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Tour Tales | DJ MLK has stories for days about touring with T.I.

Keith Nelson Jr

 // Dec 11, 2018

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.'


MLK is a legend in the Atlanta streets because he moves the people. Not with speeches and protests, but with turntables and southern rap music. Marlon L. King, internationally known as DJ MLK, shares the same initials as the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and the 31-year-old DJ has been hard at work cementing his own legacy since he began deejaying at every club in Atlanta as a teenager in the early 2000s.

His first big break came when T.I.'s manager asked the DJ, who was 20 years old at the time, to be Tip's tour DJ for the second leg of the "Screamfest Tour" in 2007. Since then, if you've seen T.I. live, MLK was deejaying.

"I'm the DJ. I put the show together."



Speaking to REVOLT TV, MLK explains why T.I. didn't do a 15th anniversary tour for his album Trap Muzik, the rapper's almost vegan diet on the road, and the lessons he and Kanye West taught T.I. about putting out music in the new era of streaming.

I feel there was a big missed opportunity this year with T.I. not performing his Trap Muzik album for its 15th anniversary. Have you guys ever talked about doing a full album tour?

Oh, yeah. But, you know, all of that comes with planning and putting it together. It's definitely been talked about. But, nowadays with attention spans so short and so much music coming out, you have to have that shit planned out super ahead. There definitely was a conversation about doing intimate little shows of the b-sides of certain records from Trap Muzik. But, when you've got a lot going on, working on a new album and helping with the artists on the label, it's a lot to do.



Well, if you want to let T.I. know 2019 is the 15th anniversary of Urban Legend and get that ball rolling for that anniversary tour or show, I'm down for that.

I'll definitely put it in his ear.

What are some mistakes you did back in the day, when you first started deejaying for T.I., that you'd never make now that y'all have more than a decade of experience?

Some people don't know how when you DJ for a show, some songs you don't do the hook, some songs you do the hook only, some songs you do the verse only. At the time, I was using an Instant Replay, which is basically a big ass hard drive that held a bunch of songs. Each song was held on a pad labeled 1, 2, 3 and some even alphabetically. My early fuck up was I started the song too early.

Some songs, Tip may want to introduce the song and talk a bit. I may start the song before he gets done introducing the record. The Instant Replay was so fucking sensitive that as soon as you touched a pad, it would start. So, I either started a song too early, ended it too early, or I didn't play a song in the proper order. Those only happened once. After that, shit was smooth sailing.



T.I. is hilarious, especially off the mic. Do you have any funny tour bus memories?

Well, those we can't be talking about (laughs). Those were the wild days. Tip is a humorous guy. On the 'Screamfest Tour,' we had a particular incident where a street team member bought bottles, and T.I. found out because it was charged to his room. It wasn't pretty. It was funny because Tip came on the tour bus like, 'I heard somebody was popping bottles downstairs last night.' He asked the street team guy, 'How much money you make?' The dude was like, 'I don't make enough.' Tip put his ass on a Greyhound real fast. I don't think the guy knew Tip's credit card was on file for incidentals, and he signed that shit anyway.

T.I. went to prison in 2009 for illegal weapons possession. Do you remember your first conversations about work after he came home?

Just pretty much getting back to work. Anytime he would go [to prison], we would talk. I would send him CDs. The conversations were more of that ambition and drive he had to get back to work. When he came home, he hit the ground running.



How has T.I.'s rider changed over the years? What does he like backstage?

Oh, man. He went from eating crazy shit to now eating full blown healthy meals. He damn near vegan. He likes his sweet stuff. He likes candy and stuff. But, right now, he's transitioning to eating clean. Before that, it was Popeyes and all the bullshit.

Now it's juices and kale?

No, no, no. A lot salmon, fruits, water. A lot of clean shit.

On the 'Screamfest Tour,' you started as the mix-show coordinator before being the tour DJ. During your mix-show coordinator time, one of the most iconic moments in recent hip hop history happened when Diddy, JAY-Z, Kanye, 50 Cent, and Swizz Beatz came onstage at the Madison Square Garden stop in August 2007 . Did you know that was going to happen ahead of time?

I didn't know that 50 was coming on stage (laughs). But, you know 50 going to get his time. I knew Diddy and everybody else was coming. Everybody was backstage kicking it. Being backstage and hearing the talks from different perspectives from 50, JAY, Diddy, Tip; all of them talking with each other and sharing ideas, that was fun. I [have] been at dinners with Tip, JAY, and [DJ] Khaled. When you're behind the scenes, you can actually see the relationship right there. It was my first time being around 50, JAY, Diddy, and everybody.



T.I is a prolific recorder. He makes music all of the time. Has he ever recorded on a tour bus?

Yeah, we've recorded in hotel rooms. When we did the 'America's Most Wanted Tour,' him and [Lil] Wayne actually recorded on Wayne's tour bus. That JAY-Z and Rick Ross record, 'Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit,' Tip and Wayne jacked that record for Wayne's mixtape. I forgot which one he was working on at the time. They recorded that freestyle on Wayne's tour bus.

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That was Dedication 5.

Yeah, that entire song was recorded on Wayne's tour bus.

Are there any studio sessions you sat in with T.I. collaborating with other artists that have not come out yet?

Yeah, him and J. Cole; him and French [Montana]; him and Dr. Dre. A gang of stuff. When it comes out? I wish I knew. Him and [Kanye] got unheard stuff. Ye wanted to get on Tip's last project he put out. They still got some stuff that needs to be heard. Some classic shit.



Which one of T.I.'s albums has the most songs that are on his setlists every shows?

Oh, man. Phew. How we do the setlist is that we pull from each project. Urban Legend, Trap Muzik, King, Paper Trail, the most impactful songs from each project. We have a portion of the set where it's a medley. You may hear me play 'ASAP,' 'Motivation,' or even 'Dope Boyz' from his first album [I'm Serious]. When you got hits, we can play for days.

Maybe not one album, but what one song gets the biggest reaction?

Oh, of course, 'What You Know About That.' That Paper Trail album had so many Billboard records on there. It won a Grammy.

When you're 75 years old and you're sitting back with your grandkids, what's the one show or moment that's going to stick out the most?

There's been so many. I always tell this story. You're familiar with DJ AM, right?

Yeah.



Long live DJ AM. JAY-Z was bringing us out on the road with him. DJ AM was JAY-Z's DJ for a few shows. I forgot what album he was promoting. I think it was at Virginia Tech. We would always come out to the JAY-Z sample Tip used on 'Bring Em Out.' 'It's hard to yell with a barrel in your mouth.' That was the signal.

I'll never forget, I pulled up and wasn't no sound working. Me and DJ AM in the DJ booth together like, 'The equipment not working.' We didn't even have five minutes until JAY got to that bar. Literally, the equipment started working and that's when Tip ran out there. Him and Jay performed 'Bring Em Out.' They performed 'Swagger Like Us.' But, that timeframe, I had time to build with DJ AM. That timeframe, it sticks out because nobody knew we were in the DJ booth trying to figure out how to get the DJ equipment to work (laughs). It was weird, man. It was weird, but, it was history. It was a moment. We got through it. If you heard the show, you'd never know about that hiccup.

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. Have you noticed over the years any increase or change in the frequency of T.I. doing shows, as opposed to back when everyone was selling 3 to 4 million records?

Hell yeah. To nip everything in the bud, I'll put it like this. I don't know if any DJ has put it in this perspective for that question. You have to understand in the 2000s, early 2000s with JAY-Z, T.I., Yo Gotti putting out albums, that timeframe of putting out albums, us consumers had time to listen and appreciate. So, we had time to digest and learn lyrics. That's the reason those artists can still tour. But, the difference is now, the music is coming out so fast, you don't have time. Think about it, you might get three mixtapes and a couple of albums in one day. In five or six months, that project has died out. Or in that one week, it's gone. I tell Tip, and other artists I have relationships with like Jeezy; the Spotify, the social media, the Apple [Music]; all of this goes hand-in-hand when you putting out music. All of this goes hand-in-hand with how your streaming sales are going to be. It's up to you and your team to understand that.



Prime example is the Kanye song with Tip, 'Ye vs The People.' When Tip landed back in Atlanta, he pulled up on me and said, 'I did this song with Ye,' and he played it for me. I told him, 'I guarantee you Ye is going to put this record out today. The timeframe on this, you need to put a record out because that song is going to get so much attention because the people want to hear Kanye ask all these questions.' Tip was like, 'Nah, he ain't going to do it.' I'll never forget, I go to the club to DJ that night, and Tip show up to the club. He said, 'You weren't lying. He just went to Power 106 and put the record out. It's going crazy online.' I told him, 'You should just drop a dope record right now.' All of this has to do with streaming. They all go hand-in-hand.


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