As a female hip-hop DJ representing Sydney for the past 15 years, this article is equally driven by passion and spirit, and is no easy feat. Written in light of familiarity, acceptance, understanding and utmost respect, the following women are blazing the way for females to take to the wheels of steel and stand beside their male peers in the urban music DJ arena.
Let’s be honest, hip-hop is often considered a man’s world, with images of sex, money and power in overdrive across all marketing and media platforms. The truth is that there would be no hip-hop without the presence of a powerful female, balancing out the testosterone and injecting the right balance of sex appeal, attitude and honesty in music. In the DJ world, the presence of females has become more common place in recent times, with women taking a stand alongside their male brethren when it comes to the art of spin, holding club and event residencies and packing out the dancefloor with carefully crafted playlists, seamless mixing and effects to create the ultimate club experience. While we still have a long journey ahead to place men and women on an equal playing field, the glass ceiling has been well and truly smashed!
In Australia alone the number of hip-hop/urban female DJs has increased monumentally compared to even five years ago. As a collective we have risen up from only playing gap-filler gigs, to commanding headlining acts and touring with some of the industry’s biggest stars. The spin sisters featured below are some of the most talented, hardworking, passionate and driven DJs who continue to break the convention of what it means to a female DJ under the urban / hip-hop umbrella and give their honest views on what their journeys have been like in this game thus far.
We spoke to some of the top female DJs in the country to document their experiences, in their own words.
“There is no business like show business” – an old quote, but it’s so true. Like any art form the most important aspect is understanding the basic fundamentals and history. My core belief is that music comes from within. Doesn’t matter what style of genre you play, it’s all about being able to read the crowd and most importantly your flow.
It is amazing to see the evolution from where Djing was to where it is going. Looking back, female DJs weren’t nearly as popular as today. My experience as a DJ was elevated to the next level when I fell in love with old school vinyls. The ability to physically baby scratch or drop your next track into the mix feels like magic, and it’s inspiring to see other female DJs expressing themselves freely and pushing the boundaries. This opens up a whole new world for upcoming female DJs in the future, which can only add to what already is a beautiful culture.
My philosophy about Djing is that mixing and technicalities are important. However, the secret ingredient is knowing “why” we do what we do. When mixing live, it’s all about self-expression, flow, personality and being able to connect with your audience. When you understand the pure essence of how to build and control your crowd, the experience as an entertainer elevates to the next level. Another golden rule I swear by is that I always play for the ladies. My motto has always been, “Lead the women and the men will follow” because women know what women want… Sorry boys. 😉
My biggest challenge as a DJ is to discover the art of flow on a deeper level, and to gain as much experience playing different genres as I can. Life is about pushing the boundaries, but never losing my own quirky flow and flavour. “If you don’t try there is no opportunity to succeed.”
Music is a very powerful tool and should be treated with respect. As a DJ and entertainer I am empowered and grateful to be a part of such a powerful industry – music can literally change the world because it can change people. I always stay true to myself and play from the heart not my ego. Ego is your soul’s worst enemy. It blocks the flow of life.
I learnt a valuable life lesson a long time ago about the entertainment industry: unfortunately, that it’s mostly driven by ego. I’ve been working in the entertainment business for over ten years, seen all walks of life, been promised the world. People seem to believe the illusion that the entertainment industry gives you the licence to be arrogant. Personally I’ve never seen the fulfilling side to this concept, nor have I entertained the idea myself. I’ve never felt the need to, because what I do doesn’t define the person I am, it’s what I do. Happiness and fulfilment are the highest forms of success.
Life becomes easier when you stop having to pretend you are someone you are not. There is nothing wrong with being seen: be proud, but do it for the right reasons. Understand that every time you put yourself out there you’re creating history. So put your best self forward. You never know who you are inspiring.
I do what I do simply for the love of the music. I love the vibe that hip-hop music brings to a venue. Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life – this quote has truly resonated with me throughout my career.
Historically, the hip-hop DJ industry in Australia has lacked a strong female presence. The scene can be daunting for women, generally because of a fear of being gender stereotyped and the setbacks that can arise from this.
The hip-hop industry as a whole has, in the past, perpetuated these stereotypes by portraying women based on their physical appearance. Having female DJs in the scene is hugely important, as we are breaking down these stereotypes and continuing to prove that we have so much more to offer, both creatively and musically.
Danielle Rizk: DJ MzRizk
I had been DJing for a few years before I became immersed in hip-hop culture. As a woman in the scene it is difficult like it would be for any woman in a scene where males dominate. I decided to throw my own parties with the core values of hip-hop culture as the seed. Unity was the main value that I really pushed for; too many cliques, not enough feel-good quality.
I continue educating/teaching young people DJ skills and also about hip-hop. I also throw my own block parties and events around Melbourne, which people keep coming back to – that’s my favourite bit. We are a small but welcoming community and that’s what I love; the togetherness, the positivity, a melting pot of cultures connecting through music and dance. I have been fortunate enough to travel the world and play at festivals such as Glastonbury in the UK, Soundwave in Croatia and Woo Hah Festival in Tilburg, and hope that I can continue to influence people to listen to different music via my radio show and DJ sets.
There are many artists that don’t get the limelight they deserve here and abroad, so with the platforms I work in, I hope I can get the music to the people. I think DJing has become accessible due to technology making it easier to pick up as a hobby or profession. As much as I appreciate technology, I feel many people want to pick it up and not really invest time in learning the art or the history of the DJ – foundation is very important. Record digging and learning about music is very crucial in the art of being a DJ.
I’m waiting for the day we have women on every party line up and line ups with all or mostly women, and the novelty is not that we are women but because we are some of the best tastemakers, selectors and players on the 1s and 2s.
DJ Mumma Trees
I am a DJ primarily for the same reason ALL DJs do what they do – it’s all about the love and passion for the music! When I started DJing dancehall, there were very few dancehall DJs in Australia and NO other females doing it! I had just come back from Jamaica and was filled with passion and excitement for the music that was coming out. I wanted to hear it played in a dance, and there wasn’t anyone else doing it.
Female DJs are often treated as a novelty, which is a double edged sword – it can open up opportunities, but then there are certain expectations that come with that too. The expectation that the music you play is going to be softer, less hardcore, that your knowledge is going to be more superficial, that you are only up there because you’re a chick. Females have to work harder to gain respect from their male peers. Even when we do a great set, the praise is sometimes qualified – to quote Tanya Stephens, “She killed it good for a girl, but I am confused, does that make it less dead?” Women bring a different perspective to the music we love and our sets are going to reflect that.
Having said that though – it is often the men in the audience who give you more respect for your set because passion, knowledge and respect for the music you play can’t be faked, it has to be real! Real know Real!
We are living in an amazing time of social revolution. From the past masculine dominated age of conformity, uniformity, impenetrable glass ceilings and rules, we are now in a new feminine age of incredible change, creativity, universalism and diversity.
2016 is therefore, an exciting time to be a female hip-hop DJ. There has been a monumental amount of work from pioneering women who re-appropriated the once male dominated culture and industry, to empower women and make it a place of equal opportunity. From their hard work has come the accepting environment for female hip-hop DJs today.
Being a female definitely presents a lot of opportunities for work, but with that comes a higher pressure to deliver and prove ourselves that much more. In this field I believe as a DJ if you have a love of hip-hop that resonates from your soul, gender is irrelevant, and that love, is what people feel.
The simple action of taking my sister’s hip-hop cassette tapes in the early 90’s and secretly listening to them, laid the foundation for my love of hip-hop music. Looking back now, an 8 year old girl listening to 2 Live Crew, NWA, 69 Boyz, LL Cool J and Public Enemy would definitely not be the ideal lyrical content for a young girl to listen to, but I didn’t care. It was the flow and the beats, not so much the lyrics that captivated me. It grabbed my attention and the seed was sewn.
My passion led me to New York to attend The Scratch DJ Academy. I wanted to learn the proper art form of DJing hip-hop on turntables with vinyl. This was before the days of Serato and learning from a true legend like Mr Sinista from the X-Ecutioners, was an unbelievable experience I will never forget. It surprised me how many other females had the same interest as I did, and they were really good at it too.
When I became a mother I was out of the scene for many years, and I did find it quite challenging to return to Australia and establish myself as an unknown female DJ. There were many obstacles in a male dominated DJ scene and they really didn’t want to get to know me. I had to prove myself, which I did by entering a DJ competition. I came up against fierce competition and negativity from the male contestants, as I was the only female in whole competition. My knowledge and skills were tested and I proved myself. I won first prize and gained the respect I deserved.
I am a true old school hip-hop DJ. As a 90s teenager, Wu-Tang, Tupac, Nas, Snoop and Bone Thugs among many other greats were emerging at the time. They laid the foundation for my love of gangsta rap. My fascination drove me to visit places like Compton and Brooklyn on different occasions throughout the years by myself with no fear.
The significance of a female DJ is important as it shows that women who DJs are artists just like male DJs. People have now warmed to the idea of having a female behind the decks, an awesome step forward to becoming an equal playing ground. I have had the comment, “I love the music you play, but I was expecting to see a big black guy when I saw who the DJ was and not you!” Many people don’t expect such explicit music coming from a woman. I think if you really know your music and you are feeling it, other people will too and it doesn’t matter what sex you are.
If you are a female trying to break into the game, my advice is to build your skills and knowledge of hip-hop music and the culture which goes with it. Another important rule is to be humble and not sexual – you don’t want to end your career before it has even begun by getting a bad reputation. Also, the crowd does notice your enthusiasm for the music. Showcase these skills at any opportunity you can and if you have what it takes, you will be noticed.
Hip-hop music is my past, present and future, the turntables tell my story!
DJ Krystel Diola
The world around us is constantly changing. No matter what we do in life, disparities will constantly exist. I do believe that whenever people are given the opportunity to use a platform – mine being radio, PR and live performances, that reaches a wider audience, it’s important to provide pathways for other females just by doing it. My main thing is to just do. It’s important for other females to see other females in the music industry as a whole. No matter whether you are the only female in an office dominated by 30 men, or a sound engineer, just do things that empower your skillset. Dip in and go! The more you physically do things, the more you will be able to feel your strengths and innately know what can be improved instead of allowing others who don’t know you to dictate that for you.
I DJ because I love it! Plus it’s a way to share music I love to a wider audience. It’s a way to educate people without physically saying a damn thing. I have to constantly be on the look out for new music with the radio show, so there’s a lot of content to get across therefore music in itself excites me.
I fell into DJing whilst in events and publicity. It just happened. And then I was plucked within a matter of months to travel interstate as tour DJ for one of Australia’s iconic hip-hop artist, Hau. All because I said ‘yes, I can’. I learnt about disaster in matter of seconds and how to handle equipment.
DJ Flygirl Tee
Why I do what I do: Because I bloody love it!!!
My heart and soul is happy to sing and dance, let alone have people sing and dance with me and who better to make girls dance than another girl! I love the joy which music brings, the memories it reminds you of, the memories music creates And I get to be a part of that every single time I DJ with the music I play.
On a selfish note, I love playing songs I love – music makes me high! Love is love, whether it’s love for a person or love for a song, and people can feel it. I do it for the love. I share my love of a song with the crowd, and I feel their energy, love and good vibes! It’s an amazing feeling!
Christie Lee, DJ Amity
City : Sydney
I do what I do simply because I love to do it. I don’t just want to be called a female hip-hop DJ, I want to do what the men do with it and be recognised for my track selection and beat mixing ability, not as just a pretty face twisting knobs.
Being predominately a male dominated industry, and with the popularity of reality TV and one-hit YouTube wonders, it’s becoming less clear who young women today should be modelling themselves after. The female DJ in the hip-hop industry is important, they are positive role models for young women and in today’s world are out there – and they’re coming in ever-diversifying styles through a variety of new digital mediums.
It inspiring for me looking at the impressive careers from female DJs such as DJ Jazzy Joyce, Spinderella from Salt N Pepa, Leecy T etc, not just because they accomplished big things in a male-dominated genre but also because it’s that type of motivation that inspires the next generation. They’re teaching us that there are no boundaries and that the reach of the female hip-hop DJ is truly limitless.
After over two decades as a female DJ/Turntablist in the music industry (and almost three since my first gig!) The reason for doing what I do has changed over that time.
Initially it was to fill a void in the urban scene that was purely male dominated at the time, which provided the challenge of being accepted as a female behind the decks by crowds, promoters and peers in the industry. At the same time, it handing me a number of accolades such as first female DJ/Turntablist to perform in various spaces around the globe.
Today, with more and more females behind the decks, my purpose is two-fold: to help the next-generation of DJs build skills and understand the more traditional ways & approaches to this art; secondly, to ensure turntablism remains a thriving art form, and that our newer generations are exposed to and experience it in it’s true form.
My main aim when I spin is to get into that groove, to create the connect between my selections and the feel good in the place. That’s what I dig the most. My own inspirations are people I know and respect. People who put work in to hone their craft regardless of barriers; women who believe in the importance of not just being ‘good for a girl,’ but being a good DJ… Being a dope DJ (or MC, or dancer etc.).
It’s important to have equal representation for women in the industry, from local gigs to high profile shows. Diversity in DJ’s will only strengthen the culture and any understanding of it. In Melbourne it’s really great to see so many women behind the decks. It creates a different energy. Where there’s been a lack of opportunity, they are creating it themselves, and that’s a great thing.
Katie Diakos, DJ Katie D
For women who are interested in working in a male dominated industry representation is important. The more women we see killing it in the industry, the more other women will feel free to explore their interests. I love music and I like sharing it to create an experience by lifting peoples energy; self-expression is what I hope to encourage through different art forms especially
An honourable mention goes to the original Sydney Soul Spinstress DJ Georgina Reed, for kicking open the door for the new legion of female DJ to follow, and a nod of acknowledgement to these fierce ladies: DJ AK (Melbourne), DJ Josie Styles (Sydney ), DJ Liche (Sydney), DJ Tuini (Brisbane), DJ Taline (Sydney) DJ Boadu (Sydney), DJ Yemisul (Sydney) and DJ Felxmama (Sydney).
To any female around the nation earning their PhD as a Spin Doctor, stay true and focused to your craft, the sisterhood supports your hustle.
Artwork by Dan Elijah G. All images supplied