Cultivating the Culture with Dj Mic Check
Happy Sunday Luvs!
The weather is absolutely beautiful in the Bull City (Durham, NC) today. You may remember earlier this Spring I had the opportunity to write two articles for Oak City Hustle for the Art of Cool Festival Pocket Guide. One of those was for our post for today, Michael English, the Facilitator over the Innovate Your Cool Conference at this year's festival. However, today I wanted to tell you about this multi-talented culture change agent's other super powers. At The Lux Blog we love DJs and telling their perspectives behind the music they play. So we interviewed Michael also known as DJ Mic Check who is sought after DJ that performs at various cultural events in the Triangle. His music is a creative blend of old school R&B and Hip Hop with a mix of new-age music. Originally from Virginia Beach, VA he's been immersed in the Durham, NC culture for a few years now. A graduate of North Carolina Central University (Eagle Pride), a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and Ad Sales Associate at Exit Events. This change agent has made waves in his career and community. I had a chance to chat with him about his career goals, love of music, and what's next for DJ Mic Check.
So here's how it all went down..............
So how did your passion for deejaying and start-ups begin?
Well, I moved to Durham in 08 and went to North Carolina Central University. I actually came in as a Biology major and I don't know why but I was thinking about being a Physician's Assistant. That was the safe choice and it sounded good when people asked me what do you want to do? I would say oh I'm going to PA school but that fell through so I switched my major to Exercise and Sports Science. It was a way to be more hands-on with the athletes and that was my passion especially being an ex-athlete myself. I just wanted to hold on to some of that glory so in high school I played soccer, basketball, and football. I broke my ankle 3 times , the same ankle, and 3 years in a row so I spent a lot of time in the orthopedic surgeon's office. I figured oh I could do that if I'm unable to play again. I graduated and worked in the clinic for two years then decided I can't go to school for this as well as do physical therapy every day for the rest of my life. So it just got to be monotonous. I always had interest in entrepreneurship at its core for making money. So in college I started deejaying and it was this one guy on campus that deejayed everything but he was about to graduate. So I started deejaying towards the end of my freshman year so by my sophomore year he had left and they were looking for a deejay so I stepped right in. I deejayed a lot of campus and off-campus events but I didn't know what I was doing at the time I would just make the money then spend it soon as I got it. Then after that I followed up with a t-shirt business which I started like a year later with my roommate and it was called Gold Minded.
What was your ideal outcome for Gold Minded?
The general idea was to have a brick and mortar location in downtown Durham. Essentially, what Runaway is now is what we wanted to be but throughout that whole process of trying to start the business, creating a business plan, and finding funding it was just really hard to do as a student. A lot of our peers were looking at us as though we were success because we put out a couple of shirts and we were just kind of staring in the dark. We didn't know what to so we reached out for help from different minority economic centers and they were very unhelpful unfortunately so that was frustrating. So we put out a couple of seasons of shirts but for me that became very taxing to sell t-shirts out of the trunk so to speak. You have to go to one person to get the printing done and then another to get the embroidery done plus your buying the shirts from someone else. It was too much outsourcing to take such a small profit margin. We stopped after awhile and we saw the need where a lot of our peers wanted to create businesses but needed help. So we stopped strictly doing clothing and we thought what would be the best way to help students connect with resources to create their own businesses? So we played with a couple of models from there and hosted a couple of networking events to where we are now interested in setting co-working spaces at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities).
Where did the concept for this opportunity originate from?
So a lot of that insight came from working at Exit Events which is housed in the American Underground one of 9 Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hubs. The ninth one just opened and its ran by Paul Judge who is a Black man so that is really dope. So working there gave me firsthand experience in the whole start-up community and how aggregated resources and opportunities are really what drives a start-up Eco-system. However, that's the exact opposite of how things are in the African-American community as a whole but even more so at HBCUs there is this real energy where people don't want to share their ideas. Its the fear of someone stealing their ideas or doing it better than them. The way I look at is no one wants to share the plug and that's not the way business happens because everybody shares resources so that way everybody wins.
What experiences have you had at Exit Events that influenced you to push for the HBCU to have creative co-working spaces?
The last year and a half I've watched in the AU Community connections happen. I'm trying to spread that energy to our community which is tough because naturally we don't share. That's been tough to crack but working their I've seen UNC, Duke, and NC State with community and curriculum spaces for their businesses to grow but that's almost non-existent at HBCUs. So its a huge opportunity to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to make it happen. Unfortunately, some HBCUs are the biggest road block because at some HBCUs you have people their that are not from an HBCU so they don't understand the interest. I do believe there is a extra layer of bureaucracy at HBCUs. Its tough I've seen multiple master plans for Fayetteville Street corridor but nothing ever comes to pass unfortunately. The way I'm approaching the whole HBCU thing is I don't believe that any HBCU should rely as heavily on outside funding. There is enough talent that comes through an HBCU that can be used to build businesses, support the university, and to support the community around it. Unfortunately, the best talent gets snatched up by bigger companies. That is my personal charge to stand in that gap between the Black business community and our HBCUs. Your seeing more thought leaders are creating their own courses, digital marketing and coding schools are popping up everywhere, and community colleges are still here too. I think once higher education institutions see that larger companies are leaning more towards those from these types of programs they may be in trouble especially HBCUs because traditionally we don't get the funding we need. Its going to be interesting to see where will the HBCU be in a few years.
What are you listening to right now ?
Isaiah Rashad just put out a new project that's pretty good. I have a Donny Hathaway playlist on i-Tunes that is pretty dope. There is a group out of the West Coast named Soulection who are really good and I hope we can bring them out here through Art of Cool. I like Nipsey Hussle, PartyNextDoor, and The Foreign Exchange that's pretty much it just keeping it simple.
The way I look at is no one wants to share the plug and that's not the way business happens because everybody shares resources so that way everybody wins. - DJ Mic Check
How do you feel about going into 2017 for Innovate Your Cool?
That whole situation in itself is an honor from just being a fan of the Art of Cool Festival. So getting the opportunity to work in that group of people it is like everyday is an honor. To be given this lane of Art of Cool is amazing because you have "Start of Cool" for the kids, "Art of Cool" is the music side, and then "Innovate Your Coolz' is the tech and entrepreneur culture side of things. Its a huge responsibility but ultimately a blessing because this is where I want to be and what I want to do from a business development standpoint. Its everything I love its culture, music, technology, and innovation. That's all me in one pot. Its my 2nd year working with Innovate and I'm extremely optimistic about it so we are looking to branch out into some different cities. Looking to get more of a footprint in this city as well. Last year was a good spring board for the conference in the area but we are going to do a lot more lead up to events similar to the way Art of Cool does with events throughout the year. Definitely going to do some events in the Spring next year so I'm excited about that so stay tuned for those. If anybody has any feedback on what they would like to see in those three veins of innovation, culture, and business please feel free to reach out because I definitely want it to be for the people.
What do you like to do in your down time?
I love music definitely but the tough part about deejaying is listening to new music that is outside of my personal taste. So that's the good and the bad. I love being outdoors, I love sports mainly basketball and soccer, and I try to stay at church. Just connecting with good people and when there is a good vibe there.
What's next for DJ Mic Check?
I'm still working on putting co-working spaces on HBCU campuses so that is a daily grind. I have two co-founders which is a huge step so we will be hacking away at that and Lord willing in 2017 we will be having a launch customer so we will be getting things squared away with that. I'm still working at Exit Events so that's flourishing. We cover state-wide news but we will be hosting monthly networking socials in the Triangle area. We are expanding to different areas of Greensboro next. We did Wilmington and now looking to expand to Charlotte, Asheville, and so that's one of my biggest projects to work on outside of sales and sponsorship. I'm really contemplating on going back to school and I'm interested in a Liberal Studies master's degree at Duke University because that gives me a little more freedom to study. I have a huge interest in human behavior, marketing, and sociology. If I can position myself to communicate with the brand or what the in-user wants then I will always have work. The position I have now is in selling ads so its a great springboard but I want to use the human behavior side to crack this code in my community concerning business and building community. Long-term I want to get involved in some type of investing and adding value wherever I can.
As we move forward with the progression of technology and business it is insightful to see young men like DJ Mic Check taking motions of entrepreneurial efforts. His professional and community experiences have been embedded in our Durham culture. I truly believe we are a culture of individuals creating unique innovative events and businesses that will be history years from now. There is so much more to come for DJ Mic Check and we at The Lux Blog support him in his future endeavors.
Until the next time Ladies and Gentlemen this is The Lux Blog. -K. Knight