Insights From CTSP
Seldom can I listen to just a few minutes of a mix and easily recognize who is behind the turntables. It's an ability few DJs have, to transcend beyond obscurity onto a true musical performance. Hailing from Hopkins, South Carolina, meet Clif Tha Supa Producer (CTSP), one of the South's preeminent Hip-Hop DJs. With sweat equity and an understated persona, Clif has earned every accolade to his name. Listen to any of his sets and it's obvious how much time he puts in to master the craft with laser focus, undeterred by trends. What drew me to Clif though was his unmistakable style and ability to consistently deliver quality mixes. I'm not alone either. Thousands like me regularly tune-in to his online mix shows, of which several hundred have held top ten chart positions on Mixcloud. Each one started the same way - recorded live and on-air. Now, they're nationally broadcasted across several FM stations and featured on the iHeartRadio and TuneIn radio platforms. In a candid discussion with Clif, he shares his story and insights. Two traits struck me in the portrait of a real DJ that ensued. The first was perseverance - evolving as a DJ and individual through challenges big and small; and second was faith - trusting the process that hard work does pay off in the end and what's meant to be will happen. I still find his journey inspiring and feel that you will too.
DJ ARIA: How did it all start for you? How did you get into the DJ profession?
Clif: Well growing up my mom and dad played a huge role and were my whole musical influence. My dad played the harmonica, keyboards, trumpet and whatever instrument you name - he played it. My mom was a singer and they were in a band together called C&C Connection. It was my dad, my mom and a close friend of theirs, Curtis Knightner. The three of them sang songs from James Brown, Luther Vandross, Frankie Beverly and Maze and all the classics. I was around that a lot and naturally it led me to where I am now. What I started doing was production. I looked up to people like DJ Paul and Juicy J from Three 6 Mafia, DJ Montay, Polow Da Don, Timbaland, Mannie Fresh, Scott Storch and all of those guys really just trying to find my own style while listening to them making my own beats. Doing things trial and error, seeing what works and what doesn’t, trying to figure out what I was capable of. I started making beats when I was 14 and DJing kind of fell within the same time when I was in highschool. I started with a dual CD player trying to blend whatever acapellas I could download with any instrumentals. People like the southern style DJs out of Atlanta (DJ Montay, MC Assault, Jelly), and I’ll openly admit those are the guys that inspired my whole style of doing mashups and blends. They would do it seamlessly and they played records I gravitated towards; more crunk and underground Atlanta stuff - not so much mainstream stuff. Things I was really in love with at the time. I would tune in to them every Saturday at 12AM; ironically enough, it’s on the same radio station I’m at now, 100.1 The Beat, so it’s crazy how things have come full circle. I would listen to them faithfully and it went from there.
DJ ARIA: Were you more interested in being a Producer or a DJ?
Clif: If I’m being honest, I’ve always been interested in turntables. I remember when I was super young, messing around with my parent’s turntables trying to do what I would see on TV and I would get in trouble for it. Then I would see my dad who played keys. He would sequence instrumentals on his keyboard and I would always watch and learn from him. The production aspect for me began for me as a freshman in high school.
DJ ARIA: What was it like starting out back then?
Clif: I took a lot of time at home really trying to master whatever I was doing with the dual CD player my Dad and I bought from Best Buy. I would have a whole bunch of mp3 CDs and work on my timing, work on bringing in records in and transitioning out of them and how to beatmatch off of the dual CD player. I spent a lot of time honing in on the craft to make sure my timing was always on point.
DJ ARIA: You're now heard on syndicated primetime radio across several major markets as one of the most prolific Hip-Hop DJs in the South today. What moments stand out the most to you as having an impact or influence on your career?
Clif: The most tragic moments and I will never forget the days. April 15, 2015 was when my mom passed and January 3, 2016 was when my dad passed. Dealing with the ups and down of that I really didn’t want to work on music because I had lost two of the greatest people on earth to me. They were the ones that supported me, they let me make all kinds of noise in the house and they really supported me - taking me to whatever event at the time or even just like I said, my dad especially, he was the one who put me on to equipment and taught me how sound works. Losing them hurt, but at the same time it ultimately made me want to continue going because the music was always there. My mom would show love and support me. The moments I remember while they were still alive was to actually have them see me DJ at a family function or whatever it was, to see me scratch and be amazed. I can always think back to those times and as long as they saw me do what I love I can’t complain.
DJ ARIA: Do you feel like your are continuing their legacy?
Clif: I would like to think so because with their group, C&C Connection, they would travel everywhere throughout the southeast. They would be out late nights and here I am as an adult now going out late nights playing music, just keeping their names alive. I always want to do what I can to make them proud and keep their legacy alive and everything that encompasses that.
DJ ARIA: Were there events or opportunities that changed the landscape for you in your DJ career?
Clif: The first time I DJed in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was myself and two other DJs and me being out there professionally. It was 2016 and I might have been DJing for about a year and a half, two years so being there in a totally different market at a big club that books the hottest of the hottest was the moment for me where I was like, “Okay, people are recognizing what I’m doing and feel like I am ready to be in these venues.” I’m able to control the crowd for people to have fun.
DJ ARIA: Your mixing style. You mash up more acapellas and instrumentals than anyone. How did this come about?
Clif: That goes back to my love for the Southern Style DJs out of Atlanta. I would listen to DJ Montay, DJ Jelly, DJ Unk and MC Assault. I would listen to them faithfully and they would mashup a lot. For example, they would put Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck” over a R&B song. Two totally different genres but they would put it together so well. I loved that style. In high school, I would download as many acapellas and instrumentals I could find to emulate what I would hear DJ Montay, DJ Unk or DJ Jelly do. I don’t do any pre-edits, it’s a live remix on the fly. Two turntables and a mixer. Traditional DJs tend to frown upon this feature, but the synchronize button helps. It eliminates those few seconds where you have to adjust the tempo and you’re able to lock-it in and bring in an acapella or instrumental seamlessly. I set up my cue points in places that I know makes sense and just really know the record, studying a song from top to bottom so when I am playing it I’ll know whether to bring something in or take something out. Practicing and doing the homework, trial and error - sometimes messing up so when I do it live recording a mix for a radio station it’s easy. From a technical aspect, that’s the beauty of a good mashup - most of the time it’s by accident. What I’ve noticed is if you just leave things they way they are without doing the key lock, sometimes certain records that are autotune driven will go with whatever is playing. For example, I have found that Aaliyah’s “Try Again” acapella mixes well with “The Boy Is Mine” instrumental by Brandy and Monica. It’s really trial and error and funny sometimes how things go together. Like I said, setting up those cue points so everything falls in line so you can bring something in easy.
DJ ARIA: When you’re in the mix, what are you thinking about?
Clif: When I’m doing my mixes, I don’t prepare anything beforehand. I really just go based off of pure feeling. While I’m playing one song i’ll be thinking about the next two or three songs ahead. I also believe in structure. Blending a chorus over a chorus, playing it where it all falls in line. Although the listener may not be aware, I still think people can feel when something isn’t right. So I want certain parts of the song to go over certain parts of the other song because to me musically it sounds the best and makes sense.
DJ ARIA: Style in a club set and how does that differ from radio?
Clif: Yeah, club sets and radio sets do differ. To me, I feel like I can be the most creative when I’m recording stuff for on-air versus clubs. When I try to do certain mash-ups, people get it but sometimes it doesn’t connect the way I thought I would. If there’s no host at the club then I will get on the mic, but when I first started I really wasn’t an MC per se, but over time I was kind of forced into getting on the microphone and being that guy. If there is a host then I can focus more on the music. With clubs too, the crowd is key. Knowing your audience, the age group and judging what we see. I play my sets based on where I am, the type of venue and event to keep the energy all the way live. With FM radio, our program director wants us to play the hits, the more familiar records. I try to keep that in mind without compromising my style to keep it as fun as possible. When I do stuff for the online stations, it’s free range as long as it’s clean music then I can be as creative as possible. There isn’t that “what if?” where, man, if I play this record will I get chastised for it or get some kind of backlash from the program director? There are certain restrictions on FM radio versus online radio, but I try to never compromise who I am and my style to separate myself from anyone else. My goal is have a style that’s so unique that you know it’s Clif when you hear it regardless of the drops (DJ tags).
DJ ARIA: In the south, what do you feel like makes you different? What gets you booked and not someone else?
Clif: What I’ve heard people say is, “Well, you never know what he’s going to play.” So I feel like there’s a sense of unpredictability in my sets. I might go dancehall, throwbacks or go trap with it. I try to keep it as diverse as I can wherever I am because people like to hear a lot of different things. Compared to other DJs, my versatility and not being afraid to go wherever with the music plays a huge part. It’s that different level of creativity. What I’ll add as far as my hometown, there aren’t too many DJs that scratch or do what I consider the basics. They’ll just play a record and blend something and it doesn’t sound like they’ve practiced. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything new, it’s just not done as often where I am.
DJ ARIA: What do you think makes a solid DJ performance?
Clif: For me personally, pure song selection and how the DJ gets into a record and gets out of a record. Like I said though, it all comes down to song selection - how the DJ maneuvers. You don’t have to be the best scratch DJ or have the best blends, but if you know how to make a record work with the crowd that you have then you’ve got me. I’m one to be impressed strictly on that if the DJ surprises me like, “Oh wow, you just played this!” or “Wow, you put these two together!” Something I wouldn’t have thought to do. So for me again, it boils down to pure song selection and knowing that if you’re going to play a record and the crowd goes crazy.
DJ ARIA: Is there anything that makes South Carolina DJs different? Is there a sense of identity being a DJ from the South?
Clif: I really have thought about this a lot. I can speak for South Carolina and we have more mixtape DJs looking to break artists and go that route. Of course you have club DJs too, but they’re just doing what they can. As far as the southern landscape, I love DJ Screw and that whole movement as a kid. Texas has its identity. Atlanta has theirs. South Carolina is still trying to find ours. Like I said, we have more mixtape DJs trying to showcase new talent versus DJs that operate based on skill.
DJ ARIA: Is there anything in the industry that bothers you?
Clif: One thing I’m not really for is the complacency with clubs and how DJs are not paid their worth. This could be subjective, but some people put in a lot of time and effort to get paid little to nothing. There’s been story after story where some DJs are getting jerked and not getting their worth for whatever the case is. A lot of times it can depend on popularity where it overshadows a person’s skillset. I don’t think it’s cool. With people adding “DJ” in front of their name, I’ve seen that too. A lot of times that doesn’t last long because they might realize this isn’t as easy as they thought it was. Having to keep up with so much music and really understanding it’s not as simple as you think it is to play two songs at once. You have to understand BPMs, tempos, and everything else. You can easily separate the real from the fake so to speak. I’m not super focused on that because I’m doing what I’ve got to do - continuing to elevate as much as I can.
DJ ARIA: What gets you excited as a DJ right now?
Clif: The innovation in technology. Seeing what Rane is doing with their new turntable setups. I’m always excited to see what’s new in terms of equipment. I know it’s mad expensive, but it’s really to make the creatives that much better. What I couldn’t do before, now is possible. Also new music. One thing I miss though is how back in the 2000s and even in the ‘90s, singles included the acapella and the instrumental and the artists would push for that too. Not just for DJs, but for producers as well. There are few records today that you can get the acapella with the single. Sometimes it’s even hard to find a clean edit of certain songs.
DJ ARIA: Do you have anything on your bucket list in your career?
Clif: Traveling outside of the Southeast. Doing shows in NY, doing a set in Vegas or California. Going international is one thing I would love. Seeing different cultures and their reactions to my particular style. A huge goal of mine is to travel more and see the world.
DJ ARIA: What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?
Clif: If I could tell my younger self some advice it would be to always keep in mind that certain things may not always happen the way you want them to. Patience is everything. I’m still learning that now, being patient. Knowing that sometimes what’s meant for you will happen. It may not be the route you planned or thought, but be patient and don’t be afraid to speak your mind. If something doesn’t feel right, speak your piece and let it be known how you truly feel.
DJ ARIA: What advice would you give to DJs today?
Clif: Focus on the skill. People tend to look at appearance and brand, but when it all comes down to it - skill is important. If you plug in at an event and no one is dancing and no one is having fun, then your looks mean nothing. The advice I would give is to study the music, do your homework, check out documentaries and learn from the wisdom of those before you. Instill them now so when you’re at a gig you have that confidence. For me, it’s skill - honing in on the craft is always number one.
Check out Clif Tha Supa Producer (CTSP) online using the links below.
Facebook: Clif Tha Supa Producer