The numerous slides, notches and blinking lights on a 2-foot mixing board might be enough to intimidate most people, but not Darren Sewell, 37, whose hands fell into place like it was second nature. He made no mistakes as he smoothly blended the sound of the radio caller’s voice on his live radio show with “Missing You” by Brandy, an R&B throwback from the 90s.
“KISS 105.3 and 1340, where hip-hop and R&B live,” Sewell said, stretching the “i” in live. “This is The Day Party with DSewell.”
Sewell, also known as DJ D. Sewell, has a playful personality that is the same in person as it is on the radio. On his daily live show, “The Day Party,” Sewell curates a selection of hip-hop, R&B and music industry news, all while making his audience smile. Other than being a local radio personality, Sewell’s main goal is to use his platform to give local hip-hop artists who normally would not have a chance to perform at venues the opportunity to showcase their music to in-person crowds.
“I try to just let really anybody have a chance at live music,” Sewell said. “It’s hard for hip-hop artists to have a chance to perform anywhere in Arkansas— the odds are against you.”
For nine years Sewell has been accomplishing his goal planning and hosting in-person shows where he would showcase local hip-hop artists. His biggest success was a hip-hop concert two years ago that he planned and hosted, called “Summer Jam,” at George’s Majestic Lounge. Sewell brought the New York-based event to Fayetteville where he featured over 20 Arkansas hip-hop artists. Sewell’s dream came to life and he said he felt as if the stars aligned for him when he hosted the concert.
“I threw this unbelievable event at the number one place,” Sewell said. “Capacity is 750 and we had 650 come. It’s unreal to watch live (local) hip-hop artists; that’s unheard of in Arkansas.”
Noel Sosa, 37, general manager of Perry Broadcasting deemed Sewell the ‘Showcase King’ because of his work ethic, creativity and ability to captivate a crowd.
“In all my years, I’ve never seen anybody successfully do what Sewell has done, and I’m speaking specifically when it comes to local talent, and giving people a platform to perfect their craft, work on their craft, express themselves,” Sosa said.
Sewell’s opportunities to showcase local hip-hop artists decreased in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Aug. 29, at his most recent event, he featured local talent performing outdoors and socially distanced at Prairie Street Live.
Sewell worried that the event would not be a success, because originally, the seating of the venue was going to be cramped and not allow viewers to sit six feet apart. He had also never hosted an event where viewers were sitting. Unsure of what to do, Sewell adapted the seating arrangement and visuals for the show.
To help concert-goers feel as though they were not missing out on the dancing and energy of a show, Sewell included a backdrop, colorful flashing stage lights and reconfigured the seating into a circular layout where viewers could relax, but still feel integrated in the show. Although different, Sewell said the show was a success.
“None of my shows were ever like that before,” Sewell said laughing. “I probably did 70 live music shows and I’ve never done one with the majority of people sitting down.”
When he is not entertaining in-person crowds, Sewell sits in his office that overlooks Dickson Street and hosts his show on KISS 105.3 FM/AM, Northwest Arkansas’ first and only hip-hop and R&B station. The station is part of the larger Black-owned Perry Publishing & Broadcasting Company based in Oklahoma, which extended to NWA in 2016. Sewell joined the team six months after the station was established.
When Sewell switched to day shifts after previously working nights, he created “The Day Party.” His favorite segment of his daily show is an hour of song requests called “Happy Hour.” Listeners send requests through Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook or by calling in, and because of the rapport Sewell has built with the NWA hip-hop community, the show never runs out of requests.
While live on the radio, Sewell simultaneously takes requests, records segments and cuts video and sound bites together to put onto his social media pages. Sometimes the work is overwhelming, but Sewell said he does it because he wants the hip-hop community in NWA to grow larger.
“The way I live life, you gotta go the extra mile,” Sewell said. “I could easily put it on social media. I could easily not do that and just say it’s on the radio, but going the extra mile is going to give me the results that I want to get.”
Sewell’s childhood friend and former co-worker, James Cain, from Conway, Arkansas, recalled when he and Sewell would host and DJ parties together. Because of Sewell’s ability to pick the best songs to fit the mood and keep the energy high by dancing to the music, he would “rock the crowd,” Cain said.
“I’m proud of him because he’s started where he’s started, and now he’s excelled,” Cain said. “Everything is real good.”
When he became a radio personality, Sewell feared that he was entering a dying industry. But with the response he receives, it is clear to him that it is not a dying industry in NWA.
“I’ve never seen a DJ, especially one who’s working at a radio station, but in any aspect, I’ve never seen anybody engage the local community and the local artists the way he has so consistently and for so long,” Sosa said. “He is the man when it comes to that.”
Although the pandemic has hindered Sewell’s ability to host and showcase local hip-hop artists, he has continued to connect with the NWA hip-hop community through his radio show, social media and even on Dickson Street as a DJ at Shotz. Sewell hopes to host more socially-distanced and in-person shows to provide a platform for local artists.
“That's my dream,” Sewell said. “You know at first doing it, it was kind of nervous, but now it gives me an adrenaline rush. I feel like it's what I'm supposed to be doing.”