“If you can scratch, but you don’t know how to mix, don’t call yourself a DJ,” says DJ Felt1. “Know when to mix — know the bars, learn the verses, and once you’ve got that down, you can freak it your own way. Like maybe you scratch in the beat before it comes into the mix, just to give it that extra flavor.” Your job is to keep the flow, one song slipping into another before the people have time to get bored, before they start wondering what’s happening somewhere else. You never play a song all the way through.
“Before,” says Felt1, “it was ‘Let’s DJ to make ’em dance.’ Now, it’s like, ‘Let’s DJ to keep them in the place.’ You can have a dead dance floor and a packed bar and still be making money. You might make more money working at a dive bar and pulling a bar percentage than a downtown club.”
DJ Felt1 is DJ Felt1 because he came to the music part of hip-hop through the art part of hip-hop: paint work. “Felt is like ‘felt-tip marker.’ I was doing full murals; it got to the point where people didn’t even know my real name. I lived near Morse, but I knew if I went there, I probably wouldn’t graduate. It was too close to home, and all of my friends were ditching. So I chose to go to University City. My brother started DJing in ’86,” when Felt1 was ten years old, “and I was the little brother who rolled with him. I started in ’89, playing as a hobby. This was when hip-hop was fresh, so there were no lines on what you could and couldn’t do. I even tried rapping, but it wasn’t my thing. That’s when I started with the art. My ninth-grade art teacher said I had a good eye for it.”
University City offered classes in graphic design, and that led to a graphic-art school in Denver. “But when I came back, I couldn’t find any work. I took whatever I could find, club flyers, stuff like that.” Around this time, he hooked up with an old neighbor who had just gotten his turntables and was also looking to start a clothing line. “We’d practice our DJ skills while we were designing, and that’s what got me back into DJ work. I’d make deals with club promoters — ‘I can do your flyers for free; just pay me to DJ.’”
As of 2010, he still designs shirts for Armory Survival Gear, as well as working at the Armory store on F Street downtown. These days, it’s mostly hats and T-shirts and DVDs of the company’s freestyle DJ sessions, which started in the Chula Vista YMCA before going international and moving to L.A. Oh, and spray paint, custom-designed for graffiti artists. “The pressure in the can is lower, so the paint comes out slower,” explains Felt1. “You get cleaner lines. I probably did my last work about three months ago.”