He’s driven, determined, and by far the most modest person I’ve ever met. At just 27, Justin “DJ Omega” Gaines is making a name for himself in the world of hip-hop DJs. From the days of shutting down parties at Temple University, to his current executive collaboration with rapper Wale (he’s the man behind the upcoming Jerry Seinfeld feature on Wale’s new album, About Nothing), DJ Omega’s origin story is like no other.
The self-taught talent has been working since the age of 12 to secure himself a spot in the current class of hip-hop DJs, so his recognition is well earned. A businessman with a soft spot for helping others, and an obsession for hard work, DJ Omega is carving his own path.
EBONY: I’ll never forget you shutting down club Samba right off campus; that’s the party I remember you for the most. How did you originally get into deejaying?
DJ OMEGA: I’ve been deejaying since I was 12 years old. My aunt’s a DJ and my older cousin’s a DJ. I’ve always been around music in my household, so becoming a DJ was like a natural progression for me.
EBONY: So you just got behind the turntables like, “Oh, I like this”?
DJ OMEGA: I played with it a little bit at first, but I didn’t get my own set until I was, like, 13. I had this bulls#!t set, and I got it for Christmas. Then when I got old enough, I worked at McDonald’s for six months to get enough money to buy some official turntables. And it was on from there. I’m pretty much self-taught. Along the line, you run into people that deejay, and they kind of showed me the way.
EBONY: So then how did your progression to where you are now come about?
DJ Omega: When I was in high school, I worked at WPHI, 103.9. So I was on the radio every weekend, already promoting parties and clubs in the Jersey/Philly area. A guy that I worked with at the radio station went to Temple, and the co-host of my show also went to Temple. They used to talk crazy stuff about Temple, like, “You got to come to Temple!” I was blessed enough to get a scholarship to go, and I went.
EBONY: What moves did you make during college and after you graduated in 2007 that propelled you to where you are now?
DJ OMEGA: My sophomore year, I was at PHI. And then I went over to Power 99, started doing weekend shifts and producing this midday show. Then NBC called me in to do an interview. I had done a mixtape with Kanye West a couple years back, so they wanted to talk to me about that experience. The segment was set up so that I would deejay during the show, then they would introduce me and ask me questions about my experience later.
At the end of the show, the director of news came down and was like, “Can you do this every week? We like you, can you do it?” And I was like, “Yeah, why not?” So I started coming in every Tuesday, and then two, three weeks later, they asked if I could come every day. I did that from 2006 until 2009. Then the show got canceled.
EBONY: 2009 is when you began touring with Wale. How did that collaboration come about?
DJ OMEGA: Wale came to Philly and he and I were at the same studio. I talked to him a bit and exchanged information. Later that night, he had a show, but his other DJ couldn’t make it. He asked me to fill in, and of course I said “sure.” It was at Festival Pierre, and we did the show and killed it. He gave me the music like two minutes before we went onstage and really we just winged it, but it was cool. After that, they just kept calling me. I did that until November 2012 and since then, I’ve been moving towards my own corporate agency, the Omega Agency.
EBONY: Do you have any artists you’re working with at the moment?
DJ OMEGA: I’m managing a few artists: Dee Goods from Tennessee, Apollo the Great from Camden, New Jersey, and Chill Moody from Philly. Me and my partner Aubrey Green manage those artists together.
EBONY: What is it like to be a Black DJ in the industry nowadays? It’s at the point, for me, that I see techno, electronica and European DJs becoming more popular than hip-hop DJs.
DJ OMEGA: People that listen to house hold the DJ at a higher standard than hip-hop holds the DJ. There are different standards, at least within that genre. People don’t give enough respect to the DJs in hip-hop. It’s the DJs that initially break these artists that give that insight. You do clubs, you do gigs, and you know what people like. You know exactly how to break a party down, and what kind of music will cause what type of reaction. Artists go in the studio, write and perform.
Hip-hop is more about the rapper now. A rapper will come out with a mixtape without a DJ! I’m like, “What’s a mixtape without a DJ?!” People don’t really understand the history and the culture and all that.
EBONY: Why do you think that hip-hop has become so detached from the DJ?
DJ OMEGA: It’s not detached from the DJ. I mean, that’s one of the four elements of hip-hop, so I don’t feel like it’ll ever separate. DJ Kool Herc first created hip-hop. Pretty much the basis was that DJs would take funk records and find the best part of the record, and they would call that the “break.” Then with the whole party setting came the “mic controller,” or MC, who spoke for the DJ. So it really all started with the DJ.
EBONY: You’re back to work with Wale, and you were the anchor in getting Jerry Seinfeld to collaborate on his upcoming September album, About Nothing. How did you make this happen?
DJ Omega: Let me tell you how it went down. I’m in the airport, on my way to L.A. because I had a gig out there. Wale hit me up like, “I’m thinking about doing another [mix]tape, do you want to do it?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it! But we can’t do the same stuff as More About Nothing, it would be corny. We need to do something hotter than that.’ I said, “If we’re going to do something on the More About Nothing theme, we need to get Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld, preferably Jerry Seinfeld.”
I was online and saw that Jerry Seinfeld was going to be performing the next day in L.A. So I decided to go down there and see what I can do. I did a little wheelin’ and dealin’ backstage, got in touch with his manager, and he told me to call him. I pitched them the idea, and they were with it, like “OK, cool, we’re down.”
After, like, nine months, we finally get a day with Jerry. We were right up here in New York. We’re in the studio, and the session was only supposed to be for an hour, but he ended up staying for like three hours. Just telling us stories about the past, what he was doing now, stuff like that. The session was crazy. Jerry came through, did what we needed him to do for the job, and we got good praise out of it. Complex said Wale’s album is the most anticipated album of 2013.
EBONY: It’s amazing how much you’re driven to get anything you want done. What are you ultimate goals in life and for your career?
DJ Omega: The best thing about deejaying is that we don’t peak until we’re 35. I want to move into my agency and management work. Chill out and have a family. But honestly, I feel that you can be a genius at any age. Why do we have this time limit of 15-24 to do your best work? I’ll never stop my craft. But my “real man” goals are to have a wife and kids, build franchises and be a philanthropist.