With a glimpse into the world of DJing through his uncle Mel Hardin, a former member of the Motown duo Mel and Tim, and Omar Epps’ character ‘Q’ in the film “Juice,” Trumaine ‘DJ Tab’ Barnett-Epps was hooked.
“That made me want to learn how to DJ,” Barnett-Epps said in an interview with The American, referring to Omar, who is no relation. “I thought it was one of the coolest things ever, seeing Omar Epps mix and scratch between different scenes.”
After watching the movie, Barnett-Epps prevailed upon his parents to buy turntables for him. They agreed, but only if he made good grades.
“I worked my butt off that whole semester with studying,” Barnett-Epps said. “I got all As and maybe one B. They bought me the turntables. It was a cheap set, but at least it was a turntable.”
Barnett-Epps’ first gig as a DJ was for a cheerleading competition at Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club. But, it wasn’t until 2004 when a promoter booked him on the same show with Jerrell 'J-Kwon’ Jones, rapper of the smash-hit record “Tipsy,” that he got his big break and more doors started opening for him.
“I came to do the soundcheck and J-Kwon was also doing his,” Barnett-Epps said. “His show CD wasn’t working, so he asked me if I had the record. I did, and I played Tipsy on the vinyl. While he was rapping doing his soundcheck, I was behind him scratching. He turned around and was like, ‘man, you cold, you nice.’ He said, ‘yeah, you’re my DJ now’.”
The following week, Jermaine Dupri, the Grammy-winning producer, called his house, thanks to his close acquaintance ‘Big Bob,’ who was at the show, and also from St. Louis. Dupri talked to Barnett-Epps’ mom to ask for permission to take him to New York because he was in his early teens at the time. She relented. After that, he and J-Kwon were on their way to New York to do BET Rap City, The Basement and Showtime At the Apollo.
“I was gone for about a week and a half, two weeks, but once I came back ‘Tipsy’ had blown up,” Barnett-Epps said.
The more shows he did and more venues he played, the more people grew familiar with his name around the city, which helped land him a job offer from Jowcol ‘Boogie D,’ Dolby, who was program director at the time at the Urban One radio affiliate, WHHL Hot 104.1 St. Louis.
“I was at work one day — this was when I was working for the post office — and I was delivering mail when Boogie D called to schedule a time and date to meet with him at the station,” Barnett-Epps said. “He told me he didn’t understand how I, as a street DJ, was getting booked more than the station DJs. I got hired a couple of weeks after I met with him.”
Barnett-Epps worked with the station for five years until he was fired in May 2018 for allegedly falsifying his timesheet, which he says he didn’t do.
About a year earlier, in December 2017, he had just launched his own online, St. Louis-based, hip-hop station, Streetz 105.1, which attracted 100,000 listeners on its pilot day.
“I wanted to create a station that was for us, for our city, and that’s exactly what I did,” Barnett-Epps said. “We do turkey drives, we do toy drives, we do so much community work.”
With his former Get-N-Tune energy drink that launched in 2016, Barnett-Epps was inspired to get his feet wet on other business avenues, believing he had worth beyond his importance in the club and on stage.
“I’m one of those people, I’m not content with doing one, two, or three things,” Barnett-Epp, 33, said. “Other than being Black we have to be able to do multiple things.”
Although Get-N-Tune did well, he said he’s done with that venture and now wants to try marketing bottled water. With the energy drinks, he realized there’s only so many people who drink them, and opted for water instead because it’s healthier.
He’s projected to release his brand of high-purified water by the end of February. He’s still toying with the name.
“With water, I don’t have to worry about who I’m marketing it to, what age I’m marketing it to, or what demographic I’m in because everybody drinks water,” Barnett-Epps said.
Outside of Streetz, Barnett-Epps is the proud owner of Streetz 99.3, an online, hip-hop station based in Nashville. He is also the owner and CEO of the St. Louis-based record company, Iconic Music Group, where he manages Bay Ghee, TwinGang314, Yvette, DOE F.A.M., and Tay Ruger. Through a partnership with Pinoy Broadcasting, he also owns three stations in the Philippines. He is a world-renowned touring DJ and enjoys mentoring youth in his spare time.
Barnett-Epps, a 2005 honors graduate of Normandy High School, holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from ITT Technical Institute.
“We have to show our people that you can do anything and make it even though you are from here, no matter what your circumstance is,” Barnett-Epp said. “You just need the drive and determination to want to do it.”
Learn more about Barnett-Epps here:https://www.djtab.com/.