Cosmo Baker: Destined to DJ.
Text by Saleem “DJ Taaj” Sabree. Image by G.W. Miller III.As a kid growing up in South Philly, Cosmo Baker made mixtapes by recording Power 99 and then gave the party tapes to his friends. By the time he was 16-years old and attending Central High, Baker had a set of turntables and a Gemini mixer, and he had house parties slamming all over the region.
Within a few years, he was spinning in clubs he wasn’t old enough to enter.
Baker now travels the world with his DJ collective, The Rub.
We dispatched our rising talent, Saleem “DJ Taaj” Sabree, to find out how Baker makes the floor move.
Taaj: How do you go about feeling out a crowd?
Cosmo: Being able to move a crowd starts with a personal connection to the music. I love everything! Maybe not Toby Keith but I do love everything else. Music drives my life!
Because of the way I was raised, I was exposed to everything. Anything I wasn’t exposed to, I sought out. When you are selecting music, one thing leads to another thing, which leads to another thing, which leads to a bigger picture. To me it has become second nature to draw these parallel lines. I hear one thing and immediately it references three or four other songs.
Back in the mid to late 90’s when I started, there was a philosophy in Philly that everything goes in but the kitchen sink. Guys like Low Budget and Diplo have taken that and put their own spin on it. It is so natural to me to not limit myself. When you work to stay within the confines it becomes a hindrance on your performance as an artist.
You have to look at the crowd and know when to downshift and when to bring it back up. It is about working with the en- ergy. You must learn how to channel it.
Taaj: What was the Philadelphia hip- hop scene like in the mid 90’s when you were a kid?
Cosmo: It was amazing. It was unbelievably electric. During the golden era of hip-hop, specifically 1987 to about 1993, there was all this stuff happening in New York. At the same time Philly was establishing itself with rap groups, DJs and distinct sounds. I was lucky enough to come up alongside The Roots. They fused elements of all kinds and made it uniquely their own. They created a distinct sound and laid the foundation for a very soulful sound and attitude toward hip-hop in Philly.
Taaj: Did you have mentors in the early years of your career?
Cosmo: When you are new to this you kind of just make it up as you go on. There were definitely people I look up to both in person and on record. I know them quite well now but when I was first starting out, both Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money were like deities to me. I had no idea that I would actually get a chance to meet these guys. I would study and emulate what I heard them do on their mixes – guys like DJ Too Tough or DJ Miz, all the Philly DJs.
King Britt is a guy I really idolized. He was older and more established. I wasn’t even allowed to get into the clubs he was DJing. I would go to the club to sit outside and just listen to this guy play these crazy far out sounds. King has such an expansionist handle on music. Listening to him loosened up my ears and my mind. Eventually we became friends and he was another guy who took me under his wing. He helped me not just with being a DJ in terms of the methodology and techniques but also with the business side, for which I am forever indebted to him.
Taaj: How has the role of the DJ changed over the generations?
Cosmo: There is a definite difference between now and 10 years ago – and even 20 years ago. Back then, the DJ was the focal point and the life of the party. People came to see the DJ and they put their trust in them. In 2011, people see the DJ as a glorified jukebox. But there are still people who recognize that what the DJ does is hard work.
Taaj: When did you decide to be a musician for the rest of your life?
Cosmo: I never had any sort of epiphany. The gigs were working and kept coming and I was making decent money. About a year and a half into college, I got a window of opportunity to work for a record company, Eightball Records, in New York. I took it and stopped going to college! I moved to New York and I was DJing in clubs and submerged in the industry. I soon returned to Philadelphia and the gigs were piling on. I was DJing six nights a week and making cake! It opened my eyes that I was really doing this and doing it well.
Things were going so well that I began to feel burned out on Philadelphia. I wanted to do something different or try what I was doing somewhere else. I moved to New York and quit DJing. I got a job managing an advertising department. I had done a complete 180. I was waking up at 7am and getting on the train with a briefcase, in a suit. There was just such a vacancy in my soul and within six months I decided to leave the job and return to DJing full force.
If I wanted to make the big dollars I would have become a stockbroker. I wouldn’t be DJing if I were doing this for money. I am blessed to make a living doing something that is my life’s passion.