African American Studies


Mike Callender (b. 1/21/1963) grew up in the Patterson Houses and was deeply involved in DJ culture. He had access to many records, so he was a great resource for DJs who were looking for fresh beats to spin with. He was also a friend of Robert Caines, Sr. (DJ Rockin’ Rob), and he also did some DJing himself.

Robert Caines, Jr. (DJ Flawless, b. 1/23/1983) grew up in the Mott Haven projects, near the Patterson Houses. He is DJ Rockin’ Rob’s son, and accordingly, was introduced to Djing at a very young age. He first started experimenting with a turntable when he was 3 years old. At the time of interview, he worked at the Scratch DJ Academy in Manhattan. In addition to his teaching work, he does gigs and club dates.

Robert Caines, Sr. (DJ Rockin’ Rob, b. 12/27/1960) grew up in the Patterson Houses and has been DJing since 1976. Yet he started out as a drummer. Caines came from a family that appreciated music. His father, who was also a drummer, enjoyed jazz, and his mother was a pianist. He was first inspired to spin when he saw a Hispanic DJ named Raoul, who was from the Mitchell Houses, spin with two turntables. DJ Raoul’s idea was to switch between beats so subtly that his audience would not immediately recognize the switch. Impressed by this new way of spinning, Caines honed his craft as a member of the Original Mean Machine Crew, which was based in the Mott Haven Projects.

Keith Johnson (aka Star of the Show, DJ Moe) grew up in the Mott Haven Projects and is a contemporary of Rockin’ Rob. Johnson’s father used to DJ at block parties at the Claremont Houses on 149th St., and Johnson began experimenting with turntables at these parties. He also played the saxophone, and he was in a band with Rockin’ Rob (who played drums) called “Starfire Express.” Johnson got caught up in DJing about the same time that Rockin’ Rob got his start. The two soon had a 12 DJ collective, including one female DJ, Trudy True, who happens to be DJ Flawless’ mother.

Melvin Howell (b. 10/28/1958) grew up in the Mitchell Houses. His family, which was of deep Southern stock, appreciated R&B and soul, and Howell grew up with an appreciation for many different types of music. He was also inspired by DJ Raoul, who was also from the Mitchell Houses. He soon got into announcing and hosting, and he formed close relationships with many of the local DJs. He was in high demand as an announcer and host in underground clubs throughout the Bronx. Nowadays Howell hosts a show for bronxmedia.tv alongside DJ Mello Mello.

All five men played various (and sometimes very important) roles in the formation of the South Bronx’s DJ and hip-hop scene. They were also deeply involved in the lives of their communities, both before and after the influx of drugs and violence that plagued the South Bronx during the crack epidemic. They played on basketball teams, organized and contributed to block parties and public shows, and they share a number of stories about fellow movers and shakers in the DJ scene. In the 50-page transcript, the DJs converse about clubs they’ve played, some of their experiences growing up, their high school experiences, the impact of drugs and violence on their communities, their family lives and cultural backgrounds, their brushes with fame, hip-hop both in the US and abroad, some of their role models, and many other topics.

Click below to download supplemental content.

Callender, Mike--Robert Caines Jr, Robert Caines, Melvin Howell, and Keith Johnson.mp3 (159346 kB)