DJ Deeon’s influence on dance music and club culture is monumental. Born October 6, 1966, Deeon Boyd began his career sending bass booming through the speakers of housing project parties in Chicago’s South Side and selling his DJ mixtapes in parking lots. After getting his hands on a Roland TR-606 and TB-303, he began producing his own tracks, letting his creativity run wild by fusing traditional Chicago house with punchy claps, smutty, catchy lyrics, and samples of his friends’ voices to create music he defined as being “for the strippers, for the street”.
Though he was a much-loved staple at house parties, it took longer than it should have for clubs to catch on to his pioneering sound; unperturbed, he’d take to throwing his own parties in gymnasiums. Upon his passing, the rhythmic, bass-heavy arrangements that form his signature sound are a global phenomenon which have imprinted on every strain of contemporary club music, and certifying DJ Deeon’s legacy as both the godfather of ghetto house and an all-time dance music great. Check out some of the best tracks from his 29-year strong career below.
First up on the list is this absolute classic from the mid-’90s. It’s a beautiful example of four-to-the-floor ghetto house excellence, and has been sampled countless times by electronic music makers since its release. It landed as part of DJ Deeon’s first EP, ‘Funk City, which graced record stores via the influential Dance Mania imprint in 1994. A remarkable debut release, which was very much a sign of things to come.
This release came under the moniker Low End Theory, one of DJ Deeon’s many aliases, and perfectly displays the multifaceted nature of his production style. Side A leans more towards ghetto tech than ghetto house. It encompasses the futuristic, wet, digital synth bassline-driven sounds that govern electro and acid, particularly present in the A1 cut ‘Wicked’ and the zaps and wicked laughs that can be heard in A3’s ‘Studio Gs’. The B-side opens with Deeon displaying the crude, improvisational sounding style of MCing over Chi-house beats in ‘F_CK U’, a style common amongst fellow Dance Mania pioneers like DJ Funk and DJ Slugo.
Deeon was an early advocate of his friend Slugo, backing him on the DJ Deeon presents DJ Slugo ‘Livin’ That Ghetto Life’ EP, home of smoke-session slash club banger ‘A Blunt’ with the catchy motto “When I get a blunt, I light it, take two pulls and get excited”. This casual approach to lyrics heavily influenced the sounds of favoured “booty genre” artists like DJ Assault.
No DJ Deeon list would be complete without referencing this absolute club classic. The legacy this track left upon dancefloors should definitely be studied as some sort of higher education module; there are probably an infinite number of remixes of this ‘96 Chicago house beacon, let alone the songs using it as a sample. A 2016 re-release via Defected reflected its enduring power, with the updated version adding more melody and filtering (and the voices of Katy B and Lee Walker) to complement the crisp, punchy beats.
Here, we hear comedic vocals delivering crude and catchy lyrics over a bopping, rhythmic beat that fuses elements of acid with the ghetto house sound. Deeon extends his playful, pioneering MC style by using a different voice to emulate a separate ‘female’ persona that makes sexual advancements towards his character. This practice of sexual conversations between male and “female” voices became fairly common in the scene, breeding hilarious, dance-worthy results like DJ Nasty’s cheeky 2006 ‘Child Support’ track.
Read this next: 20 of the best Paul Johnson tracks
No lyrics in this track but its still just as catchy! The influence of Detroit techno on Deeon is audible in this stripped-back, futuristic sounding gem, while a booty-shaking energy still comes through via a melody that sounds reminiscent of Reel 2 Real’s ‘I Like To Move It’.
This heavy-hitting, juke slash booty house slash ghetto tech slash every Chicago-born dance genre comes under another of Deeon’s aliases, Debo G. A 15-minute long booty-shaking bonanza!
Another ghetto tech classic with fellow scene heavyweight DJ Godfather standing in as executive producer. The distinction between ghetto tech and ghetto house is slightly murky, but ghetto tech definitely leans more towards electro and techno (hence the name), with plenty of Detroit influence.
In an interview with Vice on the origins of the term “ghettohouse”, Deeon noted that “It wasn’t actually a term that we used or came up with. We didn’t pick it. It was what we were given. I come from the projects and that’s considered the ghetto, the bottom of the pile, but we saw nothing wrong with that. A magazine article called what we did ghetto house. Some people accepted it, and since then that’s what it’s been called.”
This EP comes with an example of Deeon’s take on the emerging juke and footwork genres that began brewing from ghetto house in the early 2000s. These hyper-rhythmic, 808-led, syncopated sounds were pioneered by names such as RP Boo, DJ Clent, DJ Rashad and Waxmaster, where ghetto house DJs began playing 33 rpm records at 45 rpm speeds to soundtrack footwork dances. Though juke and footwork are often used interchangeably, footwork was mainly attributed to the dance, while juke (the etymology of which bears roots in the Gullah tribe’s word for “joog”, meaning rowdy) is the “cleaner” sounding parent of footwork, and tends to incorporate more abstract and off-beat sounds with twisted unrelated samples.
A2’s Juke remix of the titular track, is a dirty, jit-worthy cut, while B-side tracks like ‘Shake That Butt’ returns to Deeons electro Chi-house fusions with his usual crude lyricisms.
Read this next: The 10 most essential Miami bass tracks
Funky, ghetto tech mastery! Another one of Deeon’s better known pieces of work, with the standout A1 and A3 cuts (‘Let Me Bang’ and ‘Shake What Your Momma Gave You’) conveying bass-driven, head-bopping, repetitive beats with stripped-down mid ranges that make space for the irresistibly catchy lyrics.
Another irresistible track that oscillates between electro techno and boom-clap Chicago house. Unfortunately for my fellow screenagers, the full version of this EP is only available on vinyl, but if you manage to get your hands on it, no doubt the rest of the compilation bangs.
Another one of Deeon’s better known works, ‘The Freaks’ EP, delivers pure booty blasting, shoulder shrugging, groove-worthy Chicago house. Though the titular-track packs a hefty punch with its bass-led pulsations and oh-so-sampled “work it work it!’ imperatives, the winning track for me is ‘Freak U Rite’ – a stripped-back cut featuring a smooth ’00s R&B vocal sample from Usher.
To commemorate Deeon’s incredible work rate, here’s another track from 2005. ‘Suck It’, from his ‘Hit Da Flo’ EP, just has to feature on this list. The track comes as a hilarious response to 20 Fingers’ ‘Lick it’, with a satisfying mid-track melody change.
Coming in as the first instalment of Juke Trax’s “online” series, which featured artists such as the late DJ Rashad, this album weaves through new material from Deeon as well as remixes and updated versions of older tracks. My personal favourite in this series has to be ‘Grove Mode 2k1’, which delivers exactly what’s promised.
This single comes in as part of a ‘Juke.com’ mixtape with fellow ghetto housers DJ Slugo and Doc Slump. Synth-led progressive melodies layered with punchy, clappy juke rhythms and Deeon’s instructive lyrics form a great underground banger.
Yes, America and the rest of the global economy may have come to a halt during this year, but thank God DJ Deeon was there to put a smile on broke dancer’s faces! This vulgar anthem would’ve definitely sent your grandmother into cardiac arrest if you chose to have a money saving, at-home boogie, with its infectiously catchy bopping bassline and beautiful breakbeat inclusions.
DJ Deeon came back from his mini hiatus with a 4-track compilation of remastered versions of his best-loved pieces, released via Numbers. It comes packed with classics like ‘House-O-Matic’ and ‘2 B Free’.
Read this next: The best tracks of the year 2023 so far
Younger generations are probably more familiar with this updated version, which see’s UK gem Katy B feature on vocals.
The return of Dance Mania! After ceasing operations around the turn of the millennium, the label celebrated return to the market in 2013 after a revived interest of its ’90s released records. This release arrived as the first of a few compilations of DJ Deeon’s earliest and most memorable works. Another edition, ‘Sampler 3’ was released the following year.
The third release on footwork pioneer Traxman‘s label, Factory Music Chicago, sees two OG ghetto house heavyweights linked up again to transport us back to ‘96 with this Chi-town heavy-hitter.
In May of this year, DJ Deeon blessed us with four surprise EP releases in just a 48 hour period. ‘SPACE AGE DIGITAL PIMP’ was the last to be released, and comes in as a nine-track EP, with a name that seems to a reference an updated sound following his 2002 ‘The Digital Pimp’ EP on GTI Recordings and the five volumes of his ‘Digital Pimp’ series on Dance Mania Digital which began in 2008. This is another example of Deeon effortlessly demonstrating his varied production styles: tracks like ‘Q’ and ‘DROP’ lean more towards old school ghetto house with their punchy, demanding vocalisations, while the opening two tracks use warped, commanding basslines and frequent distortions reminiscent of Detroit techno. A truly unforgettable release for one of the Low End King’s final productions.
Tiffany Ibe is Mixmag’s Digital Intern, follow her on Instagram
Written by: Tim Hopkins