If you’re a true fan of hip hop, then you’re probably a fan of the mixtape era.
Insert DJ Tony Touch, who’s had his finger on the pulse of the culture since the ‘80s. Getting his start as a b-boy and breakdancer, real name Joseph Anthony Hernandez soon rose to become the Mixtape King, best known for his critically acclaimed mixtapes called the 50 MCs. These tapes saw guest appearances from all the elites, such as Eminem, KRS-One, Wyclef Jean, Big L, Mos Def, and many more.
Back in his day, the importance of mixtapes and DJs was far more significant than they are today. And while Tony happily played the middleman between the streets and the record labels, DJing was an opportunity to flex his versatility, which is fueled by a wide array of influences.
Growing up with salsa in the household and hip hop in his everyday lifestyle, it’s no secret why he calls himself “one of the most versatile DJs on the planet.” Having been in the game for 30+ years, he states, “I probably put out more mixtapes than any other DJ on the planet.”
Fast forward to 2023, DJ Tony Touch is extremely excited for his forthcoming headlining show at New York’s Radio City Music Call coming up on February 9th.
BPM Supreme spoke with DJ Tony Touch virtually to discuss his background, starting out as a breakdancer, learning how to DJ, his set-up, his hilarious show with Gang Starr’s Guru, his upcoming show, and more!
Why are you “the most versatile DJ on the planet”?
Well, there are a lot of DJs known for their crafts in house or hip hop or reggae/reggaeton. I’ve been fortunate enough to be engulfed in all of those. I’ve been an advocate of house music, hip hop, reggae, of reggaeton. I’ve tapped into all these genres and have put out albums within these genres. I’ve put out music under each genre, so I’d like to think that that’s one of the things that makes me stand out from your typical DJ.
What was the moment you fell in love with hip hop?
A few moments. One of them, when I heard records like “Rapper’s Delight,” Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks,” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “The Message.” When I heard these records, I was blown away. It was something new, fresh. Something that hadn’t been done before. But one of the most pivotal moments was when I got to witness the movie Flashdance. There was a scene in the movie Flashdance where Rock Steady Crew had a two-minute, if that long, moment. They were breakdancing in the street, I was blown away by that. I knew I wanted to be that guy.
How did you learn how to DJ?
My first love was dancing, I was a young b-boy here in New York. Then my parents moved to Orlando, Florida. It was there that I ran into some people that had DJ equipment. Cats from New York, they wanted to connect with me. They lent me their DJ equipment and I spent hours practicing in Orlando. Had a lot of time on my hands down there at 15 years old. I already had an ear for the music, but it was there that I developed my craft.
How much did the b-boying and breakdancing play into the DJing?
I wanted to really be a DJ for the dancers. I used to be one of those guys on the dance floor that used to be staring at the DJ, waiting for him to bring it. Sometimes, the DJs weren’t cutting it for the dancers. When I got into that, I wanted to make sure that I was able to create this continuous flow, something that was dancer-friendly. My vibes were dancer-friendly.
What was your first gig and how much?
My first gig was when I lived in Orlando. I got a job at a roller skating rink, must have been 16 or 17. I’d DJ for the rollerskating rink there. Pandemonium was the name of the skating rink in Orlando, in case anybody wants to fact-check. I can’t even remember what I got paid, 100 bucks if that.
How much do you miss the mixtape era?
I can’t really say I miss it, I think it’s evolved for me. I’ve evolved from it. I can’t say I miss it, but I do credit it for making me who I am today. To be able to be recognized globally was because of my mixtape hustle. I was in it, in it. I had machines in the house, my apartment. Up all night, running copies. I was in it. I was at the printer, running. Printing my own labels, cutting them out with scissors, labeling my own stuff. It’s a lot of work. I can’t say I miss that work, you know?
It was a lot of tedious work. I’ve evolved from it and I’m grateful for what that mixtape movement did for me in my career. I’m still in it. There are digital platforms now like Mixcloud and SoundCloud. I still make mixes and post them up there. Can’t really call it a mixtape anymore, right? There’s no tapes.
What is your favorite memory from the mixtape era?
When I was recording my first 50 MCs mixtape project where I recruited 50 pretty well-known rappers to get on a mixtape from me and do freestyles. It was a memorable time for me, to be in the studio working with all these artists. That’s the mixtape that really really put me on the map, the 50 MCs. It’s a big one.
Who were the biggest names on those?
We had KRS-One on that tape. Das EFX, Boot Camp Clik. Whew, so many. The second one had Redman, Big Pun, Diggin’ In The Crates. B-Real from Cypress Hill later on recorded with me, and some of the West Coast guys like Safir, Tha Alkaholiks. I had some West Coast love on there too, for sure.
What’s your relationship with Jadakiss? You guys were in a documentary recently?
Jadakiss is on my last album on Def Jam Records, it’s called The Def Tape. It’s the soundtrack for the MIXTAPE movie, which is on Paramount+ right now. A critically acclaimed film telling the story of the mixtape culture, the DJs, and the artists that used this platform to get their names out there. Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, these guys came up through the mixtape scene. Jadakiss and I did a song, we redid the Redman “Tonight’s da Night” record. That’s on the album called The Def Tape. He’s been running around with me. We’ve been doing some promo for that, promoting the album and the film.
What’s your setup?
I use two turntables, 1200’s. Pioneer DJ S9 or S11 mixer. That’s my preferred setup. I could use any gear. I can use controllers, CDJs. But I prefer the turntables, the look of it.
Favorite song to drop in a set?
It’s too many. It depends on what set. It’s a hip hop set?
Yeah, hip hop set!
It’s too many, I couldn’t even name one. I’ll tell you my favorite artist, KRS-One. It might be a KRS record: “Sound of da Police” or “Step into a World” maybe. Yeah “Step into a World” by KRS-One.
Biggest pet peeve as a DJ?
People coming up to the DJ booth with their drinks in their hand, stumbling. I don’t really like anybody coming near me with drinks and stuff, because I’ve seen way too many accidents.
Wildest show you’ve ever DJed?
I was a tour DJ for Guru from Gang Starr. Back in ‘96, he had a project out called Jazzmatazz. Jazzmatazz’s second album, I was on that tour. We did a show in Vienna. At the beginning of the performance, he’s having issues with the sound man who’s on stage with us. He’s fussing back and forth. So I’m turning this up, the mic, the music. He’s trying to while he’s performing, it was different from our soundcheck.
Long story short, the sound man flicked him off, threw a bird at him. He went over there, he starts fighting the sound guy. After he does his first verse of the second or third song, he’s back fighting with the dude. My road manager goes, splits it up, then Guru makes it on time back on stage for his second verse. Starts rapping his second verse like nothing happened. It was a little scrap session. And we’re a live band. We had a live band, so we didn’t know what to do. We’re in Vienna, Austria. You know out there, they’re hardcore with it. Everybody grilling us, we don’t know if we’re going to get jumped or what. That was crazy. That was a crazy moment, but fun at the same time.
What advice do you have for aspiring DJs?
Learn how to mix records. Make sure you play music that you’re able to blend records together. Learn how to mix, then don’t be scared to take chances on new music. Don’t be scared to break new records. Don’t fall into that hole of playing what everybody wants to hear, what everybody hears, commercial. Be an innovator and bring some new music.
Anything else you’re working on?
I got a big show here in New York at Radio City Music Hall. I’m headlining here on February 9th, on Friday. We got performances from The Lox, The Beatknocks. A couple freestyle acts: TKA, Lisette Melendez. Sean Paul on the reggae tip. It’s a concert where I’m able to show the versatility aspect of my movement and career. It’s a multi-genre concert here in New York City February 9th, Radio City Music Hall! Salsa legend Ruben Blades is performing. I’m really excited about the show.
How do you prepare for something like that?
Putting a lot of thought and thought processes. I’m at the point now where I’m trying to curate the show and program it so that it flows smoothly. Just spending a lot of time, quiet time going through the different artists that are going to show their music. Figuring out how I’m going to piece it together.
Follow DJ Tony Touch on Instagram for more.