By Suchi Rudra
Fresh from four years at the University of Toronto, Daniel Yuta Nakayama stood at a crossroad in his life. He had plans to head to Japan on an ice hockey scholarship. But the young Japanese Canadian made a decision that changed everything.
Daniel became DJ Baby Yu, and a musical hobby turned into what has become an unstoppable career as a DJ and producer.
“My DJ career was taking off, and I thought it would be a waste to just quit, so I continued. I was already DJing across Canada, had a radio show on Flow 93.5 FM, DJ’d on Canada’s Much Music, opened up for major concert events and was doing mixtapes hosted by major artists. It was hard for me to turn back on all of that,” he says.
Although he doesn’t specialize in mixing Japanese music, the 35-year-old’s connection to his heritage is rock solid.
Growing up, DJ Baby Yu attended Japanese school every Saturday until the end of high school. He he pursued Japanese Studies when he enrolled at the University of Toronto. And during his most recent visit to Japan, DJ Baby Yu not only organized his family’s first ever family reunion, but also started a family tree.
“I was able to trace back to my great, great, great grandparents, which was incredible for me. I understand that it’s easy to lose the connection with your roots and relatives when a family immigrates to a different country, so it was important to me to learn about my ancestors, culture and language to stay in touch with them.”
While the soundtrack of his childhood consisted of JPop and Enka songs, which first brought on the DJ’s love of music, it was the popularity of DJ culture in Japan that inspired and motivated him to play around with tracks. In fact, DJ Baby Yu is known by yet another name–“The Remix Kid”.
“To understand how people live in different parts of the world gave me more meaning of variety, which makes me more creative. Being exposed to traditional Japanese music, I think it opened up my mind organically and made me into this diverse DJ and producer,” he says.
Based in Atlanta, DJ Baby Yu works as a radio DJ for V-103 FM, is resident DJ at several Atlanta night clubs, presently serves as official tour DJ for hip hop artist Young Jeezy and is part of Electronic Dance Music group, Sato Goldschlag.
DJ Baby Yu has already DJ’d in over 30 countries and is currently producing Hip Hop, R&B, House, Dubstep, Trap, Nu Disco and Pop records. “Believe me, people in Asia know how to get down to this music,” he adds.
DJ Baby Yu says his discovery of various musical genres comes from exploring Canada’s ethnic diversity, but he also thanks his many friends over the years for opening up his world of music.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be here today. I’ve learned so much through their musical experiences. Sweeney and Toni taught me about 90s R&B, Darryl taught me everything that had to do with the 80s, Chris helped me pick out Rap records, Phillip taught me how to play soca songs, Junior introduced me to reggae music, Rob makes me listen to indie and afro/soul house records, and so forth. My friends influenced me more than they will ever know, and I’m forever grateful for them.”
By now, DJ Baby Yu has performed at concert after parties for some of the biggest names in the industry, including Rihanna and Jay-Z, and he’s been sought out for his production skills by Kanye West during his “Watch The Throne” tour with Jay-Z.
“It’s motivating to be in the presence of successful people. It fuels my energy to work harder to achieve more. My focus remains the same. I’m here to inspire, so the bigger my brand gets, the more people I can reach out to. Making people happy—that’s my main goal. I just want everyone to live with a positive attitude, and I believe I have the power to do that.”
Still, there’s much to learn in the entertainment industry, and, he adds, it’s not just about perfecting your craft or learning about music. There’s a lot more to it, including building your brand and being strong enough to take the pressures of the industry. Lately, DJ Baby Yu has been studying music theory to help him further his career as a producer.
“I think one should never stop learning in general. It’s a great motto to live by,” he says.
DJ Baby Yu also has a few words of advice for aspiring musicians: “Do this because you love it. Success should come organically. I believe that if you focus on how much you love what you do, success will follow you. Secondly, there should be NO rules when it comes to your creativity. People will love you because you have your own lane. Stop trying to be like someone else. You have your own story, so tell it to the world.”
DJ Baby Yu performed in September at the Southern Company Salute to Excellence at The Congressional Black Caucus 43rd Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.