Human rights activist Marina Schuster speaks for Bhutto-Ispahani lecture series.
With a musical depth as diverse as his heritage, Paul Joseph Kilanski, aka PJ Butta, has made a name for himself in pop music worldwide.
Story by Galo Pesantes
From a young age, he has listened closely.
Hearing different genres and tastes in music, Paul Joseph Kilanski Jr. had a knack for recognizing unique patterns and melodies through beats and rhythms. He can identify songs your grandfather couldn’t recall. Whether listening to the hits of Kool and the Gang, Earl Klugh or Def Leppard, he’s always been able to remember when and where he first heard those sounds. Growing up with this eclectic mix of tunes around him helped Kilanski form a distinct ear for music.
And it helped transform him from his shy beginnings at the University of La Verne to becoming an international music mogul. This has been the reality for Kilanski or “PJ Butta” as he is better known to listeners for the past 15 years. His impact in the entertainment industry has been widespread — as an on-air personality, as a trusted contributor to some of the most popular recording artists today, and as miner of new talent, breaking urban music on his own Web site, pjbutta.com. But this is only part of the story of Kilanski’s stardom.
He began his ascent into show business by working as an intern in the promotions department of the Los Angeles-based 92.3 KBBT “The Beat” radio station in 1993. Before Kilanski ever went on the air with his own show, a disc jockey at “The Beat” would allow him to get on the air and talk about where he was going as part of “The Beat Street” promotions team. Then, as Kilanski recalls, the DJ gave him the idea for his radio name.
“He would say, ‘You have a nice voice,’ ” Kilanski said. “ ‘Your voice is smooth, like butter.’ ”
From there, Kilanski dropped the ‘er’ from ‘butter’ and switched his first and middle name initials to form his radio alias, PJ Butta. At the time, he believed it was catchy, easy to remember and sounded like peanut butter. With this new name, Kilanski took advantage of the opportunity to get on the radio and expose his sultry voice to listeners.
His first time on the radio happened by accident as Kilanski had to fill in for some DJs who missed their flight one Saturday morning. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity led him to be one of the youngest and most popular on-air personalities in Los Angeles, at the age of 22.
That opportunity and others would come through University of La Verne connections. Before college, Kilanski came from humble beginnings in his hometown of San Diego. His father is of Polish, French and Irish descent, while his mother is from The Philippines. As a kid, PJ was always around music and the radio.
“I was listening to radio as young as 5-years-old,” Kilanski said. “I would always dream about being an actual artist.”
At Kearny High School in San Diego, Kilanski was influenced by a media class during his junior year. He was able to experiment in working with hip hop beats and music production in the class. When it came time to choose a college, Kilanski wanted to go to a school with a strong radio program, but he was unable to get into his top choices of Loyola Marymount and USC. Then he received a letter from the University of La Verne and his life changed.
He toured the La Verne campus and its radio station, KULV, then decided to move to Southern California and chase his dream of working in music and radio. While in school, Kilanski began to distinguish himself by performing at the Black Student Union talent show, performing rap music with a friend. It was after that event that Kilanski became more outgoing, personable and popular, after being a quiet, shy student in the beginning of his undergraduate days.
“Before that point in time, I didn’t like to talk,” Kilanski said. “I wasn’t very social, so it kind of got me out of my shell and got me noticed because I wasn’t just another sheep in the crowd.”
Kilanski continued to pursue music and radio leading up to his senior year, when he landed his career-changing internship at “The Beat” through an alumni connection. He began his work as an intern in the promotions department and was later hired full-time.
While working at “The Beat”, Kilanski fulfilled his duties at KULV and also landed a night shift at a radio station in Oxnard.
After moving to Burbank, Kilanski began a six-month period where he worked at The Beat, KULV and at the Oxnard station. In October 1993, the Beat hired Kilanski full-time as a radio personality, a position he would hold for the next 12 years, until he was cut loose by Radio One, the parent company of The Beat.
Kilanski, 36, has been a guest speaker at many universities and colleges. He emphasizes his theory of N.I.LE. (Networking, Internships, Luck, Experience) and points to his experiences that helped him get where he is today. After speaking at Mt. San Antonio College, Kilanski was offered and accepted a part-time teaching position at the college to educate radio students. He still hopes to one day return to La Verne and teach in the communications department.
“If I hadn’t gone to La Verne, I would never be where I am today,” Kilanski said. “It’s just the stuff I took from there and the people I met, as well as classes I took — all prepared me for this business.”
After vowing once to never work in radio again, he returned to host a Sunday show for KHHT-FM “Hot 92.3”, an old-school, rhythm and blues station, at the urging of a University of La Verne colleague. Kilanski decided to make his comeback to “Hot” but only on a part-time basis on weekends, and to fill in for other on-air personalities during the week.
“Since day one, PJ has been a class act,” said Randy Williams, program director for “Hot 92 Jamz” since March 2007. “In my opinion, he’s one of the most personable jocks on the air. I have really felt fortunate to work with a professional like him.”
In addition to hosting a show on “Hot 92.3”, Kilanski also does a radio show called the “World Chart,” which is syndicated overseas and plays the top hip-hop and rhythm and blues track every week.
Although a far cry from his early popularity, Kilanski is still a prominent figure in the music industry. He launched his own Web site, pjbutta.com, which features a popular segment from his radio show, “Butta Bootlegs.” The bootlegs are part of the free membership available on the site, where users can download new and unreleased hip-hop and rhythm and blues tracks that are submitted by artists, record labels and publicists.
“I give PJ credit for breaking a lot of artists into the music industry,” said Anthony “A-One” Morris, a renowned DJ who used to work with Kilanski at “The Beat.” “He is responsible for exposing a lot of artists on his ‘Butta Bootlegs’ like Bobby Valentino and others.”
Kilanski has a wife of nine years, Nautica De La Cruz, who also used to work in radio. They met while Kilanski was working for “The Beat” in 1996 and married in 1999. They have a child together, Brooklyn, 4, who was named after the New York borough where De La Cruz is from and after her former radio name, “Ms. Brooklyn.”
When not tending to his family duties, Kilanski writes and produces songs for the Grammy Award-winning production team, the Avila Brothers. He met the group while still at “The Beat”, and the brothers had signed with Warner Brothers Records. The team has made tracks for such superstar artists as Janet Jackson, Usher and Mariah Carey.
With such a prolific career in the music and radio industry, Kilanski points to television as one of the few aspirations he has left, although he said he hopes to stay with the music side of his life.
“Hosting a show or doing something in television would be cool,” he said. “But I don’t want to look like Ryan Seacrest and look like I’m doing a million jobs over here.”
With an extensive career in music, radio, the Internet and possibly television, there’s no telling what else Kilanski can do. But with a voice like that, you can bet any move he makes will be as smooth as butter.