Danny James Phillips (code name: DJ P) doesn’t fit the typical profile of a turntablist. For example, turntablists aren’t known for wearing Kiss T-shirts and Wrangler jeans. But that’s what DJ P sported at the 2000 DMC regional championships at The Granada theater in Lawrence. As the 27-year-old Springfield, Missouri, native approached the deck, members of the crowd hissed, heckled and booed. Even some of the judges, whose job was to determine which of the DJs competing that evening would move on to the national championships, wrinkled their brows as P prepared for his set. This chilly reception was a curious welcome for the defending regional champion.
“A lot of people were mad as hell that I won last year because I came with a completely different style,” DJ P explains with a twangy southern drawl. “I’m a party-rocker. I like to make people dance and to blow their minds by putting together different styles of music that you thought would never go together.”
P accomplished these goals at the DMC national in San Francisco in 1999, which was really all he had expected out of that trip. “I rocked the house,” he says. “I made everyone get up out of their seats and throw their hands up in the air.” Unlike some of his technically gifted peers, DJ P doesn’t juggle, scratch with his tongue or pull his shirt over his head while on the wheels of steel. He would rather watch the other DJs perform such circus tricks and specialized tactics. Instead, he simply puts on a great show, mixing, say, Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” with a hip-hop breakbeat, then dramatically tossing the discarded records over his shoulder when he’s ready to move on to the next unlikely match. His reputation as a showman has spread quickly, and DJ P now spins at such hot party spots as New York, Dallas and San Francisco clubs.
“When I competed in San Francisco in ’99, everything blew up,” P says. “Not only were there a lot of important people there, but the DMC championship was taped. People all over the world have purchased that tape, and I’m on that tape doing some crazy shit.”
National media outlets also have taken note of his skills. Earlier this year, Urb magazine listed him as one of its “Next 100” alongside such notables as Jill Scott, Bilal and the Neptunes. P admits that being identified as an important part of the future of music is a great honor, but he’s concerned that the additional publicity will lead to gigs that will eat away at his precious practice time.
“I’m used to being able to lock myself in the studio and start playin’ with stuff,” he explains. “But lately I’ve been working so much DJing across the country that I don’t have as much time as I would like to play around and experiment with stuff.”
“It’s not easy comin’ up with weird shit like mixing Metallica with Slick Rick,” he says, referring to one of his most celebrated hybrid creations. “I don’t pull stuff out of my ass. It’s hard to constantly be unique and come up with new sounds.”
Like a chemist unafraid to mix elements together in the search for something new, DJ P boldly melds genres of music. “I’m the type of dude who don’t give a fuck,” he clarifies. “I’ll take a Juvenile record, flip the instrumental and put Cyndi Lauper’s vocals over it.” The unorthodox DJ has been known to throw Ratt, Midnight Oil, George Michael and Redman into the same set on his mix CDs and tapes.
Snooty hip-hop journalists might have heads believe that only big-city slickers were bopping to the likes of Nucleus, Mantronix and Run-DMC back in the early ’80s, but rap also infiltrated isolated communities such as Springfield during the genre’s genesis. DJ P grew up in north Springfield, a section of the town heavily populated by African-Americans. As a kid he hung out at the playground, where he was introduced to break-dancing and rap music. “I heard the music on the streets and watched the brothers breakin’ in the park. That’s how I learned,” DJ P recalls. (P remains an excellent breaker, and he’ll occasionally hit the floor at DJ exhibitions, enhancing his appeal.)
“It’s a little difficult being a DJ and livin’ in Springfield because the records aren’t here,” P explains. “I done wiped out every flea market in town.” To compensate for Springfield’s lack of record stores, DJ P travels to St. Louis, a three-hour drive, to buy new music and habitually raids record stores when doing out-of-town gigs.
“I continue to play in Springfield because it’s good money,” he says. “I’d rather spin records than flip burgers or work for the railroad. I can’t really play a lot of the hipper music in Springfield like I can in San Francisco, Dallas or even Kansas City. People in Springfield don’t come out to see the DJ; they come out to drink and find a piece of ass. So basically I’m just a DJ in the bar. But once they get drunk, I can drop some different shit on ’em. Basically, what it all boils down to is there is no music culture in Springfield. When I’m in Springfield, I’m Danny James Phillips pampering a crowd. I’m DJ P when I got to do a gig in another city.”