Interview: DJ Amaris

As I wrote in my piece for Spin Magazine, DJ Amaris (@Amaris1) is one of the earliest supporters of a lot of the younger artists in Chicago’s “Drill Scene.” I first met him in January 2012, the same day that I met Keef at his grandmother’s. Amaris organized shows for Lil Durk and Lil Reese, and was behind the two Keef shows that took place in 2012. Conducted May 28, 2012.

First, can you introduce yourself, your full name, where you’re from and how old you are.

Amaris Hewett, everybody knows me as DJ Amaris, 22 years old as of right now, from the South East Side of Chicago.

Can you give me a rundown of some of the different places you DJ?

I’m one of the number one DJs in Chicago between grammar school, high school, colleges, and some 21-plus events, even social clubs. I DJ the majority of all the high school events, via prom, regular dance parties and college homecomings. I also throw the number one college parties in Chicago, period. I’m the CEO of TKO Entertainment. [Some of the clubs I’ve Djed are] Adrianna’s, The Zone, Secrets, Mr. Ricky’s, Geisha Lounge, I’ve done clubs out of town but those are basically just some of the clubs in Chicago.

I talked to Kiara, Katie Got Bandz, and she mentioned that maybe a year ago, if you went out to some of these parties, a lot of the music getting played was from out of town. But then—her estimate was in the fall of last year—she started hearing more Chicago stuff. I was wondering if you could talk about that, when you started playing Chicago stuff in your sets.

Well basically—I’m not gonna say that style of music wasn’t played heavy. I’d say more Atlanta stuff. Downtown would play more like the Waka’s and the Future’s. I started playing more of this kind of music because I wanted our scene to get on. I started playing local artists like Chief Keef, Chris Mille, my artists from TKO… A lot of guys from the East and South side of Chicago, the guys from Dro City, King Louie. That was just off the strength that I’ve got a relationship with a lot of artists, Freaky tha Geek also. They reach out to DJs and some DJs are cocky, like, “you gotta pay me to play my records.” I feel like we’re all in this together, and if an artist has a crowd, and as a DJ or promoter I have a crowd, if we intertwine crowds, that makes it better for all of us. You get your music played as an artist, I’ll keep branding my name as a DJ and promoter, as a whole, we make the city of Chicago look big, and hopefully the bigger goal is to get everyone a record deal.

When did you start DJing with a lot of Chicago artists?

I started playing Chicago artists before a lot of other [DJs] did because … I’m always doing high school or college parties, and those are basically the ages of a lot of the new Chicago artists now….Basically by me being in these parties, there’s always someone like, here you go, I’ve got a CD, I’m a young artist, I’m from this side of town, play my stuff…that’s how it all started, being in different environments. I do a lot of events, I did backyard parties, so I was in different neighborhoods dealing with people, being hand-to-hand with them. That’s basically how it got started.

What other DJs have you noticed be really supportive of local artists in the scene here.

DJs Victoriouz, Twin, the big homie Pharris, the Block Club Djs—DJ Slugo, DJ Stew, all those guys, they’ve got a lot of DJs, DJ V-Dub, DJ Ron. There’s a lot of DJs I can say break certain artists or have tried to do something with Chicago here.

Musically it seems like the Chicago scene is pretty diverse. What do you listen for?

Usually I start with the beat, or if the hook is cool…or if I think it’s something people might relate to. Because the way Chicago’s going it’s like a blood bath, it’s a war zone. I know some people can relate to some songs that’s about pain, some songs that’s about being in the hood, some song’s that’s about trying to make it out the hood, trying to survive another day in the hood because that’s what’s going on right now. Basically I look for things I can relate to. Sometimes I play it because I feel like I’m a real young man out here and I feel like I’m surrounded by people that’s trying to get to another level. And a lot of music I play is that. It’s artists trying to show that they trying to get to another level.

When did you start to notice a lot of people starting to rock with Chicago music in the clubs?

A lot of DJs tried to take the Chief Keef thing and the Lil Reese thing to another level. But you can ask them guys themselves, I’m the first DJ to break their records in any club. I played “3hunna” first, I played “I Don’t Like” first. I was playing “Bang” first, I played everything. I’m the first DJ and promoter to ever book Chief Keef for a performance. So a lot of DJs are trying to take credit for that and I just want that to be known, I’m the first DJ to every play his music in the clubs, and I’m the first promoter to ever book him for a performance. I just want it to be known. I think that after Chief Keef started to buzz, I see more DJs trying to play more Chicago records. The Chi City Record Pool is a big thing, the big homie Booz put that together, him and V-Dub, and their camp. They try to bring all the DJs and artists together. But even with that, there had to be something else. There’s a big line of communication missing right there. There’s a lot of DJs that they’ve got certain artists that they deal with, and they play their music. But now because of the Chief Keef era, a lot of DJs are trying to reach out to more artists, because they see there’s a lot more opportunity and chance there.

How did you first discover Chief Keef’s music?

I was sitting at my house—you know, I had been playing Durk and Reese. I had booked Durk and Reese for their first performances. We even took them to [University of Illinois at] Champaign[-Urbana]. I threw a homecoming party at Champaign and they came down with us. We were doing events at Adrianna’s for my birthday bash, and other college parties. I was playing them and one of my brothers kept playing this “Bang” song, and I’m like, what the hell is this? “Bang Bang!” I’m like, what the fuck? I’m looking at the video, and that’s when he had maybe a hundred thousand views. It grew on me. I downloaded the video, and I see he was cool with—I own a not for profit organization called the Golden Knights Drill Team, and one of my drill team members went to school with him. And I’m like, tell Chief Keef to get his number for me, I want to talk to him. And the number was wrong, so I ended up going through some things and catching him and having a conversation with him, and then even after I got into the song, I was Djing a party on 75th, and one of the cliques that they in brought me his mixtape when it first came out. I played it with the DJ Hustlenomics drops on it!–he’s another guy that tries to break Chicago artists– But the “Bang” song is what really broke me, so after the I started listening to a lot of his other songs and I’m like, damn, well, if the kids are liking this, the sixteen, fifteen year olds … I believe in reinventing the wheel. I believe that if you’re 21, the new 21 and up clubs in a minute are going to be the guys that’s hooked on Chief Keef now. Why not start young? So I reached out to him and we chopped it up a lot, and that’s what moved that. I was supposed to be his official DJ, I dunno what happened with that, wherever it went, but things change. Shout out to the whole GBE I rock with them the long way, I still play their music heavy.

What are the biggest new songs that you’ve been playing that have gotten a big response from the crowd, let’s say any Chicago artists other than Keef.

Prince De, “Foreign,” he had a song with Waka last summer called “Foreign.” He got a song called “Real Niggas Back.” We from the same neighborhoods on the south east side. I feel like King Samson, he have some nice joints. Chris Mille. Of course Katie, I was rockin with her real heavy. Freaky E had a nice club banger. KD Young Cocky. There’s a lot of artists that people don’t play. Even Young Chop’s artist, Rampage, he got a nice mixtape. I’m rocking with their movement heavy. The #NoTalking guys, there’s a lot of artists that people don’t know about. Chinchilla Meek, Chella H. There are so many artists out here that are not getting noticed. I’m trying to be more diverse, trying to play everybody. The majority I’m playing right now are Chicago artists, plus Future, Waka and Gucci.

What’s the hot Gucci song right now? My pick was “Plain Jane.”

“Plain Jane” is my joint, that’s in my car right now. I got the regular one and the one with Rocko and T.I. too. I like the regular one but the remix is what’s up. I like him and 2 Chainz song, “Okay [With Me],” I’m playing that hard.

Other than Keef, who has the biggest track right now in clubs or parties that you’ve played?

It’s a toss-up. Keef set a tone, so everybody want a beat that sound like Chief Keef beat. It depends on what club you’re at, it depends on who’s there. There’s a lot of cliques, like, AAB. They got a song and they might be thirty swole, and if their movement is in a party or club jumping, everybody else start jumping with them. Chris Mille songs are very touchy, motherfuckers fuck with them hard. Katie Got Bandz, the women like her. Sasha Gohard, the women like her. It’s a toss-up, but Keef set a tone. You play another Chicago artist, they’re like, OK, we’ll listen to it, because you’re playing it. You play Keef, motherfuckers are going crazy, jumping up and down. They want to hear what’s going to happen. He set a high-ass tone, and I can’t commend him on that [enough]. The tone is set high. People are like damn, another hit, another hit. I’m just happy I was able to be a part of him getting to where he is now.

How did you lock down all those school parties, how did you hook that up?

I can’t even tell you, I feel blessed, the lord keeps blessing me. I work hard on DJing. You gotta come out with me man. Everybody knows if another DJ’s there, and I come in, everybody gets happy cause they know I’m gonna rock the party. Everybody wants to shine, I can shine a different way. Thats the reason I started playing Chicago music; everybody wants to play what’s hot. I drop what’s NOT hot, and make people feel it. That’s how I got to where I am now. I started finding the Waka’s and the Future’s that wasn’t nobody up on, and dropping it first. I started doing Chicago music that nobody heard, or that they seen the video but couldn’t download the music. That’s how I branded myself. And then my skills at DJing are really good. I studied DJing, rub shoulders with the right older heads, like DJ Stew, Pharris looked out for me before. A lot of older guys have bumped shoulders with me and tried to help me, they see I have a powerful movement, they see I’m serious, and they see people mess with me, people rock with me hard.

Do you think there is a Chicago sound right now. A lot of people are trying to do the Keef thing. Would you say there was a Chicago sound, what separated Chicago’s shit from the rest of the country’s?

It’s got more pain in the music. You look to Chicago artists, you can really feel what we’re talking about. If you look on the news, this shit is real out here. People are dying left and right and it’s barely even summer. People are out here spitting their lives on these tracks. It’s not no fake shit. People need to realize that right now we’re the murder capital. It’s people losing family members, people are working at McDonalds and taking their McDonalds checks and going to studio sessions … this is real, you can hear the pain on the track, you can hear the pain, see the division, you see people trying to go with the music. Whatever it is, it’s diverse but whatever the diversity, it’s pain, and everybody’s going towards the same goal.

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