Find and follow us
Get our most popular stories once a week!
DJ Sicari: Creating a Launch Pad for Detroit Artists
Welcome to the third installment of WireTap's Monthly DJ Series! We believe strongly in the power of art and activism to bring people together. Over the years we've committed ourselves to covering a wide array of new, politically engaged artists, from our long running series on the All-Ages Movement Project, to our election-inspired Vote Hip-Hop contest.
Now we're taking it a step further by bringing you exclusive monthly mixtapes and interviews from DJs whose music reflects their ideals -- and it's free. All you have to do is subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Current subscribers can just re-enter their email info and get the download link. And no, we won't "double subscribe" your info. Tell your friends about our newsletter so they can subscribe and get free music, too!
An award-winning turntablist and breakdancer, 34-year-old DJ Sicari is one of the most active and ambitious organizers in Detroit’s music community.
Introduced to hip-hop culture's expression and ethic through spaces like the legendary Hip Hop Shop, Sicari is now passing the culture along to the next generation through his 5E Gallery, which aims to bring together Detroit's music community and celebrate emerging artists.
What was your introduction to hip-hop culture?
I'm from Detroit but I grew up in San Diego. In SD, I lived near a store that was called No BS. You would walk in and see graf writers doing a canvas, b-boys breaking on linoleum, a DJ performing.
At No BS, I learned to breakdance with the West Coast Rock Steady Crew. By ninth grade, I was performing in all the clubs in the city. I thought I was a superstar. We would battle MC Hammer's dancers. So that was my introduction. I've been part of hip-hop culture ever since.
How did you connect with Detroit's scene?
I went to college at Kentucky State and would visit family in Detroit during the summers and Christmas.
In '94, I was back in Detroit for the summer. This was before the internet so I just went to the phone book and looked under "hip hop" and found the Hip Hop Shop.
The Hip Hop Shop was a store owned by Maurice Malone. They sold mixtapes, records and magazines. You could get anything Detroit hip-hop-related. They would hang everything they sold on the wall, like a gallery. They had a DJ booth that was raised above everything, really high.
The Shop is where they had the open mic battles every Saturday afternoon. In 8 Mile they have the open mic battles in the Shelter in St. Andrews Hall. They didn't happen there. In my experience, those battles happened at the Shop.
Proof (of D12) was working there. He could tell that I hadn't grown up here. The way I danced wasn't like anything he'd seen. He ended up asking me to audition and then hiring me at $7/hour to break in the shop.
When did you start picking up skills as a DJ?
I was always hanging around hip-hop cats that didn't just dance. They also did graffiti, or they DJ'ed. They tried to master all the elements.
The DJs at the Shop -- DJ Dez, DJ Head (Eminen's first DJ), J Dilla, D9 (who now goes by Mr. Porter) -- we would all hang together. We'd work at the Shop, and then everybody would head to Dilla's or Head's house and we'd trade techniques. That's where I started to pick up skills.
At what point did you start to become an organizer in this community?
I stayed in Kentucky through my master's [degree]. And then I got hired by the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation (DHDC) in 2002 as an in-school HIV educator. I'd go into the schools and talk about being a DJ and breakdance for the students. That was my way to connect. That was the moment I realized how powerful the culture was, that it could be used to influence people.
What were the circumstances that led you to found 5E?
I felt the city needed a space where musicians and artists could come together. I wanted a place where music and artistry were more important than liquor sales -- a place that valued creativity and the emerging arts on many levels. So I started looking around for a space and in July 2008, was able to open 5E.
How does the gallery represent the five elements of hip-hop?
We have performances with emcees and DJs. We have b-boy classes. The walls are covered in graffiti by SinTex, my in-house artist.
People say that there are four elements of hip-hop, but for me the fifth element is love for the holistic life of this culture.
The gallery is based around an appreciation for emerging artists. I want this to be a place where everyone can work together and use that as a launch pad.
We've hosted release parties and events for the hip-hop scene, but we've opened the space up to everyone. We're down to work with anyone who has a real interest in music, fun, dancing, community and art.
What's next for 5E?
We just bought a projector so we can show independent films every week. We want to put in a juice bar. We want café-style furniture so people can come in and chill. We've got wi-fi. We want this to be a communal place where people can create.
A couple months ago Piper Carter got involved. She's a fashion photographer, extremely talented, and so many things have happened just in the last two months since she's been involved.
If you look at hip-hop as a society, how do we treat our women? Whenever I travel anywhere, I judge how talented their hip-hop scene is by how talented their girls are. We have to build this space to showcase the talent of women in Detroit hip-hop, because it says a lot about where we stand as a community.
A lot of your events are all-ages.
This space is a way for youth to see something other than what they are bombarded with in the media. I want to play the same role for the youth that my mentors played in my life.
How do you think 5E can help create positive change in Detroit as a whole?
It's like throwing a pebble in a pond, the ripple of how this space effects different people will spread across the city. We're trying to do more with this space than make money. Money is a by-product. If you do things with a good heart, then you'll be taken care of.
Get a download link for DJ Sicari's mix when you subscribe to our weekly newsletter.