Spreading good vibes on and off the stage is DJ Rhetorik. The Virginia native is making his way around the world and vloging the journey for us to follow. Get to know DJ Rhetorik, why he got started on the turntables and how he stays positive through whatever life throws at him.
Where did the name Rhetorik come from?
Rhetorik actually came from a typical bout of procrastination my senior year of high school. At this point I wasn’t a DJ yet – I don’t even think I had bought the equipment. I was going through the terrible DJ names my friends had suggested, but as those same friends will tell you – I always like to have a deeper meaning and purpose to even the smallest aspects of my brand. I picked Rhetorik (substituted the K in rhetoric because I thought it was more aesthetically pleasing, no deep meaning there) because I knew that I wanted to use DJing as a platform to be a voice and really personify the meaning of the word rhetoric. I also knew at an early age that one day I ultimately wanted my actual personality to supercede my DJing, and take my ideas to other speaking/on camera opportunities. In high school I used to run for the classes offices just so I could give a comedic speech to the whole school. The name just fit me perfectly.
How did you first start mixing on the turntables, what inspired you to take it up?
In high school I was never really into the partying, but I LOVED making the mixed CDs and standing by the stereo changing the songs to keep the energy consistent. DJing was a natural transition from that habit. It was also a great substitute for my baseball career that I had just quit my senior year.
The thing that made me go “wow I need to buy turntables immediately” though was a Skratch Bastid video of him turning a Buck 65 record into the Imperial Death March. I had no clue that turntables could be used so creatively until seeing that.
You always look for the positive side of every situation. Who or what made you start thinking that way, and how do you make sure you never lose track of that?
My life made me start thinking that way honestly. I’m a pretty introspective person, and I also have a keen sense for noticing patterns all around me big or small (which is probably another reason why I was attracted to DJing). Coming into this industry, I noticed the patterns of what different people did to ‘make it’ and mimicked them in my own way. Mimicking the moves they made, the way they networked, and even down to dressing and wearing the brands that ‘famous’ people wore all worked. And it WILL work for anyone else who wants to try. It will put you in line with everyone else that made it in, the only thing being that it won’t set you apart from them. It made me someone ‘in the industry’ (or more so perceived by others as ‘someone in the industry’. Pretty much the validation that any young kid doing these things is actually seeking if you break it down). I always tell people that you can successfully follow the trail someone else has blazed to get to a goal, but to just remember the best you can be is 2nd place if you do that.
What all this didn’t do, however, was make me someone that was truly happy. I hadn’t created a monster by any means, but I had built and perfected a character that wasn’t all the way me. I would even say before that Rhetorik and Chase were separate entities, not realizing how draining that was for me as a person. I had built it all hoping that the ends would justify the means and I’d find that satisfaction after reaching each goal I’d set. But I would keep reaching these goals, and keep coming up empty handed in the satisfaction/happiness department. I’d meet and befriend more and more people I looked up to, only to see that no matter how far you push yourself down this rainbow of an industry, there’s no pot of gold at the end. A lot of them were also seemingly empty and unhappy.
Very long story short, I started noticing the one common goal amongst everyone I came across – and that it was just to simply be happy. Everything they did in their lives was just an attempt to really make themselves happy. I consciously broadened my perspective to start seeing things as they truly were, without the influence of how I thought they should be or how they affected me. I stepped back and took an objective look over everything I had previously judged, everything that I used to allow to affect me. And I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. Like I said – this is a very, very long story short, and one that you can definitely learn more about through watching my vlogs, but that is one small and important part.
Once I gained this new perspective I really saw that a lot of the negativity in my life were things that I were giving power through my thoughts or statements – they were only affecting me because I would allow myself to focus on them. When I took this objective look, I really just went on a negativity diet. I eliminate things that fueled insecurities, and disallowed myself to even SAY something negative about a situation. I challenged myself to counteract anything negative around me with something positive. I learned that focusing on a problem doesn’t solve it, only focusing on the solution. I don’t think this is some sort of crazy magic – it’s just a simple brain workout. It’s muscle memory in the most literal sense. The more and more I did it, the more of a habit it became. And you’ll start to notice people want to be around you more because like I said – everyone is really seeking for happiness. You find yourself surrounded by better people, given better opportunities, and also just more genuinely happy about it all. And those that find it ‘corny’ (as I admittedly did previously) just aren’t at a point of security in their lives that they’re willing to accept it yet – and you have to realize that too.
I’ll never lose track of it because there are constantly things happening in my life to remind me. There are constantly things happening in everyones’ lives to remind them of these simple facts, just not everyone is looking for them so they might miss them as I used to.
Your sets are very creative and well thought out, how long do you practice to perfect the combinations and timing?
I’d say that half of it is just built out of ideas that I’ve written in my black book over the years, and the other half is a lot of last minute crowd reading and adjustments. Sometimes the awesome transition or tone play you come up with in the shower or mix up in the bedroom doesn’t quite translate to your live set, or maybe just not for the type of tour or show you’re doing. You have to read the crowds and adjust accordingly. You really have to be extremely energy sensitive to be a good DJ. You have to lock in with the mood of the people you’re performing for. I approach DJing like a real-time social experiment.
You communicate with your crowd a lot during your set. How does that energy feel and help you when you’re on stage?
It’s everything. I even tell the crowds during my big tour sets that this is our show, not my show. If the crowd doesn’t have the right energy, then it doesn’t matter how awesome my set is. We have to be on the same page. People don’t understand that sometimes we performers will lock in on a certain high energy part of the crowd and really feed off that for our set. The audience is really our fuel – we’re just the engine.
We’ve been following your vlogs on your YouTube called “Off The Rhekord.” What inspired you to start these and what do you want your fans watching every episode to take from it?
I always used to think “if only I had a cameraman to follow me around and document all these things in my life” or “if only I had the time express what I’ve learned my journey” – I used to allow myself to think with an “I would, but” attitude sometimes. One day I just decided to cut that attitude out of my life and simply eliminate the “buts.” I took a month off social media to research vlogs and documentaries and learn how to shoot and edit video and just do it.
I started before I thought I was truly ready. Which is what you have to do. I knew I’d just learn as I would go, and that growth in itself would hopefully inspire someone else to start something they’ve always wanted to do. People say you’ll never feel truly “ready” to have a child, and I feel like that attitude can be used toward other aspects of your life that you think will help you grow as an artist and even as a human being.
I guess in a very meta sense I want them to take that from it, but I also want them to see that you can be a unique, kind-hearted, normal human and still do cool things. There doesn’t have to be a separation between the people doing things that I’m doing or the person that cleans the toilets at your local high school. No one is on a pedestal. And that’s how I treat people, and I hope that everyone that watches my vlogs will treat people in their lives. We’re all just regular people living every day seeking that happiness I talked about before. Every person and situation -good or bad – you come across will teach you a unique lesson if you allow your perspective to reach that far, and I hope to use my vlog to highlight and reflect on some of those moments in my own life. I’m just trying to be the person I wish I could have looked up to coming up in this industry.
In most of your vlogs, we see fans giving you pins and patches for you to add to your denim jackets. How many pins and patches you’ve received from fans so far and can you tell us about your favorite ones?
A LOT. It’s insane. And it all stemmed from just one snapchat saying “if you bring me pins or patches I’ll put them on my jacket”. It’s gotten to the point where I feel like I need to just hire someone to put them all on the jacket for me – I’m so behind. The original jacket is too heavy to travel with now on planes if I want to pack anything else with it. I ended up actually buying a duster jacket from the same vintage store in Dallas where I bought the pin that started it all.
I couldn’t tell you my favorites just because I’m sure each one has a story. It blows my mind to think “wow, this person wasn’t only thinking about me, but they actually took the time out of there day and money out of their pocket to purchase and give me these pins.” That’s incredibly humbling to me.
You do everything for your vlogs, from shooting, editing and uploading. Does it take a lot of time from other things to get each episode out? Do you think you’ll ever get someone to help you with these tasks to open up more time for other things?
I do. Of course sometimes I do have other people shooting extra show footage for me. A HUGE thanks to Justin Fleischer for capturing pretty much every single captivating show moment from The Incredible World Tour. My show montages wouldn’t have been nearly as cool-looking if it weren’t for him. It does take a lot of time and a huge lack of sleep to get them out. On this past tour I’ve been trying to put out more than one per week which has proven to be quite the task. The actual editing of my episodes each day can only come after shooting all day, meeting fans, preparing for the show, executing the show, cleaning up after the show and then hopefully getting a good 11PM dinner in. I have pretty much no social time while I’m on the road – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love making these videos just as much as people seem to love watching them.
I do, however, see myself formulating an editing team as soon as the budget is right to pay people to do it. I wanted to do everything by myself first to really establish my style of vlogging and creating so that when I do hire someone they already have a good idea of what I’m really going for. I can’t wait for that day so that I can start putting some time into all these other ideas I have written in my big black book.
Do you ever go back and watch your old vlogs? What’s going through your mind as you’re watching?
I actually haven’t really gone back to watch many. I’ll watch it a couple times right after it comes out, but then I usually let the past live in the past. I think my reasoning is that I want these vlogs to always be a reflection of my current mindstate, with their only influence being whatever is going on within and around me at that certain point in time. I don’t want to regress. Don’t get me wrong though – there are certain things that will happen in my life now that will remind me of something I said before, and then it’s nice to be able to go back and see what a past me has said about it, and see how I can build upon it to be relevant for me and my audience now.
Hip-Hop is what you play on stage to get the crowd going, but what do you listen to on your down time?
I have some of the worst music ADD of all time. I think that’s another reason I’m a DJ – I get to professionally switch songs before they are over. I like everything and I like it in quick spurts. I also binge though. When I discover something and like it, or rediscover something I previously liked, I play it until I can’t stand it any longer. My summer 2016 playlist has been about 75% West African music – binge listening to Fela Kuti, a TON of The Funkees (I’m actually listening to it as I answer these questions) and others – and the rest has been Stevie Wonder’s “Songs In The Key of Life” or classic rock.
I like discovering all the new artists coming out too. It’s been cool to see some of those artists reach out and thank me for putting their music in my vlogs. I’ll always take the copyright loss on the ability to monetize a video if it means I can put people on to some good undiscovered music.
Who are some artists you would love to work with or DJ for in the future?
The first person that comes to mind for me whenever I get asked that question is Pharrell. We come from the same area – and area that not too many people truly make it out of, especially not as of late. Besides the music though, I’d love to do some philanthropic work with him by the way of fashion. Those are two things that I’m equally as passionate about as I am with music – clothes and helping people. I just think that he’s a human being that has truly come in touch with his purpose and strives toward it with everything he does, and that’s extremely inspiring to me. I also think James Fauntleroy is incredibly talented and would be cool to work with.
As far as DJing for anyone – Logic is my guy. We really connect on a basic human level, and that’s what truly matters to me if I’m going to work with someone so closely. He also understands what I can bring to the table during a live show and treats me as another artist on stage with him rather than just a DJ in the background. As far as the DJing aspect of my future, I have some other ideas in my back pocket as to how I can I can step up my show as an individual, but I don’t really see myself ever stepping behind another artist permanently (unless of course Kanye calls and wants to do another College Dropout tour like he did with A-Trak).
When you’re on the road, you go for runs and try to stay active. Do you have a set workout that you do?
I do at least 3.2 miles a day (terrain permitting on some of these shows) or as I tell people more simply “5k show day.” Now a 5k is only 3.1 miles – the 3.2 comes from the annual 3.2 for 32 run at Virginia Tech that pays respects to the victims of the massacre. I do it as not only a tribute to the school and community I love, but also as a reminder of what an incredible privilege it is to still not only be alive, but also healthy enough to run that distance.
What are some things you’re looking forward to doing after you’re done touring and have more free time?
Traveling. Creating. And more traveling. And of course vlogging it all. Doing other gigs as just myself. Holing up in my place and making clothes. Catching up on editing. A lot of catching up on editing…
I love meeting people, playing music and traveling the world even when I’m not doing it on a big tour. You’re constantly surrounded by new inspiration. I’ve been on the road since the end of January this year, and my last show isn’t until the end of October, so I might actually take the first extended vacation of my life this coming winter also.
What’s next for DJ Rhetorik?
There’s a lot in store for Rhetorik. There’s a reason that you won’t see the ‘DJ’ in front of my name much anymore. It’s much more than that, and I’m finally ready to show the world exactly what that means. I’m excited. I’m really excited.
Keep up with all of the latest with Rhetorik: