DJ Nonstop // Instagram
Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For 'Tour Tales,' we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it's still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on 'Tour Tales.'
—by Keith Nelson, Jr.
DJ NonStop, a Chicago native who grew up in the Humboldt Park neighborhoods breakdancing, has been deejaying since 1984. He toured around the world with Latin freestyle group TKA before he was 23 and, for the last 15 years, he's DJ'ed so many shows for DMX he's lost count. "There's 52 weeks in a year, and there were weeks where we did three shows a weekend, back-to-back," Nonstop said as he dived into his memory. "I think it's in the thousands, maybe 1,500. I'm not even sure. It could be more than that, because we used to do 40 city tours every three months."
While X serves the one-year prison bid for tax evasion he was sentenced to earlier this year, DJ NonStop has been living up to his name. The Heavy Hitter DJ does weekly mixes for Chicago radio station 104.3 Jams every Friday and Saturday, has an upcoming song with newcomers Menoover 13 and Hex Hectic, volunteers to teach kids how to DJ, and may have popped up on your Spotify and Apple Music with a playlist.
But, for Tour Tales, the Chicago native spoke with REVOLT TV about how he earned DMX's trust on the road, the hilarious lengths people have gone to satisfy DMX's needs on tour, and why touring is so important to artists like DMX.
What is the biggest difference between touring as a DJ back then compared to now? I used to carry my turntable, my mixer, and my records [laughs]. Now I tell them what I want on the rider, and it's there. Everytime I went to Newark, my turntables used to slide from the top, and my shit would flip over, crack open, and my turntables would be face up, and I'd be like, "motherfucker!" It was the worst shit ever, but I carried them shits everywhere.
When did you start deejaying for DMX? I met him in Chicago at Joe's On Weed Street. He was doing a show and I was deejaying for Kato. You remember he made a song about his friend Kato ["A'Yo Kato"]? That was a friend of mine too. I was deejaying the event and they asked me if I would DJ for him because he didn't have a DJ and he was going to do, like, five songs. I did it. I highlighted the MC like I would any other MC. He called me the next day on Kato's phone. I thought it was Kato, then I heard [DMX] and he was talking so fucking fast I didn't know who was talking. He was like [imitates DMX's gravely and fast tone of voice], "Yo, what's up, man? I never worked with you before, but I felt the vibe. The shit was dope. I don't know what it is, but I want to offer you a job." Then I'm like, who the fuck is this? Then he's like, "DMX, man! It's X!" And I'm like oh, shit. He was like, "I felt a certain energy with you. I want to offer you a job." It was 15 years ago in July.
What was the most memorable show you ever DJ'ed for him? We went to Warsaw, Poland; it was a B-Boy festival. They told us the ages were 16 to 24, I believe. I'm telling you, there were five- to seven-thousand kids there and everybody's hand was rocking. Boom. Boom. When I say rocking, I mean every person in that audience was just gone. All you see is hands, hands, hands, hands, hands. When we did Roots Picnic a few years ago, as soon as they announced DMX was coming on, the whole place turned, because it was divided and there were different stages. I'm positive they shut the stage down that was directly in front of us off, because I saw people standing on that stage watching the show. That was at least 10,000 people, easy.
Any other shows? One show that really stood out to me was the first time we did that 'JAY-Z and Friends' tour after R. Kelly left. As part of the show, JAY-Z and Mary J. Blige were in two tour buses and the police are chasing their tour buses. Then the tour buses pop out on the stage. Mary gets off one bus, Jay gets off the other, and they start performing. They're doing "Money, Cash, Hoes." Then, all of a sudden, the bus that X is on starts rattling, shaking, you can see that shit jumping. All of a sudden you hear "more cash, more money, more hoes. WHAT?!" The crowd went crazy. It gives me goosebumps just talking about it. People were jumping around. I even seen Alonzo Mourning behind me at one of the shows, and he was jumping.
You were DMX's DJ for most of his commercial career. When did you feel that he started to really trust you on the road? We had this one show in Philly. I think we were an hour way, and we were supposed to be on stage, like, 30 minutes ago. We're already talking like, "Yo, we've got to do a show. We got to get there and go straight on and do this, do this." The place was packed, wall to wall. It was one of the craziest shows we've had in years. We get there and they want me to set up right away. So now they're like, "We only got 30 minutes and our show's an hour and 10 [minutes]." So I tell X, "Yo, we only got 30 minutes." He's like, "What?! What the fuck?!" He's a little upset. I'm like, "Dog, we're late. We've got to do it or we're not going to be able to do anything. I said, "just follow my lead." He's like, "OK, let's go."
So, I just gave him little hints [on stage]. Bang, bang, bang. We knocked this 30-minute show out. It was the fucking shit, bro. He ran into the dressing room like, "Yo, that was the fucking craziest shit ever. Yo, from now on, whatever I make, you make. I'm giving you 10-percent of what I make." That was when I first got my big raise. He was like, "If I get this, you get that. You are so important to the show." It was one of those moments where he started really, really trusting me.
Citigroup recently reported that artists only make 12-percent of the $43 billion in revenue that the music industry accumulated in 2017, with most of it coming from live performances. You've been a touring DJ for over 30 years; how has the importance of touring changed? Well, I think that's still the only way to make money, for a lot of artists. If you're signed to a label, back then, you're getting pennies. If you wrote your lyrics, which most people do in hip-hop, you're getting a percentage, but it's a small percentage. You've got to payback your advances, and all that bullshit. So, back then, touring was the only way to make your own money. Touring and afterparties. That was the only real way. Unless you sold 20 million albums, you weren't getting a big check. X gets his checks from movies. How many times you heard "Party Up" in a movie? It was in three movies in one year, three years ago. So, you get residual money and shit like that, but he's not the only one getting paid for that.
But I think, nowadays, and I'm not 100-percent sure, but I [think] when labels sign people now, they sign them to those deals where they get a percentage of almost everything. I don't know if it includes shows, but I don't see why it wouldn't, because they do it for merchandise, ringtones, all kinds of crazy shit. So I don't know. I think it's still super important to do the shows because I think that's really the only way you could really cake off the albums. Unless you're Chance The Rapper, and you don't have a label, then you're in charge of your own shit.
This is Tour Tales, so we're asking for behind-the-scenes. I have to ask you what you were thinking by daring DMX to streak through a hotel in 2013. First of all, nobody dared him. He did that shit on his own [laughs]. Don't believe the hype. What happened was, room service came to his door and he walked and opened the door naked. The room service ladies tucked their heads and hid, and then he came out running. He ran the hallway back and forth while we were standing there. You'll be shocked at how funny that dude is.
What were some of the usual things you would see on DMX's rider? Regular stuff like fried chicken, but only white meat. Cartons of cigarettes. Candy, he likes a lot of candy. Now & Laters. We went to Russia and this guy flew to America just to pick up Now & Laters. I saw him at the airport, I'm like, "What are you doing here?" He was like, "I had to get the Hennessy." [Laughs] I don't know if there's Hennessy in Russia. He's like, "I had to pick up this" and he had a bag full of candy. I'm like, "You came all the way here for this?"
Have there been any shady business happenings on tour? X is one of them people that likes to help people. So even if he hasn't seen in years, he'd give them a job on the road, but they don't always pan out. We've had some sucker ass managers over the years that have robbed us, taken money and X's name and we never did the shows. It's been a lot of that. It's not always him. A lot of times it's people in charge.
That's interesting, because you usually see the news of DMX wanting to take show money in cash and getting in trouble for it. He did get a lot of his money in cash, because that's how he's used to picking up his money. The difference from the beginning when he was getting all of his bills paid was he had an accountant and all that. He hasn't had that in years. You trying to teach an old dog new tricks. You're trying to teach somebody who has never written a check for himself, never had to worry about that. What he's done is, he's worked. He gets his deposit, that goes to all his bills, and he's picking up the backend and he's keeping that. That's how it's been, but that's got him in trouble. That's why he's locked up. Now it has to be done differently. He doesn't intentionally not pay his bills. That shit about "fuck the IRS," and all that goofy shit, he never said that. The people that turned on him are people that he's fired over the years that have ripped us off. We've seen a lot of names. We know who they are. It's all good.
So what's next for you and DMX? Next [is] for him is to get out of jail [laughs]. Next for us is the 20-year anniversary of the first album tour. When he gets out, we're going to do 'It's Dark and Hell is Hot' tour. That will be the first time we probably do the whole album.
Come back next week for another installment of 'Tour Tales'!
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