Deeon is a pioneer in Chicago music, period. Often revered as the Ghetto House originator, he is an influence to electronic music producers of all genres. He’s licensed songs to compilations from DJs that spin anything from Deep House to Trance without ever even altering his distinct style. With more vinyl releases on cult label Dance Mania alone than most artists have released in their entire digital catalogue, there’s no reason you shouldn’t know close to a dozen of his songs including anthems like “Let Me Bang”, “The Freaks [Uh-Uh]”, “Work This MF” and “Shake What Ya Momma Gave Ya”.
Here’s a real story about real ghetto music.
You’ve been around since the beginning of the Ghetto House movement. How did it start?
For me it started on the Southside of Chicago. I was spinning at the El Rukn temple [The Fort] in the early ’80s and I decided to make my own tracks to play since I was always hearing all the new jack House tracks that were out at the time and I wanted to make some music that the crowd could relate to. I made “Beat The Fort” by just really personalizing the crowd since many of them were from the surrounding housing projects like Ida B Wells, The Darrow Homes, Madden Park, Stateway Gardens, Wentworth Gardens, etcetera.
I had a 606, an 808 and a sampler and I’d make minimal ghetto beat tracks and play them off cassette. To supplement my income I sold my mixtapes at the parties that featured lots of my exclusive tracks. But eventually the Feds shut that down, so back to the streets I went. From there I sold tapes under my building and eventually to the Chinese clothing stores. That’s how it started for me.
Seeing that was a sanctuary for what was probably the largest street gang in Chicago in the ’80s, how did that go over?
The parties were successful; eventually DJ Milton and DJ Carlos as well as DJ Rush would come in and play with me. Members of all different gangs would come and just have a good time. Everyone was there to party. It got so big that they had to tear out a few walls to make more room for the crowd. Eventually it got shut down permanently in ’89.
There’s been a lot of beef amongst artists over the years within the genre. What’s needed to put an end to that in order to help this sound grow & show everyone it can continue to be a movement to be taken seriously?
Do your own shit! Stop remixing or biting, I personally hate that! Come up with your own shit! Don’t rip off mine, or else, fuck you – pay me! If you remix my shit I’m coming for my cash, advance and residuals.
Similarly, that’s how you got to meet Armando, correct?
Yeah, he did a version of “Yo Mouf'” where he sampled my track off of an unlabeled cassette. When I heard the song, I asked [DJ] Emanuel who made the sample track and he put me in touch with Armando. When he told me it was his and how it happened, I said it was cool and he went ahead and pressed it on his label Warehouse.
Shortly after he put me in touch with Ray Barney and I started giving Ray tunes for Dance Mania and that was the beginning of my ties with the label. Armando and I exchanged production techniques and I even met Farley [Jackmaster Funk] and Gene Hunt at his crib for the first time.
The Ghetto and Juke styles are big worldwide. Especially in places like France and Japan, there are loads of producers from abroad now. How do you feel about producers in these places putting their spin on the music?
Since the downfall of Dance Mania it feels good to have these guys keep the music alive. It gives me a chance to come back as often as I like and never fade away. These guys are really down for the sound.
You’ve been through more this year than most people will ever endure health-wise. How are you doing?
I must say that you must take care of your health. I’ve been through the ringer this year. Last year I wanted to workout, lose some weight and become a stripper full time as I do dabble a little bit in the business. [laughs]
No I’m just fuckin’ around. Actually, last year I did an interview with Lil’ Louis and we discussed some factors in my life including my bout in 2002 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which I was diagnosed in my fourth stage.
Well after a year of chemotherapy, I beat that. Praise GOD. Just before Louis left he turned to me and said, “You are no longer a survivor, you are alive. Time to start living.” And I took that and said that’s what I’m gonna do.
I started to work out and quickly became short of breath every time and I noticed that the summer heat was really wearing me down, so I decided to go to the hospital for a full checkup. When the tests came back, I was diagnosed with heart disease and my lymphoma had returned.
So this January I had a quadruple bypass heart surgery. I was only to be in the hospital for five days but due to complications and pneumonia it turned into a thirty day stay. As soon as I got out I was to continue chemo for my cancer. Then in February I had an accident that eventually led to me having my lower left leg amputated in July. I tried to fight it but it was no use, I was defeated.
How has all you’ve been through changed and affected your outlook and approach to music?
As I said, I was defeated. Nothing mattered. It was a time when music uplifted me, cured me, and rocked me to sleep. Now it’s just morphine sulfate, vicodin and ZzzQuil. But I have been diggin’ in the crates so to speak, and with prayer and encouragement from my family and people in the industry like Paul Johnson and DJ Funk. I look at Paul and see him still going strong no matter what! I feel like I have a second wind. I have a new (well, not really new) release coming out on Booty Call Records out of Paris soon, as well as a new site coming in 2013. I also bought a few new toys to play with so I’m kinda excited.
What is your single largest influence in Ghetto music and how do you apply it to your production?
The largest influence is of course the booty! For real, the influence is the love for the music that so many have expressed to me, guys like Funk, Paul, Emanuel, DJ Rashad, Traxman and many others! The newfound love and rivalry of House Music here is inspiring and making me do a little more work and get my shit together.
What’s the best thing about Ghetto music?
The best thing is there is almost always a packed dance floor! It moves the crowd. Ain’t that what we came here for?
Should people take Ghetto music seriously?
Not really, it’s just fun music. It’s kind of like a getaway from the reality of life to music. Get freaky with a stranger music. Girls kissin’ girls music. Stress relief music.
Where do you see the direction of this music going in the future?
When a lot of the guys are playing overseas, they do the Juke thing but the biggest response is always from the old school shit, so I see it going more back to the roots. Slower tempos that you can play with, different styles like we used to.
I also see Chicago taking back the crown in the dance music scene as a whole, and we are well capable, too, production-wise.
As far as unity, I don’t know. It seems like everybody is so worried about other artists and their subgenre instead of focusing on their own shit.
You have a big show coming up here in Chicago soon. Give us the details.
I was asked to play one of the opening slots for the Nina Kraviz show coming up on January 18th [at Primary]. She’s a big deal right now and she’s a huge fan of Ghetto House and I guess I am one of her influences, so I thought it was cool that they asked to me to be on the lineup. I’m looking forward to the show.
You have a new DJ crew, what’s that about and how is it different than the others?
Ouch! That’s a touchy subject, but I will say this: when you have a crew that’s a team, it’s a team effort. Not to be used to exploit and use artists for your benefit as well as your DJ team or so-called friends. You have to feed your soldiers. If you eat, we all eat!
My new crew is called Blok Bizness DJs. It’s a collective of DJs from another group of DJs that were fed up with the bullshit and politics of the former so-called leadership of the first crew. So basically it’s the same crew just without the old CEO. Once most of the founding staff was asked to step down, the rest of the team stepped away as well leaving a few lost souls who know not what they’re in for. Once I found out the founding staff was gone, I left as well. We just wanna DJ, hangout and have fun. It’s about the FAM.
We’re also have a new radio station called Blok Bizness Radio and we will have a weekly show playing Ghetto House shit, new and old. As well as others in the crew like Emanuel doing a weekly Disco show. We also have a popular DJ from the black college scene playing all the new Chicago rap artists. It’s gonna be a big deal because it’s diverse and we can play what we want. There’s an app you can download for your smartphone so you can listen at anytime.
What’s the most important way to stay relevant in the music that seems to be ever changing with the subgenres and different styles incorporating the Ghetto sound into their styles?
I’ve learned that consistency is the way to stay relevant, bottom line.