WILDWOOD - “Aspire to inspire before you expire,” is how Christopher “DJ Slice” Rodriguez sums up advice to anyone who listens to his story of a tough childhood growing up in Camden and Wildwood, to achieving success as freestyle music’s Stevie B’s touring DJ.
Now 36, he’s been married for nearly 19 years to a woman he met on the Wildwood Boardwalk. With three daughters, Rodriguez wants to be sure his children get opportunities he never had growing up in a family riddled with drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and, at times, homelessness.
“I’ve been broke and broken; I’ve been poor and lost my way,” said Rodriguez. “I’ve struggled, and I’ve lived off the system, and there’s been plenty of days I didn’t know if the next day was going to be a life-or-death kind of day for me. I was exposed to drugs, the street life, gang life, violence, and the school of hard knocks, but one thing I never knew was how to quit or give up.”
Rodriguez’s drive and strength paid off, as he is the touring DJ for his childhood idol, Stevie B., an American singer, songwriter and record producer, who was influential in the freestyle and Hi-NRG dance music scene of the late 1980s, mostly in Miami, per Wikipedia.
Rodriguez’s music interests are varied, however, thanks to an Italian grandmother who loved Motown and doo-wop, an African American mother who loved freestyle club music and '90s hip-hop/R&B, and an uncle who introduced him to country and classic rock music.
Rodriguez will perform at Wildwood’s Barefoot Country Music Fest Aug. 19-22 on the beach.
“When I was 5, my grandmother bought me a Walkman,” Rodriguez said. “Music was my life. I had the headphones on 22-23 hours a day to take me away from everything that was happening around me. I always found an escape in music. I would close my eyes and put my headphones on and get lost in the lyrics and the beats. Everyone can relate to some kind of music because it takes you back to a certain time or event or experience. That was the only thing that helped me get by."
“I had many sleepless nights,” he recalled, getting choked up with the memories. “My mom was 14 years old when I was born. She was kicked out of her house, and my grandmother took us in. We lived in the projects in Camden; it was hardcore.
“I lived in a drug-infested home, with domestic violence,” he added. “My uncle who helped raise me was an alcoholic. I had every odd working against me.”
His grandfather was on America’s Most Wanted List for crimes he had committed, according to Rodriguez, so, for nine months, the family was on the run, dodging the law.
“Life changed when he got caught,” the DJ said.
Just about 11 years old at the time, Rodriguez said his grandmother was homeless once her husband was arrested and jailed, and knew she couldn’t continue living in Camden, where her grandchildren were “exposed to everything, including gang shootings. At the time, they said if you survived in Camden to age 25, you were considered old,” Rodriguez said. “We had relatives living in Villas, so we went to stay with them for a while.”
Shortly thereafter, Rodriguez’s grandmother moved her family to North Wildwood, where he attended Margaret Mace Elementary School for three years, and then Wildwood High School. She worked two jobs, and Rodriguez credits several Wildwood families with helping him along the way.
“The world saw us as a low-class family, just another statistic living off the government, but that never stopped my grandmother from instilling the values in me to be just like her; to keep pushing when the world is against you, to keep working hard no matter how tired you are, to never let other people’s opinions of me stop me from believing in myself,” Rodriguez said.
“I was always the goofball, never shy,” he said. “I would always be dancing away. I was also always getting into trouble growing up, but I never turned to drugs or alcohol or abuse.”
Rodriguez met his future wife one summer when she was on the Wildwood Boardwalk after graduating from eighth grade in Philadelphia.
“I was a pick-up stud,” he said, laughing at the memory. “I was always meeting girls on the boardwalk, but this time, I knew something was different. I had a map of Wildwood in my hands, and I went up to her and asked if she knew where she was. She said she didn’t because she was from Philly. I showed her the map and said that I knew the ocean was there, but we must be in heaven since there was an angel in front of me. That was 19 years ago July 1.”
Over the next few years, he and his wife lived in the Philadelphia area and Wildwood. He had several different jobs: working for the City of Wildwood, its police department, and at Papa John’s Pizza, where he would don a costume as 'Mr. Slice,' the pizzeria’s mascot, and attend events.
His first DJ gig was at the Stardust Club, in Wildwood, after which friends suggested he use 'Mr. Slice' as his “cool” entertainment name. He played at a variety of nightclubs and private parties when he first started.
“I don’t care who you are, but when we get together in the same room on the dance floor, we are all the same enjoying that music. We are all one,” he said. “I get crazy on the dance floor, high energy. I will get you moving.”
He developed a following and became “the inner-city celebrity,” he said, but it wasn’t smooth sailing yet, after suffering job losses, homelessness, and ending up in Camden living with his mother.
“Our second daughter was on her way, and here I was starting over again,” he recalled. “I needed to get back on my feet again.”
He entered and won a regional DJ contest where he submitted a mix of music usable to open for electronic dance music artists. He had his own show on several local radio stations. His audiences and following continued growing as he was reaching larger audiences via social media (@djslice215), getting noticed by bigger promoters for “old school music” - from 1985 through the 1990s - of Rob Bates, Stevie B., Lisa Lisa, and Vanilla Ice.
Eventually, Stevie B. got wind of his music and asked Rodriguez to tour with him.
“It was a dream come true,” he said. “When I was younger, Stevie B. was my favorite artist. I remember being a little boy and going through some really tough times. I stumbled upon Stevie B, the freestyle pop legend. As I listened to his music, it helped me to feel joy with his upbeat tempos, and then love with his ballads, along with other emotions music can evoke. Now, I am touring with him.”
Rodriguez said he believes people “don’t have to be a product of their environment. You have to have faith and hope and believe in things you do not see because it was things I could see that would have done me in. Now, I am touching lives with positive vibes. You need willpower to do what you want, believe in yourself, and be determined in your persistence to get what you want. Set goals for yourself.
“If you think negative thoughts, you will get negative results,” he added. “If you can motivate yourself, be the best version of yourself that you can be. I always try to learn and be better today than I was yesterday. Do what you love.”
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