Image via Justin Robertson

How 4Korners went from ride operator to Toronto Raptors resident spin master

4Korners told me over email this week that he plans on being the Toronto Raptors DJ again next year, his 12th season. He’s got a new single and music video coming out in May and for the 2016 NBA playoffs, he has produced music for a new Raptors intro video that he says will be “epic.” He’ll also be touring North America, Europe and Asia all summer. Here’s a look at how he became part of the furniture at the Air Canada Centre.

Behind him a large, square LCD screen sits locked to a wall that has WE THE NORTH written underneath it. Surrounding it is a red neon frame with a flashing white centre that hums and illuminates the DJ booth when the Air Canada Centre plunges into darkness.

The crowd, an all-embracing combine representing the basketball fraternity — college kids with backpacks eating over-sized popcorn, leather-coat-wearing out-of-town couples and business-clad bros trying to get on the Jumbotron — are on their feet chanting “Lets-Go-Rap-Tors!!” to a heavy-ass bass beat. Cue: Taylor Swift, Knife Party, Wu Tang Clan, Skrillex. The crowd is up on their feet. It feels like a party. This basketball soiree is the new norm at a Raptors game and could be taking place during any one of the 41 home games in Toronto.

Kirk St.Cyr, referred to as 4Korners, stands at around 5-foot-7. On this night he’s wearing a grey Raptors baseball cap, white sneakers, ripped jeans and a Toronto Raptors jersey with the word ‘Korner’ written on the back and underneath his name is the number four. His arms are covered in tattoos such as the Taurus bull, a dragon (he was born in year of the Dragon), a treble and bass note on his wrists and one that reads Fuck Cancer, an organization he deeply cares about after the passing of his Dad a few years ago to the disease.

His easy-going persona disappears for a moment as he zeroes in on his laptop, taking instructions from an earpiece. One by one the Raptors make their way on court: Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan.

“It was one of those meant to be situations where the Universe was pulling me into that direction,” he said. “It made me realize I should probably give this a good shot.”

4Korners leans over and tells me he created the background music that is pumping on the stadium speakers that is playing while the team runs out onto the court. The crowd erupts for the umpteenth time after the player introductions and it’s game time. To be an NBA DJ is to be part entertainer and part DJ; 4Korners encompasses both. His movements are a dead giveaway: hamming it up to the live T.V feeds in the booth and the bouncing of the head and waving of the arms with his eyes locked to his laptop. Midway through the first half Skee-Lo’s 1995 Grammy Award winning “I Wish” slips into the rotation where 4Korners is mouthing the words before jumping into the next track. There’s more than 10 DJs in the NBA in what seems to be an increasing popular element for basketball entertainment. Miami Heat was the first team to hire a DJ — DJ Irie — and some teams have four DJs. The Raptors have only ever had one DJ: 4Korners.

4Korners started playing piano at eight-years old. He was taught basic guitar, played in band in high school and fooled around with records whenever he could. He used to get his babysitter to reach for records in high places so they could listen to them and on his 12th birthday he DJ’d a basement set consisting largely of Michael Jackson albums to 20 friends; he turned the night into a dance party rather than sitting around eating cake.

Back then music wasn’t a priority. It was something that hovered around invisibly in the background and was always there but basketball and playing point guard was all he could think about. Growing up in North York with no backyard basketball ring, he played streetball everyday inside community centres, made every school team and took basketball very seriously.

It wasn’t until he didn’t make the York Varsity team in the late 90s that his life shifted course. He dropped out of the Journalism program at York because it wasn’t practical enough, started spending all his free time spinning records and hitting up clubs. He then took out a student loan and enrolled into the music-business school Harris Institute for the Arts while spending a couple of summers working at Canada’s Wonderland operating the Dragonfire ride. A new dream emerged and had been set in stone in the space of 24 months that would catapult the basketball hopeful into a world of dark raucous clubs and heart-thumping beats.

“It was one of those meant to be situations where the Universe was pulling me into that direction,” he said. “It made me realize I should probably give this a good shot.”

It was during the summers at Wonderland on crappy pay that was off-sided by unlimited access to the park on days off, that St.Cyr’s hobby started resembling a career — or at least started showing vital signs. He made his first Mix Tape modeled around slow jams (think Jodeci, Aaliyah, Ginuwine, R.Kelly) as opposed to what was popular at the time. He sold a few copies at local music stores but his next Mix Tape that featured 90s hip hop — Notorious B.I.G, Tribe Called Quest — got people listening and that’s when he started getting requests to DJ parties in and around Toronto neighbourhoods, sets inspired by DJ Jazzy Jeff and Jam Master Jay from Run DMC.

That lead to his first official gig at Turbo Night club in 2001 as DJ 4Korners, a name that means four corners of the Earth; to serve as a reminder to stay the course as a touring DJ. It was around this time his work started to get influenced locally by Starting From Scratch, Baby Blue Sound Crew and Dr. Jay. For three or so years, he bounced from gig to gig DJ’ing at city clubs building his name.

In 2004 St.Cyr and business partner at the time were playing a corporate party for Roots Canada and the VP of Marketing for the Raptors was at that gig. She would later tell him that they were searching for a resident DJ at Raptors games, a trend that started to emerge in NBA at other teams like Miami Heat who hired the first NBA DJ ever DJ Irie.

It was the energy and wide-mix of Hip Hop, Rock, 90s and Pop that caught the eye of Raptors executives. Some weeks later St.Cyr was invited to showcase his stuff inside an empty A.C.C in front of three suits. They filmed the session and after reviewing it he was informed he got the gig.

4Korners has seen a hell of a lot inside the A.C.C: the Sam Mitchell 47-win season and Atlantic Division title in 2006; the lowly Jay Triano-led 22 win season in 2010; and above everything else, the evolution of the Toronto Raptors and how entertainment now includes bundles of pre-game fireworks and Drake Nights. They even have a “flag guy.” In lean success periods this, all of it, was non-existent. Crowds were thin. It was so quiet you could hear the players cuss at each other on court almost all the way up to the nose bleeds.

But through all of that, 4Korners has expanded his off-court name into — not just a basketball entertainer — but an iconic Canadian DJ figure with a global following, playing alongside and getting palsy with A-list celebrities. His sets are wild. Think Steve Aoki, but less heavy on showmanship (although he will crowd surf with fans) and more technical. “I try to be both but it’s a balancing act,” he says.

In the past 15 years 4Korners has built a highlight reel that reads like deleted party scenes from the Wolf of Wall Street: he opened for Kanye’s first Canadian show at Sound Academy; played a private party set in front of Michael Jordan, Cindy Crawford, Chris Tucker and Wayne Gretzky at the Chris Chelios Hockey Hall of Fame induction. He has played for Justin Timberlake, played with Justin Bieber, toured with Snoop Dog and played a set at a Playboy party on Jean Claude Van Damme’s yacht during the Cannes Film Festival one year.

He’s known Drake before he was Drake and was at his “Thank Me Later” listening party. He’s played in front of thousands of fans in Cancun on Spring Break, almost 30,000 on a Portugal beach and played inside a tent at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver where he entertained 2,500 each night for nine nights straight. Six months of the year he’s in Asia and Europe and the other half of the year he’s in Toronto spinning at Raptors games and city clubs.

“It’s a perfect marriage in that basketball has always been my favourite sport and Dj’ing is now my calling and now I literally do the two together,” he said. “I can’t think of a better situation.”

Sitting courtside 90 minutes before tip off is a pre-game ritual 4Korners has been doing as long as he can remember. He watches guys like Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan go through their paces in timid shoot arounds. He tells me that the first few years as Raptors DJ, he was nervous and had to seriously adjust playing to 15,000 fans and taking orders through his headphones from game day executives and that he always thinks about what could have been of his basketball career if had he made that York Varsity team.

“I don’t know anything else. I don’t remember not being in love with music,” he said “I still feel part of it, that I made it to the NBA in a different way.”

*All images were courtesy pics from 4Korners except the first image which was taken by Justin Robertson

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