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Tour Tales | DJ Aktive talks touring with Janet Jackson, Kanye West's perfectionism and more

Keith Nelson Jr

 // Oct 30, 2018

DJ Aktive // DJ Aktive

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.'


For most of us, our first job out of college isn't glamorous and typically not indicative of the career we want to pursue. Now a twenty-five year veteran DJ, Maurice "DJ Aktive" DeLoach went from the classrooms of Gloucester County College in New Jersey, to touring around the world with Musiq Soulchild in support of his debut album Aijuswanaseing in 2001.

He hasn't stopped since.

For the last 17 years, Aktive has deejayed for Marsha Ambrosius, Common, The Roots, Alicia Keys, Puff Daddy and the Bad Boy Family for their 25th anniversary tour, and Kanye West -- most notably during West's iconic "VH1 Storytellers" performance in 2009. Since 2015, he's been the opening act and tour DJ for the incomparable Janet Jackson.

For "Tour Tales," Aktive spoke to REVOLT TV about Jackson's reaction when he first played her his remix of her "Nasty" song intertwined with Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow," how West's perfectionism frustrated him, and which artists had fans jumping on him.

You were touring with Musiq Soulchild for his tour in support of his Aijuswanaseing album in 2001 right out of college. What show sticks out the most to you?

The most memorable show was when we did it in New York. Musiq was signed to Def Jam at that time. JAY-Z was at that show and he came up to me and said, 'I like what you're doing, adding the hip hop vibe to this R&B/hip hop soul shit.'

What was your role for the Musiq Soulchild tour then, and how has it evolved over the years?

My role then was basically a DJ. But, I was adding different hip hop tracks. Similar to what I'm doing now. Bringing hip hop to the R&B vibe. But now, I'm more so music directing tours and shows.

You've deejayed for so many artists over the years. How does your role change depending on the artist?

With Janet, she has me open up her show as her opener on the tour, as well as playing as a band musician DJ. So, I'm dropping different samples, different hooks, different vocals, different scratches, remixes in the show. But, she also has me spin 45 minutes in the beginning to open up. But, for someone like Nas [in 2006], I was just the DJ. Get the crowd hyped up, play the track. That was really basically it. I work with Common, as well. I'm dropping the track, doing adlibs with him. But, he gives me a part in the show where I do a solo and I'm doing battle routines. That's body tricks, scratches, bringing the hip hop shit back. I'm doing that in the show with Common, currently.

How much say does an artist have on what you're scratching in your set? Do they listen to your set beforehand and make suggestions?

Some artists do. Working with Marsha Ambrosius, she's usually like, 'I want you to do a scratch here. I want you to drop this here.' Same with Janet. I have to turn in or submit to them what type of remixes I'm doing. What type of scratches. How it makes sense with their music. They'll say if it works, we'll brainstorm, and then come up with a plan.

While on tour with Janet, you've remixed her song "Nasty" with Clipse's "Grindin,'" and Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow." How did those come about?

Basically, what I try to do is once we get to each state, I try to pull up a classic or a record that's hot in the city. Then, at soundcheck, I'll play it. Me and Daniel [Jones, music director for Janet Jackson] will talk, and then we'll submit it to Janet. She'll be like, 'Yeah, let's add this. This make sense.' We came to Atlanta and we remixed it to Ludacris' 'Welcome To Atlanta' and the crowd went crazy.

Cardi B posted up a video of Janet dancing to your remix of "Nasty" over "Bodak Yellow." What was Janet's reaction when she first heard that mix?

She went crazy. She was making the stank face [Laughs]. Her and her choreographer did a whole routine with it. It went viral.

Has the role of the tour DJ changed over the years?

I would say yes. It's not like the old days where you're just playing the record and scratching. You have DJs now who are musical. They're used as instruments in a band. They know how to read music. They know how to interact with the band. They're not just playing all over the place. You're basically a part of the band.

One of the most iconic shows you've deejayed was Kanye's "VH1 Storytellers" event in 2009 in support of his 808s & Heartbreak album. What was that like? How were the rehearsals with him?

Rehearsals with Kanye were amazing. He's a musical genius. I also have to give a big shout out to Adam Blackstone. He's an amazing music director who put me on to the Kanye West gig. When we did the rehearsals for 'Storytellers,' everything was live. He had me doing all the scratches, like for 'Gold Digger.' You know how he has the scratches in there? 'Get, get, get down. Get, get, get down.' He had me doing all that shit live. It was dope. They had us wearing masks [Laughs]. Besides that, it was an experience. That was probably one of my best tours or shows I've done with an artist.

What was the most difficult show for you?

The most difficult show I used to have to do was Kanye's show. He's a genius, but he's very picky. There were a couple of things I was having issues with when he wanted me to come in at certain places because he'll switch it up so fast. He's a producer, himself. So, he hears everything. He wants it to sound exactly like the record. So, if you're doing scratches on 'Gold Digger' and it doesn't sound exactly like the record, he's on you. He's like, 'No. Those scratches, you brought them in too fast. You need to bring them in a little slower.' So, I was having a difficult time with that [Laughs].

Did you and Kanye discuss music during that time together?

Absolutely. He had me come to his studio in New York. I'd come to the studio and we'd go over how we were going to do the show. Making sure my tempos were good.

How much did you tour with Kanye in support of 808s & Heartbreak?

We went to Singapore. That was dope. We did the 'Ellen DeGeneres Show.' We did the Chicago Theater. We also did South by Southwest that year, which was huge. That's when we introduced Big Sean. We introduced Kid Cudi. That's when we introduced everybody from G.O.O.D. Music, at that time. It was crazy. Erykah Badu came out. Common came out.

As the tour DJ, you know when certain surprise guests are coming out. What was one tour with big guest appearances that you knew of beforehand?

The 'Bad Boy Reunion Tour.' That was the best tour I've been on outside of Janet. Diddy was flipping it up every night. You never knew who was coming, you just had to be prepared. He's like, 'JAY-Z's coming. I need you to get 'PSA' [Public Service Announcement] ready right now.' Every state he had new guests. Dr. Dre. Snoop Dogg. We don't know they're coming [Laughs]. We get text, the email like an hour ahead.

What are some of the most interesting things you've seen on riders?

I've seen so much [Laughs]. Candles, weed, certain types of foods, fruits, candy. Puffy always had his Ciroc and fruit in the back.

According to a Citigroup report, artists only made 12-percent of the $43 billion in revenue the music industry earned in 2017, with most of the artists' earnings coming from live performances. How has the business of touring changed for a DJ over the last 18 years?

I would say it has, as far as the rates. I know some accounts won't pay you what an A-list account would. If you're an up-and-coming DJ, trying to get on the tour, you're probably not going to get paid as much as if you've been on the tour for a couple years. Before, back in the early 2000s when I came in game, you were getting paid a little bit more. Now, it's slimmed up a lot. But, if you're dealing with an A-list artist who has the budget, you can get what you asked for. Between $5-$8k a week, you can get that. Some artists you can probably only get $1500 and some $750 a week. It depends on the artist.

You've worked with a number of larger-than-life acts. Have there been any times where you had to go through extreme measures to get an artist to or from a venue?

It has happened a couple of times. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, I was working with Tyga. That was when he had 'Rack City' and all those hot records. In a lot of places we had to come in through the crowd. These kids were running after him. That was when he had the record with Chris Brown. We used to come in through some wild entrances. These kids jumping on me, jumping on him, screaming, getting trampled on, fighting. Yeah, I experienced that with Tyga. We were on a tour where we opened up for Drake. That was the 'Light Dreams and Nightmares' tour in 2010. That shit was wild. That was when Lil Wayne was still locked up.

Have you seen anyone record music on a tour bus?

I did. I saw it with DMX, The LOX, and the whole Ruff Ryders crew. That was 1998. My manager was working for Def Jam at the time. He had me come to the show. So, I came backstage, met everybody and stuff like that. I saw how crazy it was getting. There was fighting. It was wild. I'm glad I wasn't touring at that time [Laughs].

What is something you would change about touring to make it better?

I feel as though every artist and band member needs to have their own bedroom. I mean, I get mines. But, some people be two or three to a room. That needs to change, so every man and women can have their own privacy. So, that needs to change in the touring world [Laughs].


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