He is known and recognised for many traits in the Sydney DJ scene. His impressive height (coming in grazing the 7ft region), his vast array of throwback jerseys and sneakers and an unrivalled hip hop playlist that spans years and sub genres. He is also known for his unapologetic opinions on the world of Hip Hop in Australia and beyond and his love of holding court in what is probably the most coveted DJ gig in the city …. Head spinner at Sydney strip club Bada Bing! DJ Leon Smith makes no secret of how much he loves his job playing hip hop for the naked and beautiful every week, but its unbridled love of hip hop and playing against the grain that makes him stand out from the rest.
Leon Smith holds historic weight in the Australian DJ community, with close to twenty years in the game; he has seen and done it all. From headlining some of Sydney’s most iconic hip hop nights like Cave, Mocha and XO to support DJ for touring giant Jay Z and more, Leon Smith has taken it all in his trademark cool. With a collection of successful mix tapes under his belt, DJ Leon Smith has leveraged himself to be the perfect combination of DJ / businessman but doesn’t take himself too seriously. Mr Smith is quite the conversationalist when it comes to the grand old topics of hip hop, basketball and women and not necessarily in that order. The DJ with the penchant for tongue in cheek humour has garnered a loyal following of fans in Sydney that only leave the house if they are heading to a DJ Leon Smith set. He holds the reigns as the Lord of the edgier sub genres of Trap Hop, Miami and Houston hip hop, and has done so for years when it came to creating his style moniker.
Armed with superfluous DJ skills, killer playlists and the boyish luck and charm transcendent of his Irish roots, DJ Leon Smith unabashedly loves his job and all that comes with it. With a combination of wry wit, comedic timing and straight to the point delivery, no conversation is the same with this journalist-come-DJ. He is a risk taker, boundary bender and pushes his take on hip hop on the vehicle of the unconventional. This interview highlights the journey of a DJ from the early days of Sydney’s hip hop beginnings as one of its trailblazing pioneers who has created a niche for the style and sound of a hip hop that defies definition. DJ Leon Smith, there is none other!
Hey Leon, how are you and how has life been treating you of late?
I’ve been great Maxine, thanks for asking.
You have definitely filled a special niche in the Sydney DJ community with your current residency at the infamous strip club Bada Bing for the last few years. How has the experience been for you surrounded by beautiful women all the time and playing the soundtrack to the fantasies they create for the patrons that come to the club?
It’s been amazing to say the least. Of course people will think it’s mainly because of the fact I’m constantly surrounded by beautiful naked women but that’s only part of it. The problems that I’ve had at other nightclubs I’ve never had once at the Bing – from getting paid on time to management staying out of the way of trying to influence music policy – and it’s just a great environment to play ignorant hip-hop music which is totally my lane. Plus the strippers generally have top shelf music requests and they’re also just great people with big hearts. Big bouncy, jiggly hearts.
But yeah one misconception people have is they think I have to play “strip club music” there, like they think I’m playing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” five times a night and stuff like that. Nope, it’s just pretty much a regular Leon Smith club set. No offence to Def Leppard though! Sometimes I even play a Houston rap version of “Pour Some Sugar” that Paul Wall flipped a couple of years back.
How would be the best way to describe who DJ Leon Smith is and the music he plays? What makes you different from the rest of your DJ peers would you say?
Well you know I’ve always focused on trying to play new stuff. And I especially love the sounds coming from places like Atlanta, Miami and Houston. In terms of what sets me apart from my peers, I guess it’s that I love playing stuff that a lot of DJs just don’t play. I mean of course I play the hits but it’s what I play between the hit records that sets me apart I think.
My main thing is I want someone to walk into a club, hear the DJ for about 10-15 minutes and say “oh cool Leon’s on” without having to see the glowing white giant human in the DJ booth. Too many DJs have the same almost pre-programmed sets with no individual identity. So they’ll play “Show Me Love”, then “Paranoid”, then “Na Na”. If I play “Show Me Love”, next I might throw in something by Lil Debbie, then Trinidad James, then a super curveball George McCrae track, THEN I may or may not get back to playing something like “Paranoid”. It’s not that hard to throw in a few curveballs in between the hits but not many DJs really do it. And the thing is, if someone likes one of those different tracks you just played, that’s how you get legitimate fans and people checking for your name on flyers. If you’re just playing radio hits you’re ultimately boring and forgettable.
You have been a pioneer in the Sydney Hip Hop community for close to 20 years, having paved the way for many DJ’s to follow. When you look back on your career to its early days what would you say has changed for you as a DJ today to back then and what has Hip Hop taught you?
First of all, what hip-hop has taught me, this is actually a real cool recent example – a track came out last year called “Feelings” by Chinx and French Montana and the hook is simply: “Give a fuck about your feelings / Who gives a fuck” repeated to infinity. On the surface I thought it was a total fuck you diss track, then the music video comes out and it’s kind of uplifting and the track is basically saying “no one gives a fuck about how you feel, good or bad, so fuck them and do your own thing” which was so perfect. And that’s what hip-hop is all about right? Being you.
A lot of these new successful artists coming out now don’t care if their sound is different to the last successful new guy. And they might build their record labels different to how Diddy did it, but they’re doing it their own way and succeeding. That’s hip-hop in a nutshell – who cares what the guy beside you is doing, do you, do your own thing, do it better than anyone else, and get yours. You can carry that attitude into any part of your life; a 9-to-5 job, whatever, and you’ll be infinitely more successful than someone who just tries to copy the next man.
And for what has changed for me as a DJ today, this is just super obvious stuff but firstly, I don’t have to carry 50kgs of vinyl to gigs and on planes anymore, we’re all digital dudes, and secondly, sets are way shorter – too short – now. When I started DJing it was two hour sets minimum, and my first gigs were six hour sets at Bondi Hotel. Now it’s one hour sets max which is why club crowds get to hear Chris Brown’s “Loyal” at least five times a night. Well that and a lot of DJs are really not very creative and don’t follow the teachings of Chinx and French Montana that I just outlined.
There are different sub genres in Hip Hop would you agree? Your choice is definitely a hybrid of Trap Hop and the Dirty South / Miami type sound…..is this what your current DJ gig requests of you or is your personal favourite? When you are not in DJ mode what do you find yourself listening to?
To make things clear, when I say “trap” I’m referring to the T.I./Gucci Mane style of Atlanta trap music, not the newer Diplo-type trap. I’m kinda coming around on some of the stuff that fits the new definition of trap but only if it’s more the hip-hop type trap and not the dub step sounding stuff, so many nopes to that. But yeah anything from the South I’m all over, especially love the Atlanta and Miami sounds. At the Bing I can pretty much play what I want so will play a lot of Migos, Rich Homie Quan, Juicy J, Kevin Gates, that type of stuff.
The main spots I play – so Bing and The Club, occasionally Goodgod parties and various stuff with Nacho Pop as the Illuminati Trillionaires and also the Halfway Crooks dudes – at I’m pretty much focusing on as much cool, current Southern stuff as possible. But you know I still love playing Beyoncé for my girls, everything produced by DJ Mustard for the little thug homies, I’ll try to touch on everything.
When I’m not in DJ mode I don’t mind listening to the stuff I listen to while in DJ mode. But outside of that, 80s rock and R&B. Motley Crue and Dennis Edwards, holla.
Your thoughts on Hip Hop in general today and where Australia fits in on a global scale in your opinion?
Hip-hop in general today is great! And Australia is up there with the rest of the world for sure, I mean an Australian artist is currently in the #1 and #2 spots on the US Billboard charts, that’s some Beatles shit.
Can I rant now? Get ready for a rant. The main thing that bugs me about “Australian hip-hop” though is the “support Australian hip-hop” movement. I mock it on social media because honestly, fuck supporting Australian hip-hop – I support good music, and a hell of a lot of Australian hip-hop falls under that umbrella, so yes I do support hip-hop made in Australia or by Australians regardless. But the “support Australian hip-hop” community really should be called “support Australian hip-hop that sounds like Def Wish Cast and oh and by the way fuck Figgkid”.
Last year I put together an Australian/NZ-themed mixtape with Simone a.k.a. Boss Lady – shoutout to Boss Lady – and we had artists like Iggy and Lee Monro (Figgkidd) on there, and they were going to go on regardless because they’re talented Australians making good hip-hop music, but man I was salivating at the thought of some of the more narrow-minded Aussie hip-hop heads seeing their names and losing their shit. Mind you, we also had some familiar names from the “traditional” (for want of a better word) Australian hip-hop scene on the mixtape as well, that was the point, it was meant to be inclusive. But anyway, a lot of the “support Australian hip-hop” guys complain about artists not being “real”, whatever that means, selling out, accents, whatever, but they’re more narrow-minded than any cheesy top 40 pop music fans I know. At least pop fans generally only care and think about what they like, a lot of Aussie hip-hop fans seem to focus their energy more on what they don’t like. Which is weird.
Also want to say some of the heads who legitimately support the “traditional” Australian hip-hop movement did get what I was trying to do with the mix I did with Boss Lady and hopefully they get what I was trying to say here. Having said that if Hau from Triple J checks me on this I will listen to what he has to say though.
You have expressed a great like for artists Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalea on your social media pages. You are also known for having a wry sense of humour and master of tom foolery at times ….. Are these two ladies part of your humour or does DJ Leon Smith really have a crush of Ms Cyrus and Ms Azalea?
“Master of tomfoolery” is 100 percent going on my next batch of business cards. And Miley and Iggy are part of my humour yeah but I do dig them on multiple levels – most importantly musically, plus they’re smoking hot and get up to lots of ratchet shenanigans. I do have a crush on both of them though yes, and would marry them both tomorrow.
And let me use this time to announce I really, really, really, really want, well need, to get on the Miley Cyrus “Bangerz” Australian tour happening later this year. Even though I know it’ll probably go to someone like Havana Brown. I’ve never really put myself out there in terms of “I MUST DO THIS GIG” because that’s just not in my DNA, but for Miley I’ll make an exception.
At the moment I’m working with the #GetLeonOnTheBangerzTour hashtag on twitter but if any of my PR people have any suggestions I’m all ears. And yes I know they probably won’t even have a DJ for a Miley tour but if they do and it’s not me or the Illuminati Trillionaires I will legit cry for a couple of days.
What keeps you motivated and focussed as a DJ after all these years in the game?
I just love finding and playing new music.
Describe your ideal woman and the perfect date you would take her on if you could?
A woman under each arm in private room #1 at the Bing with three strippers and a couple of litres of vodka and Redbull with my Heathen mixtape playing in the background. Then after we get 5am tattoos. I’m a simple man.
What’s next for DJ Leon Smith music wise? Albums, production etc…..?
Well I’m going to keep pumping out mixtapes year round and I’m always on the lookout to do more official stuff with major labels. I’ve never really got into production but I can’t DJ forever – even though I’m going to try – so that is something I really should look into more.
For more information on DJ Leon Smith visit: www.djleonsmith.com
Facebook: DJ Leon Smith
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