Every neighborhood has something or someone it’s known for. Sometimes, something only happened because someone took the road less traveled and cleared the way for others. If you ask those pioneers, the results were worth it despite the hardships they experienced, and they would do it again. That’s a story music mogul Dren STARR from New York City’s Lower East Side knows firsthand.
Dren started his music career as a DJ when he was only 14 years old. Unlike today, where social media can make you an instant star, times were different back then. It was the mid-90s, and you had to create real-life connections with people if you wanted to make it. Over the next 4 years, Dren did exactly that. Then, at 18, he switched careers.
Although hip-hop was gaining more acceptance and recognition in New York, the industry was still young. The Federal Communications Commission was also cracking the whip on people and labels that broke its stringent rules. As a result, the city’s major radio station, HOT 97, favored artists signed to big record labels with sanitized music. That left newer artists with nowhere to go and their careers moving sluggishly.
To Dren, only one solution existed. Even though he didn’t have the required licenses, he felt another hip-hop station in the city would help. In 1995, he started and ran WBAD 91.9FM to compete against HOT 97. Dren’s station created a safe space for new artists to voice their discontent with the industry for 3 years. However, the station was still not compliant with government requirements, and Dren couldn’t run forever. In 1998, he closed shop and switched careers again.
Dren didn’t leave the music scene. Over the next few years, he worked in the RCA promo department before becoming a producer and recording engineer. Afterward, he became an artist tour manager. Meanwhile, the music landscape was still changing. Now, cassettes were no longer the in thing, and CDs were also on their way out. Dren enjoyed those phases and even took part in projects with big names like Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah. Then, it was the era of MP3s and a new world.
During that season, Dren was incarcerated for 5 ½ years in an NYS prison on a gun possession charge, and his career ground to a halt. By the time he came out, it was the social media era, and music was now digital. However, Dren’s reputation was still intact. Despite the long break, he was accepted back and treated as if he had never left. He went back to working with big brands and started his own digital marketing company, LES BRAND.
Dren’s dream of making life easier for new artists and putting his Lower East Side on the map continues. With LES BRAND, he says he is creating more opportunities for his family and the community at large. He hopes his 2 sons will carry on that legacy when he is no longer here. He adds, “My dreams and aspirations are to make the Lower East Side a household name, sort of like what Wu-Tang did for Staten Island. I was born and raised on the LES, and no one out here has really put LES on the map, period.”