Shaquille O'Neal is unquestionably one the greatest players in the history of the NBA, but since his retirement in 2011, the Hall of Fame inductee has spent most of his time finding creative ways to spread joy and positivity through a variety of artistic and entrepreneurial avenues.
Ask O'Neal, aka Shaq, and he’ll happily tell you that, among these myriad activities, music stands tallest.
A DJ from a young age, he released albums focused on his rapping in the '90s. Eventually he returned to Dj-ing after falling hard for electronic dance music, finding in the sound and the culture a deep connection to hip-hop, a celebration of primal bass and jubilant grooves, and an opportunity to employ his celebrity as a spotlight for up-and-coming artists within the EDM movement.
Thus, Shaq became DJ Diesel, and events like Shaq’s Bass All-Stars – which arrives at Buffalo RiverWorks at 7 p.m. June 24, with rising stars Herobust, B2B, Riot Ten, Crankdat, Jeanie and Buffalo’s own Mort – became a breeding ground for new artists in the movement and an opportunity for DJ Diesel to take a turn behind the tables.
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Question: At 14 years old, you saw Public Enemy live and that changed the game for you. That would’ve been right around the time that ‘Yo Bum Rush the Show’ came out, and Terminator X was still the band’s DJ. What was it about that show – and about Terminator X in particular – that made such a huge impact on you?
Answer: You did your homework. Public Enemy were my favorite. In ’98, when X left, I really questioned the future for Chuck D and Flavor Flav, but safe to say, it all worked out in some way, shape or form.
That show really showed me the value of having good music and a crazy, addictive fan base that lives and breathes your craft. I remember watching X run the tables on vinyl, wondering how his hands could move so fast, or how that scratch sounded so perfect, while being head-banging to the bars that were being spit.
The whole stance Public Enemy took with their music was different. It changed the culture. That is what Diesel is trying to do – change the culture.
Q: You’re the only athlete to ever earn platinum status with albums that made sense within the cultural moment and also went on to stand the test of time. When you look back at your rap albums from the vantage point of today, how do you feel about that part of your career? Also, how did those albums pave the way for you to become DJ Diesel?
A: Shaq the rapper set out with two goals. One, make great music and release it to the world for their enjoyment and two, have fun doing it. I achieved both of those goals. I appreciate your kind words on me being the only athlete to make albums that stood the test of time, but to be honest, there's some heavy hitters in the NBA who can rap now, too. Not going to drop any names, but some are better than others. Just saying.
Diesel is always working on new music and I have a ton of stuff dropping this summer. Lot of collabs, singles, remixes. Just a lot of music. I have 30-plus shows this summer alone, so there’s time to play them out, too. Get ready for it!
Q: In a recent Tweet, you said this: “Go to more shows, go see new artists, go with an open mind, and enjoy it for what it is and stop trying to over-analyze or critique it. We’re all trying to figure it out. You’ll have a much better time this way, trust.” Is this the concept behind Shaq’s Bass All Stars?
A: Yes. Exactly. Shaq’s Bass All Stars is about taking over the best venues in big cities and small cities around the country and giving up-and-coming producers a stage and platform to make a name for themselves.
Here is the truth. I am a celebrity, and I am a DJ. But I am not a celebrity DJ. At all. I have worked relentlessly to prove that since day one. But what I do understand is that I have a real platform to help change the course of bass music and that's all I want to do. Bass All Stars allows me the opportunity to come to a city, do my thing, have a lot of fun doing it, but also make a difference in someone's professional and personal life by the time I get in the car. Pretty cool.
Q: What is it about bass music, and dubstep in particular, that resonates with you? Were you drawn to the bass in other forms of music - like R&B, soul, funk, Motown - when you were a kid?
A: You said it in your question, brotha – it is the bass! I love those 808s. Those finely EQ-ed, speaker-popping, crisp-sounding kicks that just shoot a wave down your spine, where it's like ‘Whoa, what is this!’ It’s also the sound design. Those wubs, saws, sirens and synths. I think that's the inspiration you are talking about with R&B, soul, funk and Motown. All four of those genres have a vibe, with very distinct sounds that you can’t not dance to. That is good dubstep to me, a song that you can’t not bang your head to a little. It’s about a new sound, a new wave, a new trend, and Diesel is going to spearhead that as far as he can.
When I heard Skrillex & Nero’s remix to (Monsta’s) ’Holdin’ On’ for the first time, I seriously lost my (expletive). It was insane. It brought me back to all my Game 7’s, when I would slam on someone and the place would go wild. You can’t get that anywhere else.
Q: You’ll be arriving in Buffalo to perform only a matter of weeks after a racist mass shooting took 10 lives on our city’s East Side. We are all hurting here and in need of some joy. What role do you think music can play in helping people to come together, to heal and to move forward with a feeling of hope?
A: I actually have a big moment planned for this show, specifically dedicated to the shooting. I respectfully ask that we wait for that moment to discuss this matter further.
Shaq’s Bass All-Stars
7 p.m. June 24 at Buffalo RiverWorks (359 Ganson St.). With Herobust, B2B, Riot Ten, Crankdat, Jeanie and Mort. Tickets are $40 through mnmpresents.com; ages 16 and younger admitted with a parent.