Cars and music. Music and cars. The two have been inseparable since Elvis painted his Cadillac pink and John Lennon turned his Rolls-Royce Phantom V into a trip on wheels. The tie between tires and tunes is even more pronounced today, and the reigning king of hip-hop car culture is legendary New York DJ-producer-radio personality Funkmaster Flex.
With shows like Ride With Funkmaster Flex, Fast Machines With Funkmaster Flex, and most recently Funk Flex Full Throttle on MTV, Flex has turned his lifelong penchant for aftermarket alterations into a booming business that seems set to eclipse his 20-year radio-DJ career, the bulk of which he’s spent manning the boards at New York City urban-music mainstay Hot 97. It’s a passion that, like his knack for picking hits, comes from his father, a Jamaican DJ and automobile enthusiast.
“He loved deejaying and he was into sound, so he did a lot of parties, which was cool. That’s what got me into deejaying, was watching him doing what he was doing,” says Flex, surprisingly soft-spoken on the phone from his office in NYC. “My dad had a ’70 Cutlass and that was his style, you know, classic cars. My first car was an Oldsmobile, an ’84. It was pretty regular, though, because I hadn’t learned how to do anything yet.”
Flex is so enthralled with autos that he spent his last album advance entirely on setting up a custom-car shop. It was a risky move, but one that paid off. And although he’s not really a grease-under-the-fingernails kind of guy, Flex does manage all the ordering at the shop, right down to picking out fenders and bumpers.
“I took a chance and instead of wasting the money on another album, I thought, ”˜You know what? Let me try to flip this into something’—and that’s what I was able to do,” he explains. “I set up a warehouse, bought equipment, tools, and I didn’t know how to do anything, but I just took a chance and it ended up being something profitable.”
From his humble beginnings as a record gofer at KISS-FM to mixing and producing some of the biggest names in the game today—Jay-Z, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Mary J. Blige, for starters—Funkmaster Flex has always had a deep appreciation for his craft and his audience.
“A good DJ understands that he is a messenger, not a dictator, you know, and that’s the key, to give the people an option by playing as much music as possible and letting them decide if they like it or not. I think that’s the best way for it to work,” he says.
And while music may appear to be taking a back seat to tricking out celebrities’ cars these days, Flex’s legions of radio fans have nothing to fear, as his passions remain equally divided.
“I’ve learned that, after this many years in the business, you’ve got to do what makes you happy, and this is what makes me happy: cars and music.”
Funkmaster Flex deejays at Bar None tonight (July 29).