Today, sipping Intelligentsia coffee in broad daylight at the Casbah Café near Sunset Junction, he's clad in a button-up and a stylish cap, scanning his surroundings as he speaks. "I just like watching people," he says. "I am moved by people, moved by moments." These moments are reflected in his new full-length album Just Visiting, out today.
Much like his DJ sets, the work is full of twists and turns as it transitions from hip-hop to jazz to experimental beats. Though it includes collaborations with artists he plays on his show -- including Miles Bonny, Damon Aaron and Rebekah Raff -- Valadez says its main difference is how personal it is. "When you are DJing in a club you want a reaction and you want to vibe with [the audience]. But when you make music and there is no audience, it is just me."
A Mexican-American L.A. native, Valadez has experienced the city from many different perspectives. He was part of an "at-risk" youth program in Watts called Colors United that introduced him to the arts. He lived in the San Fernando Valley with his grandfather after his single mother was incarcerated for drug dealing. The album was recorded in Venice, where he currently lives.
He smiles as he recalls fond memories of Rick Dees in the morning, Magic Johnson's last minute shots and, of course, the late-night discovery of KCRW. "I heard Malcom X talking about how people need to stop doing drugs and empower themselves, and I thought that was revolutionary. It had an impact on me, and music was my escape."
He remembers being inspired by the DJs who would make sound collages that combined jazzy instrumentals with dialogue, and by groups like NWA, Ice Cube and the rap coming out of Watts at the time. "I realized that I can write something and I can do something that can have an impact on people," he says, adding that this motivated him to pursue a different path than his brothers, who joined gangs and have spent years in and out of jail. "Music has always been there for me ... and because of music I was able to avoid where I was supposed to be, according to statistics."
In high school rather than drinking and socializing, Valadez would go to parties to watch the DJ. He later joined the Marines, and music continued to play a big role. Stationed in Camp Pendleton, he continued to listen to KCRW after missions and even developed an appreciation for gospel music played on Sundays. "I remember going to Sunday services as a nonreligious person, but the sound of the choir brought me to peace," he says.