NEW BRUNSWICK – Before Freeman McGaw became a disc jockey broadcasting out of the nation’s capital, he was a tireless teenager from Franklin Township who stayed out too late on school nights.
Now, at 26, McGaw’s long nights have paid off. He landed a gig at Washington, D.C.’s 93.9 WKYS-FM three years ago where he broadcasts under his on-air alter ego, DJ Freeez.
And last Saturday, he met up with his longtime mentor and friend, Donovon “Kent” McKnight, who goes by DJ Dark Kent, at McKnight’s New Brunswick-based studio, Loft9, to celebrate McGaw’s success and unveil a plaque awarded to him by Epic Records.
Epic Records gave him the plaque, which showcases DJ Khaled’s platinum hits, in January. It’s a double-album platinum and gold plaque that was sent to McGaw’s home for his accomplishments and support.
McGaw said he owes much of his success to McKnight.
“I’m from Somerset, New Jersey,” McGaw said. “I was born in Plainfield, but I really recall my boyhood being in Franklin. Me coming up and learning all of the things I learned happened in Franklin, New Jersey.”
He met his mentor through his sister in 2008.
“I met DJ Dark Kent because of my sister,” McGaw said. “My sister was attending Seton Hall and he was a DJ around the area while he was attending William Paterson.”
Back then, McGaw was only in high school and was disc jockeying at Sweet 16 birthday celebrations and house parties.
“My sister wanted me to step my game up and possibly get in the club,” he said.
McKnight said that he knew McGaw was a remarkable person from the moment he met him.
“His energy was infectious,” McKnight said.
McKnight saw potential in McGaw, even from a young age, so he began to bring the young teen around with him to his booked gigs.
“Someway, somehow — he can probably tell you better than I can — but I managed to sneak him into a club when he was about 15 years old, or 13 or 14 years old,” McKnight recalled.
McKnight said that having the young McGaw in the DJ booth with him made things more interesting.
“His energy was just so, so incredibly infectious that I decided that I wouldn’t mind having him around me from time to time,” he said. “Time to time pretty much turned into every day.”
McGaw began hanging out with the McKnight and his friends, who were all older than McGaw at the time, and he would tag along with the crew until the early hours of the morning.
“He would come to the club, he would stay in the club until 2 or 3 in the morning, go to the diner with us until four in the morning,” McKnight said, “and then wake up at 8 a.m. to actually go do science or math or whatever he had to do because he was still in high school.”
Following McKnight around to various gigs, McGaw always noticed that while setting up his music gear, McKnight would also take the time to speak to guests coming into the venue and introduce himself.
And if McGaw ever messed up a song while playing live, McKnight would let him know.
“I learned all my lessons live,” McGaw said.
McKnight grew up in New Brunswick, the city where he now operates his studio on Jersey Avenue, Loft9, which is where McGaw was honored last Saturday.
After high school, McGaw attended Bowie State University, a historically black college and university (HBCU) in Maryland and graduated two years ago with a degree in broadcast journalism.
He currently lives in College Park, Maryland, about 15 minutes from Washington, D.C.
“I’ve always been a DJ, so becoming a broadcast journalism major was nearly a no-brainer, but I actually came into school trying to learn criminal justice,” McGaw explained. “I wanted to be like a DEA agent or something like that, or working on the force.”
He said that while he was in school, he was disc jockeying on the side at clubs around the D.C. metropolitan area. While opening for some larger acts at clubs, McGaw met some prominent disc jockeys such as DJ Tay James, who has worked with Justin Bieber, DJ Gemini and DJ Analyze.
“With me opening up for these different types of DJs, I built a little rapport, I got some good credibility being an 18- or 19-year-old college DJ opening for these radio DJs.”
He never expected that he would become a radio DJ one day.
“I just played it out and I kept it rolling,” he said. “I always thought that radio was such a far-out thing, like a dream career.”
The plaque was given to McGaw for all of the support he has given DJ Khaled by playing his songs over the radio, and it was just the affirmation he needed.
“With me chasing this blindly, I didn’t know when I accomplished something,” McGaw said. “I feel like this can be taken away at any moment, and to have a plaque like this to commemorate this moment in time in 2018, I’ll have this forever. You can’t take this away from me.”
Also, with the plaque being given to McGaw during Black History Month, it makes it extra special.
“My whole family attended HBCUs,” McGaw said. “To be commemorated, to bring my plaque back to my town — to have a lot of black history and pride instilled in me from my university, from the organization I work at now being Urban One WKYS — it inspires me to do more.”
McGaw remembers when he began experimenting with music as a hobby, doing little projects on his own, but McKnight is the one who really pushed him to where he is today.
“When I was in middle school, I created my own recording studio in my garage,” McGaw said.
He did this, he said, by drilling a hole in the wall and clearing out the space where the bikes were stored.
“I set up a little studio and I would engineer my friends rapping and things like that,” he recalled.
Now, McGaw is proud of his friend and mentor who runs his own 4,400-square-foot studio, which McKnight refers to as his “dream come true,” that includes a videography and photography space in addition to recording equipment.
“It’s super cool that he has a recording studio in his hometown,” McGaw said of McKnight and Loft9.
With all of the late nights the duo spent together, McKnight said that McGaw “never once complained.”
“You’d be silly not to recognize that much passion, and he had talent with it,” McKnight said. “There was never a doubt in my mind that he would be going places.”
Story By: Staff Writer Nick Muscavage: 908-243-6615; firstname.lastname@example.org