“Celebrate Brooklyn” Interview with DJ Clark Kent By Michael A. Gonzales

Celebrate Brooklyn
Interview with DJ Clark Kent
By Michael A. Gonzales

Coming to Brooklyn from Panama when he was two months old, DJ Clark Kent began his career playing records at local park jams and has gone on to have one of the most illustrious careers in entertainment. For DJ Clark Kent, it all began in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, when his mother and grandmother “came to the states when I was two months old,” Clark says. “And Brooklyn has been in my blood ever since.”

A pure music fan from the time he could switch on the radio, Clark listened to the soul hits on WWRL, pop jams on WABC and later dug the deep grooves that celebrated New York City jock Frankie Crocker laid down on WBLS. Later, when he began spinning himself, he crossed paths with everyone, from encountering the underrated DJ Flowers in Brooklyn parks to hanging at the Rooftop with future king of new jack swing Teddy Riley to playing early Puffy parties in the ‘90s.

With a resume that includes DJing for Dana Dane, working as an in-demand club DJ, spinning hip-hop on WBLS during rap’s golden era heyday, producing tracks for the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Slick Rick and Rakim, touring the world, DJ Clark Kent has represented both music and business for over two decades. Of course, this interview was conducted in Brooklyn.

soulhead: What was your introduction to hip-hop?

Clark Kent: I didn’t have an introduction to hip-hop. I was there before it started. I started DJing when I was nine. My uncle had a sound-system I used to use, I learned how to play it and then, hip-hop started. You were hearing of the ways DJs changed the way they were played and called it hip-hop, to make it different. I saw it and learnt it while it was happening. I was a part of it. It’s different for me than a lot of people my age, because I started so early, I saw it happen. Before there were rappers, I was DJing.

soulhead: Were you doing sets in the park?

CK: I would play on other people’s sets and at house parties. But, imagine I’m eleven, playing on people’s sets. At every house party, I was there. So, I just knew what it was.

soulhead: Tell me a little about your uncle?

CK: He introduced me to the turntables. When I first saw a DJ set, it was at his house and he had two turntables. It wasn’t like he was a DJ, he just happened to have two turntables. And, I knew what mixing was—if you listen to the radio, you know what it is. My uncle didn’t mind me playing his set, so that’s how I learned. In my neighborhood, there was a DJ on my block, although he was somewhat of an asshole. Didn’t want the young guys to come up; he was somewhat of a hater and he never let me get down on his set. He would let us into the house, but nobody could touch the turntables. I remember thinking, ‘It’s gonna be really crazy when I’m the guy and you’re not.’

Later, I vowed when it was my time, that I would help out any DJ that I thought was talented. So the first technical DJ crew was born, Superman DJ’s, that’s my crew. It was born out of the memory of that guy on the block who didn’t want me to play on his set. But I always understood why those things happened. If you’re talented, and someone else is “the guy,” they sometimes try to hold you back.

soulhead: I’ve heard about a Brooklyn DJ named Grandmaster Flowers. Were you aware of him?

CK: Grandmaster Flowers used to DJ at Lincoln Terrance Park. He was the first DJ to let me play on a set in a big park. With a bunch of people; I was about 13. He let me play on his set. Flowers was the man. He was the first Grandmaster and he’s from Brooklyn. Before Flash, there was Flowers. He knew that I was this young boy from Union Street who strongly aspired to do what he did. It was dangerous to go to Lincoln Terrance Park, but when somebody DJed out there, it was special. I went and stood behind the set. He knew me. He turned around and said, ‘You want to play a couple of songs?’ I was like, ‘Are you serious?’

soulhead: Do you remember what songs you played?

CK: I don’t remember the songs, but I do remember thinking while I was playing, ‘I hope he doesn’t take me off.’ I just wanted to be good enough not to be taken off, so my first three songs were really powerful. He let me play for about an hour. That was it. Once I knew I could come in and move a bunch of people that didn’t know me, I knew that was it.

soulhead: How did you meet Dana Dane?

CK: It’s funny, because I was DJing at a talent show at Washington Irving High School. His record ‘Nightmares’ had dropped the day before. Or, maybe a month before, but, he hadn’t done any shows, this was his first show. He asked me if I could drop a record for him and I was like, whatever. I’m on set, so I played it. Afterwards he said, ‘Yo, I might have some shows coming up, do you want to spin for me?’ I was like, whatever. When Dana Dane met me, I was already DJ Clark Kent. I was already known and popular. So it was cool for me, but it was really good for him to have a DJ that people knew.

One of the earliest shows we did was a show at the Rooftop. When we went there, it kind of bugged him out that people knew me as much as they knew him. On stage, people were like going crazy and Dane was like, “How did this happen?” It was cool, because together we worked right.

soulhead: What do you remember about your early days with Dana Dane?

CK: All I remember was, we was killin’ ’em. We had the records of the moment (“Nightmares,” “Delancey Street”) and I knew how to put together a good show. If you grow up watching Flash, the Furious Five and Cold Crush Brothers, then you know what it’s like to see a show. I used to go to Harlem World, I used to go to Savoy Manor, I used to go to the Black Door, I used to go to the Dixie, I used to go to all of those clubs. So, once you see all of that happening you understand how to do a good show. Dana Dane was the rapper, I was the DJ and, back then, DJs ran the show. So we were just going from place to place, laying it down. We were successful fast, so we went on the road really quick.

soulhead: What label was he on?

CK: Profile.

soulhead: Did you do production then too.

CK: On other records, but not “Delancey Street.” That was produced by Hurby Luv Bug, who I was also working with, which is how I became a producer. If it wasn’t for Hurby, I might never have gotten into production. So I learned valuable lessons and business from Hurby. Real quick. Working with Hurby got me out of the streets (pauses) and I was heavily, heavily into the streets. Hurby let me use his studio and drum machines.

soulhead: So your first production in terms of getting your name on the product was doing remixes.

CK: First one I did was Troop’s “Spread My Wings,” which was on Atlantic Records. Being a DJ, a DJ on the radio, people wanted their records played. At the time it was Red Alert, Marley Marl, Chuck Chillout, Mr. Magic and me getting these records played. But if I didn’t like it, I wasn’t playing it. So my integrity was high. Plus, the labels thought because I was so picky, I must know something about music that they didn’t. That’s how I got an A&R job. I was friends with Timmy Regisford and Merlin Bob, we DJed clubs together.

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