As a young man, Hiroshi Ito, better known as DJ Hiro, set himself a relatively simple goal: live in New York City. Once he came from Japan and crossed that off the list, everything else—making influential friends, DJing big parties, and producing music for J-Pop sensation JUJU—came easily. But don’t be fooled by Hiro’s modesty; he’s a heavy hitter.
Hiro sat down with streetwear icon SSUR in Los Angeles recently to reflect on his life. You’ll see that even though it’s been more than two decades since he arrived to the US, Hiro still counts that initial goal, becoming a New Yorker, as one of his greatest successes.
When did you first come to New York?
Eight-six. Never looked back.
And you stayed. How old were you then?
I was 18. You were ’69 right? I’m ’68.
You came by yourself?
Yeah. Growing up I knew I was gonna live in New York.
That was your ambition, your dream?
I had a run-in with the law and I had to relocate. The timing was kind of forced, but here I am, since ’86.
In Japan it’s easy to have a run-in with the law. You smoke a joint and you have a run-in with the law, right?
That’s pretty much it. You told it.
So then you came here, and what?
I wasn’t trying to study, I wasn’t trying to “experience” it; I was trying to live here.
That was my main purpose: I wanted to be a New Yorker. I got ripped off at the airport by the cab driver. I paid like 250 to get to Manhattan.
“Welcome to New York, motherfucker!” [Laughs] I had to go through it, right?
I guess so.
How did you get into DJing?
I think that was the easiest thing. I was collecting records anyway. I wasn’t good at writing, I wasn’t good at drawing shit, so my music came naturally.
How’d you start getting a name for yourself?
A couple of drug dealers hooked me up with parties.
Yeah! I used to DJ at World, Palladium, Tunnel, Limelight, Supper Club…all the goodies in downtown Manhattan.
Yeah. Same era pretty much, you and I. Palladium was ill, for sure. Then there’s Mars and all those places.
Actually I was a bookkeeper at Mars.
Get the fuck outta here.
Yeah, ’88…’89 till close, actually.
Look at that. So you’ve been on the club scene for—
Since ’86, basically.
As soon as you got here you were like, “That’s what I want to do.”
I didn’t know anything but hanging out at night [laughs].
How did we first meet?
I guess just from being around.
Did you actually put JUJU into my life?
Yeah, kind of. I stole one of your really talented employees and produced her. She’s like the biggest star in Asia now.
Well, you actually brought her onboard with us, and you kept working with her and she ran the store, right?
Yep. Long time.
Yeah, eight years, while doing her music. And now she’s like a fucking pop star in Japan.
Like the Beyoncé of Japan, I guess.
She’s a fuckin’ icon. And it happened so quickly.
We just released two albums at the same time in October. And both of them were number one and number two in the same week. It only happened three times in the history of Japan.
Because you’ve been making her music from day one.
You molded her, kind of.
She just took off. That’s all her talent; I didn’t really do anything.
She had beautiful talent, a beautiful voice and all that stuff, but you definitely helped.
I tell you straight up, that girl is talented.
For sure, for sure. She was always hesitant on me hearing her music. Pretty funny.
You supported her for eight years. I had to do something.
Did you ever move back to Japan after coming to the US?
Nah. I went back a couple of times, but I’m American. I’m going back there with an American passport, so it’s got a limitation on how long you can stay and stuff. I go back and check every once in a while.
When was the last time you went?
Three months ago.
I miss Japan. I haven’t been in a while.
You’re killing it right now in Japan. I was there for this Supreme store opening. They were giving out t-shirts, so there was like 2,000 people lined up. Me and Ken [Omura] were looking at the line, and just like, one out of ten people were wearing the Comme des Fuckdown t-shirt. It’s hitting hard right now.
You’ve been around my fuckin’ ups and downs.
Nah, it’s not a down.
I put in the time, for sure.
Things come full circle, so I’m happy.
I appreciate that. It’s genuine coming from you.
I’m trying to rep downtown New York culture the same way you’re doing it. I’m trying hard.