Stateside Podcast: From Hip-Hop to Techno with Waajeed
Robert O’Bryant, better known as Waajeed, is the genre-defying Detroit producer who left his mark on the foundation of hip-hop as an influential member of Slum Village. More recently, he's delved into the heart of another musical scene: techno.
Techno and hip hop are closely related in the city of Detroit. Lovers of both genres can find the two intertwined in places like the annual Movement Music Festival.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival didn't take place for two years. Although returning to Movement amidst the fog of the pandemic was strange for the performer, it reminded him of the value of live shows.
“I had forgotten that this is not just, you know, about me between the two speakers in my studio,” Waajeed said. “This is a job of service. And it's a job that if you do it well... the people that you serve, they'll reward you.”
Growing up with music
Music was always a significant part of Waajeed’s life. He fondly recounted hearing music at his parents' annual backyard neighborhood party, and his dad's record collection always playing in the family dining room.
“I remember when my uncle used to come back from Michigan State [University] and he would... play all the latest and greatest that all the kids were listening to up there,” he said. “So many magical memories about music have consumed my life.”
Waajeed is made up of the experiences that fueled this passion, but a specific place that drew him to the hip-hop scene was St. Andrews' Hall, which holds The Shelter, a concert venue in downtown Detroit.
“There was a communion of spirits that were happening there,” said Waajeed. “I was an art student, you know, so... I always saw the world differently and I was lucky enough to find a group of friends inside of Slum Village that... shared the same way of seeing the world.”
At what he calls the “three floors of fun”, Waajeed was able to find like-minded people that shared his excitement for the art.
From hip-hop to techno
Waajeed was introduced to the techno scene via a 2005 music conference in Miami.
“It was that trip that I really understood what it is and why it exists and how important it is,” said Waajeed.
Roy Davis Jr., a fellow producer and good friend of Waajeed’s, was also in attendance. Wajeed recalled observing people's full-body responses to the Chicago-raised artist’s techno set as they closed their eyes and entered a trance-like state. He compared this reaction to the nods that he was accustomed to in the hip-hop scene.
While Waajeed had spent several years immersed in the music scene, he said he only recently fully understood the impact of techno. He often listened to techno music on the radio with a hyper-critical ear, not understanding why or how the repetitive themes worked. This was until he went to Atlanta and immersed himself in the city's club scene.
“Once you're immersed inside of that space, you kind of understand it,” he said. “It's not just music, it's sound design. These sounds are designed for these particular spaces. And that's what techno is.”
He was able to understand the core of what this genre does to the mind.
“It's almost like what jogging or running does for an athlete. You know, it's almost like meditation.”
Alongside ‘Mad’ Mike Banks, another techno producer from Detroit, Waajeed is passing the baton to the younger generation of artists through the Underground Music Academy, a Detroit-based entry-level introduction to the music industry.
“It's all about the future, and building not just opportunity for yourself,” he said. “It's great, you know, to travel and do these things that I do. But if I can't share these stories with other people that are doing the same things and we somehow heighten one another then it's almost pointless, you know?”
He hopes more artists get to share their skills to help foster a larger community of creatives.
“There's so much more to do, but I've done more than I've ever expected,” he said. “And now, time to kick a little back to give some opportunity back.”