(Article) Building an Empire: Why DJ Mr. Rogers Deserves To Flex
Written by: Cecilia Smith of Houston TREND
“Coming from Dallas we was fans of Watts and Screw so tough. We had never heard nothing like that and we just always listened to it. Then I came to PV and I got to see the culture and how much that music meant to the people out here. At that time that’s all we listened to. I wasn’t a producer first, I wasn’t a club DJ first; I learned how to chop and screw before anything else. That was the first thing I learned how to record,” – DJ Mr. Rogers.
It’s an unbearably hot day in July, nothing new for Texas. Escaping the searing heat, on this day, Justin Rogers rolls through the streets of Houston for a stroll down memory lane, his silver Chevy Suburban eating up road space. As opposed to hearing his own commercials play on the radio, he opts for an auxiliary cord, playing songs from known and obscure artists via SoundCloud.
He remembers the late nights working on Drake’s So Far Gone to give it a Texas remix. He also remembers when he became an unofficial brand ambassador for D’usse and the multitude of Thursday nights spinning at 5th Amendment. His name precedes him, yet there are few that actually know the man behind the turntables. It’s easy to mistake his cool demeanor for nonchalance, but in reality he’s passionate about his craft and equally careful with his brand. In truth there was no secret or shortcut, he simply worked his ass off.
The Dallas native will forever be linked to Prairie View A&M University for all of the right reasons. It’s the campus that first embraced him, becoming the launching pad for a DJ that is arguably the best in the state, if not one of the best in the South. Rogers eventually rose from fledgling DJ shouting out Slim Thug on random DVDs to being the go-to DJ at Houston’s 93.7 The Beat. It began in 2000 when he enrolled at PVAMU for an engineering program. It was a natural progression for the kid that once spent every weekend combing through his father’s vinyl collection. For Rogers, music was and has always been a way of life. Once there he would become known for playing music out of his windows, drawing people over to chill and enjoy his large collection of music.
If his story was to be made into a movie, he could easily be portrayed as a Black Forrest Gump of sorts. He’s the guy that always seems to be at the right place at the right time. From stumbling across The Party Boyz to providing the beat to Dorrough’s “Walk That Walk.” Whether you know it or not, Rogers has been a consistent force behind the scenes.
But even he had to start from somewhere.
After getting his hands on a CD burner he became the go-to guy on campus, delivering 60 minutes of whatever you wanted to hear for as little as $15 dollars per mixtape. This was before social media and the phenomenon of digital streaming, when file-sharing platforms such as Napster, KaZaA & Livewire still reigned supreme. Following the departure of DJ B-Love from the campus, Rogers soon realized that instead of selling his mixes to other students and DJs, he could become one himself. By his junior year in 2002, he had purchased his own turntables and equipment; it was time to transition from practicing in his room to rocking live crowds.
“Where I came in, I was the guy that everybody got their CDs from. DJs used to buy their CDs from me to play when they needed a new hit song,” he says. “So I saved up, got some equipment and came back. Everybody knew me from selling CDs, so anybody that had a party they would hit me. I just started killing. Still to this day, I just try to do everything that I can at the brink of my capacity. No matter what. That’s why I like that seven nights a week shit. That’s how I built my name up.”
Despite his Dallas roots Rogers has often paid homage to Houston, putting his own spin on the now legendary musical style first introduced by the late DJ Screw. After learning how to properly slow certain records down to a pitch before bringing them back, demand for his Rogers screwed CDs skyrocketed across campus. Featuring his voice perfectly slowed down to the perfect tempo, it would be his official introduction as “DJ Mr. Rogers,” a name he initially hated due to obvious comparisons to the beloved television show, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
Hitting the pavement hard, he quickly built a reputation as one of the hardest working men in the game, often booking events for each night of the week. Whatever itch he couldn’t find in being behind the turntables, he leaped into another avenue that afforded him full creative control: production. Crafting beats, his initial synth and 808 creations allowed him to help bring Dallas’ boogie scene to the Houston audience. He along with fellow Dallas natives Stunt N Doizer formed The Shit Factory, a beat collective whose tagline was an unmistakable toilet flush followed by a woman seductively moaning, “The Shit Factory”.
Turning casually onto the freeway, it’s easy to get caught in the moment as he describes the early days, “We started making beats for everybody and then we came out with the “Get It B****” record with Trap Star out of Dallas. That was right when it started the whole “boogie” move. That was pretty much the second or third song to do the boogie move. There was “Watch Me Do This Watch Me Do That” by Lil Joe, “Get It B****” and then “My Dougie” from Lil Will came right after that in ‘07.”
He adds, “At that time Dallas music wasn’t getting love in Houston. So many people from Dallas went to TSU (Texas Southern University) and PV and they used to go wherever I DJ’ed because I would play Dallas music. So then I started playing the Boogie stuff. I was providing something that the people didn’t have.”
He laughs. “The girls liked it … and it blew up.”
Rogers’ knack for discovery would lead to breaking Supastar’s hit “Halle Berry” before it was sound to Hurricane Chris. He can also lay claim to having production credits for Beyoncé, Gwen Stefani, Slim Thug, Trae That Truth, Killa Kyleon and more, touring with artists like former Destiny’s Child member Letoya Luckett, Mary J. Blige and more.
His biggest moment in terms of taking the boogie scene nationwide was finding Arlington’s The Party Boyz and helped make the infectious “Flex,” which remained in rotation for weeks regionally, including a national video premiere on BET.
“They were just a bunch of kids that was dancing at the school, doing this dance at the parties. It was the Flex dance; we didn’t have a name for it,” he says of his initial meeting with the group. “We brought them to the studio one day. My boy Demarcus was like ‘Yo, I made a beat.’ They came up with the record and they all just kind of rapped on it. I just kind of helped write and rewrote the hook and made “Flex.” My boy Demarcus named them Party Boyz and that was that. When it had all of that coming back to back to back, it was like PV was the next Motown.”
His next move was looking at burgeoning rapper Dorrough, producing the 2009 regional hit “Walk That Walk”. “That became his single that got him his deal, before “Ice Cream Paint Job”, Rogers says, his hand gripping the steering wheel with ease. “So “Walk That Walk” got real big and that was another record out of PV. Basically that’s when it all started popping off. All of those records out of PV started coming.”
The emergence of Kirko Bangz would solidify PV as the new place for music, as campus alumni kept cranking out hit single after hit single that navigated its way onto local radio. The hue for PV being a musical hotbed continues to this day with the likes of BeatKing, DJ Chose, OneHunnidt & more.
Not content with simply being a campus DJ however, in time he would shift over to Houston’s booming club scene. Given his first shot by former PV Que Dawgs Corey LeDay and Alvin Mitchell, Rogers would go from rocking parties at the Que house to controlling the masses at clubs like the old Butterfly Lounge, Monsoon, M-Bar and his residency at 5th Amendment, which still draws in numbers weekly, rain or shine.
With his name finally beginning to hold weight in the streets, Rogers would later link up with 2010 Media’s own David Anderson, Lisa and Steve Rogers and La Familia (affectionately now known as Aristocrat Life) who were more than willing to give him a shot. The first promoters to move campus parties into actual clubs, the group transitioned from 18 and up events to the 21 and up market. Rogers went along for the ride, yet he never turned his back on the college crowd that helped make him.
Slowing the car down, he takes a call before pulling up into the destination. For most he’s already made it. In Rogers eyes however, the journey is far from over. Despite being named the “Best Rap DJ” of 2011, 2013 and 2014 by the Houston Press, his story is still being written, each accolade adding to his growing list of accomplishments.
Of course with success come critics. It’s just something that comes with the territory. The bigger you become, the more others resent you for not being able to reach everyone on an individual basis. Even when sitting next to him it’s hard to read Rogers. Is he the asshole that some claim he is? It’s hard to tell at first as you dig through the whispers of what he “should be” doing with his massive platform versus what he’s actually done.
In reality he doesn’t hear every track sent to him, he’s simply unable to do so. For Rogers it’s about the organic experience of stumbling across new music. The idea being that if you’re dope enough your buzz will precede you. It’s a concept that’s often worked well for his own career yet unfortunately it can be confused as being too harsh by those that assume just getting a mixtape into a DJs hands, is enough to unlock the golden ticket to success.
Not one to shy away from criticism he responds, “I look at it like this; if I gotta tell you about my song before someone else does, then that means it’s not hot,” he affirms. “I keep my ears tuned to people that dig good music. I listen to what’s trending, what’s poppin’ in other cities, etc. There’s some tracks that I don’t personally like but it’s not always about me, it’s about what the people want to hear.”
He goes on, “It can be intimidating. I give them the benefit of the doubt depending upon how they approach me. It’s just like someone selling me food or a burger, if it’s not packaged right, if your music and artwork ain’t up to the standard, if it ain’t presented right, I’m not going to receive it well.”
When Rogers speaks, you tend to let him roll on. Whenever he’s invested into a subject, whether it be his craft or detractors, he finds a way to stretch it into common metaphors and thought. Even if he may have left the classroom more than a decade ago, analyzing and problem solving still sticks inside of him.
In a direct message to upcoming artists he advised, “Take pride in your work. I’ll ask what other plans do you have; what else do you have in place? Do you have management; do you have PR? Besides you getting lucky with a vine or viral hit, most of the records have some business behind them. I hate to say it, but that’s just the industry. I’m not saying you have to pay a DJ, I’m saying that you have to invest in PR, videos, etc. It’s more than just a DJ pressing play on your music.”
He puts the car into park. Arriving at his destination, in real life his story is far from over. Despite his calm demeanor the excitement in his voice betrays him as he begins to discuss his new role at Houston’s 93.7 The Beat. Having just launched the newly created “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” show, it’s a welcome bump up the corporate ladder and another opportunity that’s reunited him with fellow radio personality and longtime friend Devi Dev, a Los Angeles native first introduced to Rogers after he brought Dom Kennedy to a show in Houston in 2010.
It’s Dev who he credits for bringing him over to the Clear Channel station and after her recent naming as Music Director at the station, Rogers is flying solo at the 6 PM to 10 PM night slot. Though he never expected to land in the radio industry, it’s the crack in the door that Rogers has decided to use to help others as the voice of the community.
“It was so far-fetched, especially when I became a DJ at PV, I never thought that I would be on the radio,” he says of being at 93.7, where he’s been since last April. “You have a different demographic for radio listeners. There’s millions of listeners that don’t go to the club, but they listen to the radio; they don’t know who Mr. Rogers is. Getting my own radio show, it’s like now I really get to make my own stamp.”
A doting father, he understands the risks and rewards. “I love being an underdog, I love competing; it’s like fuck it, let’s do it. I get to be a voice heard in the community and it gives me a sense of responsibility. I’m going to be doing it for Houston, highlighting art. I’m going to definitely give more opportunities for local artists and just try to get that local component more involved in radio. Then I’m going to be getting the city involved and people that are doing things in the city, I want to get them on the air. I want everyone to feel like you’re apart of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
It’s not a job that he can do alone however.
“I wasn’t doing it for me,” he says with a bravado thick enough to probably inspire a Presidential candidate. “I was doing it to play what I feel needs to be on radio. One man can’t fight against an army, but I put a dent in something. I made some noise that made some change. For a minute the music just wasn’t there, but now you’re getting a bunch of dope music out of here and its redefining music while still paying homage to that Houston culture.”
He just may be the answer to that.