Earlier this week, the non profit organization Windows of Hip Hop alongside the Bronx borough president Vanessa L. Gibson invited Hot 97’s Funkmaster Flex to the Bronx School for Law, Government, & Justice to speak with students currently taking a popular DJing class. The 54-year-old DJ spoke candidly with the students about his journey to becoming one of New York City’s most popular DJs and what life lessons he learned along the way. To his surprise, he also received a citation officially making May 22 Funkmaster Flex Day.
Funkmaster Flex, born Aston George Taylor Jr., grew up in the Bronx to two Jamaican parents. Flex wasn’t allowed to play outside in his neighborhood, so he saved his money and purchased two turntables when he was in the 10th grade. At the time, vinyls cost $4 each. His mom happened to give him that exact amount for lunch money everyday, so he would go hungry and was able to purchase two vinyls every two days. “I couldn’t dance, didn’t know how to rhyme, but I wanted to be in the scene,” he shared.
Flex told the students that he became good at his craft. He didn’t smoke weed, do cocaine or pills. He wanted to pay attention. This is when he began to meet people. He did an internship at 98.7 Kiss FM and began carrying records for the infamous DJ Red Alert. In the meantime, he worked at his high school, buffing floors and cleaning toilets. “I know nobody wants to do anything that doesn’t look good on the gram’,” he told the class, “but all those things build character.”
Flex continued to work on his dreams as a DJ, but also decided to enroll in culinary school. He became a prep cook at the Marriott and began an apprenticeship with a popular chef in the city. “I was going to be one of the first popular African American chefs. I already knew that I did an internship with a popular chef and went to school, nobody was gonna tell me no.” But during this time, he got an internship at a radio station and the rest is history.
Leave the entitlement behind
Flex prides himself on the hard work he put in to get to where he is now. “Right now there’s entitlement. You guys feel because you were born you should have opportunities. That’s not the way it worked when I grew up. That was earned. So I earned a chance to buy a popular DJ french fries, hamburgers, and drive him around whenever he needed. Because a person giving you an opportunity to see is priceless.” He told the class that these days, people believe when you meet someone, they should give them an opportunity, or that people are “hating” on them. But he says there’s no such thing as hate, but that if, “you want opportunity, you take it,” and that he always goes into something with, “it’s not if, it’s when.”
No = go harder
Flex also shared how the word no shouldn’t be a deterrent. “Some people take pride in saying no, because they’re not authorized to tell people yes.” He says that being able to say no empowers some people but that he knows he will find a way to sidestep them. “No should be a reason to go harder.”
Owning who you are
When a student asked about the times Flex doubted himself, he shared that he believes you have to be able to access yourself to go forward. As a DJ, he knew that talking wasn’t his best quality and his voice was a little annoying, so he had to be more aggressive with the music. He also realized that while his original dream was to become a DJ for a rapper, his music wasn’t all that great. So he pivoted. “I had to figure out my niche. I had to use as many assets as possible to go forward.” But, he says he never doubted himself. Once again, it was never a question of if he was going to get in, but when.
How he’s stayed in the game
Finally, a student asked Flex how he has managed to still stay relevant after so many years. So he told them a story about a popular DJ in the 90s who he knew was a weed smoker. “In my mind, [that means] he’s not getting up until noon. I’m going to get up at 10 a.m. So he was better than me, cuter than me, and the girls digged him—but I outworked him.”