Northern Kentucky native nominated for Grammy award for Best Rap Song

As a teen-ager growing up in Villa Hills, DJ Corbett got hooked on making music when a friend introduced him to Fruity Loops, a software package that is an all-in-one recording system.

“The technology introduced me to the idea that I can create music,” Corbett says. “After that, I caught the bug. All I wanted to do was to learn how to make music.”

Corbett learned well enough that he’s been nominated for music’s top award, a Grammy, and will be in Los Angeles this weekend hoping to pick up his first trophy.

Corbett has been nominated as a writer and producer in the Best Rap Song category for “Racks in the Middle,” performed by the late hip hop artist Nipsey Hussle.

Hussle was shot to death in Los Angeles in March 2019 and Sunday’s broadcast of the award ceremony will feature an all-star tribute to him.

Corbett, who lives in Florence now, contributed the original beat for the song and worked on the engineering at Chalice Studios in Los Angeles.

He met up with Hussle through another Northern Kentucky music personality, Sunny Da Engineer, a recording and mixing engineer from Covington.

Corbett and Sunny met about five years ago and hit it off, bonding over night-long conversations about serious topics as they tried to create music together.

“We did everything wrong,” Corbett says. “Everything everybody says not to do. We met four or five times, we kept getting into discussions about politics, religion and race. We would just get into these three-hour conversations and say, ‘OK, we’ll try to work on music next time.’”

Sunny traveled frequently to Los Angeles to work with artists there, including Hit-Boy, who won a Grammy in 2013 for best rap song. Sunny introduced Corbett to Hit-Boy and other LA artists, and Corbett moved there for about five years to work.

His work caught the attention of rapper and producer Hi-Tek, a Cincinnati native who owned a studio in Covington. He asked DJ to work for him, which brought him back to Northern Kentucky in 2010. Hi-Tek, whose birth name is Tony Cottrell, has recorded and produced dozens of songs and albums.

“That was a big opportunity for me,” Corbett says. “So I felt I wanted to be close to home to be a part of that.”

Corbett typically works remotely from his Northern Kentucky home, sending melodies and loops to the artists he works with on the West Coast. But for “Racks in the Middle” he was in the studio and was pressed into service on the spot as a recording engineer.

“I’m not much of a recording engineer, but I can do it,” he says. “Unfortunately, I was the most qualified in the room.”

The song was originally meant for rapper Roddy Ricch, but when Hussle heard it, he asked that the song be rewritten for him. Roddy Ricch performs with Hussle on the final version.

Corbett wasn’t expecting the Grammy nomination. “I was surprised,” he says. “I didn’t see it coming.”

He believes that Hussle’s death will cause his work and message to be heard much more. Indeed, in the weeks following his death, his music sales increased by close to 3,000 percent. "Racks in the Middle" accumulated nearly12 million streams, causing it to posthumously debut on the Billboard Hot 100 list.

“Unfortunate as it was, his message is going to go so far,” Corbett says. “To be even a small part of that is one of the biggest honors I’ve ever gotten.”

Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist, Cincinnati native and father of three. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.
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