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Conversations with DJ Jay iLL

Today we’d like to introduce you to DJ Jay iLL Miles.

Hi DJ Jay iLL, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Born and raised in San Bernardino, CA with an entrepreneurial mentality, I have consistently pushed my potential to be as creative and business-minded as possible.

At a young age, outside of my school work I was either playing the alto sax/listening to music or playing strategy games on whatever techy system I could get my hands on not knowing that I was creating a foundation for my future. Being involved in concert/marching bands in school, I discovered a heightened interest in the way music would elicit different emotions from people depending on how the notes were laid out on a score. I began to compose my own musical scores and played them for family and friends during holidays. One day, I came across a new way to create music as I watched a video that was posted by Araab Muzik. I was intrigued to see him mash the beat pads of this machine, later finding out it that was called an MPC, so seamlessly to create a beat that sounded like something out of Hip-Hop with an interesting Rock/Dubstep twist. Seeing the efficiency in being able to switch through different instruments and sounds as quickly as he did had sparked my interest in the Maschine MK2 MPC. Though I came from a struggling single-parent household, my mom always made a way out of no way and surprised me with my Maschine for my birthday. In between classes, I would experiment with sampling some of my favorite songs while adding in unique sounds I came across. At this moment, I knew I fell in love with music and the way it made me feel. I didn’t even care what genre it was… I kept my ears open for what sounded good and began to experiment.

In my downtime, I was also interested in playing shooter/strategy games like Call of Duty + Lord of the Rings Battle for Middle Earth coincidentally leading me to my passion for graphic art. With the era of GameBattles rising and my competitive spirit, I dove into gaming tournaments that would allow for me to monetize off of the time I spent on playing. After being with a team for so long, we decided we needed to take our branding to another level – we saw that other teams had created names and logos for themselves along with YouTube intros for their videos. Of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn about new technology + programs so I began my YouTube University classes on Cinema 4D Motion Graphics. Figuring that I could first start off using templates, I simply changed the text and style until I gained enough knowledge and experience to be able to create them from scratch. Little did I know, I was creating a brand and supplying the demand of the team.

With the high school graduation date approaching and the denial letters coming in from universities – sidebar: this was odd given my “A” average and the 3.9 GPA I maintained in high school – My dad suggested he take me to the Black College Expo in Los Angeles. I stumbled upon a booth and spoke with the V.P. of admissions at the time – V.P. Jones. Immediately following my on-the-spot interview, he offered me a scholarship to attend the university and I took my two hobbies turned passions to Fisk University in Nashville, TN. Because I had felt like my lack of involvement in high school programs and clubs had hindered me from being accepting into the schools that I thought I wanted to attend, I told myself I would get involved with as much as I could in college. While at Fisk, I continued to grow my leadership qualities within clubs and joined party promotion groups on and off campus.

Attending parties opened the door for me to begin networking with the club owners and the talent that we brought on certain nights. I saw an opportunity within these promotion groups to begin making their flyers and marketing material for different events, but I didn’t stop there. I never was afraid to speak to the celebrities on the side, pitching my graphic design services as a one-stop shop for marketing material. After a while I began building my portfolio of clients within the campus and throughout the city of Nashville. Though I was around music, I felt a void that I needed to fill because I wasn’t as involved musically as I used to be. Being Mr. California of California club, I wanted to throw an event to keep the freshmen morale high and as a group, we suggested we throw a West Coast Party given the majority of our freshman class was oddly from California. I had messed around on a program called Virtual DJ in high school for a short period and knew that I could download it again if I needed to. At the time, I didn’t have a DJ controller – I didn’t even know I would ever want to be a DJ but I ended up playing music for that party solely off of the music selection on my laptop, using my trackpad to scratch from time to time on the virtual decks. The outcome of the event was crazy, people started calling me a DJ and suggesting that I get into it. A good friend of mine was wanting to start a party promotion group of his own and had asked me to DJ his first party. I didn’t have a DJ controller yet but I knew I had my MPC. I figured out a way to custom map the pads and knobs on my MPC to act as the crossfader and cue points on a DJ controller and at the end of that night everyone left the club sweating. That event sparked a fire in me like no other – my void was filled. I began using the connects I had gained through promotion to get my foot in the door DJing clubs by opening sets with a controller I had bought from a friend for $100. Before I knew it, I had resurfaced and adopted the childhood name “Jay iLL” as a DJ alias and I was DJing in most of the popular Nashville clubs, doing special events like the 40oz Bounce Tour + Key Glock’s concert.

One of my most prominent moments in undergrad was joining Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated. In that particular moment in college, students like myself struggled from time to time financially. I ended up picking up my first “real” job at a Jack in the Box up the street working 40 hours a week at a rate of $7.25 per hour to get the funds needed for my application and to account for the remainder of my admission fees at Fisk. Some of the other students who wanted to join a fraternity couldn’t come up with the money and I needed a way to be able to inspire others to know that no matter the obstacle, any and everything is possible. With this and my past triumphs in mind, I decided to create “Trophy Year” – a lifestyle brand and movement encouraging people to understand that every year is your year to win. Pairing the brand with the slogan “Make Money Not Excuses” and showcasing my hustler/go-getter tenacity on a daily inspired people to put in the work they needed. Eventually, I became a member of ΑΦΑ and one of our major goals was to build relationships with chapters in other states. We traveled to other campus events no matter how far the drive or how quick the turnaround needed to be. I remember I made a same day trip to Atlanta to DJ for our frat brother Damar Jackson as he performed before Jacquees at Spelhouse Homecoming right after my 5 o’clock class just to drive back at 3 a.m. for my 8 a.m. the following day. After spending four years in the south, DJing in other states/countries like Toronto in between classes and graduating Magna Cum Laude I had obtained my B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Music Business. Knowing I did not want to take the corporate route, I was at a bit of a cross-road and felt like I had hit a ceiling in Nashville. With no particular plan in mind, I decided to pack up my car and drive to DC where my girlfriend and I had got our first apartment together.

I went through a phase of depression living in D.C. – coming from DJing so frequently and being heavily involved in the entertainment and music scene back in Nashville to it ultimately coming to a stop because I moved to a city where I had to now build my reputation from scratch again. Though my time in D.C. was short-lived and I didn’t DJ as much as I would’ve liked to, I still gained a few connections along the way of other DJs and party promotion groups who would throw me gigs here and there. I remember one time I was asked to spin the closing set of a birthday party and wasn’t aware that it was going to be an Afrobeats event until I had arrived. I had NO Afrobeats music, and that made me nervous. With the help of Spotify and my mobile hotspot, I quickly scrolled through playlists and downloaded tracks simultaneously keeping one spinning to keep the party going. In the end, I had a newfound understanding of my ability to adapt and read the room. Struggling to make financial ends meet, I started created marketing flyers for events that promotion groups were throwing, but it didn’t amount to the rent I needed to pay every month. When things weren’t working out how I wanted them to, I decided to work in the mall across the street from where we lived. I picked up two part-time jobs – one at Guitar Center and one at Footlocker working the same amount of hours I was in Nashville. I ended up solely working at Footlocker because I enjoyed the company of my co-workers there way more. I didn’t really care about shoes honestly, was never interested in them. I realized what I did enjoy was the friendly competition of who got the most sales that week between employees. I went on to top the sales chart week after week, my hours were raised and I even got offered an Assistant Manager position within the first couple of months. The downside to the position was that I couldn’t travel as much and during this time, I was still getting booked to travel back and forth to Nashville for different events like Homecoming. I didn’t end up taking the position but I continued to work there until my journey to LA.

While visiting my family in California, my girlfriend received acceptance of a job opportunity to work on special events out of an office in Beverly Hills and presented it to me. I had always wanted to move to LA to dig deeper into the entertainment and music scene, I just thought it would’ve been later on in life. In June of 2019, we decided to move in with my family in Long Beach for a couple of months until we could get our own spot. The travel time to her job was inconvenient (we didn’t calculate the morning traffic from LB to Beverly) and I felt like I could start to get my foot in the entertainment door closer to the Hollywood area anyway. I took a risk and borrowed money and we eventually got an apartment in Studio City.

I always tell people, “Within my first six months of moving to Los Angeles, I have gained more connections and progressed my businesses at faster rates than I have living in any other city.” Bringing my entrepreneurial spirit and extrovert personality to network and gain connections had paid off quicker than I had expected. I would run into other artists or creatives in the most random places and speak up about what services I could provide to them. I didn’t limit myself to just LA either, I found ways to virtually connect and collaborate with artists such as Beanz from the show Rhythym + Flow. Before COVID, I was DJing quite frequently. I went on to spin at venues like Blue Moon and other LA parties/events such as Schweinbeck’s Industry Mixer. The Mixer is one of the many events that I am excited to start spinning again when COVID lets up. Not only does it allow for me to express my DJ talents but it also allows me to meet other creative artists and managers in the surrounding areas. I feel the progression day in and day out living in Los Angeles and I get excited every time I am presented with a new opportunity to collaborate with other talented people.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
The most difficult challenges that I encountered along the way were always the unexpected ones but I pride myself on being able to quickly adapt to my surroundings. Coming from San Bernardino was a struggle in itself and for those of you who are from there, you know why.

I didn’t struggle with my academia at all really, to me that was the easy part. I simply saw school as someone telling you what to do and you having to complete it within a certain time frame. When I didn’t align with a certain class, I just adapted it and traded it for a class I aligned with. The hardest part for me was figuring out what to do after school. I disliked the idea of having a “structure” that didn’t allow for me to control my hours, how much I was getting paid or who I had to work with. I also wasn’t exposed to many creative jobs as a kid – they were all the typical lawyer, doctor, dentist. Looking back on my life, entrepreneurship was always my answer. When I would want something and my mom couldn’t get it, I would borrow money to buy candy in bulk and resell it wherever I could for double or triple the price. My dad gifted me with a button making machine one holiday and I remember printing out the school logo, making them into wearable buttons and selling out of them within that week. I always figured out ways to make ends meet no matter the level of difficulty I was faced with – telling myself I didn’t have a choice BUT to figure it out.

As it pertains to DJing when I moved to a completely new city, it caused a minor setback in my frequency of gigs. I realized that I couldn’t just speak to a club owner and get a set night at their venue. In D.C. all of the clubs already had tight relationships with the promoters to the point where different promotion groups took over a specific night of the week and if I wanted to spin that night, I had to speak to the promotion group who occupied that night. The problem was they already had their set DJs and majority of the time and weren’t always open to trying new ones especially given the competition of the nightlife there. With the clubs already being saturated with DJ’s, I moved on to DJ at more bars and restaurants.

As a graphic designer, I often came across the obstacle of figuring out how to keep consistent business being an entrepreneur. Once I furthered my network and solved that the issue became keeping the quick turn-around time that I was known for. I had gotten to a point where I had more work coming in than I felt like I had the capacity to handle sometimes. Then of course being a creative sometimes you run into the problem of wanting to be sure you are working on the projects that you WANT to work on to expand your creativity instead of the ones you HAVE to work on to pay your rent. Honestly, for me what sometimes happened is my creative battery was drained by overwhelming myself with projects I wasn’t even interested in but had to take. My solution to that is to build a team of like-minded individuals under one agency to share the workload in projects.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Though I do a lot of graphic design for my own personal clothing line and a wide variety of artists/celebrities, I am mostly known as a DJ. Living all over the U.S. and engaging with different cultures, I have developed my ear for music resulting in me being heavily known for my diverse DJ sets. My business partner and I are currently looking for more venues to be able to have events at since the world is slowly but surely starting to open back up again. I look forward to DJing more live events, concerts, activations and overall dope experiences as time progresses.

Since COVID hit and DJing had slowed down a bit, I have greatly improved my skills in Design. My capabilities have grown to not only include flyers and album cover art but also web design + development, merch designs, logos and so much more. I specialize in offering celebrity clients and small businesses a creative luxury, making me their one-stop shop for digital marketing, startup branding, social media rollouts + live event promotion. I currently create graphic content for some dope artists and influencers like Ebie, Paloma Ford, Mario, & Candice with some of them featuring artists such as Rich the Kid & Rick Ross on their projects. I also continue to help build small businesses with the brand development. I offer package deals for anyone starting a business that includes the full design setup. I am in the midst of creating my design agency and am actually looking for other talented designers to be able to reach out and collab with on future projects.

Currently, I’m also working on the 3rd collection drop of my clothing line Trophy Year. I’ve already gained positive feedback on the mockups I’ve released and I’m excited to see people continue to spread the message.

I am most proud of my progression, my capability to grow genuine relationships, my intestinal fortitude and my willingness to continue to learn and break boundaries. Getting the opportunity to expand outside of my normal entertainment collaborations and broaden my scope of work, I was excited to begin working with the rest of the rē•spin team to help develop rē•spin by Halle Berry — a digital health and wellness community.

Being able to easily adapt to any environment, I bring a creative perspective and add value to any team I am on. When faced with something I have never done before, I am open to learning it in hopes of feeding myself more knowledge. I thrive in competitive environments and yet still want to see my competitors succeed.

What would you say have been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
The biggest lesson I have learned throughout my journey is something I say often. “Envision the future as if you live it today.” The more you cloud your mind with thoughts and distractions that don’t align with your path, the more you’re setting yourself back. Think of what you want out of life, write it down, get a whiteboard and start mapping it out. Do everything in your power to envision it and watch it unfold. Amongst that, FIND A TEAM. Understand you cannot do everything by yourself and the quicker you find like-minded people to surround yourself with, the stronger of a force you’ll be no matter what your goals are.

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