It isn’t splashed across the top of his website, weknowthedj.com, but Tay James knows Justin Bieber. Three months after he graduated from Hampton University in 2009, James signed on to become Bieber’s DJ, joining the pop wunderkind on his surreal two-year ascent to superstardom.
Before that, James was DJing the clubs of Washington D.C., spinning at Love, Ibiza, Park and others. This summer is a homecoming, of sorts. With Bieber taking a break from the road, James spins every Friday night on WPGC 95.5 from 9-10 p.m.
Click Track spoke with James about what it’s like DJing for one of the biggest pop stars on the planet.
So how did you land the gig?
The right time at the place… A friend of mine who I went to [Hampton University] with, he moved to Atlanta and he was working with Sammie, the R&B artist. Bieber’s based out of Atlanta, too. There and Canada. So his managers told my boy that he was looking for a DJ. I guess the guy that they had wasn’t up to par. Or he wasn’t old enough. They needed someone who was at least 18 so he could fly by himself. That’s basically what they were looking for… If you had a DJ that was 16, that means you have to fly with a 16-year-old and also his guardian.
(What’s Bieber’s favorite Tupac song? Find out after the jump.)
Was there any kind of audition?
I didn’t have a tryout. My tryout was the first show. I got a call on a Wednesday and the first show was that weekend, that Saturday, in Oklahoma. It was, like, his third show.
This was spring of 2009?
This was the summer. July.
What was that like?
Sean Kingston had to drop out to do another show so it was Bieber’s first headlining show. He had one single and here he is headlining… Bieber really shined. I knew this was going to be special.
Where was it?
At a waterpark. They shut down a waterpark.
Funny. How big was the crowd?
It was probably only 2,500. But the show we had after that, it was 400 people. And then the after that it was, like, 20,000.
It must have been crazy to see it get so big so fast.
You see someone who had a following become, like, an icon. It’s weird watching that. It’s like watching a young Michael Jackson grow up. And I can honestly compare it to that.
And in addition to touring with him, you still DJ your own gigs here in D.C., right?
Even when I was on tour with him, I was still flying and doing spot dates in D.C. – Howard Homecoming, Hampton Homecoming… WPGC is helping me define my name more in D.C. because I’ve been gone for almost two years.
At Howard Homecoming Yardfest last fall, the first song the DJ played out on the quad was “Baby.” There were groups of people just groaning about this. Do you ever feel like you have to defend Bieber to the hip-hop crowd you work with?
Even before DJing with Bieber, I was playing Katy Perry in a hip-hop club and mixing it with a hip-hop song. Now, XXL [magazine] has Lil Wayne on the cover and Bieber has a full page in there. Even if people [have] issues, people are loving him. He’s been on 106 and Park.
I interviewed Bieber in Washington back in 2009 and asked him about his influences. He just kept saying Boyz II Men and Michael Jackson. I wonder if that’s changed. Do you know what he’s listening to, now?
He’s a huge Tupac fan. He has posters of Tupac all over his room in Canada. I know that his favorite Tupac song is “Thugz Mansion.” As of right now, I know he’s a big fan of Drake. He loves Chris Brown. He loves Lil Wayne. I know he wants to collaborate with Lil Wayne. You can tell he’s starting to listen to hip-hop more and more. He was always a fan but it looks like he’s embracing it a little bit more. He’s rapping a little bit now, but it’s just for fun, honestly. He knows he’s a singer.