2003 Music Awards

The readers spoke, and the RFT music staff listened. Find out who's large and in charge on the St. Louis music scene.

Best Hip-Hop DJ
Needles
This year's batch of nominees covers the full spectrum of the many duties of a hip-hop DJ. We have radio/rap jocks, party-rockers, underground entrepreneurs, drum-machine technicians, mix-tape masters (and one mistress), but this year's winner is one who responds to all calls of the hip-hop DJ. DJ Needles has become a household name in the St. Louis hip-hop scene, appealing to both the hardcore underground set as well as the more conservative fans of Top 40 rap, all the while maintaining a consistent style, never changing his persona to impress a specific crowd.

Each week provides numerous opportunities to catch Needles in action, whether onstage, up in da club or in the comfort of your own home. Sunday nights, tune into Q 95.5 FM at 10 p.m. to catch Needles' radio show "Phat Laces." This is his airwave soapbox to the people, transmitting the sounds from the underground to the masses. Alongside MC Finsta and fellow DJ Agile-1 (another one of this year's nominees), Needles shoves aside The Q's usual menu of Ludacris and Missy Elliott in favor of lesser-heard tracks from independent and up-and-coming artists such as J-Live, Brother Ali and Wildchild.

Swing by Vintage Vinyl and pick up any of Needles' many many many mix CDs. His "Fresh Mix" series highlights new releases from the world of underground hip-hop, whereas his mixes under the name DJ Proceed, filled with original and funky remixes of popular hip-hop songs, showcase Needles' talent as a beatsmith.

But Friday nights are when you can catch Needles at his best -- onstage at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room for St. Louis' weekly hip-hop ritual, the Science. Once the live KDHX-FM (88.1) broadcast comes to a close, the opening DJs have set the mood and eased the crowd onto the dance floor, Needles takes over the turntables and shows the 300-plus weekly Science students just how much fun a Friday night can be. Drinks spill, people yell, dancers carelessly flail, all to the rhythms of classics by Run-DMC, Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, MC Lyte and of-the-moment bangers the Neptunes, Jay-Z, and the like, all diced to perfection. Look around: There's not a still body in the room, not a frown to be found.

Go get off your butt, see and hear Needles in action, and find out why he deserves the title of Best Hip-Hop DJ. -- Michael Davis

Best Club DJ
Steve-O
Another year, another success for DJ veteran Steve-O (not to be confused with the guy from Jackass who may or may not be a success). DJs in this town come in all shapes, sizes and sexes -- not to mention varying levels of skill. That's where the native St. Louisan cues in. He's clocked eleven years on the decks, and his highly skilled sets never fail to get people happy and dancing. His spins are composed of mostly Chicago house with a little old funk and soul thrown in from time to time. He'll jump from Stevie Wonder or Earth Wind and Fire to more modern tracks. And he can be heard in the city practically any night of the week.

As if playing out all the time weren't enough, he's now getting into a little production work with St. Louis' very own Scott Bryan (yes, it's that same guy who toured with Sheryl Crow). Bryan and Steve-O have begun work on an EP that should be out later this year. Steve-O speaks highly of their partnership: "He's got his thing he's doing, and I have my thing I'm doing, and we're meeting in the middle and writing some stuff, and it's been a lot of fun."

Steve-O has evolved from party host to production artist and DJ. But although his production work is keeping him busy these days, that's not what has earned him the reverence of the St. Louis dance-music scene (not yet, anyway). With an easy laugh, plenty of experience and the better part of a year spent in Germany, Steve-O is an urban, omnipresent kind of guy. In addition to regular gigs at club-district Washington Avenue's Rue 13, South Grand's Upstairs Lounge with Boomer (among others) and upstairs at Faces on the weekends, he also plays at the south city Bosnian dance club Aquarius. He's often the only American ambassador there and says, "When I got back from Germany, I asked my friend to take me to the most European coffee shop that you can think of," and there he hooked up with the eventual owner of Aquarius.

For someone who works more nights than most people, Steve-O truly seems to enjoy his job. When asked what the best part of being a DJ is, he replies with his characteristic modesty and humor: "Knowing what record comes next before [the fans] do. If I'm trying to set something up, and I'm trying to hit them off-guard with what's coming next, I already know and I'm smiling." And so are you. -- Alison Sieloff

Best Groove
CORE Project
At a recent bachelor party we were both attending for our mutual friend John, CORE Project bassist T-Mills confessed to being the tiniest bit perplexed over the "Groove" category. We had a short discussion about categories in general, and the dangers of taking too seriously how the music press feels about one's band. Then we both drank some more. Well, despite that evening's philosophical and libational meanderings, CORE Project is now officially St. Louis' best groove band. Congratulations, boys.

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