Terrell Griffith is all smiles. The second-generation Jersey club pioneer known as R3LL admits to squeezing in a game of NBA 2K to settle pre-Zoom interview nerves, sitting in a gaming chair wearing aviator frames and a headband dotted with California’s favourite leaf. But once he starts talking about his musical origins, Griffith’s face lights up.
“Back then it was more like organised chaos,” he says, recalling his 2011 mixtape ‘Cuff Yo Chick’ with DJ Kiff, which dropped on SoundCloud at the cusp of Jersey club’s first golden age. Recently recovered from DMCA purgatory by UK label 2 B Real, ‘Cuff Yo Chick’ is a reminder of Jersey club’s history amid a second global resurgence of the genre. But when 2 B Real first reached out about re-releasing the tape, Griffith was surprised.
“I was like, wait what, this? Like, wow, man I need to go back and do a few of those songs over,” he laughs. Having toured Japan, played Coachella, and remixed just about everything, Griffith’s in a whole different stage of his career now. The mixtape is a relic of a bygone era when Jersey club was still mostly a local phenomenon, the soundtrack of basement parties and dance battles between rival street teams. “There wasn’t no TikTok,” says Griffith. “You had to be present.”
Griffith came up with DJ Lilman’s street team — the same as fellow Jersey club trailblazer UNIIQU3 — doing promotional work for the crew. The year was 2006, and Griffith was still a high school sophomore. But within a year or so, Griffith went from “being in the party” doing the Sexy Walk and Patty Cake to directing the dances behind the decks. “So I started doing that run, just DJing house parties around Essex County, Sweet Sixteens, high school parties, things like that,” he says.
In the summer of 2008, Griffith started producing. At the time, Jersey club was an art passed down from mentor to student along with a copy of Sony Acid Pro, the producers’ weapon of choice. For Griffith, that mentor was DJ Fresh [Ed — not to be confused with UK d&b’s DJ Fresh]. “That whole summer I spent time at his house and he showed me how to chop, how to time stretch, and just the gist of how to produce,” he says.
It was through Fresh that he met the late DJ Tim Dolla and the Brick Bandits, Jersey club’s storied crew. “Working with DJ Fresh, I would see Dolla ‘cause they were tight, they would do music together,” says Griffith. Eventually, he went up for consideration to join the Bandits, a process that mirrored an actual job application. “You have to create a resume and you gotta create two original tracks,” remembers Griffith. “I'm making my original track at Fresh's house and Tim Dolla walks in. And I'm like, ‘You wasn't even supposed to know!’” But Dolla assured him he had nothing to worry about. “His words was like, ‘Yo, I already know what you do. You about to be down with the team’,” says Griffith. From that moment, he fell in with the Brick Bandits, learning the ropes from Mike V and DJ Tameil.
2014 would mark another turning point for Griffith. By this time, Jersey club was getting international airplay, with EDM artist Cashmere Cat playing Jersey tracks on BBC Radio. “I was like, well this person’s playing Jersey club, it would make sense if we showed him love,” he says. “So I ended up flipping Cashmere Cat’s ‘Rice Rain’, and sent it to him.” Cashmere Cat began playing it on tour, Griffith dropped it on SoundCloud, “and it started going,” says Griffith with a smile. At the height of SoundCloud’s popularity, the DJ Rell Jersey club flip was getting enough downloads to strike fear into Cashmere Cat’s label. “LuckyMe actually reached out to me and was like, ‘Yo, we need you to stop that from being downloadable’, like, ‘Woah bro, this shit too hot’,” says Griffith. All of a sudden, he found himself in the EDM world, with emails coming in from Rinse FM, Lido, and Brownies and Lemonade.
He went to LA for the first time, having never left the Tri-State Area. He dropped the ‘DJ’ from his moniker and changed the ‘E’ to a ‘3’: ‘DJ RELL’ became the ‘R3LL’ we know today. Soon, Keys N Krates hit him up for his first paid remix, putting him onto Steve Aoki’s radar. “[Aoki’s label] Dim Mak was the first people to come back and was like, ‘Yo we wanna sign this, we wanna do a three EP deal with you, and we fuck with it’,” Griffith says. “So I’m like, 'aight, this is crazy!' ’Cause it’s like, yo, all this shit I already had wrote on a vision board.” Griffith went from watching festivals like EDC and Tomorrowland from his home in Irvington to playing them in the span of a year.
After signing with Dim Mak, Griffith relocated to Los Angeles. “My friend was like, ‘Yo, you just signed to Steve Aoki, you gotta be here in LA’,” he says. “I ain’t had no kids, I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, and then I was like, 'aight, I’mma just take this leap of faith'.” But Griffith still repped Newark on the West Coast, bringing his old colleagues out to play LA.
“I started throwing my own club night in Downtown LA at The Lash to showcase Jersey club in its rawest form,” he says. While his festival appearances toed a more accessible line between Jersey club and mainstream EDM, Griffith’s club night graced Angelenos with the likes of DJ Tim Dolla and Stevie G, as well as Baltimore’s TT the Artist.
R3LL’s meteoric rise hasn’t been without its struggles, however. As the story of ‘Cuff Yo Chick’ demonstrates, working with online platforms like SoundCloud has been a blessing and a curse; Griffith’s SoundCloud account has been deleted twice. In an industry that values streaming numbers, the precarity of online platforms can be deadly (“I can say I hit six million plays, but prove it!”). And while mainstream, mostly white artists outside of Jersey have been key to spreading the style worldwide, they have just as often crowded out its Black pioneers for bookings and attention. “The Trippy Turtles of the world, like, that was a gift and a curse,” he says. “We have to be in control of our narrative.”
Don’t get him wrong though — R3LL is all about the global underground scenes that have embraced Jersey club in a genuine way. With his radio show Clubanese, Griffith interviews artists from across the world who have put their own spin on the style, like Chile’s WesFlex. “I'll bring them on for an hour guestmix and then introduce them and interview them,” Griffith says. He lists some of his favourite Jersey club alchemists across the globe: Japan’s kimo ota and K BoW, South Korea’s Pure 100%.
The past 20 years have taken Griffith from high school parties to the worldwide festival circuit; now, he’s poised to craft Jersey’s legacy. “No offence to the TikTok stuff, but like, certain songs are microwavable,” he says. “I’m not trying to fall into that.” He gives props to a new, younger vanguard — MCVERTT, Bandmanrill — but his own focus is on bridging the gap between the old and the new. “Preserving the history. That's what I'm trying to do.”
R3LL ‘Night Spot (Feat. B Che)’
Yellow Claw feat. Moksi, Yade Lauren ‘Down on Love (Tanfa X Sawat FLIP)’
CalvoMusic ‘Take You There’ (New Club Waves)
R3LL ‘Like Me (Feat. Hooli)’
Coi Leray ‘Players (DJ Smallz 732 Remix)’
R3LL ‘LIT 4 Me (Feat. 24Hrs)’ [UNRELEASED]
CAJMERE ‘Brighter Days feat DAJAE (DJ Tim Dolla & Fresh Remix)’
Usher ‘Lover's & Friends (SBF & SJAYY Remix)’
Mya ‘Best Of Me (Feat. Jay-Z) (SBF Remix)’
Lil Uzi Vert & McVertt ‘Just Wanna Rock (Gutta & Sjayy Remix)’
‘ANTIIFRAGILE (LGC Flip)’
Drake ‘FLIGHTZ B00K3D (ABE201 Remix)’
Her + Bryson Tiller ‘Couldve Been (CalvoMusic Remix)’
Lakim ‘Pimp Named Slickback (alias club edit)’
SZA ‘Blind (DJ Smallz 732 Remix)’
NewJeans ‘Ditto (R3LL Remix)’
‘Pop Lock & Drop It’ (Tricks Remix)
Jhene Aiko ‘Sativa (Sliink x 1-800-RAZ Remix)’
R3LL ‘I Want You (feat. Sai Sen, & SBF)’
Ms. Porsh ‘Magic City (Prod By R3LL & KiFF)’
PinkPantheress, Ice Spice ‘Boy’s a liar Pt. 3 (R3LL Remix)’
Sza ‘Low (R3LL Remix)’
ID ‘Clubby (Feat. SBF)’
R3LL ‘Can U Handle It?’
‘Super Soaker 50 (R3LL EDIT)’ [Unreleased]