cassette tapes. I had anything from Beastie Boys to Run-D.M.C., Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh, guys like that. And then when I got my turntables, it was just a whole different game. I had records and stuff like that.
What’s your process when picking tracks for your projects/tapes?
What’s important to me, and this what I tried to embody in the new album, is I always want to pay homage to the pioneers, to the legends. And I always want to have people, you know, that paved the way for us. They’re still relevant to me. I like to always have those kinds of artists on my mixtapes or whatever. And then I’m always checking for who’s buzzing, who’s current, but that still embodies the style and the hip-hop that I like.
I like lyricism, so I usually tend to lean towards the artists that have lyrical content, and then I like to expose brand new artists. And I always have to sprinkle in some from my city, so I’m looking for talent from Miami, Florida and exposing that.
Do you prefer a certain style over others?
As long as it sounds good, but to me, lyricism is important. So, like the Kendrick Lamar’s and the Nas’s. That’s something that’s important to me.
How do you feel your style or your track choices have changed over the last twenty years?
I don’t think my choices have changed. I think I’ve been pretty consistent with the stuff that I like and the music that I try to expose. And I think this project kind of holds true. You could go back to a mixtape that I put out in ’94, and I think I’m embodying the spirit of that mixtape in this project now in 2015.
What else can you tell us about your latest release Another Time?
I just think that, you know, again, going back to embodying a certain spirit and certain style, I think that people can discover artists. Maybe if they’re a younger audience, and they don’t know about these older cats, they’ll discover that these older artists are still relevant. They are still saying stuff that’ll make sense to them.
And then, an older audience can hear a newer artist and say the same thing, like “Okay, these new artists are saying stuff.” And when you pair them together, you’ll see that they’re the same. There’s no age in what they’re doing.
How are you enjoying being in Austin for SXSW?
Uh, I’m enjoying it too much.
Haha. Do you go every year?
I’ve been going for, I think, the past three years. I manage a group by the name of ¡MAYDAY!, who is signed to Strange Music with Tech N9ne. So, I’ve been coming with them for the past couple of years. This is the first time that I’m coming for myself. I was invited to do a showcase.
Nice. Is there anything else that you want to share or promote?
Nineties like 9-0-s?
Either – 90s.com, or you can spell it out.