A privately-educated son of a preacher-man, Westwood was an unlikely candidate for hip-hop fame, but seventeen years at Radio 1, three series of Pimp My Ride and one drive-by shooting later he’s one of the most successful and talked-about DJs in the UK. Pi was invited to the 1Xtra studio to meet the Big Dawg.
You started out as a hip-hop DJ, do you still feel like that’s what you are?
Yeah that defines me man, that defines who I am. I’m a hip-hop DJ doing daytime, and that’s the difference between me and someone on the other side of the fence doing Radio 1.
Do you think the modern way of listening to music has had an impact on hip-hop as a genre?
I think previously it was about a lot of music that you didn’t like that helped define who you were. Whereas I think nowadays it’s about good music. And I think that’s through the way people select music through their ipod. I’m just into hot music man, so we support a lot of UK whether it’s funky or bassline or grime, reggae, rap, R ‘n B – what’s ripping in the clubs is what’s ripping in the radio for me.
How do you prepare for a club gig?
What I like in a club is just some waters and some red bulls, for me and security. I don’t drink and our thing is we like to play the whole night, so if a club opens at 10 we’ll set up and DJ til 3 or whatever. If there’s local DJs who wanna get their shine on, we’ll let them take the last half hour just to give them a break, cos you know a lot of DJs wanna play with me and I like to hear what they’ve got. I know DJs who drink a bottle of vodka a night and that’s all cool man, but you know I’ve gotta get up the next morning!
You’ve been playing someone like 50 Cent for ten years now, is there anyone around at the moment that you think could have such a substantial career?
Soulja Boy, and I think Lil’ Wayne will be burning hot and on fire forever. I think Nicki Minaj is gonna be around forever as well, and Drake.
What about UK artists?
We’ve played Dizzee Rascal for ten years, Tinchy Stryder, he’s got hits now but five years ago we were playing him in Ruff Sqwad. Skepta we’ve been playing forever. With hip-hop there’s trends and sounds which are in and out – and right now it’s all dominated by the likes of Tiny Tempah – but these artists will survive the test of time and still make great music.
How do you connect with artists?
Cats pass through all the time, and it’s often the first time around that is the most special for them, and I definitely like to be part of that, so say Drake’s first time in the UK it was important for me to chat to him, and he came and gave us the hot freestyle. Artists kind of know of me through other artists; Nicki [Minaj] and Drake knew of me through Wayne, Wayne knew of me through Birdman, so it’s that sort of thing. I was speaking to Nicki on twitter like a year ago we reached out to each other, so we were connecting like that, and often before we meet it’s all set up and the vibe is right.
Who are you tipping for the future?
I like Waka Floka Flame a lot, he’s definitely an artist for the future. I think it’s all about Drake and Nicki Minaj right now, they’re just gonna be crazy. For reggae it’s Vybz Kartel, for the UK it’s Skepta. These are all cats that’re out there, you know, let’s hope 2011’s their year.
You’ve said that about 45% of the music on 1Xtra is from the UK. There’s also a lot of American stuff that comes over here, would you like to see British artists make it big in the US?
Yeah, we at the station have a tremendous commitment to supporting home-grown talent. The thing is I don’t think any artist from the urban scene has ever broken into America. For an artist to break in the States you have to commit to it so heavily – there’s no national radio station, no national sound, you can’t impact like that, so you have to go from market to market doing all the local stations, the summer jams, the performances in the club, you know, you would have to leave the UK and go and live in the States to do that. Also, our slang is different, our sound is different, if you look at Tiny Tempah, records that come out of Atlanta are 70 bpms, Tiny Tempah is 140, so the tempos are different. It’s a hard slog, but I don’t think we should pay attention to the American market place, I think it’s all about what we do here, and having our own heroes. Just like those territories in the States – New York supports New York artists, West Coast supports West Coast. It might be dominated now by the Southern artists in the States but we’ve just got to support our own.