A mixtape pioneer, producer, and label executive, DJ Clue is also among New York’s highest profile radio personalities, the host of the long-running Desert Storm Radio on WWPR, Power 105.1 FM. Clue built his reputation in the mid-’90s with coveted underground cassettes boasting exclusives, freestyles, and other tracks with his heavily echoed introductions. The Jamaica, Queens native’s commercial releases are highlighted by the three-volume mixtape series The Professional (1998-2006), the first of which reached platinum status with material featuring Ruff Ryders, Jay-Z, and Missy Elliott, as well as Fabolous, whose career was launched by Clue’s Desert Storm label. The Professional era coincided with Clue’s busiest period of studio work, during which he produced and remixed songs such as Mariah Carey’s “Heartbreaker.” Clue has focused primarily on his radio show since then. His Roc Nation tape Humble Soles (2023) commemorated hip-hop’s 50th anniversary with RJAE, Rapsody, and Kalan.FrFr among the contributors.
Born and raised in Jamaica, Queens, Ernesto Shaw wanted to be a rapper until he opted to work away from the spotlight with a pair of turntables and a mixer. Taking cues from DJs such as Grandmaster Vic and Doggtime, he started putting together mixtapes. He took the name DJ Clue? — in reference to the board game and his anonymity — and deliberately built some mystique by labelling his first mixtape as his 26th. Through an internship at RCA Records, Clue networked to acquire unreleased tracks, including some intended for other labels. A tape containing an unauthorized preview of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” got Clue in trouble with Biggie Smalls and Puff Daddy, but the situation was resolved and led to Clue co-presenting the 1995 tape Bad Boy, Vol. 1, an early promotional tool for Puff’s emergent label.
Within a few years, Clue was on the air at Hot 97 (WQHT) and secured a label deal with Roc-A-Fella. In December 1998, he released The Professional, led by partner Duro’s remix of “Ruff Ryders Anthem,” along with “I Like Control” (featuring Missy Elliott, Nicole Wray, and Mocha) and “Gangsta S***t” (with Jay-Z and Ja Rule). The Professional peaked on the Billboard 200 at number 26 (coincidentally the same number on his first mixtape), went number three R&B/hip-hop, and reached platinum status. Clue was then part of Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life Tour, as documented in the film Backstage, the 2000-issued soundtrack of which he presented. The sequel to The Professional, bearing the imprint of Clue and Duro’s Desert Storm label beside that of Roc-A-Fella, landed in February 2001 and entered the Billboard 200 in the third position before earning a gold certification. “Back to Life 2001,” a Soul II Soul update featuring Mary J. Blige and Jadakiss, charted as a single. Jay-Z provided a freestyle, while “What the Beat” brought together Method Man, Eminem, and Royce da 5'9". The Professional 3 rounded out the trilogy at the end of 2006 — the year Clue moved from Hot 97 to Power 105.1 — and was promoted with Jagged Edge’s Fabolous-assisted “I Really Wanna Know You,” a slow jam with nods to EPMD and Jodeci. Clue’s outside production and remix work during this period included numerous connections with Mariah Carey, most notably “Heartbreaker,” and additional collaborations with artists such as *NSYNC, Mýa, and Danity Kane.
Clue’s underground and commercial mixtapes numbered in the dozens by the end of the 2000s. During the next decade, he was active mostly on the radio and behind the scenes, and presented a couple tapes, namely Desert Storm Radio: The Takeover and an extension of his Banned from CD series. In 2023, he presented Humble Soles, a Roc Nation mixtape showcasing Roc signee RJAE and an extensive cast including Rapsody (“Love Answers All”), Kalan.FrFr (“Love Is a Mixtape”), and Vic Mensa (“Vic Chops Soul”). ~ Andy Kellman