DJ Rocky Rock remains scratching but unscathed

This story is published in partnership with SoJannelleTV, a magazine show about Filipinos in North America

It isn't often that a heartfelt interview ends with a turntable tutorial, with the host and subject dancing with McDonalds frozen drinks in hand, but few subjects can bring that vibe about like disk jockey (DJ) Rocky Rock.

The Filipino-American scratch artist sat down with Fil-Am media pioneer Jannelle So-Perkins for the latter's So Jannelle TV show to discuss his successes and his tribulations as he looked back on a career to be remembered and at new horizons ahead.

DJ Rocky Rock, who was born Racky Aujero in 1980, has been around the world, beginning with his immigration from the Philippines at age 3 to San Jose in California's Bay Area, and then tours of duty around Europe and Asia as a party favorite and accompaniment to mainstream pop artists.

Before that, he told So-Perkins that he first had to convince his mother that a career on stage – and not in the emergency room – was his ticket to the American Dream. He got into DJ-ing when his stepfather's nephews gave up their equipment to begin work as nurses. And when his mother would send him to his room to study, he'd practice "cutting" and "scratching" on the ones and twos.

His big shot at proving to his mother came in 2001, when he entered a DJ competition at a Guitar Center. At stake was a new Ford Focus. DJ Rocky Rock recalled practicing hard and landing on top of the competition. When it was time to pick up his prize, he brought his mother along with him.

"'What is this? Are we going to pay for this?' she said when she saw the white sedan. And I said 'No, that's free. I just won it from a competition,'" shared Rocky Rock.

From there, the accolades kept coming. Rocky Rock won another competition in 2001 and was picked to open up a show for rock bands KoRn and Linkin Park in Mexico City in front of 150,000 people. That year also kicked off his runs at the DMC World DJ Championships, where the best mixers and scratchers on the planet compete for world supremacy.

"I won a lot of USA titles, but in DMC, it's like the NBA (National Basketball Association) of DJ-ing," said Rocky Rock. "First, I won Seattle in 2001. Then, in 2002, I won San Francisco and got into the Top 10. Then I won Phoenix, Arizona, Top 3. And from there, I was like....I feel like I'm not winning."

That feeling of missing something could only be filled by representing his homeland. When he found out that he could represent the Philippines in the competition if he established residency there for six months, Rocky Rock packed up and moved to Manila and got to represent his native country at the 2004 championships.

"Then I won and I represented Philippines in the World Finals in London, England in front of a lot of people. It was really, really cool," said Rocky Rock, who would finish fifth in the world.

A big part of what defined his career would be his relationship with the Black Eyed Peas, whom he linked up with after winning another contest in 2002 to be their opening act. Rocky Rock developed a particularly close relationship with one of the members, apl.de.ap, who, like himself, was born in the Philippines.

Another opportunity would immortalize Rocky Rock's scratching, but it would nearly come with a heavy price.

His phone rang, and it was Black Eyed Peas MC will.i.am on the other line. He needed Rocky Rock down at The Record Plant recording studio right that moment to perform on a track. It was raining – a rarity in Los Angeles – and Rocky Rock was in a rush, making for a dangerous environment.

"I remembered just driving on, I think it's the [134 freeway] here and I got in an accident. Like I got an accident because I was trying to rush," said Rocky Rock. 

The DJ survived and was able to lay down his scratching for the 2005 track "Bebot," which has become an iconic Tagalog rap classic.

DJ Rocky Rock admits his success with the Black Eyed Peas opened up opportunities for him all over the world. He began DJ-ing for Sublime, a legendary hip-hop-inspired ska band, and found that "Bebot" had become a massive hit in Switzerland. He relocated there for a time and put out his first record "Best Party in Town," which sold around 200,000 units in the country.

From there, he moved to Spain, spending five years in Madrid, and then off to Bali, Indonesia, where he traveled around by scooter for two years to experience the island life.

He was living the high life, but his body was sending messages of its own.

He recounted to So-Perkins about a 2018 tour in South Korea, where he developed an eye irritation condition called uveitis. The condition requires ongoing treatment, and he began to lose his sight. He said he was mostly blind for all of 2019.

"It was kind of getting to the point where now I'm like, okay in these years, I was like 38 now and I was like, 'I think I'm just like a vessel now that's just breaking down,'" he said.

DJ Rocky Rock would also soon discover that he was diabetic and had high blood pressure. But he said he's thankful that with treatment, he was able to regain sight in both eyes in 2020.

"So it was kind of like God was telling me, 'Take care of yourself,' you know? And don't be living it to the fullest like that way," he said.

Not even his health concerns and the COVID-19 pandemic could stop him from living his life and passion, though. He may not be able to travel as freely as he'd like to, but DJ Rocky Rock has found a way to connect with fellow artists and music fans through Kumu, a Philippines-based livestreaming app that has helped him build his community outside of his Los Angeles neighborhood.

"Everybody came out and saw each other, and it was the first time I actually [saw] people – that livestream on Kumu – in real life and I found it really cool," said Rocky Rock.

DJ Rocky Rock capped off their interview by showing So-Perkins how to use the mixer and fader to create the scratch effects that defined the track "Bebot."

"You have to be really timing and specific to get the good sound, right?" DJ Rocky Rock told So-Perkins as she moved the record on one of the turntables. "You're doing it right." – Jannelle So Productions | Rappler.com

Rappler is partnering with Jannelle So Productions Inc (JSP), founded by Filipino-American pioneer and Los Angeles-based journalist Jannelle So, to publish video and written stories from SoJannelleTV about the journeys, successes, and challenges of Filipinos living in America.

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