The cursor is blinking at me.
I really really hate the pulse of a cursor on a blank screen; but this is where we are at.
I just interviewed one of the most revered and loved DJs on the planet; and yet my ink has run dry. “There should be a Miralax for the mind…”, I thought to myself.
DJ Lucho and I spoke for 90 minutes about the roller coaster ride that has been his career. We laughed like friends. We saw eye to eye on so many things in the music industry of the past and present. There were so many times where I wanted to say, “Hey man…let’s go into a studio and jam until we’re dehydrated…F— it! Let’s go past that point.” Despite the “brother from another mother” phrase being one of the most cringe things to ever come out of some yokel’s mouth, damn I felt it. From minute ONE, I felt it…and yet, in the unforgiving flat white face of a Windows Freesync monitor, I felt absolutely stunted and stammering…getting off to sputtering starts…only to dash the entire thing to hell. Not that it was much of a loss when you’ve only written a paragraph.
It took me a while to get under the skin of this thing…and it took me two days to shrug off just enough of my stubborn little hard headed Leo ego to admit that much. If I would’ve admitted that I was absolutely at a loss for words sooner, maybe I would’ve realized immediately the problem.
The problem is DJ Lucho is a lot like me. I mean…he’s more handsome and successful…ambitious…calculated…
He’s nothing like me in those regards; but stick with me while I attempt to land this plane.
DJ Lucho and I share a similar blessing and curse: An absolute reticence in the public sphere.
In a world of insufferable, starved for attention, cringe inducing, loud mouth narcissists…we simply…can’t. We can’t with these people. WE CANNOT. Do you hear me?
Like…I don’t think DJ Lucho is quite as forceful as I am about it (I pray he’s not), but when I see some absolute soulless, talentless clown on Instagram photoshop their waist to look hotter and take a picture in front of a huge audience or surrounded by “IG models” (shout out to Tyson Beckford for keeping it real with me about these types…), I just want to hiss like a feral cat in that Pet Cemetery movie.
It’s not out of envy; and it sure as hell is not out of envy when it comes to DJ Lucho. This man has done IT ALL. He couldn’t even disclose what “all” is; but he’s done it. He’s done it like a professional; like a man of his word; like a man of principles, ethics, values and love of the craft. With the backing of his actual substantive resume, if he would’ve peacocked 50% as much as the absolute dregs of my pseudo intellectual, try-hard generation, he would’ve eclipsed nearly everyone with “DJ” in their stage name. To be fair, he’s basically done just that in his career.
But in the public eye? Not so much.
Imagine being called by his childhood friend Marc Anthony camp to do a solid , and DJ for his then wife’s (Jennifer Lopez) 40th birthday at NYC Edison hotels Supper Club; and yet your name barely comes up on Google search.
Imagine putting together a phenomenal presentation for Jennifer Lopez’s birthday party with beautiful music, ornate costumes, wholesome spiritual themes…you pretty much move JLO to tears…and yet when you tell these stories to people at your DJ sets, they call you a liar.
Not today, Satan.
I’m going to do what someone should’ve done to me: shove me into the spotlight whether I like it or not.
I’m completely okay with Lucho hating me afterwards. I’m not asking for permission. I’m rolling out a red carpet so the real artists can strut, flex, boast and take a bow; and Lucho is as real as they come.
Born in Harlem, Lucho got an early peek into the world of music, from the comfort of his backyard.
“I used to live on 122nd street…and basically they used to do a lot of block parties in the back of our buildings. I used to see Grandmaster flash. My father used to play a lot of Salsa and Disco. Those were great times and suddenly at the age of 9 my dad passed away. Mom became both roles of mom & dad. I would chaperone my sister and go out to places…and then at the age of 13 I went to my 1st club called Hearthrob. That’s when I saw my DJ idol. And that’s when I said, ‘you know what, I gotta become a DJ’.”
DJ Lucho’s mom put together the money to buy him his first set of turntables and speakers; which was a godsend in those times. Lucho was growing up during the crack epidemic, and the flash of the streets was alluring to many of the youth. You could look like a legendary rapper without spending years in the studio or hustling your mixtape. Just cook up a key and blow the profit on an LL Cool J carbon copy look.
Perhaps, Lucho’s aversion to the limelight saved him here. He was focused on learning a craft and establishing himself in the latin house and freestyle DJ scene.
He even showed some early entrepreneurial spirit which provided an invaluable industry connect.
“My friends were in college, I was in college…I put this group together and started promoting this club under a man named George. The party we put together was great but the promoter stiffed us on the pay. I had to go to the office and see about my money. While I was there, the issues got worked out and the guy who fixed it, Marvin Ginsberg, pulled me to the side and said he wanted me to come work for him. He would book me all around the city!”
These early gigs would bring him around the city in a major way and put him into the right places at the right times. For example, an early DJ apprenticeship:
“There was a club called Sound Factory. I used to carry records for DJ Little Louie Vega. I was really into the house music scene at the time. One day he traveled back from Italy, and I used to pick him up from the airport. I drove him back home…he mentioned to me that he was tired and had jet lag. He said he was going to take a nap before his set that night. So, he told me to set him up at the venue and when he woke up from his nap, he’d come down and play. So I set his records up and before you know 10pm hit and the Club was about to open and Louie was nowhere to be found. I’m calling him and calling him and…the promoter asked me where Louie is. I didn’t know but I said I can play until he gets there.”
“So I started playing music. Now on Wednesdays, Sound Factory was all industry people. So people are looking and they see Louie’s record boy playing but they liked it. My style was a lot like his because I studied him. Everyone is enjoying it and with all those music industry people there like Gladys Pizarro from Strictly Rhythm Records…Louie walked in at like 1 o’clock in the morning and cheered me on. It was so cool. All the House industry got to see me there.”
This experience led to the kind of reputation that opened the door for more high profile gigs, private parties for the stars, money and all the trappings of the kind of person with their name in lights…but this feels like such a footnote for Lucho. Not once did I catch him boasting of designer clothes, fast cars, women…none of that. He’d recall most of his biggest wins as wins for the culture.
“I once played Madison Square Garden. It was a freestyle event. It was like 15,000 people there. It’s 360 so it must’ve been 15-18,000 people. It was the first freestyle concert to take place in an arena of that size. You know what’s crazy? That was my highlight but the Sound Factory gig was bigger for me.”
And that makes sense to a guy like me who feels similarly when it comes to music: Yeah, the accolades from fans are wonderful; but nothing compares to your peers digging what you’re doing. They actually KNOW what you’re doing. A fan tends to conflate the entire experience in their mind. It’s not just the band…it’s the band, and the lights and the stage plot and the way the musicians dressed and that thing they said over the microphone that seemed edgy…like calling out some rapper you have beef with and leading them in a chant of “F Ja Rule! F Ja Rule!”
No offense, Ja Rule. If it makes you feel any better, I’m clearly punching up.
Your peers, the industry greats…their compliments are of a completely different nature. They know the technical mastery and sophistication it takes to do what you’re doing behind the booth. They know what button you had to hit at just the right time. They know how hard it is to merge the bpm of one record into another seamlessly. They know how tuned in you had to be to know just the right time to play the new hit record or bring back a nostalgic classic. So when your peers compliment…you know it’s purely about you and your hard work to get that skillful.
It lands differently.
Lucho also found himself producing and remixing mega hits in the studio, thanks to his mentor, DJ Little Louie Vega.
“I must credit Louie Vega. I was always with him . I would go to Basshit studios and meet up with Louie & Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez known as Masters at Work. They were creating so many hits for stars and also many Latin House anthems as well. I would get in the booth to help them with vocal chants. It was an amazing lesson learning from these icons!! Later on I was introduced to a Bronx Dj “Louie Passion ” that rented a music studio in the Bronx. I remember it was $20 an hour. There I created my first record Named “Symbols of Life ” with my then music partner Disco Dave. The Soulful House recording started getting recognized because Louie Vega was pushing it at gigs and ended up getting picked up by “Spiritual Life” record Label owned by WORLD renowned Dj Joe Clausell.
“However, my second solo recording was a Latin House track that till this day makes some noise.. “Canto Latino” was a replayed trombone sample from a Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon salsa hit …ended up getting picked up by the Godfather of New York House.. “Dj Todd Terry ” and released on his label FREEZE RECORDS.”
Life continued in a bit of a blur from here. Arena show after arena show. Monster single after monster single while still keeping to himself.
“Damn, I did a lot of these big parties and arenas. But if people were like we got a new channel coming and they want to do an interview, I’d say ‘No no…I don’t do interviews…’ I’m just private like that. I gotta get into my mode. I gotta see what’s happening on the dance floor but if no one bothers me, that’s my ideal.”
Even so, he’s been beyond blessed to do large events that truly meant something for big names. It’s one thing to be someone’s DJ or be alongside them once or twice on a red carpet or at a luncheon…but Lucho became the DJ you call for the most memorable moments of one’s life.
“I have been blessed . One time I was called by ATC Productions to play at a Freestyle Event taking place in Miami at The American Airlines Arena. In attendance was Salsa Kings Marc Anthony’s brother Bilgrim Zayas. Superstar Jennifer Lopez 40th birthday was 2 weeks away. He summoned me to Recreate a short version of the Freestyle show that he just saw as a surprise for her birthday event in NYC.”
“He calls me up and we start picking up artists for the show: TKA, Shannon…so I thought, how can I make this special? So I had a friend, Oveus Maximus, whose a slam poet and I had him come in for the show. He did this beautiful introduction and we set up these dancers Tenille Jimenez & Anthony Rodriguez, who were on Madonna’s Tour. They did this beautiful spiritual type Santo dance and performance and the lights and smoke and Jennifer was so blown away she started crying. Then I started playing Shannon, and Shannon came out and performed. Then I mixed in TKA and TKA appeared from behind the curtains…It was a mini concert I put together just for her birthday. Right before that, I did her mother’s 60th birthday. That put me in their Rolodex after that! I did Marc Anthony’s birthday too.”
“I did an NBC commercial party as well. Trump was there. Tom Cruise was there…lots of corporate events and private parties as well. I even did some Conde Nast parties. I don’t know…I did it on the humble. I was just like ‘I gotta play there.’ I’m just going and doing my job. A lot of them were events with no cameras though.”
This was the usual hum of Lucho’s life until the industry faced an unforeseen disruptor.
“At the time I was getting 8k-10k from Sony & WEA Latina for dance remixes. I was a young guy, I never thought it was gonna stop. But the black market started doing these 2 dollar fake CDs and so now the market is getting flooded with that and now my prices are going downhill. From 10,000 to 1,000. I realized I needed a plan B.”
Without much hesitation, he pivoted to his own rich culture to provide a new financial base for himself and his family.
“I did a barbershop but that closed. Then I opened a restaurant called Latin Kitchen, 600 square feet…my mom was always a great cook so she started cooking there. We were in an Italian neighborhood. I’m working for John Gungie Rivera at a club he owned in Bayridge, Brooklyn, Club Rio. I had just got married and I needed to invest my money. Latin Kitchen worked out despite being in an Italian neighborhood. I didn’t think it would sit well there…I mean the Italian mob was still big. But it seemed like someone vouched for me because no one ever came at me about being hispanic with a restaurant in an Italian neighborhood. I started opening more locations.”
Even here, he goes on to talk about his mother, her business acumen, and her strong hand in the kitchen…he’s still somewhere in the background cheering her on. That said, he avoided a large drop-off that a lot of artists were never able to recover from. Combined with the continued DJ sets and private events, he sounds content.
Of course, this still leaves much to be desired in the way of recognition. The industry knows his name but fans are still clueless when it comes to the legend they’ve most likely seen at some of the biggest shows in the world, running the turntables.
That being said, there’s an opening for a reintroduction of sorts. See, thanks to DJs like Lucho, there’s an underground rumble for a resurgence of Freestyle music. Lucho is focusing his energy on bringing freestyle back to the forefront by hosting reunion shows that feature many of the legendary artists from the freestyle era. He’s on a mission to breathe new life into it. He’s a visionary in that regard. He’s doing away with the same old structures, same old sound effects, and same old mindset that seems to be holding back other DJs trying to bring freestyle back in the present day. After a successful 1018 reunion show, Lucho’s entrepreneurial mind kicked in yet again, leading to the Roseland Reunion show he’s set to host with his dear friend, John “Gungie” Rivera.
When speaking of the reunion, he’s once again undistracted by the potentially huge moment. He’s more interested in the special moments that make all the difference behind the scenes.
“The biggest thing is that I’m getting to reconnect with a friend of mine for many years, Gungie. You know, he’s seen me grow up. He’s seen me in this music journey that I have. He’s responsible for a lot of good things that have happened in my life. It’s a blessing to reconnect with him. If only one person comes to this reunion, at least I reconnected with him. The reunion will be the talk of the town. WE can’t fail.”