Justo Faison: A Tale of Triumph & Tragedy

When DJ Vlad migrated to New York City from Oakland in 2003, he was dead broke, but was driven by the burning aspiration of making it in the music business as a mixtape DJ. After being in the big city for about a week, the virtual unknown received a surprising call from Justo Faison, who […]

When DJ Vlad migrated to New York City from Oakland in 2003, he was dead broke, but was driven by the burning aspiration of making it in the music business as a mixtape DJ. After being in the big city for about a week, the virtual unknown received a surprising call from Justo Faison, who generously offered to show him the inner workings of the mixtape game. Justo escorted Vlad to all five boroughs of New York, and the West Coast spin doctor got his first chance to play in the big leagues.

“From that moment on, Justo became my homeboy,” Vlad reminisces, fresh off news that Justo tragically killed in a car accident. He recollects how the Hip-Hop pioneer was always present when he needed him. “Throughout my DJ grind, whenever I had a question or problem, Justo was always ready to listen and help out.”

Stories like Vlad’s are commonplace in the music industry when discussing Justo Faison. Justo was a man known as much for his compassion as for his ability to fill a niche by jumpstarting the much-needed Mixtape Awards in 1996.

When Justo was killed in a tragic car crash very early morning Sunday, May 14th, he was driving well into the night, probably later than he should have. He was reportedly tired, but pushed himself as he departed Richmond, Virginia. By daybreak that same day, the horrific news spread like an awful plague as disbelief and shock embraced the music industry.

Sadly, Justo’s 12-year-old son is left without a father, and the legend’s mother has lost a son. One bit of comfort is that they have the pride of knowing that their family member was a pioneer with a legacy that will carry on for ages.

That era started years ago at Cayuga Community College in New York as Justo took up telecommunications and radio broadcasting. When he landed a prized position as the National Director of Marketing and Promotions at Atlantic Records, he had arrived.

The Mixtape Awards came soon after, and the impact was beyond his wildest dreams.

In an interview earlier this year, Justo said his awards had a positive affect in the mixtape world as he announced a mixtape documentary. “It makes sense for me to be the first to do a [Justo Presents: The Mixtape Documentary] cause with the awards I made the mixtape guys popular,” he told AllHipHop.com

Justo also explained that lack of conventional exposure forced the street DJ to fend, alone in the rigorous grind of the game. "Without the backing of radio, many artists turned to the streets and the local mixtape king to get new music out. [Many] big artists of today…wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for mixtapes," said Justo. Rappers like Cam’ron, and 50 Cent used mixtapes heavily to elevate their hood celebrity to iconic status.

Concurring, DJ Green Lantern, formerly of Shady Records, explains Justo’s broad impact. “Justo helped a lot of DJ’s – including me -get to the places we’re at now. He went all out for us when labels were calling us bootleggers. Justo was a visionary. He saw the DJ’s as the backbone of Hip-Hop and he repped us to the fullest. Above all that he was a real friend of mine.”

This year Green Lantern was the biggest winner at the 2005 Mixtape Awards, but the list of beneficiaries is endless. Those award winners include Whoo Kid, OG Ron C, Ron G, DJ Khaled, S&S, Kay Slay, Big Mike, P Cutta, Brucie B, DJ Warrior, J Love, 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, and a seemingly endless number of others. Justo’s Mixtape Awards quickly became the industry standard for the DJ, and there were a number of great times to go along with it.

There were periods of infamy, as is the case with many Hip-Hop events. The 7th Annual Mixtape Awards in 2002 were marred by violence, something Justo did not want. The event was cancelled after an altercation between Kay Slay, one of Justo’s best friends, and DJ Pudgee P. Chaos ensued at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan, and the remaining awards were given out at an alternate venue. While the evening was spoiled, it was another classic moment that most won’t forget.

At the time, a supportive Busta Rhymes surmised, “This here is Hip-Hop here. That’s the quote you are going to get from me. This is probably the most untainted form of Hip-Hop that’s left. Ain’t no politics involved here. If there is, I don’t know what level it’s on.”

Justo didn’t attempt to be friends with everybody, but he was completely kind and loyal to those comrades he looked after.

“If you were real with Justo, he would ride with you no matter what,” Vlad says. “Those that didn’t like him – he didn’t do that industry b####### and pretend to like them either.”

Really anyone who was fortunate to have time with him appreciated him. DJ Warrior of The Cali Untouchable DJ‘s was one of the many lucky ones that Justo forever affected. “We all hung out in party in Hollywood and I was like ‘Yo, lets get a drink’ and he was like ‘Yo, I don’t drink at all.” And I asked him why. He said ‘cause his pops died ‘cause of that. And same goes for me, my pops is an alcoholic, and ever since then I really opened my eyes about a lot different things. So I cut down on grabbin’ drinks.”

The industry, family and friends will mourn for some time over one Justo Faison, but those that didn’t get to know him will in some form or fashion – whether it’s a brief talk with a friend is his, a dedication song by rapper John Doe or seeing how the Mixtape Awards have flourished.

Lord Sear of Sirius Radio concluded what the majority of people interviewed felt about Justo. “The brother was always very down to earth when you got a chance to talk to him. He was a very good, positive roll model to a lot of mixtape DJ’s. I was so proud of the brother, because he came a long way.”