How a Prince song, a bedroom tape deck demo, and a mother’s encouragement launched the career of a bass music icon.
|Aug 19||Public post|| 1||1|
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Bass music icon DJ Magic Mike has had no shortage of notable successes during his 30-plus year career as a DJ and producer. His solo albums Bass is the Name of the Game (1990) and Bass The Final Frontier (1993) are both certified gold, while his Ain’t No Doubt About It (1991) collaboration with MC Madness moved 500,000-plus units. Meanwhile, DJ Magic Mike & The Royal Posse (1989) sold over one million copies.
To sell more than 2.5 million copies of four albums on an independent label—in a almost non-existent early 90s Orlando marketplace—is remarkable. To achieve such a feat in a mere four years is absurd.
According to Mike’s 2004 Red Bull Music Academy interview with hosts Torsten Schmidt and Emma Warren, his meteoric rise started with DJing at the young age of 10. When his cousin DJ Scratch also took an interest in the emerging art form, the two artists started simultaneously developing their craft.
Long before Mike became a platinum Orlando superstar and Scratch built a career as an EPMD affiliate and esteemed producer, the two aspiring DJs traded ideas and music by any means necessary to overcome the 1,000-mile distance between Orlando and Brooklyn. “We always sent tapes or played our mixes over the phone,” Mike told Red Bull Music Academy.
Out of all of Mike’s early attempts at making music, one particular piece of production wizardry from 1981 still stands out. Known as Mixmaster Mike at the time, Mike was eager to pull apart the music in Prince’s “Controversy” and put his own spin on it. Like many aspiring DJs and producers during the early 80s, he relied on his tape deck to make it happen. “I wanted a certain break in the song,” he told journalist Keith Kennedy in a 2005 Ozone Magazine interview. “I recorded it using the pause button to get the parts I needed.”
Something about Mike’s pause button composition lit a creative fire within him and drove him to further explore what feats he could pull off on his bedroom tape deck setup. Before long he compiled some extended, intricate mixes.
As he sharpened his skills, Mike’s mom could hear that her son had a special gift. She eventually passed off a pause tape mix of his to the WOKB-AM Orlando program director in hopes that it might present her son with a venue to showcase his unique talents.
The program director was so mesmerized by Mike’s music that he offered the unproven 13-year-old a gig DJing the station’s ‘Traffic Jam’ show. The show—which played for 30 minutes during weekday afternoon commutes and two hours on Friday and Saturday—helped put Mike on the map.
From his work at WOKB-AM, Mike graduated to a roller skating rink residency and eventually secured a regular gig at the Maitland, Florida club New York Times before his 18th birthday. The club owners didn’t realize his age was below their cutoff until he told them he needed someone to cover his shift so he could go to prom. It didn’t matter though, Mike was so impressive on the turntables that they were more than willing to break their own rule and maintain his residency at any price.
Though a pause tape mix may have helped Mike get his foot in the door, he soon evolved into more advanced gear once he earned a steady paycheck for his art. “I came from the 808,” he told Red Bull Music Academy. “Then I went to an SP-1200. Everyone knows that the SP-1200 is great for drums, but you have no time, only ten seconds.”
Frustrated with the restrictive sampling time of the 1200, Mike taught himself MIDI and purchased a Yamaha TX16W rack mount sampler. The Yamaha quenched his thirst for a bit, but he eventually moved on to the AKAI MPC—first buying the 60, 60 MkII, and 2000 models before eventually settling on the 3000.
Whether tape deck, 808, SP-1200, or MPC, Mike always paid extra special attention to fine-tuning the basslines in his songs and sound design. This obsessive attention to detail started when someone jacked his 1988 single “Drop The Bass” and slowed it down to extend the bassline. Frustrated by this disrespect, Mike plotted revenge again his imitators with his engineer.
According to the Red Bull interview, he told the engineer, “I want to do just a slowed down song with a lot of bass in it. If they try to slow it down any more, they either will tear their speakers up or they won’t hear it.”
Mike and his engineer’s hyper-focus resulted in a 72-hour odyssey to achieve the perfect mix. “We sat in the studio for probably three days, just trying to concoct the ‘boom,’” Mike told Red Bull Music Academy. “We recorded it, took it to the car, went back to the studio, until we got one that was exactly right.”
After they nailed it, Mike sampled the bass sound they’d created for “Feel The Bass (Speaker Terror Upper)”—one of the biggest records of his career that would later morph into an ongoing series with many successful sequels.
In 1995, lackluster record sales of his Bass Bowl album and the birth of a newborn son lead to Mike walking away from his longtime label Cheetah Records, where was also an executive vice president. After experiencing some record label headaches in the late 90s and early 2000s with attempts to re-release his back catalog and put out new music, Mike turned his focus to DJing.
Although Mike has not had a gold or platinum album in some time, his enduring legacy and lasting influence on DJ culture and bass music are undeniable. He remains a successful live performer and a force in the industry, recently partnering with Red Bull Radio on the Miami Bass Chronicles project.
In an interesting footnote to this story, nearly 40 years after Magic Mike pause looped a Prince song and kick-started his lengthy career, DJ Scratch took to Instagram to showcase some of his own pause tape creations. For those familiar with Scratch’s work, it’s not at all surprising that the beats he played are very solid.
Given the two DJ’s close relationship during their formative years, one has to wonder if they ever shared their tape deck beats and mixes with each other.
And if they did, how many of those creations are still sitting around in storage just waiting to be digitized and shared with the world?
Thanks for reading, see you on Wednesday!