MANILA, Philippine -- Filipino-American DJ Neil Armstrong has landed in Manila to help launch the latest campaign of global sports brand adidas on Saturday, May 12, at the Bonifacio Global City.
The 38-year-old New York native, whose real name is Neil Rodriguez, is one of the global brand ambassadors of adidas, whose ties with hip-hop date back to the music's early days when rap group Run DMC wore adidas sneakers on their music video of "Walk This Way." Run DMC even had a single entitled, "My Adidas."
"Growing up in New York in the '90s, I got to see a lot of hip-hop," Rodriguez said at a press conference at the adidas store in Greenbelt 3 on Friday. "It just grew from something I did for fun."
Rodriguez mastered the art of "turntablism" and spinning and soon he was performing sat clubs alongside top hip-hop artists from De La Soul to Kanye West and LL Cool J.
But it was his stint as the DJ for music superstar Jay-Z that brought Rodriguez around the world. He said, without a hint of hip-hop swag, that he has performed in all continents except Antartica.
Meeting Jay-Z and Beyonce
When the popularity of turntablism started to wane, Rodriguez worked on a hip-hop subgenre called "mixtape culture," where beats and effects are added to an existing track.
"I got known for making mixtapes and these got into the right hands," he said.
One of those who got hold of his mixtapes was Jay-Z.
"My manager emailed me to say that I was in line to become Jay-Z's DJ. That was a Wednesday. Two days later, I got tickets to go to Miami," he recalled, adding that he wasn't sure if he was supposed to audition in Florida.
He arrived in Miami at 11 p.m. and was brought straight to the studio. "And there was Jay-Z and Beyonce was also there," he said.
He showed off his DJ skills and by Wednesday the following week, he was already part of Jay-Z's band.
"In seven days, I went from performing for 100 to 600 people to 10,000 people," he said.
Rodriguez toured with Jay-Z for two years in 2008 to 2009.
From there, he has made a name for himself, performing with a range of artists from Rihanna to Coldplay. He even scored a Grammy nomination as part of the jazz band Russell Gunn and Ethnomusicology, playing alongside iconic musicians Kenny Garrett, a member of Miles Davis’ band, and Brandford Marsalis.
He has been the DJ of choice of the National Basketball Association for its Rookie Shootout since 2006 and even spun for adidas at the Olympic Games in Beijing.
Earlier this month, Rodriguez headlined his own tour in Australia.
"I can play hardcore stuff to New Kids on the Block and get away with it," he said, after showing his "blending skills" on NKOTB's old hit, "Please Don't Go Girl."
Filipino roots and Jollibee
Rodriguez said he has been to the Philippines only once, staying less than a month but got to "see a little bit" of the country.
Rodriguez's family, who hails from Abra, moved to the United States even before his was born.
He said he grew up in a conservative family in Queens, New York and that his father was a judge.
Apart from his unmistakeably Filipino looks, he said another aspect of himself that's very Filipino is his choice of cuisine. "We put hotdogs in our spaghetti," he said with a smile.
Indeed, during his visit to Manila, he actually tweeted about eating Jolly Spaghetti at local fast food chain Jollibee -- and even posted a photo on Instagram.
"They wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer," Rodriguez said of his parents.
He jokingly said he knows the bad words in Tagalog because his parents would always shout at him when he would make noise from his music.
These days he doesn't hear them complain about his chosen career anymore.
"I DJ'd for (U.S. President Barrack) Obama during the inaugural ball," Rodriguez said. "When my parents saw me on TV for the Obama inauguration, they said, he'd be fine."
DJ Neil Armstrong will launch adidas Originals' "Leave a Legacy" campaign in a sunset BBQ party at the Skye Lounge at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig on May 12, starting at 4 p.m. Tickets are available at the gate and at adidas stores.