DJ 9AM On The Origin of Her Name, Her Worst DJ Experience And The Male Ego

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by Nadirah Simmons

I’ll never forget one of the first parties I attended in New York. It was my first summer here, and I was excited to partake in what everyone from the city proclaimed to be the “best time of the year.” My function of choice? A “4 Lovers Only” party at SOB’s, where the bill promised a sponsored one hour open bar and 90’s R&B music all night. To this day it remains one of the greatest parties I’ve been to, because of the music, specifically DJ 9AM’s set.

You have to love a DJ who doesn't go from “Poison” to “This Is How We Do It” to “No Scrubs” when it’s time to play 90’s R&B. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all great. But when someone spins those deep cuts that aren’t not everybody’s you have to respect it. The crowd and I did, for sure. Everyone was dancing for the entirety of her set, not to mention the few men who were professing their love for her in front of the stage. Yes, I’m serious.

Yet DJ9AM was cool as ever, maintaining a crowd control and confidence that I had never seen before. Thus talking to her was exciting, because she not only loves the art form that is DJing, but she’s got the vibe and the music taste a girl you’d want to be friends with-I was hype when she told me Smino is one of her favorite artists too.

We chatted about how she got her name, what happened the one time she couldn’t play “Meek Mill” at a party and the problem that is the male ego.

Where did your name come from?
Nine was a playful nickname back in the day that my friends gave me. And the initials to my real name are “AM,” Angel Monique. So I put them together and it sounded good! It has nothing to do with time [laughs].

How did you get your start in DJing?
Six years ago when I first moved to New York-I moved to Harlem. I used to work at this bar where I met one of my homegirls, and her and I decided to throw an event. Nobody knew me then so it wasn’t this big event and it ended up being practice for me.

At this very same bar they threw a Hip-Hop night and DJ Kool Herc and DJ Scratch came through...DJ Scratch got on the turntables and I was like “oh my god!” Then I spoke to him, told him I was a DJ and asked him if he had any pointers for me. He said yeah and said he would give me a lesson. So he had a studio in Brooklyn and he gave me a lesson there. It was so dope.

That’s honestly crazy as hell [laughs].
Right? It was a sign.

Indeed. Are you originally from New York?
Nah, I’m from Las Vegas!

Oh wow! What was growing up over there like? Did it influence your decision to become a DJ?
Yeah, it’s one of the biggest entertainment cities ever. Living there allowed me to see how successful you can be within this career. At the time I didn’t like the music that they played in Vegas clubs. They played a lot of Hip-Hop but they played a lot of EDM. I didn’t appreciate that type of music until I moved [to New York]. So now I’m into House, EDM and Hip-Hop as well.

And Vegas really showed me that a DJ is also an artist.

I love that you mentioned them being artists. I’ve asked many of the DJs I’ve talked to about their feelings towards people who don’t participate in it as an art form. They plug their phone or laptop in and think that makes them a DJ.
I feel like they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. If you don’t really get into the craft and learn how to DJ-I feel like they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. They’re doing it for the clout and it’s just a hustle for them. And if that’s your hustle I respect that. But you can only go so far with that. At some point in your career you’re going to be tested and the truth is going to come out. There are some events where you can be an aux cord DJ, but you can’t rock a club doing that.

What has your branding process been like? Walk me through it.
It’s one of the more difficult things, because a lot of time people want you to be who they want you to be. If you go outside of that people will ask what you’re doing. I just try to stay true to myself and as genuine as I can.

How important has social media been?
Social media is like the new business card. Some people might not even hit you up, they’ll look at your Instagram instead of asking for your EPK. 

I go back and forth with it because I realize how important it is, but a part of me hates that it is very important. There are so many DJs and people want that total package. You can’t just be a good DJ, people also want a certain vibe at their party and they can pick that up off of your Instagram.

Instagram actually introduced me to your podcast “Breakfast at 9am.” Tell me a little about that. 
I really wanted to show people my personality another side of me outside of my mixes, and I thought a podcast would be perfect.

Do you find your podcast and DJing to be therapeutic for you?
Yes! They take me into a different world that allows me to express myself freely. Being able to do that and being able to create, that’s therapeutic in itself. If you see me out I don’t really talk too much and I’m not the most social person. All of these creative outlets are a way for people get to know me.

I love when women have that outlet. Sometimes we don’t have the spaces to let things out so when you do you cherish them.
Very important. It keeps me sane.

Has it been hard for you as a woman in the industry?
It’s hard being a woman period. Especially when you’re first starting out people don’t expect you to be good because you’re a woman. Like I’ve had someone come behind the booth to see if I’m really playing!

Wait, what?
Yes! I’ve had hosts come and mess with the knobs-I notice they only do that to certain women. I’ve noticed as women some of our biggest obstacles in the industry are men. Period. And their egos.

I agree. Where do you think that stems from? Are they intimidated or envious of women being good at what they do?
I think it comes from a hateful place. Women are getting booked a lot, and they don’t like it because they think we’re getting booked just because we’re women. They’ll think we’re using our sex appeal to get booked or we’re flirting with some dude who might like us to get booked…At the end of the day it’s more than posting a sexy picture on Instagram. We’re out here in the field really grinding. The girls who are getting booked, we’re not just sitting on our a** waiting for someone to someone to book us. Like nah. Work harder. And we have to keep working hard.

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you while you were DJing a party?
Oh my god! I was playing at this bar uptown in Harlem, and the owners didn’t want me to play a lot of trap and Hip-Hop. They wanted me to play world and Afrobeat music to keep away a certain crowd. One night I was playing and these girls came up to me and they were like: “You don’t have no fcking Meek Mill, you a whack a** DJ!” I was like I got it but I can’t play it like that. I was trying to tell them it wasn’t my fault.

Long story short, I ended up calling for security over the mic because they were distracting. And then they got mad and started swinging on me! One girl contacted and I had to back up and come from behind the table…I literally got into a fight with two girls because I didn’t play Meek Mill.

It goes back to being a woman. If I was a man and told them I couldn’t do it they might’ve gone on with their night. But because I’m a woman and I’m petite they thought they could do that.

That’s wild as hell. But you’re not wrong about that part.
Mhm, crazy.

In your eyes, what does “making it” look like?
I feel like when you are able to survive financially and fully off of your craft you’ve made it. One of my goals is to go back to Las Vegas and have a major residency there. Also to get my show on a higher platform because I really enjoy it. And to be able to travel and play.

Would you ever want to tour with an artist? And who?
Absolutely! That’s one of my biggest goals. Definitely Jean Deaux, I think she’s really dope. I feel like our vibes are similar and I would love to go on tour with her.

What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?
It’s okay to be confident in everything that you do. I would enforce confidence because it everything. It dictates your whole life and everything you do. Don’t let that first dude hit [laughs].

Yo! You’re funny as hell!
Ha! And I would tell myself not to waste time […] and to listen to my father.

Listen to her podcast and mix below.

Naquai On Why DJing Never Feels Like A Job Or Work


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. 

How Working At Barnes & Noble Helped Turn Quin Into A DJ


by Nadirah Simmons

When we asked Quin what advice she would give to her younger self, she answered quickly: “Hone in on the things that you enjoy the most because it will eventually pay off and work harder at those things.” Nothing has ever been truer, and the DJ that is Quin is a testament.

Coming out of New Jersey, she’s armed with a library of musical knowledge that would rival that of the biggest music head in your corner. Now she’s settled into her role as a DJ, putting out mixes online and spinning at clubs with the hopes of one day traveling the world.

We talked to Quin about how she got her start, the questions you should stop asking DJs at events and making sure her brand is a reflection of herself.

Where are you from and who influenced your taste in music?
I’m originally from Queens, New York, but whenever I claim that people get pissed [laughs]. I’m really from Burlington, New Jersey. I would say my parents mostly influenced my taste in music. When I was young they were big tape and CD collectors, and when I got my first walkman I would always grab stuff from their collection.

It’s always good when your parents put you on. How does their influence manifest in your DJ sets?
Well due to my extensive knowledge [laughs], I try to put people on. You could hear a New Jack Swing set and there are the typical songs that everybody knows like “Poison.” But then you can throw a different song in there that has a similar vibe.

When did you actually start DJing?
At Barnes & Noble. My coworker, who would DJ on the side, would bring a mini controller to work and I would mess around with it. Then when I would hear DJs mix on the radio or at events I would say “oh that’s nice” but in my head I knew I could do better. I was talking all of this crap so I knew I had to try.

How long ago was this?
I started messing around with DJ software in high school. I started DJing fully in 2015/2016.

Is it to create your own unique style and make yourself stand out?
I’m still developing my sound since I’m fairly new. I try to observe a lot of other people as well as get creative when I do things and try to create things I haven’t heard before.

Yes! I love when I go to a party and the DJ ends up putting me on. What songs are you spinning when there’s a really chill vibe at a function?
I have to think, you put me on the spot! Definitely “Kaleidescope Dreams,” that’s a good vibey song and it had a good groove to it. I love Masego so I would definitely play something by him. I would say “After Dark” by Drake. And to get a little romantic, I want to play Sir, but also “Tadow” by Masego!

That’s a good mix of tracks. The last few parties I’ve been to, when it’s time to redirect the vibe of a party the DJs went from Sheck Wes to 6ix 9ine to “Lovers and Friends.” I’m like what the heck, this is whack. Stop playing the same thing!
You aren’t lying [laughs]!

So what are you playing to get everyone hype?
“Big Bank” gets everybody hype so I have to play that. I really like “Uh Uh” by Blac Youngsta. “Twerk” by City Girls is also really good.

Can I just say, “Big Bank” is my song. I told someone it was song of the summer and they looked at me like I was crazy.
You do sound really crazy I’m not gonna hold you.

Yes! I think there’s a lineup of songs, but for it to be song of the summer? No. Not happening, I disagree.

So what’s song of the summer?
“In My Feelings.”

See, here’s my thing. I feel like that’s song of the year [laughs]. And it’s Drake, he’s passed these titles. Everything he makes goes!
Okay, I feel you. Then there’s “Nice for What,” “FEFE” and let’s not forget Travis Scott’s album. “SICKO MODE” came out and the end of the summer.

Where do you discover most of your music and new artists?
I have a burner account where I follow people who inspire me. And when I’m constantly exposed to those kinds of things it connects the dots. It’ll be a random hipster from Chicago who will post their friend and then I’ll find out about [their music] through that. Or I’ll do the generic search through Spotify and Apple Music playlists and music hubs.

And YouTube of course! The YouTube vortex is the illest club of all time.

The internet is the goat. When it comes to branding yourself how important has social media been, and do you think it’s had a negative or positive impact on entertainers?
Social media is the kind of thing that can make you or break you, you dictate what direction you’re going to go in. Within the past few months I’ve been paying a lot of attention to my social media and focusing on how I’m coming off, the content I’m creating and the quality of my pictures. It’s what you make it so if it’s negative for you that’s a reflection of yourself.

Have you faced any challenges being Black and being a woman pursuing this path?
Definitely. People assume you don’t know what you’re doing, that you don’t know how to use certain equipment or that you don’t know what things mean. It’s hard to discern whether you’re getting a gig or attention because you’re an attractive women or because of what you bring to the table.

What are some unspoken things about DJing that you want people to know?
Don’t put drinks close to the equipment, the DJ booth area is not a coat rack or a safe haven for your purse, I don’t have a charger for you and I don’t have every song in the book.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Definitely want to accomplish more with DJing and diversify the places where I DJ. I do want to remain in the Tri-State area but I want to be able travel other places to DJ. 

I also want use my DJing to branch out into other things such as art, graphics and visuals. And I want to help communities too. Real philanthropic.

Listen to her Afrobeat mix below.

THEakasha Is Championing Free Movement And Self-Preservation

by Nadirah Simmons

Music has always been a part of DJ THEaskasha’s life, citing her parents’ unique and eclectic music tastes as influences for her love of the art form. And a quick look at her upbringing solidifies it as a love indeed. As a child she started playing the violin, and then the piano, before joining a visual performing arts program in the 7th grade, where she sang opera and continued until college. 

But by the time she was enrolled at Temple University her hopes of being a voice performance major were crippled by transcript problems and the audition process. She took a different route, pursuing media studies and focusing on radio and audio production. A few years later, armed with a degree and the success of numerous gigs, DJ THEaskasha is flourishing as an open format DJ, visual director and art enthusiast.

She has spun everywhere from New York City to Seattle to Miami, toured twelve cities and counting, and performed alongside Just Blaze, Natasha Diggs, Ivy Sole, Kari Faux, and Bri Steves. At the function THEakasha wants people to engage in free movement with every track she plays.

We talked to the THEakasha about her first time DJing, the bittersweet necessity that is social media, and being private while amplifying her identity as a queer Black woman.

Do you remember the first time you actually DJ’ed?
Yes, I was in a DJ collective in Philly and I was their social media girl. And the plan was for me to be their social media guru and they were going to teach me how to DJ. But it didn’t happen, and they added two guy DJs to the group and they were putting them on and not me. But it ended up working out because one of the DJs they added, Astro 8000, really believed in me.

He has a chain of parties called ‘Astronaut Status’ he asked me to open one of the very first ones with a DJ set. The venue only paid him $50 for the night but he paid me $20 and he thanked me for holding him down. He said, “You’re worth getting paid for your craft. Go get that shit.” He gave me my first chance, my first gig.

And now you DJ all the time. What is that feeling like for you?
No matter how tired I am before a set or what struggle I went through to get there, it’s euphoric. It’s this weird unshakable confidence, almost like a freedom! 

My biggest goal as a DJ is to encourage free movement. It’s the most natural and healthy thing you can do with your body. Babies engage in it when they leave the womb, but the older we get the less and less comfortable people feel putting themselves in situations where they can engage in free movement…I want the people at [these events] to move freely too. It’s a form of self-care.

Was it hard for you to create your own style to stand out amongst a large pool of people?
That is actually something I’m just now finding to be a challenge. When I was starting out three years ago it was like “okay, I don’t expect to have a big crowd. I want to DJ under people.” But now I’m in a whole new market. I think if I would have stayed in Philly it would’ve been a lot easier to collaborate with people. 

But New York is a whole different monster. People will pay you but venues already have their DJs-whether they suck or not. They care about the bar sales being up to par. So me coming to them with my EPK, if I haven’t already built something massive myself or if I can’t bring them more numbers than they’re already doing, they’re not interested.

It’s been challenging and it used to discourage me, but now it motivates me. It’s not just about being on the hottest gig-even though I want to be on those-but also the wave I created for myself.

That’s always the best way to go! One thing that you said that stuck out to me is that venues will have DJs that suck [laughs]. What is a bad DJ to you?
I would define a bad DJ as someone that doesn’t care about the technical skill of being a disk jockey. A DJ that cannot blend records. A DJ that does not care to beat match. I’m not perfect, but you can’t play something at 82 and then cut to a song that’s 115. And some people can get that off and it sounds good. But the crowd feels it when you don’t care about blending or creating a vibe.

When it comes to promoting yourself, we are in an age that is dominated by social media. How important has social media been to you to brand and promote yourself?
I know a lot of DJs that have been in the game ten plus years and have social media because they have to, but their fanbase is organic. It’s real life. I admire the DJs that don’t have to rely on social media. But I also know because I’m a millennial and because of the connections I have, I need it. If it was up to me I would just have a website, but it’s helped me network and get so many of the opportunities I’ve had so far. 

Like Twitter for example. I’ve been on it since 2009 and I have seen it transform into such a bitter, evil, hateful place. No matter who I’m following or not following I feel like after a while I get sucked into that. Then you feel like you can’t unfollow certain people because this is how this person gauges our relationship. Or not following someone can ruin a business relationship.

Then you’ll see all of these popping DJs that you look up to and admire and you’ll feel pressured to keep up with what they’re doing. Social media is a real bittersweet thing.

It really is, which is so sad. You can log off or unplug to get away from it, but when you do log back in you’re bound to see something that isn’t positive.
It’s so crazy that you say that. None of that stuff is real, it’s the Internet. But then people will allow that to influence their real lives.

How important is your identity to you within the world of music?
I’m a Scorpio and I am a very private person. I identify as a queer Black woman, and my Blackness is always something I’m going to be loud about. But I grew up in a family where sexuality wasn’t important. Like if I say “I’m gay” they would say “ew we don’t want to know who you’re sleeping with! That’s your business, you’re grown!” It’s a part of my identity and something I’m proud of. I’ll continue to place myself in places around people with similar identities that I can commune with.

As far as me and the world? My identity isn’t important to the world. But they’ll know it and I won’t allow myself to be misidentified-all the way down to how my name is spelled. 

Listen to “tee time” below, a five-part mix series of “blended music for lovers in all stages.”

DJ Nolita On Seeing Only Yourself And Being Afraid Of Nothing

@AbbyJasminexo " Trap Mom Release Party" for Cinematic Records

@AbbyJasminexo " Trap Mom Release Party" for Cinematic Records

by Nadirah Simmons

A quick glance at DJ Nolita’s Instagram will impress you. The 22-year-old Brooklyn native is solidified as one of the hottest DJs in the game. But you don’t need to look at her near 13,000 followers to know that.

With a resume that includes spinning for TIDAL and on the Rolling Loud Festival stage, Nolita is poised and destined for greatness. What makes that reality all the more exciting is that just a few years back she didn’t want to be a DJ at all, instead hoping that she could carve out a career as a fashion designer. But after realizing it wasn’t what she wanted to do and learning her way around production equipment, Nolita thrust herself into the world of music-which should come as no surprise when you learn that her godfather is Aaron Hall and her uncle is Kid Capri.

A surprise DJ set that had her filling in for a friend and a boatload of performances later and “your girlfriend from GTA,” as Nolita affectionately calls herself, has her eyes set on traveling the world with some of the biggest names in music. We caught up with the DJ to talk about her transition into music, what it was like DJing on a bill that featured Beyoncé, her go-to songs to play at a kickback and navigating the industry as a young, Black woman.

I know you live in Brooklyn right now, where are you originally from?
I’m originally from here but I traveled a lot growing up. I got a taste of a lot of different places which has a lot to do with my music, my variety and my selections.

I also have a lot of musicians in my family. My mom was always in artist management, my godmother was a songwriter my godfather is Aaron Hall my uncle is Kid Capri. And I’ve always felt like I had a good ear for music. That and moving around opened my up to a whole new world.

When I’m talking to people in the industry I often ask where they’re from, because their environment influences their art. Do you think moving around a lot was necessary for you to be the DJ that you are now?
Yes! In a lifetime everything that leads you up to today is what made you who you are. How my life went is how it was supposed to go as far as moving around a lot and learning a variety of languages and music. It broadened my spectrum.

You come from this musical family, what did your beginnings in DJing look like?
I initially wanted to be in fashion design! I went to the High School of Fashion Industries and I realized I didn’t want to make the clothes. I wanted to wear them [laughs]. So I decided one day that I wanted to produce music. I went home and taught myself how to produce and then taught myself how to produce. Then eventually I started learning how to DJ. 

I got tricked by one of my friends to DJ a set! He told me he was going to be gone for 20 minutes and he was gone for 45! I had no idea what I was doing at all, but it went really well.

And now you’ve DJ’d at some of the biggest festivals! What’s the different between Rolling Loud and a club?
I’ve also done TIDAL! TIDAL, Rolling Loud, they’re very on schedule. Everything is literally timed and on point. Rehearsals and all that with TIDAL. Whereas a warehouse or house party doesn’t have everyone running around trying to make everything perfect. And there’s no rehearsal!

It doesn’t surprise me that TIDAL would run a tight ship, which is why they do everything so well.
It was insane! I had to appear onstage from underground and I had to be there at a certain time. So I’m running from my fitting room to get there and I pass JAY-Z and I’m like “Hi Jay!” And he was like “hey.” Then I had to crawl under the stage in these 8-inch, thigh high leather boots to DJ in front of thousands of people. I went on after Lil Yachty and before Beyoncé.

Wow. Legendary.

When I get on Instagram and see a lot of people popping up saying they’re DJs when they’re just plugging a phone into an aux cord or standing behind a computer and calling themselves a DJ, and I wonder how that makes people who treat it as an art form feel. To the first part, I’m not all for it. Because it is an art form and people forget that. Anybody can wake up and decide they want to DJ but you have to really do it and give it your all. You can’t treat it like something that’s not as important. 

People on social media want to do it because they see the hype around it. They see the people around you. They see that you get to travel. But they don’t understand how much work goes into it. It’s a lot of work. But I’m not against anybody deciding they want to do it, because that’s how life goes. Go for it, go for your dreams and be serious about it.

How do you separate yourself from those who aren’t serious?
I’m really big on keeping the focus on what I’m doing. When all you see is yourself you have nothing to be afraid of, nothing to worry about. 

So be open to new ideas and meeting new people and then leave room for yourself and your thoughts. When you’re consumed with yourself and your own work it only elevates you!

What’s crazy is you’re only 22 years old! What are your goals as a DJ?
I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with so many artists, but I have some that are set as markers and goals in life. Like Rihanna or Drake. I want to be the Rihanna of DJs. I want to dress my ass off and DJ around the world. 

Let’s say you’re DJing a chill, calm kickback. Who are you playing?
Kaytranada, Childish Gambino, IAMDDB, some Travis Scott and Banks. But I started out as a house DJ, so I would make a lot of remixes to the artists I just named or incorporate dance tracks and mix them in with the original tracks.

So, opposite end of the spectrum. We’re getting buck, who are you playing?
I’m playing Young Doloph, Cardi B, Playboi Carti, Travis Scott, Asian Doll, Rico Nasty, Matt Ox, Lil Yachty, JuiceWRLD, Future, Nicki, all of it! Let’s get into it. But I still have to keep my style so I’ll make remixes and incorporate those into my tracks. 

What has navigating this industry been like as a young Black woman?
I’m very particular about who I surround myself with. I’m very cautious…I think that’s why I’ve been able to dodge the industry bs. I don’t surround myself with people that will harm my brand and harm me as a person. I only keep around me that I have an understanding with, that are like family, that will ride for me no matter what.

What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to DJ?
Go into it with an open mind and a  strong mind. Make your own rules. Wonder but never worry. Live your truth and be yourself. Work hard. And be a boss.

Listen to DJ Nolita’s “Trap Mix” below.

Introducing B Rocka: How Brandy Became Hip-Hop and R&B's New Muse


by Njera Perkins

Brandy’s first single rose to the top of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart, but it was the addition of three emcees on the remix that transformed the track into one of the most memorable anthems of the 90s. “I Wanna Be Down (Remix)” proved to be a prime example of unity bringing together female powerhouses, but also the perfect balance of Hip-Hop and Soul.

Along with her peers Monica, Mary J. Blige, Mya, and Aaliyah, Brandy helped successfully mesh together two genres that previously seemed separate. But it was one of Brandy’s defining trademarks, her low yet airy pitch, which allowed her to differentiate herself the rest. Four years after releasing her self-titled debut album, Brandy would return with Never Say Never, an album whose themes created some of her most powerful music. Songs like “Have You Ever” and “Angel in Disguise” gave life to feeling of love and longing, while “The Boy is Mine” managed to make listeners groove to a song about dishonesty and jealousy in a way that only Brandy and Monica could. Much like soul singers before her, Brandy set out to create music that encapsulated everything she was experiencing from unrequited love and heartbreak to pure infatuation.

The mature offering that was Never Say Never showed Brandy’s growth as an artist also while adding a new flavor to her sound – which can be credited to none other than super producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins. But it was Full Moon that presented a redefined Brandy four years after her last album. The intro song “B-Rocka” ushered in her alter ego that would position Hip-Hop next to R&B for the remaining 15 tracks. Songs like “What About Us,” “I Thought,” and “Full Moon” manifested as radio-ready singles that fused soul singing over drum and heavy beats, music reminiscent of the early Hip-Hop sounds of drum machines and synthesizers. “Nothing” and “It’s Not Worth It” were full of pure passion and gave listeners melodic tracks to swoon over. Full Moon asserted the strength of Brandy’s original sound and its staying power.

Fans watched Brandy mature from a young teenager into an adult woman, and as she grew her sound grew along with her. Fusing Hip-Hop and Soul together, Brandy refined a sound that would help inspire a new generation of artists to follow. And over the course of a career that includes television shows, movies, dolls and music her sound has transcended expectations and cemented her place as one of the most influential music icons of her time.

Give Sista's Debut All Of The Awards


By the time Sista released their promotional single “Brand New” in the summer of 1994, the subgenre that is Hip-Hop Soul had already gained popularity. I would be born a few months later, and was therefore too young to witness the rise of artists and groups like Mary J. Blige and Jodeci, whose successful fusion of rhythm and blues/gospel singing over Hip-Hop beats would top the charts. Nonetheless, a quick glance at the Billboard charts or the latest release by one of our favorite artists in the present asserts the impact the convergence of the two parent genres has on our music today. Yet despite its impact as a genre and its influence on modern music, Hip-Hop Soul remains largely understudied. And when you consider how the subgenre functions as a key site for the construction of Black women narratives you know how important Hip-Hop Soul is. How important the album 4 All The Sistas Around Da World is. And why it sucks that it was shelved.

The R&B quartet, which featured a young Missy Elliott, signed with DeVante Swing of Jodeci under the Swing Mob imprint after sneaking backstage at the group's concert and singing for him. After inking the deal the group and Timbaland were all moved into an apartment in Newark, New Jersey where they got to work on their debut album. Their single “Brand New,” which would peak at Number 84 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, found the ladies singing about a partner that makes them feel exactly what the title says. On it Missy raps “You’re so fly and I’m gonna make you mine…Cuz it’s the sex that I get that makes me in love with you.” The song’s music video, which featured cameos from Ginuwine, Static Major and DeVante, saw Sista dancing and singing on a high-rise rooftop in between shots of Black people hanging out on the streets of their neighborhood. There was no extra fanfare, no gimmicks. Just the group and their music.

This same thesis is present on the album’s cover, which features the women outfitted in baggy pants, a hooded sweatshirt and plaid vests crouching on a porch in front a graffiti-painted wall seemingly playing a game of dice. This Hip-Hop style of dress, present on other iconic 90s acts like Aaliyah, Mary J. Blige and TLC, did not ask the audience to look away nor did it intend to distract them. Their garments instead positioned women as the rightful authority on the relationship between them and clothing, and affirmed that “boundaries” placed between sex, gender and what you wore could be crossed with gratification.

Throughout the album, the women built upon traditions of storytelling when it comes to Black womanhood. In If You Look in My Life: Love, Hip-Hop Soul, and Contemporary African American Womanhood Treva B. Lindsey writes that Hip-Hop Soul women address abandonment, affairs, casual sexual trysts, sisterhood, men, romance, desire, etc. All themes that allow Black women to engage with and interrogate the world around them. On “I Wanna Be With U,” a cut that flips the classic Isley Brothers ballad “Footsteps in the Dark,” the women harmonize about what sex with the person they want would be like. “Out in my Jeep so I props up my two feet/Pull out my sheets so I can keep my seats neat see/Me and you can get it on until we have to break/Slide it in and out like some damn skates,” raps Missy. The lyrics were original, fresh and hypersexual, and fell right in line with the kind of storytelling their soul foremothers used to engage with gender and sexuality.

Then there’s "Sweat You Down," an upbeat and relatable groove about being “in like” with someone but not wanting to sweat them; "Feel of Your Lips," on which the women and a new artist by the name of Mary J. Blige sensuously crooned about their lover; “Sista Mack” which flips the nursery rhyme “Miss Mary Mack” and takes the listener back to their grade school days; and "Good Thang," a smooth track that sampled “Who Can I Run To?” by The Jones Girls before Xscape, with whom the group was rumored to have beef at the time. (On "Hip Hop" Sista sings: “you know you was dead wrong to use that song” and “why you tryna imitate and duplicate,” a supposed dig at Xscape for copying their style and music.

Despite being restricted in their progress as a group, the women of Sista were untethered in their music. They were equally authoritative and prone to feelings of longing and heartbreak. They created songs about pleasurable sexual encounters, men, and sisterhood and built upon traditions of storytelling when it comes to Black womanhood. They were multidimensional just as Black women were, are and will continue to be. Give their debut all of the awards please.

Kalin On Canvas: The Painter Putting Your Favorite Hip-Hop Artists On Display



What is the art community like where you live?
The art dynamic in Charlotte is a lot different than [where I’m from, Wilmington]. I came here to go to school and I ended up staying, because if I would have gone back home I wouldn’t have had the same support art wise. And after I graduated it took me two years to get back into art and get in touch with the art community here.

When you go to art school you either become an art teacher or go the fine art gallery route. They don’t teach you about the connections of a smaller art community. In Charlotte that community is very close-knit.

Was art your major?
Yes. An art major with a concentration in painting. So four years of painting.

Were your parents or your guardians cool with your major? A lot of our guardians, when we want to do anything in art or entertainment that doesn’t have a clear path to money, might not want us to pursue it.
My family is extremely supportive of my decision to go into art. Neither of my parents went to college so they didn’t have an expectation of what I should’ve be [doing there]. 

My mom has every single thing I’ve drawn since I was five. She came to every single one of shows, she drove three and half hours, even now she makes the same trip.  She sends me pictures of myself all the time and I wake up to texts from her about how proud she is of me. I wouldn’t have made it this far had I not had that.

Having your loved ones support your vision is so motivating. Did you always know you were going to share your art with the world this way?
I had been drawing and doodling stuff since I was really little. I always knew art was my thing. In third grade my rooms had dimensions while everyone else’s were flat. I knew something was different.

How would you describe your painting style?
It took me a long time to develop my style. It’s kind of scribbled, because sometimes when I’m working I’m working through something. I used to try really hard to make everything perfect. To make everything look very smooth and very blended and have sharp edges. But life happened to me and I was like okay, this doesn’t have to be perfect. I can show people and it doesn’t have to be “perfect.”

Oftentimes when people are creating they might say that they’re working through stuff. Is painting therapeutic for you?
It’s something that I’ve been doing for so long that it’s become a part of who I am. It’s not something I do to get through something or get past something. And honestly if I’m extremely upset I don’t produce anything. It’s a completely different style, it looks different.

So I don’t paint to work through things, instead I paint to explain stuff. Which is why I can look back at a painting I did at a certain phase in my life and it will make sense. 

It looks like it’s making sense, you have thousands of followers on your social media. Do you remember what painting you posted that set it off? 
Yes! It was about eight months ago when I painted Lil’ Kim. I had painted Chance the Rapper and Cardi B before that, and I wasn’t getting the response I expected. So I decided to paint Lil Kim, and I finished it in one night. It was the one I thought I should’ve done in the beginning.

When I posted it a few days later it attracted hundreds of people. But I realized people really supported my work with the OutKast painting. That one got posted on The ShadeRoom and my followers went up to 2,000 and then more overnight.

Walk me through your process when you’re creating a piece.
The first step is starting, because I’ll think about a painting I want to do for days. And I have to be happy, I can’t be upset. But I’ll try to find pictures that have different perspectives, then I’ll draw it on a canvas and paint. Depending on my mood I could finish it one night or it could take me a month.

A lot of the paintings on your site and your social media are of these prominent Black, Hip-Hop figures. Why do you choose to paint these people?
It takes me back to my childhood. I remember Saturday morning when my mom woke me up to clean and music was playing. Aaliyah, Diddy - they remind me of my childhood, of a time when I was really happy, of me. 

And being African-American, we all relate on a similar level when it comes to music. We all have the same vibe when we think of our childhood.

What advice would you give to a young artist?
Follow your dreams. If you don’t have the opportunity to go to art school, reach out to people. Artists I looked up to and would reach out to on Instagram would never respond to me, and now they follow me. Even if people don’t respond you have to keep pushing.

Also, say yes to everything. Don’t say yes forever and don’t say yes for free. Don’t say no when you don’t have any other options. In the beginning when I was being lazy I would look for every reason to say no, until one day saying yes repeatedly put me in a higher place. 

And be your own cheerleader. You can blow up. It can be you.