DJ Envy is proof that you can use your leverage to create multiple streams of passive income
“I enjoy radio. I mean, it’s one of those things where, it’s kind of like I go to the barber shop, but when I went to the barber shop, you might go for the haircut, but you stay because of the conversation”
(Taken from The Breakfast Club, Syndicated Show of the Year, Power Play List Magazine)
The one thing that I find really impressive about DJ Envy is his ability to do it all. It was hard to convince him, as an entrepreneur myself, that he needs to bring other people on board. He says, “I know but I’m not there yet.” Envy likes to lead and is very ambitious and it appears he’s just scratching the surface. I’ve heard over the years that he is a brilliant real estate mogul and while we were talking, he was telling me about how he just demolished a property he purchased and took a few kids to show them how it’s done. The same way he gained wealth in real estate is how he plans to do it with his latest idea — car shows. He told me he’s been wanting to do one for years, and he finally stepped out on faith and did it and it was a success. Does that mean he will do another one next year? No, according to him, he will be doing SEVERAL car shows next year. He also has a podcast with his wife, Gia Casey, “The Caseys.” Gia is a natural voice talent who could easily be on the air in a major market. When you talk to Envy, you leave feeling motivated, educated and inspired and like your brain just had a much-needed workout.
KEVIN ROSS: Tell us how you got your break?
DJ ENVY: I’m from Queens, New York, so we would take the bus every day to get to school. One day, I saw one of my neighbors pull up in a nice car. It was a Honda Accord. Like, that was the Maybach or the Bentley to a lot of kids growing up back then. And I went over to him and I asked him what he was doing to get money, ‘cause he was only maybe three years older than me. He said, “Come by my house after school and I’ll show you.” So, I didn’t know what he was doing, if it was drugs, I didn’t know. He could have been selling bagels, I had no clue. And when I went to his house, I went into his basement and he was a DJ. He had all types of records and cassettes and I asked him what his DJ name was and he told me “DJ Clue.” I knew this kid, Ernesto, for years, from the neighborhood and we played basketball and rode bikes and all that, and I didn’t know he was DJ Clue. And from there he got me into DJing. I started doing mixtapes and doing everything I possibly could, kind of mimicking what he did, and he gave me an opportunity one time and signed me to his record label, Desert Storm, and that’s how I put out my first album.
As far as radio, Tracy Cloherty, the former program director for Hot 97, gave me my break. They used to do a segment called “Taking it to the Streets,” where they got street DJs to DJ every weekend. So maybe the first weekend it’d be DJ Kay Slay, the second weekend it might be Green Lantern, the third weekend it might be another DJ. There was a position open and there was a DJ by the name of “Threat,” that got it. Threat passed away, he died. And when he died, they needed another DJ to take his spot, and, they gave it to me, and I kind of never looked back.
So, you’ve actually seen two phases of radio in New York. You’ve seen it when it was a bit more risqué, and now it’s sort of winding down to, I guess, adhere to social media and being more subdued. It’s not as wild as it used to be. Which one do you prefer?
I would say a mix between both. You know, radio back then was really risqué. You were able to say what you felt and pretty much whatever was on your mind, you were able to talk about it — good, bad or ugly. Now it’s a little different. You know, there are so many sensitive topics that you have to, kind of, go around. You know? And you have to be very, very careful of what you talk about. Back then it was kind of the Wild, Wild West and you know, that was good and bad. I kind of like the middle.
I’ve always been curious about this. When you do your announcement in the morning, you know, “Welcome to The Breakfast Club,” and you always move the mic around, is that a nervous habit, or are you actually adjusting the mic?
Neither. You’re talking to somebody that ran the boards for close to fifteen years, so when I’m moving the mic around, I’m actually looking at the board to make sure that a pot (audio levels) that’s not, you know, needs to be up, or that we’re not going to get feedback or anything else. It’s just something that I’ve always done, even though I’m not the board op anymore. I’m used to board op-ing my own shows. It still something that sticks with me, and I always double and triple check.
So you’re a successful entrepreneur but you still work for a corporation?
Absolutely. And, you know, for somebody like myself, who’s owned, you name it — from car washes to sneaker stores to juice bars to owning about twenty properties, twenty units that are rentals, to podcasts, production companies – I own a lot of different things and my money comes from a lot of different areas. And, not only that, I’ve been doing it since I was eighteen years old and I’ve never had to file for bankruptcy. I’ve never been broke, I’ve always been “okay,” knock on wood and thank God, but I always work as well, because I have to, because I enjoy it and because I want to. It’s an outlet for a lot of my other businesses.
I enjoy radio. I mean, it’s one of those things where, it’s kind of like I go to the barber shop, but when I went to the barber shop, you might go for the haircut, but you stay because of the conversation. You know? And that’s how I feel about radio. Radio is like my therapy, where I talk about everything. And now it’s to the point where I’m talking about my experiences, and telling my experiences, so people don’t have to go through some of the same stuff that I’ve been through. It’s kind of like laying the blueprint.
What do you think is the key to longevity in the industry?
I think staying real and staying relevant and being humble. I think a lot of people who come in this industry to make money forget where they came from because it’s easy to forget where you came from. It’s easy to make a lot of money and move on and not necessarily want to be bothered. But that’s what keeps you around. I DJ hole-in-the-wall clubs. Not because I need the money, but because I like to touch the people. I do things where I’m in there with the people. I don’t have security the majority of the time because I like to touch the people. I like to take my kids to Disney World, I like to go to Great Adventure, I like to take my family to the mall, and I like people to see me there and say, “Hey, what’s up Envy? How are you doing?” Because that makes it seem like you’re relatable, you know? It makes you down to earth, and it makes you think, “Damn, Envy’s just like me.” Because, at the end of the day, I am. I’m nothing without the people that support me. So, I will continue to do hole-in-the-wall spots and I will continue to be a regular person, because that’s just who I am. Yes, I work hard, and I make good money, but at the end of the day, I’m just a human being like everybody else.
So, how do you balance everything? I mean, you’re running businesses, you’re doing the show, you have a big family, you’re still doing music. How do you balance all that out?
It’s very difficult. But it doesn’t seem like it’s work when it’s fun. My kids keep me young, you know? I get up at four o’clock in the morning, I get to work, I do my show. From twelve to three, I’m doing something with real estate, whether I’m looking for properties or something else, but at three o’clock, not even three o’clock, by two thirty, I’m picking up my son at school. Three o’clock, I’m picking up my daughter. I’m riding with them home, talking about their day, and talking about what they’re going through. Good and bad. And, you know, then, later on, the babies come home at six o’clock. I have a five, four and a two-year-old. I call them the babies, they come home to daddy daycare You know, feeding them, it’s doing this and doing that, and that’s where I get my enjoyment from and then I can still conduct my businesses and it’s still fun. And on the weekends, I travel. If it’s a great place, I take them with me, and, you know, we all go, and we just enjoy each other and I just really have fun.
Do you check in to see what other DJs are doing when you travel?
Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s all a part of it. I go to different clubs to see what other DJs are playing and what songs are hot. You know, I’m not gonna sit here and say, “I know everything.” But, you know, I’ll go to clubs and see what my competition is doing. I do it all the time.
When you look at the success of a DJ like Tiësto and you see the millions and millions of dollars they’re making a show, why aren’t there more ethnic DJs making that kind of money and how did that all come about?
I mean, I think the one thing is it’s the type of music we play, who we are and what we represent. Nobody’s gonna give us a venue that holds four or five thousand people because they’re gonna say there might be a shooting or there might be a stabbing or it’s a liability. Tiësto plays EDM music mixed with hip-hop and this, that and the other. And people go and support him but it’s a different crowd.
Look at New York City and you say, okay, back in the day, there were urban clubs where there were people — there was Palladium there were all these places that people went. Now, you look at Manhattan and you can’t tell me of one club in New York City. They pushed the clubs to the outer boroughs because they feel like urban parties are a problem. And if they feel like urban parties are a liability, nobody’s gonna want to invest in those types of venues and invest in those types of clubs, and there’s nothing that we can do or move around it. That’s how they look at the music and the community.
Do you think there’s some legitimacy to that?
No, I really don’t. I honestly think that you know, if you go to an EDM festival, there are fights and there’s drug use. I just think that it’s more publicized when it comes to our community. But, you know, it is what it is.
What do you like most about doing The Breakfast Club?
Talking to the people every day and giving opinions. It’s also about [succeeding] at something that I think nobody believed in. When I first started DJing,I don’t think a lot of people believed in me. At the time, [DJ] Clue, Ron G, S&S, and Kid Capri were all big, and it was fighting upstream to try to break through that. That was the motivation. And I think the same thing with The Breakfast Club. You know, when I left Hot 97 for Power 105, Power 105 was bad. I don’t think anybody really cared about it; it really didn’t do much.
When I got there, the motivation was to kind of think, “I’m gonna make this sh*t pop.” You know? And when The Breakfast Club came,–‘cause I was doing afternoons at first — and when they put me on The Breakfast Club, it was the same thing. It was, nobody believed, you know? Hot 97 was kicking our ass, and, it was like, well, let’s try to make this happen. And, you know, you‘ve got a cast of people that, I think the best thing that worked was we all came from being a sidekick, you know? Charlamagne wasn’t the star, he was the co. And Angela Yee, wasn’t the star at first, you know, she was the co to Cipha Sounds. And all that being the co-hosts allowed us to be able to share the spotlight.
We didn’t necessarily have to be stars. Stars were made from the show because of our own abilities. But that’s what made it. There was no pride, where, “I wanna be the star, it’s my show! I wanna be the star!” The show was offered to me first. It was, “DJ Envy, here, you know, you’re doing afternoons to make this station go, we want you to have a show [doing mornings]” I didn’t want my own show. And the reason I didn’t want my own show was because I didn’t want to deal with that. Let’s all split and do this the right way. And, you know, we came up with all different types of names: The Big Three, Illuminati in the Morning, you know, The Breakfast Club, and all these different names, and then, that way, there was no major marquis, you know. It’s not, DJ Envy in the Morning, or Angela Yee in the Morning, or Charlamagne in the Morning – it’s The Breakfast Club, and you know the characters of The Breakfast Club.