I’ve gotten to know and work with DJ Ambush for a little over a year now. After meeting with him and his partner, Dave Ghet on working with their company, I quickly learned the wide breadth of interest and involvement he has in music and the culture of Philadelphia. His events and mixes show a great deal of knowledge and attention to detail, as well as his commitment to furthering quality in the Philly scene.
Hi Ambush, for those that don’t know you, could you please introduce yourself and explain a bit what you do?
Sure, I’m a DJ of 20+ years and over that time I’ve grown to wear as many hats in the music game to match the amount of genres I spin. Manager, Event Producer; Currently I’m one of three partners that head a marketing and branding agency with a focus on small businesses, artists and commercial grade audio/visual installations. Content creation has become a major focus for both me and the business over the last four years. There are so many ways to speak directly to your target audience via social media, but in order to really get your point across effectively and drive conversations along the paths that you desire to reach your goals you have to master your visual feel. Your mood and the atmosphere that your brand creates. The sights and sounds are solely responsible for that.
Between your DJing, working with artists, and throwing events is there one that you favor? One that occupies more of your time?
Honestly the events have muscled their way to the top of my list. The ones I’m in involved in also work as opportunities for the artists I consult for so it’s a win-win for everyone.
Do you think that by doing your events, DJing, and doing consulting, the three mesh to strengthen each other within the DJ Ambush/ADA brand?
Oh, most certainly. It’s created a system in which I can create, run trials, and test strategies. Then I’m able to look back at the results, tweak the plan, and run it through the system again. This process gives me the most up to date and accurate information on different industry practices, making what I know that much more valuable to the artists and organizations that we work with.
How did you get started DJing?
I started out as an emcee, and ventured into production and DJing because I had no one to make or play beats for me. I’ve been collecting music for years, taping songs off of Radioactive w/Colby Colb every Friday night, buying cassette singles from The Wall (LOL!), anywhere and everywhere I could get it I was grabbing it. My father is from Nigeria and my mother is from Jamaica. This created such a diverse environment for me and my siblings. I was hearing everything from King Sunny Ade, Fleetwood Mac, Peter Tosh, Peter Frampton and The Police. I grew up loving all of it. I definitely feel like that’s exactly why I spin the way I do today. My first performances were pause tapes for basement parties. Again I’d be pulling music from all over the place and making about two to three tapes to get through the night. I bought my first set of turntables and a mixer from some dude I worked with at Hardees. lol They were Gemini belt drives… smh. It was horrible trying to scratch but my blend game became something of legend. LOL
You’re known mostly for working within the music industry. Are there any other sources where you draw direct inspiration or influence?
I collect movies and comics. I took a break from both for a little while when I was moving around but I’ve definitely picked up the habit again. I wrote a short film a while back, since then I’ve been knocking out video treatments to feed my need to create in that space. Comics I’ve collected since high school, back then it was mostly mutants and Spidey. Today it’s more darkhorse titles and Batman. What used to act as a relaxing escape has certainly become so much more influential in my creative processes. No matter what the project is I want the end result to be as entertaining and solid as it can be. I want people to feel inspired and walk away with something worth talking about. Different parts of the plan and the way they’re executed create opportunities to give the client and in some cases the audience a truly unique experience.
Are there any creative processes that you go through, like brainstorming for mixes or working to get to a certain concept for new business ideas?
Over the years the majority of my mixes have been tributes and Best-Of’s. That basically required that I listen to entire discographies and search for remixes to complete them. Any mixes outside of that were as of a result of a “request line” campaign I used to run once a year. I’m thinking it’s time to bring that back. As far as business ideas, I’ve come to the realization that the concept has to be rooted in something I truly enjoy. Something that really brings me to life, because that same energy is going to be necessary on those late nights to bring it to completion and it’s that very same feeling that you want the client or patron to experience. You know what it feels like so you know what it looks like when someone else feels it too.
One of the qualities I appreciate from what out is attention to background info. For example, Behind the Breaks and Respect the Technique pay mind to what goes on behind the scenes. Is that deliberate?
It’s very deliberate. We are in a time where people have been convinced that “reality TV” is the ultimate form of entertainment. It’s created a desire to understand or at least take a peek at the inner workings of just about every industry. Brands like Behind The Breaks and Respect The Technique focus on the people and their process; picking their brains and passing that information down to the audience in the most potent and creative ways possible.
Can you explain the CMPD a bit and your involvement?
The CMPD is the honeycomb hideout to a team of creatives assembled by and that work closely with Set Free Richardson. It’s a creative space that is a complete representation of all of his influences and accomplishments. Spending any amount of time in there surrounded by all of the art, music and fashion really gets your juices flowing. There are a handful of us that come together for group projects a couple times a quarter and during that time we often bounce concepts off of each other. And the results of these brainstorming sessions are invaluable if only to gain a new perspective on a project while it’s still in its incubation period. I’m also a partner in the Philadelphia CMPD which is currently under construction. We will be unveiling summer 2016.
What were some of the biggest issues that you ran into with networking early on? How did you eventually get through them?
There has been a conversation passed down from one generation to the next about how cliquish the Philly scene is. In business, professionals operate on different tiers and it is extremely important to understand where you are and how to get to the next plateau. People think that having signs of doing business and being in business for what they may consider enough time should guarantee them some level of access. That just isn’t the case. Networking and forging the right partnerships in the industry is about what you bring to the table not what you can gain from the other person. I entered the scene expecting nothing. Understanding that I had work to do, not because I had something to prove to anyone but because I had an agenda and stuck to it. Every relationship I have today has been built on my rep and my ability to distance myself from those that still haven’t learned that lesson.
Does building known brands in the city like BTB or Soulidified create pressure to do more? Does the success each event leave you wanting to top the last one?
Do more? No. I’ve graduated from that level of competing with myself or others. Whatever ones motivation may be for creating one new event after another I’m not even close to those thoughts anymore. There is way too much work to do within my existing projects to get them to a point where they are successfully self sustained and creating financial opportunities for my entire staff. Wanting to top each previous event is driven strictly by the feedback from the patrons and the observations of my team.
One of the events I’ve worked on with you is Behind the Breaks. I know that it went away for a while and had really come back and grown over the last year or so. Can you explain a bit of what you wanted from it when you started and how it’s evolved over time?
When we first started out we wanted to give producers and gear junkies the opportunity to come out and display their talent in a controlled environment. Set samples and guidelines with themes that would keep the audience excited. A couple of things happened over the break, doors opened up to us from brands that wanted to partner up and expose us to a much larger market. While that may have been a great thing it was too early. BTB needed more development and the event needed to continue to happen in order for us to develop. Now that we’re back we have evolved into a community of producers and fans that wait with baited breathe every other month for the theme of the next show. The shared excitement puts me in a place that’s very hard to match.
Are there any routines or systems that you stick to, to keep consistency in your day to day activity?
I make promises to myself and do everything in my power to keep them. As a single father I have to work around the schedules of my kids’ activities as well. I try to keep regular office hours but in order to meet some deadlines I will burn the midnight oil to continue regularity in my family life. Google Drive is a godsend. I’ve often said that I’m as much a fan of Google as I am of Apple. We use Drive to share and work on many of our projects as a team. It also helps to have the use of some of the same services that we offer our clients. Our social media manager stays on top of tracking audience engagement, scheduling promotional campaigns and contests as well as keeping us current on all of our social media platforms.
Are there any tools you use to manage your time?
As simple as it may sound you gotta become a slave to your calendar. Totally devote yourself to those dates and times. Schedule time for research and practicing any aspect of your networking or career that you feel needs improvement. Eliminate anything that can become a distraction. And this isn’t hard we know what our vices are, we know the second our attention begins to stray and that’s where the discipline needs to kicks in. Often times changing your workspace is a great way to stimulate creativity which motivates you to better concentrate. As far as devices, I’m a member of cult Mac, iEverything. And you know what? Being a parent also helps because your little ones force you to have a structure and work within shifts- Hard work, hard play, and hard rest.
Are there any strategies you’re using to promote what you’re doing?
Like everyone else social media, I’ve begun to chop up my content and share so much less across all of the platforms. This method supplies different channels filled with content designed specifically for the followers on those platforms. This is a technique that most of us discovered maybe two years ago but I feel it’s necessary to take it a step further by creating content that is meant to be cultivated and exist only on those platforms. This involves introducing each platform to a different side of your creativity. And if you don’t have what it takes to be truly engaged in each of those platforms then you have to pull out until you find the formula that best works for you.
You and I have talked before about our appreciation for independent groups like Hiero and what they’ve been able to do on their own. Do you see a movement like that having any success in our area of Philly?
Most certainly, I see it in labels like RecordBreakin. Junior has created a look and feel that is so warm and consistently soulful which represents the Philadelphia sound very well. And he’s supplied it to a worldwide audience in a way that has cultivated collaborations from other locales which in turn brings new music right back to us here at home. Shout out to him and Lil Dave over at Eavesdrop Radio.
How do you feel that the events you throw and the work you create contribute to the creative culture of the city?
At the very least I feel like I’m creating new experiences and opening people up to what could possibly be considered nonconventional areas of education and entertainment when it comes to hip hop and urban culture. Respect The Technique is an excellent example of that and I was very happy to see the forums and panel discussions that followed based on some of the participants continuing the conversations in their own spaces. People come up with refreshing and new ideas everyday and the execution of those ideas are only as important as the willingness of that team to take losses regroup, reassess and come back with a greater degree of focus and a new playbook based on the lessons learned. I’d like this process to become more commonplace and I’m doing the best I can to provide a working model.
Do you see yourself taking the BTB, DJing, or ADA brands in any new directions in the near future?
BTB is certainly traveling in 2016. We’ve done an excellent job rebuilding the brand. Your ideas have played a serious part in that, thank you tremendously for what you’ve brought to the table! I look at brands like Hot Peas and Butta, Ill Vibe Collective and Tastytreats and feel like that type of longevity is secured in making sure patrons are leaving with a very unique brand specific experience. So that’s been my total focus with everything I’m presently involved in. There’s no point to do it otherwise. The same goes for DJing and the campaigns we put together for our clients. I have some REALLY exciting things around the corner for Ambush the DJ, gotta keep a lid on those though.
Any final words?
Keep your eyes open for the 2016 launches of
DOOMSTRAVAGANZA and FATHERS ACROSS PHILADELPHIA