He might be best known for being one of basketball’s most dominant offensive forces, but Shaquille O’Neal is a man of many talents. And bringing his DJ Diesel alter ego to Cornell this past Friday is just one of them.
After an introduction from Cornell University Program Board (CUPB) moderators, the camera cut to a smiling Shaq, standing in front of a massive green screen with all sorts of visuals floating across it, from flaming cars to Darth Vader. The music started right away — throbbing EDM that seemed to be pretty standard fare from the genre, as someone with little knowledge of it. What enhanced the experience was the 7-foot NBA star nodding along to it, always grinning and periodically flexing his arms at the camera.
To his credit, Diesel’s set consistently improved as it went on. Before long, he started remixing rap vocals into his tracks alongside electronic drops. Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s” went hard when paired with a shrill lead for the drop. The background visuals adopted an industrial feel with factories, cars, pistons and cities dominating the screen. Shaq quickly settled into a formula: he would introduce a popular song, work it into a ramp-up of energy and release the tension into a percussion-driven collection of melodies.
The formula worked wonders in the second half of the set, but the first half had some songs whose ingredients didn’t mesh incredibly well. The lead-up for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us” was wasted on a clanging cacophony of instruments that failed to deliver on the suspense. Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later” was ruined by extreme lag on Cornell’s end that caused the connection to drop for a solid minute. Shaq recovered well from the interruption, poking fun at Cornell’s poor WiFi: “I got satellite connection over here.”
One of the highlights of the set was a mash-up of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under The Bridge” with Internet Money’s “Lemonade.” The soft verse from the rock band was placed over the “Lemonade” guitar instrumental, before suddenly transitioning into Don Toliver’s hook from the Internet Money anthem. The build-up with Toliver’s vocals was intense, and the release into the drop was one of the most satisfying of the set.
The back stretch of the set had a slew of quality cuts, beginning with Kanye West’s “Power.” The inherent energy of the song was carried well into a drop that featured pitch-shifted vocals. The transition into Halsey’s “Without Me” was smooth, with the hook fitting perfectly on the ramp as Shaq mouthed along. He went a step further with the next song, Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch,” where he grabbed the mic and lip synced into it. Soon after, the Big Diesel decided to channel Kanye again with “All Of The Lights,” blending its instrumental with vocals from San Holo’s “Light” for a triumphant feel.
Still, the best part of the set came towards the end, with one of its final songs. Shaq whipped up a nice drum groove that set the stage for a despondent, female rendition of Linkin Park’s “In the End.” The bounce gave way to a bittersweet emotional drop, so moving that Shaq started drawing tears down his face with his fingers and playing sad for the camera. Wispy vocals in the background gave the track an ethereal atmosphere that made it the best musical moment of the set.
After his disc jockeying was done, Shaq stuck around for a quick Q&A with the CUPB moderators. He answered questions on everything from players he wished he could have dunked on (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to his favorite songs right now (‘white guy classics’ like “Red Red Wine” and “Little Red Corvette”). Question topics ranged widely, from basketball to finance. Shaq showed off his goofy persona plenty: when asked to choose whether putting on an EDM set or shooting a free throw was more difficult, he chose the free throw. He joked around plenty with the moderators, repeatedly calling one of them “a beautiful dude.”
Yet, Shaq’s serious side was the most interesting of the Q&A — he kept stressing how important education was, commending us fans for being able to attend Cornell. He also mentioned one of his favorite lines: “I know all the smartest people in the world, and they work for me.” He urged students to take their schooling seriously and do their best to be financially literate, and to illustrate this point, the Diesel talked about his own life in regard to joint ventureship, which entails partnering with experts in fields in which he’s interested in order to learn more about their subjects and make wise investments. His answers were an engaging combination of witty and knowledgeable, giving students a laugh and a lesson.
DJ Diesel’s set was a worthwhile experience, improving in quality with each song and mixing enough genres for a wide range of tastes to enjoy. There’s only so much hype that can be generated over Zoom as opposed to in-person, especially with a laggy connection, but Shaq did an admirable job at rising to the challenge with his visuals, body language and facial expressions all on point. In the words of the man himself, his passion is “making people smile,” and with his colorful music and endearing antics, DJ Diesel definitely delivered on that promise this past Friday.
Nihar Hegde is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]