20 Questions With DJ Diesel: Shaquille O’Neal On Moshing, His Friends Zedd & Diplo & The ‘Game 7 Energy’ Of Dance Music
Any dilettante with money can buy a mixer and auto beat match their way into the dance world. Shaquille O’Neal entered the legit way — by first falling in love with the genre at Tomorrowland 2013 (his first ever music festival) then learning how to make the music himself during hours in the studio.
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The process wasn’t entirely different from the thousands of hours O’Neal spent practicing on the court during his historic tenure in the NBA, where he’s regarded as one of the best players of all time.
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A DJ career was perhaps an unlikely post-retirement plan, but for O’Neal, it’s made sense. As DJ Diesel, he drops massive, heavy-hitting bass music, a genre he says saved him and gave him purpose after retiring from the NBA in 2011. “The whole genre is energy,” O’Neal tells Billboard. “I missed that once retiring. Bass music was the vice I was missing and desperately needed. ”
Since launching the DJ Diesel project, O’Neal has played many prestige clubs and festivals including Electric Zoo, Lollapalooza and Tomorrowland, where he’ll return to in 2022. (O’Neal famously went viral in 2019 via a video of him moshing at the Belgian mega-festival.)
Tomorrow (February 11), he’s hosting his own prestige gig with Shaq’s Fun House, a Super Bowl pre-party blowout at The Shrine in Los Angeles that will feature sets from A-listers Lil Wayne, Zedd, Diplo and, of course, DJ Diesel himself. This is the sixth incarnation of the party, and the fourth time it’s happened ahead of the Super Bowl.
Co-presented with crypto platform FTX, the party includes carnival rides, food from classic L.A. spots including Roscoe’s House Of Chicken ‘N Waffles and Pink’s Hot Dogs, along with VIP experiences and many actual VIPS. (Usher, Eric Andre, Keke Palmer,Metta World Peace, Jalen Ramsey, JB Smoove, Method Man, RZA and others stars are expected to attend.) The show is open to the public, although tickets are largely sold out.
Ahead of the party, O’Neal reflects on the DJ Diesel project, how he got a warmer reception in the dance world than he did in the NBA, the first time he met Zedd and much more.
1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?
I am home in Atlanta now working TNT during the week and touring as DJ DIESEL on the weekends. Planning my annual Shaq’s Fun House party coming up in Los Angeles this February 11th has been keeping me busy, to say the least.
2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
I’ve been listening to music forever but didn’t truly start DJing until ‘86 when balling at LSU. Beastie Boys, Run D.M.C, Salt-N-Pepa, Just- Ice, all them guys. I do remember grabbing a Kurtis Blow album in 1980-ish when I was about 8 or 10 years old. I was in a local record store and grabbed it from the bin just because the art looked interesting. Ended up being a pretty good album if I remember. Back then I used to cut grass to afford records — pretty crazy looking back, right?
3. If you had to recommend one album or song for someone looking to get into dance music, what would you give them?
This is a tossup of a question, but for me the Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP produced by the one and only Skrillex.
4. What’s the last song you listened to?
If we’re being honest, “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson — but before that was “On My Mind” by my man Diplo, who will be at this year’s Shaq’s Fun House in Los Angeles. Fun fact: He is the only artist to play every single Fun House.
5. What’s the best DJ set you’ve ever seen, and why?
Tomorrowland changed my life — well TomorrowWorld 2013 actually. It was the first festival I ever went to and my introduction to dance music. Tiësto. Skrillex. Steve Aoki. I was blown away by the Game 7 energy and knew I had to get in the game.
6. What’s the best DJ set you’ve ever played, and why?
Imagine Music Festival Atlanta 2019. Diplo had to miss his set due to an airplane issue. From there I got a call from my team saying, “The biggest festival in my home city of Atlanta needs DIESEL to close out the fest.” I spent hours in the lab preparing for it, and we killed it. Mainstage Tomorrowland, Perry Stage Lollapalooza, and Echostage D.C. are some of my favorites as well. Shoutout to the Encore Beach Club at the Wynn too!
7. What’s a song you play that you know will always, every time, get the crowd excited?
I got a few sure hitters: “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled, “Party Up” by DMX and “A Milli” by Lil Wayne. Speaking of Lil Wayne… he is also performing at this year’s Shaq’s Fun House! Tunechi and I go way back.
8. I’ve heard you say that it’s meaningful to you to be able to give people a good time, whether you’re on the court, DJing or throwing a massive party. What feels so good about giving in this way?
I was raised on the mentality that once you get, you must give. I have been fortunate to receive a lot in my life, all of which was earned, but now that I have built this platform it’s my turn to step up in the biggest way I can. Seeing the change you can make in someone’s life is immediately gratifying, but also everlasting. I call myself the CFO: Chief Fun Officer; I just like seeing people happy.
9. How does the dance world compare to the world of professional basketball? Have you felt warmly received by the dance scene?
The dance world embraced me way quicker than the basketball world did. Nobody cares about a baller unless they can drop 20-plus points a game, 10-plus rebounds or dunk like Spida. It’s just that simple. In the dance world, I see hundreds of people supporting a local DJ at a random festival, and that’s just awesome to see. This is a community that accepts you until you give them a reason to not accept you. I love it.
10. You’ve said that you love mosh pits, and obviously the video of you moshing at Tomorrowland 2019 went viral. What is it about a mosh pit that you find so satisfying?
What’s not to love? Losing your mind for 30 seconds with a bunch of random people. No judgment. No hate. Just energy and good vibes. People don’t want to hurt you in the mosh, they just want to be free and express themselves. I am all for that. It’s the closest feeling I get to playing ball again.
11. What causes or charitable organizations do you support that you want people to know about? Why are these causes important to you?
First and foremost there is The Shaquille O’Neal Foundation, which has partnered with the beloved Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Communities in Schools to support programs and projects targeting underserved youth. Then there is the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, which is an extension of my brother.
Lastly there is Pepsi’s Stronger Together initiative, which my daughter Taahirah is leading. The Pepsi Stronger Together team has also graciously partnered with us on this year’s Shaq’s Fun House to present our halftime show. I have previously said that there has never been a more important time to look inward and focus on these grassroots initiatives, and I’m excited to join forces with Pepsi to help those in need.
12. Surely you could host an extremely exclusive VIP event before the Super Bowl, but instead you’re opening Shaq’s Fun House to the general public. Why?
Shaq’s Fun House is that party you can’t miss during Big Game Weekend, because there are too many other boring corporate ‘VIP’ parties where you walk around in a sports jacket and act like you care about being there. What’s so fun about that after three or four years? Nothing.
Everyone knows the Super Bowl is the most watched game on TV, and the biggest sports and entertainment weekend in the world. The weekend was begging for a fun party that attracts not only VIPs and celebrities, but also the people as well, mixed in with my guys like Patrick Mahomes, Rob Gronkowski, Dak Prescott, Adam Levine and Maroon 5, Jamie Foxx, Trevis Kelce — they all just come for a good time.
13. You’ve got a heavy hitting lineup with Zedd, Diplo and Lil Wayne. What do you love about each of these artists?
Do not even get me started on these guys. I will try to keep it brief. Lil Wayne… Tunechi and I go back decades. We have shown love to each other in the limelight and outside of it, just because our friendship runs deep. He’s met my kids; I’ve met his kids; he’s come out to my shows; I’ve gone out to his. He is a brother. He is the best rapper alive.
Diplo is a true Shaq’s Fun House all-star. Six time all-star at that! Diplo has been there since the revival of Diesel and has been there to accept me and give me every opportunity to grow as a DJ. He will be on every Shaq’s Fun House lineup, no matter what he says!
Zedd I met for the first time in New York in 2019. I could sense he was a little hesitant to say “hi,” so I just ran up to him and gave him a hug. There’s a photo of it somewhere. He’s genuinely one of the nicest people in the world, and his music is fire! He sells out L.A. every time he plays. A true legend.
14. You’ve published your DJ Diesel email — Djdieselpromo@gmail.com — so fellow producers can pass you their music. What gems have you gotten via this email?
Honestly, so many. These younger producers are too good; they make me look terrible. I do play these submissions out at the majority of my shows. People doubt that it really is me digging through this inbox, but I can confirm it is I! Send away.
15. What is it about bass music that moves you so deeply?
It’s a Game 7 energy. The whole genre is energy…I missed that once retiring. Bass music was the vice I was missing and desperately needed. I like to say it saved me and gave me purpose.
16. You made headlines for saying you were “upset” about the Super Bowl halftime show because they’re packing so much greatness into 12 minutes. What’s your dream 2022 halftime show setlist?
I was upset because of how crazy the lineup is! Pepsi just had to go create the biggest lineup of the weekend. I can’t complain about this lineup. Bunch of legends who I will be inviting to Shaq’s Fun House.
17. What’s your favorite place to experience electronic music?
My favorite venues are Echostage in D.C., The Brooklyn Mirage in New York City, and The Vanguard in Orlando and The Shrine in L.A.
18. What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?
It’s all about surrounding yourself with a team. I am aware I can’t do it all, but I know I have to put myself in the same room as those who are the best at what they do, so I can become better at what I do. It’s all about elevating yourself and progressing as much as possible.
19. Who was your greatest mentor, and what was the best advice they gave you?
The Sarg, a.k.a. my dad. I grew up within a military family and was constantly under a strict set of guidelines. That built discipline. He used to always tell me, “Do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do.” I live by that motto to this day.
20. One piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?.
You don’t realize it ’til you get older, but I tell all my kids and younger fans – slow down – enjoy the moment. You get one life. Don’t rush the good moments, because you only get so many.