There is a magical art that good DJs possess that you hear when you notice you’re seeking out their mixes before a hot new song. These are the DJs that know that exact part of the song to blend in to the next, which songs seamlessly coexists next to each other and have a trained ear that can catch the original samples used on a track.
When I go through my iTunes, I have probably as many mixes as from two particular DJs as I have of actual albums. DJ Big Jacks and DJ Royale, who together are Grand Groove, are a serious duo out of Toronto. They have made killer mixes that you can dance, wild out, late night drive or work out to. I met these guys while they were guest DJs at the retail store I worked at for several years. The long grueling hours would fly by because of the music they played and long after I moved on to another job, I continued to seek out these guys at parties and download their mixes.
I reached out to them to learn more about what makes them tick and what they’ve got brewing behind the turntables.
How did both of you guys get started in DJing?
DJ Royale: Well, I got my first pair of starter kit turntables in ’96 as a grade 8 grad present. My interest in DJing came from one, just being a fan of rap music at very early age. Listening to the radio and mixtapes, wanting to be just like guys that were breaking the new music and the hot records. Secondly, an older cousin of mine was a DJ. So I used to just watch him and his friends play at family parties and just mess around in the basement.
Big Jacks: I always had a passion and interest for music since I was young. I grew up loving hip hop music and that’s what really got me interested in DJing. Once I started listening to the radio a lot more, I wanted to know how they made all the records blend together seamlessly. I used to just listen and study from what I heard and eventually I had to go out and learn myself.
What brought you two together to create GrandGroove?
Big Jacks: Roy and I connected in the early 2000s via the Funky Teknicianz message board. If you were to look back at that moment in time, a lot of the finest cats from our city doing big things now all connected on there. Cats like Jr Flo, Mensa, Wristpect, Drastik and many others. Both Roy and I were on there too and we just kinda clicked. I think it was initially because of a record trade we were trying to work out. A Grand Puba 12” I believe. So thank Grand Puba for Grand Groove. Not really, hahaha, but yeah that was how we initially met.
Been a fan of both of your mixes ever since I first met you guys at Artizia when I worked there and you guys were spinning at various locations. I still have some of your CDs in my car. That evolved to now curating mixes for them that are available on their Soundcloud page. How has that partnership worked out for y’all?
DJ Royale: Great, probably one of the best looks we or any DJ can have in terms of exposure. Our mixes have been able to reach all across Canada and most major cities in the US. The Aritzia look has definitely opened up a lot of different opportunities and reach a lot of new fans daily. They also now trust our brand and let us control the creative process of the mixes 100%. So shout outs to Aritzia.
Big Jacks: It’s been amazing really. I started out DJing in their stores in Toronto in 2004. A dude I knew at the time had the opportunity come across his lap and he had done a few in stores for them but I don’t think he was that into it. He asked me if I wanted to play there too and I was all for it. Aritzia was already a huge company (in my mind) at that time so I was like hell yeah. Soon after I got Roy on board too and we really took off with that, playing in their most popular locations every weekend. We would hit thousands of people just playing in the stores, which I thought was great. They eventually stopped doing the in-stores but approached us about curating mixes for every store and their online site, and that’s when things hit a whole other level. We went from hitting a few thousand people in one store to now having our mixes played in every single one of their stores in North America every single day. We’ve traveled to places like New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Vancouver and heard our stuff being played. Not to mention their following on Soundcloud and the exposure we’ve gained from that. I’ve even heard our Aritzia mixes being played in places like Top Shop and other big name stores, which is kinda funny when you think about it. But yeah, the Aritzia relationship has been huge for us. We’ve been able to grow with the company and they’ve supported us along the way. Plus, as Roy said, we get our creative control when we program mixes and that’s extremely important.
You each have a unique sound and taste when it comes to your own mixes outside of Grand Groove that I think I’ve noticed over the years as a listener.
Big Jacks, I’d say you lean more towards the soul and funk. Some of my favourite mixes of yours are Originals, where you merged original tracks with their modern day samples which really showed your crate digging skills, and Black Magic, which sounded like a cool blaxploitation film soundtrack.
And the dope remix of Shi Wisdom’s ‘Lovespeak‘ that you did.
Big Jacks: We both came up as hip hop dudes but our love for music is deeper than that and our tastes have just expanded as we’ve grown and gotten older. For me I love all my original soul and funk joints too. It’s the record nerd in me. So I do what I can to incorporate that sound and give some education in my sets or mixes, wherever I can. Mixtapes are a great place to do that too, to show people a little something. Oh word, you like that new Drake record well here’s the original sample from so and so from back in the day. It’s a great way to show the connection between the music and also make some of the older stuff current and relevant to what’s going in today’s music.
Royale, you’re like the R&B meets dance treasure finder. So many people nowadays harp on that R&B is dead but whenever I’ve listened to some of your mixes like Refill, INFATUATION or the All Neptunes Mix Skateboard, I’m reminded that R&B has just changed and so much of the songs now are more dance-floor oriented.
DJ Royale: Definitely, as much as I love rap music, I am huge R&B fan as well. Plus I love the vibe R&B gets people into, especially people who are fans of R&B. But I’m just a fan of music, period.
Y’all also have a ratchet side that comes out in your Leant party series held at Parts & Labour on Queen St W. This is where you guys bring that trap music sound and you go by GGBRFUCKEM and not Grand Groove for this party series. Can you explain the party series and the new name?
DJ Royale: Leant is just a Rap music party. Club rap to be specific. It’s a fun party people can just wild out and have fun. We don’t really do the bottle popping thing. A very straight forward party where you can just be yourself and let loose. GGBRFUCKEM means just that. Grand Groove Black Rap F*ck em. It’s always been like that we just gave it a name. Shouts to Bozack Morris. It’s our brand, it’s our mentality, it’s everything. It’s how everyone should be thinking. Stay focused on what you want to do and F*ck the rest, f*ck em.
Big Jacks: As for GGBRFUCKEM (which stands for Grand Groove Black Rap F*ck Em), that’s just another extension of us and what we do. That’s Roy, Bozack and I. We’ve been doing stuff for years all together but now we just have a name for that movement. But in reality GGBRFUCKEM is anyone, it’s you, it’s your friends it’s whoever feels like how we do. When we say f*ck em, we’re talking about anyone getting in the way of your dreams or goals etc. F*ck em. If they ain’t down with you and what you’re about, f*ck em! This is something we believe everyone can relate to. We’ve all been told we’re not good enough or we can’t do this or we have to things a certain way only. Nah. F*ck em.
And we have a lot of exciting things on the way with the GGBR brand. The Leant party is just the start, there’s our GGBRFM podcast, we have some music releases planned for this year, clothes, and much more.
Another place that folks can hear you both regularly is on your weekly radio show Backroad Radio, that airs on Mon nights on CHRY 105.5FM York University’s college radio. How long have you guys been doing the show and where did the name come from?
Big Jacks: We started doing the show in 2001. The look and the sound of the show has changed over the years but right now the team is Royale, Bozack, Melizia and myself. And I truly believe we have the best rap radio show in the city. Back in the days me and my homies at the time used to refer to Richmond Hill as the Backroads, that’s where we were all from and where we repped. When we started the show it was just me and another dude named Crispy. Some other homies from our neighbourhood would come and hang out. It was our spot to just rep us and what we were about, so we went with the name Backroad Radio and been running with it ever since.
Speaking of radio, this past August you both were featured as guest DJs for the Sway In The Morning radio show on Shade 45. It was a quick interview but I’m glad y’all shouted out some of the key Toronto artists other than Drake that have put our city on the map. How did the whole opportunity come together?
DJ Royale: Long story short, we just knew the right people who knew the right people, you know? It was probably the greatest experience I’ve had in my DJ career and for GG. Sway is a legend and deserves all the praise and accolades he gets. It was an honour to be there.
Big Jacks: I have to give big shout outs to Sway, DJ Wonder and the entire team there. You had all these other celebrities, actors and rappers there but the show staff treated us like any other guest and welcomed us with nothing but love. It was a surreal experience and one of the top highlights in our Grand Groove career.
As we kick off 2015, what are some of the big things you each and/or both have planned for the New Year that we can expect to check out?
Big Jacks: Working smarter and keeping consistent with what we do. Consistency has really been key for us. Grand Groove has a ton of mixes on deck for the year and lots of parties to play among other things. We plan to tour more too so if you want us in your city, hit us up.
DJ Royale: In the words of Bobby Shmurda “get that money back and spend it on the same thing”. I’m playing, but just more. More mixes, more Leant, more cities to reach out to and spread the word. Don’t worry, you’ll definitely hear more from us in ’15. Just Pay Attention.