Few DJs can boast a history of beat-dropping that dates back to the days of grade school. Then again, few DJs grew up in houses as heavy with sound as that of one DJ Oski
. See Oski's pops, Pepe Pothea, was a player -- he handled percussion for some of salsa's most active bands throughout the '70s and '80s. Oski's God-pops, Papi Pena, was also a player, as well as a much-regarded arranger in the very same scene. And the young gun's Brooklyn home was filled with so much music the lad had no choice but to play some of it himself.
But rather than playing the sideman, boy Oski chose to make the backing soundtrack. By he age of eight he was manning his family's collection of classics as if he was born to the task. "Man, we had records and eight-tracks and reel-to-reels all over the place," remembers Oski, "and I was all over that."
Those formative years were spent split between Park Slope, Brooklyn and the M.I.A. When the Gonzalez clan finally made the definite move to the Magic City, father and godfather set up themselves gigging at such legendary Miami Beach hotels as the San Souci, the Casablancam and the Versailles. And the now junior high school-aged Oski tagged along as much as he was allowed. "It was like Goodfellas," he says. "We'd enter through the kitchen and my godfather would tell the staff to take care of me. It was amazing."
Yet a kid needs to get out from under even the most hallowed shadows, and by the time Gonzalez had finished high school he'd rechristened himself MC Oski and was leading his own outfit. The crew was called the Latin Connection, and they had enough hip-hop chops to interest Hot Records, who gave the up-and-comer his first big break. Gonzalez parlayed that spot into a slot in Elemento Creativo, who managed to land Spanish rap hit called "Esta Caliente."
From there the go-getting head-spinner turned to promotions, helping to spearhead Wynwood's Hoodstock series and taking over Liberty City's Carver Center, where he staged shows starring everyone from Jeru the Damaja to Fat Joe. That run ran from '93 to '95, and ended only after the cops came in and shut down the Carver for lack of proper permits during a set by no less a legend than KRS-One. "Hip hop was getting out of hand," says Oski, "though we never had a problem."
And despite the solid cred he'd built up, Gonzalez left the scene for a spell and tried his hand at a variety of less-than-satisfying careers. But sound is in Oski's soul. And by 1999 he was back at it in full force, first with a three-month stint at the Marlin fronting a rap/rock outfit called Continental, then with his own Oski Foundation.
As always, Gonzalez spun in between his band's sets. And as always, he hustled sets all over town. But one club continuously refused to book his Foundation. And it was only after a chance meeting with former Mavericks manager John Tovar that he'd finally get the gig he'd long been yearning for. Yep, you guessed it -- that club was Tobacco Road. And nearly a decade later, Gonzalez is still there.
In fact, Gonzalez is there more than ever. A few weeks back The Road appointed Gonzalez head promoter. And for the past four years he's been responsible for spinning at all the Friday night action, from happy hour to the wee small hours of the morning. The slot gives Gonzalez an opportunity to drop whatever he wants, be it some old school funk as the evening kicks into gear, the hip-hop and rock that keeps people unseated between band sets, or the "feel-good" music once the night's musicians have played their last lick. "Anything goes," says Gonzalez, "from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa. Sometimes I'll swing salsa or merengue; other times I'll go from Oasis to Steve Miller."
In addition to handling promotions by day and manning the tables by night, Gonzalez is about as staunch an advocate of Miami's oldest bar as you can get without being deemed certifiable. You can hear his absolute enthusiasm in everything he says about the place, whether it's insisting that long-time booking agent Marc Weiser is "the man that made the Road famous" or explaining what's going down on Valentine's Day. "That's when we have people get remarried," Gonzalez explains. "We set up a tent outside and an Elvis impersonator conducts the ceremony. Last year we had 32 couples come in and renew their vows. This year we're sure to top that. It's a lot of fun!"
Mostly, though, you can hear how Oski is all about Miami and its music. And if there is a better place in this city for such a cat to be working his magic, they haven't built it yet.
DJ Oski's Top Five:
1. "New York New York," Frank Sinatra
2. "Peter Piper," Run D.M.C.
3. "Hypnotized," the Notorious B.I.G.
4. "Sex Machine," James Brown
5. "Pedro Navaja," Ruben Blades
DJ Oski. Fridays at Tobacco Road, 626 S. Miami Ave., Miami. 305-374-1198; tobacco-road.com