Interview: Scram Jones is the ‘New York Music Guy’

February 23, 2024

Read the full interview on BPMSurpreme.com!

Scram Jones is the true definition of a New York native, as someone who grew up during the golden era of hip-hop and proceeded to find his footing in the music space as a DJ, producer, and even MC.

In describing himself, Scram Jones said, “I’m the New York music guy. That’s the general way of putting it because I do production, I DJ, I’ve been an artist. I’ve done management. I’ve done all types of different music formats. People know me for hip hop, but I’m the New York music guy.”

With two Grammy nominations under his belt, real name Marc Shemer has produced for all the legends in the rap game, including Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Styles P, Jadakiss, Dave East, and many more. As a DJ, you can hear him spinning on Shade 45 every Saturday from 3-5pm PST on his show called the Scramble Mix.

To give you an idea of what last year looked like, Scram Jones spun at Yankee Stadium for Ghostface Killah and Wu-Tang on hip hop’s 50th birthday, Rick Ross’ car show in Georgia, Drink Champs in Miami, Grandmaster Flash’s Park Jam in the Bronx, Drai’s Las Vegas for Rick Ross, Raekwon’s wedding in Texas, and the list goes on.

We chopped it up with Scram Jones and discussed how he learned how to DJ, his set up, how he got into music production, advice for upcoming DJs, and about his latest project with Dave East!

How’d you get your name?

My government name is Marc, and my last name starts with an ‘S’. When I was young, I used to write my papers ‘Marc S.’ everywhere. I used to have to write my last initial and I used to start writing it backwards. I don’t know if it was dyslexia, or if I was bored. I wrote Scram everywhere. In my notebooks, in the bathroom, it was my little graffiti tag. It became my nickname. Then I started DJing, I was DJ Scram. When I started producing, by that time people had made extensions of my nickname: Scram Boogie, Scram Jones. I ran with Scram Jones as my producer name, it just stuck.

What was the moment you fell in love with hip-hop?

When I first saw a breakdancer. As a little kid, my dad worked for Pepsi. He had a family picnic thing we all went to, it was a “Pepsi” picnic and there were breakdancers there. They had the boombox out, I sat there like “oh my God.” I was stuck after that. I was begging them to give me breakdancing records, I didn’t even know it was called hip hop. Thank God they supported me, but I got a compilation called Electric Breakdance. I got The Breaking soundtrack, then I had the Michael Jackson Thriller albumThose three records were the beginning of my hip hop life.

How did you learn how to DJ?

I was always a music collector. Starting from a little kid, from that moment, when I was seven years old, I’d collect cassettes. I’d collect CDs, then I’d collect mixtapes. Middle school, beginning of high school, I’d battle other kids like “hey, I got the new whatever mixtape.” We’d always battle for who had the most exclusives, and I realized that the DJs were getting the exclusives first.

So I originally got turntables to get the exclusives, not realizing what musical toys they were and I’d be scratching every day after school. But no one really taught me. I definitely became friends with someone who was a DJ already, an older kid in high school. Shout out to my friend DJ Goldfinger, my man Sean Parker. He was the older kid in school who was DJing before me and we became partners. He showed me the basics. After that, I became a fanatic.

What was the first DJ gig you ever did and how much did you get paid?

The first gig was me and him, I was 15 and it was for $300. We had to bring all of our speakers, our amps, our turntables, and it was at the ice cream store. [laughs] I still was nervous to blend the records. I was given headphones, like, “does it blend? Does it sound good?” I was nervous at an ice cream store. [laughs]

What is your setup?

My ideal setup would be a Pioneer DJ DJM-S9 mixer, those are the best mixers on the planet. And I like the Rane 12’s. Because they’re vinyl platters, they feel like records without the degree of error. Because you don’t need needles for them, so you don’t have to worry. A lot of times when you get needles — I’ve had so many gigs where I couldn’t get a good reading and it totally ruined my whole set because the readings were bad. So I love that, you don’t have to deal with that with the Rane 12. Now, I heard Pioneer DJ came out with some new ones too that you don’t need needles.

What is your favorite song to drop in a set?

Damn, I’m all about call and response. I like doing the corny stuff. I like throwing “Sweet Carolina” up. [laughs] I like playing “We Will Rock You,” I like playing all that stuff. I like doing the obvious ones that are the cheat codes. “All I Do Is Win,” you get everybody’s hands up. Shit like that is the cheat code, but I like to play old-school stuff even more than the new stuff. To be honest.

Biggest pet peeve as a DJ?

I hate requests.

I think every DJ does. 

I don’t mind them because you could gauge what people want, but then the sense of entitlement where people will stand by you and literally think you’re going to put it on in 30 seconds. Stalk you every minute and not even tip you, that part is super annoying. I don’t want to hate on any of the new DJs, but a pet peeve is when the DJ gets paid the least in the room, but they’re the most important in the room. You do certain venues where they praise you and they hook you up with bottles and your friends are comped, then there’s other ones where you’re just the worker. The waitresses are getting paid more than you and you get treated like shit, I don’t like those gigs.

I did. That’s his initials. Ironically, he’s not a DJ and doesn’t want to be a DJ. But he’s extremely music-savvy and talented. He puts me on new music every day. He finds all the new artists and tells me that “this guy, this guy,” and he’s always right. But he’s doing production now. Songwriting, he’s way more advanced than I was at his age. Thank God he was raised by me, because I brought him around every studio session as a kid and every show. He’s really got to soak up a lot of good stuff, and I’m definitely proud of him.

How old is he?

He just turned 16, we have the same birthday. We’re both November 5th.

That’s crazy you guys have the same exact birthday! 

It is. He was born at 4:44. So if you ever see me post that, it’s not for Jay-Z. [laughs]

Talk about your production background as well.

The DJing definitely started first. I started from scratch. At 15, I got my first turntables in 10th grade. What I realized too is I also love to write. Since a kid, I’d always be writing little raps or poems. When I got my turntables, one cool thing about finding these records was that they had instrumentals. Everybody even back then wanted to be a rapper, including myself. Rapping over these instrumentals became an everyday after school thing. People wanted to come over just to freestyle.

It got to a point where wow, I want to make my own beats. I want to record some of these songs and some of the stuff I wrote. After I graduated high school, I went to Ithaca College in upstate New York. That first year, my roommate got an MPC, which is the beat machine that I used for 20 years. I learned on his and the following year, I bought my own. Just started recording demos. It was more for producing myself at first.

Back then, it wasn’t the internet. It was the politics of having a pop record, etc. I didn’t want to be that type of artist, and I didn’t really like the hoops they were making me jump through. I like to be playing the back seat of being a producer, that lifestyle more. When I started selling beats, I said this is more my thing. I could still be in the mix, still give input. So that’s how I started producing.

What was the first big placement you got?

It was two different placements. The first check I got was from The Pharcyde, which is interesting. My old managers had a label and Pharcyde was signed to them. They said “We need a remix by tomorrow, we have acapella. We will send it to you, you have to make it tonight.” So I took the acapella, went to my friend’s house because at the time I didn’t have the studio equipment. I made the beat, I sent it in. They said “Oh yeah, we’re taking it. Here’s $5,000.” They pressed up on vinyl, and it’s featuring Black Thought. I’m like “wow.” I was thinking to myself, “that was too easy.” I didn’t even think the beat was all that. I thought I thought they were going to say no because I just made it on the keyboard. It wasn’t a sample beat.

$5K on the spot? Damn!

Right there, oh that’s it. Forget about writing these raps, I’m making these beats. That was off the grid because it was a remix, only came out on vinyl. I never even got to meet them, it was a quick 24-hour turnaround thing. My real first placement was with the guy Tragedy Khadafi from Queensbridge. I met him at a party and the next day, he brought me to Havoc’s house with Mobb Deep. The following week, he brought me to Raekwon. I did half of his album called Still Reporting. He put Havoc on two records and made me an A&R. That was my first debut with my name really on something that was in the stores, besides that Pharcyde vinyl.

To have Mobb Deep on the records, it was huge for me. But my very first placement I got on the radio was Jae Millz’ “No, No, No.” That was crazy because I never even had heard of him. He was in the studio room next door to me. They said, “Hey, we got a Harlem battle guy that wants beats.” I threw him a beat CD and the next day, management came like “Yeah, we got a hit! Track #7, we’re taking it. Flex is going to play tonight.” I’m like what the?! He didn’t have a deal at the time, so I was heavily impressed with his stuff. They did the remix with him, T.I., and Cam’ron. That was 2003, the first big placement I really had.

Fast forward to this year, you just dropped a project on Valentine’s Day with Dave East. Did you produce the whole thing?

It was a spontaneous idea we had. We got up, we shot this thing for First Take for ESPN. While we were sitting there, I said “Hey, we should do something for Valentine’s Day.” And he worked so fast, we only did three or four sessions and knocked 10 records out. That fast.

It’s pretty dope. It’s all R&B flips. I always told East he needs to be LL. He feeds the hood, all the hood records. I said, “Bro, the ladies love you. Let’s do this Valentine’s Day thing.” I finally got him on the rail to do it and it came out crazy. It came out amazing.

What’s your relationship with Dave East?

Me and Dave East go all the way back before anybody really knew him. Back in 2014, I had a friend who told me I needed to work with this Harlem rapper. He only had mixtapes out. We got up, he started coming to my house. We did about 15 records, we did a mixtape called Straight Out of Harlem. Right after, Nas got a hold of the mixtape and wanted to sign him. And did sign him. That was before the Nas era, but he used to sleep on my couch. Before the chains, before the Bentley. [laughs] But we go way back, so it’s cool to go full circle. Because we started together. I started with him on his career, he’s put a good 10 years of work in. Now for us to knock out a full project is pretty cool man, we work great together.

Talk about your gig on Shade 45 and how long you’ve been doing that.

Every Saturday 6pm to 8pm, which is 3pm to 5pm on the West Coast, I do a show called Scramble Mixes. The mix that I’ve been doing on it, it’s fun. The cool thing about doing satellite is that they give you free rein to do what you want. I was trying to not be generic. Of course everyone wants to hear new stuff, but they play new stuff 24 hours a day. I got Whoo Kid right before me playing hours of new stuff.

Love Whoo Kid!

That’s my bro, but he plays all new stuff. I don’t want it to be the same show as him. Of course, he has crazy A-list people he’s interviewing. I started doing these mixes, playing original samples and people started going crazy. When I play new stuff, I wouldn’t get a lot of engagement. But the second I start playing Jay-Z samples and Nas samples, blending them into the originals, people are blowing me up ridiculous. “How can I get a copy? This is amazing.” I got to a point where I said you know something, I’m going to make this my show. I’ll still play new stuff in the beginning, but the majority I try to do something creative with the samples or a theme of somebody’s birthday. That’s a fun show.

Advice for aspiring DJs who want to do what you do?

The main thing is study music, because you have to be a chameleon. You can’t be a one-dimensional DJ. If somebody wants you to do a wedding, or somebody wants you to do house music or reggae. Don’t be one of these guys that hate the old-school and just wants to play trap music. Great DJs are well-rounded and we all go into being a DJ because we have the love for music, not love for one genre. Not because we want to be in the cool parties and get girls. It really starts from the love of music, all music. Really, take your time to listen to other genres, different artists. Don’t just depend on technology and what’s on RapCaviar.

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