For DJ Franchise, creating mixes means much more than simply putting together popular tracks. To him, making a mix that tells a musical story of reflection and personal growth can take months. His latest upcoming release, Know Me Well, debuts this Friday, and touches on the theme of complex relationships.
“This mix is also about how we can experience several types of relationships in life and get to know ourselves better each time,” he adds.
Now entering his 25th year of DJing, the L.A. transplant shares with us stories of his first gigs, what it means to be a “tastemaker,” and his thoughts on his favorite rapper Jay Z’s new album.
The Know Me Well listening party takes place this Friday, July 7, at Solespace in Oakland, and catch him spinning Saturday, July 8, for All the Feels at The Layover.
SF Weekly: Give us a brief history of how you got into DJing.
DJ Franchise: I’ve always loved music since I was a kid. My mom and dad would tell me stories about driving around in their ‘57 Chevy playing oldies to get me to go to sleep. As far as DJing, that started when I got my first mixer from my cousin in middle school – this crappy Realistic brand mixer from Radioshack. I definitely couldn’t afford turntables at that age, so I would take two boomboxes, or one tape deck and one CD player, and do a lot of “make-do” mixing.
But the moment I wanted to be a DJ is when I heard He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper album. Hearing DJ Jazzy Jeff’s solo routine on “Live from Union Square” was square-one for my passion. I wanted to know how he was creating those cool and weird sounds. I wanted to be this silent assassin at parties. I wanted to be the person who created the vibe with music for any situation. Jazzy Jeff, he’s my biggest and first inspiration for this DJ thing.
SFW: How long have you been at it?
F: Dang! This will show my age… I’ve been DJing for over 25 years, but I consider the last 10 years where I really took my craft to a serious and respectable level. I moved to the Bay in 2005 and, up to that point, I was everyone’s DJ friend, so it was easy to find gigs. But when I moved here, I had to earn my stripes. I always tell folks, “What actors are to L.A., DJs are to the Bay Area.” Everyone wants to be a DJ or is a DJ up here. There’s so much saturation here, so I knew I had to make my mark and show I was different. I also had strikes against me for being from L.A. S.F. venues and DJs were not trying to put on an L.A. DJ – the perception was that we just knew how to play Top 40 music and spin with no soul. Universally untrue. but the S.F. hate against L.A. was real.
So, there were many weekends when I first moved up here and I didn’t have a gig. Those nights I would just stay in my room from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. just mixing to get better. No gigs meant disciplined practice. I did that for two years! Eventually, I got a gig as a guest DJ for Massive Selector at Lucky Lounge in Oakland — Shout out to Proof and Stefanie — and gradually continued to build my tribe from there. I’ve been blessed to have a Bay Area network of friends who have supported my aspirations and pushed me to be better DJ.
SFW: How would you describe your DJing style?
F: I take pride in creating ageless and timeless mixes. I often label myself as a “gateway DJ.” When you listen to my mixes or hear me spin, you should always find something cool, new, or vaguely familiar enough that you want to go and find out more about the song/artist. So whether that’s a dope cover, a new indie song, an unheard remix, or just an infectious beat – to me, the biggest compliment I get while DJing is someone asking me, “Who does this song? What’s this beat?” That means they’re listening. I want my mixes to be heard 10 years from now and still make your head bob — a sign it aged well. This goes for the club and the mixes I release.
SFW: Many DJs call themselves “tastemakers.” As for you, what does that term mean and how does it reflect your musical career?
F: As a tastemaker, you have a responsibility to push the culture forward –- whatever it may be. You should be intentional about how you editorialize and publicize what you want people to take away from you. For me, it takes me months and months to put a mix together. I could easily put together a top hits mix every week — no problem — but I want my mixes to inspire, challenge, and intrigue my listeners. I want to push the culture forward on how we listen and appreciate a set of songs put together by DJs. In the end, you got to ask yourself did I add value to culture and people’s lives? If not, what are you doing this for?
SFW: You started a party called Generations, whose premise is featuring music spanning four generations. Which era speaks the most to you?
F: I grew up on late ‘80s/early ‘90s hip-hop, so early ‘90s is always going to be close to my heart and where my roots are. However, I’ve grown to love the ‘70s. I have a lot of appreciation and respect for the classic breaks, disco, reggae, rock, and everything that came out of the era. I grew brainwashed that the ‘70s were wack and cheesy. But hearing how much soul James Brown, Nile Rodgers, Curtis, and others impacted our current music – you can’t deny that the ‘70s was that time!
I also can’t speak on this party without talking about my dear friend Matthew Africa. In 2011, I found myself losing a lot of gigs with some venues closing or a change in management. My then girlfriend (now wife) pushed me to make some moves on this party concept I’ve had for years. When she asked me about my ideal venue, I wanted it to be at SOM (R.I.P.) in S.F. and my dream DJ lineup was Mind Motion, Goldenchyld, and Matthew Africa. After the first night, Matthew asked if he could be a resident DJ because he loved the party so much. To me, that was like Steph Curry asking to join my intramural basketball team. Matthew helped curate the DJ lineup and brought the party to another level. I laugh because he was always great about calling out DJs who didn’t stay within their decade – like, “Hey man that song was released in January of 2000, it’s not the ‘90s.” He was a big part of my growth as a DJ. He inspired three of my mixes (Muse Music, Tom’s Summer and Futurized Funk). I lost a mentor, friend, and big brother when he passed away almost five years ago. I measure almost everything I do in DJing thinking, “What would Matthew think of this?” This party and my DJ career wouldn’t be where or what it is today without him.
SFW: Tell us about your new mix coming out on Friday.
F: Know Me Well, like almost all of my mixes, has a deeper meaning or story arch to it. Much like my favorite rapper Jay-Z who likes to use double entendre – this was an appropriate title for me because it’s been two years since my last mix. My mixes in the past have had a specific theme. For those of you who know me well, you’ll see that this mix represents a lot of what I do and love – a combination of all of those past themes (remixes, covers, upbeat soul, and hip-hop). This mix is also about how we can experience several types of relationships in life and get to know ourselves better each time. A lot of these songs are complex relationship songs versus a straightforward romance or breakup song. These songs represent the journey of someone who finds themselves through the relationships they are a part of… and gets to know themselves the best at the end of it all.
SFW: What were some of your inspirations going into this mix?
F: I found that my best mixes are honest and vulnerable mixes. This dates back to my KTL mix in 2009 – up to that point I was known as just a golden era hip-hop DJ. But that mix broke the mold. I brought in some indie pop, funk remixes, unheard of edits — stuff I really wanted to do but was unsure about how others would receive it because it was a departure from what people know of my spinning. Know Me Well is a familiar continuation of that honesty and unabashed style in my mixes. I’ve grown into who I am as a DJ now through a lot of self-reflection and person growth. I wanted a mix that marks that journey, so you’ll see patient a capella breaks, soulful house music, traditional boom bap hip-hop, future soul. Even if you didn’t know the story and arch behind Know Me Well, I want listeners to still enjoy the vibe of the mix and have the music be able to stand on its own. A good movie is visually entertaining but a great movie has layers and ages well. I hope the same for my mixes.
SFW: What are you most excited about for your upcoming plans this summer?
F: A couple of big things coming up — celebrating the fifth-year anniversary of the Generations Party and I plan to release an all-vinyl mix by the end of the year. I hope to expand my Beatdown and Generations party to a few more cities in the next six months. I’m also expecting a new addition to the family, so I plan to introduce my new little one to all my favorite artists and genres like my parents did to me …except my Jetta’s not as cool as their ‘57 Chevy.
SFW: Lastly, because you said Jay Z is your favorite rapper, what are your thoughts on his new album?
F: As a long time Jay fan, I always wait with high anticipation for each of Jay’s projects. Most are great with a few bonafide classics, but this one ranks up there with one of his best. I think Jay was unapologetic about being who he is and what he’s done but has also grown into accepting his role as a positive influencer. I think he has always known that his brand and name has influence over the culture and his listeners, but this time around, I think he’s looking to change men, particularly black men, to be their better self. This album feels like a manifesto on how to do that. I feel like he did a general map of what black excellence was on Watch the Throne, but I think this is a more personal journey of how he chose to do it.
4:44 speaks with a lot of empathy and pain (both as a victim but also as the inflictor) of what it’s like to be a man of color in America – to not only be a survivor but to strive for excellence. Being a man who has been through some grown man struggles, there are some real gems in there on how to level up in today’s America. I am sure this is an album that will mean something different for me at different stages of my life – much like Marvin’s “Here, My Dear.” To be honest, and bringing it back full circle here, that’s exactly what I want my mixes to do for my fans and followers: I hope they continue to find meaning and soul as they listened to them year after year.