If you know hip hop, you know that the party doesn’t happen without the DJ. I’ve known of DJ Delrokz for a long time, and I’ve seen how he always shows up with support for our communities over the years. I wanted to take the opportunity to document this moment and milestone in his career, and capture the story behind the DJ, the vinyl, and the new record store: The Stacks Record Shop.
Gabriel Dela Cruz, widely known as the Mighty Delrokz, or DJ Delrokz— Bay Area veteran DJ, educator, community figure— now adds on to his list of milestones, as the sole Owner and Operator of The Stacks Record Shop, based in Hayward, California. While I usually like to shape my interviews into short essays, I’m keeping it simple with a Q&A format because Delrokz tells a full and layered story, with great references and call-backs to the DJs who came before him. In this interview, we talked about the impacts of the pandemic on DJs; his earliest memories of vinyl; mobile DJ crews; the experience and resurgence of vinyl; the road to The Stacks Record Store; what to expect from the highly anticipated launch on November 20th; and his thoughts on how The Stacks contributes to the legacy of Filipino American DJs.
As a veteran DJ in the Bay Area of nearly 2 decades, who has done bboy jams, club events, fundraisers, live streams.. What are your thoughts on DJs pivoting to virtual events? What do you miss most that you haven’t been able to do during the pandemic?
Delrokz: DJs being able to have a platform like Twitch, or MixCloud is definitely great because if you’re a DJ and that was your nine-to-five, going out every weekend and spinning.. I can only think about how not being able to do what you love and not being able to live your passion has such a big toll on your mental health. Twitch turned out [being not] for me, but I know that it’s helping a lot of DJs out there, and these DJs are serving a purpose, and providing music during these [challenging] times. A lot of people love going out and interacting with DJs, and listening to DJs, so from the listener-perspective, it’s a plus. I miss going out and interacting with people, having a drink, chopping it up… it’s hard for me to sit back and watch a DJ, and be up in the chat. It’s a disconnection for me, and it’s why I stopped doing my own Twitch livestreams.
Speaking of virtual streams, please tell me more about Hustle in Place. How did it get started?
Delrokz: Mandeep Sethi [aka SETI X, emcee] who is a fellow teacher and artist, and myself were trying to find a place to centralize everything we were doing. Maybe [he’s] working on some songs, I had some things I’m streaming, maybe he has a music video… So where can we do this all on one platform, [also since I’m his DJ]? Mandeep came up with the idea— and Gina of UNDSCVRD and Make it Mariko also had the same train of thought— right when shelter-in-place started, we were like ‘shelter-in-place..? We’re just gonna keep it going, let’s keep hustling in place!’ So we [came up with] the website, Gina thought about the hashtag [#HustleInPlace], and it came together. I was doing the After Shower Funk Show for a while on Hustle in Place, but having a baby, and working again… I thought I could maintain that [level of] energy, but I didn’t have the energy to be on a livestream platform, [spinning] and chatting. But Mandeep and I are finding ways to use the platform to elevate things that we’re both doing as artists. [So as an example of that], Hustle in Place is hosting the launch party for the Stacks Record Shop, and Mandeep is with me in the background, helping me produce [the launch].
What was your first exposure to vinyl records?
Delrokz: I don’t know what age, but records were always around me as a kid growing up. And I think I’m blessed as a DJ to come up in the pre-serato world… I had a cousin who was a Style Beyond Compare DJ, and I inherited records from him, which was my first set of records that were all the radio and top-40, 12” joints. My aunt, uncle, mom, and dad, were part of the first wave of the [Filipino] mobile DJ crews, so I had early exposure through them at a really young age. My aunt was also a founding member of The Go-Go’s, which was an all-Pinay DJ crew in San Francisco, and a lot of them went to Balboa [High School]. And you know Filipino parties— baby showers, retirement parties, any party— there was always a DJ! So the first time I saw a record was probably with a DJ.
You helped run Rooky Ricardo’s Records, and you also individually sold records on Discogs; at which point or moment in your DJ journey did you realize you want your own record store?
Delrokz: Every DJ who’s at least a digger— or someone who goes out and digs for records— probably has some type of dream of just sitting in a room full of records all day as a job. That was one of my dreams that I talked about with the homies: ‘What if we just had a record store?’ ‘Cause growing up in the pre-Serato world, it was all about going out and hunting and digging. And there was a natural high about that, so I like surrounding myself with records. I don’t know what part of the brain that is but it sparks that joy in me. I didn’t seriously think about wanting a record store until I started getting really involved with Rooky Ricardo’s in the Lower Haight, which might be one of the oldest independent record stores in the city, and it’s owned by Dick and Vivan who had [the store] for 30 years.. For three years, when I was on summer vacation from teaching, I spent all my time at the record store, learning the business, going through and organizing records. There were days where I ran the shop, and I thought, ‘I could do this.’
When I moved to Hayward, they always [nudged] me, So when you gonna open up a record store in Hayward? And every time they asked, I think to myself, ‘Wait, I think I can.’ Finally, one day I said, ‘You know what, I’m at home. I have all these records. I have all these connections.’’ [And since the] nickname of Hayward is ‘The Haystacks,’ The Stacks, [as in] ‘stacks of records’ just made sense. We can market that. Let’s go.
What’s the importance to you personally, to be the sole owner and operator of your own record shop?
Delrokz: There’s different levels to it. One, I think I just naturally like to organize, and this is just one way of organizing— organizing and running a store. [Secondly], the independence. You have creative control [over] what you’re supplying for your consumers, so all the stuff that I love, I’m gonna support those labels.. by exposing their music to people and as a record store owner, I feel that’s my responsibility to push those records and share great music. And there’s so much music coming out right now on a vinyl format. [Additionally,] providing that sense of community is so important to me. When I was working at Rooky Ricardo’s there were people that would come in and just talk. It felt like a barbershop. I want to create that same space.
How do you choose which labels to carry and what types of records you sell?
Delrokz: I’m definitely trying to support independent labels or people who are putting out really dope soul, funk, and hip hop 7”, and I have a lot of DJ homies who are also producers putting out their own remixes. Some of the labels I’m really feeling right now include Colemine Records, out of Ohio; UK reissue labels like Dynamite Cuts and Mr Bongo; Big Crown Records; and Austin Boogie Crew who’s doing a lot of modern funk right now. There’s so much good music right now and so many labels. I’m trying [firstly], to support the DJs who are still spinning or collecting records. And [secondly, make room] for people who want to get into vinyl but don’t know where to start by [offering] some of those classic records [and must-haves] for a collection. [For example] if you like R&B, ‘why don’t you have this Groove Theory LP? Or this Loose Ends record?’
How do you feel about the comeback era of vinyl records? What do you want people to experience with vinyl records?
Delrokz: I think that the experience [of vinyl] is.. you’re holding music. I’ve lost entire libraries of music on hard drives. It just crashed.. yes, I was sad. But at the same time, I have all this music on vinyl, and I think that’s what got me back into spinning vinyl as a DJ. [Additionally,] the technology kept changing. I had to update [everything constantly]. It got exhausting, and a little boring, [honestly]. I missed the feel of touching and sifting through records, and that made me really love DJing again. It pushed me to go out there and spin more, using strictly vinyl.
Do you find that all-vinyl sets are more common than before now that vinyl is making a comeback?
Delrokz: I feel like it’s a little niche thing for the vinyl-DJ. I’ve seen some really, really, dope stuff from people using Serato and certain mixers. But I’m [personally] tired of looking at my laptop all day because of work—sending emails, creating lesson plans— and when I’m home, the last thing I want to do is turn on my laptop again. So it’s the enjoyment of touching physical records, and it’s there, it’s tangible… That’s what I want to provide for people. I feel sad for my daughter sometimes [because] she’s not gonna know what it’s like for a real album drop, and you gotta get to the record store at 11:00 AM when it opens, and stand in line trying to be the first one [there], so it doesn’t sell out. And I just hope that the resurgence of vinyl can provide that [feeling and memory]. I’ll wait online sometimes, for a record to drop, and I’m excited.. but I’m never as excited about an mp3, or digital album, being released [the same way I would be excited for vinyl].
What do you have up your sleeve for the launch and what’s the best way for us/community to support you?
Delrokz: We have four of my favorite DJs rocking and doing live sets: DJ Dug Infinite, DJ Chungtech, DJ Saurus, and DJ King Most. In between sets, I’m making introductions about the store, showcasing what records and products we have, and the [limited edition apparel for merchandise].
The launch will be live streamed on The Stacks website for people to [tune in]. The hope is that I’ll have a physical shop in a year or two, [but I’m doing the launch as if] we had a real [non-virtual] launch! So I’m hoping this will draw people in, to check it out and listen to good music. The best way to support is to spread the word, even if you’re not a DJ, even if you’re not a record collector, but you know someone who is. For folks who want to support the store, but don’t have a record player, or don’t really buy records, they can buy a shirt. I got hats, shot glasses, tote bags, and gift cards, for [folks] who have someone in their life that does buy records. [On our end, we’re also finding] different ways that people can support the store.
For Filipino Americans in hip hop, there’s a huge DJ legacy.. And you yourself, Delrokz, have been doing this for 20 years. Now you run your own record store, and I feel like that’s not something that we talk about too much in hip hop, or that has come up before, because we’re usually talking about DJs who spin, but we don’t really talk specifically about Filipino American DJs who own their own record shops. So how do you feel about contributing to the Legacy of Filipino American DJs in this way?
Delrokz: I’m glad you asked that question. That’s something that’s been playing in the back of my head. I was thinking, ‘What does this mean in the context of me as Filipino American? What does that mean in connection to—like you said— the legacy of Filipino DJs?’ [I know that] it is something special to have a record shop that’s Filipino-owned, and [I ask] how can I represent that in the most authentic way with integrity. I know that I’m not the only Filipino DJ, or [record] store owner that’s Filipino; I’m pretty sure there’s a lot out there. DJ Icy Ice had a record store back in the day— which [funny enough,] was also called Stacks Vinyl (no connection!). So, I know I’m not the only one, and I’m trying to figure out what that means. I definitely think it’s a legacy of DJs, who, [even] back in the days, were creating their own companies as mobile DJ crews, and just seeing how innovative [they could be], and flipping it as a business owner. How can I be innovative in that same way? And also be hella resourceful? I do know that my part is keeping that legacy alive and keeping that history alive, by having these conversations by sharing that history, and [if I have a physical store,] by showcasing that history in the store and honoring that.
Through all the years of DJing I’ve really built a network of folks, so I just really want to give thanks to the community, and to all the folks who were there before me, as far as DJs and hip hop culture and community.. Because there’s no way that I would feel confident enough to start a store if I didn’t feel like I had a strong community behind me that would support my shop, so big ups to the community!
Follow Delrokz on Instagram
Mandeep Sethi: SETI X
Hella Recommended Readings:
“How the Bay Area’s Filipino Mobile DJ Scene turned high schoolers into Future Turntablism Stars” by Tamara Palmer. Article. April 2015.
“Filipino DJs of the Bay Area” by Dave “Davey D” Cook. Article. (portions of this article first appeared in Rap Dot Com Magazine in July ’94. Reprinted and re-edited in October ’95).
Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area. By Oliver Wang. Book. Duke University Press. April 2015.