The swell of hoots, hollers and raised hands rolls through the Observatory as a local rap duo rile up the crowd an hour or so before headliner Snow Tha Product is scheduled to perform. The vibe in the Santa Ana venue is more like that of a weekend than a Wednesday night. Backstage, a few dozen employees, security guards, promoters, performers and their entourages stand around drinking Hennessey and comparing Jordans.
"Man, Droops is one of the best dudes around," says an in-house DJ. "I hope I can be like him someday. Anybody who's just getting into promoting around here looks up to him." The subject of his adoration is standing right next to him. Carlos "DJ Droops" Cerda laughs at the compliment between sips of the Patron-and-cranberry juice in his plastic cup, then walks toward the curtain separating the stage and crowd from the more casual backstage area.
"Hold on, I'll be right back," Droops says. "One of my guys just finished; I've got to go introduce the next one." A few seconds later, the 31-year-old Santa Ana native is excitedly asking the hyped crowd, "How dope was that?" and "Who's sticking around to see Snow Tha Product?"
Droops is currently one of the most respected hip-hop promoters in OC. One of his biggest successes thus far has been delivering $5 monthly hip-hop shows featuring legends such as KRS-One, Kurupt and Slick Rick. "I got into hip-hop through the party-crew scene," Droops says. "I was spinning it as a DJ when I was 15 or 16, and I had friends who rapped in Santa Ana. I started messing around with writing rhymes, and at age 20, I started to perform."
He was raised on funk and Spanish music, but his love for hip-hop started when he was introduced to gangster rap early in his teens. "The first time I really heard N.W.A and Wu-Tang Clan, it made me want to try writing," Droops says. "That, and my brother just showing me stuff he wrote when I was 13 and he was, like, 16 or 17 made me want to get into it, too." But he also stayed true to his family's musical roots. "My dad's side of the family was always more 'party mode,'" Droops says. "Any time there was a birthday or a wedding or a graduation, there'd be a full-blown party with a DJ and everything, not just some little party."
Before he found success as a promoter, he had a couple of rough breaks. "When I was younger, I was selling weed while I was deejaying," Droops says. "I never worked a 9-to-5; that was my hustle. When I was, like, 21 or 22, I got busted for selling. After that, I got a regular job doing financing for cars. I got fed up with that, so I started hosting an open-mic night at my mom's bar [La Pachanga Cantina & Grill]."
After hosting shows for a year at the Santa Ana restaurant, Droops moved on to throwing shows at Malone's in Santa Ana. "In the beginning, my family was always like, 'Do you have a job yet?' By my last year at Malone's, they finally stopped asking that," he says. "They know I want to do this until I'm old, and they're very proud of me now."
It was during his fourth and final year at Malone's--after he'd helped to expand the venue from a capacity of 150 people to approximately 500--that Jeff Shuman, the talent buyer for the Observatory, contacted him. "Droops treats every act he books with the upmost respect and has an incredible work ethic," Shuman says. "He has so much passion for the scene and music in general."
Three years later, Droops is still going strong, bringing up-and-comers to the Santa Ana venue on traditionally dead nights. "Between the promoters, the artists and the Observatory selling tickets, we sell out about 80 percent of the shows," Droops says. "Part of it is because we'll get Action Bronson or Mobb Deep on a Monday, but it's also the local acts we book. I go through a screening process before I book them. They have to be super-dope or at least decent because they could sell hundreds of tickets. But if they're wack, I don't want to put them onstage. That's not the shows we want to put on."
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While some promoters would be content just to be a major player in their hometown's music scene, Droops is now starting to promote shows in San Diego. And he has plans for the future.
"I'd either like to do some bigger festivals, or I'd like to open my own venue," he says. "I'd like to provide a one-stop shop for artists, where they can come through to do a show and get their merch made and whatever else they need right there. We could do graphics, booking, printing and designing, just incorporate everything we can into the venue. It would be a regular show going on upfront, with everything else happening in the back."