Tay grew up in Columbia, Maryland. His love for music primarily stems from his dad, but his tuned-in work ethic seems to be something that he was just born with. At twelve years old, he saw DJ Scribble on MTV. At age 15, he began interning at Unruly Records in Baltimore. At 20, he was driving 130 miles each way to DJ at Club Love in Washington DC. Tay was blessed to find his calling early in life and he never strayed the path. He started off spinning yard sale turntables and now he spins the globe.
I caught up with Tay at Club Opera in Washington, DC. He was booked to spin that night, so we interviewed rapid fire while he was working. Tay and I were classmates at Hampton U. and it’s safe to say anyone who graced the yard from 2004 to 2008 knows very well what DJ Tay James is all about. In college, Tay naturally branded himself as the go to DJ for premium sounds. His self-produced mixtapes are legendary and were the four year soundtrack for so many Hampton Alums. Tay’s dedication to his craft paid off when he was chosen amongst thousands to work alongside Pop superstar Justin Bieber as his official DJ. It really doesn’t get much bigger than that! But aside from this accomplishment, Tay’s personal brand is known as #WeKnowTheDJ and his tapes, interviews, and global journeys can be found on his website at WeKnowTheDJ.com. To date, Tay has 78 Mixtapes that have earned him 5.3 million views on his YouTube Channel. He mentioned, “Getting to 100 tapes would be a pretty dope number.” One of his most notable tapes is with rapper Bun-B titled, “We Know Bun-B.” Most recently, Violator All-Stars recognized Tay as one of the top DJ’s in the world. Tay’s story is an example of adding tremendous value to a market, being recognized for it, and becoming transcendent in the process. We all get to know the DJ in this week’s #ShineHard conversation.
What is your passion?
Tay: The Music.
How did you get started as a DJ?
Tay: My father. He would make mixtapes from various records that he had. Man, he has such a vast collection. Ever since I was younger I would play his vinyl and just try to understand music more. I saw a pair of turntables at a yard sale when I was 12 and it was over.
Did you have any mentors coming up?
Tay: Definitely DJ Alizayand DJ Jay Clayton. They were the first DJ’s to really take me under their wing and sneak me in the clubs when I was 14 to learn the business. I turned professional when I was 16 and I owe a lot of that to them.
What type of things motivate you to succeed?
Tay: For me, it’s making my parents happy and changing the world.
Tell me about #WeKnowTheDJ & some of the work you’ve done?
Tay: #WeKnowTheDJ is a website and Vlog that I started basically to document my life and everything that I’ve been doing. It’s grown, man. 10 million views and 50,000 subscribers. One thing I try to do differently is work with a collection of genres. That’s part of my niche. I don’t wanna give you just Top40, I don’t wanna give you just Hip-Hop. I wanna give you everything at once. That’s what #WeKnowTheDJ is all about.
How did you get connected with Justin Bieber?
Tay: It was like two months after graduation and a friend of mine, DJ Boogie, hit me up randomly and told me Def Jam’s new artist was looking for a DJ. Before he even told me who it was I was like, “Please let this be the blessing I’ve been waiting for.” Justin had like one single out at the time. He said, “It’s Justin Bieber. Have you heard of him?” I was like, “Of course! I’ve heard of him.” I had seen him and his talent through different blogs. So when they asked me if I wanted to DJ for him. I said “Whatever I gotta do! Just hit me.” They put me on with the job, our first show was in Oklahoma and it’s been history ever since.
What’s the best part about being JB’s DJ?
Tay: Traveling the world and doing what I love to do… DJ.
What’s been the biggest challenge in your career thus far?
Tay: Honestly, missing my family. Being away from them for so long gets tough. But other than that, I’m a hard worker and love a challenge.
Tell me about a life experience that has really inspired you ..?
Tay: I’ve been all over the world to do shows, but going to under developed countries and being able to help families and bring smiles to kid’s face’s is even more meaningful to me. I also do some tutoring for young kids who want to learn how to DJ. I just really love mentoring people that want to learn this craft. Giving back to the community.
Johnny: True. You’ve done some great things with the #WeKnowTheDJ Foundation.
10: So tell me, what frustrates you the most about today’s culture?
Tay: The racism that’s still alive in this country.
What is one of your most memorable experiences?
Tay: The first time we did the VMA’s, man. That was like a life changing experience because that was an award show I used to watch growing up. Actually seeing myself on TV and then my parents seeing me on TV. That’s was just a huge opportunity. Unforgettable.
Which accomplishment are you most proud of thus far?
Tay: Being able to take care of my family and work with the #1 artist in the world.
What’s the #1 factor behind your success?
Tay: Staying humble and staying focused.
What advice would you give young people that aspire to be the next Great DJ?
Tay: Man, I’ve been doing this for so long, I have heard all types of criticisms. The good and the bad, but through it all I just prayed on it and let God do the rest. Overall I would just say, Never let anyone tell you that you can’t be who you want to be.
Interested in learning more or connecting with Tay?