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Shaquille ‘DJ DIESEL’ O’Neal Brings Bass-Heavy EDM, Redefined Culture to Nashville’s Skydeck

The Tennessean

March 30, 2024

Shaquille O’Neal’s seven-foot-tall bass-dropping alter ego “DJ DIESEL” performed at downtown Nashville’s Skydeck on Lower Broadway on Friday evening.

For a moshing throng of rowdy dance fanatics, the National Basketball Association legend and current broadcast journalist for TNT’s “Inside The NBA” played a set of modern electronic dance music favorites, largely erring in the direction of pulsating trap and dubstep tracks. They reflected both originals on which he has collaborated in the past decade, remixes and a smattering of critically acclaimed and adored tracks from the now two-decade-long surge of synthesizer-heavy bass music to domestic renown and unparalleled global viability.


O’Neal, whether as an athlete, musician, or television personality, is a rare breed of mythological human. Shaquille O’Neal, also known as DJ Diesel, performs during his Shaq’s Bass All-Stars show at Skydeck on Broadway in Nashville, Tenn., Friday, March 29, 2024.

Over 52 years, he’s synergized a regenerative, almost vampiric immortality and a cat’s ability to live nine lives into four decades spent in the public eye.

Those attributes have contributed to his present existence as Skrillex recast as Optimus Prime, but all within the mindset of one of the most iconic professional basketball players of all time.

And yes, he wore a cowboy hat while DJing music in Nashville, Tennessee.

Shaq’s also played Nashville three times in the past two years. That’s entirely on purpose.

In the past decade, he’s also accrued a Las Vegas residency at the Wynn resort, plus played a global festival slate including Beyond Wonderland, Bonnaroo, the Electric Daisy Carnival, Electric Zoo, Forbidden Kingdom, Lollapalooza, Lost Lands and Tomorrowland.

Nashville’s current EDM moment

Electro and heavy bass music has a core fanbase in the rural to suburban American South. Couple that with coastal-dwelling Americans who are now familiar with disco, dubstep, house, trap, and tropical house, relocating to Music City at a clip of roughly 100 people daily. Now, a perfect storm emerges where people who love Jelly Roll, Lainey Wilson, HARDY, Nickelback and yes, acts like DJ DIESEL, are descending upon Lower Broadway alongside tens of thousands of people already inside Bridgestone Arena, the Ryman Auditorium, or likely any one of three dozen honky-tonks or restaurants in the area.

In the first quarter of 2024, two venues—a renovated and newly re-opened 1200-person capacity Cannery Hall and a more intimate venue, Night We Met—will join Skydeck’s 2000-person outdoor space (above the Fifth and Broadway area’s Assembly Food Hall and across the street from Bridgestone Arena) to service dance music’s burgeoning Nashville moment.

This follows electronic-pop duo ODESZA’s performance at Ascend Amphitheater in September 2023 and continuing efforts by Night We Met’s underground-to-mainstream house music-booking owners and operators to curate Nashville’s Deep Tropics festival.

Add that to acts like Diplo pushing boundaries between festival-ready dance stylings and radio-ready mainstream Americana and country and the breadth of unlimited potential Nashville could tap into becomes apparent.

Shaq’s DJ journey

As a teenager in Newark, New Jersey, he was exposed to Terminator X’s hip-hop battle-style DJing while working with Public Enemy. Those interests pushed Shaq into DJing in the crate-carrying, beat-matching, juggling and record-scratching to elongate the breakbeats era.

While acting, breaking college and NBA backboards with slam dunks and rapping with ’90s-era rap crews like the Fu Schnickens and Wu-Tang Clan, his dabbling around and interest in DJ culture remained.

A decade ago, time spent in Las Vegas’ then-emerging EDM nightlife allowed him to travel to Atlanta for 2014’s TomorrowWorld Festival. Among 150,000 people, he heard, saw and met veteran dance DJs and producers like Steve Aoki and Skrillex. This, combined with his growing interest in tracks by other famous artists, including Excision, NGHTMRE! and Valentino Khan, pushed him to become more entrenched in both DJing and production in the electronic realm.

In conversation with the Tennessean, O’Neal sounds like the veteran dance music artist he’s evolved into while rattles off the importance of how R&B and hip-hop move in half-time speeds near 128 beats per minute of house music or the 140 or 150 beats dubstep, trap and drum and bass revs up to before sudden, cataclysmic-sounding bass drops.

However, when he speaks to how he approaches DJing to crowds of 2,000 to inspire fervor similar to crowds nearly 100 times that size, the blend of athleticism and charisma he’s achieved over the past 40 years of his multiple successful careers becomes apparent.

“When that crowd starts cheering, that adrenaline hits me like it’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals. When I retired from the NBA in 2011, I missed that feeling. Three years later, when I discovered bass music and rave culture, that feeling returned and after proving myself as a DJ, I haven’t left it.”

‘Great leaders create other great leaders’

He patterns his set after Skrillex’s 2010-2014 peak when the ex-emo-punk band lead singer-turned-DJ sold 15 million singles and became an unlikely superstar. A decade later, as DJ DIESEL, O’Neal is seven tracks and one 2023 EP, “Gorilla Warfare,” into a similarly unlikely career shift.

Shaquille O’Neal, also known as DJ Diesel, performs during his Shaq’s Bass All-Stars show at Skydeck on Broadway in Nashville, Tenn., Friday, March 29, 2024.
“Slow and hard hip-hop, dubstep and trap that makes the people go crazy—that’s what I love right now,” says O’Neal.

However, he’s also a crowd-pleaser. In Nashville, he called out viral country-to-pop—and Beyoncé-cosigned—hitmaker of the moment, Tanner Adell, to the Skydeck stage. He then played a dubstep remix of her countrified but trap-leaning solo hit single “Buckle Bunny.”

He’s also mentoring younger DJs and curating their development.

Sometimes, that looks like his longtime “Shaq’s Fun House” event series. It’s his “Shaq’s Bass All-Stars” festival in other venues.

“Great leaders create other great leaders, so I let [younger DJs] use my fame, broadcast and social media reach to get noticed,” he tells The Tennessean.

Shaquille O’Neal, also known as DJ Diesel, performs during his Shaq’s Bass All-Stars show at Skydeck on Broadway in Nashville, Tenn., Friday, March 29, 2024.
The green room at Nashville’s Skydeck on Broadway is teeming with a group of younger DJs with laptops and phones ready to produce collaborations on which they hope they can receive a DJ DIESEL co-sign. To wit, all of his “Gorilla Warfare” EP tracks involve other credited producers.

“My fans are kids who work stressful jobs and want to come out to experience culture and hear music that allows them to blow off steam and have a good time. In my career as a DJ, I accept the pressure of taking pride in having great, unique shows for these kids. I give them what they want because I want nobody to leave upset that they didn’t get the show they needed or deserved.”