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In this day and age, it's hard-pressed to make a living off of DJing. Most DJs do it for fun, do it as a side gig for extra cash or just make mixtapes for themselves and their friends. For DJ Chonz however, DJing has been his career for more than a decade. From his humble beginnings in the basement of his parents' home in the early 90's to being the most recognizable DJ in the state of Colorado, DJ Chonz has paid more than his share of dues.
Mario Rodriguez was born and raised in the Denver Metro area to dedicated Catholic parents. Growing up, Rodriguez was immersed in the culture of the streets, which included gang life, drugs and of course hip-hop. The hip-hop lifestyle is what he gravitated towards due to the fact that his older brother was a graffiti artist and a break dancer as well. Matter of fact, hanging out with his older brother is how Rodriguez got the name Chonz, a Mexican slang word for men's briefs.
" My brother's friends used to come over the house like when I was in junior high," Chonz says now. "There were no boxers back then really, so I was in the whitey tighties, and when they would come over, they'd be like 'Yo, chones, go put some clothes on!' I used to kick it in my chones, take out the trash in my chones, so my name was chones for awhile. Then people just started calling me Chonz."
Of the four elements of hip-hop - DJing, emceeing, graffiti art and break dancing (b-boying) " Chonz chose DJing to commit his time to. He began watching his brother dabble with turntables as well as attended parties hosted by local DJs, Jam-X and Hen-G. For two years, he was in his basement honing his style, practicing day and night. He finally emerged from his "underground lair" in 1996 when he participated in a DJ competition hosted by KGNU's "Eclipse: Shedding of a Blacker Light" radio show. Each week, DJs from the Denver Metro area and Boulder would head up to the station to battle with other DJs on the air with the winner decided by callers.
Chonz took the airwaves by storm winning the radio battle week after week where the station eventually had to retire him as undefeated. He was then given a permanent spot on the show for the next two years with hosts Chris Nathan, Hakeem and Francois Baptiste.
" Yeah, I got my own slot," Chonz remembers. "The 'Chonz Half Hour' and then the 'Chonz Hour', that was a big thing."
The competitions continued as Chonz participated in battles around the city and never placed lower than 3rd place in every contest, including the DMC Mixing Regional Championships, Lowrider Regional and Guitar Center Regional. After getting some fame to his name in participating in the competitions, he was booked to perform and open up for dozens of artists including Dr. Dre, Eminem, Rakim, The Roots, Slick Rick, The Fugees, De La Soul and a host of other. At this point he hung up his battle gloves and began taking his DJing career to the next level.
While finishing up his degree in music industry studies at the University of Colorado at Denver Chonz got an opportunity to intern with California promotions Cali Kings in Los Angeles. But while he was in L.A. he got some good news from back home in Denver.
" Francois was begging the program director at KS107.5 for a long time to get a show after we left Eclipse, and we could never get anything," Chonz explains. "Then, I was leaving for my internship with the Cali Kings, and right when I left, I was on the road and Francois was like, 'We got the show!'"
Chonz headed home and became the house DJ for the Radio Bums Mixtape Show on KS107.5 in 2001. Once the program directors at the station witnessed Chonz's skills on the turntables, they asked him to spin during the Friday and Saturday dance parties. That weekend gig led to the creation of the "Traffic Jam" a daily afternoon slot where he spins and mixes an hour of commercial free music. Although Chonz is sometimes criticized by hip-hop elitists for what they consider selling out and playing music that a corporation tells him to play, Chonz says that he's always stayed with the true essence of hip-hop and DJing.
" DJing for the radio is no different than me opening up for De La Soul and playing A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, Dilated Peoples, Blackstar, and things like that to cater to that type of crowd," Chonz says. "I play to a crowd, as a DJ, you cater to your crowd and I play what's relevant to a crowd. That's your job as a DJ is to cater to your crowd. I play to any crowd."
Once Chonz got comfortable working in the radio industry, he saw a need for the local DJ community. Although there were a couple of record pools in and around Denver, most of the people running it were taking advantage of their power. Not only taking a high monthly membership but also charging more money for the popular records and showing favoritism within the community. Chonz then started the Radio Bums Record Pool. It started off with only a few DJs and has grown over the years to include more than 30 Denver DJs, each of them working at some of the most popular clubs in the city.
Now with the success of his record pool, his daily one-hour "Traffic Jam" slot on KS107.5, his underground hip-hop radio program, The Mixtape Show, with Francois and Kingdom on Sunday nights and side gigs in promotion and marketing, Chonz couldn't have asked for a better career thus far.
" I'm just happy to be in the game," Chonz says. "Where are all the cats that came up with me here in Denver? I'm just happy to be here."