Gaining notoriety on the Miami underground scene and getting recognition around the country, Steve Johnson, professionally known as DJ Freestyle Steve, has risen from the local clubs of South Florida to touring the world with pop sensation Justin Timberlake. Steve is the official DJ for music mogul/production genius Timbaland as well as the exclusive DJ of choice for many NBA and NFL players and others in the music business.
Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Steve was blessed with the name “Freestyle” by his late best friend and Miami Legend, DJ Uncle AL. Never one to play only one genre of music (hence the name “Freestyle”), Steve was the first DJ to play New York hip-hop music on the SugarHill DJ’s underground operated Miami radio station in the early 1990’s.
Always steps ahead of the game musically and technologically, Steve is constantly honing his craft which now also includes producing and engineering. He has worked on projects with many of the elite artists in music such as Dr. Dre, 50 Cent and Madonna, to name a few. But he has continuously supported his community through various initiatives which is important to his success.
How did you get your start DJing? I always wanted to be a DJ, but I really didn’t start until my senior year of high school. I hooked up with one of my friends and it blossomed from there, it just took off. Unfortunately, he got killed and everyone told me to take over. I just kept on doing it.
Who has influenced your style? There isn’t one particular person or thing. My style is more free flowing, I don’t really have one style of music. I party for the crowd, to get them hype. Hence the name Freestyle Steve, whatever I feel is what it’s going to be. However, DJ Cassidy is my dude. I told him that if I die I want him to DJ at my funeral. He’s my favorite DJ.
How did you first meet Timbaland? I was in Houston doing the Superbowl and a mutual friend of ours E Class called me said he was with Timb, and invited me to meet up with them. When I got there they asked if I wanted to go to the mall. I ended up riding with them, listened to some music, went to the mall and from that day on we were cool. He didn’t know I was any good as a DJ. Timb was living in New York and he only knew Funk and Kid Capri. He didn’t know about us Miami DJs. I was doing this party on the beach and his manager, Rick, came to the party and saw me DJ. He was watching the crowd and called Timb from the party and said, ‘This DJ is crazy’. That started the buzz with Timb. There was a MTV party in Miami and a hurricane was coming the same weekend. The manager said there was going to be two DJs and the budget was only $500. I did the party and DJ Ideal went on first I went on second, when I was on Timb was in the building and I didn’t even know. The crowd was going crazy, Rick came up and said, ‘Timb wants to see you’. I was playing my set, the Jay Z record. ‘Yo Timb wants to see you now’, I put him on hold for like thirty or forty minutes. ‘Listen come now, he wants to see you now, NOW’. I called the other DJ to come up to the booth, and I went straight to the table and we sat and talked. Timb says, ‘I didn’t know you were like that. You’re my DJ now’. In my head I’m going crazy, but I’m giving him a straight face. From that day forward I was Timb’s DJ. I still got paid $250 for my set. The moral of the story is if I turned that down, I wouldn’t be where I am now. The first thing I did with that $250 was get a passport.
Between Timberlake, Timbaland and Missy – who have you had the craziest tour experiences with? With Justin it was amazing. Not only because the different cities and the craziness of the crowd. Learning different things. I know my DJ level, but being with that guy on tour watching him every night. He’s a perfectionist, regardless of if he’s sick, he puts on the same show every night. He’s giving 150%. I have to make sure I’m up to par. It was an insane world tour. WOW.
What kind of equipment are you currently using? Pioneer CDJ 1000, Rane 57 mixer and my cables are Monster.
What songs/artists would your dream DJ set include? Teddy Pendergrass ‘Joy’, Marvin Gaye ‘Give it Up’, Frankie Bell ‘Before I Let Go’ and ‘Southern Girl’, Luther Vandross ‘Never Too Much’, a little Keith Sweat mix, Run DMC you can never go wrong with Run and The O’Jays ‘Backstabbers’. Gotta get my old heads in there.
What’s next for you? Right now I’m reworking my brand. I want everybody to know who Steve is. The gift is I’ve gotten to travel the world and the curse is I didn’t get to DJ the after parties in the states. They call me Mr.International because I have performed all over the world. I’m building my brand here in the states. I am also working on a mixtape series. I’m going to give you me, you’re booking me for what I do and what you’ve seen.
What advice would you give to young DJs? Learn how to hook up the equipment first, plug up and unplug. Always be ready for the unexpected. Know how to impervise if something goes wrong. Learn the music and the key points of the song. Learn your craft and work hard at it. Ask for advice. Don’t come in for the money, the money will come. Work your ass off, let people appreciate what you are doing. I didn’t have Timb, Missy, or JT in the beginning. Be ready, no matter what. If I’m in a club and they don’t have turntables, I can make it work just give me a couple CDs. I can still make the crowd go crazy.
Last words? You have to be humble, work hard and be dedicated to your passion. It’s great being a celebrity DJ, you get to go places you never would. I’m continuing to build my brand here in the states, watch out for me. I’m a monster DJ. Core DJ is in my blood, heart and my soul. I’m a Sugar Hill DJ. Rest in Peace DJ Uncle AL.
Follow DJ Freestyle Steve on Twitter @FreestyleSteve
DJ Freestyle Steve – Laid Back Mix