Bay Area native Yurimagination is a DJ well known for his nostalgic style, dropping early 2000s rap with a heavy focus in R&B. Yuri's love for R&B is well documented for those that follow his previous mixes - but recently has delved further into exploring and pushing traditional sounds further through his platform with a monthly mix series entitled Sweet Nothings Radio. Last year he stepped outside his comfort zone and released a production EP, If Only, a moody exploration of the influences that shaped his sound with original flips of his own creation. 

Below is a conversation we had with Yurimagination, which delved off into nostalgia about mixtape era Pac Div & the likes - which he told us partially inspired the direction of this mix. Follow Yuri on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with him and when he'll be spinning next! Photos/Interview: Kristian Contreras

What have you been listening to lately bruh?

What have I been listening to... I've been listening to hella R&B. Like a lot of it. Daniel Ceasar, like I still can't get over Daniel Caesar's Freudian album and SZA's CTRL too, I feel like those 2 projects were probably my two favorite from 2017 for sure. I dont know what it is, I like the art direction of Daniel Caesar's and plus seeing him live too made me want to just keep playing his stuff more and more. It's a really nice art piece. And then I be listening to Sabrina Claudio and DVSN too, I like them.

Yeah I've been off that Daniel Caesar fasho, it's fire! I didn't really listen to it right away but a few weeks ago I started slapping it and it's amazing. 

It's crazy! I love how all the songs blend together, because it makes you listen to the whole thing all the way through. Even in his songs he makes references to the songs that just played, I think that's sick and super creative. He's dope live - I don't know if you went to any of his shows because it was reselling for a lot of money. He opened with Snoh Alegra, she reminds me so much of Amy Winehouse dude. She's dope.

Yeah but I think R&B is in a really good spot right now. I think it's all thanks to the producers, they really captured the... I don't know it's like a mix of early 2000s and today's modern sound too. I think DVSN captured that perfectly. I don't know, that's all I've been listening to lately. I used to listen to Soundcloud remixes a lot but then a lot of it sounds the same. I used to be listening to house flips and all of that but then I can only tolerate it for so long.

It kinda... It had a moment where it was fire. 2015 was damn near peak.

Now I feel like a lot of people are learning all the techniques of all the people that blew up and they try to incorporate it into their stuff. I think that's what makes it sound similar. I be doing that too! I'm guilty. When I be making flips I'm just like 'this shit sounds hella cool'. I get inspired from listening to stuff like that but then you're just like... it's cool for a little bit.

I feel that, it's always good to get inspired but always trying to stay centered with your style. What was your initial start into DJing like?

DJing? It's kinda a long story but when I first started I really didn't plan being a DJ. I knew that I really had a passion for music, just the type of music I was listening to. One day one of my homies - he was a DJ... his name's William Ramos, he had a gig at a house party in SF and just wanted to use my car and load all his stuff and shit. Before we left he was like 'so when we get there I'm gonna teach you how to DJ because I don't wanna be behind the tables all night, I wanna talk to girls and all that shit' and I was just like 'uhh... okay, whatever' and I went there thinking he's not gonna do that shit. But when we go there we set up and shit and we had like 3 hours, hella time before the party started so he really started teaching me. Because I had a background in dancing and stuff, I understood the structure of music so when he was teaching me I caught on really quick. I knew when to transition songs and all that stuff. I was just like 'oh shit this is kinda sick' and then I had DJed early on in the night, probably like 30 minutes or an hour and then he took over and it was a fire ass party, it was sick. The next morning I woke up with this itch to fuckin DJ... but I didn't have anything on me so I downloaded virtualDJ and all this shit and just started making mixes. I mean, not necessarily mixes but just mixing on there. Two weeks later I found out my uncle was selling a Pioneer DDJ-SX - it's what I use now still and he sold it to me for joog and I've been using it ever since. That's how it all got started.

Damn, that's tight so your uncle like - 

The timing of everything was so... I don't know. It was perfect, it was like it was meant to be.

Yeah, that is crazy. Did you come up around it because of your uncle? For instance I don't have anyone in my family that does music or anything but if you did I feel like you'd see it more as something you could do - know what I mean? 

Well I did have a few uncles that DJed. The one that sold the controller to me, I didn't really know that he messed with stuff like that but I have another uncle on my dad's side his name is Mark - he was already DJing. He had this gig, this First Friday gig in San Jose that he regularly did, and still does actually, that I come through and do every other month. I knew he DJed but I always thought it was cool. I think he was one of the more creative minded people on my dad's side of the family. I thought it was interesting but I never thought I'd be actually doing it... side by side with him too, years later. My passion for music came from my parents. The music that they put me on, at an early age. My dad just has a huge selection of CDs, all genres and shit and he still has it to this day. He'd be playing Janet Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire, The Eagles, all these types of people. He'd play this Earth Wind & Fire DVD that I always watched - he'd always have it on for no reason and I was fuckin fascinated by it. The Janet Jackson DVD too. I think that's how it all started and then when my brother was in junior high, and I was still in elementary we dropped him off first because school for them starts hella early and so we'd pull up to my school and we'd still have hella time to kill, me and my mom, so she'd always have it on 98.1 KISS FM playing hella oldies and R&B. That's how I fell in love with that music too. Whenever I was off school they'd take us to my grandparents house and then me and my brother would go upstairs and watch MTV because we weren't allowed to watch it downstairs. I'd just be watching TRL and Direct FX and all this shit where they show all the rap and R&B videos, and that's where I developed my taste. I love playing throwbacks and early 2000s/late 90's type of stuff. That's where my love for that music came from too.

Word. You said you used to dance too?

Yeah, I used to dance. I used to breakdance all throughout high school. I used to do it competitively too dude. We won like.. I think in my time, I won like two competitions but the people that I danced with are hella good. I think only one of them still does it to this day - he dances between the quarters at Warriors games. Well he used to, whenever they have a timeout and shit - it's sick. Yeah, I used to dance a lot. It was cool.

I can see where that transition to DJing would be kinda seamless. 

Yeah, heck yeah. I don't know I thought the music that we danced to was sick too, like breakbeats and all that shit. At competitions I'd be paying attention to the DJ too I thought that shit was hella interesting - I just never thought I'd actually do what they do.

 

So, where did it build from just spinning to finally putting out a project? Last year you put out a production project.

I don't know I think it was just.. well, when I was really on DJing I used to be mixing acappellas with instrumentals and stuff, and I finally dowloaded Ableton. I started messing around with that, but just watching hella Youtube stuff like Rhythm Roulette it kinda inspired me to try it. With that EP I think I was going through something emotionally and I thought 'this is my way of getting over that moment in my life'. I spent hecka time on that even though it's like 6 tracks, I spent hecka time on that because I felt like some of it I didn't know what I was doing. Some of it felt forced, so I kinda let it flow naturally with my workflow. I took my time with it until I was really happy with all the songs that I worked on  and my intention with that was to get people to write to it. If songwriters ever stumbled upon that I wanted them to be inspired to write something too. I know two people that wrote to it too, so it's dope. That was the point of the project was to get out what I needed emotionally but also inspire others to get creative with it too.

That's tight. I feel like sometimes when people do production they're very anti. They don't want bruhs to hop on their beats - understandably so though.

Yeah. One person I used to work with actually made a whole song out of one of the beats and that's actually pretty sick - shoutout to him. He actually wrote something I thought was dope, it's sick that me making that beat turned into somebody doing that. And that was before I actually dropped the whole project and I think that's what changed the direction of what I was going in just to have space for people to write while listening to those beats. I thought it was super risky because I was super known for just my mixes and I just wanted to take a risk and put that out. I was happy after I did that.

Yeah I remember when you were first putting out songs, I was like 'oh shit, okay!' It was the natural growth of it.

Yeah I'm super insecure so it took a lot for me to really put that out there. Whenever I listen to that now it takes me back to that point in my life. I was listening to that a few weeks ago, like damn I really made this?

Was that around the time of your car accident? Was this what was birthed from it?

This was after, this was after all that. My accident was September 2016 and I released that in June of 2017. I kinda just built up to that, I had dropped one mix before I dropped that EP and then it was a span of 'I feel like I need to drop something but I don't wanna drop a mix, why not try this?'. I worked on most of those tracks going to a coffee shop near my house and worked on it outside and that's how I developed the beats. I wanted to be away from home, I don't know why but the majority of the tracks that I used were all done somewhere else.

That's interesting. Most of the people I know work from home, they've got their workflow. 

Yeah I think one of them I just worked on at home but I worked on some of those songs hella late at night because I wasn't happy with them, I wasn't gonna drop until I felt comfortable with them.

Have you still been continuously working on production since then? 

A little bit here and there but nothing that I really wanna put out. Probably stuff that I throw in my DJ sets just for fun because I be making flips too, but as a whole ass song nah. That's why this year I wanted to start relearning my guitar so I can start making really nice R&B music. That's my goal for this year, to make really nice R&B production. I'm super inspired by all the stuff that I listen to already that I wanna try and make my own too. It'll teach me music theory at the same time, I wanna understand that because I feel like it'd improve my workflow.

Do you feel like it's hard to distinguish yourself - not with your production per se but when you do a mix maybe? I don't know that it was that big before but you've had that style for a while - that's what I know your mixes for. Early 2000s, nostalgic sound. 

Yeah man, I feel it because that's how I felt for a while and that's why I haven't put out a lot of stuff at the same time too because I feel like Soundcloud now is oversaturated with a lot of "DJs". There's some people that just put songs together with no transitions, they just put stuff together they don't really label themselves a DJ but you have all these mixes floating around Soundcloud and I swear - most of these mixes have the same tracklist as the next one. That's what made it hard for me is just that everybody's now on this throwback thing. It's cool, there's some people that haven't really listened to throwbacks in a long time and get that spark. A lot of people get hella plays out of it, but me when I do it now I wanna be known for my taste and that's why I started this new idea in my head where I choose R&B tracks that are soulful. Something that you listen to on a Sunday night because you know how there's The Quiet Storm - this is my version of that and it's called Sweet Nothings. I wanna invite guest DJs and stuff to hop in on it too because I feel like R&B for certain people is not the same way I see it and that's what I wanna get from all the guest DJs that I have on there. I want their perspective too. It's just something for somebody driving home to listen to on a Sunday night - it's really what my goal is for that. I feel like that's my way of setting myself apart from all the other Soundcloud DJs, a lot of people have those party mixes but I just feel like I'm not like that, I'm so chilled out so I'm just choosing to do this. Have this lil R&B series, see how it goes and if it makes me happy creatively I'm gonna keep doing it. I wanna be more consistent this year, just like you said. I wanna be more consistent with my mixes because I know a lot of my friends ask me 'when's the next one coming out' and all that stuff and I feel hella bad when I tell them 'soon' but the only thing stopping me is me because I wanna be different all the time. So yeah, it's really hard to be different now because there's so many people putting out the same thing and stuff that I wanna do too or songs that I wanna use.

The internet has made it so that you can learn something super quick and you'll feel confident about it but you just started so you put out an early version of something. It's cool that people can do that but I think folks maybe need to take more time before doing things. 

That's my thing too that I notice when I make mixes now. I'll start it, finish it - play it back for a few days but if I don't feel like it's making me happy i'm just gonna take certain songs out and redo it again. If there's a transition I feel like is hecka iffy I'll redo the whole project even. I don't know, I want my audience to be unique, maybe similar to how I am. I don't want people to just go to me because of throwbacks, like I said earlier I wanna be known for my taste and I want likeminded people to be following me. That's my goal this year, I feel like so many people are on my throwback mixes that went viral and they want me to put more of that out but I'm totally not in that direction. I want people to like... I don't have no idea.

I mean, I think they're there. They're ready for whatever. 

It's crazy because I think my following on Soundcloud has gone up so much and I haven't put out a lot and I think it's just because of the way Soundcloud works that they come across it. I dig people that when I actually have a gig and I run into somebody that calls me Yurimagination - that's a trip dude. I'm so used to just my friends coming out to my gigs but when I come across somebody that came to see me, that's crazy.

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