[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Many months before Miley Cyrus caused your grandmother to awkwardly inquire about “the twerking,” DJ A-Tron had acquired the nickname “the Twerk King.”
It wasn't a testament to the 20-year-old's dance moves but rather a reflection of the “bend over to the floor and touch your toes” reaction that his sets induce. Right now, the Playa del Rey-raised A-Tron might be the most in-demand underground street rap DJ in the city.
Over the last month, he's triggered the turn-up at lunchtime high school pep rallies in South Central, Hollywood nightclubs, rich-girl Sweet 16s, mansion parties and dubiously legal warehouse raves. He has 85,000 Twitter followers and his mixes on Soundcloud regularly clock 50,000-plus listens — all through word-of-mouth and viral online sharing.
“It's super fun seeing the crowd's reaction and being able to manipulate people's emotions. It's just, like, 'I have this power?' ” A-Tron says, a few hours before he's slated to rock the Compton High School homecoming.
It's a rare moment of respite in an increasingly booked schedule. A-Tron is idling by the backyard pool at the Inglewood studio he shares. The nephew of legendary L.A. producer DJ Battlecat, A-Tron wears a variation of the 2013 streetwear uniform: gray “DOPE” sweatshirt, light beard, blue jeans, a Chicago Bulls snapback and Air Jordans.
“The secret is being creative,” A-Tron says, trying to pinpoint a reason for his ascent. “Techno and house DJs get creative with their sets, but a lot of rap DJs don't. I've been trying to be that creative with hip-hop.
“It's easy to get music. Every DJ has the same songs. So to be really top-notch, it's how you play them and mix them together.”
The last two years of West Coast rap will be remembered for the reign of ratchet. If you're at a party in L.A., odds are you'll hear at least five songs from the genre's producer king, DJ Mustard, during any given hour (“Paranoid,” “Burn Rubber,” “My N **A”).
“People do want to hear things they haven't heard, but it has to be ratchet. People just want to hear the new ratchet sound,” A-Tron says. “I just DJ'd an elementary school and the kids were, like, 'We want it ratchet, we want it turned up.' ”
So A-Tron abides — estimating that he must've played more than 100 Mustard songs on Halloween.
What sets him apart is his ability to read the audience and willingness to mix in sped-up old New Orleans bounce tracks and Atlanta crunk to add variety, but still sustain a twerk-the-club-up frenzy.
Like Y.G. and DJ Mustard, A-Tron first became known during the jerkin' era. Using his modest savings, he started an online “Jerkin' Radio” station, which grew to 100,000 listeners at its zenith, thanks to endorsements from the scene's major figures.
By the time he was a senior at St. Bernard's High, A-Tron was already spinning the school's winter formal. After a brief stint at Tennessee State, he returned home, upgraded his equipment and, as he says, “The rest is history.”
His goals are neatly printed on the white board inside his studio: Put more videos on YouTube, get 10,000 streams a day on SoundCloud, get merch and a website, finish his A Day in L.A. mixtape. He's begun producing and released a single, “Skinny N**S,” with Nipsey Hussle. He edits his own videos and is prepping the launch of a new dance move called “the squabble.”
Maybe your grandmother will eventually hear about it.
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