DJ Juwan's club music career began with a cruel Christmas prank back in 2008.
Juwan Melvin, then 11 years old, woke up on Christmas morning hoping to get DJ equipment. He'd begged his parents for a setup and they agreed to provide the equipment so long as he treated it with care. But that morning didn't go as planned for the budding club producer. Juwan was handed a giant box, similar to one he saw on a recent trip to Guitar Center to scope out turntables, but inside were pots and pans.
"Well, we're sorry. We just couldn't get it for you," his parents told him.
Defeated, Juwan marched upstairs, where he found CD turntables with an accompanying mixer and a pair of studio monitors dressed in festive Christmas wrapping paper in his bedroom.
Seven years later and thanks to that Christmas gift, Juwan, now 18, is one of the city's most celebrated club producers—and the most curious.
Because he was so young when he started, he wasn't out DJing in the clubs, and Juwan seemed like a mystery. Some people thought it was an alias for an older club producer. Very few people knew his true identity. Even other local club music producers still had not met Juwan in real life. "I only know him through email and Facebook," Mighty Mark admits, despite working on tracks with the producer. James Nasty, upon learning about this interview, exclaimed, "What? He's real?"
Juwan's social media accounts feature images and the words "DJ Juwan" and "Bmore Club" word art in lieu of any identifying photo, which is especially surprising in the age of the selfie.
When Juwan finally revealed himself on a warm summer afternoon sipping an ice-cold slushie from Sonic, he turned out to be a sheepish and genuinely humble dude fresh out of high school. Despite his youth, he's an old soul—a blossoming DJ who prefers the control of turntables to the convenience of today's compact controllers and laptop. He's a passionate producer who cherishes the old style of Baltimore club music while his peers are exploring exotic, future sounds.
"I [feel] people don't have to like your face in order to like your music," he says, offering up an explanation for why he's remained semi-anonymous. "Why put my face on there? People have a lot of opinions so I feel as though they should just judge my music and not my character or face."
Like many Baltimore residents, Juwan grew up listening to Baltimore club music and it inspired his ventures into music production. "When I was younger, about 3 or 4 years old, I always used to listen to Rod Lee, KW Griff, and K-Swift CDs in my dad's car. I remember we would drive to McDonald's and I would say 'Dad, can you play that CD?' I never knew what the music was called but I would always ask my dad to play it," Juwan says. Experimenting with production technology came easy for Juwan. "I wanted to know how people actually make music," he says. "I never knew how they did it, so I would look on Google and YouTube. One time, [an ad for] a program popped up, so I downloaded it, messed with it, and you know of course when I was young, I sucked," he says, laughing.
After producing some tracks, Juwan reached out to successful Baltimore club pioneers, Rod Lee, KW Griff, and DJ Technics for feedback on his productions. "I just tried to [network] with a lot of DJs in Baltimore," he says. "I never thought they would actually talk back because I was so young, but they actually gave me positive feedback." These connections, and a personal favor from fellow club music producer, DJ Pierre, led to what Juwan considers his greatest achievement yet: getting his tracks played on 92Q. His productions are now frequently featured on 92Q's Friday night club show.
Juwan's style of club music essentially picks up where old school Baltimore club producers left off. The fast-paced classic club break beat serves as a backbone for all of his productions which allows other time-honored components to shine, such as the vigorous horns in 'Club Face' and repetitive vocals in 'Clap Go.' DJ Juwan's tracks awaken a feel-good nostalgia for the old-school style of club music, a sound that's easily embraced by old club heads and newcomers alike. For some, it might be tempting to dismiss Juwan because of his lack of face time in the clubs and experience with the genre in its heyday due to his young age. On one recent Friday night on 92Q, hosts KW Griff and Porkchop playfully poke fun at Juwan when they play his productions, asking, "How old is Juwan anyway—8 or 9?!" While he refuses to let his age become an obstacle for him, Juwan still fears the criticism that comes with really putting himself out there, even if it's just displaying a personal photo. "Everybody has their own opinion and I don't really like negative feedback, so I just keep it a secret," he admits. Because of this, most of Juwan's own friends remain in the dark about his up-and-coming music career, almost as if he were living a double life.
"My friends are always like, 'Yo, you wanna come outside?' and I just wanna stay in and make music," he confesses. "[They] must think I'm just inside watching TV or something."
While Juwan is no stranger to producing Baltimore club party anthems, his niche lies in recreating classic club remixes of songs past, like New Edition's 'Cool It Now' and The O'Jays' 'Cry Together.' Juwan says he prefers the classic style of Baltimore club music as opposed to the newer, more experimental sound. "I like the old stuff. I grew up on the old stuff, so I [work] based upon that. I think it's more up-tempo," he says.
Juwan hopes to release an EP by the end of the summer including three or four new tracks. With a title and release date to be determined, Juwan still promises quality over quantity. "I use a lot of old samples and a lot of old breaks, but it's gonna be energetic," he says. "I'm still focused on the older vibe. Now, everyday somebody's talkin' about twerking. But that's not what I wanna make. I like soul."