DJ Terry Hunter Discusses Grammy Nomination and More
Written by Vocalo Radio on December 2, 2022
Two-time Grammy nominated DJ, producer and remixer Terry Hunter is no stranger to working with other heavy-hitting music artists. His discography includes work featuring Jill Scott, Justin Timberlake, Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige… and, most recently, Beyoncé.
“The love that… just Chicago has shown… It’s mind blowing. I’m super proud to say I’m from this city.”– Terry Hunter
Before he was a highly-requested producer and DJ, Terry Hunter spun records all around Chicago. He was busy making a name for himself as far back as his high school days… which, coincidentally, is when he met Vocalo host Jesse De La Peña. Hunter stopped by the Vocalo studios last week to sit down with De La Peña and discuss his recent Grammy nomination for the remix of Beyoncé’s “BREAK MY SOUL,” off her acclaimed dance and house album RENAISSANCE.
The two also break down Hunter’s origins in the music scene, Chicago house and hip-hop, remixing for other big-name artists and navigating his latest project as an artist in his own right.
Jesse De La Peña: Terry Hunter [has] been in the game a very, very long time. As a Chicagoan, as a music person, and especially as a house music lover, we are very proud of you. We’re very happy to see you still doing the work, production-wise, touring, putting the Chicago name out there.
And right now, people are still buzzing about this Beyoncé remix Grammy nomination [for Best Remixed Recording]. We are super excited. Since we have you here, we want to catch up, see what you’ve been working on, what’s in the plans going forth.
Tell us how that thing came together.
Terry Hunter: So one day — shameless plug, I do a show every Thursday on Twitch called Sanitize Your Soul. I was streaming at the time, and stream was going well. Bunch of people in there. And then my phone started ringing. And it was from a brother that used to manage Jennifer Hudson. And so I’m like, “Okay, yeah, I’ll hit him back.”
So I’m doing the stream, calls me again. Let it go. Calls me again. I said, “Hold on.” So I told my guy Randall that runs my stream, I said, “Go to another scene. I got to take this call.” So while we just stream, I pick up, I’m like, “Yo, what’s going on?” He’s like, “Oh, man, did I catch you at a bad time?” I said, “No, I’m just doing my stream.” But I’m like, “What’s good?” I’m like, “Yo, we’re getting the band back together?” Thinking he was still representing Jennifer Hudson. And so he was like, “Well, no, not quite, but I got something for you.” He was like, “Finish your stream. Call me right back.”
He was like, “I need you to call me right back, though.” I said, “Matter of fact, hold on.” I went back and said, “Stream over.” So we ended the stream, got back on the phone.
He was like, “Well, you know, I’m doing some things with Beyoncé and ‘BREAK MY SOUL.’ And I’m sure you’re familiar with it. Do you think you can remix it?” I was like, “Do I think I can remix it? You know, I’m really busy — hell yeah, I can remix it.” So man… we talked, we caught up. He sent me to parts that night. I went in Thursday night, as soon as he sent it. I had a rough for him four hours later. They listened to it.
He let Bey hear it. Loved it. I finished it off. And here we are, man.
Jesse De La Peña: That’s pretty incredible.
Terry Hunter: Yes, it is.
Jesse De La Peña: And this is based on other relationships you’ve had. I mean, you’ve done some pretty major work, your own labels, your own releases. When it comes to this dance thing and this house music thing, just being in Chicago, we’ve seen a commercial side of it, maybe in the ’90s. Europe embraced it, Africa embraced it. But in the States, it’s been a little hard to break that barrier and get back into the mainstream eyes.
So, as this has kind of opened some doors, got people talking, what has been the response so far from folks — in the business, but just regular folks.
Terry Hunter: I think, for the most part… I was just talking about how Chicagoans, and definitely a lot of the East Coast people, New York, Jersey, Philly. I get it, right? We hold house music so close and dear to us, we don’t want to let it grow. And so I feel like that has been the consensus in the States about it, you know what I mean? And not really believing in the music, they thought it was very underground.
And so I think that this thing with Beyoncé, and of course, the Drake situation, this back and forth. People saying Beyoncé said that she is going to bring house back — she never said those words. It was just funny, side note… after the Grammy nomination, I was talking to Beyoncé’s team and he told me something that just blew my mind.
It’s that, number one, they wanted to put that album in R&B and Beyonce wasn’t having it. And that’s the thing that… I want to tell that story, and of course, it’s going to be put out there, but she wasn’t having it. This is not an R&B album. She stood on it. She wrote letters to the heads of the Grammys and Billboard and all of that, stating this is not an R&B album. She wanted that album to come out in dance.
She’s now nominated for Best Dance Album. She’s the first Black female that has ever been nominated for Best Dance Album in the Grammys. I never knew that. So my mind is going all the way back to Donna Summer, maybe Diana Ross, there’s just so many other people, this is a first [ed. note: the Dance Grammy category only dates back to 2005 (far post-dating disco and classic house), however in 1980 the Best Disco Recording Grammy was awarded to Gloria Gaynor (in the only year that category was presented)].
So, to all the naysayers out there that was saying it wasn’t real house music, or she said that she was bringing house music back, let me explain something to you. In this present day and time, she 1,000% did, and I thank her for it. Let’s stop that conversation right now. She did it, she’s representing dance music and, I’ve said this a million times, she could have went to anybody else.
Shout to Honey Dijon, she produced two records, I believe, on that RENAISSANCE album. And she also did a remix for “BREAK MY SOUL.” So she made sure that Chicago was represented on that. She could have went to anywhere, and anybody to do that mix. I just have mad love for her, man, and really sticking to her guns about house music and dance music, period. So all the naysayers out there, whatever. You see where we at with it now.
Jesse De La Peña: Artists are aware of dance music, it was kind of a thing in the ’90s, the dance remixes. The Destiny’s Child, Maurice [Joshua] mixes and all that work that was put in prior to this. So I have to think that was somewhere in the files, when she’s thinking house music, she’s thinking Chicago, she’s got somebody with her hand on the pulse of what’s happening in dance music and in the house music scene. It’s just inspiring.
Terry Hunter: It is, and to add to that is that, what I also found out later was that her mother’s brother, Beyoncé’s uncle, was a house head. So she heard all of this music. He was a Frankie Knuckles fan. So she heard all of this music as a young girl. And people don’t know this as well, that album was a dedication to her uncle. So it goes way deeper than what we think… She’s been listening to this music by way of her uncle since she was a little girl. So it was his only time… that separated from doing it. And so I just love her for it, man.
Jesse De La Peña: Had you done any work with her in the past?
Terry Hunter: Never.
Jesse De La Peña: So it’s the very first time.
Terry Hunter: Very first time, absolutely.
Jesse De La Peña: And you’ve done some pretty major artists over the years.
Terry Hunter: Absolutely. I’ve worked with Mary J. Blige, did some stuff with Michael Jackson, John Legend. I mean, so many people, the list goes on.
Jesse De La Peña: Jill Scott?
Terry Hunter: Jill Scott, Estelle is just so… I can’t even think of the artists right now. But it’s just been a lot and to really have that… which was crazy. When I got the call, I had just finished it. And, just to show you how God is, as soon as I was done with the mix, I get a phone call. And it was Chaka Khan‘s people and the label. And I remix “Women Like Me” for Chaka Khan. So obviously, throughout the history, we’ve had — big shout to Steve Hurley that was doing so many remixes. But in this particular day and time… to do Beyonce, and do Chaka Khan in the month of June was mind blowing.
Because this particular time frame, it really wasn’t a lot of that going on, especially coming from major labels. And so that thing for me was just, I still, I can’t believe it, that this happened. So shout to Chaka Khan and her whole team, in trusting me and doing it.
Jesse De La Peña: The version you played at the [Chosen Few] Picnic, was that the rough or was that the finished version?
Terry Hunter: That was the finished version.
Jesse De La Peña: That was pretty awesome… and I was impressed that you turned it around that quick, then. I had no idea.
Terry Hunter: Nah, I just caught the bug and I finished my stream about 8 and, man, by 2 in the morning, I had a dope rough. Shout to my man George Pettus that played keys for me. It was done. It was ready to go. And it was funny, because obviously you got to kind of watch what’s going on, so by me and her, one of her managers, having that relationship, I was like, “Look he knew what Chosen Few was.” And I was like, “Listen, everybody and their mama is doing remixes unofficially… throwing it out there.” I’m like, “You gotta let me play this, you gotta let me preview this at the picnic.” He was like, “What? I was gonna suggest that to you. Absolutely, just don’t give it to nobody yet.” And when I played it at Chosen Few, when I tell you, the height, the crowd, the press went insane. I mean, big shout to all the blogs and everybody out there that really pushed the record, that’s what just made it go over the top.
Jesse De La Peña: You are definitely staying busy. Every time I look up, you’re traveling. I like the documenting, I like the videos of you taking us on that little journey. What can we expect?
Terry Hunter: I’m super happy, man. I signed a deal back in 2019 with Ultra. And then we went into the pandemic and then obviously, it just kind of went quiet. And so now, Patrick Moxey, that used to own Ultra, sold directly to Sony. And so Ultra is now a part of the Sony family. We have revisited my project, doing new records. I’m super excited about it. Shout to my man, Kyle Garcia, which is my ANR that loves the music, knows the music and wants me to be completely me, because I’m not used to that structure from a major label. For me, as an artist is concerned, this is different.
Normally, I’m the producer and that’s it. I’m the producer, the artist, everything, so it’s a bit weird, have someone telling me, “Well, I think you should try it this way.” Huh? What do you mean try? No, that’s it… no, we not finna to do this.
And that’s the thing that I love about Kyle. He was like, “Listen, forget all that. Do you. We want a Terry Hunter album. That’s what we’re gonna deliver.” So I’m excited about that. The first single is actually coming out the week after the Grammys, it’s called “Self-Love”, featuring Estelle, Chantay Savage, and Chicago’s own J. Ivy. I’m looking forward to that, dropping that right after the Grammys. And that’s going to be the first — well, really the second single. We released a single called “Angel,” featuring Divine Brown out of Toronto, Canada. That came out almost a year [ago] today. And then, again, Ultra sold and so we went quiet. So really this is the official second single, but really the first thing.
Jesse De La Peña: Big shout to J. Ivy on his Grammy nomination, too.
Terry Hunter: Absolutely. Got that whole forward movement of having poetry as his own separate category for the Grammys. So he’s done a lot to make that happen, so big shout to J.
Jesse De La Peña: It’s a beautiful day when Chicago is in the spotlight. I mean, we always get excited for our teams. Definitely the music, it’s incredible. And as we move forward, Chicago used to be a little more divided, with the hip-hop and the house. And people are finally embracing things, looking at how close things are, still coming from disco, the samples, all that stuff.
Because in Chicago, if you’re younger, you don’t remember it. I didn’t really understand it. I worked in the record stores, I just was about music. I would be the guy to go to the house parties and play hip-hop, and vice versa. Drop some drum and bass, or some reggae. I enjoy seeing the progression, where we’ve started.
I met Terry in high school, playing at an all girls Catholic high school, I think was Holy Trinity. They hired a bunch of DJs, I was playing alternative new wave industrial, Terry was playing disco. And we just kind of connected and stayed in touch.
Terry Hunter: And that was a great night, especially for kids just to hear, because I’m a music-head. I love all genres of music. And just to experience that, and I’m gonna tell you, it’s funny that you say that. That was the first event in my career that I’ve done, where the music was so broad like that. And that was like, “Oh, man.” That helped push me to say, “I need to take what I do…” And that’s just so funny you bring that up, because I remember like yesterday, [thinking] “I don’t want to be just a Chicago DJ, what are they doing to go across the pond?” Like, I need to know what they’re doing.
And that was my whole reasoning for learning how to make tracks, because I didn’t want to just keep it here in the city.
Jesse De La Peña: Yeah, it’s kind of a blueprint for younger DJs and producers… to trace the steps and how to set yourself apart. There’s always a plethora of DJs when it comes to Chicago, and people saying, “Why can’t I get on?” You really need to make yourself unique and stand out.
Terry Hunter: And see, that’s why, with me — obviously, people just listening, they can’t see it, but that’s why I have this gentleman sitting next to me, Kirk Townsend, which is a legend. So you always got to have the older guys that was there before you. He gives me that inspiration and keeps me grounded to say, “Hey, man, I was before you. So therefore, you got to make sure you represent this situation.” And he’s an old geezer, so I feel sorry for him.
So it’s only natural, so no one can ever come to me and say, “Terry, you don’t give back. You forgot where you came from.” Nah, he’s sitting right next to me. So shouts to the old man, Kirk Townsend.
Jesse De La Peña: I know if I pop on this mic, we’re gonna be here for a minute.
Kirk Townsend: Enough said.
In the camp, you’ve got Emmaculate, you got a great cast of folks. What’s going on with the label? What are we going to hear in the new year? Any new releases you’re looking forward to?
Terry Hunter: Oh, absolutely, man. We have a new Melba Moore single coming. Emmaculate is actually working on an EP. I got some things that me and Kirk are currently in the process. We can’t speak on just yet, but just know, 2023, you are hearing it first. It is something major, major, major, major. I can’t say, I want to say it. But I promise you, Jesse, when it’s ready to go and be ready to announce it, I’m gonna come here and talk about it first.
But I’m also working on a project with James Poyser out of Philly. A lot of people may know him from producing, from The Roots and Mariah Carey and Lauryn Hill, and he’s on Jimmy Fallon.
We came up with a group together called Julius Jordan. That represents Julius Erving from Philadelphia. And of course, Michael Jordan from Chicago. So we used… the best with Philly, the best in Chicago coming together. And here is Julius Jordan. So we got a big project that we released some singles with Eric Roberson, but we were really finna finish up a full album, as well. So I’m looking forward to that.
Jesse De La Peña: I wanted to thank you for the “Sound of Chicago” record you did right before the picnic. It was great to see you guys perform it in Hyde Park at the event. That really was a nice throwback, kind of refreshed. I see Dion on the project.
Terry Hunter: Yeah, man, that record… so “T.S.O.B.,” which is the original, “The Sound of Brooklyn,” [by Master Jay and Michael Dee] was one of my favorite records. And these are actually, all joking aside, Kirk and Wayne Williams broke. And I just felt like, I need to do that record over. No one was checking for it. It wasn’t as quick as people think. I was sitting on that record for like two years because trying to get raps from all of those people — obviously, big shout to Common. I didn’t want a verse from him, I just wanted him to do that intro, “1, 2, 3, are you ready?” So he did that. And then of course, people know Mike Dunn, he does his thing. And he kind of kicked it off. And I remember me and Emmaculate was talking, because I’m like, “Yo, I want to put Deon on the record, but maybe I can just get him on there maybe saying something cool, but not necessarily funny.” And he was like, “I don’t know, man, he could probably do the rap.” And I’m like, “Well, you know what? He is a writer.” So I called him and was like, “Hey, think you can write something for this?” He was like, “Hell yeah!”
And what’s so dope is that that’s the first time he ever rapped — on anything. And he sounds like a polished MC! I was watching him do the takes and I was like, “Nah, bro, you did this before.” And then I’ve got my sister Chantay Savage, she killed it. She is like the Roxanne Chantay… her verse is out of there. And I got my brother A.M7 that I’ve been with for years, aka Twone Gabs, and then of course, Coldhard, I had to bring the West Side, from Crucial Conflict on it. And then I just had this weird idea, was like, “I gotta get Jamie Principle on here.” And all I want him to do is say the prayer from [his song] “Bad Boy.” Just to hear him. Number one, Jamie hasn’t done nothing really with — besides the Gorillaz, he did a record with somebody else. But Jamie is not doing a feature unless it is something hot or he really messes with you. So shout to Chantay Savage, and just the relationship that myself and Jamie has is incredible.
And just to hear his voice, if anybody knows, any house head that heard that record when Jamie did it, he called Frankie [Knuckles]’s name, and he turned it around on that record and said my name and that was glue. I was like, “We’re done. That’s it. We’re done. That’s the sound of Chicago, right there. Period, point blank.”
Jesse De La Peña: Yeah, disco rap, that era?
Terry Hunter: Absolutely.
Jesse De La Peña: I always look for stuff that tempo. There’s a lot of good records, from Jimmy Spicer and all that stuff. All of that stuff, it was kind of the precursor to hip-house. And in Chicago, we definitely love our hip-house.
Terry Hunter: Yes, we do, man. And that’s the thing, that was so important to me, and I’m glad you said that. I’m gonna get back to that on my album, and just even releasing records at that tempo. It is a huge void. Shout to Louie Vega, he’s always around that tempo. But 113, 115… that is so missing. Everybody’s just coming in on 122, 123, 126, you’re just starting out. No, let’s ease back up into that, like we used to do. So I’m finding myself doing a lot of records at that tempo, because it’s missing.
Jesse De La Peña: If there’s someone who’s part of the family, doing well, you always got to be proud and be rooting for them.
Terry Hunter: Man, listen, it’s the love that — not just the world, but the city, man. Just Chicago has shown… it’s mind blowing, Jesse. I’m super proud to say I’m from this city. It’s funny, I did a quote off-record on this blog, and I was like, “Man, I’m doing this for my city, and I’m doing this for the love of house music and the house music community. And I’m gonna be real pimp-ish walking that red carpet.” And they quoted it. So now I’m sticking with it.
And I don’t mean “pimp” in a literal sense, but when we say that, that means you’re gonna be sharp. So I’m just excited, bro. Jesse, you already know, man, whenever you call, brother, I am there. So let’s make it happen.
Jesse De La Peña: Awesome.
Terry Hunter: Thank you, brother.
Jesse De La Peña: Thank you. Much love to Kirk, respect.
Terry Hunter: Absolutely.
Jesse De La Peña: If anybody is out there, really kind of intrigued — maybe you know the name Kirk, maybe it’s new to you. I suggest looking up Maurice Joshua’s new podcast, “Everything House Music & More.” I definitely learned some things listening to the conversations. I’m of an age where I was kind of on that cusp.
Terry Hunter: Me and you both, I’m 52. So absolutely.
Jesse De La Peña: I’m right there! I’m always excited. Much love to Lori Branch and all that stuff. I learned a lot listening. Don’t rely on Wikipedia!
Terry Hunter: Listen, let me tell you something I looked up on… was it Wikipedia? Or something. And I was looking for something, and then it came by because I put my name in there, because something was wrong and I was trying to get it fixed. And then it says DJ Terry Hunter from Chicago’s net worth, and it hit me for $18 million. And I’m like, “Well, where’s that money at? Where are y’all getting this information from?” Net worth 18 million? Come on!
So yes, Jesse. Yeah, people, please don’t listen to everything you see on the internet.
Jesse De La Peña: Lunch is on Terry today. [laughs]
Terry Hunter: I’m telling you, they was wrong. I’m worth 38 million, not 18!
Jesse De La Peña: [Laughs]
Terry Hunter:I wish, Jesus.
Jesse De La Peña: All right, guys. We’re coming back with some more music right after this. Don’t go anywhere. We’ll be right back. And that was my conversation with Grammy-nominated DJ, producer Terry Hunter representing the Chosen Few DJs and T’s Box Records. Big shout to Kirk Townsend, legendary Chicago party promoter from the Mendel days. Hope you guys enjoyed the conversation. Thanks for tuning in.
Follow Terry Hunter on Instagram and Twitter
Interview and audio production by Jesse De La Peña
Photography by Jayvon Ambrose
Introduction written by Joshua X. Miller
Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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