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The Radio Steez Story: DJ Q1’s journey into the digital media & the move to take traditional Hip Hop digital

South African has beautiful history. One that is documented by the many committed soldiers of the culture. With a documented history and timeline we can follow, the South African Hip Hop landscape can be expanded and grown into an advanced self-sufficient community that can foster an environment where successful businesses can thrive.

Hip Hop is not singular, it has different tiers each supported by different sub-cultures and movements. You have the trappers, the true schoolers, the ones that play within both spaces and the ones that play in the experimental realm of the genre (i.e. art rap). The different sub-cultures make Hip Hop the beautiful beast that is. Within each sub-culture, there are mavens who are gifted duties to take the highlight the glory of the community that they are a part of. In the case of the South African true school community, where the traditional elements of Hip Hop are still valued, DJ Q1 is a mover-and-shaker that is doing impressive work.

We had an opportunity to speak to DJ Q1, a respected DJ, turntablist and producer, who is based in Durban. A well-travelled Hip Hop scholar and entrepreneur, DJ Q1 has spotted a gap in the market and went full-force in building platforms for his demographic. We chopped it up with him about his recent venture – Radio Steez. Read the conversation below.

People within the alt Hip Hop scene know and respect you as producer, crate digger and DJ that fearlessly champions true school Hip Hop. The game has changed, the 
landscape of Hip Hop has changed and with that being said, how do you stay true to what you do with all the changes that happen to Hip Hop?
: First of all thank you very much for offering us such a great opportunity to share our story with your audience and beyond. I just recently finished reading the ebook “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson and I have to admit that after reading the book I have asked myself some serious questions about change regards to the current state of South African Hip Hop and the world at large. Things have changed, pants are tighter, clothes are brighter, beats sounds different and even the atmosphere on radio and television platforms somewhat speaks this sudden change. With the same token, I have recently read “Start With Why” by Simon Sinik and to answer your question, knowing why, how and what made us fall in love with Hip Hop has always kept me going. The old school keeps me inspired, be it collecting, reading old school magazines, listening to tapes, sampling vinyl and turntablism. What has kept me going is knowing why I’m an artist and what motivates me as a person. I know out there, there is someone like me; who is looking for a platform to express how he/she feels without having to adhere to industry stereotypes and current trends. In a way we might be shooting ourselves in the foot but as a big fan of Apple I sometimes think it sucks but they have their ways of doing things which inspires me with what we are trying to achieve with Radio Steez. Some DJs have never touched or seen a vinyl record but that doesn’t make them whack and it does not makes us dope either. In a way we are trying to push a positive message, spread love and promote consciousness through the means of a digital platform without hurting anyone’s feelings but doing what we love. Hip Hop!

Where did it all begin for you? Many people know you as DJ Q-1 and now the founder of a digital media platform for the heads by the heads. How did your journey in Hip Hop culture begin for you?
The streets.

Your determination and passion is admirable. One can clearly tell that you love what you do and this also seen in how you have gone on to create your own platform, Radio Steez, which aims to be a much needed voice and platform for heads that appreciate “alternative” rap. What inspired that? The move to build the platform.
Besides doing a bit of photography at hip hop sessions like Splash Jam and 1808, in 2010 I started a digital magazine (Phresh Magazine) that focused on publishing stories of South African Hip Hop at the time I had been studying blogging and internet marketing for a while. When I sold the magazine to a Pretoria-based media company I moved to the Eastern Cape just a when I self published my book “100 REASONS WHY SOUTH AFRICAN HIPHOP IS IN DANGER OF BECOMING EXTINCT”. This book got me a 3 hour slot on a local radio station “Alfred Nzo Community Radio” where I’d also co-produce an indigenous music show. I fell in love with radio from there and my inspiration comes from seeing the need for a radio station that will not just bridge the gap between commercial and underground but the aim is to change the whole landscape. We trying to create a platform where listeners, advertisers and artists understand the importance of each other, because I believe they all co-exist. Lastly, as far as the state of South African Hip Hop, there is no need for another radio station that will repeat the stuff that’s playing on radio and television currently. From most music conferences and workshops I hear heads complain about how HYPE MAGAZINE changed and how radio sucks but we never do a thing about that. I personally think it’s high time we become part of the media and create platforms ideal for the kind of hip hop or environment we desire for our kids and start putting serious contributions to the preservation and heritage of African Hip Hop. Tell African stories to the world with an African perspective without trying to americanise our content for the sake of being accepted. The international audience is hungry for untamed African content and we are right here, we need to tell our own stories.

Image of DJ Q1 playing a set at a First Thursday event in Durban South Africa
Image credit: DJ Q1

The internet has been a major tool in breaking down the industry walls in our country in the last 3 years. As someone who has been in traditional radio and other media circles in South African Hip Hop, why do you think it’s more important now to take to the net to share and build your ideas?
Remember what Ricky Rick said about the internet at the Metros? He was right. Not so long ago, AutoTrader completely moved to digital with a host of other companies like I SPEAK HIP HOP MAGAZINE, and Hype Magazine had plans to move to digital. The internet helps us have instant access to information, customers or instant reach to anyone in the world. I think it’s important now to have a balance in the media. From hip hop blogs with the raw content and online magazines who will publish great stories from the hood. Traditional media is cool but I guess that’s where I am able to embrace the change you spoke about. Where a Vinyl shop is still able to sell physical vinyl records and cassettes through the post office on the internet using sites like Bid or Buy, Amazon, Gumtree or EBay. In a way it’s like analogue meets digital.

As much as you’re moving into the digital arena with your online radio platform, you’re also an analogue head that chooses to do things a certain way, which is something that adds a rather interesting dynamic to you and what you do. How are you planning on incorporating your love of analogue into your digital platform?
The radio is an extension of what I do. The songs people send me would make it into my live dj sets and sometimes when I am out digging I find a nice album that makes it into my beat making sessions. Sometimes when playing a live dj set I spot a couple of loops and breaks that inspire songs. Just recently, we decided that we going 100% digital without a physical studio or address which makes it fun but people will still be able to find us running pop-up radio on international music festivals, music conferences, hip hop sessions, art galleries and the likes. In a way we can be in Johannesburg today and broadcast live in Cape Town tomorrow and Zimbabwe or Canada the next week. Being an analogue kid in a digital world helps identify some loopholes where you can marry the two like an MPC2000XL session on PRO TOOLS. By the way my sampler was released in August 1989 and that thing can take less than 40 seconds sample time so I always have to be creative of how much chopping is done but Audacity has been helpful. So the marriage works quite well.

What is your take on the indie media landscape in South Africa? Are we heading into the right direction? Are you seeing more positives than negatives in our space?
I always tell artists, the independent route is the best route at the moment and a friend of mine BYLWANSTA always proves me right. I see more positive and more opportunities through DIY indie labels, cassette labels and vinyl labels. My company also runs a digital indie vinyl/cassette label that’s focused on promoting beat makers, crate diggers and DJs. But our label (VINYL MONK) is currently put on hold as we’re rebranding & planning to do reissues of old South African Hip Hop from labels such as Pioneer Unit, Beats Against The Beast, Iapetus Records, Outrageous Records, etc… The digital space is the right space for being disruptive at the moment.

The launch of Radio Steez comes at time where the creatives you built the platform for were becoming more and more disgruntled due to the fact that they have no avenues to share their art. A lot people were thrilled to see the launch of your platform as it was a longtime coming. Have you noticed a lot of love and support since launch?
Yes. In the three months since we launched Radio Steez we have received so much love. We getting submissions from Spain, USA, France and other places I never thought we’d reach so soon. From the numbers, France is the largest supporter of our radio station after South Africa. Going digital was the right choice and I am hopeful that by the end of the year we will continue to touch a lot of heads and contribute our share in the preservation and promotion of our hip-hop heritage.

What are some of the challenges that you are facing with running Radio Steez? In Africa, internet adoption is slow and data costs are high, how are you working your way around this to make sure that your vision reaches as many people as possible?
It’s crazy! The data costs are too high but the same service provider would charge less fees in other parts of the world. We currently working on the launch of our new app, and getting that project done is sort of a mission because of limited funds. Content marketing is the biggest thing right now and as a digital platform we want to dive in as early as we can but limitations in funds and data have been a hindrance. Another challenge is getting the right people to work with, the plan is getting people who already doing things, for example; with shows it’s better to get someone who has been creating podcasts for a while than get a someone who doesn’t understand how this works but we are open to learning because we understand no one is perfect and later whoever gets on board has to grow. To see them get grow is more important. We just recently got offered an opportunity to partner with Our Portion Property Developers to get space but because of funds this has been a slow process. But also from our side in deciding whether we need a studio space or keep things strictly digital is another issue.

On that note, do you have any interests in expanding to other African regions and collaborating with other African brands playing in the same space as you?
We are definitely open in partnerships and brand collaborations with brands from the African diaspora and abroad, I believe this would allow us opportunities to learn and grow.

We’ve noticed that you have called on two well respected heads and active participants in the South African Hip Hop, namely Zakes and Elsirven, to join you as you build Radio Steez. What prompted you to call on them to assist you as you build and grow?
They are both people I highly respect in terms of the contribution they have put in the culture, when they approached me to do a show I was excited to offer them a platform to expand what they do in Johannesburg. We expecting more OG’s to join too. Having people with knowledge of the culture is what motivates the decision to say yes. I used to attend DJ Zakes Mixmaster’s legendary Splash Jam back in the days and it’s an honour to have him do a show on Radio Steez. In a way it helps him and Elsirven reach more people. There was really no need for us to start another radio station if we were going to do what the rest of the station are doing, I am praying and hoping we get more knowledgeable heads to do talk shows that speak the language of the streets, Hip Hop, Boom Bap, current state of Hip Hop in Africa and the world, socio-economic issues, political landscape, and a whole lot of other things including
entrepreneurship, Pan-African topics and the likes.

Image credit: GAS Photographic
Image of DJ Zakes Mixmaster at an event
Image credit: DJ Zakes Mixmaster

Let’s talk about balance a bit. How do you balance being a DJ, producer, husband, father, and entrepreneur and the main man behind Radio Steez?
DJ Q1: Very soon I would like to hand over the many responsibilities of running the initiative to someone else and watch this dream grows. This is not mine and I do not own hip-hop, and hip-hop is a very complicated culture to be part of. I have someone I share all these ideas with before they come to life and she has been very supportive. I give my wife all the attention she deserves and my son is doing well too. He knows how to do a baby scratch and that puts a smile on my face but would never force him to be a DJ or a Hip Hop head. My wife likes books and writing so we sometimes go digging together. I’d be digging a lot of personal development books, vinyl records and old school magazines. I would like to send a big S/O to my wife for being so supportive.

Follow and support Radio Steez on social media to help the media platform grow and expand.

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