Interview: On An EDM Hot Streak With MAKJ

A few months ago, Mackenzie Johnson (aka MAKJ) was the best DJ you had never heard of. Now the labors of this 23-year-old prodigy have evidently born sweet success fairly early in the game. Currently hailed as EDM’s hottest rising star, Mack’s power-packed touring schedule includes headlining Ultra Music Festival and TomorrowWorld, along with his residency at XS in Las Vegas and stops across various world cities. His versatile talent goes beyond the decks and boards. In fact, Mack was a professional race car driver in his youth, which explains his love for streamlined, high-octane, anthem-esque tunes.

"Countdown," his hotly anticipated collaboration with Hardwell, was released earlier this week on Revealed Recordings. It’s a big room track with multiple layers of meticulously well-crafted production. The track kicks off with bouncy synths, a stomping kick drum, frantic atmospheric builds that leads into the vocal sample and into a steady techno inspired drop. From then on the track shifts gear to a sparkling big-room chord progression, and into a dynamic Dirty Dutch drop. Countdown is already cruising smoothly to the top of the Beatport charts and is available here:

VIBE caught up with MAKJ to give us a peep into his life and upcoming projects.

‘Countdown’ is the ‘Un-bootleggable’ song, a track with three different drops. It’s a great concept, very forward-thinking stuff. Why did Revealed Recordings decide to release the track now rather than earlier?
We made this track over a year and a half ago. I was inspired to release a track of this sort because I’ve been making bootlegs and edits for a while now. Also playing shows on a daily basis, I’ve noticed that people’s attention span towards any track is very short. When you are playing anthemic, fast-paced kind of music, everyone, be it at a festival or a club, everyone will get bored of a track, if its played longer than a minute or two- it’s like they have ADD- so when I noticed this, I decided to make a track that had three different elements to it, as if to keep people guessing. With ‘Countdown’ I want to be able to bring a new age of Un-bootleggable sound to the forefront.

I feel like Revealed Recordings is such a well-run imprint. They are honestly the ones that have a really great sense of timeline and are tactical with their releases. Their reason being there releases have the ability to steer music in the right direction.

You were mentored by DJ AM? Could you tell us about any memories or advice he had shared with you?
AM was more of a friend to me than a mentor. Yes, he did mentor me in a way but it was more like life mentoring than production tips and scratching etc. I remember I would go see him play when I was younger and he would just smash it each time! A lot of the people he introduced me to such as Steve Aoki are still good friends of mine.

One of the best memories I have of him was about five years ago, when we were just casually hanging out, he told me that if I wanted to become a DJ, and was serious about getting club residencies etc. I should find a way to talk to a man named Jesse Waits- who as you know is one of the main people behind Las Vegas’s nightlife- Five years go by, and very recently, I was approached by Jesse Waits about doing a residency XS. So it’s kind of a trippy, foreshadowing, sort of coincidence, when you think about it.

What kind of cars did you race? How did you get into that? Will you ever sample racecar sounds for a track?
I started out racing go-karts when I was ten. As I got better and older, I started entering more regional competitions and won some races. By the time I was around fourteen or fifteen; I got a chance to race professional for BMW junior-level formula racecars and won the championship here in the States. This led to some really great opportunities to race overseas in Bahrain and China with a lot of international kids. So I ended up moving to Asia to pursue this career path, won some cool races and ended up racing for GP2, which is a two-steps below Formula One racing. But then, I had to quit because… it’s a little embarrassing to say…but I just got too tall.
It’s always a toss-up for me when considering making a track with a racecar sample. At the moment, I do not have any plans to do so, but you never know.

How did DJing come about then?
So while I was in China, a bunch of my friends and myself went to a club over there, and I saw this guy named Q bert spin. The entire night, I was that ‘one weird dude’ who was watching the DJ all night. After his set, I went up to him and I had all these questions; he took the time to answer them and advised me to get a pair of turntables if I was serious about DJing. It was after that night that I was pretty sure, that’s what I wanted to do after racecar driving.

Tell us about your time at ICON Collective. Was it over there where you really understood and got a grasp on writing music?
ICON was a great time for me. It was here where I wrote the bulk of my tracks. My professors and interacting with my peers gave me such great exposure to electronic music. I’m very grateful that I went there; it really honed my production skills.

You were spinning hip-hop records back in the day. Which hip-hop producers, rappers or producers turned rappers are you currently listening to?
I’m listening to Riff Raff right now. I met him a couple of weeks ago, really cool guy, has a very dynamic stage personality.

DJing then production came first for you. From a very early age you understood how to read a crowd. What are some traits or signs you look for when assessing a crowd’s reaction and how you need to steer a set according to their liking, it must feel like having a third eye almost?
When I play, I always focus on the front row and if they aren’t feeling it for some reason or if it’s hard to assess them, I’ll turn to the security. They don’t know who you are or care for that matter, they are used to being in that kind of environment on a daily basis. When you think about it, they really are the best critics because if you can make them move, you’re doing it right. After a show, I always make it a point nowadays to ask the security what they thought of the ‘DJ’s set.’ If they say they like it, then you know you had a good night at work.

So mainstage at TomorrowWorld, what was that like?
Oh man! I can’t even describe how epic that party was. I flew in from Boston at 3:30am, right after my gig. We got to Atlanta, just a few hours before the show; I had just enough time to take a shower and chomp down some breakfast. I was to play on the mainstage, Sunday afternoon and went into the show, very tired with a total lack of sleep. But as soon as I got there, saw the stages and the people, it just sparked a high energetic adrenaline rush in me, and that’s what carried me through my set. Easily one of the best experiences of my life. EVER!

You’re about to go on a bus tour with Bingo Players and Bassjackers across the US. Is it your first time on a bus? Have you mentally prepared yourself for a daily meal of tequila and egg whites?
It is my first time on a bus tour and I’m so excited! I’ve heard so many stories that you have to do the whole road trip thing at least once in your life, you have to treat it like you’re part of a rock band. This whole tour has been put together by a great set of people. I’m looking forward to spending time with the guys and making some great music with them on the road.

Definitely preparing myself for daily egg whites. A lot of people don’t know this about me but I actually don’t really drink much or do drugs, I try to stay healthy that, so I keep away from all of that.

You have a new Diplo remix coming out. What’s that going to sound like?
I do. I have a Diplo remix and a Nervo Remix in the works. Currently, I have two versions for the Diplo track, so I’m still working it out. One is very melodic, very Kaskade-esque and the other one is bouncy. But I have some cool stuff coming up with Clockwork, Deorro and Chuckie too.

Catch MAKJ on tour with Dutch dominators Bingo Players and Bassjackers! They kick things off in Miami!


Photo credit: Kevin Donnelly

From the Web

More on Vibe

Getty Images

Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ Is Expected To Make $64 Million Opening Weekend

Thanks to Us, Jordan Peele has another blockbuster on his hands. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the highly-anticipated horror flick starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, is expected to have a $64 million opening weekend at the domestic box office.

Peele’s sophomore horror film earned an impressive $7.4 million on Thursday (March 21) night previews, and is forecasted to take in about $27 million from Friday sales. The film is also on pace to knock Captain Marvel out of the No. 1 spot at the box office.

Once final numbers are tallied, Us will likely snatch the third-best opening weekend record for an R-rated horror film behind It, which brought in a whopping $123.4 million, followed by Halloween’s $76.2 million opening weekend last year.

Aside from rave reviews and a genius promo run that included simultaneous screenings in major media markets, Us earned a 95 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film, set in the mid-1980s centers around a family of four who set off on a vacation that finds them confronting some familiar faces.

Peele recently spoke to VIBE about casting Duke (our April 2019 cover star) in the role of patriarch, Gabe Wilson. “I have to have somebody voice what the audience was saying,” he said. “In the case of Get Out, it’s Rod, like, ‘How have you not left yet?’ [In Us], Winston is largely that voice. There’s one moment where Lupita [Nyong’o] takes a step into the unknown, where black people [will think], ‘I don’t know.’ But to have Winston say, ‘Aaaand she left. Your mother just walked out of the car.’ That’s all we need.”

Duke also opened up about the intricacies of his character. “His function isn’t to see through the veil. His function is to tell the absolute truth how he sees it,” explained the 32-year-old actor. “He’s sometimes there to say the things that other people don’t want to say, but he’s also there to make fun of things to keep it from not getting too heavy, even though it’s real. That was my job. [Peele] respected that. I like to lean into functions. If I’m going to be your antagonist, I’m gonna really push you. If I’m gonna be your clown, funny guy, I’m gonna do that.”

Click here to read VIBE’s April 2019 cover story.

Continue Reading
Joe Scarnic

Cardi B Explains Why She Wants To Trademark “Okurrr”

Cardi B hopes to secure as many “bags” as possible. In response to backlash and burning questions surrounding her decision to file to trademark “okurrr,” the 26-year-old rapper took to social media Friday (March 22) to defend her latest money move.

Since people tend to ask Bardi to use what has become her signature catch phrase, she figured that it was time to cash in. “You think I ain’t gonna’ profit off this sh*t? B*tch white folks do it all the motherf**king time,” she said. “So you gon’ be mad at me ‘cuz I want to get some motherf**king money?

“While I’m still hear I’ma secure all the fucking bags,” Cardi continued before adding that there are a “lot of ways to get rich” in 2019.

The Bronx native caught heat for wanting to trademark the word because she wasn’t the first to say “okurrr.” Cardi already revealed that she started using it after she heard Khloe Kardashian saying it, but the word was originally popularized in drag culture -- most notably by Rupaul’s Drage Race contestant Laganja Estranja, in 2014.

However, Rupaul attributed the word to Broadway actress, Laura Bell Bundy, who used it in YouTube skits dating back to 2010. In the skits, Bundy pretends to be a hairdresser named “Shocantelle Brown.”

Although Bundy caught criticism for her little character, which was deemed racist, she typically gets credit for bringing “okrrr” (different spelling) to the internet a full decade before Cardi made it mainstream.

No matter the origin, it looks like Cardi will be the only one profiting off of “okurrr.”


View this post on Instagram


#CardiB on why she decided to trademark “Okurr”

A post shared by the Jasmine BRAND (@thejasminebrand_) on Mar 22, 2019 at 5:32pm PDT

Continue Reading
Getty Images

Kanye West, EMI Working Towards Private Settlement

Kanye West and EMI could be close to settling their legal drama. Each party filed documents requesting a stay of the case to “explore the potential for a resolution,” The Blast reports.

West sued EMI in an effort to “gain freedom” from his contract, and to own his publishing. In the lawsuit, ‘Ye argued that his contract ended in 2010 under California law, which bars entertainers from being tethered to an agreement for more than seven years. The multi-Grammy winner, who signed the deal back in 2003, also accused the company of slavery because the contract doesn’t allow him to retire.

“Even if the contract were not lopsided in EMI’s favor (it is), even if its terms valued Mr. West’s artistic contributions in line with the spectacular success he has achieved for EMI (they do not), and even if EMI had not underpaid Mr. West what it owes him (EMI has), he would be entitled to be set free from its bonds,” the lawsuit reads.

EMI hit back with a countersuit filed in New York, instead of California. The suit pointed out that the 41-year-old rapper signed multiple contract extensions, in addition to accepting millions in advances.

According to The Blast, West and EMI now feel that putting a hold on the legal proceedings will be beneficial to both sides “and the Court by enabling the parties to engage in meaningful discussions in an attempt to resolve this action without having to incur the burden and expense of litigation and motion practice.”

Continue Reading

Top Stories