Idris Elba is a super successful DJ. You heard that right.
The British actor is famous for his leading role on The Wire, Beast of No Nation, and the BBC crime drama Luther, as well as his feature in VVIP’s Selfie remix, but few Ghanaians know about his side career as a DJ.
Elba traces the start of his DJ’ing obsession all the way back to his parents’ living room when he was a young child. “I’ve got this picture of me where I’m four years old and I’m holding Marvin Gaye’sLet’s Get It On album cover,” he says. “I guess that was me wanting to DJ. My dad would let me stare at his record player but not let me touch it. But then growing up in my mum and dad’s house, there was lots of parties, and my dad finally allowed me to DJ. I was probably nine or 10. It was the disco era, so I was playing things like ‘Ring My Bell.’”
As a teenager, Elba worked the turntables at weddings and christenings and other events around his native London. And long before he even thought about being an actor, he dreamed of spinning records on the radio. “I loved the idea of talking about songs, in between songs, and playing the next one,” he says. “By the time I had an awareness that this could be a job, I definitely wanted to do that.”
In the late Nineties, he moved to New York City, where he made a living selling pot, working as a bouncer at the famed Carolines comedy club and finding DJ gigs where he could. At times, he was forced to live in his Chevy Astro van. “I created sets that had everything from reggae to house to hip-hop to even some Latin music,” he says. “The East Village had a little bit more of an eclectic taste. I really enjoyed that time.”
Elba’s life changed forever when he got a leading role on The Wire in 2002, but even after he started landing major movies, he refused to give up on his original love. “Once The Wire came in, I tried to DJ as much as I could,” he says. “My profile went up and the money went up along with it. It definitely fell second place to acting but then I got serious about it. I got myself an agent, a DJ manager, and it was like a second career, a side-hustle.”
The side-hustle merged with the main hustle once he began releasing music inspired by his acting gigs, including 2014’s Idris Elba Presents Mi Mandela and 2015’s Murdah Loves John (The John Luther Character Album). Even so, he has to battle the misconception that he’s just another celebrity DJ who collects a huge paycheck by walking onto a stage and simply hitting the play button on a laptop. “People are going to make up their own minds when they see me spin,” he says. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, wow. He’s not really just some dude up there hitting one key. He’s made some songs and he’s contributed.’”
In the ’90s in England, he ran a pirate radio station out of Hackney. By the 2000s, he was a resident at some clubs in Manhattan. His career has since taken him around the world. He’s booked sets at some of the most prestigious and exclusive events possible — from Coachella to Glastonbury to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Recently, Elba appeared in the song “Boasty” by Wiley, and slipped in a boast about his set at the Royal wedding party: “Man a big DJ, ask Meghan and Harry.”
In fact, his musical career is just as legit as his acting one – especially when compared to other actors who decided to pick up a new hobby after becoming established (see: Robert Downey Jr.’s 2004 album The Futurist). To his musical fans, he’s DJ Big Driis first, Idris Elba second.
Elba’s music career began when he was 14 years old, nearly a decade before he began acting. His first DJ name was Mr. Kipling — and the name has quite an origin story. “Mr. Kipling is a brand of cakes. In England, cakes are also called tarts. Back in the day, I was smooth with the ladies and they call ladies tarts. One day I walked in to this party, and one of my friends said, ‘Idris, you have more tarts than Mr. Kipling,” Elba told E! News. The stage name later evolved to become “Big Driss.”
In July 2018, Elba launched his own record label, 7Wallace.
Elba’s new Netflix show Turn Up Charlie, which he co-created, is another chance to show fans his musical side. He plays a one-hit wonder DJ from the Nineties that’s forced to become a nanny to his wealthy friend’s daughter in order to pay the bills. It’s a breezy sitcom far removed from his serious acting roles of the past. “The original drive behind it was to just do something lighthearted, something with a little levity, something that takes me out my comfort zone a smidgen,” he says. “So, doing a comedy was it. I’ve never done a sitcom before this.”
The Ghana DJ Awards was created to celebrate and appreciate the talents of Disc Jockeys (DJs) who promote Ghana music. The Awards is an exciting annual program designed to foster the development of the Ghana music industry by rewarding and celebrating Radio, Mobile and Club Disc Jockeys who have excelled in their fields of endeavor.
No upcoming events