Artist

JOHNICK

For most people, especially outsiders, the story of New York is the story of Manhattan. But there are many other stories. There are the breakers and DJs that created hip hop in the Bronx. There's the Wu Tang Clan over in Staten Island or the deep roots of jazz in Queens, where everyone from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane lived. And in Brooklyn, just over the bridge from downtown Manhattan, lived a pair of Italian-American DJs, Johnny 'D' De Mairo and Nicky Palermo Jr, aka Johnick.

Brooklyn is an important part of the duo's story and many of their closest friends come from the land across the Brooklyn Bridge, whether it's Kenny Dope from Sunset Park or Todd Terry in Coney Island. "I always felt that even from going to school in Manhattan in the early 80s, a lot of the people there didn't have deep roots," explains Johnny D. "My family is three or four generations in Brooklyn. When you went to Brooklyn, up until recently, and you went to an Italian area, those homes were pretty much built for Italians and they'd lived there for years. But in Manhattan, people would come from all over the world and settle, so in Brooklyn there were a lot more roots you could trace back. I liked that about it."

Johnny D and Nicky were both teenage DJs operating in Brooklyn at teen parties, block parties and various mobile gigs in the borough and beyond. Johnny began DJing at 12. "I was always obsessed with music and once I realised the turntables and mixer was how you put things together I really felt I would be good. In my head I always have medleys of two or three things going on at once, so I was very interested to see how it all worked, whether it was a double track or a phase or whatever. I thought it was incredible what you could do. So I was very interested in understanding the art of DJing."

The pair first met in their early teens. "We lived two blocks away from each other but didn't really know each other even though we both knew many of the same people," explains Nicky. "In our neighbourhood, there were lots of hang out places and many DJs and we all used to go to each others block parties and that's where I first really started talking to and hanging out with John. We used to go to each others houses all the time and DJ (as we both had equipment) and just listen to the new records that he or I had."

"I lived at 162 President Street and he lived at 252 President Street," adds Johnny. "Nicky still lives there. We used to hang out at this place called Phil's Country Store. I knew of him, because my cousin was in his class, but in 1982 I think he started DJing and we started talking to each other. Then we started doing gigs together. We'd turn each on to music and things like that."

They make a good team. Johnny is your typical in-your-face New Yorker, effusive, enthusiastic and with the drive of a souped-up Hummer, while Nicky is more happy to stay in the background. By his own confession, Johnny lacks patience, so it would frequently be Nicky who put the SP1200 through its paces in the studio or did the lion's share of the programming. "Production was just the natural progression for us," explains Nicky.

They got their studio start through Kenny 'Dope' Gonzalez. "It all came about from hanging with Kenny," confesses Johnny. "He was creating incredible magic in his bedroom. It was really raw and he was really being ghetto. His stuff was incredible sounding. In 1992, he said, "Why don't you get a drum machine and sampler and I'll teach you how to do it." So Kenny taught me how to use the stuff and then I taught Nicky." Adds Nicky: "Kenny showed Johnny the basics, Johnny showed me the basics and there it was. And, to be safe, I took many notes on a yellow pad. It also didn't hurt that we used to go to Kenny's house often and the Bass Hit Studio often to watch many Masters At Work sessions."
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