RICHMOND, Va. — The month of June opened a new chapter in the musical career of acclaimed Central Virginia producer and instrumentalist DJ Harrison.
The local acclaim has been there for a long time. People inside the Richmond music circle consider him to be one of the best pure musicians in the area.
Harris played a crucial role in the construction of two of Richmond’s most successful bands, KINGS and Butcher Brown. Following in the success of soulful cassette favorites such TapeCookies and last year’s Slyish, Harrison is back with Hazy Moods, his debut on world renowned independent label, Stones Throw Records.
The man also known by his born name Devonne Harris was born in Petersburg in 1988, to a household already filled with music. At an early age, his mom bought him instruments –drum kit, keyboard, trumpet. He said his mom’s gifts helped “to keep my focus as I got older, also keeping me out of trouble in the process.”
The Harris family was heavily involved in the church, which was an influence on his instrumentation process later in his elementary years.
Though his father was a DJ at local Petersburg R&B station Magic 99FM, a love of music ran through the whole family.
“My mother played a vital role on introducing me to records by keeping them in our household,” Harrison said. “Eventually as a kid, I’m standing around asking “what is this?” and “how do you put it together?”
He eventually took violin and piano lessons. At Thomas Dale High School, Harris studied music theory and composition before he enrolled at VCU in 2006 – where he became fascinated with the culture surrounding the campus.
His first foray into the local scene was playing with Earthtone, a wildly popular soul band which built national attention through campus performances and a strong Youtube presence. Through Earthtone he would meet fellow member and veteran producer Ohbliv, who would go to on to help Harris sharpen his hip-hop production.
“He was the leader of something new and something fresh going on Richmond,” Harris said of his fellow friend and producer. DJ Harrison was officially born, and would begin to collaborate with longtime local imprint Just Plain Sounds.
Throughout the years the soulful, live instrument powered DJ Harrison albums would became highlights of the Richmond hip-hop scene, many of them released on the comeback form of media in Richmond: The cassette tape.
“It has a natural compression, that takes all the instrumental and squeezes them together,” Harris said. His discography, which now spans around 30 projects, also gained national recognition thanks to online platforms such as Bandcamp and Okayplayer.
In 2014, Harris, along with locally based, globe-trotting musician Reggie Pace, launched Jellowstone Records. Since its opening, the Richmond label and studio, has already left its imprint with the release of numerous hip-hop and soul projects, including Richmond favorites such as the aforementioned 70’s-flavored R&B band Kings, Sam Reed, and Steven Boone.
The studio even received a shout out by Roots member Questlove on Twitter, for their smooth sounds.
After performing at SXSW with Butcher Brown in 2015, his work caught the attention of Stones Throw.
Harris had spent years sending demos to the label. He believes word of mouth spread to Stones Throw by way of a couple producers who’ve spent time in the commonwealth, Mndsgn and Knxwledge.
“I think what happened is they were talking to Peanut Butter Wolf (the president), saying “Hey there’s this guy out of Richmond, VA, you might to want to keep your eye on him.”
Harris then filled a vacant opening slot in that year’s Stones Throw SXSW showcase.
HazyMoods is a 14 track, percussion-heavy album whose bluesy sounds compliments the hot month in which it was released. Harris has no plans of stopping, with new material flowing from Jellowstone and rigorous tour plans including a stop in Europe with Butcher Brown.
The sleep schedule may be unorthodox, but Harris said there is a tradition to carry on.
“I feel like that’s the only way to be, that’s how you stay hungry, you stay motivated, because you see your heroes do it, and you see where they are and you where it got them, and you’re like ‘I guess there’s no choice but for me to do it too.’”
DJ Harrison, along with Noah O. and Black Liquid, opens for Raekwon at The Broadberry on July 11.