DJ Terence Toy Photo credit, Ken Hollis
As uprisings sparked by the murder of George Floyd spread like wildfire across all 50 states and around the world, something felt amiss for Los Angeles based DJ Terence Toy — specifically, he felt a musical void.
Toy has been DJing for more than 40 years with more than three of those decades steeped in jazz and house music and travelling around the globe from Mexico to Montreal. He earned residency DJ status at Therapy [Montreal] and Club Yellow [Tokyo]. But locally he spinned the tables in residency at Toy Box, Santa Monica, Does Your Mama Know, Sunset Strip, Release, San Francisco and Paradise 24, Hollywood, inducing “house headz” [Toy’s term for house music fans] to dance. Toy also garnered a show on Los Angeles radio station KKBT in the early to mid 1990s.
After the tragic event, he saw his contemporaries of color posting “regular” mixes on their platforms. These cats are at Toy’s “level and higher.” They were saying nothing about what happened when a police officer murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, suffocating the man for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
He got busy doing his part by curating a selection of anthem music for his online radio show, By Any Jazz Necessary titled, Think: George Floyd. He shared it widely — urgently from his Soundcloud. What follows is the DJ’s take on events and his top three tracks from the episode that speak to this moment. Settle in for some learning.
Toy looked on social media checking everybody’s injection of music when the protests were at their peak.
“I have black friends of mine saying nothing — in essence not even using the tool of a DJ to do something other than, ‘look at me, check out this track I’m working on,’” Toy said.
He got fed up and wrote a Facebook post on June 1, thinking a few people will see it.
“Maybe people would like it or say something about my speaking [out] about myself and other comrades, other DJ’s around the world not saying nothing about what happened,” Toy said. “So what if [George Floyd] was passing a fake $20, so what if he was a criminal, he didn’t deserve to be killed. [There] was just no acknowledgement, musically.”
In his post, Toy asked his fellow musicians, producers and DJs: “So nobody is going to say anything, musically about what happened?”
The number of likes on his post kept rising and he realized he hadn’t yet done anything to speak his peace.
“I thought, ‘what can I do?’” Toy said. “I’m 59 years old, I ain’t gettin out there and protesting, that’s a young man’s job. I have a son I have to be here for.”
He decided to do a By Any Jazz Necessary [episode] which streams online at KSTARS. He researched the web realizing he needed songs to grab attention, black people’s attention, white people, young people. After he did the dedication, Toy received responses from people about music that they created or talking about what they thought he should have put on the episode. Toy said it’s the most controversial episode he’s done.
“This white friend of mine, female, lawyer — she sent me a message. To sum it up, ‘I can’t believe you did an episode for George Floyd. He’s a criminal.’
“I want all of this because it’s not like the songs are my songs. It’s just songs that are in my body, [and] mind.. I did my best. I had to pick one [song] that would open the show and hold people’s attention. That couldn’t be the first one that I wrote down, Strange Fruit, because that would scare everybody.”
Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit (1939) is about lynching. Toy knew he’d be taking a chance. But that’s what this episode is about, playing songs about change and about brotherly love.
He opened with a jazz piano version of Prince’s Controversy, to get people thinking immediately that this wasn’t going to be a normal episode.
“I didn’t want to use Prince’s version because I wanted people to hear that; ‘Con-tro-ver-sy…’ [mimicking the song notes on the background piano], and be thinking, ‘Oh dope ….’ then they start remembering the words, Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay?”
From there he added Marvin Gaye’s, What’s Goin On? and kept going, setting listeners up mentally. Then he hit them with Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln “moanin and groanin” on Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace.
Toy’s masterfully dubbed speech from President Obama at the 2010 Congressional Hispanic Caucus, [“There is no Latino America or black America or white America or Asian America. There is only the United States of America.] will hit your heart with vocals, deep house and Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama in unison, declaring, “We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created equal.”
Toy’s Top Three
KRS-One Sound of da Police (1993). “That song grabbed me when I was a kid and still [does] today, because it’s what’s going on still, police doing criminal stuff. I’ve been pulled over by the police, harassed by the police. Once I was leaving a friend’s house and they thought we had gone to a drug house …. I mean, I was a teenager … in high school. They pulled us over, made us get down in the middle of the fuckin street hands behind our backs. Once they got us up, handcuffed us, detained us temporarily, one of the officers recognized me from playing basketball for Gardena high school. He asked me what I was doing there. I told him we were going to visit some girls. I was a teenager, I didn’t smoke or drink at that time — nothing. But with the exception of him recognizing who I was, how much further would it have gone? This one speaks true to right now, the brutality of the police, how they behave towards us, what they think and do and how long they’ve been doing this via slave trading, overseers … literally. Trust me, I looked up ‘overseer’ … because of KRS-One’s track tongue-twisting overseer with officer.”
John Coltrane track, Alabama,” (1963) [During the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, September 15, 1963, four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamite beneath the front steps of the Church. The explosion killed four young girls]. “There’s all kinds of stuff written about why [Coltrane] did that song. He did it because of the young ladies that were killed there. He wanted to express his anger through his horn. In that time they were doing lots of protest pieces. Artists were expressing themselves and not just musicians but writings from Langston Hughes and others.”
“My boy, Jovan’s version of Gill Scott-Heron’s Bicentennial Blues (1976) – [originally spoken word, Think blends Gill’s prose on top of house beats]. I played Bicentennial Blues at a club gig one time. One of my friends, a white guy, came over to me and let me have it, tried to read me about playing this song. He just was so upset about this Gill Scott-Heron song. You know, white people don’t want to hear what their ancestors have done. Not even the ones that are our friends, that we love. They are really our friends and they wouldn’t do anything against us as black folk but they also don’t want to hear what their ancestors have done. I played the song because I remember the reaction I got from my boy, 15 years ago, how he disliked it. I played it to provoke people.”
This couldn’t be a regular episode where Toy plays the songs all the way through. He had too many. More importantly, he didn’t want the episode to have only aggressive, anger songs coming from a black man.
“I wanted some songs to be about hope,” Toy said. “I had to keep it real. I didn’t want my white friends to think I’m being 100% militant. I wanted them to reflect that I’m not being prejudiced … to acknowledge through my compilation that I have all of these songs in my body. I’m recalling them for you guys and all of them aren’t angry songs. That wasn’t what I was trying to do.”
Toy did this because people lose interest fast. He had to hit it while it’s still on people’s mind. Now that he has people’s attention, he plans to go quite a bit deeper on part two.
“Everybody, including me, has to do their part. I did this to represent change and so people could hear it and go, ‘oh yeah, I remember that song.’
I remember when I first heard James Brown’s, I’m Black and I’m Proud. My mom was taking me and my sister to the mall to get some clothes. I was black, I was a kid and was like, ‘yeah, say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.’
“Time flies when we’re learning,” Toy said as he closed Think: George Floyd.
Editor’s Note: Future Anthems
With this look at anthem music, it’s frequently true; these chants are oftentimes older songs— a touchstone to the past, relatable to in the present. It’s for that reason they are anthemic. People are exposed to them further which brings deeper historical understanding. This was Toy’s intent with Think: George Floyd. He succeeds in highlighting where we have been and offers a deeper awareness.
Carrying that message to this moment, we look at a handful of new releases as present protest anthems that we believe will be subsequently considered in a future — now being determined.
Lockdown – Anderson Paak – ft. Jay Rock
PIG FEET – Terrace Martin feat. Denzel Curry, Daylyt, Kamasi Washington, and G Perico
Light -Michael Kiwanuka –
Sweeter (Live) – Leon Bridges -ft. Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper