In a new installment of our KPBS Summer Music series, renowned DJ, event curator and music producer, DJ Artistic has earned a reputation as a community builder and architect of the San Diego hip-hop scene, who for over two decades has curated events that helped countless artists grow and shine.
DJ Artistic’s contributions to San Diego music are immeasurable. DJ Artistic, whose real name is Arthur Mitchell III, is a four-time San Diego Music Award winner, including for best DJ. He is also an artist and producer in his own right, and has toured with underground hip-hop legend Abstract Rude and San Diego all-star hip-hop group Deep Rooted, and alongside legendary acts like Souls of Mischief and Public Enemy.
“It was something that I always wanted to do as a kid and dreamed about,” Mitchell said of his early passion for DJing. “I think my earliest influence might’ve been Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, ‘He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper.’ Listening to that album and hearing Jazzy Jeff live at Union Square, like cutting up the records and not knowing how he was doing that. But the sound just captivated me.”
Mitchell also said that he was surrounded by the hip-hop scene, through dance and street art, which was formative for him in his youth.
“Having cousins that were b-boys and b-girls break dancing or doing can-art or graffiti — and I wasn’t a good dancer, or a good artist, or a good singer, so DJ was the next thing that I kind of gravitated towards,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell worked with rapper Abstract Rude as his DJ, and produced some tracks for him, including “213 to 619 Adjacent,” where 213 is the Los Angeles area code, and 619 San Diego.
“That was a really great time,” Mitchell said. “We were inspired by a lot of things that were going on in L.A. from the underground, as well as inspired by a lot of the things that were happening and things that we were doing here in our San Diego underground.”
It’s an homage to the links in the region’s hip-hop cultures, and to the two artists’ long-running connection.
“So the soul culture was connected through the freeway, through the zip codes, and from having him as a friend in high school and actually going to middle school with his cousins, and then meeting him later on and finding out he’s this amazing writer and artist.”
When Mitchell finally connected with Abstract Rude in high school, Mitchell had been sampling some of Rude’s music. Rude loved it, then they recorded a track together for a compilation.
“It was like a dream come true. It just kind of happened out of nowhere,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also used to be part of the San Diego all-star hip-hop group Deep Rooted — winner of several San Diego Music Awards.
Mitchell joined the group after putting on hip-hop events for several years.
“After they formed the group Deep Rooted, they pretty much came to me and said, ‘hey, Art, we want you to get down with us and be our DJ,'” Mitchell said. “And that’s how it formed, from relationships of just doing hip-hop from all the years, and us having the same common goal, pretty much having the same music influences, and wanted to contribute to the culture with all the passion that each one of us possesses.”
Curating an experience
Mitchell is a pillar in the local hip-hop scene, known as a community builder and for getting performers of all levels on stages.
For him, hip-hop culture has broad significance.
“The unity, the individualism, the art, the music, the dance, the graffiti, the can art, the DJ, the entrepreneurism — just bringing all these different cultures together, different religions, different backgrounds to one common cost, to keep building upon something that has been so great for us, which is hip-hop,” Mitchell said.
What he wants others to find in an event or show is an experience, he said. He ultimately wants to give back to the scene. In addition to emerging artists, DJ Artistic’s events have seen the likes of major breakouts like Aloe Bloc, Mad Lib and Gaslamp Killer on their stages.
“So I’m one of those people that go out and seek a venue, create a relationship — hopefully they see the vision of what we’re trying to do, and if it comes to light, I want to share it with everyone because we’re stronger together as a unit. And unity is community, so it’s really important that it’s reciprocated for the culture to grow,” Mitchell said.
He began working on events in the mid-1990s with “The Breakthrough,” a showcase of DJs and emcees just starting out. In the 2000s he ran “The Scene,” and most recently, “Hip Hop Battle Bot.”
It sprung from his drive to meld all parts of the culture: b-boying or dancing, rapping, beatmaking, emceeing, DJing, graffiti and art. He also wanted to provide a support system and role models, a type of family.
The Battle Bot event pits two artists against each other in “Apollo” style format, a reference to the Apollo Theater’s “Showtime” program. The winner gets a cash prize, and the contest is repeated for producers, dancers and DJs — which also means a lot of music.
“It’s really dope. It’s what hip-hop is all about,” Mitchell said.
The Solidarity Band
During the pandemic and the recent outcry for social justice, Mitchell took a break from curating events and formed a collective, the Solidarity Band.
“I really thought that because I was in the community and I worked with so many people that my message during that time would be encouraging dialogue, listening with compassion, understanding and respect in the name of solidarity,” Mitchell said.
He pulled together a bunch of musicians that he knows to jam and write music together, plus an album is in the works.
“So the Solidarity Band was formed for musicians and artists to come together for the common goal of all of us uniting for peace, unity, love, understanding, compassion and respect,” Mitchell said.
“We needed to heal. We needed to do something. We couldn’t sit on the sidelines being creatives and be an artist and not do something to help us unite,” Mitchell said.
As a DJ, event planner and producer, as well as in this pandemic-era project, it’s all still about giving back and seeing growth in others.
“I’m just trying to plant good seeds in people to help them accomplish their goal, because people have done the same thing to me,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell is currently working with the band “Heaping Teaspoon,” and will perform at Jam Diego Silent Disco on Friday, Aug. 27 at Quartyard.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect DJ Artistic’s reference to the Apollo Theater competition show format.
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