DJ Magic Mike Earned a Radio Gig at Age 13 With a Pause Mix Demo Tape

How a Prince song, a bedroom tape deck demo, and a mother’s encouragement launched the career of a bass music icon.

Welcome to Micro-Chop, a newsletter dissecting beatmaking, DJing, music production, rapping, and sampling — written by me, Gino Sorcinelli.

Micro-Chop publishes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for paid subscribers. Free subscribers receive Monday’s newsletter.

Signing up for a paid subscription for $5/month or $43.33/year helps Micro-Chop provide loyal readers with new and exclusive articles and interviews.

Give feedback, send questions, or just say hi by emailing me at gino@bookshelfbeats.com.


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?

Who remembers Pause Looping? #ScratchVision #djscratch
November 1, 2018

Thanks for reading, see you on Wednesday!

A Forgotten Aretha Franklin Single and the Making of “Ms. Fat Booty”

How Ayatollah used Marley Marl's former sampler and the Queen of Soul's voice to make a classic.

Welcome to Micro-Chop, a newsletter dissecting beatmaking, DJing, music production, rapping, and sampling — written by me, Gino Sorcinelli.

Micro-Chop publishes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for paid subscribers. Free subscribers receive Monday’s newsletter. Signing up for a paid subscription for $5/month or $43.33/year helps Micro-Chop provide loyal readers with new and exclusive articles and interviews.

Give feedback, send questions, or just say hi by emailing me at gino@bookshelfbeats.com.


Ayatollah, A Forgotten Aretha Franklin Single, and the Making of “Ms. Fat Booty”

Growing up in Queens during hip-hop’s formative years, producer Ayatollah had a front row seat to an art form that would soon become a global phenomenon. “Going to block parties and seeing DJs in parks spinning records [with] big speakers and a whole bunch of people there, [and] rappers and break dancing and graffiti artists all around me. I was surrounded by it,” he told journalist Stone in a 2012  Hip Hop Speakeasy interview.

But it was the influence of his b-boy older brother that really inspired him to take a leap from hip-hop spectator to active participant. After honing his skills as a graffiti artist—an experience Ayatollah cites a major influence on his music career—he decided to try his hand at DJing in 1989.

Though it helped scratch the creative itch, DJing alone couldn’t satiate Ayatollah’s desire to make music, so he started producing his own tracks with a Digitech rack mount sampler. “It sampled for like six to seven seconds and it didn’t have any drum pads,” he told Unkut creator Robbie Ettelson in a 2015 interview. “It was just something that looped, but each time you over-looped it, it lost quality.”

After outgrowing his Digitech, Ayatollah later met Juice Crew founder and legendary super-producer Marley Marl. Seeing potential in Ayatollah’s abilities, Marley lent him his personal E-mu SP-12 sampler that he produced MC Shan’s classic “The Bridge” with. But the equipment didn’t resonate and he eventually returned it to Marley.

Undeterred, Marley provided his protégé with yet another beat machine—opting to gift him an Akai MPC60 II instead of the SP-12. This time, the new sampler clicked. “It’s like he kind of passed the torch to me, so I had to do the right thing and use this machine, and I’ve done that and still am doing that,” Ayatollah told Hip Hop Speakeasy.

After landing some early production placements with Tomorrowz Weaponz and Beverley Knight, Ayatollah struck sample gold in 1998 when he pulled Aretha Franklin’s Clyde Otis-produced 1965 single “One Step Ahead” out of his crates for a listen. Coming at the end of her time with Columbia Records and left off of her full-length albums with the label, the single still manged to climb into the Billboard R & B top twenty and remained on the charts for over a month.

“One Step Ahead” certainly holds up as one of many timeless records in The Queen of Soul’s catalog, but it also presented a different style and sound than the casual Aretha fan might be familiar with. “It was our answer to the Dionne Warwick phenomenon,” Clyde Otis said in David Ritz’ 2015 book Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin. “It wasn’t a Bacharach song, but it tried to create that refined and relaxed feel.”

Before Ayatollah thought about loading a piece of the song into his MPC, he decided to give it repeated listens first to explore the sonic qualities. “I really got into the record, even before I sampled it,” he told Nodfactor in a 2010 video interview. “I was like, ‘I just want to listen to it and kind of get a feel for the vibe of the record and her singing and her soul.’”

Aretha Franklin’s ability to capture the complex emotions that come with love and heartbreak simply with the sound of her voice was uncanny—something that “One Step Ahead” producer Clyde Otis offered some compelling insight into. “Strange woman. Brilliant woman. A woman blessed with inordinate talent,” he said in Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin. “And yet, for all our time together, a woman I never really understood or even got to know. I saw her as a woman holding in secret pain—and I wasn’t let in on those secrets.”

The pain she channeled into the love-lorn music and vocals on “One Step Ahead” inspired Ayatollah to craft several renditions of the “Ms. Fat Booty” beat before deciding on the best version. As was the case in other Franklin-sampled 90s cuts like Onyx’s “Last Dayz” and Mobb Deep’s “Drop a Gem On ‘Em,” her voice makes the “Ms. Fat Booty” beat unforgettable. Her singing provides the perfect vocal elements for the hook and is also prominent throughout every other section of the song.

Around the time Ayatollah finalized the instrumental, he started developing a relationship with Rawkus records. The label’s A & Rs avoided listening to his beat tapes at first because of their busy schedules, but they changed their tune when he continued to show up at their offices on a regular basis with music to share.

One fateful day, Ayatollah arrived with a beat tape containing “Ms. Fat Booty” and earned himself a seat in the Rawkus conference room. Mos Def was so impressed by the work on this tape that he purchased the instrumentals for “Ms. Fat Booty” and “Know That” from Black on Both Sidesas well as six other productions that have yet to see the light of day. “I don’t know what he did with them, but if you thought those two were some great records, you have to hear the other six,” he told Nodfactor. “The other six were amazing, like really amazing.”

As impressive as these unreleased cuts may be, it was ultimately “Ms. Fat Booty” that changed Ayatollah’s career and his life. He still vividly remembers the rare creative synergy that took place in the studio between producer and MC. “He was writing next to me, writing the lyrics while I was putting the beat together in the studio,” Ayatollah told Hip Hop Speakeasy. “We made a hip hop classic.”


Thanks for reading, see you on Wednesday!

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