In the first of (hopefully) many interviews on djamlives.com, we have Cosmo Baker answering a few questions about DJ AM for us. Cosmo Baker, like Adam, was born & raised in Philadelphia and is a world renowned party rocking DJ, activist, community leader and educator in his own right. He was one of Adam's earliest childhood friends; a friendship that lasted throughout Adam's lifetime. We hope you enjoy this wide-ranging interview discussing Adam's childhood, some shared gig memories and amazing insight into Adam's friendship & personality.
I know you've known Adam since you were both kids. Tell us when & how you guys came to know each other?
We were both really young kids when we became friends, I think I may have been like 9 years old – Adam was a couple years older than me but we just clicked almost immediately. I’m sure that I met him through the skate shop. When I was a kid, my mom owned a skateboard store, Spike’s Skates, which was Philly’s only real skate shop. It ended up being a place where kids just go there just to hang out and skate, and I ended up meeting a lot of my friends through Spike’s. Adam was this smart and funny chubby kid that I got along with instantly, cause we both were weird. Then we found out we lived pretty close to each other so by default would end up hanging all the time. And as cool as skateboarding truly is, in many ways, it was all the weird kids and all the rejects populated that scene. It was true counterculture back then. In addition to that there was the Center City Jewish connection – we both are Jewish so all the Jewish kids also knew each other, hung out, went to all the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs on that circuit and whatnot. But both Adam and I were kinda like rejects, weird backgrounds and family situations and whatnot… So I guess that’s why we gravitated towards each other and became friends!
What kinds of activities were young Cosmo & young Adam into back in the day?
All the type of stuff that young kids growing up in the city are usually into, that’s what we were into. But here’s the thing with Adam – he always had the tendency to just take things a little bit further and push the limits, but in a good way. Like we both were into skateboarding, but he had this thing where he attached two pieces of flint on the back of his trucks so that you could make actual sparks fly from the back of the board. Then as if that weren’t enough, he would try to ride the sparking skateboard over oil slicks on the pavement to see if he could make it catch flame. He was wildly inventive too – Adam had all these shows on videotape that he collected, like weird anime, Thunderbirds 2086, old Gumby episodes. I don’t know how he was able to do it but through using two VCRs he would make these short videos where he would overdub rap songs, other clips from pop songs, overtop of it and make these funny little clips. Even as a kid he was super creative in that regard. Then honestly, it was getting in trouble, doing mischief, then smoking weed – yeah Adam was the guy who I first smoked weed with. He stole it from his pop’s stash and we all blazed for the first time haha…
Talk a little about the musical influences you guys were exposed to growing up in Philadelphia?
I want to stay away from speaking FOR Adam here cause he would have his own take on this, but I’m sure that those influences were pretty similar overall. First it was the 80s so pop music in general was everywhere. But we both had older sisters (Lara and my sister Zoe were friends too) and they were really into punk and hardcore, and especially in the skate scene you had a lot of that. Then at the shop my folks would play weird stuff like Big Audio Dynamite, Camper Van Beethoven, Haircut 100 and funky shit like that. But then also probably the biggest thing was rap music. I mean at that time Hip-Hop culture was omnipresent in Philly. Being downtown, skating around, going to the video arcades, everywhere it was dudes breakdancing on cardboard or linoleum, and everyone walking around with bigger and more fancy boomboxes, playing MC Shan, Run DMC or Fat Boys. I mean that was probably the biggest influence cause it was new. In the same way that our older sisters laid claim to punk, as a kid saying “Okay but this is MY THING” to rap music was natural and impactful.
Were you guys able to keep in touch after he moved out to LA?
At that time unfortunately not really. This was before the Internet so maybe a few long distance phone calls when he first moved but then that dried up. Plus I was getting ready to go to a new high school and all so you know how it all happens.
What are some highlights of gigs you rocked with Adam?
Wow, there are a whole lot honestly. The first that came to mind is when him and I reconnected in the late 90s and Adam was coming to Philly and we set it up for him to come rock my weekly at Fluid. We did this Monday night and it was like super indie and underground hip-hop and breaks and things, it was me and Rich Medina, and that night we were having a showcase for this local underground record label Quake City. For Adam this was way before he had reached the massive heights of his popularity and I think was even before Crazy Town. I had known that Adam was making a name for himself in the DJ world but I had never heard him play and booked him just off the strength cause he was my man but I was 100% FULLY PREPARED to pull him from the set if he was fucking up, and we had a really difficult crowd too. Adam got on the set and just started MURDERING it. Breaks, funk, dope hip-hop and just super clean cuts, smart mixing (ALL VINYL too this is pre digital DJing) and he absolutely bodied that room. That’s an experience that I will never forget… that’s when I knew that dude was really something special.
Then another one that comes to mind was when Eli Escobar and me had our weekly residency at 105 Rivington, which was always such a fun time and we would be able to get crazy open musically. Adam was going to be around in town so Eli was able to get him booked as our guest for that night. The cool thing about it was here’s this dude who could command this massive fee playing in front of crowds in the thousands and he was there just playing with us – for free for like a group of less than 100 people – just because he loved the music and loved the opportunity to just get open and play crazy shit. And there was like this one pocket of time during that evening that I’ll never forget. Adam within a really short period of time went from a Group Home song to Low Profile “Pay Dues” to some weird funk break I had never heard to Willie Bobo “Spanish Grease” to like a house song, all of it just completely seamless and effortless. I was there; DJ Riz was in the house, plus Dave from Chromeo and Armand Van Helden. I think at one point all of us just looked at each other with disbelief. All of us were just like “Yo, how the hell does he even THINK about this shit” hahah. It was truly epic just watching a master at work.
I’ve seen your name on a couple of the Banana Split flyers; tell me about your LA experiences with Adam and that club night?
Well I actually only played LAX once – I had been booked twice but before I could do the second gig I think either the club closed or at least Mike and Steve ended up just shutting Banana Split down. But the first time I played there, while it was epic and is a cool story, also is kinda bittersweet. In 2008, I randomly got a message from Jason (Them Jeans) with a flyer for a date at Banana Split that had my name on it and I was like “Ummmm guys, I had no plans to be in LA on this date” and everyone was super confused. Turns out that there was some other random guy going by DJ Cosmo who was super thirsty about getting booked for Banana Split and they booked him thinking that it was me! When we cleared all this up Adam was like yo FUUUCCCKK THAT SHIT Cos you’re playing not this other dude haha! So between him, Matt Colon and Jason we set up the date and were in the game. Then I was talking with Jamie and Chris and they were like yo since you’re gonna be out here, why don’t you make your Do Over debut? So that date I ended up pulling the double duty in doing Do Over at Crane’s during the day, and then rolling over to LAX and rocking Banana Split at night. Now all of this was really exciting, but the thing that makes this really bittersweet is that a couple of weeks before I did these gigs, Adam was in the plane crash. That whole thing really messed everyone up in general but obviously it had Adam in a really bad place so he wasn’t able to play that night. So while I think back about that gig and have super fond memories – it was me and Steve Aoki and Fashen, Mike B and JFK from MSTRKRFT also played that night so it was raging – but then I always think back about just how there was such an absence with Adam not being there.
When you think back on how high Adam rose in the DJ game & how you knew him long before DJ'ing was his thing, does the success he enjoyed surprise you?
Not at all. I mentioned about how creative he was even when he was a kid, and with the way that he approached it all with such passion, to me it seems like of course he would have smashed things the way he did. But also I think it was just a matter of the right person with the right circumstances at the right time. What he did in terms of his impact on the industry couldn’t have been done by anyone else, but like it was full on a perfect storm.
After all these years, where does AM stand for you in the pantheon of DJs?
That tough, cause I don’t believe in trying to rate people especially amongst a community you belong to. But if you wanted to bring out the “GOAT” word then yes he’s easily one of the GOATs especially amongst the “open format” world. I will say that easily. But it’s larger than that as well because, first of all, the way that he impacted the business of DJing was unprecedented and it was a sea change that there’s no going back to. In addition to that it’s not like he wasn’t constantly getting better. Dude was such a student of the craft and wanted to constantly push himself, so much so that it also made everyone else around him want to get better too. The stuff he was doing with Jazzy Jeff, then the electronic dance music lane that he was so in love with, it’s like he approached it all with such zeal and passion. Honestly, it’s a recurring question that I ask myself every several months – If AM were still here, what would he musically be doing right now? Whatever it would be he would be fucking it up, no question.
What are your lasting memories of Adam as a friend?
Dude there’s a lot, and I can think from ones when were little kids growing up in Philly to ones from when we were friends as adults, but it’s less about the specific memories or experiences and more about the memory of the type of person he was. He was so generous and so filled with exuberance, it was infectious. And his love for music and for his friends was the thing that always shone through first. One time back in the 00s when he was playing in AC, the next day he was flying back out of Philly. I guess he heard that I was spinning a party at some rinky-dink loft, so he straight up changed his plane ticket for the following day just so he could come hang out. That whole night he was just hanging out in the DJ booth geeking off of tunes and getting hype on music. So maybe that’s one thing I remember vividly – just how his passion for music and for his friends and for life in general really dictated all his moves.
Huge thank you to Cosmo Baker for the stories on Adam's childhood, gig memories and insight into Adam's personality. This is the type of content we are striving for to keep Adam's memory & legacy alive and there was no better person to start with.