DJ Kidsmeal leads the local pack of turntablists, and hopes to keep it inclusive 

Meal Ticket

Meal Ticket

"I think the role of the DJ has changed so much that it's a gray area almost."

Jesse "Kidsmeal" Shacklock is hanging out at Love Is Earth, the low-key street-wear boutique on the 900 block of Church Street downtown. You can find him there on Tuesdays, minding the counter, folding T-shirts and hanging out for first dibs on the freshest new gear and taking a weekly break from the studio and nightclub circuits. The shop complements the music he's making these days: forward-thinking and organic, one foot in the world of hip-hop, one foot on the cutting edge of electronic music. A reflection of this city's evolving urban music culture.

"So many kids have picked up on it and wanted to play music — or do their own version of what DJ-ing is — that it's just created this gray area where nobody's scratching," says Shacklock. "Nobody's playing stuff from 10 years ago, 20 years ago. Stuff gets lost."

After a decade-plus behind the decks, Shacklock has seen the evolution firsthand, watched the city's DJ culture grow from a marginal contingent to mainstream concern. He's gone from playing house parties and small rooms like the back porch at Cafe Coco and Murfreesboro's Liquid Smoke to becoming a main-stage mainstay at events and shows all over town. His sound has progressed from the puritanical conventions of backpacker hip-hop — a strict adherence to the principals of Golden Age rap and the turntabilist scene it birthed — to a progressive electronic sound that manages to incorporate and defy just about every genre out there. It's a combination of old-school skills and new-school sounds that exists apart from the rest of the DJ herd.

"I used to just not pay attention to the crowd at all," says Shacklock. "I was like, 'I'm gonna play these records that I feel like people need to hear and people need to be up on. This is my kinda game.' But I found that some of the most unexpected fans or kids tell me what to play or about a track that I'm not up on. I get into a whole side of things that's different. It took me a long time to learn that — that I can learn music from other people."

And that's the aesthetic at the heart of his first foray into curating and promoting events with the Kidsmeal Review series, his showcase for the artists and performers that he feels aren't getting their due or need a forum to step beyond the rigid strictures of a typical club night. His goal is to bring together folks like funk-maven hip-hop outfit Gummy Soul, improvisational avant-electronic artist Art Webb and progressive beat junkies Creative Control and Ziggurat, to bring their fans into the same room, to cross-pollinate crowds, to create new connections between disparate ends of the city's music scene. It's a lofty goal, but if the inaugural July installment of the series is any indication, it's a goal that audiences in town are down to achieve.

"Scenes are creating themselves out of almost thin air — it feels like it, I know it's not," says Shacklock. "It's just a natural progression. But at the same time, I always want to create my own scene. For a while I felt maybe I was getting lost in this thing in Nashville that created for itself, you know? I want to promote my friends as much as I promote myself, you know, 'cause I don't believe in just trying to make it just for me. I'm not trying to be like, 'Hey, I'm the king of all DJs,' because I think it's much bigger than that.

"When I came here in 1996 or whatever, I was just blown away by how friendly everybody was, and ever since then I've wanted to just get everybody together and get something going on. We've done that with [monthly club night] Mashville really successfully for a long time, but it's more focused on 'The DJ,' and I'm trying to do something that's the big picture. This whole time I've just wanted everybody to get together and make art and make music and make it a fun time to experience."

The big picture — the one that often gets lost in the shuffle of commerce and micro-genre-oriented cliques — is a gorgeous one. It's a picture that envelopes the past, the present and the future of a music scene quickly gaining prominence in the city and beyond. It's a picture that needs to be seen, and Shacklock is in a unique position to present.

"Now, if I could figure out how to fold this shirt right."

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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