Everybody Make Some Noise

Photo courtesy Meri Hoffsten

Get your hands up for veteran DJ James Vincent, who keeps every party moving with his spin mastery.

Given his track record as a DJ, you’d think James Vincent has heard just about every type of request imaginable. After all, he’s opened for some of the music industry’s heavy hitters in the past and spun at a number of prestigious shows and parties around the world — so there likely isn’t anything that would ever surprise this accomplished turntablist.

Of course, that was before he landed in the islands and began receiving requests at gigs to fire up the hip-hop classic Bring Em Out in order for partygoers to — get this — line dance to it. As Vincent quickly realized, even veteran beat jugglers like himself can still experience the most unusual pleas.

“When the kids started asking me to play Bring Em Out, I was like, ‘You mean the song by T.I.? And you want to line dance to that song?!’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing … I guess it’s a Hawai‘i thing,” he says, laughing.

Whatever the regional preferences are, Vincent remains a master of accommodation and adaptation.

“If I’m in Tennessee, it’s country music. If I’m on the West Coast, it’s Tupac, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg,” he explains. “I did a wedding for a Texas couple once and they turned everything into a line dance, Electric Slide, Cupid Shuffle, and even The Wobble.”

Vincent is also quite good at reading crowds, dropping “the right record” at the perfect moment and infusing energy into any occasion so attendees will feel like getting up and dancing. These characteristics and more are what make him who he is: one of the best and most sought-after vinyl manipulators around.

“It’s all about playing the right song at the right time, feeling the crowd response and knowing they’re right there with me,” explains the scratch DJ, who owns an extensive music library (he has 30,000 pieces of vinyl in his arsenal that he plays out of his Serato DJ rig) from which he’s able to create “a vibe where things are flowing.”

“Every event is a fresh opportunity to make that connection,” he adds, “and I love that I get to do that again and again.”

In the early 2000s, Vincent began making a name for himself by spinning for a number of A-list musicians and notable occasions. Aside from sharing decks with Run-D.M.C. and DJ AM, he opened for John Legend, Snoop Dogg and Ye (formerly Kanye West). In addition, he’s been the scratch artist for singer-songwriter Dido — first on her promotional tour and later on the Lilith Fair tour — as well as spun for Paris Fashion Week and a private party at Super Bowl XLVIII with Jimmy Fallon’s drummer, Questlove.

What’s more, he once created and performed a soundtrack for 20,000 Coachella attendees inside the towering Sahara Tent; enjoyed New Jersey residencies at 46 Lounge, Teak on the Hudson and the Chandelier Room; wowed crowds at industry events for Bogner, H&M and Saks Fifth Avenue; and dabbled as a remixer and songwriter for rock band Bush and the artist Citizen Cope. For his efforts, he was the recipient of a “Best Song” MTV Movie Award.

But of all his career highlights, his favorite memory is hanging with Run-D.M.C.’s Jam Master Jay.

In recalling their meeting, he says, “I’m working one night and Jam Master Jay pokes his head into the booth and he’s looking at the album I have on, a remix of The Brand New Heavies, and back up at me,” Vincent recalls. “Then he says, ‘I love that record, man. Is it cool if I come back later?’ I was like yeah, and after he returned we just hung out and talked about music.

“Of course, that was the time before cell phones and their cameras became a thing. I do wish I could have had a photo to capture that moment,” adds Vincent about the artist who was killed shortly afterward over a cocaine deal gone bad. “That would have been incredible.”

These days, Vincent spends most of his time right here in Hawai‘i, working weddings, graduation parties, baby lū‘au gatherings and other milestone events. He also passes many days and nights familiarizing himself with the unique rhythms of the islands — although at this point, he pretty much has the local music scene down pat.

“When I first got here, I didn’t really know much about local music except for what I’d hear when I was in Waikīkī,” says the DJ, who was born in New Jersey.

“Growing up on the East Coast, I didn’t hear Jawaiian music. But now I know who Kolohe Kai is, who Rebel SoulJahz is, and who B.E.T. and all these other bands are. I know their names, I see them on tours and I’ve even done graduation parties with them.

“Now, I can pretty much do a whole party with just local music,” he adds. “Or, I’ll do the local music early and then as the party gets going, I’ll start playing Top 40, hip-hop and maybe some country.”

The first time Vincent ever changed albums for others was when he was 7. His cousin had scheduled a get-together with her friends at an aunt’s house and Vincent was invited to switch out vinyl discs while the teens danced. The occasion didn’t grant him any power over what was played; nevertheless, he was captivated by the turntable, his control of it, and how he could be an instrumental part of the musical experience.

Once he grew older, however, he began dictating the order and type of music to be played at gatherings. Unmistakably, he loved being the one in charge.

“I was the one who would show up at your house with my own stack of records and kind of take over your stereo system,” he explains. “I’d go, ‘Oh, we’re going to play this next and then we’re going to play this and this.’”

Still, all he was at the time was a DJ in embryo. His evolution into a legitimate turntable artist wouldn’t come until college, where he found a willing teacher in classmate Geoff Wilson.

“He’d come over every week and he’d have his own stack of records,” recalls Vincent of his mentor. “He’d also have a couple of magazines and a six-pack of beer and he would get up and mix, then hand me the headphones, sit down on the couch, grab a magazine, crack open a beer and say, ‘Go!’ I would then do things and he would say over and over, ‘Nope, try it again.’

“When he first explained things to me, in my head I understood it. But it was still a matter of making it go from my head to making my hands physically do it.”

In time, Vincent learned how to manipulate a Technics 1200 turntable and mixer board with great dexterity. People began noticing his burgeoning talent as well and word eventually leaked out about his services. Soon, Vincent became an in-demand DJ, beat juggler and preparer of playlists for just about any occasion, having been hired to play at clubs, bars, lounges and major events from New York City to LA, as well as in locales around the globe.

“I sometimes feel that DJing is something I kind of fell into,” he notes. “But I also feel like it was always meant to be.”

This month marks five years since Vincent, wife Rene and their two young sons relocated to the Aloha State, and it does appear that destiny brought them here.

Vincent had visited Hawai‘i previously, but he didn’t really consider moving until Rene — whom he affectionately refers to as “the Bonnie to my Clyde, the Mallory to my Mickey, the Marge to my Homer” — told him she was having premonitions of planting roots in paradise.

“From the day that I met her, she was like, ‘I want to live in Hawai‘i. I’m having these dreams and I know I have to live there,’” recalls Vincent, who ultimately agreed to the move and chose to settle in Kailua.

Vincent considers himself “blessed” to call Hawai‘i home and much of that feeling is due to his ability to continue spinning music for locals.

“It’s been amazing to me. On the East Coast, you do some outdoor events, but here in Hawai‘i, it’s mostly outdoors,” he says. “Now for someone growing up here, that might not be so special. But for me, it’s incredible to be at Kualoa Ranch, Waimea Valley or somewhere on the North Shore and have my feet planted in the sand or the grass and be playing music and making special moments for people.”

Not a bad way to make a living, eh?

“Oh, yeah,” he agrees, “and I’m grateful that I get to keep doing it.”

To learn more about DJ James Vincent, visit his Instagram (@djjamesvincent808).