At this point, Shaquille O’Neal’s LinkedIn probably needs a LinkedIn. Over the past twenty years, he’s been a four-time NBA champion (and one-time MVP), a TV pitchman, a studio analyst, a rapper, a genie, a cop, a venture capitalist and a superhero – and that’s just a quick skim through his robust resume.
Now, he’s returning to his roots. On Friday, he’ll DJ at TomorrowWorld, the massive electronic music festival taking place outside of Atlanta. When his appearance was first announced, the reaction was predictable – after all, this was just another celebrity latching on to the EDM craze. But Shaq says his critics are missing one key fact: Long before he released rap albums or hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy, DJing was his first love. So, no, this is most certainly not a joke.
And as he prepares for his set, Rolling Stone spoke to the man known as DJ Diesel about the records he grew up loving, silencing the naysayers and his secret strategy to get the TomorrowWorld crowd moving.
When it was announced you’d be DJing at TomorrowWorld, people kind of flipped out. What was your take on their reaction?
You know, I actually started off DJing. In 1987, when I was a sophomore in high school, I went to a Public Enemy concert, met Chuck D, met Terminator X in the back, and I wanted to be a DJ. I used to get in trouble for scratching up my mother’s Earth, Wind & Fire records. I cut grass, I walked dogs and I took people’s garbage out just to go to the pawnshop and get two SL-1200 turntables. I had a mixer, I had crates of records I’d buy and borrow. So I’ve been DJing for a while; I got away from it because of the rap thing, but now with Serato, where you can store all your music on your computer, I got back into it. And, for me, DJing is about rocking the crowd, and I’ve been rocking the crowd my whole life.
So do you feel any pressure heading into your TomorrowWorld set?
Nah, but I’ll tell you, I’ve been practicing for it. If that first song don’t hit, you’re going to have a long night. I want to put something together that’s going to keep the crowd jumping, so I’ve been talking to my DJ friends, talking to my kids about it. When I was practicing for one of my sons, he was like, “No dad, that’s too old, too slow. That’s a good song, but it’s not festival.” I went to a festival last year and I never heard a down song, so I had to go through my playlist and get all the upbeat songs. I’m doing a trap set, not really an EDM set, so I’m going to have white-guy classics, hip-hop classics, trap classics, EDM classics – it’s an all-around festival mix.
What, exactly, is a white-guy classic?
You know, like Nirvana, AC/DC, stuff like that. I’m gonna hit ’em with anthems, bounce hits, a couple white-guy classics. I’m going to keep it up-tempo and upbeat.
When you first started DJing, what were your go-to records?
My favorite record was “The 900 Number.” I used to mix that in with [sings] “Duh-duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh-duh,” Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” and then after that I would cut it off with [sings again] “I’ve got the power!” I had to play what was hot. In ’88, you’d say “trap music” and everybody would be like, “What the hell is he talking about?” I think EDM was called “techno music” back then.
Despite that, the spirit of DJing remains the same, really. It’s about getting people to move –
Right. I want to be up there, having the kids jumping up and down, having a good time. When you’re an entertainer, you just want to entertain. I don’t have an ulterior motive – I’m not trying to make $50 million like Tiesto or Calvin Harris, I just want to go to a couple festivals a year, have a good time. I’m not like, “Oh shit, let me get some of that money!” That’s not my mission. My mission is just like doing a party; you want to give people a good time. Money doesn’t motivate me. Never has, never will.
Speaking of those superstar DJs, have you watched any of their sets, and, if so, have you taken notes?
You know, you can always ask Magic Johnson what to do, but it’s better to watch him and see what he does. I’ve seen Calvin Harris, I’ve seen Skrillex – he did a show in Miami one time, and I was like, “Wow, that’s it right there.” He had the crowd into it, he had them rocking. Skrillex is the man.
So will you be including any big production elements in your TomorrowWorld Set?
We talked a little bit about it: Lasers, lights and smoke, that’s what I want.