| Hip-Hop |

DJ Squizzy Taylor on the Future of Denver Hip-Hop

Big things are happening for Squizzy Taylor.
Big things are happening for Squizzy Taylor.
Anthony Chavez
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DJ Squizzy Taylor may be looking toward the future, but for now he's spinning at 180 beats per minute.

He has his own Sunday night show on KS107.5, a new job as a concert promoter working under a talent buyer at AEG, international DJ gigs, and regular concerts with prolific rappers TheyCallHimAP and Trev Rich. He’s a paid Instagram influencer, runs a fashion brand, has sponsors, and still keeps his eyes open for new ways to make money. On November 30, Taylor will launch a weekly Saturday night Top 40 hip-hop party, Superstar Saturdays, with his old friend Hollywood Cook at Beta 2.0, which he describes as “the greatest fuckin’ club in the world.”

Taylor’s litmus test for success is simple: Can you survive off of what you love doing? He can, and by that standard, he’s made it.

Taylor has become one of Denver hip-hop’s respected tastemakers. Yet the thirty-year-old is humble, speaking highly during our conversation of veteran DJs like K-Tone and KDj Above, who taught him the craft, and younger artists like DJ Hardaway, who keep him tuned into the new artists the younger generations love.

Born Mychal Bellamy, Taylor grew up in Park Hill but moved around Denver as a teenager. Throughout high school, he stayed close to a tight group of friends with ties to the neighborhood, including the talented, then-fledgling rapper Rich. Inspired by the A$AP Mob hip-hop collective, they called themselves the Squizzy Gang. While other musicians with Park Hill roots tied their fortunes to the neighborhood Bloods, Taylor and Rich made their mark as artists, steering clear of the gangs that divided Denver’s rap scene.

It was, in hindsight, a smart business decision: Affiliating with a gang might be a way for up-and-coming musicians to find notoriety in some cities, but not necessarily in Denver. As Taylor puts it, "Park Hill isn’t Compton."

While he tried his hand at rapping alongside Rich and other friends, he quickly learned it wasn't his thing, so instead he earned his reputation as a dancer. Back then he was best known as a master of the Dougie, that goofy hip-hop shimmy named after rapper Doug E. Fresh that started in Dallas in the ’80s and was resurrected nationwide in 2010.

After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, Taylor left Denver to study at Langston University, Oklahoma’s only historically black college. The school had an unofficial campus DJ who threw raging parties, and when he graduated, students began looking for a replacement. With a laptop in tow, Taylor adopted the name Squizzy Taylor — a nod to his Denver crew — and decided to give it a spin.

“I killed it,” he recalls of his first gig. Not only that, he was paid $150, big bucks to a college sophomore.

His friends teased him for deejaying with a computer, so he saved up some cash and invested in turntables and other gear. He practiced in his free time and eventually took over as the unofficial campus DJ, recruiting a guy he met on a basketball court, Hollywood Cook, to be his manager. Taylor even taught Cook to deejay.

The two began booking gigs off campus, opening for touring artists and playing larger clubs. But Taylor eventually hit the ceiling and decided to return home, handing off the campus DJ job to Cook.

Taylor struggled to make a name for himself in Denver. He recalls begging Francois Baptiste and Kevin Kain, the prominent promoters who make up 3Deep, for gigs, but always being brushed off.

In 2014, Taylor was at KS107.5’s Summer Jam when he bumped into the two promoters, who were in a panic. They had just learned that the DJ who was supposed to play the Summer Jam after-party at Bar Standard had bailed. “This is your chance,” Kain told him, inviting him to spin that night.

It was the first time Taylor had played for a large audience in his home town, and the party was so hot that 3Deep gave him a weekly gig.

He remembers his Bar Standard residency fondly, but the better he got, the more he wanted to be paid above what the club could offer. He invited Cook out to Denver, and together they started their own entertainment company, spinning for crowds at Purple Martini, Epernay (now Onyx) and Dorchester Social. He found himself doing Super Bowl parties with Nuggets and Broncos players and big-shot musicians like Rick Ross, the Roots, Erykah Badu and Lil Uzi Vert. Wherever Cook and Squizzy went, it seemed a party formed.

In February 2017, Taylor joined forces with Rosa Jad for the mid-day 12 O’Clock Boombox on KS107.5, playing shows with themes like Kanye West vs. Jay-Z, ’90s rap and women in rap. In early September 2019, he started his own show, Sundays With Squizzy, where he’s been honing his skills as an on-air personality.

In July, DNA Picasso, who was chosen as Denver’s Best Solo Rapper at the 2019 Westword Music Awards, had taken to Twitter to challenge local DJs to play more Denver-based artists. If they did, Picasso opined, the hip-hop scene could blow up like Atlanta’s.

Taylor took umbrage. “Crowd Don’t Wanna Hear That Shit,” he tweeted back. “There’s No Demand...Nobody Asks For Those Songs But The Artist. ATL Has Demand...A Nigga Entire Hood Come Show Out To Club And Support They Artist From They Section. Also Mainly Denver Artist Don’t Make Club Music. They Make Real Music.”

The best way for artists to get on Taylor’s radar is through fans, he says. “Somebody else besides you is the reason I’m going to hear about you. I have more rappers in my DMs than bitches."

Squizzy has expanded his repertoire of music to include more Afrobeat, Latin, Caribbean, reggae and other sounds from around the world. He has regular gigs in Austin and Los Angeles and has played as far away as Bahrain for a USO show. In October, he traveled to Lagos, Nigeria, where he played Afrobeat for three nights in clubs.

“Going back to Africa was the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” he says. “There was so much love and good energy there. They party to six in the morning. And they’re dancing.”

In early November, he deejayed before the Ludacris and Nelly concert at the Mission Ballroom, becoming one of the few locals to grace that stage. And he’s taken on a gig as a sub-promoter working under Cervantes' owner Adam Stroul for entertainment giant AEG, bringing his indie taste to its hip-hop promotion efforts.

He says he's seeing a shift in what a hip-hop club night can be, and he plans to bring that to Beta 2.0.

“A hip-hop club today goes beyond what twenty years ago a hip-hop club was doing,” he says — playing a wider variety of music for a more diverse crowd.

At Beta, his sets will include Top 40 and big hits along with a mix of genres from around the world. He’ll even put on some Denver artists, if their fans request it.

As Squizzy tells it, Denver’s hip-hop scene is thriving.

“Artists are creating these independent brands," he says. "They’re realizing they have all the tools."

Hear DJ Squizzy Taylor and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.

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