DJ Fussyman - Music Mogul in the Making
Cameron Lenhardt has most everything a DJ would want: a known identity, a loyal following, and consistent gigs that have led him to some well-known venues in the city and around the country.
But he will have to wait one more year before he can earn his Eighth-grade diploma.
The 13-year-old entertainer from Mariner’s Harbor known as “DJ Fussyman” will be entering his final year of junior high at Sacred Heart this fall. In-between the usual important decisions that most young teenagers have to make, such as choosing a high school to attend and which movie to see on the weekends, Cameron also has to prioritize the engagements and appearances he’ll make at various venues throughout the borough and beyond.
His three-year-long journey from using DJ software on a laptop, to customized turntables with his likeness wrapped on them, has been a rapid, head (and disc)-scratching experience that he and his mother, Lakema Freeland, find it difficult to put into words. Just about a year after Cameron began playing parties in the basement of the house next door, he garnered enough recognition to be invited to DJ at the White House during the annual Easter Egg Roll, with an audience of about 35,000 people. Since then, Lakema has helped Cameron grow in popularity and maintain his status as the borough’s most popular adolescent DJ.
Cameron understands that the novelty of being known as the youngest DJ in his hometown won’t last forever, and he’s working hard at achieving his future goals for DJ’ing and in other industries. Like most children his age, he has a wide range of interests, but it seems that Cameron has a determination to improve and refine his ability in the activities he pursues. A few years ago, he used to compete nationally as a horse rider before he took up DJ’ing. Currently, he’s evaluating which prestigious high school he’d like to attend next year: Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music and Performing Arts, or Aviation Career & Technical Education High School, as flying is something he also has a keen interest in.
To the mild-mannered Cameron, the success and responsibility he’s learned so far, including managing his own finances, is just a natural part of his childhood. His humble persona contrasts with some of the flamboyant outfits he wears during his regular performances at Overspray in Stapleton, and elsewhere. During a conversation with Cameron and Lakema in their home, next door to the basement where he began hosting parties just three years ago, they shared his interests, growth in the business, and outlook on his future with Living in Staten Island.
LISI: Cameron, thank you for taking the time out of a school night for our interview. Which school do you go to?
CL: I go to Sacred Heart. I’m in 7th grade, 13 years old.
LISI: I understand you started doing DJ events a couple years ago. How did you first become interested in DJ’ing?
CL: It’s weird. When I was little, I never paid attention to any DJ. Never. But this one time I paid attention to this guy who was DJ’ing and said he was going to let his daughter get on. And then when his daughter got on the microphone, she was like 13, 14, at the time, I said, “Wow. I want to do that!” On Christmas I got a computer, and then eventually I got Virtual DJ, like an app that you can use on your computer to DJ. I started using it more and more and started getting nice at it. As I got more and more used to it, one time when we all went to Pennsylvania, I brought my laptop and speakers there. I started playing music, and everyone kept calling me, “Oh, DJ Fussyman!” So I just went with that name. And then my 10th birthday was a few days after that. I got a controller and two speakers, and then I set it up downstairs. I would play by myself and my mom and dad would come sometimes and listen. And then I would DJ for people’s birthdays. Eventually more and more kids would come because it was open to anybody. Then we saw that I could charge and make some money off of it and host parties. So we started doing that, and we started getting bigger and bigger.
LISI: How many people on average come out to a show?
CL: A few hundred people. Up to 400 people sometimes. The people who used to come a while ago don’t come anymore. Now we have a lot of younger kids from junior high schools that come now.
LISI: How does it make you feel to know that you created an attraction that so many people look forward to going to and to seeing you?
CL: I like it. It makes me happy. I know a lot of people look forward to it, and instead of them going and doing some bad things that night, they can come to my party and just have fun.
LISI: What type of music do you enjoy playing the most?
CL: I play everything. It depends on who wants what and when, and what place I’m at. But the majority of the time I play hip hop music and reggae.
LISI: Were your parties always that big? How did you grow and gain an audience?
CL: We used to have them downstairs in the basement in the house next door to us. We own the house next door. We used to have the parties there, but eventually the parties stared to get bigger and bigger each month. When they got a little bigger, we had to move the parties outside in the backyard. Once that started to get full, we had to find a club. We looked for about a month before someone came and told us about Overspray on Broad Street. We looked at the website, called the owner, Charlie, and visited. It’s a nice place.
LISI: Is that where you run the Club Turnup? Where did that name comefrom?
CL: Yes. We have a group of kids, a group of my mom’s friends’ kids, and we call ourselves the Turnup Crew.
LF [Cameron’s Mom]: I have a day care. Every New Year’s, I used to take all my friend’s kids with my kids when they went out for New Year’s. We’d have a party for the whole weekend. Every year we did that. For 14 years they’ve had slumber parties with the same groups of kids for their whole lives. For Easter and Christmas, we’d rent some houses and go away and do a lot of fun activities, like zip lining or horseback riding. When we got a club, we said, why not name it Club Turnup, after the Turnup Crew? They invited their friends, and it would be packed. That’s how that started.
LISI: What about being a DJ appealed to you?
CL: I thought it would be a cool, nice experience to do. There’s nobody my age doing it. You can make money off of it, meet a lot of people and get to know the industry, and I like to make people happy with the music that I play.
LISI: That’s thinking big for someone your age. Where does that ambition come from?
CL: I think I can do better than my parents did, even though they did well, I know I have to do better than them and get further in life because I know I have to succeed.
LISI: As the story goes, you got the nickname, Fussyman, when you were a child?
CL: With the nickname, first it was Fussy because I was breastfed as a baby, but when I wasn’t breastfed, I was fussy. They would call me Fussy, and it started sticking. So when I was little older, like six or seven years old, I said, “No, I’m not Fussy. I’m Fussy Man!” So when I started DJ’ing, I knew I needed a DJ name, and I wanted to go with DJ Fussyman. A lot of my friends and family were calling me that anyway.
LISI: How were you able to market the DJ events when you first started?
LF: We would hang flyers in schools every month. He did it at FAO Schwartz, DJ’ing two years until they closed. But he’s also been at the Jacob Javits Center. He’s young so there’s not a lot of competition. Hot 97 (97.1 FM) has said they have a job for him when he turns 18. He’s been on there as a guest. It just took off. We didn’t envision all this. At 13 years old, he’s done a lot already.
LISI: Do you have a regular schedule now?
CL: Yes. I perform every month now, but in the summer every two weeks. I do a lot of my monthly parties and I do a lot of gigs in the city and places in Harlem. I did dances for Our Lady of Mount Carmel and a school in Brooklyn called Madiba Prep Middle School. I like to be at commercial stores. I did the Gap Times Square, and actually the Gap on 5th Avenue, which is their biggest one. I used to do FAO Schwartz, but they closed. When they come, they come.
LISI: What other types of extracurricular activities do you do?
CL: I’ve been a Youth Ambassador of Staten Island for community outreach. I play 13-14-year-old football in Staten Island, wrestle, and play lacrosse. I used to ride horses, too.
LF: He competed nationally for Metropolitan Horse Riding. He doesn’t compete, but he still rides them.
LISI: Wow. When you take an interest in something, do you want to be the best at it?
CL: I like to be bold and give people a chance to look up to me. I get it from my mom, too.
LISI: You played for the Easter Egg Roll for the White House. How did that come about?
CL: They contacted us. On social media, they have private accounts that no one can really see. They look at people, they looked at me. They contacted my email. We were coming back from something in the city. My mom pulled over and she read it. She was like, this is not true, is it? Then she called the number.
LF: I said, “This is not real.” But when I did some more research, I said, “Oh, shoot, this is them. They do all the entertainment for the White House.” I called them, and they said, “We sent you three emails,” and I told them, “I didn’t think it was true!” They asked if we wanted to DJ with 35,000 people there, at the White House. I couldn’t believe it. You could have never prepared me for that. He had just started DJ’ing about a year before that. We have a picture of us, Obama and Michelle down the hall. It was so surreal.
LISI: Did President Obama and Michelle give you any advice?
CL: They said to keep up my school grades, to do well, keep up and push forward with my DJ’ing, and to be successful in life.
LISI: What was the experience of being at and performing at the White House like?
LF: Walking through the White House was so surreal. It made me so humble. Cameron doesn’t really talk much, so some people did tell him he should talk some more. When he’s DJ’ing, he’s not really vocal on the microphone yet. We’re pushing him, but he’s still young and has other interests, too. He’s into fashion. He got invited to DJ at an NYC Fashion event. When he got that, because he’s into fashion, I said that’s not real, too.
LISI: He’s performed at a lot of major venues already.
LF: Right. That’s why we don’t do house parties. We will do it at a venue. We want him to be a special DJ, not just a local DJ. He does his clubs for the locals, but I have to keep him on a certain level so that people want what’s special about him.
LSIS: Are there any DJs that you look up to?
CL: I look up to my mentors: DJ Blitz. DJ Khaled, DJ Kid Capri. They are either producers or on the radio. DJ Khaled is a producer now. Blitz would do an event in Staten Island for mentally disabled people every Tuesday. I’ve gone and helped him out at that.
LF: That is so amazing that he gives back. You see this little guy and who is comfortable around adults and showing them love. It’s the cutest thing ever.
LISI: Has there ever been a time when you thought people might say you’re too young to be doing what you’re doing, and dismiss some of the success that you’ve had?
CL: That never really happened, where people were judgmental because I was too young.
LISI: Your online bio says you would like to learn how to play piano and write music. Have you tried playing any other musical instruments?
CL: When I was homeschooled, I used to learn how to play the piano and read music from a teacher.
LF: The teacher got cancer, and right now he’s not teaching him. Cameron is interested in going to Aviation High School, because planes are his passion too. If he doesn’t get in there, then he’d like to go to La-Guardia High School, and if he wants to do that, he really needs to learn how to read music. He’s got another year to decide that, but he’s starting to think about that now.
LISI: What other goals or interests would you like to pursue now, other than DJ’ing?
CL: I want to do a few things. I want to be a producer in my early life, like my 20s, and then eventually I’ll become a firefighter. I always wanted to be a firefighter, and now that I’m maybe going to go to Aviation High School, I’d like be a firefighter in a plane. Like if there’s a forest fire, I want to be one of those types of firefighters who helps put out the fires in the trees.
LISI: What sparked that interest?
CL: My grandfather who passed away about two years ago, he was firefighter for Staten Island. After he retired, I’d always go and try on all of his gear that he had and pretend like I was a firefighter.
LISI: How did you learn to DJ? Did you teach yourself?
CL: I went to a DJ school in Manhattan called Scratch Academy. I still go there, occasionally. I used to take classes and that’s where I learned how to mix and scratch.
LISI: What equipment do you have here at home?
CL: I have my DJ table, my turntables, my mixer and one speaker.
LF: He customized his turntables and paid $1,200 for a company to wrap them.
LISI: You wear flamboyant outfits. Since you have an interest in fashion, do you design them?
CL: [Points at his mom] She’s my stylist.
LF: If you do the same thing everyone else is doing, you don’t make a statement. You have to be different and step outside of the box where people want to see you and want to be interested in you. Even at the White House, the First Lady told him that he was stylish and cool. That was the ultimate compliment. If you want to be noticed and make a difference, you have to look different. There’re 1,000 DJs. Normally, DJs dress down, but I dress him up and pick out bright colors to make him look different and keep him in the times with what’s fashionable today.
LISI: When you’re DJ’ing, what’s your mindset?
CL: When I DJ I become focused more and like jamming to the music.
LISI: When you made the transition from homeschooling to Sacred Heart, were you already known and popular with your peers? Did your classmates come to any of the parties?
CL: No, at the time not a lot of people knew me. There aren’t too many people in my school, there’s only one class per grade. Nobody really noticed me. A few kids did but not a lot. Then they started to, but then the phase was over where everybody knew who I was. Now, I actually DJ for my school. We have a cystic fibrosis dance-a-thon. There’s a girl in my school who has that disease. We always have a fundraiser for her, I think we raise about $30,000 a year. I’ve done it the last two years. I don’t know if I’ll do it next year in high school but I’d like to.
LISI: You have a lot of support from your family and friends. How much does that mean to you?
CL: It’s not like my mom loves me more than my siblings. I have two sisters, one brother and a stepbrother. And I have an adopted sister. We’re all equal and the same, with our own strengths. She loves me and I love her, just like she does with my brothers and sisters. It feels good from my peers sometimes, because a lot of my fellow peers in school look up to me.
LISI: Do you think you’ll keep the DJ Fussyman name throughout your career?
CL: People do ask me if I’d carry it when I’m in my 20s, and I probably would. I don’t know yet.
LISI: What events do you have lined up for the summer?
CL: We perform every two weeks at Club Turnup. In July I’ll do some big barbeques and I’ll do some concerts, too. Whatever comes to me, I’ll go.
LISI: Do you get a lot of requests? Have you ever had to turn any away because you are so busy?
CL: Yes. The most I ever did in one day was three events, but I try to only do two in one day now. Eventually it gets to be too much. I can DJ two parties at four hours each, but three would be too hard. It’s a lot.
LSIS: How do you get around with all your equipment?
CL: My mom drives me around. Sometimes my dad does if she’s not available, but the majority of time she does.
LISI: Are there any hobbies that you have other than practicing DJ’ing?
CL: I go on YouTube. My favorite Youtuber is WolfieRaps. He’s like 19, drives a BMW, bought a Benz for his girlfriend, and has a whole apartment for himself. It’s like, wow, he has so much money at a young age. I like his videos.
LISI: And you still get to enjoy being a kid?
CL: Yes. We’ll go every weekend when I’m not busy to the mall, the movies sometimes. The movie theatre is right around the corner. I go to leadership camp every summer upstate, too.
LF: He’s very laid back and reserved. We call him a grandpa. It’s like he’s been here before, I don’t know. He’s got an old soul. We said that since the day he was born, he’s like a little old man in a baby’s body.
LISI: Do you use the money you make to pay for all your equipment and other expenses?
LF: He didn’t used to get to see his money. I used to put all his money away. His first gig was only $100 for a little girl’s birthday party, and he lost the money. His first gig, can you believe that? They paid him at the party. He didn’t have his wallet with him that day, which he always carries with him. He must have put it in his pocket and lost it. I gave him another $100 to make up for it, and we look at it as whoever found it, they must have really needed it and God led them to it. With that said, now he’s responsible for his own money. They give him half of the deposit through PayPal, which goes straight to his savings, and then when he gets to the venue they give him the balance. When he gets home he takes it to the bank and deposits his own money. Financially, I don’t do anything for him anymore. He’s only 13 but he takes care of his own money. I pay for his tuition, but everything he needs, he buys. Occasionally he’ll give me money for gas, but that’s about it. He’s very responsible, but he’s still a normal kid.
LISI: How does he manage around a regular school and kid schedule?
LF: I don’t think about it. It’s crazy what he’s done. He really works and makes his own money. Last summer, he had hit a rough part. It was a weekend and he was saying how he didn’t really know if he wanted to go to work that day. But I told him, these people already booked you. There’s only four hours, and you’ll make $600. Why turn that down? Later on, you’ll say mom, I appreciate it. You’re your own boss. It doesn’t get any better. There’s no competition for what you’re doing. This is a win-win situation.
LISI: That’s where some parental guidance comes in.
LF: Yes. I sent him to camp for two weeks after that, and he had a great time. Since then, we dropped his schedule. I want to give him some sense of normalcy, too.
LISI: You look confident when you perform in your videos. Are you comfortable with what you do?
CL: I don’t like to showboat myself, like, “Oh, yea, I’m a DJ, I make so much money,” or this and that. Anybody can make as much money as I’m making. All they have to do is just put their mind to it, and they can do it. You can do anything you want. One time I had to do a thing at a prep school last year. I’m an entrepreneur and I had to go speak. I told them that the sky is the limit and they can do whatever they want.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
J. Cole is just one of many
People making noises in my ear
Like To Dine With