As a young kid, Randy Terrell and his family were residents of the Robert Taylor Homes. As a kid, he followed his uncle around who would travel across town performing at the Henry Hornets Homes for the Hornets Drum Corps and circling back to the Southside to do gigs with the Warriors.

A CPS school teacher, his uncle was his surrogate father and Randy would often imitate his moves later learning to do color guard with his friends and joining the South Shore Drill Team. Little did he know his love for performing would transition 20 years later into a successful career as one of the city’s most sought-after DJs.

Bronzeville Life sat down with Terrell, favorably known as DJ Phantom to discuss his connection to the Bud Billiken Parade and his passion for djing. For the past 16 years, he’s become a fixture on airwaves as a premiere mix show DJ— first on WGCI FM and moving on to the station’s sister station—V103.

Can you recall how you felt when you performed with the drill team in your first Bud Billiken Parade?

You meant complete nervous and scared out of my life? I never forgot that day, it was a beautiful day. When we practiced drills and stuff, the only thing you didn’t want to do is give-away that you dropped your rifle however after the people started cheering it was over. It’s feeling you’ll never forget, and you’ll always want.

That’s where my music aspiration came from, to have people approve what you do and connect with your art. Even early on with the sound system, we had a boom box and a generator. I oversaw all of that stuff.

During your time with the SouthShore Drill Team, was there pressure to steer off course?

  1. The entire organization looked after me. When the gangs came after me, I had to tell them I couldn’t be a part of that gang because I was part of the drill team and we were always gone. Even the guys in the neighborhood started to respect the drill team, they looked after us. We would have a hard time when we traveled from the ’90s to 76th and Phillips. They didn’t like the fact we were always in the gym, and they wanted to play basketball.

When did you know you wanted to be a DJ?

During the same time because the music we would march to back was from theHot Mix 5. We would be upset if we missed their mix on the radio. We would record and make our own edits. During the Hot Mix 5 days, Chicago was lit and there was interest in House music. I don’t remember hip hop being as big as House because of the enthusiasm. Everybody wanted to go to DavinciManor, LaMirage, or Mendel for the dances. It’s a real blessing to where I was then to where I am now.

How did you know being on the radio was essential to sustaining your brand on the streets?

I earned my engineering degree at DeVry Institute and got a job at Motorola. I had been there for 10 years, and I wanted to get back to mixing, and I started doing these mixtapes. I didn’t know about who to sell them to, and I took a chance. I tore a page out of the yellow pages looking up record stores. I found stores like Pepmo’s, Sounds of Blackness,

Barney’s and George’s Music Room. The first one I went to was Pepmo’s on the Westside. I had the plain black and white tapes.

When got there, he had a case full of mixtapes, and my tapes looked lame. Mr. Pepmo was nice to me and offered to put my tapes on consignment. Two weeks later, I return on the weekend. As soon as I walked in, he says, ‘Hey man, where have you been?’ He told me my tapes flew off the shelves and sold out even the one he had to play in-store. He went ahead and bought all of them that day. When my street money was more than my payroll check, it was over. I started really digging into manufacturing.

At the time, I had WGCI buzzing, but they didn’t know who I was. No one knew who DJ Phantom was, they only knew DJ Randy Ran. Phantom was from the streets. When I got the call from Elroy Smith and Carla Bolton to join the mixshow line-up, that was one of the biggest days of my life. I just remembered the times I would spin withDJ Pharris who gave me an opportunity to work with him on many of his gigs where I learned the ‘ins and outs’ of the business.

What’s your advice for upcoming DJs?

It’s about paying your dues versus now when you have the new DJs that come and they want to back up to your hard drive. I’m not down for letting everyone borrow my weapon (music files). I’ve edited stuff but when it comes up, I don’t want to give those things away. I think people should put in a certain amount of work to be a DJ.

Note: This article was originally published in the inaugural issue of Bronzeville Life Vol. 1 or August/September 2018.

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