Photography by Isaac Rosenthal
Forward by Michelle Sullivan
Danny Calderon goes by the artistic moniker Mr. Calderon. Born and raised in the Bronx, he is a creator and ambassador for the beauty of what happens between the beat and the dance-floor. To us, he is simply Danny - friend, DJ, producer, educator and source for all the right menu choices at Dominican spots around the city. He also spends his time educating curious minds, by leading the new music production program at a global technology brand.
STORY AND DISPOSITION
A new series that profiles artists and advocates of the music industry community.
We choose to document these wonderful individuals, because we believe in them. We want you to see the magic and beauty that we see.
Our tools are the art of portrait photography, interview and song selection.
Danny was born in New York City and raised by first-generation immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic. Growing up in the Bronx, he got to see New York from the inside, in all it’s beauty and ugliness. These were elements of growing up in a neighborhood where you had to have a sense of survival.
Growing up, his parents told him precautionary tales which developed an understanding in him: if there's an action, there’s also a repercussion. He had distractions (his “so-called friends”) in the neighborhood who were up to no good – trying to sway him to do the things that seem cool as a young person: drugs and forms of violence.
His mother’s name is Mercedes, and his Dad is Denilo. They immigrated to the States in the late 1970s.
I love seeing Danny’s New York youth as he recalls it. Art. Street Fashion. Urban fashion as it related to hip-hop and RnB. The influence that the artists had on the streets and then into the hearts of the community in an interdependent way, fueling the exchange. Language. And how you connect with it.
“You can be around it, but you might not necessarily be about it” he says, "when you are about it, you can speak to it. Understanding a culture is to embrace it.”
BY DANNY CALDERON
Hip-hop is so different. This (Death Row Records) is West Coast music. And West Coast music reached the East Coast, and it reached New York. And it was very influential.
I was in elementary school. I was very into hip-hop and sci-fi films. As I’m describing this, I'm pretty sure everyone else around me was also experiencing this in some way, shape or form. You know the music. Art. The Flash. And all this intertwined. And that's the hook of being here: you have access. At that time, I think I was 10 years old, everything was happening in New York.
Certain things remind me of that time. I remember Air Jordans – if you didn't have Air Jordans, you were not cool. You were not cool if you didn’t have the latest color, it's not necessarily just wearing the model. I guess being young, you don't really have a sense of guilt or responsibility, because you're living at home with your parents, and they're taking care of you.
We didn’t have the internet, we just had the radio and we had cassette tapes that we used to record radio stations. We would stop recording when the commercials came on. And then we would hit record as soon as a song was coming up, so we could catch the very beginning. And as soon as the break was coming up, we had to press pause. And that was our playlist! I actually used to have a Sony Walkman.
Dr. Dre was a huge influence on my wanting to be a part of music. At that time I didn't notice, but as an adult looking back and reading about it, that first The Chronic album was when hip-hop became music. When hip-hop had an introduction that was different from the verse, that was different from the chorus. A definitive part was very musical – a lot of the influence that he drew from was Funkadelic. He blended it with hip-hop, and it was gangsta rap. And the gangsta rap was so shocking. I don't think any rapper was talking about gunning the police down. It was very politically charged and very, very forward. The music felt dangerous. It was the edginess that was so different and so appealing. I didn’t want to live that life, but I understood what they were saying.
I just loved the music, the bass, the guitar and the cadences. You know, the way they deliver. Hearing their lyrics was when I understood – there’s something going on with music. And that was really the turning point for me. I embraced hip-hop even further.
When I was growing up, my parents were very conservative. Not to the point where it was constricting on my development as a child, but they enforced rules and didn’t encourage my listening to hip-hop. They didn’t approve of rap culture because there was a lot of cursing, and my parents thought it was a bad influence. But as a child, I understood that it was just music. It did influence the way I dress, the way I spoke, but I didn't take the action of getting into any violence.
So I used to sneak. I used to buy these mixtapes. There was a store down the street in the Bronx where they sold bootleg T-shirts and all this counterfeit stuff. Clothing mostly, but they also had bootleg and counterfeit tapes of hip-hop tracks. It was the latest and the best of what was being played on the radio and what people wanted. I would go to this place and I would muster up my allowance money. It was one cassette for $3, two cassettes for $5. I would walk into the store and ask for the particular album or artist.
The store was run by Jamaicans. They would run to the back and pull out this cardboard box of tapes – neatly aligned, horizontally in rows and columns, covered by a plush towel. He would remove the towel as though it were a veil, to protect the tapes and keep the holiness of them. In reality they were doing it for legal reasons, because the DEA would run up on these places, secure this counterfeit stuff and close up the shop.
We were all buying these tapes, and I had an amazing collection of them. You know, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, The Chronic, the first Wu Tang tape, Return of the 36 Chambers, Nas, his first album. And the list goes on.
It was a a really interesting time, it’s what everyone was doing in New York. There were shops like this all over New York City. They were down on every street corner. They would open up the secret doors and sell bootleg, counterfeit product.
They were targets all the time. These people had viable stores where they were selling groceries and incense. The bodegas were selling these tapes, because they knew that it was a hot commodity at the time. People needed to have it. I had to have it!
Some of these artists were doing the grassroots movement of going to the stores themselves and handing out the tapes. These artists were being recognized by their neighborhoods through word of mouth. You had to go here, get to this store, to get this tape from that artist. And you couldn't know unless you were in the streets and you were talking to people. There was no internet. There wasn't much sophistication to it. But there was so much poetry to their hustle, which is really admirable. It was real. Which is why we were so loyal to those artists.
My mother would think I was going to the bodega to buy candy or something like that. I’d actually go around the corner to this underground music spot where I would buy my tapes.
And then I fell in love with the DJ culture. I realized I needed to get educated on what it takes to become a music composer. How do these guys make their beats?
The Neptunes were flourishing at the time. It was an Asian guy and an African-American guy – and there was this idea that it shouldn't be happening because it's so unusual. Here’s a guy, with a black guy, making beats. And they're making beats better than anyone else.
They were doing what they were feeling and what they were influenced by, but they also understood the business part. The music was different. It was hot. But you still had elements that you connected with as you had heard in the past. We heard it somewhere in hip-hop, but it wasn't that exactly. It was the DNA of it. But it was also something completely different. That’s exciting. Dangerous too. In an exciting way. They were fusing genres of music that you wouldn't mix. They were ahead of the pack.
I fell in love with the art of recording music on a computer. I learned enough to understand it, and use it as a tool to make music. Then, engineering school helped me understand what tools and instruments I needed for the kind of music I wanted to make.
I remember getting my first instrument. I barely had any money, but I had a little that I saved up for like six months so that I could get the MPC drum machine. All the hip hop guys were using them. I remember asking my mom. I was like, “Mom, I need $1,200. Do you have a credit card?” This was in the early 2000s. That was pretty expensive. My mother ended up using the credit card, and I gave her the money that I had saved up. That was the first official instrument I used to make hip-hop music.
I can't speak from any other place, but what I've noticed in New York City is that we don't really have a dance/culture club where people go. That's because if you want to get into a club to have a good time, expect to buy a table. Be around models. Have bottles. Spend money. As someone who embraces a culture, and as a part of the culture, that's not my New York city.
I feel like the Bronx is part of my musical knowledge. I think it will always be in the DNA of me and my music. Or rather, my art. My art will always be anchored by my memories of growing up in the Bronx.
Thanks to my environment and living in the Bronx, there's always going to be an urban element to the way I approach art. It’s a result of my influences and the type of music I grew up listening to. I don't know if I could say that my music is an expression of where I'm from, but it helped me become what I am now. Being able to express my experience is the best I can do.
I N C O N V E R S A T I O N
I consider my relationship with technology to be harmonious. I use it with purpose and intent in communication and job performance. Technology is effective for me when there is purpose. I rely on its efficiencies that I otherwise wouldn't have. When faced with human disadvantages and extreme challenges, it becomes the essential choice for resolve. Precaution must always be taken if technology becomes distracting. I think a sense of humanity and basic survival skills could be lost if used improperly.
When I create, regardless of the medium, my intent is for my genuine expression to connect with people and to build relationships within the community. When I create art, my hope is that it's therapeutic or that it contains a message that helps another to discover a resolution. I would also hope that my craft can be used as a conversational tool, and that it creates a ripple effect of drawing people closer together to share ideas.
I interpret discipline as a self-imposed guide which helps me maintain consistent focus toward achieving a desired goal. It's like building a road and then driving a car to reach the other side, and then repeating the same steps again with the same philosophy. This skill requires conditioning and consistency, and ultimately it becomes ingrained as part of a lifestyle ethic.
The quality of integrity is what I mostly identify with. Being able to be honest with myself and others garners the respect that we all seek.
His greatest Limitation
At times it's simply myself. Having too much time to think can halt my ability to be fearless. The more time I spend thinking about being a perfectionist with my craft, the less I output with no action. I have been able to face this challenge because I now understand it. I’ve developed exercises that involve more risk taking and less fear of having preconceived outcomes.
My idea of failure is a result from an action which unveils a weakness, that I may or may not be aware of. The experience becomes a lesson one must learn from, to be able to overcome fear and develop a new level of understanding to improve. I embrace failure as a learning opportunity and a stepping stone toward growth.
Danny was asked to select eight songs that would help us understand him better.
Songs that have shaped his life and experiences.
1. SIR DUKE BY STEVIE WONDER
The song is considered to derive from one of the greatest albums ever made in human existence: Songs in the Key of Life. I love the groove of this track, especially in the horn section. The infectious melody and Stevie's lyrical message talks the truth that music is for all. It makes your body move, no matter who you are, and that is very powerful and relevant message.
5. My Song by Labi Siffre
This record makes me emotional every time I listen to it, and that’s the beauty of its effect. It’s honest and vulnerable – that’s what makes it empowering. Labi has an incredible voice too. The "I Wonder” sample by Kanye West introduced me to Labi.
2. LOVE THEME BY VANGELIS
This song’s melody gives me goosebumps every time I hear the saxophone line. It is from the "Blade Runner” soundtrack. The movie is arguably the greatest sci-fi film ever made, and this song is as poetically symbolic as the film’s message: Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? The entire soundtrack is beautifully composed.
6. Shook Ones by Mobb Deep
This record right here, has one of the sickest samples - Quincy Jones'
Kitten With the Bent Frame. Prodigy’s, may he R.I.P., his lyrics are one of the most memorable gangster poetry verses in hip hop history. The energy is so hype and crazy on this record and to me, it represents my beautiful city's NYC East Coast Hip Hop.
3. Prototype by Outkast
This song is paying homage to Bootsy Collins with the bass, Jimi Hendrix with the guitars, Prince with the vocals and Funkadelic with the energy. Listening to this record made me realize the importance of drawing inspiration from the musical past and acknowledging the figures who built the foundation for us. Musical evolutionary progression can only occur if you seek to understand the past.
7. It Ain't Hard to Tell by Nas
This record right here is '90s New York. It reminds me of my elementary school days. I remember watching Video Music Box after school to catch the music video. Pete Rock produced this record and he’s on my top 10 list of favorite hip hop producers.
4. MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE BY RYUICHI SAKAMOTO
I absolutely love this record because of it's musical dynamic range. The piano soloand sections of this piece induce a ping pong effect of happy and sadness. The composer is one of the Godfather's of electronic music from Japan. He formed Yellow Magic Orchestra in the 70s.
8. Electric Relaxation by A Tribe Called Quest
This record is so fly, jazzy and indicative of the 90’s in NYC. I was inspired and musically influenced by this record. Tribe is a big reason for my desire to become a music composer.