Tonight he’s a long way from home, but given the nature of the business, he’s grown quite comfortable with being on the road. He’s played in venues from his hometown in New Jersey, to hot spots in Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Alabama, New York City and now Canada. Born Vladimir Gabriel in Jersey City, DJ Midnite is set to host a special evening at Ivy Night Club in Montréal alongside MMG affiliate Stalley who’s currently gearing up for his No Place Like Home Tour next month. And though he’s about a seven-hour drive away from Hudson County, success for DJ Midnite has been a road traveled way, way, longer.
Just like all kids growing up, Gabriel had great aspirations and knew just what he wanted to be. It wasn’t a disc jockey. “When I was younger I always wanted to be a bus driver like my dad,” he says. “I just thought it was so cool because he literally knew the whole city. He is one of the coolest people you could ever meet.” But as much as Gabriel aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps, it didn’t take long for his attention to be diverted elsewhere.
Entering his freshman year at Marist High School, Gabriel was just 14 years old when he realized he wanted to become a DJ. Little did he know, his parents, both Haitian-born, would not support the decision. He says they didn’t believe he was focused enough to put forth the time and dedication it would take for him to ever be successful in such a career. They were wrong. He won them over when he stopped playing basketball so that he could spend more time brushing up on his DJ skills.
“I started off as a mixtape DJ dropping blend CDs in the local stores of Jersey City,” he recalls. “Then I got interested in becoming a party DJ and decided to do both.” The first record he spun was the 2001 summer hit “Area Codes” by ATL rapper Ludacris. He practiced mixing the track with another smash of the following summer in The Neptunes-produced track “Grindin’” by rap duo Clipse. He remembers his first supporters being his close friends from the 8th grade and fellow students from his freshmen class at Marist. As he got better his name got bigger and he starting getting requests to DJ parties at other high schools, even their proms. But four years and plenty more school parties later, Gabriel spun his last record. As a high school student that is.
After receiving his diploma from Marist High School, Gabriel enrolled at Bergen Community College where he took interest in their music program but found that it wasn’t what he’d hoped for. He tried again at Hudson Community College but after a couple semesters he called it quits. Deciding that he was serious about becoming a professional DJ, Gabriel shifted all of his focus and energy to getting himself booked at local nightclubs, lounges, bars, and just about anywhere else they needed someone to play music. His hard work paid off. After countless gigs on the local scene, Gabriel finally got a shot at the big stage when he landed himself a job at BET. Yet despite the fact that the position was to be offered to someone else, Gabriel took the opportunity, demonstrated his preparedness, and made it a success.
“Honestly, one of my team members from The Movie Brothers (a collective of DJs from NJ plus one from Philly) was offered the position on the 106 & Park show but he wasn’t available to do it so he passed it on to me,” he explains. “The [BET] booking agent came to one of my gigs to check me out to make sure that I was ready and after my gig, he introduced himself and said ‘yeah, you’re ready,’ and gave me a few dates to appear on the show.” Since then he’s made eight appearances as the featured DJ on the network’s daily music video show and has established himself as a well-known name throughout the music business and among his DJ peers. But as goes the case for us all, not everyone is a fan.
“The most challenging part of being a DJ in the music industry is ignoring the haters from stopping you to reach your goals and staying above the competition both in and outside of your city,” says Midnite. It’s a lesson he learned while still in high school. He takes a deep breath before recapping vivid details of the summer he almost gave up his dreams.
“I remember that day,” he says in a somber voice. “It was a Sunday and I was late for church. The mass was only an hour long and I knew that I would get there for only maybe the last 40 minutes.” When Midnite returned home he would find that in the short time he was gone, his house was broken into and all his equipment and records were stolen from his room. His whole world collapsed. He says he knew who was responsible for the burglary but used his better judgment and decided not to retaliate. Instead, he used the incident to fuel his determination to be great, becoming better than what any of his detractors would amount to. It worked.
While the negative influences may still persist, not all is bad in the life of a DJ. Midnite attests that the most rewarding part of his job is receiving the love, loyalty, and support from his fans that make each project and every event a success. He also attributes DJ Mister Cee and DJ Khaled as predecessors who have inspired him in his journey, even though he admits that being a DJ is as competitive as it is being an MC or artist.
“You definitely don’t want to sound like another DJ, especially if they’re from the same area as you,” Midnite explains. “Some DJs think that playing the hottest records makes you the hottest but in reality being versatile, taking it elsewhere an audience doesn’t expect you to take it, and keeping it live is what makes you a great DJ. That’s why I’m labeled as one of the greatest now.”
And as one of the greatest DJs in the business, Midnite has his hands not only on the hottest records, but also has a finger on the hottest artists out. “To me, the hottest MC right now is Fabolous,” he says assertively. “It’s very few artists out here that can take a break and come back out on fire as if they never left. He’s definitely one of those artists and he’s great at what he does.”
But Fab isn’t the only one he has on his radar, in fact the Brooklyn MC is just one of few artists who Midnite believes will do great things this year. “I have three artists in mind that’ll probably have a breakout summer this year and they are ScHoolboy Q, Troy Ave, and Nipsey Hussle,” he says. “They’re all on a major come up and make very good music and are doing exactly what they got to do to stand out from other artists in the industry.”
Well if not all, he’s definitely got the first one right. ScHoolboy Q has already charted at #1 on the Billboard 200 and remains in the top 15 with the release of his nearly month-old major label debut album “Oxymoron.” And with Troy and Nipsey both having had equally incredible summer showings in 2013, Midnite might not be too far off. One thing for sure is that the kid has definitely been doing his homework and staying true to the craft. The 25-year-old DJ is passionate about what he does and sees himself doing it for quite a while.
“I see myself being a professional DJ for a very long time because it’s my dream and I want to show my town that there’s hope in dreams and that we can really be what we want to be if we work hard for it like I’m doing right now,” he says. “And hopefully I’ll have a platform ready for my kids and maybe they’ll follow my footsteps, keeping the torch lit with what I’ve started.”
But even if they don’t become DJs or involved in any aspect of the music business, Midnite is sure to support his future kids in whatever they dream to be, assured that they’ll make him proud, much like he and his older sister have done for their parents. His mother, who spent her working years as a Medical Assistant, and father, are now both retired and live together in a beautiful home in Miami. “They always ask me to tell them the next time I’ll be on TV because it’s the only way they get to see me, aside from me flying down to Florida,” Midnite jokes.
As to how he got the moniker DJ Midnite, he says it’s a funny story. At first glance, most people think it’s because of his skin complexion, and he gets it, it’s no big deal. “But what happened was this,” he says. “After playing ball late one summer night with a friend, we started talking about DJ names if I were to ever get big. We started throwing out names like DJ Shadow and so forth, and as we continued I asked him what time it was and he said ‘twelve o’clock,’ to which I replied, that’s it! DJ Twelve O’clock! He said ‘no that’s too long, how ‘bout DJ Midnite’.”
Mario López (@M5Motie)