We Found the Radio DJ Who Introduced Tyler, the Creator to N.E.R.D.

A critical moment in the contemporary hip-hop canon took place on L.A. radio in 2002.
Ashwin Rodrigues
Brooklyn, US
August 17, 2021, 5:48pm
We Found the DJ that Introduced Tyler, the Creator to N.E.R.D.
Photos via Getty Images

Tyler, the Creator’s love for all things Pharrell-adjacent is well-documented. He rapped on a Neptunes beat ten years ago, appearing on Pusha T’s “Trouble On My Mind.” Pharrell and Tyler rapped together on “IFHY in 2013. And on his latest release, this summer’s lavish and cinematic Call Me If You Get Lost, in addition to enlisting Pharrell himself on a verse, Tyler tapped DJ Drama to provide Gangsta Grillz-style vocal embellishments, just as the legendary DJ did for countless other classic mixtapes, including Pharrell’s In My Mind: The Prequel, in 2006. 

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In a recent interview on Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning show, Tyler recalled the first time he heard a radio DJ play “Tape You” by N.E.R.D., the spacey hip hop and rock band comprised of Pharrell, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley in the early 2000s. He said it changed his life—and not just for the hypnotic synthy chords and face-scrunching drum programming that would show up in his later work. He said his Converse deal, as well as his work on the Grinch soundtrack, would not have happened without Pharrell’s involvement.

This wasn’t the first time Tyler mentioned the power of hearing N.E.R.D. on the radio. In 2013, he told Power 106 radio personalities J Cruz and Justin Credible a similar story: He remembered hearing “Run to the Sun” a couple months after Easter 2002, while he was waiting in a car with his mom outside of a laundromat. Tyler was unclear who played the first record, but he knew it was Power 106 that played “Run to the Sun.”

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So VICE went in search of the DJ who introduced Tyler, the Creator to In Search Of…, the debut studio album from N.E.R.D. which featured “Tape You” and “Run to the Sun.” 

In 2002, Emmanuel Coquia, a.k.a. DJ E-Man, oversaw the music programming at Power 106. Given the station’s focus on new records, he estimates the two N.E.R.D. album cuts could have appeared on a number of shows, including New @ 2

E-Man recalled what Power 106 was spinning back then. “It was Fat Joe. N.O.R.E. P. Diddy. A combination of East Coast and West Coast. Artists like WC, DJ Quik, Mac 10, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, obviously, Snoop.” Specific records from the time included Fat Joe's "What's Love," Jermaine Dupri's “Welcome to Atlanta,” and N.O.R.E.'s “Nothin’” which E-Man noted was produced by the Neptunes. “Mobb Deep, we were playing a joint called ‘Hey Luv.’”

But he said one program was the most likely, given the hosts’ distinct connection to N.E.R.D.’s 2002 release, In Search Of...: Channel Xero, a show hosted by DJ Homicide, the former DJ for Sugar Ray, and DJ C-Minus, who has toured with Korn and opened for the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age. E-Man wasn’t 100 percent sure, but his hunch was that the two tracks would have been played by C-Minus. And when he reached out to his old coworker to ask, C-Minus confirmed it.

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According to C-Minus, whom VICE reached via phone last Friday, the show featured “the best of rock music, and then underground hip hop, and anything dope in between.” Crucially, both DJs were also hired by Virgin Records to create an “Enhanced Sample CD” version of In Search Of..., as part of the promotional push for the album.  

As C-Minus explained, Virgin provided the two DJs with specially cut vinyl acetates and instrumentals to create a custom mix of the record. As he noted, the 2001 Europe release featured Neptunes drum programming, while the 2002 version included live drums. While hanging with Chad Hugo and Pharrell as they put the finishing touches on the project, something clicked for C-Minus. “I totally got where they were coming from,” he said.  

Shortly after, he started adding N.E.R.D. songs onto his radio mixes—especially “Run to the Sun,” one of his favorite cuts on the album. Back then, he was playing songs from Queens of the Stone Age’s then-unreleased Songs for the Deaf album, as well as Korn’s “Here to Stay” from The Untouchables, between music from New York hip-hop label Def Jux, including El-P and the late Camu Tao. The legendary late producer J Dilla and the enigmatic Madlib also personally sent C-Minus records, he said. N.E.R.D.’s hybrid genre-straddling sound served as a perfect transition between rock and rap.

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To C-Minus, there was no better place for a young artist to draw influence than Chad Hugo and Pharrell. In 2002, he said, they were like the next iteration of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, a duo of hitmakers where “everything they did was just through the fucking roof.” 

C-Minus has a storied career of his own. In addition to touring, he was part of the DJ group the Fantastik 4our, with DJ Truly Odd and Mr. Choc and J. Rocc of the Beat Junkies. They hosted an iconic rap radio show from midnight to 3AM called Friday Night Flavas, which aired from 1998 to 2006 and focused on underground hip-hop. 

When C-Minus first heard Tyler, the Creator, he had one thought. “Yo, this motherfucker can rap.” As Tyler’s musical output progressed, traces of Pharrell and Chad Hugo jumped out. “As I started to hear the Neptune influence more, I was like, ‘Man, I wonder. Was he listening to what we were doing?’” 

Somehow, C-Minus never heard the story about Power 106 being Tyler, the Creator’s connection to N.E.R.D. To have a small part in it, C-Minus said, “I'm beyond honored. Honestly, that's fuckin' rad.”

Though he doesn’t DJ for Power 106 anymore, C-Minus still tries to introduce people to new music with his live streamed DJ sets. “I've been able to recreate that—even if only on Twitch—as opposed to the number one radio station in LA at the time,” he said. 

Wherever he plays, C-Minus is grateful for a platform to put listeners on to new music. “Someone tuning into someone else’s radio show and being totally obliterated off what they hear, to the point where you gotta stop everyone from talking to you…I think those moments are some of the most powerful moments ever.”

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