How Do You Introduce a Kid To Hip Hop? We Asked a Renowned DJ

Mick Batyske and his son talk about the music they listen to, and now they've created a new hip-hop book for kids.

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Mick Batyske

Mick Batyske, formerly known as Mick Boogie and now MICK, is about as high-profile a DJ as you’ll find. He was the official DJ of the Cleveland Cavaliers during LeBron James’ first stint with the team, has spun records at A-list parties all over the world for celebs like Will Smith and Michelle Obama, and has collaborated on projects with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Adele, Eminem, and other music industry icons. Even Drake is a fan.

MICK lives for hip-hop, for late nights in clubs, and helping people throw parties that their friends will talk about for years. All of these things are, frankly, at odds with his most recent and big gig, as a dad to a 6-year-old son. During the pandemic, as COVID shut down dance floors MICK turned to homeschooling, spending time with his son, and collaborating on a new children’s book, D is for DJ.

He also introduced Myles to music — a lot of music. But more than music, hip-hop is a subculture with a rich history of visuals, equipment, and people that MICK is sharing with his son and in preserving for kids with their new book.

Mick Batyske

To what extent did your son get to experience hip-hop and DJ culture?

He would always hear a lot of music, so sometimes that was showing up at a gig that I was DJing and just pressing a bunch of buttons and ruining my set in front of people, which was totally fine because it was cute. Or hearing music I listened to around the house or just like thumbing through some records I may have laying around. It’s always been a very tangible part of his life.

How did your parents feel about rap music when you were growing up?

When we were growing up, it was a little bit different because hip-hop was so taboo. I had to hide my NWA from my parents. They let me listen to it, but I couldn’t play it in the living room. You know, my mom went and bought me Snoop’s Doggy Style in ‘93 when I had my wisdom teeth taken out. I couldn’t go to the store because I was on whatever drugs the dentist gives you. And she brought me that album and I listened to it on repeat, but if she actually heard that album, she probably would have taken that away because of how taboo it was at the time. But now it’s just commonplace and it’s accepted.

I was just thinking about Doggystyle the other day because I saw it’s been almost 30 years since Snoop released the album, and I was struck that I probably shouldn’t have been listening to that in middle school. But similarly to you, my parents knew very little about rap music so it just slid by. Our kids have to deal with very informed parents, so how will you approach some of the more objectionable elements of rap music that you might not want your son listening to?

We haven’t really had to cross that bridge too much yet in real life because he’s still pretty young. But I don’t censor lyrics at all, and I don’t censor content at all. Now, I do try to be mindful of how I’m presenting it. I think it’d be very hypocritical of me to censor my child because my parents didn’t do it to me and because of my job and my career and what I believe in. But I do think that you can massage the method a bit of how it’s presented. And I think the results will that will be more interesting too, because, you know, I don’t want my kid to hear something in when he’s eight or when he’s 12 and be like, “Oh my God! I’ve never heard somebody talk about a girl in a song before. What are all these drugs they’re talking about?”

And so I try to create that framework for him like nothing’s off-limits, but everything in moderation. I’m not going to shelter my kids in any way because we live in New York City. It’s the real world here. But I do think you can change the medium of how it’s delivered.

What has that looked like as he’s gotten older and everyone is out and New York City is much more active than it was early in the pandemic?

As he’s getting older, his memories are like spot-on and he remembers all these things. And now he can read really well. So before he could read a lot we got we got away with a lot of shit, but now we don’t. We have a very strong relationship so if he has a question about something or even if there’s something that we see out in the world, I will bring it up. Like I saw a father and son of the playground the other day. The guy was just erupting on his kid. He grabbed the kid’s arm and yanked him off of the playground and took him home. I don’t know what that kid did, but he didn’t deserve that. It wasn’t abuse, but it made you wonder what goes on behind closed doors. And I don’t think I should just turn Myles around because I don’t want him seeing that shit. At all. Because that’s not how life is.

I wanted him to see that dude. I told him, “I want you to know I would never do that to you. I will discipline you and you’re going to hate me for it but I will never do that to you.”

One of the bedrocks of hip-hop is protest music. You mentioned listening to NWA and their music gets intense. What’s your approach to helping Myles absorb and process the emotionally powerful music, especially when it’s addressing an issue like racism that there is currently a lot of emotion and energy around?

You know that that expression, “When they go high, we go low?” Like when the world continuously puts us in this pressure cooker of fuckery that just hasn’t seemed to get any better over the last couple of years, we go the other way. So we’re listening to a lot of jazz in our house. Of course, we listen to a lot of hip-hop, but when we’re home working or cooking together or whatever I want to create an environment of peace and an environment of chill. So a lot of times we have some jazz on.

So you try to use music to counterbalance what’s going on out in the real world?

My son has a lot of anxiety. So I use music to create a calm environment. And then the beautiful thing is he’s just listening to it all the time and he’ll start singing it back to me. At preschool recently he was singing Roy Ayers. He was singing Everybody Loves the Sunshine and I was so so proud of him.

Have you had the opportunity to talk to him about racism or some of the other subjects that people in hip-hop is taking head-on?

Yeah, of course. My ex-wife is black, so Myles is Black and white. And my fiance is Black, white, and Filipino. So like, he’s just around a variety of amazingness all of the time. We’ve had to have the discussions because as he was just getting old enough to be aware of things, we were in the middle of the pandemic so he wasn’t witnessing any of it first-hand. At home, he’s around people who are Black, white, and Asian who are getting along and it’s similar at the preschool he goes to in Brooklyn where it’s like a Benetton ad.

But that’s not representative of what we all saw on the news last summer, so we have had to have those discussions. And we don’t shy away from that especially now that he can read. We were walking to school last week, and he saw somebody had a Black Lives Matter sign in their window. And he wanted to know what that meant because he didn’t have the tools to internally understand it. But he did have the mental ability to read the sign and ask the question.

Has spending more time with Myles informed you as an artist over the last couple of years?

It just made me realize that most of my sets consisted of the music that I really love, which is the stuff we were talking about before like the 90’s era music or the new stuff that comes from that same cloth. But I also think that since my son was here during so many of those sets, that perhaps I was subconsciously protecting the vibe of the house. Because maybe there were things I didn’t want to play for him at 10:30 on Sunday morning while he’s next to me in the kitchen eating pancakes and I’m doing my live stream sets across the room.

And it probably impacted sonically how I performed when he was around. I don’t think I played to him or for him, but I think I did play appropriately around him in ways that also align with my core musical tastes.

Has Myles come to enjoy any of your favorite songs or albums?

Every morning I play A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, which is my favorite album of all time. I start with the last four songs because they add up to about 15 minutes. And all those songs are super mellow, super beautiful. So when it’s 15 minutes before we need to leave for school, I put that album on and that’s how he knows it’s time to put finish breakfast, put his bowl in the sink and finish getting ready for school. And by the time God Says Throw is done, we’ve got to be out the door with our coats and hats on. I just think it’s hilarious that we don’t use a clock. We don’t use a timer. We don’t use the sun. We use the last four songs on Midnight Marauders and just I think that sums up my love of music and my relationship with my son.

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