Mic Levels Up: DJ Butter
Detroit hip hop has birthed a number of star talents over the years, the producers plus the emcees, and since the early 1990s, DJ Butter has been on the scene to document the movement. From magazines to mixtapes, DVDs to the beats, he has been an artist that has crossed camps throughout the city, dedicated to the goal of expanding the international impact of Motor City hip hop.
While he has successfully branded himself as an influential DJ here in the city, DJ Butter’s new mission is to help Yancey Music Group launch The Rebirth Of Detroit, the upcoming album from the great J Dilla. He also continues to perform throughout the city, with an upcoming appearance at The Old Miami on January 20 to celebrate the release of The Maria EP from Valid, an emcee who was mentored in the game by Butter.
CBM: Thank you for the interview. Please tell us about the career of DJ Butter.
DJ Butter: I grew in Highland Park, Puritan area, I had a rap group back in the days when I was kid called Sudden Strength. My main rapper, Patrick Hendrix, got killed when we were young, 16 years old. After that I started making mixtapes for people in my school, cause I was kind of lost, I had to start all over again.
Mark Hicks, he was Proof’s earlier manager, we shared the same friend, he helped Shady Records develop D12 and Eminem, Paul Rosenberg is a part of that circle. I met Proof and we used to meet up at Stanley’s Rhythm Kitchen and Mahogany, I used to see the whole community at these functions.
I started doing mixtapes a lot, I had a magazine called Funky Fresh In The Flesh magazine. I did it for ten issues and got kind of tired of it, but I got a chance to learn the community a lot through the publication and just the industry alone.
I interviewed rappers like Spice 1, Boss, Compton’s Most Wanted, all at my house on the East Side, I stayed in Conant Gardens. Kid Rock used to call, I interviewed Eminem, a lot of people. Funkdoobiest, Method Man.
Right before his record in like ’96 or ’97, I interviewed Em on the phone for like 30 minutes, I was telling him how proud I was of him, he at that point was so humble. Em was like “we’ll see, I hope it do what it do, you know Butter,” he was kind of non-chalant with it and I kind of knew the magnatude of what it was going to do because it was so different.
D12, they were jumping on my previous mixtapes. Early 90′s, I had my tapes in the Hip Hop Shop, they had W.E.G.O. mixtapes and Slum Village tapes were in there, it was before anybody really understood what we were doing. I eventually started taking folks to the studio and I did my first album, it was called Kill The DJ. It was an original album, I had distribution. I did another album Shit Happens, that was the next one. One of the main joints ended up on D12′s album Devil’s Night. My third project was called Welcome To Shitsville. It’s all Detroit hip hop. We put Obie Trice on there, Almighty Dreadnaughtz.
I was one of the first to put Guilty Simpson on the earlier mixtapes, Royce, Wall Street, D-Elite, when D12 and D-Elite had their thing going on, I was going back and forth and promoting both. At that time we were trying to learn how to unify things like that, they were kind of bickering back then. I was one of the first earlier DJs to premier their music.
Then on my fourth album was Detroit Demo, I did the joint with Essman, Esspionage, then I dropped two artists, Wesley Valentine and Young Black Professionals, all on my label Crazy Noise Productions. I’ve done a lot of work with the community, and now I’m here with this J Dilla project just trying to keep the unity together. I’m having a ball because after all the deaths, I’m back refreshed again.
CBM: It seems like that after all your work you’ve put into the community, from the magazine to the mixtapes, a lot of your work has been leading up to this project.
DJ Butter: It goes hand in hand, relationships are everything. If you’ve got relationships that’ve got talent, it goes hand to hand. I can DJ and scratch, I just didn’t want to play the background, I always wanted to brand my own. I was inspired by Dez and the DJ Clues and the Ron G’s, watching them and going to New York and all my cousins bringing tapes back from New York, it made me want to brand myself earlier in life doing my own thing.
That’s why I’m able to organically help Jay Dee (J Dilla) because I was able to have my own life without any controversy, not like me taking this other man’s legacy and running with it like some other DJs do. I never put out a bootleg tape of a Dilla beat, never was fascinated by exclusively revealing his samples, whatever they do out there. That wasn’t my thing.
CBM: The best part of The Rebirth Of Detroit seems to be the opportunity to use the legacy of Dilla to help bring a lot of light to the rest of the Detroit hip hop scene.
DJ Butter: It’s amazing, like pretty much the whole city wanted to work with Dilla, you had like the gangster rappers knew of him and wanted to get in his lane, and really try to find out how to get overseas. I had a talk with Street Lord Juan and they were so fascinated by the hip hop community.
Esham the same way, and that’s what’s making this project so special, its like Esham and Dilla had history, but it was like a stop and go. Dilla was always on the run, but for Dilla friends to hear that Esham is on the album, that has a lot of people excited. That’s the goal, to kind of change the norm and kind of bring it back home more than anything.
Dilla’s priest actually came and prayed for us over the project, it’s really genuine. If anything is negative, it’s really like it’s negative for the whole city because everybody is hearing about it, it’s a lot of different crews and circles on here but there’s a lot of his people on there.
CBM: This is all just amazing energy to bring people together, unified and ready to advance the art and the business.
DJ Butter: It seems like Dilla’s spirit is zapping people into each others lives, it’s really deep. People are really calling in happy that Mrs. Yancey is getting control of her son’s work.
I can die at peace now, just to see all my friends come together. I’ve been to everybody’s funeral except Dilla’s, but just to see us come together again without a funeral, I’m peaceful now.
I share the same pain as everybody. But just watching Mrs. Yancey, it makes me go harder, the love she has for her kid. That’s what it’s all about, it’s bigger than money, it’s bigger than war, it’s just to get some type of respect for what we’re born to do. And it’s sad to see Proof’s estate the way it is, and Baatin’s, and MC Breed’s estate is up and down.
We’ve got to respect our history. When I see DJ Head or Motsi Ski or Eminem, I treat them all the same way. They all mean so much to my make up. I make sure I greet them with no ego, I make sure there’s a balance in my life. That’s why it’s important for people to come to each other, reach out to each other.
Detroit is going through something, more than just the entertainment things, it’s going through a change with everybody.
CBM: I saw one of your photos recently from the Hip Hop Shop, with Thyme, Mudd and Proof of 5 ELA standing outside of the store together. You’ve probably got stacks of archives like that.
DJ Butter: Oh man, yeah, Bugz and Eminem together, Slum Village and Proof hanging in my neighborhood, a lot of photos. My goal is to put together some kind of portrayal for everybody’s life. I really want to see a VH1 Behind the Music for Proof. I want to see Dilla that way. The stories Mrs. Yancey tells, the world needs to hear that in that light. That’s what I’m here for, it’s not a selfish mission that I’m on.
CBM: It’s not a selfish mission but it’s also a great opportunity for you too though, to let the history flow through you.
DJ Butter: I like to interview people and soak up game, that’s what I’ve been doing for so many years, and you hear where they go to hang out. That’s what my goal is to go to their spots and say ‘I’m DJ Butter, I’m from Detroit’. I walked up to Jay-Z one time in Miami and said I’m from Detroit, he stopped to talk to me. He had so many people with him but I was able to give him mixtapes, that’s like a rush to me. To really get them out their whole tough guy zone and say ‘here’.
CBM: Cause it’s the music first. I look at every Detroit hip hop artist as within the Motown legacy, and the world is coming to respect that.
DJ Butter: Yeah, Motown babies.
CBM: I’m sure you grew up with all the records in your house.
DJ Butter: Of course. My father when I was growing up used to say that Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson would all be in the neighborhood riding around, you’d go to a bar and see such-and-such. Even Mrs. Yancey was saying the other day that she would go to a spot and Al Green was working there washing dishes. Everybody would come here and come to check out Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, this was like the upstart place. That’s our city.
A lot of people don’t even visit Hitsville ourselves here, we don’t really cherish our history because we live in it. The world knows about it, we so non-chalantly go about day by day without realizing it. When I walked through Hitsville I really looked to examine what I was looking at. And that’s how I look at The Rebirth. That’s the mission.
CBM: You’ve got to look at the whole history of the city to understand where the music is coming from.
DJ Butter: That’s how we’ve got to look at all this like that. That’s the goal of this project, to really dig deep in the community and bring the people that Dilla knew, and the offsprings as well.
CBM: So what’s in store with Whutupdoe TV DVD series?
DJ Butter: I’m working on my 5th volume now, I interviewed some of the No Limit camp, DJ Dez. I’m really just interviewing more people, I want to make it like a U-Stream show one day and make it a full brand, kind of make it deeper than just me interviewing a bunch of rappers. It’s about a Detroit culture and the people that embrace Detroit.
CBM: There’s a lot of history in the city.
DJ Butter: It’s crazy, when I go and visit Proof in the cemetery, you’ve got Rosa Parks three seconds away from him. I didn’t know Proof would be that great, just to look at the magnitude of who he was, he connected with everyone from Nat Morris to 50 Cent. That’s how I feel about Detroit hip hop, it touched so many people.
Mic Levels Up: DJ Butter