If you’ve got time, Larry Jones has stories. Stories about shooting the breeze with Public Enemy as an up-and-coming deejay, kicking it backstage with the Wu-Tang Clan, giving Jay-Z a tour of West Las Vegas, shuffling OutKast and Redman to in-store appearances, even dueling with a radio station over promotional activities for Notorious B.I.G’s first visit to town.
He’s got so many stories that after a few minutes, they begin melding into a stream-of-consciousness narrative. Reminiscences about dorm parties at the University of San Francisco lead to tales of meeting Chuck D, bringing hip-hop to the Strip, the subsequent nightclub freeze-outs, becoming Def Jam’s West-Coast surrogate, warring with insouciant deejays, his mixtape hustle, etc. You half expect a pop quiz at the end.
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Larry Larr to veteran hip-hop heads, the man currently known as DJ Dantana talks a lot because he’s done a lot—17 years’ worth on local hip-hop’s frontline. He inaugurated hip-hop parties on the Strip with parties at the Metz and helped start the now-hot trend of booking top rappers for nightclub gigs. Deejays used him as a resource, and rappers followed his path of using mixtapes to get known, get paid and get signed.
Not one to slow down, Jones is busy as ever. You’re as likely to hear a Dantana mixtape (new releases include Fall Takeover 2k9 and City to City: New York to Las Vegas Vol. 1, both with DJ Sane 720), as you are a Dantana artist or beat (he manages some 25 acts), a Dantana mixtape set at a nightclub or a Dantana promotion (he handles local marketing duties for the Academy Award-winning Memphis rap group Three 6 Mafia).
“I put out the mixtape that gave Mr. Finley the exposure to get signed,” Jones says of the Def Jam recruit, the first Vegas artist affiliated with the iconic New York hip-hop label. “Labels would fly me to New York for conventions and meetings. I got exclusive products. I’d get stuff before any deejay here. I’d remix music with my sound and rock those songs at parties, building my name.”
Through deejaying and the parties, he met stars like Run-D.M.C., MC Hammer and Tone Loc and convinced leery clubs owners to give hip-hop nights a chance. Reward came in the form of record executives from Def Jam, Arista and other labels outsourcing West-Coast promotion of OutKast, TLC, Notorious B.I.G. and other acts to him. At one point, Jones had 10 accounts, his garage overrun with CDs, posters and swag.
Originally from Carson, California, Jones came to Las Vegas in 1992, transferring from the University of San Francisco to play basketball at UNLV and bringing with him the turntables he used for those dorm-room bashes. Before long, Jones quit school and started throwing parties for a living, deejaying in West Las Vegas and a now-defunct club behind Circus Circus. He loaded up on discarded vinyl from KUNV-FM, UNLV’s radio station. “They were sitting on a goldmine,” he jokes.
Jones fully immersed himself in the mixtape game in 2004, releasing the solid King of Vegas and the first installment of the buzzworthy The Red Album series, a cappella mixtapes created with DJ Sane 720 and featuring Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G. (The series riffs off The Grey Album, Danger Mouse’s 2004 mash-up of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album).
Mindful that marketing is a 24/7 job, Jones has begun working with the urban magazine swaggnews.com and serves as an advisor to Michael Finley, well aware that he carries the city’s hopes for recognition. As long as hip-hop stars want to experience a different side of Vegas (bad neighborhoods, good soul food, cultural landmarks), he’s a willing tour guide. “As far as hip-hop,” Jones says, “I’ve done a lot for this city.”