Setting up turntables in front of 100,000 people at Glastonbury and kicking off a live performance gives you a confidence that never leaves you. DJ Semtex can control an audience at any concert, club or festival. To him, it’s all the same thing: it’s about moving the crowd and his impact on thousands of people stirs up a memorable collective ‘experience’. This is the kind of intuition that only comes when you know that you can achieve anything when you set your mind to it.
It all began with the power of the mixtape for DJ Semtex, and that power today has reached a new state of prominence for artists. It’s no longer just a promotional vehicle, it’s also a way to leak artist demos, a debut album, and a million-selling soundtrack. Being an MC never appealed to Semtex, but seeing Terminator X for the first time under the spotlight with Public Enemy inspired him to become a DJ. He put the wheels in motion by distributing his own mixtapes, and taking to the streets to promote himself everywhere, from the barbershop to the record store. Soon enough he was hosting numerous pirate radio shows, cutting up records, spinning at house parties and launching his own club nights.
Once that fuse was lit – nothing could hold Semtex back; fast forward two decades and Semtex’s trajectory has seen him rock the stage at major festivals as diverse as Glastonbury and Reading, appearing as the opening DJ for Hip-Hop heavyweights such as Kanye West, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Wu-tang Clan, J Cole, and many more. From ‘Boy In Da Corner’ to ‘Tongue N Cheek’ Semtex was Dizzee Rascal’s onstage DJ for several hundred shows, Nas requested his onstage skills for a tour of Germany, as well as Rick Ross, Travis Scott, and Iggy Azalea for shows across Europe.
Hosting the U.K.’s cornerstone Hip-Hop show on BBC Radio 1Xtra with his weekly show live from London, Semtex has also broadcast from New York, Miami, Houston, Puerto Rico, and The Bahamas. He has hosted shows from some of music’s most high-profile events, including the Philadelphia leg of Live 8 as well as the Mixshow Power Summits. Everyone from Kanye to Drake to Vic Mensa has been introduced to the UK via Semtex’s seminal show. His infamous interview with Lil Wayne is featured on the multi-platinum selling documentary Mr. Carter, and his recent series of BBC documentaries have included profiles on Macklemore and Rick Ross.
DJ Semtex has been introduced to, invited, participated, and accelerated Hip-Hop culture. He is an unquestioned authority who is sought after not only for his influence but also for his take on who is authentic. A co-sign from DJ Semtex is like a direct passport to the U.K audience.
Forty years after the birth of the movement, Semtex now releases the definitive book on Hip Hop, the musical culture that revolutionised the world. ‘Hip Hop Raised Me’ covers the whole spectrum of the genre which includes a foreward by the legendary Chuck D.
Who is Semtex?
A nerd who found his true calling thanks to Hip Hop.
What are your earliest memories of music?
My Mum playing Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’ album every night after I went to bed. I knew that album inside out.
Who were your influences coming up?
My Brother, my cousin, Stan Lee, Prince, Newcleus, Egyptian Lover, Run DMC, The Jungle Brothers, Public Enemy, BDP, Ice T, HiJack, De La Soul, Gangstarr, Dr Dre, Snoop, then I started DJing and became one with Hip Hop lol.
You are originally from Manchester then moved to London how hard was it resettling and making a name for yourself?
First night I moved to London I was in a one bedroom flat by myself and I cried. It was only then that it hit me that I left everything behind, that my family wasn’t with me, and I knew no one in London.
London is a very cold city. Because of the cut throat nature of the music industry and the fickle Hip Hop scene, I developed a ‘fuck you’ attitude very quickly out of necessity, I grew layers of thicker skin very quickly.
What was your first big break in London when you realised you could make this your career?
It wasn’t a break as such, it was more that I realised I was never going to make it in Manchester. My career as a DJ was dependent on the seasonal student market and constantly in jeopardy because of the gang violence. I had to move down to London, I was prepared to outwork everyone, determined to make it no matter what, I had every intention of succeeding.
When and why did you decide to make “Hip Hop Raised Me”?
I meet a lot of people from all types of backgrounds trying to get put on, trying to make it in life. There’s a lot of people that don’t believe in themselves, or have some type of adversity that they have to endure. It could be a lack of focus or vision. Regardless I just wanted to do a book that was positive that reinforced and amplified the positive aspects of the artists that form the culture that has helped me become who I am today.
From start to finish how long was the process in making the book?
Just over a year.
What were the some of the obstacles you came up against when making it?
Do we do a British chapter? But then we would have to do a French chapter, which would mean we would have to do a German chapter, Australian chapter, Japanese, etc. So it made more sense to do the ‘Home Invasion’ chapter which focuses on the international artists that are returning the favour and invading the US with their own style Hip Hop.
What one thing did you want to include but didn’t make the cut?
We’re good, we got everything that we needed for this book.
How did you manage to get Chuck D to do write the foreword?
I emailed him and explained my vision for the book and how much of an impact he and Public Enemy had had on my life then Chuck responded immediately. The foreword is amazing and actually challenging. Chuck D has clearly defined my responsibility to this culture.
The book contains some super rare images documenting Hip Hop culture how hard was it in sourcing these?
We had an idea of what we were looking for and the photographers that we wanted to reach out to. The hardest part was deciding what did or didn’t make the final draft.
What do you want people to take away after reading the book?
Protect and sustain the culture. This is our only channel of free speech, we all have a responsibility to preserve it.
How has Hip Hop raised you?
It opened my eyes, ears, and mind.
What are your thoughts on the current Hip Hop scene compared to when you first started out. What do you think each era could learn from each other?
It’s a new day every day. Every day there is a new voice, a new message, a new way of saying things. The new era has to find their own way and create their own path. The previous eras have to accept and respect this.
Having been involved in Hip Hop for over 20 years what has been some of your own personal highlights?
Being in the position to have the conviction to email Chuck D and ask if he could write the foreword for ‘Hip Hop Raised Me’. Witnessing Kanye grow into one of the greatest artists of our time. Kendrick, Joey Badass, Drake, Macklemore, J Cole and Chance the Rapper started from the bottom now they’re here, it’s amazing to be a part of their journeys at different points and seeing them develop.
Deejaying for Dizzee Rascal across every continent on his first four albums, introducing Grime to the world, seeing Skepta redefine his vision and successfully see it through. Broadcasting to the UK and the rest of the world every Friday night for the last 15 years. Deejaying for Nas, Rick Ross, and Travis Scott, co-founding the Nation of Billions platform with my best friend, then writing a book on some of these moments. I never take any of these moments for granted.
You are a man of many talents from working at labels, DJing, hosting radio shows, being an author plus more. What do you most like to do and why?
Standing on stage rocking crowds. I exist to move the crowds.
What has been the secret to your success?
Following my gut instinct.
What’s the best piece of advice ever given to you?
“You will figure it out.” Just being told that makes you figure it out.
What does the future hold for Semtex?
Im going do everything I’ve ever wanted to do.
What is your definition of Grindin’?
Following your dreams and deleting the distractions.
Interview by Duggs.
Buy “Hip Hop Raised Me” book HERE