Welcome to GTANet’s Chatterbox, our interview series where hosts uNi, Spider-Vice, and Kirsty sit down and get personal with notable people from the GTANet and Rockstar Games community, or even Rockstar Games themselves! From the well-loved to the unknown, Chatterbox is all-inclusive.
Today we bring you an exciting interview with the one and only DJ Pooh! With a background in hip hop music production, writing, and directing, DJ Pooh’s creative influence on the Grand Theft Auto series spans almost two decades now. First collaborating with Rockstar Games to write for GTA San Andreas back in the day, he’s since made his mark with further writing contributions for GTA V and GTA Online, as well as hosting in-game radio station West Coast Classics and playing a major part in The Contract DLC with Dr Dre last year. He can also be thanked for encouraging his friends Young Maylay and Shawn Fonteno (CJ and Franklin) to audition for their roles as protagonists.
DJ Pooh’s enthusiasm for the series as both a fan and a long-time friend of the company is something to be admired, so much respect to him for everything he has and continues to bring to GTA. Now, let’s hear from the man himself!
GTANet: You have worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry and on one of GTANet’s most beloved games in the franchise: Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. How important was the relationship between music and the series, helping it grow to be the giant Grand Theft Auto V and Grand Theft Auto: Online are today?
Man, the music is 50% of that game, I feel like. It’s hard to say that because the game is just so massive and so amazing and it’s just everything. But then the music – nobody in gaming does music like Grand Theft Auto. I’ve always been a huge fan of how music goes in the game, but also how good it is.
People out here love the radio stations. Some people say GTA radio is better than real life radio. It’s so crazy, you notice like you want to make everybody happy with such a broad game and that’s a hard thing to do, something nobody can accomplish. But I feel like GTA does that better than anybody, you always gonna have your hip hop guys but then the hard rock guys came in hard, man saying, “hey, hold on, man where’s our rock shit,” but it all comes around full circle all the time and everybody loves it, man. There’s something for everybody in there and it’s not just the songs that you knew were the singles off of albums and shit, it’s also those cuts that you don’t even think of, that people don’t even notice like, “oh, wow was that on that album?” You find gems in there, man. It’s like getting an education at the same time, because you get the samples and stuff like that in some of the newer records and then you can go flick over to some of the old school, lowrider stuff, and hear some of the original songs that came from that is too cool. When you go from there to there, you’re really doing something major in music. I feel like nobody else is doing music like that today, even music isn’t doing music like we doing music today.
GTANet: The West Coast Classics radio station in GTA Online received a couple of changes for The Contract DLC, how well was that received? Did it get the reaction from the fan base you were hoping for?
People absolutely love the changes and it made me feel like we can start changing the music now and doing more and that, because the way people reacted to it. And the way Rockstar Games does all these cool-ass updates and stuff is phenomenal, especially when the music is able to update with it too. That means everything because the music is such an intricate part of the game. Yes, people definitely loved the Dre songs and the integration, not just being the music playing in the background somewhere but as Easter eggs, and the integration and the whole storyline, and they really having a vibe and feeling something of reality is – man I love it.
GTANet: You appeared physically in the GTA Online: The Contract DLC, with cutscenes and voice, can you talk about your experience? How was it seeing yourself immortalised as a character in GTA? (Plus the mythical DJ Pooh tee!)
Oh my God. Being such a fan, I’ve been playing this all the way back when it was just 2D [Grand Theft Auto], like Pac-Man where you walk the player from above and you’re kinda going around the shrubs and stuff. And that was just the coolest thing. I used to play that back in my studio, Snoop and us would be in there, they’d be playing the basketball and the football, and I’ll be playing that too, but then I go straight back to [GTA], it was just my thing. I was a big fan of it and to see it just grow into what you know it is, it’s just amazing, man.
And to imagine being able to be in it and be a part of it was a dream come true, man. I’m a real fan of the game as you can hear in the passion of my voice, I’m a huge fan of GTA. First I play’em all, I love ‘em all. I was like, this is gonna be the future. Being a filmmaker, it makes me go, “oh shit,” I was jealous because this is better than films. This shit’s double, I’m in the movie right now, and so to be playing the game and then to see myself in the game was like a double, “what the fuck” like that is the coolest thing ever.
(On the DJ Pooh Tee) I love that shit so much being in the game, cause that [DJ Pooh] t-shirt goes back 35 years and it hasn’t changed at all, it’s the same shirt from back in the day and people that didn’t know it or remember it, they know it, but people are just getting introduced to it. They like the shirt. People send me pictures on Instagram and on Twitter and all the social media stuff, and when they have that shirt on, bro the way that make me feel, I just go, “oh, wow!” It’s the same shirt I’ve been rocking man from way back in the day, man. Same exact shirt, orange shirt.
GTANet: How was your experience with working with Dr. Dre again, but in a completely new industry?
Dre is the person that put the first drum machine in my hand and showed me how to work it. Dre got me into producing music and is just a great friend of mine, man. My whole entire music career, Dre and I have been connected in some way. Dre’s never put out a record without playing that whole record for me before he put it out and got my opinion and I value that so much. He sends me music, I’m trusted with it. I love Dre, he is my brother.
I’ve been working with Rockstar for almost 20 years and to be able to bring these two together, this is the best of the best, the best shit in music, the best shit in games, it’s like pulling two of the homies together. Oh my God, it was just dope.
I’d been trying to do it for so long, Dre’s not a gamer, so he really didn’t get it. But when I took that PlayStation to his house and he saw us playing, he couldn’t believe all the stuff you could do. He was just like, “holy shit, this is the real deal.” And then when he heard all the music, I really started flossing with the stations going between this, that FlyLo here and that stuff, he just lost it when he hears me and Big Boy, he said, “I want my own station!” He was all in because he got it, he saw it was really cool, really fun, and he said, “man, I had no idea. ” From that point with Dre saying, “I wanted to do it,” it was just like, wait a minute this might really happen. Seeing it come together and being a part of it with Dre mocapping inside of a studio that was built in a mocap room, like a full studio, like who does this?
GTANet: Do you think his experience will help other people change their minds about working with games?
I think so. And I think people will see the potential in music. The marriage between music and games is just as good, if not better, than the marriage between music and film or any other medium out there. The more you look at it, music doesn’t stand in the place it once did for many reasons, it’s not the same, it’s smaller, but it’s bigger – it’s strange. Coming from music, to see something that still has that traditional thing where, you know, it’s not to just throw everything at you, but it’s curated in a way as if someone cared, I like that.
It feels special, man. It feels special. I know a lot of the artists whose music make it into the game, I know these artists and they’re so happy. And so that integration has always just been one of the best natural things I feel between music and gaming, but then being able to actually be in the game with Franklin, Lamar, me, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, all on a golf course and doing all this, plus we built Dr. Dre’s studio in the game. Like you can go in there and just be chilling in Dr. Dre’s actual studio. This is something that I dreamed about, thinking like one day this will be happening. And man, that day is now!
GTANet: Do you have a favorite game in the GTA series? Which one is it and why?
You really gonna make me do this, I feel trapped! It’s really hard because it’s three of them really. it’s hard to decide between the three, but if I had to decide, first of would be GTA V of course, then Vice City, I fucking love Vice City, and then San Andreas. There’s something so special about that game. All of them are special, but it’s kind of like your first, that’s right when I linked up with Rockstar and got opportunity to work with them. San Andreas was just so ahead of its time before everybody started trying to rip Rockstar off, and it just set the tone – the future is big. That game just means so much and to have had one of the little homies that that I grew up with be able to come in and play CJ in the game, that was just a special thing, too.
And just being a fan of the game and all the cool music that went into it – it was so west coast. The guys from Rockstar came out and we did everything – we flew choppers around so we could really map out everything with attention to detail. They met all these wonderful, cool people in all these different neighborhoods and communities and stuff and they wasn’t afraid to do it, they came out and they did it right. I really just love the way that whole experience unfolded for the first time.
Plus, to have a lead black character in something so big and anticipated and cool, and the way it was done with Samuel Jackson as Officer Tenpenny it was phenomenal. It’s better than any movie that came out at that time, and it’s still a lot of people’s favorite game. I still play it! And so to be able to play that, it’s just the best nostalgia and just the coolest thing. I’m out there with the Ballas and Grove Streets, I’m having a good time. I freaking love that game.
So I’d have to say between that one and GTA V, but I don’t wanna lose Vice City, it was so Miami. It was so cold, bro.
A massive thanks to DJ Pooh for taking the time to answer our questions, and again to Rockstar Games for their continuous support in arranging these interviews!