Charlie Chan Soprano has been synonymous with the culture of hip-hop in St. Louis since the late 1980s.Chan became connected to the DNA of the area’s hip-hop scene DJing mixtapes and house parties. Now he is known the world over as a turn-tableist and DJ for Run-DMC. On Sunday, January 26 at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards, DJ Charlie Chan Soprano got to show the skill that makes him one of the world’s best DJs. Along with Rukus, Chan was there on the ones and twos with Run-DMC as they joined Aerosmith for a performance of their 1986 collaboration “Walk This Way.”
“Run-DMC is our hip-hop version of The Beatles,” Chan told The American. “We got the call from Aerosmith to perform, and I was like, ‘Oh, [expletive], we doing the Grammy’s.’ I don’t take it for granted. It is definitely a blessing.”
It was great night for hip-hop at the Grammys. Public Enemy, one of Chan’s favorite groups, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award. The unity of older and new generations came into fruition with the performance of Lil Nas X, and his namesake Nas. The recently slain Nipsey Hussle received a tribute and a Grammy Award for his performance with DJ Khaled and John Legend.
Who knew tragedy was yet again at hand? The excitement of Grammy night for Chan and the whole world was shattered when it was announced that NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13- year-old daughter Gianna were among those killed in a helicopter crash that morning. The Grammys were being held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, a place where Bryant played as a Laker.
Chan and Rukus paid tribute with both albums spinning on the turntables, one purple and one gold, Lakers’ colors, and Chan held up Bryant’s jersey with his number 24 as they performed with Aerosmith.
“We all lost Kobe Bryant,” Chan said. “This really hurts! Thank God we are all alive! Tell your people you love them. I love y’all.”
Jam Master Jay, Run-DMC’s original DJ, saw much in Chan, which prepared him for this moment. Tragedy haunts the story.
“I won a DJ battle the night Tupac Shakur was killed – September 13, 1996 – and the prize was to open up for Run-DMC,” Chan said. “So, I go and reclaim my prize, and Jam Master Jay was watching me the whole time. He approached me after the show and said he wanted me to DJ a party that he and Funk Master Flex were giving in Miami. He also allowed me to tour with Run-DMC, and later he introduced me to the So So Def, where I became Da Brat’s deejay.”
The culture suffered another great loss when Jason William Mizell, known to the world as Jam Master Jay, was murdered in October of 2002. Chan received the call from DMC to become his DJ and later to be a DJ for the group, when DMC and Run reunited in 2010.
“Run-DMC got back together at Jay-Z’s first Made in America Festival, and since then we have been back together,” said Chan.
The DJ is the foundation of hip-hop. It was a DJ, Kool Herc, who created hip-hop by mixing beat breaks of songs. The DJ continues to move the music forward.
“If you down with the culture, you’re going to look for stuff people don’t know about and try to introduce it to them while taking them on a musical journey,” Chan said. “To hear the same stuff over and over again, it gets boring. A lot of DJs today are not breaking new music and artists to the world. This is something that we have been known for and must continue.”
Chan said the DJ must introduce the world to the next Run-DMC or the next Tupac.
“Like the Da Baby – where were we as DJs at as he was trying to make it years ago, giving him a chance?” Chan said. “But now, since he is on all these platforms, we play him. We have to help open doors for the next person.”
When not DJing for Run-DMC, Chan can be found playing everything from More Bounce and Parliament to the City Girls and Cardi B.
“I was born to do this,” Chan said. “I am blessed. It’s like putting your pants on or breathing, it comes to me naturally.”
Jihad Hassan Muhammad is a contributing editor for Texas Metro News and Garland Journal, a staff writer for The Final Call, hip-hop historian and co-founder of Dynasty Hip-Hop Mentoring Program.