Before taking his talents to Los Angeles to build his brand, DJ Damage was a force to be reckoned with in his hometown of Philadelphia. Since the young age of 12, the North Philly native has the reputation of shutting down any party he DJ’ed because of his love for Baltimore club music. 10 years ago, if you were at a Damage party, it was most likely you burned off hundreds of calories dancing to hits like “Dance My Pain Away,” “All in Check,” “Ride That Wave,” and many more classics from the underrated genre of music.

However, once Damage got a taste of being on radio at his alma meter Temple University, he realized that he could do more than just being a DJ: he could also be a media personality. From there, his city got to see his personality on radio stations like 100.3 and Hot 107.9, where you could catch Damage DJ’ing, breaking records like Future’s “Tony Montana” and Schoolboy Q’s “Collard Greens,” as well interviewing a plethora of celebrities. Perhaps these skills helped him get hip hop mogul Puff Daddy’s attention to land a job as Revolt’s new music host.

Nowadays you can catch Damage on the Hollywood Unlocked podcast with Jason Lee and Melyssa Ford, but you will always see him behind a turntable doing what he does best. I recently got the chance to talk with Damage about the origin of his career, Baltimore club music and his views on DJ culture.

The Key: What was it like for 12 year old Damage to get his first set of turntables from his mom?

DJ Damage: When I first got my turntables, I was confused but excited, because in my mind I always been a DJ. When I grew up, my bother always rapped when we were younger and I couldn’t rap, so I always took the route of the DJ before I was the DJ. So when I first got those turntables, I was excited to get something that I had identified as for years. From moving from there, practicing every day, and working on my craft, I was excited to do something new. Back in those times we didn’t have a lot of young DJ’s, you could literally count on your hand how many people under the age of 16 who had turntables rocking block parties. It was exciting.

TK: I read that you started professionally when you were 15 , was that around the same time you changed your name to DJ Damage from DJ Dul?

DJ Damage: Nah, I mean, I thought a professional DJ was someone who makes a living off of the craft, so technically I was a professional DJ when I was 12 and 13. That was all I did to make money. I went to a boarding school and they had a community center that had a DJ booth and a little community night club kind of feel, and that’s where I worked at everyday after school. While people were running track or playing basketball, I was working after school DJ’ing at the arcade. The name came because after awhile DJ Dul wasn’t really cool, so I was coming up with some names and my boy was like “Yeah you should do DJ Damage because you do damage!” At first I thought it was lame, but I didn’t have anything better so for the time being I decided to switch to DJ Damage. I told my homies and they laughed at me, they thought the name was lame to but it stuck. [laughs]

TK: You learned the ropes of DJ’ing thanks to DJ YS. What are some things he taught you that stick with you to this day?

DJ Damage: Well, he taught me everything so everything still sticks with me. [laughs] He taught me how to blend, where to buy records, what type of turntables to get, what type of needles to use. He taught me everything, all of the basics that you have to learn to become a DJ I learned from my boy YS. Shout to him who goes by Sean Mc now because that’s his real name. Shout out to YS for sure.

TK: Who was DJ Damge looking up to when he was on the come up?

DJ Damage: When I was coming up, I was looking at DJ Cash Money, of course DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ XL, DJ Flow, Funkmaster Flex and a lot of people I found on Myspace. If I could read your bio on Myspace I was on your page. I used to follow all the DJ’s. Before we had super social media where people were getting interviewed, I would just read these long bios and try to get inspired.

TK: Did you have your first party at the community center at Girard or did that take place elsewhere?

DJ Damage: No, that definitely happened there. YS would DJ and he would let me open for him. At that point in Philly we played party music and YS was never really into the party music, but I was. So when it came time to play some Baltimore club music, he’ll let me get on and that’s how I kind of built my fan base up. YS was always older in his mind, even though he was in high school he was always into playing regular joints and I was like “Nah I wanna play the party joints, I’m trying to get people moving.” So that’s how I got my following in school.

TK: It feels like club music is an unappreciated genre of music that kind of fell off and became forgotten once we all got older. What were some of your favorite club songs to play back then?

DJ Damage: Oh you already know: Rod Lee “Hold Up,” “Feel Me,” I can go for days. It’s so many joints but it all started with Baltimore club. Philly and Jersey started making club, but it’s nothing like Baltimore club because that’s where it started with K-Swift and Black Star. Those joints used to go hard when I was coming up, you heard a few Meek joints but everything else was club. That was all you heard at house parties, Meek and Baltimore club music.

What happened with club music in Philly was once I left, there were no more platforms for these young dudes who were making club music to get it heard. Some DJ’s played club music only on the weekends, but I was playing it everyday so these young dudes would have their laptops ready to create a new joint for me to play. So once that opportunity was gone, it was like yeah they could put it on Youtube or Instagram…but hearing it on the radio made it inescapable. A lot of these dudes who used to make club grew up and lost the passion for it because the opportunity was gone. I was easy to get in contact with, had an open email and was always listening what music was fire and what wasn’t before going on live. I even brought young producers like Swizzy Mack, who had never been on air before, to the station for a Producer Spotlight.

TK: It was suggested to you to go college to study communications because of your desire to be on radio. What was the cause of that desire?

DJ Damage: I think naturally when you growing up in Philly, everybody was listening to the radio. The radio was where Cosmic Kev was breaking new music. DJ JDS who used to be my neighbor, was on radio and as a DJ coming up I was like “That’s what I wanna do.” That was my biggest aspiration: to be able to mix for the city and let them hear my skills. It started real young from me being a fan, me and my brother recording tracks on a tape.

TK: You went to Temple University, and during this time you were DJ’ing at countless parties all over campus. Do parties like Drippin Like Water, Chiken & Liqour or events like Spring Fling come to mind when it comes to some of your favorite college parties?

DJ Damage: I can’t say that I have a favorite party, but certain schools I went to was always turnt up. Every time we went to Lincoln or even West Chester it was crazy. At Temple I never got to DJ Drippin Like Water, at that time my boy Uddy, who’s my homie now, we were like arch enemies at the school. [laughs] We had the little fake rivalry that I don’t even remember what it was about. There were a lot of dope ass events but a lot of my favorite parties were when I traveled to DJ other schools. They just had a different energy, and that’s not saying that Temple wasn’t turnt, because it was for sure, but when you rockin’ spots at Shippensburg and IUP they really want to turn up.

TK: You first time on radio was Temple’s radio station WHIP, and during that time you wanted to add an additional skill and become a radio personality. What caused this next move in your career?

DJ Damage: When I was on WHIP, I was really just the DJ, I talked a little bit but I just really cared about being a DJ. When I transitioned to real radio it was like, well the goal was always just to DJ on radio so when you accomplish it quickly you got to start making other goals within that goal. So it was like “Alright I’m DJ’ing, let’s see if I can get a show and start talking on here,” so it kind of came from me going to the radio station and trying to elevate. It was dope that I was DJ’ing, but then my PD was like “I need you to start talking over records and start hyping it up,” and at that point I never touched the mic but I had to figure it out.

TK: Your cohost Brown B plugged you to get on 103.9, which later became 100.3. How did that happen and what was your first experience like spinning for your city on live radio?

DJ Damage: Yeah, her best friend was the assistant program director and when we would do our show, she would record our show and send it to her because she was trying to get on air. This was at at time where they were firing everybody. They fired Touch Tone and all the DJ’s and were looking for some new ones so she would send them my mixtape and would be like “Yo check him out, check him out!” After a few months I got an interview and a few months later I got a job. That was crazy, dude. One of the first dudes to ever show me love on Twitter was Mike Zombie who produced Drake’s “Started From The Bottom,” and it’s funny just to see how everybody has elevated. Back in the days, he used to send me party music to play for the 9:30 House Party and now he’s producing for Drake and stuff. It was a fun experience, bro, like I said that was a big lifelong dream. When I got on there I was like “Yo y’all gotta let me play some club music,” and when they did that’s when all hell broke loose.

TK: You once had a show called “New at Nine” where you would play new music from new artists and I read that you once said “You know a song is a hit when after you give it your first listen you end up singing that song later in the day.” What hit singles have you been able to hear before they became a hit?

DJ Damage: “No Hands” by Waka Flocka, “Fuckin Problem” by ASAP Rocky. “Collard Greens” by Schoolboy Q, I was the one who broke that in Philly. Nobody was playing Schoolboy Q in Philly before it came to me, because nobody was really on that wave, but I visited LA and I met this radio promoter called Wise One and as a favor to him I got the song on the show. Like I knew Schoolboy Q had a wave but it wasn’t like the Philly wave, it was like that hippy skateboard kind of gangster LA swag, but I started playing it and that joint started catching on.

Another joint was Future’s “Tony Montana.” I broke Future and got Future plaques for “Magic,” and “Same Damn Time,” because I was the first in Philly to play those and really help Future crack into the east coast market. He was big in Atlanta when he first started but when he came up 95 Philly and New York weren’t really fucking with him. They looked at Future like he was wack, but I fucked with him. He came and they let me interview him and DJ Esco in the main studio and they thought he wasn’t worth it. Just to look at him now is a reminder that you can’t underestimate people.

TK: From there you start to get your first taste of television with your interview series that you pitched to Snearvilla. How did that come about?

DJ Damage: Well, when I was doing radio at first, you get the humble pie of just being happy to do it and you start to realize that you’re kind of like a big deal. A lot of things were starting to happen, certain artists were tweeting about me. Meek Mill and DJ Drama showed me love, so I was thinking about what was the next step because I felt like I was reaching that glass ceiling and I wasn’t trying to just do one thing and everyone asked me if I ever thought about hosting. So I was like “Ard, to do hosting I’m going to need some practice so why not create something of my own so I can do just that,” so when I would DJ at Sneakervilla on Saturday’s I noticed that they started installing TV’s.

So I asked what they were doing with them and at first it was just to play music videos, so I pitched the idea to them about doing a bunch of interviews with people in the city and have it play on every TV in the clothing store around the city and they were with it. The problem was they gave me that money up front, I paid my boy in school to help me tape everything and we had a bunch of dope ass interviews that looked great. I go to take it in for them to see the first set of edits and they loved it but just had a few minor tweaks on like where to put the logo and stuff. When it came time to give them the finished draft, my boy went M.I.A. and the shit never happened.

TK: Oh, that’s crazy! Especially since those interviews got you to BET which helped you get to Revolt. But before that happened what were some interviews at the time that stuck out to you?

DJ Damage: : Well my first celebrity interview was with The Game, we had an in store with The Game and I was asked if they could set it up for him to be one of our first interviews and they were with it. The in-store was huge: it was like people all inside the store and outside, and after he did his in-store we set up lights and a full production with an audience of like 100 people. Now The Game isn’t the easiest person to interview, I guess he caught himself trying to chump me, but you know I’m a little arrogant when you in my city.

I was telling him that when this airs it’s going to be after his album drops so we’re going to talk as if the album already came out and he was like “I don’t give a fuck about none of that!” I had to reiterate it to him because I’m like “I don’t know who you talking to,” and he was like “Oh nah nah that’s cool, I get what you sayin.” We knocked it out and it’s like bruh, can you imagine your first interview is with The Game in front of 100 people at a store? Like bro I didn’t know it was even going to be like that, I thought it be a few people and they would kick them out the store during the interview. Nah, they were all right there, we had a few chairs, some cameras and lights and I’m like “Wow, I’m really doing a TV show right now!” [laughs]

TK: Would you say it’s harder to interview celebrities than it is interviewing local taste makers in the city?

DJ Damage: Nah, it’s not harder because they’re used to being interviewed, but you got understand that a lot of them are nervous as well and probably more nervous than you are as the interviewer, because whatever they say, people hang on to it now. Every word can mean something in social media so you got to make sure that you make them feel a little comfortable and a little familiar with you before the interview. Like on Revolt, I made sure even if it was for two seconds to go in there and dap up and speak to the talent before I interview them, just so we can have some kind of rapport. Just a few seconds of “How you feeling man,” or “You good, you need something,” so when they come out they don’t see me that much as a stranger. You just got to introduce yourself and break the ice before going on the camera because people put their guard up when they’re going on camera, especially when they don’t know you or feel like your energy is weird.

DJ Damage | photo by Christiana Lucratif | courtesy of artist

TK: That’s real. Like we said earlier, you were able to find yourself a chance to interview with Puff that lead you to a career with Revolt. What are some things Puff saw in you that made him believe you were the right choice as the new host?

DJ Damage: I have no idea, bro. [laughs] I really never got to hear how his personal thoughts about me, but I think how I got lined up was me being close to New York so it’s not hard to ask “Who’s DJ Damage,” and I was a heavy hitter at the time so I had a lot of big cosigns and big people reppin for me like “Yeah Damage is the man in Philly.” So I feel like if he were to ask around, people probably just gave me love or a cosign but I don’t personally know what he may have said I just know that he’s always shown me love and has always been a cool dude. I actually would like to know what he thought about me.

TK: That’s real. Well I did read that you learned from Puff was to have more than one hustle, and it seems like you’ve had that mindset since the beginning from DJ’ing to get on radio to becoming a host. Maybe that same hustle of tapping into as much as you can is what made him think you were the right choice.

DJ Damage: The thing was to not really try to tap into everything intentionally, it was just like you had to do everything for yourself, and be independent like an artist. I’m an independent DJ so I had to learn how to make my own flyers, take certain types of pictures because I wanted pictures of the parties I was throwing just to have content. You start getting into different things really just trying to make content. I didn’t want to be stagnant, it was like “I can DJ on the radio, what’s next?”

TK: Well it seems that you’ve made a lot big moves during your time with Revolt, from moving to LA in 2013 to you and your co host Sibley receiving the Cablefax Program Award for Best Music Host the following year. What have been some of your favorite moments on Revolt?

DJ Damage: Everything dude, when I first started working in New York and going out with the camera running the streets then moving to LA and interviewing celebrities and that’s kind of how I got put on. I wasn’t like the best host, I couldn’t read the prompter well, but I had experience with celebrities and none of the other hosts interviewed celebrities before. I did radio three years before I went to Revolt so a lot of the people coming in they dappin me up like ” Damage! What’s good?” They saw that rapport and was like “Oh we got something good here,” so that really worked out for me. The whole experience from interviewing, doing live TV and DJ’ing was crazy dude.

TK: You managed to still keep that love for radio in LA and took your talents to 92.3 What’s the difference between radio in Philly and LA?

DJ Damage: : Just a bigger monster man, so you got to be a little more strategic. It’s a different market with ones for black people and Latinos, it’s just like a whole different kind of structure. It’s kind of a step up, you really feel like you’re in the big leagues now over here, it’s crazy.

TK: I see that you’re now on the Hollywood Unlocked podcast with Jason Lee and Melyssa Ford. What made you decide to get into the podcast game?

DJ Damage: I mean, I always did podcast but they just happened to reach out to me and I was kind of familiar with it but I was like why not? Because at the time when I started doing Hollywood Unlocked I was unemployed, I wasn’t doing Revolt and radio anymore so I was open to doing the next thing anyway. I felt like when I was doing radio I was part of a platform that people didn’t care about that much anymore and I wanted to be on the next thing so I was excited to be on a podcast that was already moving and stuff and be able to add to it because in this game you got to be on the next thing or you’re going to get left in the past. Me being known to just doing radio can hurt me in the long run if I don’t start getting creative and figuring out what my next step is.

TK: I read that you used to partake in this event in North Philly called DJ Day, where DJ’s of all ages came to rock out on a set of turntables. What are your thoughts on how DJ culture has evolved over the past 10 years?

DJ Damage: I mean, it became the new photography. Anybody with a little bit of money can just do it now, because technology makes so easy and accessible — which is good and bad, because when anybody can do something, you got a lot of noise and a lot of people just being in the way. I like where technology is taking it, people that have a love for music can actually affordably dip and dabble into DJ’ing, and a lot of these people who just started and getting into it with it the technology are actually dope. Before if you didn’t have $2000, you couldn’t be a DJ. A set of turntable was $500 a piece, and then you need a mixer, speakers, headphones…it was super expensive. But now if you have the passion and you’re interested, it’s a little easier for you to get in the game, and I think that’s dope for a lot of young kids who have that interest. I like it.

TK: You once said that “Music you hear coming from Philadelphia comes from the heart, we are known to dig deep into our emotions and shock the world with our raw and gritty delivery.” What songs from Philly do you think fit this description?

DJ Damage: “What We Do Is Wrong,” “This Can’t Be Life”…man, anything Beanie Siegel, for real. Of course Meek Mill, I can go with something generic like “Dreams and Nightmares,” but it’s so many Meek joints we grew up on like The Flamers mixtape series. I can go back to Cassidy, Cyserro freestyles, like everybody bro. Chic Raw, Mike Knox, Black Dinero, Reed Dollaz, everybody from the Blood Houndz [laughs] like everybody, bro, everybody was raw. It was raw time, it felt good to be from Philly.