"I think I just watched my uncle pretty much," he tells The BoomBox. "He was a big DJ back in Philly. I was a prodigy, so I watched him do all this stuff, learned it and continued on through high school."
By the age of eight, the West Philadelphia native had begun spinning at some pretty notable events, including his aunt's wedding reception.
Cannon was obsessed with music as a kid. He'd picked up a pen as well, and of course every rapper needs beats, so the multi-talented youngster started wearing both hats by age 11.
"My mom always looked at me like I was weird," he says with a laugh. "She's like, 'He never plays with toys. He never does anything but play these drums and play these records all day.' Even with her, I recorded over all her tapes, from James Brown to Barbra Streisand."
It wasn't until the late 1990s that Cannon put every bit of his focus into DJing, while attending Clark Atlanta University. He found himself mesmerized by what a great music set could do to party-goers. "It was just the way people were dancing in my student center," he recalls. "Then I started DJing the strip, which was just the area outside. That really made me want to pursue it because there were a lot of things going on out there and I was playing music, seeing the rush people would get from it, it gave me a rush too."
Cannon also was encouraged by the diversity of Atlanta's inner city, full of music lovers from all over. He says that the variety of tastes helped in his decision to make the Southern city a starting point for his career. "It gave me a chance to know what St. Louis, Minnesota, Chicago, Miami, Houston and Cali [natives] like," he explains. "Once you take all that in you get a good ear for what people like across the nation."
As Cannon's brand grew bigger within Atlanta circles, there were two other young DJs making quite a name for themselves; DJ Drama and DJ Sense. It wasn't long before Cannon became a part of a collective that grew to become widely respected in the hip-hop industry.
"Apphilliates started as a friendship first," he states. "I'm the youngest outta them ... They brought the idea to me like, 'Yo, you should be a part of this thing we're doing. It'd be good for you, you're young. You're probably the youngest dude doing it.' So we started our own thing from there, the three of us, me, Drama and Sense."
The Apphilliates became the go-to crew for breaking new records and introducing new artists to the industry. DJ Drama's Gangsta Grillz series was steadily becoming a prominent force in the mixtape world and DJ Sense was an even bigger force in Atlanta radio. "We pretty much hit the lid on breaking artists -- that's the next step for people, going forward as a DJ and producer, is to actually make brands from your brand. If you can do that in anything that you do, business-wise, you're most successful.
"When you build other brands, you are successful as a big brand," he continues. "So that's what we did, we broke T.I. Jeezy, Slim Thug, Paul Wall. Plies and Future came through that. A lot of these guys, we broke as artists. I'm not giving us 100 percent of it, but with most of those careers, we gave people a platform to speak to their culture and the crowd."
Sometimes though, things get complicated when working with friends. "I don't think the Apphilliates is any longer," Cannon says carefully. "I think it's just us as individuals, but the legacy of it ... We never officially called it quits. We went through our differences, but that wasn't a part of our friendship. It was some other people that came in and disrupted the business.
"We became cooler again on a friendship level," he reveals. "Dram had some stuff going on in his family life and needed a shoulder to lean on ... When we get bigger as brands and artists, people tend to look at us differently, as if we're not human beings. I can't make new friends and start talking to them and telling my business because they run off and do things. It's a protective thing."
Now, four years after disbanding the Apphilliates, Cannon says he's finally prepping to release his first official LP, in hopes that the move will inspire other DJs to push boundaries. He's stoking the fire he had when producing his first big hit, Young Jeezy's "Go Crazy."
"The point where I really, really felt like I knew what I was doing," he says, with a pause. "You know how you get to that point where you're like, 'Do I know what I'm doing?' Mine was when Jay-Z jumped on the record with Jeezy and did 64 bars. Then I kinda was like, 'Okay, I think I know what I'm doing.' Hearing Jay-Z say, 'Yo, that beat was amazing and I want more.' It was like, 'Yo, I made it.'"
Don Cannon's Top 5 Songs to Rock the Party
- "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," Michael Jackson
- "Poison," Bell Biv Devoe
- "PSA (Public Service Announcement)," Jay-Z
- "U Don't Know," Jay-Z
- "Air Forces," Young Jeezy
Don Cannon's Top 5 Songs of the Moment
- "Same Damn Time," Future
- "Pop That," French Montana feat. Lil Wayne, Rick Ross & Drake
- "I'm Different," 2 Chainz
- "No Worries," Lil Wayne feat. Detail
- "Function," E-40 feat. YG, IamSu & Problem