The 2019 VEA Artist Award goes to legendary Seattle talent Danny Clavesilla, known around the world as DJ Supreme La Rock.
When we say around the world, we are not embellishing ~ Danny has brought his award-winning musical talents to so some of the most prestigious night clubs in Germany, Japan, Bahrain, Colombia, London, and Canada. He’s rocked with world leaders, produced music for some of entertainments biggest stars, and represented the United States across the globe.
Thanks to his larger than life persona and his incredible body of work, Danny was awarded US Diplomat status under the Obama administration and tasked with building coalitions throughout Central America, with a primary focus on Columbia. That’s some real James Bond type stuff right there. Although Danny quickly clarifies that his job was to simply travel with an arts & entertainment convoy on a good-will mission to strengthen ties between the countries.
The story of Danny Clavesilla is fascinating, to say the least ~ A true story of hard work, chance opportunities, tough breaks, and astounding success, worthy of his own Netflix special.
Danny grew up in Seattle during the 1970’s ~ before the hip hop explosion of the 80s and well before the birth of rap music and the club DJ. Like most kids of that era, Danny was into Kung-Fu Theater, Bruce Lee, building hidden forts & clubhouses, and riding bikes with his friends.
It was through one of his friends that Danny discovered BMX racing.(bike motocross). Then around 1981, at 13-years old, his friend Sean began planning a cross-country racing tour, and Danny was invited to join him.
The tour took young Danny all the way to the east coast, with several days spent in New York City. In the neighborhood that Danny’s group was staying, something unusual was happening. Each night, dozens of people would bring their radios down to the park, tuning them all to the same station to listen to DJ Red Alert. The combined sound of so many radios playing in unison caused a gravitational pull that brought people out of their homes and into the streets, dancing, laughing, and having a great time with their neighbors. There was something else happening as well ~ a new dance form was emerging. Kids jumping and kicking, pointing and spinning, Danny was fascinated by what he saw. (Spoiler alert! It was breakdancing!)
It’s the New Style….!
Returning to Seattle, Danny began emulating both the dance and the style of dress that he saw in New York. Gone were his Kung Fu shoes, Britannica Jeans, and Aerosmith half-shirt ~ replaced with creased Adidas shell-tops, Lee Jeans, windbreaker jackets, or hoodies. Unfortunately, Seattle hadn’t caught the hip hop bug yet, and Danny found it hard to communicate what he had experienced and what he knew would be the next big thing. So he found it refreshing when he met a couple of like-minded people who appreciated the culture that Danny was representing.
“Bronx” was his name, and he said he was from back east, guaranteeing that the ski goggles and hockey gloves he wore were standard gear for east coast “B-boys”. Were there others in Seattle? Next, Danny met DC3, an artist that created large scale murals with spray paint, and had a gift for creating original rhymes over instrumentals. (Spoiler alert! He was a graffiti artist and rapper!)
Over the next year or two, Danny saw the influence of hip hop slowly making its way towards Seattle. The occasional television commercial, the periodic appearance of popping & locking on primetime shows such as “What’s Happening!” and other sitcoms. At school, he occasionally noticed a small group of kids gathered around to imitate what they had seen on tv night before. But those days were few and far between.
Then, almost overnight, hip hop exploded in Seattle.
Danny remembers walking into school one morning, and the entire world had changed. The halls now crowded with kids wearing Michael Jackson style single-gloves and red-leather jackets, sweatsuits, headbands, parachute pants, and leg warmers.
The Seattle Circuit Breakers were one of Seattle’s first “professional” breakdance groups. Suddenly, Danny’s place was the hot-spot to hang out and practice. His mother saw the group potential and offered to manage them, booking shows and partnering with businesses such as Adidas to sponsor the group. Dressed in matching blue Adidas sweat-suits bearing the group name and logo, the group quickly became one of Seattle’s most popular B-boy crews.
At the height of their popularity, the Circuit Breakers were doing multiple dance contests and commercial performances each week, and Danny took on the job of providing the music for each gig. It was during this time that DJ Afrika-Bambatta published a list of the “Top 100 breakdance records” in the Village Voice Magazine.
With the list in hand, Danny set out to collect as many as possible and quickly found out that the records listed were not the usual suspects (Run DMC, Fat Boys, and so on). Rather, they were a lot of Funk and R&B records from the previous decade. Baby Huey, Jimmy Castor, James Brown, and others provided DJ’s with both desired grooves for sampling, along with what are called “Break Beats” for scratching and transitions. As Danny got more into music production, sampling, and scratching, he began to have conversations with local rappers about possible partnerships, resulting in a few recording sessions with Gary Jam and other artists.
Then around 1986, NYC Breaker “Mr. Wave” offered to help Danny make a record. As Danny was considering his next move, a chance encounter at Dick’s on Broadway seemed to be a sign, as someone suggested that Danny contact rapper Kip P for the album. Shortly after, Danny was in the studio, along with co-producer Cornell (CMT) Thomas, and rapper Kid P. The record they created, INCREDICREW/King of Def Poetry, was one of the first vinyl rap LP’s to be produced by a Seattle artist.
With the success of King of Def Poetry, Danny was contacted by EveryRap records, who offered Danny a contract to produce two full-length albums. Now flush with cash and full of ambition, Danny went back into the studio with the Incredicrew team, along with new members Ben Saunders and Chenelle Marshall.
The Collapse ~
With success-after-success it seems like it was only a matter of time before life threw Danny a curveball. Just weeks away from releasing the new albums, Danny was called into the EverRap offices with the bad news ~ Due to financial issues and changing markets; they were shelving the Incredicrew projects. Disheartened and disgusted with the industry, Danny shut the door to the studio, cut ties, and walked away from the music business.
The Rebirth ~
Nearly two years had passed. Danny had established himself as one of Seattle’s top chefs and was making good money. Then, as he was making his way home one evening, he stopped by Tower Records, and happened to pick up and album by the rap new group Main Source. Driving through the city, listening to the cassette tape, Danny felt himself becoming more and more anxious to get home, pull out the drum machine, and start making music again. That night was the spark that inspired Danny to dive back into producing, engineering, and recording with some of Seattle’s biggest names and leading to the formation of Conception Records and launch of the Sharpshooters under the Sub Pop umbrella.
Fast forward to 2019 and Danny is known around the globe as Supreme La Rock, one of the most in-demand party DJ’s in the world. But there is a real difference between a music engineer/producer/Studio DJ and a club/party DJ. I asked Supreme about the transition and how it all happened. (I’m going to refer to Danny as Supreme from here on out, reflecting the article’s time-line and move to professional moniker).
According to Supreme, he had his first experience as a club DJ in the early 90s, having just returned to producing music. He received a random phone call from the manager at a Seatac nightclub called Maxi’s, with an invitation to perform. The club’s usual DJ was battling the flu, and the manager had been given Supreme’s phone number as a possible back up. With a promise of making a quick $50 and the idea of getting out of the house, he agreed to the gig and jumped in feet first. However, the experience was not what he envisioned, as Supreme showed up with all of the passion and fire he had brought to previous DJ contests and rap battles ~ Ready to wow the crowd with cuts and scratches.
After the show, an older gentleman approached Supreme with some advice about reading the crowd, finding the right songs to keep people on the floor, and focusing on smooth blending music instead of the rough scratches and cuts. Supreme took the advice and over the next few years honed his craft.
Today, Supreme is one of biggest names in the DJ game, sought after to rock parties for movers & shakers in sports, politics, and entertainment. In 2014 he was one of the Seahawks team DJ’s, providing music for both football games and for the city-wide Championship celebration. For superstitious sports fans out there (such as myself), we’d love to see Supreme back on the turntables, firing up the crowd and motivating out team towards another championship!
While Supreme wait’s for the Seahawks call, he is staying busy with a variety of projects and performances, including his continued partnership with Bamboo Beats event management; winner of Seattle Metropolitan’s Best Wedding DJ award for the past five years.
Studio projects include a reissue of the original 1975 Dolemite soundtrack, Sparkle’s Disco Culture of Souls record, and the 3rd edition of Wheedle’s Groove ~ a compilation album featuring out-of-print music from local artists. The previously released editions of Wheedle’s Groove, produced, compiled, and released ~ focus on Seattle Jazz, Funk, and R&B from the 60s and 70s. The new album will feature NW rap from the 80s and 90s.
Supreme is also the regional spokesman for Cazal, hip hop’s most recognized fashion eyewear, and flies to the corporate office in Germany for business meetings and performances.
Speaking of parties and performances ~ Supreme’s parties are unmatched when it comes to delivering good vibes, funs times, and memories that last a lifetime. If you are looking for the right New Year’s Eve party to bring in 2020, I highly recommend following @SupremeLaRock on Instagram for updates on where he will be.
I asked Supreme if there are any artists that he would like to work with, specifically rappers that might inspire him to get back to creating original beats and melodies. Nas was the first name he mentioned, as they had shared stages before, and Supreme says that he identifies with Nas’s positive spirit and energy. Supreme would also like to work with local rappers Macklemore and Travis Thompson. To be honest, I would love to see that happen. I was super-jazzed when Macklemore showcased rap legend’s Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz on his song Downtown. How much more special would it be for Macklemore to show local icons such as Supreme the same love? I’m with that.
As we wrapped up the interview, Supreme asked me to cover one additional topic, self-love and mental health. Although Danny has had a life-time of success, he told me that there had been times in his life where he has felt severely depressed, and shares that he has also lost close friends to suicide. “It affects everyone,” he says. “Even the most successful people such as Robin Williams and Anthony Bourdain, who appear to have everything to live for.”
Supreme shared the story of how he was deep in depression, and seeing daily posts from a fellow Facebook user helped him. “I didn’t really know the person, but each day she posted a positive message, which seemed to hit me. I reached out to her, and we began a conversation about her struggles with depression, which in many ways mirrored mine. It really helped me to get through it,” he says.
He goes on, “We never know what will put us in that state of mind. People need to know that it’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to relapse. We’re all in this together.”
Congratulations on your 2019 VEA Award, Supreme La Rock. You make Seattle proud!