Long Live DJ Indiana Jones
Born June 10, 1970, Ron was a peerless advocate, educator, caretaker and friend in the city’s hip-hop community. Every outpouring of love is richly deserved.
If you’re not familiar with Ron’s life in music, it began when he was a pre-teen who DJ’d at Melody Skateland — a business his family owned from 1958 until its closing in 2001.
As a student at Ben Davis High High School, Ron was a member of rap group D-KOR (a crew that included future fellow DJ icon Alan “Topspeed” Roberts).
I first met Ron shortly after I began working at The Indianapolis Star in 1998, when he served as manager for Mudkids, the best hip-hop group in Indiana history. This summer, Ron was in The Star’s pages as he navigated the pandemic as owner of the Casba nightclub.
Before he owned the Casba, he launched the weekly “Reggae Revolution” at the basement bar in 1997. COVID-19 is the only thing that interrupted that dance party.
“When we started, it was just me and a few of my friends,” Ron told me in 2017. “A couple of hippies. Then a couple of Haitians came down. Then some Jamaicans started coming. Africans started coming. It became a real international underground dance party.”
Idris Elba was one of countless attendees at “Reggae Revolution,” where the CrushStar International DJ roster included Charles “Danger” Byfield and Mpozi Tolbert — the late Indianapolis Star photographer who is pictured in murals in Broad Ripple and Fountain Square.
Ron was a driving force in making the Mpozi mural on the side of the old Patio nightclub happen.
After Ron’s days at IUPUI, he pursued his hip-hop dreams in New York City in the mid-’90s. He worked for Pendulum Records and EMI. He also befriended Mark Ronson, a young DJ and the stepson of Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones.
Ron was surprised to learn New York’s “Hot 97,” likely the most powerful hip-hop station in the United States, was owned by Indiana’s Jeff Smulyan.
“I was intrigued from the moment I knew that,” Ron told me in 2000. “I was like, ‘That’s possible?’ That’s when I realized I could move back to Indiana and do whatever I wanted to do.”
He returned to the Midwest in 1997, when he co-founded Crush Entertainment with Mark Seidman.
The roster of Crush has included DJ Gabby Love and rising Indianapolis rapper Drayco McCoy.
Radio listeners have heard Ron the selector on Hot 96, 93.9 The Beat and Radio Now.
He never neglected hip-hop’s connection to reggae.
“Just as hip-hop is an extension of jazz in its improvisational form and an extension of rock ‘n’ roll in its rebellion, hip-hop is an extension of reggae as a celebration of the DJ as entertainer,” he said.
In 2001, Ron’s management of rapper Rhymefest led to business with major label J Records. Founded by Clive Davis, J signed Rhymefest — co-writer of Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks.”
Ron gave back through “The 12 DJs of Christmas,” an annual party to raise money for Gleaners Food Bank, and a benefit for Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
Sports and entertainment are invariably linked in Indianapolis, where Ron worked with the Pacers, promoted the launch of the Indy Eleven and threw the definitive post-Indy 500 party every year.
In 2013, old friend Mark Ronson invited Ron to perform as part of the Lovebox festival in London.
In 2018, Ron became part of the leadership team for Chreece — the annual Indianapolis event quickly earning a reputation as one of the country’s top hip-hop festivals.
Attendees at the 2019 edition of Tonic Ball enjoyed the rare treat of catching Ron in the role of MC as he performed “Shake Your Rump” as part of a Beastie Boys tribute at White Rabbit Cabaret.
Ron picked up his “Indiana Jones” nickname in New York, where locals quickly surmised he didn’t grow up on the East Coast.
“Wherever I go, I take a little Indiana with me,” he said. “And I’m always Jonesin’ for it, too. I can’t wait to get back to town to say, ‘Did I miss anything?’ ”
- Dave Lindquist