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Remembering Chicago “Ghetto House” King DJ Deeon

Written by on August 4, 2023

Jesse De La Peña and guests DJ Gant-Man, DJ John Simmons and All The Way Kay connect the dots in an oral history of the early 1990s Chicago Juke/Ghetto House scene that Deeon ruled over. The influential DJ/producer passed away in July at the age of 56.

This tribute, which originally aired on Vocalo August 4, honors one of Chicago’s most prolific Ghetto House pioneers, Deeon “DJ Deeon” Boyd, from the “Low End”, a South Side area east of Cottage Grove Avenue that includes the sites of a high concentration of public housing including the now demolished Ida B. Wells Homes, Darrow Homes, Madden Park Homes, Harold Ickes Homes, Stateway Gardens, Robert Taylor Homes and the still-standing Dearborn Homes and Hilliard Homes. But his sound didn’t stop there.

From house parties to tailoring music for local dance crews, to cassette tapes that passed from hand to hand, ultimately the music began to spread around the globe via distribution by local Dance Mania records. By 1997, even Daft Punk shared their appreciation for the music via shout outs to several Chicago pioneers on their Homework album, including DJ Deeon.

Special guests DJs Gant-Man, John Simmons & All The Way Kay are all share how Deeon and his music had a big influence on them and Chicago House music.

DJ Deeon, courtesy the artist’s PR

Jesse shared, “Even though I only met DJ Deeon a couple times… His story is an important part of Chicago Dance music history. We wanted to give different perspectives on what was happening around the city and surrounding areas during the early 90’s in to the 2000s. The parties, the Rave scene, skating rinks, radio shows, nightclubs and how it all came together.”

DJ Gant-Man talked about the importance of the “Low End” hood (where many of the pioneering DJs of Ghetto House were from) in shaping the music. “When you go to one of them project building parties, you’re actually seeing the energy of the music, how it was created,” he observed, recognizing that for party attendees in those early years, the music “was their escape,” adding that, “[The DJs] were playing music for their neighborhood. Even though there were gang tensions and all that, that was the one thing everybody had in common.”

He also summed up the importance of the sound: “Ghetto House, Juke and Footwork was our version of rap music in Chicago…1993 was thirty years ago, and in ’93, it was poppin’.”

In their discussion, Gant-Man, De La Peña, All The Way Kay and Simmons talk about the spread of Ghetto House, the Rave scene, and how ultimately the music made its way around the world via Dance Mania Records. Kay noted the organic way the music spread in Chicago, to become what she considered to be “the sound of the streets”, sharing her own experience to illustrate the point.

In addition to having heard mixes on the radio in the 1990s, Deeon would “pop up at the sock hops” organized at Kenwood Academy (her high school at the time). Before that, she reminisced, “[At]12 or 13, just old enough to have a little independence, we would go up to Ford City [Shopping Mall] and kinda slam the mixtape kiosk, and look for the tapes with the different colors.” She continued, “The commerce of passing tapes between each other” became a ritual that spawned her discovery. The same method fueled her discovery of other critical Footwork/Ghetto House DJs, such as DJ Slugo.

They also highlight the legacy of other DJs who populated the early scene, including DJ Funk on the West Side, and discuss the critical tracks that pushed the evolution of Ghetto House.

According to Jesse, “There are many parts to this story and these conversations about growing up here are helping to connect us.”

Written By Jesse De La Peña and Ayana Contreras

Produced by Jesse De La Peña