At the root of remarkable soulful dance music is a strong connection to the music creator's own soul. In the case of Baltimore-based but New York bred producer / DJ / artist / dancer DJ Oji, it's his SPIRITUAL JOURNEY full-length that proves the point – in twelve blissful bits. A cohesive project that features dance's best artists including Byron Stingily, Una, Esteban and Sheila Ford among them, the album represents Oji's most personal work and is making an impact on dance floors around the globe. As the project prepares for release in Japan, burns up the polls in the current CHOICE Awards campaign and carries on monthly at Baltimore 's Sugar party, we caught up with this contemplative music maestro for five quick answers to our most burning questions…
1. Southern-fried soul is a staple of your creativity. Give us some insight into where that comes from along your journey from your first forays in music to becoming the top dance music producer / DJ / artist you are today. Where does it all begin?
DJ Oji: Southern-fried soul? I wish you were here so I could ask you to explain exactly what that means :-) Well, perhaps the irony of it all is that I was born up North. My introduction to music comes from deep down in Brooklyn, New York where I spent the first 17 years of my life. I know I am blessed to have danced on some of the most renown dance floors (hip-hop and house) most of which are now defunct – from the Latin Quarters, to the Roof Top [or] the [Paradise] Garage to Bassline to many places in between. I always credit my Dad as being my musical inspiration because he used to play it all. Earth Wind &Fire, James Brown, New Birth, Teddy P[endergrass], Stevie Wonder, Ashford & Simpson and more. I grew up listening to WBLS. Frankie "that's my idol" Crocker :-) You had to experience radio like that to have a true appreciation of what we are missing today. He was so creative and innovative. He exposed the whole city to new music. So that's where it all begins. Since then, I have been inspired by many others. I love to dance as much as I love to play and produce. Therefore, I am always exposed to the music. I can't tell you how many times I have been on someone else's dance floor when an idea hit me. So the beginning is always recurring. I am blessed.
2. Your prolific partnership with DJ Pope has been going strong for nearly two decades, tell us how you hooked up and how you keep the creativity going after all these years.
DO: I met Pope in college. He was from Chicago and I was from New York. We were just two house-heads who coincidentally decided to go to Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. Funny thing, we met in an argument on the basketball court. Crazy, I know! With so many goals in common we helped each other along and a brotherhood was formed. Sometimes when you are not from a certain place, you are not necessarily welcomed with open arms. You have to earn your respect and you have to create your own opportunities. That's what we had to do. We had to knock down a few doors and establish ourselves, but never once giving the glory elsewhere. It is Baltimore/DC where our seeds were planted and that is what we profess. The creativity keeps going because we don't always see or hear the music in the same way. So being a "team of individuals" allows us to keep it going and be creative in the process of doing so.
3. Your album SPIRITUAL JOURNEY is a well-produced sonic gem, what was your journey like to create this powerful collection?
DO:SPIRITUAL JOURNEY is a result of a really rough period in my life. It covers about 2 1/2 years of off-and-on production. That period includes marriage, contemplation, separation, divorce, heartache, pain and suffering and the deepest love that I have for my children. In such circumstances there are usually only two things that will get you through. The good Lord and the good music! SPIRITUAL JOURNEY is a testimonial, but not necessarily a gospel as some might interpret it to be. I guess it's no secret that DJ Oji is a son of percussion, and the drums are most prevalent in this album. Have you have ever been on the dance floor and you didn't even know you felt like dancing? But the drums came calling for you. Your feet starting dancing and your hands started clapping. Next thing you know your feet have left the ground and your mind has left the building. You are on a spiritual journey. It‘s an out-of-body experience.
4. Throughout dance music history, really good things have come out of Baltimore – what has the city's influence brought to your music that couldn't be repeated anywhere else? What is the scene like there now and what do you do to help keep it alive?
DO: I think what makes Baltimore special is the size of the city. It's not a big city. It's relatively small compared to NY or Chicago. NY has bigger boroughs. For a city so small, we have a great number of producers. However, unlike other cities, our love for the music does not contradict our love and respect for each other. I think that we are all inspired by each other. At the same time, no one is necessarily trying to sound like the other. I am not sure how it happened, but I know it's a good thing. For the most part we all have soul. It's rooted deep down. It's not taught, it's not acquired, it's just there and is the common ground that we all share. Still, we take it in different directions. I have heard it categorized as the " Baltimore sound", but I argue that this is only because it comes out of Baltimore. Still, it is unique to the area because we all have our own sounds. Does that make any sense? Bottom line. We all get along. That's how we keep it alive. "For the love of house!"
5. To whet our audiences appetite for more, what's coming up from your camp over the next few months?
DO: Pope has an album worth of material he is shopping on Una. My remixes as well as Pope's original mixes on Lynette Smith's "Addicted" will be released on King St. The remix to "Footsteps of Phire" (off the SPIRITUAL JOURNEY album) will be released on Ibadan. Perhaps we can consider this a follow up to "Esteban". It's a banger!
I plan to introduce a new artist this year [but] I haven't decided 100% who that will be. Stay tuned.
I have also been doing some co-production with DJ Buzzard who is also down with the POJI Camp. He co-produced "Everything You Want" which is also on the SPIRITUAL JOURNEY album. The album itself has been licensed to and for release in Japan. I want to bring the "happy" back to the music. I want to continue [producing] quality vocal songs with a message in the music. I want to continue to bring the heat! That's what's next :-)