Few people realize how stressful it is to make sure a room packed with hundreds of people have fun.
But that’s a DJ’s job.
It certainly takes a toll, one that Rahsaan “Fly Guy” Alexander knows all too well: in March 2021, the Guyana-born, Miami-bred DJ almost took his own life on Instagram Live due to severe anxiety and depression. Fast forward nearly three years and Alexander plans to use his art to start a conversation about mental health among his peers.
“That’s part of the mission: to bring awareness to those struggles,” Alexander said. “Not just mine and for me but for all DJs.”
With “BPM: Beats, Pics and Masters,” a collection of close-up portraits of DJs from across the country, Alexander does just that. His exhibition premiered Thursday when the Point Comfort Art Fair + Show opened during Miami Art Week.
“This is damn near 300 plus years of collective DJ history,” Alexander said, pointing to 12 photos that cover the ground as the jazzy, funk-inspired sounds of Black Moon blast from the Historic Ward Rooming House.
The theme of the fifth annual Point Comfort is “Be For the Culture/Before the Culture: Celebrating Hip-Hop’s Golden Jubilee” in concert with the cultural phenomenon’s 50th anniversary. Artworks depict various aspects of hip-hop culture. There’s Brandon Clarke’s Notorious B.I.G. installation entitled, “It Was All a Dream.” There’s artist Tiffani Glenn’s “DOPE AS ME,” a painting of a Black woman dressed like she could be the fourth member of Run-D.M.C.. And there’s George Clinton of Parliament/Funkadelic fame’s “Ultrasonic.” But Alexander’s work is the only photography with people as the subjects.
“The purpose of this is to let people look into the eyes of these craftsman, these artists, these masters of the craft and say ‘What did he go through?’” Alexander said.
Some of the faces will be recognizable. DJ Envy from the Breakfast Club. 9th Wonder, the Grammy Award-winning producer who has worked with everyone from Destiny’s Child to Jay-Z to Mary J. Blige. DJ EFN from Drink Champs. Others might not be as identifiable yet their accomplishments are just as amazing. Regardless, his point remains the same: DJs are more than music curators. They are actual people. Artists. Entrepreneurs.
“We get mistreated and disrespected more than people realize just in terms of the value that we bring to parties, the time and energy that’s put into creating these sets before we get there, the compartmentalization of the stresses and triggers that we deal with that we put to the side to entertain people for two to three hours – all of these things that the 25-year-old girl on the dance floor has no idea what we’re experiencing,” Alexander said.
That realization is part of the reason EFN, a Miami hip-hop legend way before teaming up with N.O.R.E. for the widely successful Drink Champs podcast, stepped away from full-time djing in the early 2000s.
“What happened to me personally, is that the DJ was looked at as a digital jukebox,” EFN said, saying that disrespect “turned him off” to the profession as a whole.
Stories like EFN’s are why Alexander undertook this project in the first place. A mainstay on the national DJ circuit whose photos have also been exhibited at HistoryMiami Museum, Alexander’s work — whether on the ones and twos or behind the camera — speaks for itself.
“The DJ, the musical selector, the person who is providing the vibes, that’s what the DJ does: literally provide the vibration,” said Norwood, the founder Hampton Art Lovers which presents Point Comfort. “Without that vibration, without that music, in a community like Miami, there would be nothing. The thing that combines most of our community is the universal language of music.
“He’s documenting artists with elaborate portraits,” Norwood continued, comparing his photos to that of Carl Van Vechten, the American arts critic who turned to portraiture in his later years. “Fly Guy’s portraits are very similar: they’re up close, you’re really seeing the passion that comes through a blank expressions but you see a lot. The eyes tell you a lot.”
The exhibition within Point Comfort is just phase one of a plan that involves future exhibitions with Miami DJs and eventually a documentary that dives deeper into the psychology of DJs. And it’s not all hip-hop or male DJs either – the 12 selected portraits are part of a larger collection of more than 200 photos. While Alexander doesn’t want anybody to believe he’s saying that DJs have the most difficult job in America, he just wants to his peers to be more open about mental health in an industry where such conversations are avoided.
“I’m just zeroing the focus on my industry because I don’t think it’s being talked about enough,” Alexander said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Point Comfort Art Fair + Show
WHEN: noon-8 p.m. Dec. 7-10
WHERE: 249 NW Ninth St., Miami
TICKETS: Free with RSVP at https://www.eventbrite.com
Visit https://www.hamptonartlovers.com/point-comfort-2023 for more information