Rock M Nation, meet Tyrone Williams, also known as "DJ Beatz," your new game day DJ at Faurot Field. I recently talked at length with Tyrone to learn his story, and it is a story worth telling.
Author’s Prelude: Music and Sports
Growing up, I lived about two miles as the crow flies from Faurot Field. I, along with many of my elementary and middle-school friends, sold cokes at the stadium on game days. We worked the beat up and down those stairs, selling one heavy, sticky, sloshing tray at a time. It paid a dollar a tray, and the spoils went towards things like new tires for our ten-speeds or Saturday afternoon forays down to Minsky’s Pizza and Pin Pan Alley.
On those precious Saturday mornings each fall, as we set out afoot and zig-zagged through neighbors’ backyards to start that march along the shoulder of Stadium Boulevard, we did so against the musical backdrop of Columbia’s live, gameday soundtrack. You see, even as far two miles away we could hear the warm-ups of the Mizzou Marching Band. One those mornings, our feet moved to the distant pulse of the drumline, our hearts pumped to the iconic boom of "Big MO," and – as we drew closer and closer to the stadium – our bones were quickened by the blare of the brass.
To this day when I hear a drumline on a crisp fall morning, I feel ten years old again, setting out on a journey to Faurot Field, clad in tattered canvas sneakers and black-and-gold wristbands, and hearing that Saturday morning soundtrack drive the beat.
Tyrone Williams has made his own journey to Faurot Field. And though Tyrone faced obstacles far more dramatic than backyard fences and gravel shoulders, his too was led by a driving beat. His own.
Young Tyrone Rises to the Challenge
Tyrone Williams was born in Chicago and moved to Columbia with his family in 1991 at the age of six. At the time, all seemed well and good. But auspicious beginnings gave way to difficult reality.
"Growing up, it wasn’t the easiest life," Tyrone describes. "We had to do what we had to do."
(Tyrone as at first hesitant to elaborate, not knowing how deep he should go. I told him, look, if it’s essential your story as a DJ, then you can take this wherever you need.)
"When we moved here, a lot of things were good," Tyrone continued. "My mom was married, we were all together. But two years later, her husband, he left us. He just left. Then my mom had some health issues that took a real toll on her, and she reverted to a fight with drugs and alcohol that really took our family through a whirlwind. My brother was in and out of trouble so he wasn’t around. It was just me and my mom, who is struggling to figure things out and trying to figure herself out at the same time."
Those struggles kept them constantly moving from place to place. Twice Tyrone and his mom were homeless. In his first five years in Columbia, Tyrone had already bounced around to six different schools (Blue Ridge, Field, West Boulevard, Parkade, and Lange Middle School) before settling into junior high at Oakland and finally Hickman High School. Moving around wasn’t the half of it, though. They struggled for survival with sporadic income and fell into a few bad crowds. Once his mom was shot and young Tyrone had to call a family friend to ask for a ride to safe place.
Not the easiest childhood, indeed.
But Tyrone himself kept above the fray and stayed out of trouble. He was a precocious boy, and as he puts it, "always observant of my surroundings."
"There was a lot of pressure on me. It gave me a challenge to figure things out, like ‘All right, Tyrone, what are you going to do in this situation? What choice are you going to make?’ I think this is one of the important things that taught me about life. Life is going to throw everything at you, things you’re probably not expecting, and it’s your job to figure out how to move left, move right, or find a whole new direction completely."
"I’m eight, nine, ten years old and my mom is barely here and barely there, so for me it was a just a challenge. Through it all, it tested my character. I had to analyze, be observant and say, okay, here’s what everybody else is doing. You can do what everybody else is expecting you to do, or you can do something that’s different than your immediate surroundings. If there are drugs and stuff like that all around you, are you going to accept that life and do the same thing? Or are you going to have a different outlook on life?"
"So I decided, ‘I’m not going to do this.’ I saw this one potential future around me, and it wasn’t for me. There’s the old saying, ‘You’re the reflection of the company you keep.’ What I grew up around was my future if I wasn’t willing to accept the challenge to change it. Since then, I have always stayed committed to not being in the same situation I was brought up in."
These are big challenges and big lessons for an eight-year-old. There were daily challenges, too, such as the challenge to find something to eat every day.
Tyrone took them all in stride. "I love challenges, so I was like, ‘Okay Tyrone, you don’t have any money to eat today. How are you going to eat today?’ There was only so much I could do at age ten, I couldn’t go to work, so I had to figure it out."
And figure it out he did, in honest and creative ways. For example, thanks to Columbia’s recycling program, he became an entrepreneur of Aluminum cans. At a nickel apiece, a few hours of scavenging could buy a lunch. He also learned magic tricks and started to stage a magic show in front yards, charging a quarter per show. A showman was born.
But it was not until later that music became an integral part of Tyrone’s life. "I loved music as a kid, but I had no vision of getting into music at that point. I mean, we were broke and poor so the only music I knew was what I heard on the radio."
Things started to change in middle school. Around the seventh grade, Tyrone and his mom had been homeless for a spell and his mom had to go away for help. Tyrone moved in with his grandmother and lived there for four years. It was during this time, finally with access to a CD player, that he started figuring music out. And music helped him figure himself out. He would make mix CDs, CDs so hype that they got people’s attention and started a buzz. People even started paying Tyrone to make them mix CDs.
And then, the middle school house parties.
"Around that time, we would go to teen house parties. That’s where it really kicked off. We’d go to these parties and whoever was controlling the music, well, they didn’t know people. There was something missing. So I would go up there and volunteer and take control the music, and just change the whole party, take it to a whole new level. I started to bring my own mix CDs, and eventually I saved up for one of those early MP3 players that could hold hundreds of songs."
During high school, Tyrone got introduced to the Blind Boone Community Center and became part of the "Mid Missouri Highsteppers," the dance crew who have been electrifying Missourians with their moves and beats since their founding in 1979. In the Highsteppers, Tyrone was a "flipper" and part-time drummer.
In fact, it was one trip to the community center that changed it all for Tyrone. On his way to the Highsteppers, he saw a sign on a door and stopped in his tracks. The sign read: Beat Making Contest. This was no small deal either. There were big prizes and no shortage of competitors.
"I saw that sign," Tyrone recalls fondly, "and I said, ‘Okay, here’s a new challenge.’ So I went into that room, signed up, and when the time came I just made the beat that I felt."
Tyrone’s beat won first place.
"After that, I grew my DJ’ing and started producing beats on a computer and, well, that was it: I became ‘DJ Beatz.’"
And thus was formed DJ Beatz. The same skills Tyrone mastered as a child – observing his surroundings, reading the crowd, deciding when to move left, move right, or completely change directions – were refactored and recast. He became a DJ, a conductor of human motion, and emotion.
The Gig of a Lifetime (So Far)
After graduating from Hickman High School in 2003, Tyrone’s life got busier and busier. He got hired for more and more DJ gigs, all the while navigating college classes and making ends meet working a long-time job at McDonald’s. His DJ gigs were local, at first. Then national. He had a special knack for running dance marathons for major universities, and has been hired to perform at Duke, Louisville, and three times at UCLA.
As busy as he was, Tyrone was not too busy to keep giving back to various communities. In 2004 he became a volunteer counselor and eventually an instructor at "Camp Kindle" in Nebraska, a camp catering to the special challenges faced by children of families impacted by HIV and other health-related issues. Tyrone has returned each and every summer to share the power of music with the campers, and to give hands-on instruction on basic elements of music production.
About two years ago, Tyrone took the leap of faith and quit his job at McDonalds, a job he held for 13 years, to pursue his music career full time. He incorporated as "Beatzworld Entertainment." Just this month, his move paid off as he landed his biggest gig yet, being the game day DJ for Mizzou football. How did he get that job, you ask?
"Being a DJ and producer these past years, I’ve had great experience with different artists and different gigs," Tyrone explains, "and along the way I met my friend Nic (NicDanger, who will be the ‘Hype Man’ for the student section this year). He’s an entrepreneur, a hustle-guy just like me, and we started a number of projects together. Last year, he was hired to perform for the United Way and together we worked on the song for that campaign called ‘Give it Your All.’ That went well, people noticed, and after that performance, we were introduced to a couple guys that work with the marketing content for garypinkel.com. We had a meeting back in May (of this year) and had a brainstorming session. Somehow it came up in the meeting about the upcoming Mizzou season and how it might line up, with my background in DJ’ing and Nic’s experience as MC. We all thought, ‘Hey this might work.’"
"So we made a pitch this May. The United Way performance was a big part of it, along with some commercial work we’ve done. And another thing that helped our proposal was a little project I did the year before. Mizzou had just won the Cotton Bowl and I saw the video of Gary Pinkel’s locker room dance with his players’ chanting ‘GP!’ and I was like, okay, I can see something here…I took it and literally had a sample up the next day, and the song was done a week later."
(Note: The song Tyrone refers to is The Pinkel Dance, recently linked for all our viewing pleasure in a RMN post by Tim Worstell
The pitch in May was a success and a contract was signed in August. Now, if you’re thinking that was a fast turn-around, well it was. One reason it moved quickly was because Tyrone had put together a good DJ plan, one for which he had wisely reached out for help.
"I’m friends with Nelly’s producer, who is friends with the St. Louis Rams’ DJ (DJ PRU). He gave me a rundown of what he does and I got to ask him a lot of questions, DJ to DJ. I wanted to tap into his experience, what he finds difficult, what his day looks like, things like that…I just wanted to get that feedback from a professional standpoint. He helped me put it all together."
But there’s another reason the stadium DJ went from idea to approval in three quick months.
"It turns out that (Mizzou) had the game DJ idea in their mind already," Tyrone explained, "but they were not planning to incorporate it as early as this year. When we approached them, they were excited, like ‘Hey, these guys already did the work for us.’"
Now, as you might guess, a live DJ at The Zou will likely be met with a few wrinkled brows and rolled eyes. In fact, the comment threads in Tim Worstell’s post
are seasoned with a pinch of snark and fried up in some good old fashioned Show-Me skepticism. Even the official mutigers.com press release on game day enhancements
gave a relatively muted announcement, with but one sentence about the Faurot Field DJ (with roughly equal billing as a new t-shirt launcher).
But hey, before anybody dubs this a gimmick, or before we start yelling at the proverbial kids to get out of our proverbial lawn, let’s hear DJ Beatz out. What is the plan?
"We’ve walked through sample games already. It all starts before the game," as he explains, "We want people in the stadium earlier, so I play a part in that. Then, getting the players hyped as they warm up."
What about during the game?
"I will get assigned some of the ‘breaks’ but I will not be overshadowing the band. I will be second to the band in terms of musical support, helping elevate and complement what the band does, as a team effort. The band is number one. That’s how I feel. I mean, when you come to a college football game you want that football feel, and the band is a big part of that."
And what about mixing media, doing mash-ups with the band? Or integration of a live drumline with your music?
"This just recently came up. I don’t want to speak soon on it, but I definitely think it’s something we can get into as the season goes along. I’m all for it, as long as it makes sense and we can make it work logistically."
As always, Tyrone will be constantly observing.
"For the first couple games, I’ll really be watching how people react. What works? What can I zone in on? I want to learn that first so I can double-down the next time and raise the level."
And yes I asked, and yes he confirmed, that he’d be open to the occasional live chat, dedicated thread, or podcast/Q&A with rockmnation.com…where I assured him he’d get an earful of ideas. (Especially for the, ahem, Tennessee game. Third down song ideas, anyone?)
Finally, just so everyone knows, on game days DJ Beatz will be stationed inside the brick wall under the Rock M. Of course, this invites a little dreaming…how about our very own "Fifth Quarter" on the Rock M hill, with band and DJ mash-ups? That could be cool. Done right it could be more than cool, it could be mammoth.
The Finale: "A Spirit That’s Deep Within…"
Even the most skeptical of fans can admit that the right music at the right time has the power to move a room, to unite a stadium, to align the moods of the masses in resonant frequency. Music can get us through the tribulations. It can punctate the triumphs.
However, for a stadium DJ, getting the gig is only the beginning. They, just like the athletes on the playing field, can boom or bust. Ultimately, their success hinges on how they contribute to the team and to the atmosphere.
With this in mind, I asked Tyrone to imagine forward in time. It is a football Saturday in Missouri, a crisp fall evening, air abuzz and ether electrified. Voices are hoarse, energy spent. The final gun has sounded on Faurot Field and the last song has played…How, I asked him, will you gauge your success? How will you measure a job well done?
(For an instant Tyrone grew silent, pensive. Then he found his beat.)
"I think music is something that is a universal truth. It moves everybody. So if I do a good job, regardless of the outcome of the game, the music will stay in (the crowd’s) spirits. They’ll leave with positive attitude. And when we win and we’re all turned up to ‘10’ then if I do a good job then we’ll go to ‘11.’ It’s about elevating that atmosphere and helping everyone have a smile on their face."
Wait a second…happiness, smiles, impact on the human spirit…this reminds me of something…I’ve heard this before, haven’t’ I? Yes, we have all heard this before.
Cue the marching band…
Every true son, so happy-hearted
Skies above us are blue
There’s a spirit that’s deep within us
Old Missouri, here’s to you!
And while you’re at it, cue the DJ, too.
There is one more detail to round out the Origin Story of DJ Beatz. Perhaps it is the most important.
For winning that beat making contest as a teenager, Tyrone won a brand new computer. Coincidentally, just the week before he had just purchased a new laptop, paid for with the savings from his job at McDonalds, the job he started the day he turned 16 years old.
What happened next is special.
Tyrone Williams – the boy who grew up "broke and poor," the boy who earned his lunch money by collecting cans and doing front yard magic acts, the boy who had at times been homeless – looked beyond himself and donated the prize computer right back to the community center.
"It serves me no purpose to be greedy," Tyrone explains. "I’m not a materialistic person. I only use what I need. I thought of it like this, ‘If I can work with this laptop and two speakers I already have, then I’m gonna work it. I’m gonna work it to the limit.’"
Tyrone, congratulations man. This time you’ve won more than a new computer. You’ve won a golden ticket to be part of the Mizzou team. And at Faurot field, you’ll have 70,000 teammates.
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