“I’m just trying to be a good human being. Humanity inspires me.”
#BEACOOLDAD & CoolxFriday Featuring DJ Big RA
It’s fitting that Rashad Al-Amin, aka DJ Big RA, is kicking off CoolxDad’s CoolxFriday project, since he was also there for the pioneering days of the Houston hip hop scene.
“I was a day-one guy, back when people were listening to Morris Day & The Time and Prince and running around with Jheri curls,” he said. “Houston boomed in the early ‘80s… we were the first ones doing it down here.”
Al-Amin calls himself a hip hop historian, and his knowledge of the Houston scene goes deep. He was on the hip hop radio show Kidz Jam on KTSU in 1982 and ‘83 and remains friends with people from Rap-A-Lot Records, the label founded in 1987 that put Houston artists like the Geto Boys on the map.
That history is why CoolxDad is excited to have DJ Big RA kick off CoolxFridays, a series to promote local DJs and help collect gifts for the Houston arm of Big Brother, Big Sister. We caught up with Al-Amin to talk about the mix he’s dropping for the project and, of course, fatherhood.
Where are you from and how did you get into music?
I was born in Pittsburgh — Hill District raised, around East Liberty and Homewood — and I did my last couple of years of high school in Houston.
I was a DJ since I was 12 years old. I went to school in Tennessee, and went to visit a girlfriend in California, landed a job in the music business and ended up working in this business for 30 years. In California, a guy who I met in Houston, he was like ‘Yo, I’m working on my second album.’ That turned out to be a guy named King T. I go to the studio with him and Ice-T is there and Ice Cube is there — it was the real deal. A few months later I was in Tokyo, and I’ve never looked back.
How many kids do you have?
Four kids — three sons, one daughter, ages 31, 29, 21, and my daughter is 18. And shoutout to my valedictorian daughter, who just got her associate degree.
What inspires you and what are your passions?
God inspires me. I’m just trying to be a good human being. Humanity inspires me. I don’t want any negative vibes in the environment, so I don’t give them out.
How would you describe your musical style as a DJ?
I can DJ a club in the hood or I can do a Pakistani wedding. I know music, I’m not in a box. I’m a DJ to the core. There’s not a genre of music that I’m not familiar with, and that I don’t know what’s poppin’. I’m exceptional in that field.
Can you tell us about the mix you’re making for CoolxFridays?
It’s an old-school summertime R&B mix. It’s reminiscent of when I was growing up as a kid and the music that partly inspired hip hop to sample from. I’ll call it a Black-family-reunion-feel-good mix from back in the day.
Check out DJ Big RA’s CoolxFriday mix here.
How do you pass on your love for music to your kids?
They all grew up with not only my music but my mother’s music, and they all have a piece of me. My oldest son is hilarious. He does these little crazy videos; he does music for the hell of it. My second oldest son is a serious rapper. And he’s really good. My youngest son, he’s about to graduate from NYU and he produces music. My daughter is going to be a nurse anesthetist but music is her thing too. So they all got the music and they get origins of the music. They can recognize samples.
My son who’s producing music, when he said ‘Dad, I want to do beats and I want to produce music,’ I gave him two terabytes worth of music and said, ‘here, sample this.’ I wanted to see how he flipped the samples. He played guitar, he played piano, so he’s dead serious about it.
Top underrated — but totally necessary — dad skill?
Discipline. Being able to discipline a child verbally. You have to be able to show a kid where they’re wrong without hurting their feelings and at the same time educating them about why they were wrong. And then giving them the ability to make wise decisions.
I know that I am not them but it is incumbent upon me to give them information that they’ll be able to navigate through life with. What we need to do, as parents, is understand that they need to live their lives. We’ve got to equip them with information and then give them the power to control their own destiny as they see fit.
Part of the mission of CoolXFridays is to benefit the kids with the Houston arm of Big Brother, Big Sister. What does it mean to you to contribute in that way?
In Pittsburgh I was a member of the Boys & Girls Club — I think it’s a great outlet especially in these days and times where there are so many negative digital images coming at kids 24/7 on their phones, TVs, and computers. This is an outlet for kids to use social skills as well as their own mechanical skills — like you have to get out and work, use your hands and play.
I’m not anti-screen, but I think through these screens, you’re losing the ability to process and solve problems. Do you know just cardinal directions? Do you know the highway system? So I’m all for these clubs for teaching kids how to solve things without a digital space.
Any musicians that you want to shout out before we sign off?
Scarface [DJ Big RA is DJing his birthday party tonight at the House of Blues]. All of the people who helped pioneer the Houston hip hop scene, as well as the Houston music scene. They know who they are: Scarface and Willie D; R.I.P Bushwick Bill and James Prince Sr. At the end of the day these guys ultimately put the city on the map as far as hip hop music goes. So you gotta shout out to them. Screwed Up Click, Michael 5000 Watts and the Switcher House, Tony Draper and Suave House, D-Rec at Rec Shop Records and all of those guys that were members of those labels and companies — Lester Pace, Jazzie Redd, Walter D., Luscious Ice. R.I.P to Detria Ward. Shoutouts to Def IV, Royal Flush, Chosen Few, Pete Sanchez — the first big time promoter here — and last but not least, Born Twice and Money G. (Marcus Jiraudy) — the jewelers before there was a T.V. Johnny.
Shoutout to the city of Houston.
Written by Elizabeth Lepro
Photography by William Issac