The National Center met DJ Element through our work with the Intertribal Council of Nevada (ICTN). DJ Element, whose given name is Logan Howard, is Pima from the Salt River Indian Reservation. He started collecting records as a teenager, and 26 later, he is a world-renowned DJ who has worked with entertainers from LL Cool J down to young DJs trying to learn more about the trade through his Masterclass program. You can find his music on major streaming platforms, or you can email him for show bookings, DJ masterclass, and speaking engagements at email@example.com.
We recently interviewed DJ Element in our headquarters in Mesa, Arizona. We hope you learn more about his fascinating life and journey, including a surprising twist at the end when he reveals his role model (hint: it’s someone we know well)! The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
- So, when we were talking before the interview, you told us about the day that you realized LL Cool J seriously wanted to work with you. Tell us more about that.
It was brought to my attention that they were starting a new radio station at Serious XM called “Rock the Bells Radio,” courtesy of LL Cool J, and he was looking for DJs to become a part of this family. A good friend of mine reached out to me and said, “Oh, we would like to have you on board and I’m going to put you in contact with them.” I’ve collected LL Cool J’s records and seen him in movies and TV and then all of the sudden this guy wants you to be a part of the “Rock the Bells” family and to be a DJ and contribute mixes to the radio station? Of course, I said yes!
I was excited. I got a call from [LL Cool J] and I didn’t believe it was him. “Hey what’s up it’s LL Cool J,” and I’m like “yeah, whatever” and just hung up. So, I get a call later and it’s my friend who put us in touch and he’s like “no that’s really him, pick up your phone, he’s trying to reach out to you.” That’s what it was, that stamp of approval. To me that was a no brainer. That’s how it happened. Part of the “Rock the Bells” radio family. Serious XM channel 45.
- And you said you knew this offer was serious when you had received a surprise after that call?
Yeah! I was on tour with Supaman and Good Medicine Clothing, and we just did, maybe a month of just back-to-back dates. And as soon as I got off tour and I came home there was this big box and it just said “LLCoolInc.com” or something and I was like “oh shoot what’s this?” My brother said, “I don’t know it’s been sitting there for a minute you’ve been gone for a while.” So, I cracked the box open and it was a jacket, like a letterman jacket, said “Rock the Bells Radio” and had DJ Element on it, I was like “oh cool!” It had what we call slip-mats, and those are the mats you put down on the turntables before you put your records down so they don’t mess them up. And there were a bunch of stickers and a postcard in there that said, “thank you for everything you do for hip-hop culture and what you’ve trailblazed in Arizona.” That meant a lot that was a big benchmark for me.
- What are some of the Native artists that you are listening to right now?
Pfff, I don’t listen to any of those guys! No, I’m just kidding. Supaman, I like Supaman. I like Mike Bone, I like Defy, MC Defy. Recently I just came back from the Santa Fe Indian Market and I got to say an amazing group called Macchiato, who I believe are Pueblo from New Mexico, Amazing. Nataani Means, he’s great. Olivia Komacheet, but I know her stage name is just “Liv the Artist.” I had a few chances to work with her and she is an amazing musician, a virtuoso. Sage Bond, and these are all different genres of music, it’s not just hip-hop, so it’s cool to see Indigenous people across the board that are just really getting their music out there in different genres. Those artists all come to mind.
- You mentioned that many artists who have blown up tend to move to Los Angeles, but you decided to stay in your community. What moved you to that decision with everything you do now with your masterclasses?
Shoot, I was broke! I had no money to move. I think at the time my thinking was, “Wow, I’m realizing that even in the late 90s there weren’t a lot of people parlaying DJing into a career.” It was brand new; you didn’t see it like you see it now in commercials, insurance companies, fast food restaurants, there’s always some DJ in the mix. That stuff was very far-fetched – there weren’t a lot of DJs that were catapulting this into their own act and not someone who does quinceañeras or bar mitzvas and sits in the corner and plays background music. A lot of us were producers, we were already making the music before singers or rappers got on the tracks, so we were artists in our own right, and some of us didn’t realize that others played other instruments too as well.
- You were so young when you started out and there were a lot of things you had to learn on your own. Can you talk about some of those things that you wish you had known early on?
Booking and management. I mean, you start to realize that these are the hats that are worn by record labels, execs, booking agents, and managers. You start to think about things like, “what’s a price quote? How do I write out these miles on my taxes?” You didn’t know those things. And again, whether you were commuting via airplane or driving in a car, nobody teaches you those things. Then you think, “I need invoices, I need quotes.” But no one ever teaches you.
Throughout the years you start to see a lot more doors open with people saying if you don’t know those things we can teach you, we can show you the ways. Back when I was coming up there was none of that! There was a lot of trial and error. There’s e-commerce too! Before, and I sound like a dinosaur saying this, but even doing this before the internet it was like going to stores, putting your stuff on consignment, knowing that you really have to track whether or not people are buying the CDs and if you need to make more. So, you have to understand buying CDs at wholesale or albums, how does this compare to a small batch of 300 vs 10,000? All of that was thrown into the mix.
At first, you don’t realize you are a business. But now, I’m starting to sit down with other people who are looking for advice for how to get their careers off the ground. Again, I did my best to give back to a lot of my close friends and to show them the ways, because a lot of the times I crashed and burned so many times.
- You’ve given back to your community in a unique way. Can you talk a little about your DJ Masterclass and what’s covered?
Intro to DJing is usually a whole course that covers music theory, counting bars/counting measures. You’ll be surprised some people that pick it up for the first time they’re naturally good at it, maybe some aren’t. They get nervous being in front of a camera or being in front of their friends and they freeze up, so it’s my job to just be like, “it’s cool, relax, take a breather.” Your favorite songs, in your car or at home, they’re just in front of you now, you can touch them. It’s analog, you can move stuff around. How would you do it? What makes you different from the rest of the class? And again, everybody is like “yeah, I want to do it this way.” And when people are hands on it uplifts their spirits. And the songs they pick, that’s what makes them feel good. It’s like, we are just the audience, even if we’re just two or three people.
So, it’s covering all those, the basics of studio recordings, how to plug in your gear, whether it’s CDJs or Turntables and saying ok this is where this goes, this is a ground wire, this is an RCA, this is an XLR, this is a DI box. So on and so forth. Before I even knew it, I had a full curriculum. I didn’t realize I was only teaching my best friends from down the street on the reservation, don’t plug this into there this is a ground wire, this is a speaker. Because what happened, and this is a true story, when I first learned there were no tutorials, there was no YouTube. So, I plugged my stuff in backwards. All my DJ equipment! And I never corrected myself I just learned how to adapt on the equipment. I was self-taught. Even to this day, I still DJ like that, all my stuff is in reverse. I never changed it.
- Where can people stream and access your music right now?
Everything is on all the musical platforms. For example, for Supaman’s material, I did three songs on the latest album which is called “Medicine Bundle”. Kind of cool because there are a few, amazing TV shows out there that picked us up and you can stream those songs on Title, Apple Music, Soundcloud, and of course Spotify. All of those musical platforms. But for me, specifically for the DJ stuff, it’s Soundcloud, Mixcloud, Title, Spotify, and it’s all the same handle, @DJElementAZ. I don’t charge a penny for any of my music, I never have.
- So what’s next for DJ Element? Are you going to do a reality show?
We did get asked. I was with this event called “Freestyle Session,” which is based in Los Angeles and it’s one of the biggest breaking events in North America. I’ve been honored to be a part of their event and movement for the past 15 years. We were offered a reality show, I think in the early 2000s, but everything was still on the table, I don’t know how all that stuff works but for whatever reason it didn’t.
I think a reality show from a DJ’s perspective, or Indigenous musicians like Supaman and myself just on the road and behind the scenes could be really interesting. I think everyone sees the turnout for shows but they don’t realize, yes, we get delayed flights or stuck in cities for 24 hours and sometimes we still have to make it to the next city and maybe it’s a morning show at a school. It can get pretty hectic! It would be a fun show!
- We met you through the Intertribal Council of Nevada (ITCN). How did you get started working with them?
I want to say in June or July, [Supaman] got asked to play for an event that ITCN was doing in conjunction with the state of Nevada to spread awareness for Covid-19, and to reach out to tribes in Nevada so they can get vaccinated if they want to. We were put on a show for different communities, and so whether it was Washoe, Shoshoni, Paiute, Stuart Indian School, and a few other places to just reach out to the communities to have some giveaways, have a great time with the elders. At a few of the events there were Powwows before or after our event.
It was cool to meet the community, to sit down and have a great conversation with the community. The first event we did was at The Palms, and that was great. We have a show next week with the Walker River Paiutes in conjunction with their Pine Nut Festival. I’ll be joining Supaman, James and Ernie the comedians, the famous announcer Ray Champ, and the professional bull rider Dakota Louis (editor’s note: Dakota Louis is now sponsored by The National Center!).
- What’s the most inspiring event you’ve come across working with ITCN?
All of them…only because me being a Native from Arizona. I think it’s just been a beauty, it’s been amazing going to different cities and states and realizing that there are so many different tribes out there that have different languages, customs, traditions, and they are literally just hours away from this state. I’ve only visited a handful of the tribes in the state but it’s amazing to visit them and have that cultural exchange. How we do things and how they do things. To me that’s just amazing, that’s the reward itself. I can’t wait to go back to a lot of these Indigenous communities and run it back again. It’s always fun.
- You’ve traveled pretty extensively abroad. Can you talk about some of your experiences in your travels?
I went by myself to Mexico to play when I was 18 or 19, during spring break. After that, things just snowballed. The second biggest international trip I did was Japan. I went on my 21st birthday. I was so scared, I was nervous. I’ve been on planes before where you go from here to Albuquerque and it’s like an hour flight. To me that was big at the time because we never traveled by plane because we couldn’t afford to so everything was by car. So, when I started traveling internationally from the big airports, like LAX or JFK, those things were very emotional for me. I would cry at times, I cried on some of my biggest trips.
I always tell my family this story. The first time I went to Japan, I was with all these amazing dancers, rappers, graffiti artists, DJs, and to them it was just another city, but for me it was my first time being asked and invited to this big world championship event that was held at this beautiful venue called Studio Coast in Tokyo. I was just honored to be picked. All these guys were just sitting there like it was a regular domestic flight, like “oh yeah we’ll be there, and we’ll go do this and have fun, go eat here.” But for me, it was completely new.
After 17 hours in the air, we touchdown on the tarmac and I just pause and it felt like my heart dropped and I have to say this with a lot of conviction, but it brought me to tears. I looked at everything that I had done to that point: collecting records as a 16-year-old, coming from the Salt River Indian Reservation – not saying that it’s coming from nothing because I love where I come from – but it was a big giant leap to achieve what I did. Nobody taught me. I brought myself here, and these guys to my left and right who took me under their wing, my good friends from Seattle and LA told me the same thing – that I did this on my own.
And I just remember sitting there, trying to keep my composure, and I look out the window, and you hear the announcer say, “thank you for flying with us” and then you here “ping” and a Japanese language speaker comes on. And I just started crying. It was very emotional for me, because up until that point I didn’t realize where I was going to go with this, I didn’t realize where DJing was going to take me. And here’s something that I loved with a passion that has now taken me oversees, and like my friends told me, it was just the beginning. And they were right.
On that trip I went from Tokyo, to Seoul, South Korea, to Taiwan, and then I swung over to Germany – all for DJ gigs. I got stamps on my passport for every single one. By the time I came home I felt like I could take on the world. I felt like I didn’t even cross the ocean and met all these different cultures and shared their food. Of course, there was the “you’re a real Native American? What’s your tribe?” commentary. I even had people come pinch me to say “wow you’re a real Native American” because all they had seen were the stereotypes. The Charlton Heston movies, the John Wayne movies, the depictions where we all lived and acted the same. They thought we all have the same language and regalia. I explained to people abroad that there are nearly 600 recognized tribes and we all have our own languages and cultures – you should come check it out!
Over the years, I’ve been honored to host a lot of friends like Most Def, some great dancers who some are no longer with us, and great comedians like Charlie Murphy (may he rest in peace) – I brought him to Salt River. And for them to come and sit down, have an Indian Taco, come see our buildings, come see our agriculture, visit my mom, have her speak our language. Those moments are priceless to me.
- Who is your biggest role model?
Right now, it’s Yvette [Fielder, Program Director for The National Center]! I love me some Yvette. Came out of nowhere, I don’t try to . . . [laughs] I don’t try to figure out how things came to be I just realized wow, this is an amazing person. I’ve heard nothing but great things and there’s so much to learn. That’s what I’m all about, I’m all about learning, it’s all about the journey. My favorite person right now is Yvette.