Just like Hip-Hop artists, there are several DJs that are
under-rated and don’t really get the credit and ‘shine’ they deserve.
DJ Sir Charles Dixon is the perfect example. Sir Charles, although not
widely credited for doing so, changed the sound of mainstream radio as
we know it today. While holding down the mixshow slot during his reign
at WPGC 95.5 [Washington, D.C.] in the late 80s, Sir Charles played
unique records and incorporated a style of mixing and blending that
literally changed the sound of not only D.C. radio, but the sound of
radio stations throughout the entire Mid-Atlantic and North-Eastern
During the mid to late 80s, many of the youth had abandoned the
airwaves and were ‘bumpin’ their Hip-Hop, House, and Go-Go cassettes.
Charles’ unorthodox style of dress, along with his unique music
selections, helped him create a lane of his own that the youth embraced
and made them tune back into radio. He was one of the first DJs to
straddle that fine line between urban and pop radio and was able to
simultaneously reach kids from the projects in the toughest ‘hoods’, to
the private school brats in the suburbs. Later he became a national
mixshow promoter, moved to New York and deejayed on WBLS where he was
responsible for bringing over one of his inspirations, the legendary DJ
Nowadays Charles is a triple threat, a successful music
producer, DJ, and promoter. The first R&B mixer ever to join Music
Choice, Charles continues to satisfy the satellite television channel’s
36 million soul-starved listeners with The R&B / Hip-Hop Mixtape,
his self-produced weekly music series.
discovered Australian talent Che’Nelle and signed her to his production
company SCIP Records. It wasn’t long before Virgin records closed a
deal with Dixon for Che’Nelle in one week
. We caught up with Charles to discuss his past, his artist Che’Nelle, and his take on today’s DJs…
AllHipHop.com: You have been credited by some as changing the sound
of urban / pop radio especially in the Mid-Atlantic / North-Eastern
regions. In the late 80s at WPGC 95.5 in D.C., you introduced listeners
to a style of mixing and songs they were unfamiliar with. What was the
key to your acceptance and success during that era?
DJ Sir Charles: That era was
exactly 20 years ago and it was an exciting time for music. Young
America paid little attention to the music that played on the radio.
There was no internet, no iTunes, no iPods and no blank CDs to burn.
Club DJs, record pools and the local Mom and Pop stores fed the masses
with the hottest new music and hard to find classics. Growing up in
Baltimore and hanging around some of the most influential DJs from
clubs like Odell
‘s and Gatsby’s,
I learned the art of programming and mixing music in a style that kept
people dancing. I learned how to mix and blend all genre
‘s of music.
AllHipHop.com: You’re a DJ, record promoter,
and producer. You discovered the artist Che’Nelle, her song “I Fell In
Love With The DJ” featuring Cham is a club smash. How did this project
come about and what are your aspirations for her?
DJ Sir Charles: I discovered MySpace.com and
signed on in 2004. I started to take it serious and I worked on my
network for about 6 months. One day while on the page, I discovered a
young Asian artist with an image that just jumped off her page and
caught my attention. I went on to review her music and I was blown
away. Her style and sound as well as writing style was very unique. I
sent her a message, added her page and waited for a reply. After a few
days she replied and I requested a demo. Her manager, sent a package
and I was hooked. After hearing her demo, I realized that she would be
a great challenge for me. She was very different. Che
was born in Malaysia and moved to Australia when she was 10. She joined
a band when she was 14. After about six months of speaking to her
almost everyday, sending her tracks to write to and preparing her for
the next steps for her career, I went to Perth, Australia to meet her.
The trip was 30 hours on a plane one way, but it was worth it. While I
was in Perth, I decided to video tape her in her studio laying a track
down, singing live into a mic while she listened to the track in her
headphones. So imagine hearing an accapella live with amazing range and
texture with a powerful voice and then hearing her play the track back
with the vocals mixed in the track! Amazing. I decided to shop her
music and play this raw uncut video. I left for the states and set up a
couple meetings. After a week of shopping, I met with Jason Flom and
Steve Tramposch at Virgin. Jason, the CEO of Virgin wanted the deal
closed in 3 days and the rest was history!
AllHipHop.com: You deejayed at a spot called the Coffee Shop in NYC
and you’ve produced the weekly R & B / Hip-Hop mixtape on Music
Choice digital cable for the last 8 years. Elaborate on these efforts
as well as your other deejaying gigs.
DJ Sir Charles: I deejayed at the Coffee Shop for almost 3 years it
was a great experience. It was great to be back in the clubs. They
changed the format and I found an artist and I had little time to spin
on weekends. My main outlet is Music Choice. I was the first DJ to spin
on the Hip-Hop and R&B channel. Damon Williams, an old friend from
WPGC and now the VP of programming at Music Choice, hired me in 1999 to
spin for their 8 million subscribers. Today the channel can be seen and
heard in 36 million homes nationwide.
AllHipHop.com: In addition to deejaying, you have also been a record
promoter for several labels like Columbia, TVT, Tommy Boy, Pendulum
etc. I understand you were the first to compile a national mixshow DJ
mailing list. Touch on that a little and how was being a mixshow DJ
advantageous in your promotion positions?
DJ Sir Charles: In the spring of 1990, around the time WPGC was very
solid in the DC market, I felt like I needed a change. Spinning on the
station was not as financially rewarding as it could have and should
have been. My goal was always to get to New York City and make it
there. One day I called one of my favorite NYC promotion execs named
Vince Pellegrino. He asked me why I thought I could be a successful
promoter in NYC. I told him, based on the promoters that called me to
play records, there was no way I couldn’t be better than all of them.
He laughed and said, “Tommy Boy, Atlantic and Columbia are looking and
you would be perfect.” I picked Tommy Boy, that label was in real
trouble and I knew I could make a difference. When I met with Tom
Silverman, he asked me the same question Vince did and he wanted to
know what could I bring to the table. I told him, as a DJ from the
record pools and the clubs as well as being a pioneering mixshow
multi-format DJ, I would target all the DJs with my same background
that were spinning on crossover stations. These DJs were not really
being serviced back in 1990. There was no such thing as a mixshow
department. There was college radio and club promotions. As a matter of
fact, my title at Tommy Boy was Director of Club Promotions. Tom agreed
with my philosophy and let me build the department, but I had to do it
while promoting records to the Billboard dance panel. Back in those
days if the record was Hip-Hop or R&B, the industry would only
service their urban lists. My experience in D.C. taught me that there
was a suburban movement brewing and those young college kids wanted
Hip-Hop more than the ‘hood’. I proved it by breaking Naughty By
Nature, Digital Underground, De La Soul, Queen Latifah and House of
Pain in the suburbs and on crossover radio mixshows.
AllHipHop.com: I wrote an editorial about this
new breed of DJs that are button pushers and don’t really “deejay”.
What’s your take on this new breed of so-called DJs and what advice do
you have for aspiring DJs?
DJ Sir Charles: Well, I could speak on this topic for days, but I
will get to the point from how I see it and why I think it is like
this. I will try to be brief. First of all, I will say we are in the
age of the microwave generation. Kids today want everything instantly.
Just like putting it in the microwave and pushing 3 minutes for a meal! can’t really blame the DJs that don’t
really mix or even program their mixes and shows if the public has no
appreciation for the art form. There are a lot of DJs that can mix and
blend music and I am beginning to believe the public can
‘t even tell the difference and they don’t
even care. (laughs) I listen to DJs spin low quality MP3s of songs that
obviously sound terrible and no one seems to care. Up and coming DJs
hear these DJs spin and they feel like they can do that too. I would
have to say I think this trend started with the popularity of the
mixtape DJs that were really more of a host and personality than an
actual mixing DJ. Just like the host you hear on the radio pushing the
buttons. The mixtapes blew up because they were like micro mini radio
stations with a host and hot music you don
hear on commercial radio. Today the mixtape art is fading as well. Now
DJs get hired on the airwaves of stations where the programming
department just want someone to play the same records in their mix that
the station plays all day. The public is so conditioned not to care
that it’s just not a big deal. Hopefully, like every other cycle, real
mixing and blending DJs will come back in style again..and even crazier
the DJs that really use to mix well will take it back and put the work
AllHipHop.com: You had a show on WBLS (NYC)
called the “The Thunderstorm”. How did it feel to be in a position to
bring Grandmaster Flash over there and how was it making the transition
from going from Washington, D.C. to the Big Apple? DJ Sir Charles: I didn’t
go straight from WPGC to WBLS, the transition took almost 3 years so I
had plenty of time to study the market and become a part of the NYC
music scene and the Hip-Hop, Dance and R&B movement. As a matter of
fact, one of the consultants that took over WPGC after I left, named
Steve Smith, started to consult WQHT
97. The mixshow format that I helped develop proved to be so effective
that Steve Smith incorporated it into Hot 97. He built the station
around the mixshow just like Jerry Clifton did at WPGC before he
consulted WPGC. Jerry Clifton also picked up a station to consult in
New York. The station he got was WBLS. In the Fall of 1993 I got a call
from Jerry offering me a gig to spin on his new station. He believed I
could go up against Hot 97 and beat them with the format we developed.
The Program Director Quincey McCoy allowed me to manage a team of
mixers to mix all day in different one hour slots. I added my DJ mentor
Grandmaster Flash. He inspired me to want to DJ years before we even
met. I told him I wanted him to play just the records that had been
sampled by artists. This format would appeal to the young kids that
knew the loops and the older adults that knew the classic records.
Flash went number one in drive time. I felt great being able to help
him stay relevant at a time when I felt he was abandoned by a younger
generation that has no respect for history. Chris Rock heard him on the
station and added him to his show, The Chris Rock Show on HBO, as the music director / DJ. It was
great until the station owners decided they were not going to play any
rap music. Hot 97 no longer had any competition and they blew up. They
borrowed a few of WBLS
‘s signatures like the “Thunderstorm Drop” which became the
“Bombs”, they started a Home Jams show and a morning mixshow and had Funkmaster Flex spinning every day. The rest is History.
AllHipHop.com: What was the event or gig that you consider the turning-point of your career?
DJ Sir Charles: This is the easiest question so far! I will have
to say all the above! From the record pool, to the radio, to the label,
to starting my own label SCIP records. I try to make all my strategic
moves turning points for new opportunities.