By Toni Gonzalez
Lazaro Mendez is more than just DJ Laz on Power 96 FM’s morning show. He produces his own musical artists, makes his own records and is considered a scratching wizard. For the last eight years he's also been involved with Radio Lollipop, an international, non-profit organization that gives kids a chance to request their favorite songs, win prizes, and hear their own voices on the radio. This year DJ Laz raised over $100,000 for the group during a 36-hour radio-thon.
Tell us about the radio-thon for Radio Lollipop.
It's a 36-hour radio-thon to benefit Radio Lollipop. What I want to do is make people aware that there are kids out there that need our help. A lot of us are blessed with healthy kids and don't ever have to visit a hospital, so it's not in the forefront of our mind. The bottom line is when you think you're having a bad day, or you're mad at the world and you just hate life, go visit the kid’s hospital and see what problems are really all about. You'll realize you don't have one.
What is it about Radio Lollipop that makes you go all out?
It's near and dear to me because it's two things that have been very close to me. Number one, I'm a radio DJ and it's a radio station. Number two, I spent a lot of years at Miami Children's Hospital. I've had 17 surgeries. When I was a kid there was nothing like this around. Once in a while you'd get someone that dressed up as a clown to try to entertain you, but that was the end of it. When I hooked up with them eight years ago I said, ‘what a perfect match for DJ Laz.’ It was something that I knew a lot about, radio and being in the hospital as a patient. I know them both first hand.
What does Miami Children's Hospital mean to you?
It's a way for me to give back. They did so much for me. I wasn't supposed to walk as a kid, I wasn't supposed to walk, ever. They told my mother I would never, ever walk. I spent a lot of years at Miami Children's Hospital and the way I see it, it's a no-brainer. I love kids and I hate to see kids in pain. The bottom line is that a lot of people don't realize that the parents go through so much agonizing pain watching their child in the hospital. Let's just face it, I have kids and if someone can make your child smile, they are God to you.
You have been discovering some musical acts left and right - is this new? Has it hit a peak here?
It's just the tip of the iceberg for Miami. There's a lot of talent here and a lot of people need the opportunity to be discovered and don't know how to go about it. The fact that so many doors have been opened now with the Pitbull's and the Rick Ross' of the city. You have T-Pain in Tallahassee. There's a magnifying glass on Miami, and on Florida for that matter, for talent. People love to come here from all over the world and musically we're sitting on top of the world right now. DJ Khaled is doing his thing. Everybody is doing something that represents Miami or Florida, so, no, we are just scratching the tip of the iceberg. I have a feeling there will be a lot of new artists coming out of here in the next couple of years.
What keeps you so motivated when it comes to music and new acts?
First of all I take a lot of pride in where I'm from, so whenever anybody from here does something big, to me it's like, “that's right I'm from Miami.” I love where I'm from, I love what I do and if I can help and be instrumental in someone’s career, great. If I just hear someone for the first time and they came from Miami and there goes the record and the record shot to the top, it's a great feeling all the way around.
You have become an institution in Miami - what's it like to be an icon? Do you consider yourself one?
I consider myself to be DJ Laz, a.k.a. the Pimp with the Limp, Lazaro Mendez that likes to have a good time. I don't believe in all this icon this and that. I love it when people say, ‘Oh my God I've been listening to you for years,’ it's a great feeling, but I don't consider myself better than anyone else. I look at it like I'm in a position where I can help people out. Whether it be doing charity work, whether it be breaking somebody’s record, or just showing up to a school and having a great time with the kids. I love what I do, I don't consider myself an icon, but I do consider it a privilege and an honor. Without fans I'm nothing.
What is your favorite thing about Miami?
Are you kidding? Everything! I just came back from a two-week promotional tour for my album Category 6 and I went to a lot of places. I love California, but there's no place like home. I know I sound like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, but just look around. The atmosphere that we have here, the scenery, the beaches, the women, hello the women! People come here from all over the world. Why? Because we got it like that.
If you could change one thing about Miami, what would it be?
I love everything about where we live. The people are great. I mean, I've played in New York and it's nice to me for about two days. After a couple of days, I have to come back to Miami. You know what? I'm going to say it. I don't think I would change anything about Miami. I like it the way it is.
Where are your favorite hangouts? Where do you like to relax?
I go to the Keys, or I go to the Bahamas. When I'm not working I like to get on my boat. To me the ocean is completely relaxing. I don't even turn the radio on, or listen to music when I'm out there. The sound of the ocean is plenty for me.
Best places to eat are where?
As you can tell, I'm not a shy eater. There are a lot of places but there's a place in Coral Gables called Graziano's and they have some of thee best steak I have ever had in my life. Big shout out to Graziano's.
If you could DJ at any club in Miami, one night only, where would it be?
I've done just about every one of them. Some people will say, give me the big clubs, give me Mansion and give me this, or give me that. When I play, I like to be part of the crowd. I hate clubs that the DJ booth is way up in the sky, or far away from the crowd. To me the ideal location is something where people can come up to me and interact. Not to name one in particular, but any club that the DJ is part of the crowd and not away from everybody, that's the ideal situation for me.
If you weren't a DJ, what would you be doing?
That's the million dollar question right there. I wouldn't be an athlete. The pimp with a limp, I can run the 60-yard dash in 60 days. As a kid I always wanted to be a firefighter, just like every other kid, or maybe a policeman. Then reality kicked in and guess what, can't do it. Something with music. Music runs through my veins, through my blood. So, I would have to say maybe I would of stuck full time to producing. I don't know, but I love the fact that I can be a DJ and be an artist because I know what it takes to make a record and I know what it takes to play a record. I love both parts of my life.
The best and worst thing about being a morning DJ?
The best, the chemistry you have with the people that you work with and the fact that you're a big part of a lot of people's lives in the morning. People will get in their cars, they're at work or whatever it is and you're along for the ride.
The bad part about it is that there's a lot of pressure in morning radio. There's a lot of competition out there and if people don't like what you're doing, what you're talking about, what you're playing, they push the button. I guess what I don't like is the pressure. Believe it or not, a lot of people tell me ‘Come on, you work four hours a day.’ They are so confused with that one right there. Being a morning DJ you don't just get up This is your life and if you're shy, this is not the job for you. People love to hear things about you, so if you don't like people to know about every aspect of your life, get out of this business. If you're shy this isn't for you.
Gabriel Ponce helps Power 96's DJ Laz sing happy birthday to Radio Lollipop at Miami Children's Hospital.