There was a time when all I had to do to get in touch with DJ Green Lantern was open up a file cabinet in the office of my record store, pull out a folder of consignments from local artists, and give him a ring. "Green," I'd say, "We need, I dunno, about 10 more copies of your mix CD It's Just Us and the Guns." Click.
Now, a few years later, DJ Green Lantern --- Rochester native James D'Agostino by day --- is at the top of a bureaucratic pyramid of phone calls and voice messages, representatives and busy schedules. It took two months of tracking to finally get a word with him. And it's no surprise: DJ Green Lantern is now Eminem's official DJ, meaning that you can catch glimpses of him spinning records while Eminem is rapping on your television.
He also has a weekly show on New York City's Hot 97 FM, the radio station for hearing the next thing mainstream rap has to offer. And a walk down Manhattan's Canal Street --- where you'll find bootlegs of everything from Gucci products to hit CDs to DJ Green Lantern's mix tapes --- proves he's one of the hottest DJs of the moment. Inserts advertising his impending solo debut on Shady Records accompany every Obie Trice CD sold in America. He also has his own extensive touring to deal with: Germany, the tropics, and, when I finally got a hold of him, Australia.
"That was a crazy-ass experience," he says on the phone from Shady Records. "That was, on some levels, equal to the experience of doing the domestic and world tour with Eminem and 50 [Cent], because it was all mine. I was the star. It was just me DJin' out there... That's 5,000 people a night, there just to see me. It's more of a rush. To be coming out in droves and standing in line for autographs from some kid from Rochester, it blows my mind."
But the fame didn't come overnight. Like many DJs, Green discovered hip-hop in its infancy, listening to early-'80s pioneers like the Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Making beats for MCs to freestyle over became a hobby, and hip-hop a lifestyle. By the start of the '90s, enough people were coming to him for beats that he started DJing in the city. And that's when he began to realize that his hip-hop career had the potential to blow up.
"DJing was something I fell into," he says. "I started doing clubs in Rochester around '94, mix tapes around '96. The response that I got from the Roc was inspiring, so I tried to branch out and make something out of it as far as the bigger picture. Being a DJ is a slow grind. As a rapper you wake up one day and sign a record deal and you're a star. It's not like that for DJs. You get a little bit at a time. With the mix tapes [getting popular] I started going out of town more."
Promoters began putting together mini tours, and Green became one of the biggest DJs in the hip-hop underground, producing mix tapes of all the up-and-coming songs good DJs somehow manage to get their hands on before anyone else.
The mix-tape business is to the hip-hop world what AAA baseball is to the Major Leagues: a proving ground for new talent to try and establish street cred. Feuds between artists are often played out on these underground jewels. When 50 Cent couldn't get off the ground, he took to the mix-tape circuit, beefed it out with Ja Rule, and soon had enough of the streets to make Eminem take notice.
Green Lantern has come along at the right moment in the mix-tape business. Their increasing popularity with the record-buying public has opened many artists to the idea of making cameos or full-on appearances (Alicia Keys introduced a recent Green mix tape) with the seriousness of appearing in a major motion picture.
The Recording Industry of American Artists has begun to crack down on mix-tapers, citing copyright infringement. But the stir created by the RIAA has only led to more popularity and sales for Green. Case in point: A recent Rolling Stone article on the phenomenon included artwork from several of Green's mix tapes.
All of this has been happening while Green tours and makes music with one of hip-hop's biggest sellers, Eminem. Green just signed a deal with Eminem's record company, Shady Records, and is finishing his first record for the label as we speak. The whole relationship started a few years back, when Eminem --- who Green calls "meticulous" --- had a falling out with his old DJ. Green happened to be big enough at the time to get noticed.
"[Eminem's] management people were fans of what I did on the tapes," Green says. "We clicked as people... He needed a DJ for the [Anger Management] tour, and he owns a record label. Once we finished the tour I was gonna sign with somebody, but we were already doing business, so it was like, let's do it at the most convenient place, which happened to be the most creative outlet. It's the perfect situation. I'm just very blessed."
But with his skills behind the decks in such demand, Green Lantern's had to do something he never really wanted to do: leave his hometown. He finally had to make New York City --- and his gig with Hot 97 --- his new home.
"I fought it the whole way. I didn't want to leave," he says. "And this was after I was doing world tours and everything. I was still living in Rochester. It was geographically and physically a pain, because I was [constantly] driving back and forth to New York City. But [Rochester] was where I was comfortable."