The last time Pittsburgh City Paper talked to Ryan Haynes, it was 2017, and he was moving from the Steel City to Nashville in hopes of more musical opportunities — opportunities to focus on his career rather than others.
Haynes, who goes by DJ Afterthought, has been a fixture in the local hip-hop scene since 2011, but his career focused on other artists like Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, and Flatline Nizzy.
“The past year or two, I’ve been really concentrating on bringing my own brand out,” says Haynes.
That brand attracted the interest of industry professionals in Nashville. He signed to 24-8 Management, whose rooster boasts Herobust, Dubloadz, Kaivon and others. But Pittsburgh had a hold on Haynes and so he returned last year.
“I realized a lot of the stuff I was doing there I could do anywhere,” says Haynes. “It was a great learning experience, and I got to mingle and network, but I did what I went there to do. Pittsburgh’s my home.”
Decked out in a red Daily Bread Sweatshirt and black 412 baseball hat, Haynes had a huge smile and glimmer in his eyes as he talked about his upcoming tour in Australia and New Zealand. This will be his third time touring there, but Haynes’ first time solo.
“I’ve played hella festivals and that kind of stuff,” says Haynes. "But it’s always been 'such and such with DJ Afterthought,' never just like with my own billing. So, to go out of the country and to be able to play festivals and shows, I’m super pumped.”
After performing at Hidden Festival in several cities Down Under, Haynes will open for Lil Yachty in Christchurch, New Zealand and Melbourne, Austrailia, where he will then open for J.I.D.
“[My solo work] has always been overshadowed by all the other stuff I was working on, management or DJing for an artist. I never put my own stuff ahead of that. So I’m finally taking the reins and focusing on myself, and it’s doing well.”
Putting his music first allowed Haynes to discover a relatively uncharted niche. Originally, Haynes would make hip-hop music and electronic music, but would keep the styles separate. Now, he is melding those style together, and audiences are taking notice.
“I just wanted to explore it more. Then country started using hip-hop drums and all this random stuff, and it all started to melt together, and I was like okay, I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and now that it’s kind of socially appreciable. The more I [merged the genres] the more I realized the EDM fans really loved hip hop, and the hip-hop fans really like EDM.”
Haynes points to a video of him performing at a Riff Raff show as early indicator that his multi-genre approach might work. He was playing an EDM edit during a hip-hop set, and the crowd was going insane. (Haynes toured and worked with Riff Raff for years, but cut all ties with him in June 2018 after the rapper was charged with sexual assault.)
Touring in front of large crowds allowed Haynes to experiment and play with crossover genres.
“There was literally no other experience that would prepare me more than to just be in front of people live every night playing different stuff to see if it’s working and see their reaction," says Haynes. "I just found that sweet spot and have been running with it ever since.”
Once Haynes returns from aboard and completes a U.S. tour with Juice Wrld, he plans on dropping new music with major rappers like Wiz, Project Pat, Juice Wrld, Layzie Bone, YG, and Kendrick Lamar.
“They will be EDM based, but with the hip-hop element. It’s been opening so many doors for me; there’s not anyone really doing this. From Feb 1 on is going to be like the second part of my career.”