It's immediately obvious the first time you meet Felli Fel why 1.6 million people listen to him nightly on Power 106. The guy's blessed with the preternatural ability to put people at ease, filling any lacuna in the conversation with a torrent of gibes, stories and Borat jokes that should come off stale but somehow don't. It's all in the delivery. His genial Southern drawl makes you feel like you've known him forever. And if you've lived in L.A., you kind of have. Over the past decade, no other local urban radio personality, except maybe morning drive-time staple Big Boy, has carved as distinct a figure as the South Carolina–bred, Atlanta-raised Fel.
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Felli Fel: On a roll, getting bucks
In the course of a recent afternoon, everyone he meets seems to get along with the dude, from the other Power DJs he playfully ribs to the computer salesmen who breathlessly milk him for stories on Sundance parties to the sushi waitress who flirts with him at dinner. It feels like you're talking to Ferris Bueller — were Bueller in his 30s and able to trace his B-boy origins to hearing the 12-inch of UTFO's "Roxanne, Roxanne" at age 14. In fact, Fel's currently on a Buelleresque run and seems invincible. Within the past six months, he's landed a deal with Jermaine Dupri and So So Def/Island Def Jam, and released his subsequent breakout first single, the electro-infused club anthem "Get Buck in Here." Featuring hit makers like Ludacris, Akon, Diddy and Lil Jon, the track took off when Power premiered it as an exclusive during last year's 4th of July Mix and hasn't left the station's rotation since.
It's the sort of debut that any solo artist would kill for, especially one who doesn't even rap. But as Fel points out himself, "It's a good time to be a DJ. Everything comes around in circles, and right now it seems that hip-hop is returning to its roots in the DJ culture." The trend's ubiquity certainly isn't restricted to hip-hop. DJs have seen an increased profile of late, from the Ed Banger scene to the Steve Aoki-DJ AM-Samatha Ronson-celebrity DJ axis. In rap, DJ Khaled (himself a popular on-air personality at Miami's KEPR), mix-tape kingpin DJ Drama, and now Fel have all become players in the last two years. But unlike his peers, Fel makes beats, and thus actually serves a purpose beyond being able to rope in A-list talent and shout nonsensical gibberish on every track. (Sorry, Khaled, you're not the best.) Producing every track on his forthcoming Go DJ, Fel also had the pull to recruit heavy hitters like Ne-Yo, Snoop Dogg, E-40, the Game, T-Pain, Xzibit, Jermaine Dupri, Fabulous and Ice Cube, in addition to the aforementioned cast of "Get Buck in Here."
With major labels increasingly wary of the costs involved in breaking and promoting artists, the already-established Fel was an obvious subject for a bidding war, and turned down multiple offers before finally committing to Dupri and Def Jam. "He's got power that no other DJ has," says Dupri, the multiplatinum producer and founder of So So Def. "Fel has the power to make people listen to what he says, as well as the power to make a hit record. He's capable of getting every artist's attention, and he has the vision to know where he wants to go."
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But while Fel doesn't deny that his post at Power 106 affords him an access to rappers and vocalists few others have, he says it ultimately comes down to whether potential collaborators like the beat or not. "If they didn't like the record, they wouldn't do it. If you have a hot record and the relationship is there, then they might, but then it comes down to, Will they do it for free? And I've been very lucky in that regard." Of course, it doesn't hurt that Fel's been friends with Diddy for years, plays video games at Ludacris' place every time he returns home to Atlanta and has a tight enough relationship with Lil Jon to have played dozens with him until the early hours. But Fel says he's been making beats since he bought his first SP-1200 nearly two decades ago. In fact, it was during a 1999 trip out to Los Angeles to shop some of his tracks that he ran into some colleagues from Power, who saw potential in the then Dallas-based DJ and never let him leave. All the while, he harbored ambitions of becoming an in-demand producer, and even sold a beat or two to the likes of the Luniz and 2pac proteges the Outlawz. But for the most part, Fel focused on his day job as Power's mix-show coordinator and the host of two shows a day, a hectic grind that he readily admits left him a little burned out and rarely in a condition to focus on production.
But in the past year or so, the powers at Power finally eased the reins on Fel, allowing him a chance to build the production career that he's long put on the back burner. While more self-consumed artists might still maintain a little bitterness, Fel seems to have none, with nothing but high praise for his bosses at Power. "I didn't want to use my platform to become a producer, I've had to juggle a lot of things because I didn't want to take advantage of the kindness Power has shown me," Fel says. "I could've done a lot of these things years ago, but I didn't think it'd be good for the station, so I waited." His peers have similarly positive things to say about their fellow DJ's ascent.
"Felli has a great ear for music, and over the past years, he's been very influential in breaking new music here and throughout the country," E-Man, who doubles as a co-host of Big Boy's Morning Show and Power 106's assistant program director, says. "He knows what a hit record entails and how to put it together. He's got an ear for breaking hits, and now he has an ear for making hits."
The "Get Buck in Here" video just dropped a few weeks ago, so it's conceivable that the song may have some life in it yet. Either way, it's difficult to imagine another artist capable of corralling DJ Khaled, Pitbull, Fat Joe, Jermaine Dupri, Lil Jon, Akon, Diddy and Ludacris for his first clip. Go DJ is currently slated to be released this spring as an EP, but Fel hopes that when the album is finally finished, the brass at So So Def will acquiesce to put it out as a full-length.