Chicago house pioneer, ghetto house legend and Dance Mania superstar: these are a few of the things people are using to describe DJ Deeon today. But almost everyone who met him follows it up by adding what an incredible person he was.

It’s for all of those facets of the man that we are in mourning today after DJ Deeon passed away in Chicago. Funeral arrangements are pending.

DJ Deeon was a true Chicago DJ, a workhorse who could go a year without releasing a record and then drop four EPs in 48 hours. In December 2012, 5 Mag ran our first cover story with Deeon, who told Rees Urban about the way he got his start spinning records and pushing his mixtapes at the El Rukn headquarters at 3947 S. Drexel:

“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.”


Ghetto house was essentially created at parties like these, from DJs like Deeon that grabbed whatever tools and machines they could find to create their own tracks and blend them from a cassette deck:

“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.”


Under Ray Barney and Parris Mitchell, Dance Mania Records was reborn as the production and distribution arm for this new sound that captivated Chicago’s Southside youth. Deeon had, Rees wrote, “more vinyl releases on cult label Dance Mania than most artists have released in their entire digital catalog.”

Also in that interview, Deeon revealed to the press for the first time some of the health issues he’d been confronting. Deeon passed away in the hospital where he had unfortunately spent far more time than anyone should over the last twenty years. In 2002 he was diagnosed with — and after a year of chemotherapy, beat — fourth stage Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In 2012 he had quadruple bypass surgery, and then more chemotherapy after cancer had returned. After an accident in February of that year, his left lower leg was amputated.

I never met someone who went through all that, all at once. I can’t even wrap my head around it. But check the date. That was more than a decade ago. He’d been hospitalized several more times since then. I remember writing one story about a GoFundMe set up to help defray his expenses; when I finished I remembered I’d written almost the same story just two years before. Life came down on this guy, hard. But Deeon was a guy that punched back over and over.

“It was a time when music uplifted me,” he said, “cured me, and rocked me to sleep.”

There was some consolation in the fact that a new generation sought him out — and unlike some of the respect paid to the old school, many of these actually paid. Outside of dates he could make, like headlining My House Music Festival, Deeon was featured on a number of releases from labels like Drumcode, Moveltraxx, Incorrect and of course Teklife.

How real was DJ Deeon? I hit him up once to talk about DJ Milton — another ghetto house legend who has been locked up and whose release Deeon advocated for on Facebook over and over again through the years. When we wrapped up I said something like “Where you off to?” and he said he was going to finish up something he was working on for Drumcode, I think it was that “We Have Bass” record with Wehbba. Taking time from fine-tuning some new banger on the hottest label in the world to talk about your brother from the old days. That’s as real as it gets.

Before I met him, I only knew Deeon from his records — “Let Me Bang” and “Da Bomb” and “House-O-Matic” and everything else from Dance Mania.
Like Paul Johnson, just from hearing these records I thought, “The guy that made these sounds like the coolest mf’er in the world.” And then you’d meet Deeon and you realized you were were right.

After Paul’s death, I asked a bunch of people what they learned from Paul Johnson — like Deeon, one of Daft Punk’s “Teachers.” That story has yet to be published — everything was way too raw then — but this is what Deeon told me. I’m putting it in big letters so you notice:

“I learned to do you. Fuck what they think. Never stop no matter if you have one leg or none… His strength, his courage, not to take bullshit off any one. That your heart is bigger than your body. Don’t sit in the shit too long. Get up! Keep fuckin’ pushing!”

“And last but not least,” he told me, “no one owns this house music. We won’t be stopped.”


Photo: Parris Mitchell, DJ Deeon and Jammin Gerald. Sent to us by Parris Mitchell some years ago…