There’s a lot to say about being self-made, stories of the people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Shit, that’s the American dream. But it’s often not until success is realized that the hardships of the journey are fully understood. In this series, we look at the Las Vegas locals in the thick of it—dancing along the line of triumph or defeat. Because let’s face it, we learn best when the struggle is real.
Passion has a unique ability to light a fire. For Las Vegas native Cody Courtney, 33, the heat hasn’t always been the best thing.
Better known as DJ EDOC (the phonetic version of Cody backward) and fondly remembered for his full, luxurious beard that has its own name – Billion Dollar Beard, his zeal is in music, family and his favorite plant, cannabis—a mix that has caused destruction as well as restoration to his life.
Music, specifically DJ competitions, is where this started for him.
“I’ve always been into needles and turntables,” Courtney recalls. “My dad had a giant record collection, he loved it, and he was meticulous about how it was kept. I was a sloppy person, still am, so I was never really allowed to mess with any of that stuff. It was completely off limits.”
Courtney’s father was a bass player, working in lounges around town and practicing at home on the weekends. Though the record player was out of reach, bands such as the Allman Brothers rang through the happy, music-filled household on the west side.
Ultimately, Courtney made his way to the drums teaching himself the ropes after a few lessons at age five.
“I stayed in my room, played my drums, listened to a lot of Nirvana, Bush, Allman Brothers and REM. I taught myself to play drums just listening to those songs.”
That same experimental nature led him to DJing when he was 16.
“I always wanted to mess with the records, DJing was always neat to me. I’d listen to the radio, Power 97, a top 40 hip-hop station. I’d fuck around, because my stereo had an equalizer on it, I’d turn it up and down and pretend I was mixing and have a bunch of fun.“
From drumming with local bands as a kid to adding rapping to his repertoire as an adolescent, Courtney was finding his stride. As a part of the Las Vegas hip-hop scene, he hung out at the now defunct underground shop Da Joynt and Industry Records next door on Las Vegas Boulevard and Bonneville. It was there that he built a strong foundation with area b-boys and DJs as well as built his record collection to eventually buying his own turntables.
“I saved my money, and I had the choice to buy a car or turntables,” Courtney says. After buying a set of Gemini turntables from a family friend, he says of the “DJ in a box kit” that were popular at that time, “It was the dumbest thing, but it was enough for me to get a handle on things.”
Although not an ideal set up, that DJ kit gave him the tools and confidence he needed to learn the craft from scratch. But even as he mastered the decks, it wasn’t the kind of skillset that he could make a living on, at least not yet. With a wife at home and a baby on the way, he had to pay the bills somehow, which led him to a decent paying gig with Best Buy. But nothing lasts forever.
After losing his job at Best Buy due to his struggle with sleep apnea and the work he missed because of it, Courtney heard of an exciting prospect on his favorite radio station at the time, Hot 97.5.
“I hear about a DJ competition on the radio, and I’m like, fuck yeah!” Courtney remembers with a smile. “I call the station, and Mike P answers and I ask him if I need to bring your own records or whatever. He responds in his radio voice, ‘just come and do you!’” So like “a boy scout,” he came prepared.
He was the only one. Courtney mistook the Galleria Mall competition—it was for on-air personality DJs, not the mixing type he’d become.
After making it to the final round, the station is content keeping both finalists on staff and Courtney enjoys the perks of doing on-site meet and greets with listeners as a street team member. But that’s where things get interesting.
“I smoke weed, so of course I get to know everybody who smokes weed at the station,” he says. “We go on a remote, and a supervisor says, ‘let’s get some weed.’” They end up toking up in the station van. “Two days later I get to work, and I’m fired. Everyone who was in the van was, well everyone except one person, the other finalist.”
Things spiraled from there—starting with an eviction. Losing the family apartment with a young child was the last straw for his wife, Amy. She took the baby and went to stay with her sister. With a $2,000 fee for an altercation and the due date looming, unavoidable incarceration is in the foreseeable future.
“I’m sleeping in my car at Desert Breeze Park. It’s actually pretty nice, I have a bunch of blankets and two pillows,” he jokes. His version of rock bottom occurred when he was pushing 30, but another DJ competition falls into his lap.
“DJ Zo [A fellow DJ and friend] calls me and tells me about this tablet DJ battle [event] sponsored by Verizon, and the prize is $2,000!” The only power outlets he has access to are at the area McDonald’s, where he’s been using the wi-fi to apply for jobs.
“I can’t really do anything, because my stuff’s in storage, so I hit up all my DJ friends for a place to practice my set. Turns out it’s some scratch DJ app on tablets, and it doesn’t resemble traditional DJing in any way.” After battling using the mediocre program, he figures it’s going to come down to showmanship. “I embrace my homelessness and make some cue cards with cardboard boxes and a magnum [marker] to hype up the audience for my set.”
After preparing as much as he could with his limited means, he made it to the competition ready to battle, but not all his competition was as prepared.
“I saw the first competitor having trouble with the app. His whole vibe was panic. My goal was to not do that.”
I played a super hype remix to ‘Seven Nation Army’ so I wrote down some lyrics to the hooks. Basically, I rocked the fuck out, going hard, dancing with the crowd.”
He took the win, taking home the money, some tablets and a gift card. But the victory not only to preserved his freedom, it also solidified his sense to pursue music, while his wife cheered him on.
That competition win changed his life, and his outlook. From living in his car to moving into a downtown apartment with his growing family, things are on the up and up. He was confident and ready to make DJing his career and after his charismatic performance, plenty of clubs and events were lining up to book him.
Behind the tables, Courtney is anything but mild-mannered.
With a contagious energy, he says, “I’m really good at adapting.”
This matched with a seemingly infinite musical knowledge and a boast worthy beard have developed him an established following and a calendar full of gigs, that is, when he’s not at home being a stay at home father to his daughters.
From DJing all the Secret Walls competitions to Tuff-N-Uff MMA events at Thomas and Mack, Courtney continues to build his name. He’s a mixer on Hot 97.5, a regular at Donald J. Pliner retail store in the Forum Shops and is best known for playing the most of ISI’s reoccurring events, including the monthly Art Auction at the top of The Strat.
His most recent passion project Zunday Zesh on YouTube as Creative Cannabis Group TV with friend and partner Phil Limon has brought him back to the habit that almost ended a career that was just beginning. The weekly web show shows the pair smoking copious amounts of weed with friends and guests as they talk about current events and conspiracies. They try out new products as well as test their own lung capacity with challenges like full gram dabs, an entire gram of cannabis consumed at one time, and 115-degree hot boxes. Some episodes have amassed tens of thousands of views. And the pair have been invited to three High Times Cannabis Cups as well as Chalice and other industry related events. This venture isn’t an income generator just yet, but that’s the goal. When pressed on what he hopes to achieve with the show, Courtney doesn’t skip a beat, “I want to turn Zunday Zesh into ‘The Today Show of Weed.’”
The trifecta of music, weed and family has been the fire that burned his life to the ground at one time, but it’s also the same fuel that keeps him growing and moving forward as a musician and a person, and he just loves it, plain and simple. “Not to be a whore about it, but I love music and I’ll play anything.” He laughs.
“I love the blend. When two song I’ve heard and played a million times before become something new, it gives me the same feeling I get when I make original music. And the booty shaking, I love watching people have the best time of their month or year or sometimes the best day of their life.”
Originally published in Vegas Seven Magazine 2017