Detroit DJ is all business, until the music starts

For DJ Assault, music is first and foremost a business. In turn, he approaches every aspect of his career — from the style of music he creates to his decision to remain independent rather than signing to a label — with this bottom line in mind.

“I'm not good dealing with people telling me what to do,” said Assault, born Craig Adams, who headlines Rumba Cafe on Thursday, July 5. “Artists don't understand they always had the power; it was never the label. I tell people, ‘You could have a billion dollars, but with nothing to invest it in it's just money sitting there.' The artist is necessary for the companies to even make money.”

Assault has carefully been carving his own artistic path since the mid-'90s, when he started fusing the different sounds he discovered — hip-hop, Detroit techno, Chicago house, Miami bass — into a profane, propulsive style of music some dubbed Detroit booty (Assault, for his part, has never been fond of labels, finding them too limiting), eventually releasing his efforts via his own label, Detroit-based Jefferson Records.

The music is, at times, emphatically X-rated (see: “Ass-N-Titties”), though Assault has gradually grown less explicit as he's worked to expand his market share beyond the late-night club scene.

“I think DJs are kinda weird. I don't know if they make music that is the most relatable to the masses,” said Assault. “My stuff doesn't get into that weird, hard, dark techno. … Some things are just so far to the left. The general person who listens to top 40 might listen to my music, but if it's dark, weird techno, it might be something people only interested in dark, weird music listen to. And that limits the market.”

Spoken like a true label head.

At the same time, Assault is realistic about his business ventures, noting that outsized expectations can oftentimes become an artist's undoing. As an example, he points to a major-label system where success is defined by millions of units sold.

“A million? That's really a lot of any one item to sell. I think that's why in some people's careers they become depressed and all of these things, because the expectations are so corporate-based,” Assault said. “It's total craziness. … Unfortunately, people aren't out there to teach artists the proper deals to sign, what not to sign, what to look out for. Everybody is trying to take advantage, assuming an artist doesn't know better.”

For Assault, his career choices ultimately come down to a matter of control, which he exhibits by taking full reins in the music — “I'm the producer, the songwriter, the DJ and the engineer,” he said — as well as in his business dealings.

“I've talked to labels, and I've even had major label demo deals, but you make more money when you own your own stuff,” Assault said. “I don't have to sell that crazy amount of records to make the same amount. And there's nobody who can make or break your career. You determine your own destiny.”