BACK IN MY STUDENT years at Northwestern, a young DJ named Kelly G. used to play the hottest tracks that would get all the college kids jumping. After the upteenth time I asked him to ID a song I liked, he told me to get every record done by a Steve "Silk" Hurley because he was responsible for every hot song on the radio and in the clubs.
Chicago's very own "Remix King" is a producer/remixer/songwriter/DJ and four-time Grammy nominee. His ability to musically embellish a song and take it to a higher dimension has earned him the title as one of the country's top remixers. His first released single, "Music is the Key," made it to the Billboard Dance Chart's top 10, establishing him as one of the pioneers of House Music. Shortly after, his group J.M. Silk premiered on the RCA Records label and produced a string of #1 hits including "Jack Your Body."
The artists he has worked with are mind boggling, from Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Crystal Waters, Madonna, Boyz II Men, Jennifer Lopez, Brandy, Kelly Rowland, Ann Nesby and CeCe Peniston to name just a few. At this moment he runs his own production and remix team called SilkMix.com and a record label, Silk Entertainment.
Steve graciously agreed to talk with me for this wide-ranging interview about his roots in Chicago's clubland, how he developed into the musical force that he is, and what he continues to do to further his unstoppable legacy.
Your evolution went from DJ to remixer, songwriter to producer, correct? Did one lead to the other quickly, or did you spin for a long time before making your own tracks?
My first party that I DJed was a "Sock Hop" at my high school, Lindblom Tech. I don't even think I got paid for that party. My friend Vic and I used two turntables with speakers on them and a mic that was hooked up to the school's PA system. To mix, we had to move the mic slowly from one turntable to the other. Pretty high-tech, huh? That was my first taste of mixing 2 records together and I was hooked.
I would say that the longest transition for me was going from someone with a boom box that played his special cassette tapes, to becoming a DJ that would actually be hired by someone. I probably paid more dues as a DJ than anything. I worked countless hours on my skills, trying to learn and invent tricks, and working on my scratching. I wanted to get good enough to win a DJ battle, because no matter how good I got, nobody would let me spin at any of the parties, not even for free! That ultimately ended up being my way in.
Herb Bertha, a legendary DJ from the south side, saw my eagerness and potential and let me to spin with him at my first "real" party at The El Panama Club on the south side. It was a lounge, but I DJed like my life depended on it and impressed him. He decided to put me in a DJ battle against some up-and-coming and established DJs at The Penthouse on Roosevelt Road. I won my first battle and the buzz was finally getting out there about me as a DJ.
The place I really wanted to spin was Sauer's, on East 22nd Street. That was where the hip and trendy high school and college kids partied, and the music was very similar to what Frankie played at the Warehouse and Powerplant. That was where I wanted to be, so I entered a battle that Dave Risqué was throwing. I won the battle, a trophy and a whopping $100.00, and the rest was history. I became a regular DJ at Sauer's and I was finally spinning for the eclectic crowd that had great taste in music! It wasn't until I started making a name for myself as a DJ that I stumbled upon becoming a producer...
What inspired you to begin writing your own music?
Actually, it was the crowd that I played for at Sauer's that inspired me to start making my own music. The crowd was so receptive to good music that didn't have to be a radio hit, but still all of us DJs were playing the same 50 soulful disco underground songs. I loved that music and still do, but I wanted to give the crowd something extra when I played; so I bought a Casio Drum Machine and later a Boss Dr. Rhythm Drum Machine, and started making beats to layer over my sets.
That went over well, so I started making contemporary but raw versions of classics like "Love Is The Message" and "I Can't Turn Around." That worked really well too, and the next thing I knew I was dabbling in making original music. "Music Is The Key" was the first original song that I wrote, and it worked so well that I borrowed money from my dad to record it professionally and release it. I hired Keith Nunnally to re-sing the vocals for me, and I partnered with Rocky Jones to release the song as the first record on DJ International Records. The song went to #9 on the Billboard Dance Charts, and before I knew it, I had a new career as a recording artist (along with Keith, as the group J.M. Silk).