How DJ Sneak First Discovered House Music

Sep 29, 2022

Melisa Yuriar

3 min read

"House Gangsta" DJ Sneak moved to Chicago in 1983. In the summer of '84, he discovered house music, and the world hasn't been the same. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, the house producer arrived in the Windy City with his parents during the heyday of the hip hop and graffiti art craze and settled in a diverse neighborhood in Chicago.

The then thirteen-year-old DJ, who defined himself as a graffiti writer first and a hip-hop enthusiast second, was surrounded by a melange of sounds and cultures, and like a sponge, he soaked it all in.

"At that point, I went from regular drawing to graffiti, and the name 'Sneak' came from that art. Breakdancing, hip-hop, all the shit that was exploding in New York at that time was resonating everywhere—from New York to Chicago. It was part of culture," said the artist. "I thought, cool, I'm learning American culture. But really I was learning from a multicultural mix of Dominicans, Mexicans, Blacks, Polish, Ukrainians…All around me that was a mixture of people—in the neighborhood, we all lived there, man. And everybody there had their thing. They either loved freestyle, or they loved hip hop, but breakdancing was everything that year. The summer of 1984 is what I called the year of the culture really expanding."

And expand it did. Music on the fringes of the underground began proliferating across clubs and dance floors across the city and the East Coast. The DJ began to take in the sounds he was hearing around him, on the radio, and the records he heard his parents play at home.

"It was a culture shock…In terms of influence, man, I mean, I was listening to salsa, merengue—that was my shit all day. And the radio at that point…there was a couple of radio stations that were dedicated to dance music, even though it wasn't called dance music… It was semi disco, funk, and early electronic house," said DJ Sneak. "...The morphing of shit [on the radio], it was all combined, and it was every day, and 24 hours a day, so we were getting educated by just listening."

On the weekends, the avid radio listener and amateur DJ would listen to stations featuring live DJs spinning sets over the airwaves, DJs like Farley Jackmaster and Ralphi Rosario—two of his biggest inspirations. Hearing Rosario, also Puerto Rican, release works with Spanish vocals and samples inspired the artist to follow a similar path.

"Once I put one and one together, my interest for [house] music became bigger because [Ralphi Rosario's] music was early Latin house with his vocals on it, too. He was doing it in Spanish and I was like, holy shit, that's so me. And that was what really brought me into house music."

For DJ Sneak, Chicago's burgeoning local house music scene, full of innovative DJs and new sounds blended with elements of his own culture and its music, led to the discovery and an understanding of house music. This understanding led him to build a strong foundation for the expansive discography and dynamic sound the artist would create and hone in later years.

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