by Nadirah Simmons
When asked what advice she would give her 10-year-old self, Naquai opened about the importance of embracing her creativity. She says that she feels like she wasted some years trying to figuring out if she creative enough to be a DJ, going to college and then dropping out in the process. She believed she was going to be a doctor or work in someone’s office, and now she’s spun everywhere from the hottest parties in New York to in Miami at Rolling Loud.
We talked to her about the art of DJing, the key to keeping the crowd engaged and proving people wrong in the industry.
Where are you from?
I was born in Belgium but raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
How has your environment influenced your love for music?
I think growing up in the time that I did, the early 2000s, and being super close with my family helped to influence my love for music. In my opinion some of the best music was put out in the years I was born and growing up. Along with the fact my parents were really into 80's and 90's Hip Hop & R&B. My mom would wake up and blast Mary J Blige when she was cleaning or my dad would sing along to Tony! Toni! Tonè! during car rides. Thats really where the appreciation began for me.
What did your start in DJing look like? Why did you decide to take this path?
My start in DJing was slow in the beginning. I had to save up to get my first controller which was a big deal for me because I had horrible saving habits and I used to come home from work and practice mixes every chance I got. Luckily through my management I was able to get some really great exposure pretty early on and I'm super thankful for that.
As far as why I decided to take this path, it was sort of like a build up for me-starting off with my appreciation and love for music, being around other DJs I really looked up to and respected and seeing I can do it myself. Then what really did it for me […] every time I went out to a party or event I was feeling like I could play a better set than the DJs that were booked. I guess that finally pushed me to be like "Alright, that’s it, I’m doing this.”
DJing is an art form, and a lot of people think they can just grab a phone, a laptop and an aux cord and be a DJ. How do you feel about people who think this makes them a DJ?
I don't think [those] things make you a DJ at all, but that’s where it starts and you can get your practice on one of the most important skills: song selection. If you see people rocking out every time you have the aux that’s awesome, but taking the time and dedication to learn the many other skills along with having a real passion for the art is what makes you a DJ.
Was it hard for you to create a unique style that differentiates you from other DJs?
Not really. When I was living in LA and throwing my own parties I really came to appreciate and kind of obsess over this “SoundCloud rap” that other DJs were playing out there. They were finding underground songs that the mainstream didn’t know about and [playing] that throughout the whole party.
I loved that style because I absolutely hate songs that you can hear no matter what club or party you go to. Its cliche to a point. So I paired that love for SoundCloud rap with my vast knowledge of 90's Hip Hop and R&B and it’s worked pretty well for me so far.
How does your music taste shine through in your sets? What songs would you play in a set to get the crowd hype?
Every set is different for me because I'm always going off of the crowd I'm DJing for. I never plan my sets or even think about them before hand because it gives me anxiety. Right now depending on the crowd I could probably play “Lean For Real” by Playboi Carti and get people goin the way I want them to or I might throw on Tommy Wright III “Runnin-N-Gunnin” or even some old Three 6 Mafia.
How important is social media to your brand? Do you think social media plays a negative or positive role in the careers of entertainers?
Of course in 2018 social media is important to any brand. I have a love/hate relationship with it because I think there’s some good to it but I also feel like theres more bullsh*t that comes with it as well. I'm trying my best right now to find a good balance of social media and my real life. I try to only post my gigs and any promotion for them and less selfies [laughs].
But as far as entertainers go I feel like it plays a pretty positive role as far as a fanbase. [It] allows you to build a fanbase and gain respect and followers by just doing your job. I really appreciate when people come up to me saying how much they fuck with my set and ask if they can follow me [after I’m done DJing]. It’s a cool feeling and it makes it super easy to connect with people.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman DJ?
As a woman in the beginning people doubted my skills, especially since I'm not some “hard looking” DJ over here scratching my heart away. But honestly I feel like once people started giving me a chance and started listening to me play it hasn't been so hard and I've been getting compliments for my sets more than anything.
I know that as my career continues I'll come across more people that doubt my skill just because I'm a woman but my goal is to keep proving them wrong.
What’s an unspoken DJ rule that every DJ knows?
I mean I feel like the most important one-that people don't always follow-is don't break your flow. If you see the crowd turning up don't play a song that would even have a chance of making them turn back down. People love having a reason to walk outside and smoke a blunt or a cigarette but don't give that to them!
What does “making it” look like for you?
Being financially stable and being able to travel the world all from of DJing. DJing never feels like my job or work. It’s the most fun I've ever experienced in my life. So as I watch people break their necks at jobs they hate just to make ends meet, I know I'd be super blessed to be able to pay my bills, own some property and travel all off of something I consider fun.