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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!

bingo-players-tour

Photo credit: Kevin Donnelly

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Omar Epps Talks New Horror Film 'Trick,' His Vast Acting Roles And John Singleton's Genius

If you came of age in the ‘90s, Omar Epps may eternally be Quincy McCall playing Monica for her heart, or Malik Williams running to regain his full athletic scholarship, or high school student Q romancing a grown-ass nurse with her own apartment (I’m really stuck on that detail as an adult) and trying to avoid Bishop in project elevators. But over the last two decades, Epps has pretty consistently stayed on-screen - small and big - in roles that run the gamut from DJ to doctor, from ballplayer to police officer. He was even the Black person that gets killed in a horror movie in 1997’s Scream 2 (that franchise was thoroughly committed to maintaining slasher tropes). When Brooklyn native isn’t juggling multiple projects, he’s one-half of ‘90s Black couple goals with his wife of 13 years, Total’s Keisha (and she’s still fine). But I digress.

This Halloween, Epps returns to the slasher film subgenre in Trick, the first installment in a new horror franchise from director Patrick Lussier, whom Epps worked with on Scream 2 and Dracula 2000. Epps plays Mike Denver, a small-town detective fighting to stop a serial killer terrorizing the community every year — even though Denver already shot and killed him.

VIBE talked to Epps about the new movie (carefully, so as to not give it all away), choosing vastly different roles over the years, and predicting the future with John Singleton.

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VIBE: Trick is kind of a full-circle moment for you; it’s been just over 20 years since you were in the last big slasher franchise, Scream. Now, you’re the one chasing the bad guy. There’s not that much we can say without giving the plot away, but talk about what attracted you to the movie and the character.

EPPS: For me, it all starts with the script. I thought it was really entertaining, I thought the role was fun, and obviously the chance to work with Patrick again. We have that trust factor there, I know he’s a really solid filmmaker. And I thought it was something unique, you know as it twists and turns you can’t really figure out what’s going to happen.

And this is one of the first new franchises in (the slasher movie) genre, which seems to be making a comeback.

We’re calling it “slasher noir”, so it’s a call back to that old school slasher movie, but a little more elevated in terms of the story and the plot. And it’s touching on some things I think that can make the mind wander in correlation to where we’re at as a society right now.

The killer’s motivations give you pause to think, for sure. In Scream, they got you up out of there pretty quickly (Epps laughs). Now, instead of being one of the “kids,” you’re the adult trying to solve the problem. You play a police officer who’s very grounded, very logical, so the idea of something paranormal and supernatural really disturbs him as he’s trying to put the pieces together. How did you place yourself in that headspace?

The keyword there is “grounded,” and that was both the challenge and the exciting part, for me, to play this character. He’s someone that, to your point, is logic-based, and he’s looking at everything from a linear point of view in that way. But as things progress, he’s basically someone who loses himself over this case; over trying to figure out what’s going on. I think part of the headspace is you have to be in the moment of that process versus having a  strategy to attack it. You have to be immersed in the moment. And again, working with Patrick, we have a shorthand, creatively, which allowed me to be malleable in that sense, and I think we pulled it off.

Later this year, you also have the movie 3022 coming, a sci-fi thriller that takes the “lost in space” theme further than usual with an extinction-level event that destroys the Earth and traps a crew of astronauts on a space station just...until.

I really love that project; I think it’s a powerful piece that every human being will be able to relate to because it touches on age-old questions: What would you do? Why are we here? It just hits on so many broad themes. And (director) John Suits, man, he did his thing with that. And I think the cast is magnificent. I’m really excited about that one.

We (Vibe and Vibe readers) think of you first as one of the core young Black actors of the ‘90s, but over the years you’ve done such a variety of work between both TV and movies. You’ve done medical dramas, you’ve done procedurals, you’ve done sci-fi, you’ve done rom-com, you even had a moment as a ‘90s video lead. You really don’t have a box, Omar, which is a beautiful thing as an actor, but how have you made your choices?

It’s been a combination of me making choices of things that I connect to, and the blessings that come down and opportunities that come my way. I think every artist is sort of a blank canvas, and no one’s in a box. You’d be surprised at how many actors can sing or rap or dance or how many musicians can act - we’re artists. I’m just thankful to — knock on wood — continue to get these opportunities, because the next path for me is writing, producing and directing.

You’ve dabbled in that a little bit already. Are you working on anything now?

Oh yeah, I’ve got a few things bubbling. I don’t want to jinx them, but we’ve definitely got some things in the works across all those fronts: as a writer, as a producer, as a director.

My favorite roles of yours are Q (Juice) because of nostalgia, and then Quincy McCall (Love & Basketball), but I really loved you as Dr. Eric Foreman (House). I thought you guys were brilliant as an ensemble. Do you have a favorite?

I honestly don’t. For me, they’re all pieces of a bigger mosaic; of a picture, when it’s all said and done, of what will be my career. But there’s nothing like your first, right? There’s nothing like that first experience. So with Juice, that movie and character will always hold a special place in my heart.

And it was such an iconic moment for the culture. When John Singleton passed, I wrote about his work, and how when Higher Learning came out (in 1995), critics said the various characters were too on the nose and stereotypical. But when you view the film from a 2019 lens, it’s almost prophetic. Have you thought about that?

That’s the thing; great storytellers all tap into that same zeitgeist of eternity in terms of the human story. And when you whittle that down to American culture or to Black culture, it’s just one of those genius things. When we were on set filming, we could feel that this was saying something bigger than our parts in it. Now, when you look back on it in 2019, it seems prophetic because it was. It’s not “seems,” it was. Look at where we are in society right now, it’s crazy, but I think that’s a testament to John Singleton and his genius.

So, you worked with Tupac in his seminal role, you worked with Singleton. Is there a person that you still want to work with that you haven’t yet, or is there a dream role that you haven’t had the opportunity to play yet?

I don’t necessarily have a dream role, although, I would love to play Frederick Douglas. But the person I want to work with is Spike Lee. I’ve never worked with him and I don’t know how that hasn’t happened. We were trying to do something a few years ago that didn’t come together, so I’m going to put that back out in the universe because I have to work with Spike.

'Trick' is now in theaters, on-demand, and on digital streaming platforms now. 3022 is expected to hit theaters, on-demand, and digital platforms on November 22nd.

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David Becker

Suge Knight Reportedly Signed Over His Life Rights To Ray J

Suge Knight may be locked behind the G-Wall, but the former hip-hop mogul is attempting to keep the cash flow flowing.

Monday (Oct. 21), TMZ reported that Suge Knight has signed over his life rights to Ray J, with the hopes that the reality television star will create some lucrative deals for the Death Row CEO.

According to the report, a Suge Knight and Death Row Records documentary is in the works, as well as a Tupac album. There are even talks of reviving Death Row Records.

The former CEO was sentenced to 28 years in prison last October after pleading no contest to a charge of voluntary manslaughter for a January of 2015 incident in which he struck and killed 55-year-old Terry Carter and injured Cle "Bones" Sloan in a hit-and-run.

Ray J recently inked a $1 million deal in the cannabis industry and has major investments in the headphones and scooter industries as well.

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Nicki Minaj attends the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 27, 2017 in Inglewood, California.
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Nicki Minaj Lists Dream Collaborations "If There Is An Album"

Nicki Minaj is celebrating the release of her Fendi collaboration but while the Queens native is promoting the partnership, she's also answering questions on her suspected retirement from music. The Shade Room interviewed the "Megatron" rapper on her announcement to which Minaj said she had to re-think her decision to share that with the masses.

"When I posted that retirement tweet, I knew that I still had music that I already had recorded that was still going to come out, so the retirement was kind of talking about my album, meaning 'do I want to go back and record my fifth album?'" she noted before adding, "I always get asked to do features and I like features. So it was really about the fifth album."

In terms of new music, Minaj touched on a song she recorded with Kanye West. What started out in one direction has reportedly taken a turn, she said. “What’s funny is that I did a song with Kanye, that he now wants to transform into a gospel song," she said. "I done wrote three different verses chile, and I don’t know. We ain’t seeing eye to eye on it. I don’t know, but of course, I love and respect Kanye, and Kim, we’ll see what happens with that.”

She also mentioned collaborating with DaBaby, Gunna, and Megan Thee Stallion, plus more unexpected content. "If there's an album there would be other surprises," she said before giving a hearty laugh. Listen to the interview below.

 

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🔊 Sound on! _____________________________________ Earlier this week, #NickiMinaj dropped her highly anticipated #Fendi collection, and we were right there celebrating with her as she commemorated this new milestone that has all of the fashion industry talking. Aside from that, we sat down with Nicki and had an exclusive interview where we talked about what inspired the collection. As well as her upcoming nuptials to her man #KennethPetty, whether or not she’s really retiring, other artists she would love to collaborate with and much more. _____________________________________ If you’re like us, then you’ve been counting down the days since Nicki and Kenneth obtained their marriage license, as we wait for them to officially say their “I Do’s.” Nicki talked to us about their upcoming nuptials and whether or not they’re going to have a big wedding. _____________________________________ She said, “We’ll definitely do the paperwork portion of the marriage, but the actual wedding, I don’t know. You know when you’re a little girl and you want this big beautiful wedding, and I used to think I was one of those girls, I always wanted the fairytale. But then the things that used to matter to you don’t matter as much because I remember wanting those things with people, where real love wasn’t there. So now I feel like now that everything has finally lined up and matched up being that I’m madly in love with this man, he’s also my best friend, the things that used to matter to me before, don’t matter as much now. So yes, we’re going to have a big wedding eventually.” She also expressed how deeply in love she is right now, and the importance of——click the link in the bio to read more at TheShadeRoom.com

A post shared by The Shade Room (@theshaderoom) on Oct 20, 2019 at 3:45pm PDT

In August 2018, Minaj released her fourth studio album, Queen. The extensive project featured charting singles "Barbie Tingz," "Good Form," "Bed," and "Chun-Li." Listeners also find the famed entertainer pairing with fellow rappers like the influential Foxy Brown, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Swae Lee, and singers Ariana Grande and The Weeknd.

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