Interview with LeBron’s 24/7 Personal DJ: Poppa BaeR

A few weeks ago, we posted a TMZ video about LeBron James hiring a 24/7 personal DJ during a visit to China. It turns out that the DJ, Poppa BaeR, has been a DJcity member for over a year. Our boy Styles Davis recently caught up with him to learn more about his experience DJing for King James and how he landed one of the coolest gigs in the world.

Who are you?
Friends know me as BaeR aka DJ Poppa BaeR aka DJ BaeR.

Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles to Korean parents and have been living in Taipei, Taiwan for over eight years.

How long have you been DJing?
I’ve been collecting records and have owned turntables since 2000 or 2001 but wouldn’t say I started DJing until several years later. I didn’t really consider it something I’d end up doing regularly until 2007 or 2008.

What kind of experience do you have?
I started DJing in college at parties and worked at a record label and management company in Los Angeles for a couple years. In late 2004, I moved to Taiwan and in 2006 started an Internet radio station with KK Gannet and Jonny Hwang called I organized a b-boy battle and put on hip-hop events in Taipei — playing stuff like MF Doom and Tribe and Cannibal Ox in a small ass venue. Through word of mouth, I linked up with Liquid Lifestyle, the city’s premier party promoters and opened for DJ Rectangle and DJ Z-Trip at LUXY. Eventually I became a resident at Primo, the top club in Taiwan at the time. In 2008, I became a DJ for Nike in Taiwan which led to spinning at events for Kobe Bryant, running events at National Monuments, special releases, Mick (formerly Mick Boogie), Clark Kent, etc.

What type of music do you prefer to play?
Whatever gets the crowd going: hip-hop, golden era, funk, soul, R&B, fun stuff (which could range from old classics to TV and movie theme songs). For example, the DuckTales theme is always on deck. Real talk. Haha. If it’s a spot and a bunch of hip-hop heads — the energy from having the whole place spitting the verse or getting live as hell to something like, say, Pharoah Monche’s “Simon Says” is an amazing energy. When I’m in a more commercial setting with crazy lights and the crowd is going nuts, jumping up and down and going ape sh#t — that’s a pretty cool feeling too. But man, get me into a place where I can throw on fun stuff like 2 Live Crew and MC Hammer, and the crowd can get it, like it’s just having fun, then I’m all about that too. But that’s more like an old friend’s wedding feel…it’d be the sh#t to me.

How did you get the gig DJing for LeBron James?
LeBron was in Taipei two years ago and Nike hired me to DJ their private dinner. Apparently he was down with what I was playing — constantly spitting verses and asked if I could return the next night. Two years later, Nike Basketball called me around midnight on a Monday and asked if I wanted to DJ for LeBron again. I immediately told them, “I’m down. I’m down. I. Am. Down.” Luckily, I had planned a trip to China this year and had a visa. I canceled my gig in Taipei and was on the 2pm flight out. I was amazed that such a surreal opportunity was happening. However, I didn’t believe it was going to happen so I didn’t pack until I got a ticket confirmation the next day. It was some “only in the movies” type sh#t. Who gets a call at midnight to spin for the back-to-back NBA champion and NBA Finals MVP, in his living room, in another country, and you have to fly out right away?! It was beyond my wildest dreams.

What was the gig like?
I was there when he woke up and left after he went to sleep. I started off the mornings easy, smooth, bright, and would progress into something with more energy so that by the time he walked out, he was spitting verses and in a good mood. When he would return from a meeting, I’d play something easier to unwind before playing stuff with more energy.

Where was the gig?
Guangzhou and Beijing, China

What kind of setup did you have?
In Guangzhou, I had two Vestax turntables and initially a Pioneer 900 mixer, then I got a Technics mixer. In Beijing, had 1200’s and Rane 62 (shout out to DJ Wesley for coming through).

What kind of music did you play?
I played a wide variety. In the mornings it was soul, funk, mellow hip-hop (both recent and classic). In the afternoons I played a variety of music which depended on whether LeBron was unwinding or heading out. Artists included: A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Diamond D, Jurassic 5, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z, Kanye West, Rick Ross, funk music, etc. Evenings would be smoother — ranging from Native Tongues to R&B, J Dilla, Sade, Chaka Khan, etc.

Were you given a playlist or did you have full control of what you played?
I had full control of what I played. They trusted me to be able to set the right tone and create the right feel and energy. One day, somebody said, “We just wanna relax…can you play this…” and someone else replied, “Don’t worry about it, Baer knows what he’s doing. He’s got it covered.” That felt really good and humbling. The most that was asked of me was to run something back again or turn it up which were good signs.

Were you told ahead of time what kind of music he likes? Any specific songs?
I was aware of LeBron and his crew’s knowledge of music as a result of DJing for him a couple years before. LeBron is a music head and knowing that gave me a sense of comfort because it allowed me to draw from a large pool (classics and new music). I knew I was doing alright when they rapped or sang along to whatever I was played. I especially liked hearing, “Yo, Baer, turn that up!”

How long did you actually have to play and mix records?
Ummm….24/7 😉

How often did you mix for him?
I rested when he slept or if everybody was gone for a while. People would ask if I was tired or why I barely slept but who could sleep when you’re living the dream? I know it sounds cheesy but it’s true.

Did LeBron say anything to you?
He was very happy to see me and once said, “[I] couldn’t imagine anybody else [I’d] be happier to see at 1:30 in the morning when [I’m] feeling exhausted…” After that, I received a warm reception from his team who were surprised and happy to see me. LeBron and his crew showed love the whole time and thanked me on the last day. I was humbled that LeBron and some of his team members asked me to load their iPods with tracks that I played for them.

Below is an example mix of what BaeR played during a typical morning. It’s the first installment of his series titled, “Living Room Sessions with Lebron James.” Follow BaeR on Twitter and Facebook