Jay Skillz is a voice for New Orleans radio whose work at Power 102.9 has been in the making well beyond his official start at the station in 2014.
Born in Charity Hospital in 1986, he eventually left New Orleans and was raised in Houston but returned to attend college at Dillard University. At that point, radio wasn’t really on his radar. “I was living the 17-year-old’s dream of being a rapper. But what I really wanted was to be somebody’s Dame Dash to somebody’s JAY-Z. I always wanted to be behind the scenes. I wanted to be an A&R, that was always my music goal. But then the Internet became a huge thing and you didn’t really need an A&R anymore.”
His radio career began as an on-air personality for Dillard’s student station, WDUB. That’s when he met Mike Swift, a DJ who would go on to play a pivotal role in Jay’s fledgling radio career. He was poised to enter his sophomore year as Music Director of the on-campus station, but the year was 2005. Once Hurricane Katrina hit, Jay was back in Texas, attending college in San Antonio. But he had plans to return to New Orleans and did, when Dillard re-opened at the Hilton. Still toying with the idea of rapping and performing poetry, Jay began doing house parties with “a couple crappy computer speakers and a laptop.” Once that became a thing, he left his rap dreams to rest.
Jay soon graduated from being Swift’s crate carrier to honing his own DJ skills, using a Stanton all-in-one CD player in 2007. At that point, school became too expensive and he was kicked out. The following year, he began doing his own mixtapes when he met Lyrikill in 2008 and was asked to become a part of it. Soon thereafter, Jay joined Loyola’s Crescent City Radio family. He started “BS Radio” (cheekily named after the Beat Syndicate, a crew he started with Swift and his roommate). At the show, he interviewed local hip-hop artists like Lyrikill, Alfred Banks and many others. “When the scene was popping in 2010, the show was like a who’s who. Everybody came through. You don’t look at those things, at the time, as a big deal. But when you go back and look at it, you realize it was a pretty major thing, especially when you consider what these artists went on to do,” he says.
Back in college as a 23-year-old freshman at SUNO, Jay released a string of mixtapes before rocking at NOLA Summer Jam. He left SUNO and juggled a job at Circle K with DJing. In 2012, he began DJing at Barely Legal on Bourbon St. “I never wanted a corporate job. I was the daytime DJ at Barely Legal because I needed my nights to do gigs. That lasted two years. I was doing about one DJ gig a month, just enough to get by. I was about to get a job as a technician at Radio Shack, but then Swift called me.”
An opening for a board operator at 102.9 presented itself, and Jay took it. Now, he’s mix DJ, production assistant and on-air personality at the station. “Radio is important because it takes so much to get there. Coming up, it was such a major milestone when an artist heard their song play on air. It’s such a big thing to hear your song on the radio. Now, it’s kind of shifted but it’s still a big deal. I still have people come up to me and ask me to play their song. Which is weird, because there’s the whole idea today that nobody listens to the radio anymore. And I’m like, ‘so why do you want me to play it on the radio?'”
Along with other station DJs, Jay uses his on-air time to celebrate local music with the hourly “Beats Before the Break” segment, which plays a bounce song. Whether an original or a remix, the record highlights New Orleans music culture and serves as homage to the local community.
He calls his on-air personality “awkwardly funny” and balances borderline inappropriate humor with social commentary. As a recent example, he cites the reaction to Drake’s “In My Feelings” music video, filmed in town. “When the video came out, I saw a lot of commentary about it. People were upset, saying it wasn’t New Orleans enough for them. What did you want, for him to get shot outside of Man Chu or something?”
Below, check out the latest installment of Jay Skillz’s mixes, just in time for Labor Day weekend.
FRIDAY NIGHT FIX MIXSHOW ON POWER 102.9 10PM (FRIDAY)
SATURDAY NIGHT MIXTAPE ON POWER 102.9 10PM (SATURDAY)
ON-AIR POWER 102.9 2-6 PM (SUNDAY)