The best news I heard all week was when Terry Hunter told me DJ Spen was coming to Chicago this Sunday, October 2nd at The Shrine. I’ve been waiting to hear this man for years! This Baltimore-bred DJ/producer/remixer is part of the well known Basement Boys, The Muthafunkaz and co-owner of Code Red Recordings. His uplifting music is delicious to the soul and satisfying to your feet. Anytime you see the name DJ Spen on a song, it’s guaranteed to move you.
It says that at an early age you founded one of Baltimore’s earliest hip-hop production groups (Numarx) and that you guys were the ones that wrote and recorded the original Milli Vanilli song “Girl You Know it’s True”? I can only imagine how many doors that opened up for you!
That record opened many doors for us! The thing is it didn’t open the doors that we wanted it to. We were never able to get a major interested in the Numarx which was really frustrating for us after coming up with a hit that sold 13 million copies.
You had quite a long and illustrious career in radio before going on to form The Basement Boys and The Muthafunkaz. In a way you could tell what worked as hits on the radio, so how did that inform your songwriting work? Did you have certain formulas that you knew would help make a song get big on the dance floor?
Well I can honestly say that radio helped me on the creative tip with songwriting quite a bit. I would find myself borrowing from records that I loved but weren’t necessarily hits. I love ballads, and working late nights I always had pen and paper ready for an idea to hit me. Most of the dance tracks I wrote at Basement Boys (which was formed before I joined) have so many borrowed parts from slow songs that it’s unreal!
I’ve never been to Baltimore but I do know your name is synonymous with that city. Tell us what it’s like in terms of House Music over there… Do you have lots of local talent and local nights?
The House community in Baltimore is small, but it’s a good one. The thing about Baltimore that’s just awesome is the overall musical talent that exists here. It’s just the right place for me as a producer to find new talent. There are loads of open mic nights here. A few are put on by Marc Evans and one of the MuthaFunkaz Irvin Madden. So it’s loads going on.
Spen and Karizma. Those 2 names are legendary both separate and together. How did the two of you start working together and did you know right away it would be a perfect fit? What are the differences in your working and creative styles?
I don’t think either of us knew we would eventually be this perfect match. We just kinda do what’s natural and it just seems to work really well. I would have to say that Kris is a rule breaker, and I’m a rule follower. He believes in things being as organic as possible, and I believe things should be almost streamlined. He may disagree, but I think that’s the creative difference, full stop.
Looking at all the pots your hands are in can make one’s head spin! What do you have coming up with Code Red, the Muthafunkaz, your solo stuff, traveling, etc. that we can look forward to? Any new artists that you’re excited about?
Geez… loaded question! On Code Red my major focus for the fall is the MuthaFunkaz Muthaz Day Reloaded remix LP. It features the likes of Joey Negro, Kenny Dope, Gramophonedzie, Atjazz, Karizma, and my dude Dimitri From Paris. Also on CR is a remix from my boy Terry Hunter on a track called “Rain” that Barbara Tucker wrote for Charlotte Small, and a new track Marc Evans that’ll end out the year. Next year should prove to be a lot of fun with our new up and coming artists like LeRoyal (who had a big record earlier this year called “Promise”) and a young lady by the name of Forté.
Remix-wise I am excited to be working on a new single by Labelle’s Sara Dash called “Hold On (He’ll Be Right There)”, and a track by David Harness & Chris Lum called “Let It Fall”.
The DJ schedule looks good for the end of the year as well. I’ll be in Latvia, the UK, Italy, and Australia doing tours alone and with Karizma.
What are your favorite things to do when you’re in Chicago? Any favorite spots to hit for food?
Garrets Popcorn! And I always love to take a trip to the original UNO’s spot as well.
How long have you been friends with Terry Hunter and what can we expect when we see you at Shrine?
I have known Terry for at least 15 years. I knew him before he knew me! We’ve been good friends for at least ten. Let me tell you, he’s the dude you want with you if you ever have a dark alley situation! But anyway… expect some good, kickin’ House Music! I am looking forward to that night for sure.
Spen’s 5 favorite songs right at this moment?
Elz + Ellie “Soul Power” (MKTL Remix)
Terry Hunter “Ugly Part Of Me”
Exist “Looking At Blue”
MuthaFunkaz “Every Day Of the Week” (Joey Negro Remix)
Fanatix and Assurence “I Trust You”