I’ve spoken to one or two musicians in my time, but Robert Van-Liew is the first DJ and come to think of it, the first from a hip-hop background. I’ve enjoyed the company of a few country and western guests, a star of West End stage productions and an advocate of the fabled French Chanteuse, but never a rap artist. So perhaps it seems strange that I’ve found a sudden interest in a genre so disparate to that represented by my guests to date. And honestly, it was a little aberrant to me at first. Ironically though, the one person who wouldn’t be at odds with such diversity in style is Robert himself – better known across the world by his stage moniker DJ DX.
“I want to bring back real music – as in originality and creativity – that is genuine,” he tells me. And he’s not lying. Van-Liew has worked (and re-worked) more tracks than I can begin to conceive and there’s an eclectic variegation to every one of the releases in his medley. I’m not a music journalist so I won’t do an impression of one, but I can tell popularity when I see it. And I know that originality and popularity seldom make happy bedfellows, so Robert’s Twitter army numbering a little short of 200K (and to think, I’m proud of my six and a half thousand!) not to mention that revered blue tick next to his name, count for an awful lot. But before I get carried away with where he is and where he’s going, I want to know where Robert came from.
“I was a Street and Smith top basketball prospect coming out the eighth grade, and I was living in Princess Anne, Maryland at the time and was getting noticed by a lot of schools in my hometown via Jersey City, NJ. I moved from Maryland back home but with my uncle at the time, and he was a music producer and A & R [somebody in the music industry working in the Artists and Repertoire division – a kind of agent if you like]. My room where I slept in was basically the studio room where he made his beats and did his work. I started to meet a lot of popular people who were big on the mix tape scene and it’s like it just was meant to be, you know? I was always surrounded by music as a child and playing with vinyl in my grandmother’s house and I sung in the choir in church. Luckily I grew out of basketball my junior year in high school due to the death of my father. I was prominent and content to succeed in basketball but I felt a stronger passion towards music as I always did – and now here I am.”
Actually Robert’s music has its roots in some of his childhood tragedies, but I’ll let you discover that in the way that he intended. For now, I’d like to know how that passion he speaks manifests itself on a day to day basis.
“A typical day for me is waking up at 3am on some days or not getting any sleep at all. I spend a lot of time writing, producing and promoting myself daily. When I am not in the studio I am either shopping or hanging out with my daughter and son, or performing live – I love performing.”
Like Robert, I too am a three am riser – ok ten past three – so I know how it feels to be up and about in the night time hours, but no sleep at all?! That takes some commitment. Presumably, then, he envies those who work nine to five…
“No,” he avers. “I never envy anyone for anything, I just focus on myself and my goals. I know that everything comes full circle, from rich to poor to poor to rich, so I appreciate everything and everyone. My friends at times try to involve me with their travelling but I am too busy and they understand that I am working on something that means so much to me. However, when the time is right I will travel in the future and unwind to the simple things in life.”
“I want to travel the world and preform every night,” he confirms, “and connect with the world in a way that I could inspire others to not give up on their dreams and just create from the heart and mind and be themselves.”
That’s not to say DJ DX hasn’t already fulfilled some of his ambitions. Only that he views success very much as a journey.
“Transitioning from making blend mix tapes and remixing some of the most popular artist in the world,” he replies when I ask him about his proudest achievements to date, “to writing, engineering, producing and putting out my own music and creating my own lane for myself. It feels great but it’s such a journey. It’s like learning how to dunk and once I figure out how to slam with two hands – then I will know I’ve reached another level.”
I think he’ll achieve that next step too, not that it will be the last on his passage through the music industry, because Robert, to me at least, has an ear for perfection. Perhaps that’s why his music is so enthusiastically received.
“When I was remixing I felt that most of the tracks that were being released weren’t mixed down tight so I would always find myself just remixing the song over. I would get the session or vocals and just do my thing. Sometimes I would have the remixes sitting on my external mastered and wouldn’t release it until I played it to someone and they would tell me to release it.”
As I said at the beginning, I’m not a music journalist and I’ll make a fool of myself if I try to act like one, but listening to Robert’s work I hear something unique. I mean, I have ears at least, right? In any case I think I’m on the right track because when I ask what advice he’d give to someone looking to crack this very competitive corner of the business, he offers something of the introspective.
“Just be yourself. Turn off the televisions, use social media to connect and expand, and keep creating. Save everything you do because you never know what could change your life. Sometimes the smallest things can carry on forever!”
My thanks to Robert Van-Liew, DJ DX, for his time and the insight into what makes him tick. You can find him on his website at officialdjdx.com and to find out what several hundred thousand others are paying attention to, Robert’s social media feeds are as follows: