#ThankYouDJs: Celebrating women DJs and trailblazers
Marking Hip Hop’s 50th, the #ThankYouDJs campaign highlighted DJs from around the globe, showcasing their incredible talents. Among them, many talented women took centre stage, including the pioneering DJ Cocoa Chanelle. She says when she first began her DJ career, there were very few women doing what she did. Now, she says, “I see women DJs everywhere.” She shouts out DJ Sophia, DJ Perly and DJs Amira and Kayla as just some of the many girls and women DJs that make her feel proud. We reached out to them, and some of the other inspiring women who took part in the campaign, to share which DJs have impacted them most, who they’re excited about for the future, and some of their personal triumphs – in the hopes it can spark another generation of trailblazers.
DJ Sophia Rocks
DJ Sophia Rocks remembers how as a toddler, she would watch her Dad scratch and mix different reggae, R&B and Hip Hop records together. The days she was allowed to touch the records were her favorite. She began taking DJing seriously as a five-year-old, and played her first professional gig when she was six. “I fell in love with it. It was kids my age that I DJ’ed for … seeing them dance and smile and have so much fun and joy off of the music I played and I was creating that happiness, it meant something to me.” Sophia graduated from school cafeterias and community events, to rocking arena crowds and fashion shows. At 11 years old she was the youngest to ever DJ for the Knicks and the Baltimore Ravens, and the youngest DJ to do a full mix on Sway in the Morning. Now 15, she’s excited to go on the road as a tour DJ for the Scream Tour 24, something she’d always wanted to do having grown up watching videos of Jazzy Jeff tour the world.
Best DJ moment of career: Meeting Jazzy Jeff. He invited me over to his house and I got to meet his family and he allowed me to perform live on his platform. I got to perform for him and in front of him and next to him and with him, and then at the end, we’re closing out. You know how he talks about sometimes he has to bubble wrap the greats, like Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder. He goes out and pulls out some actual bubble wrap and bubble wraps me and was like, “We got to keep DJ Sophia safe” and basically saying to keep me safe for the culture and for the next up and coming generation. That was just really a moment for me. That really meant something.
Most influential DJs: My Dad used to be a DJ, so of course my Dad. I look up to Jazzy Jeff every single day, and I always have, especially when I was little, I would watch those YouTube videos of him on Vinyl Destination. Cocoa Chanelle, she grew up as a young DJ, and she still continues to DJ. I see me in her. She called me a while ago. Having that opportunity with someone like her, she gave me knowledge and advice on how to continue and to not give up, and she didn’t have to do that. DJ Scratch, always. D-Nice helped me a lot as well.
DJ Spinderella. I used to work with a group of girl DJs, the Wild Tight with Erykah Badu during Covid, love them.
One new woman DJ you’re excited about: Uncle Waffles. She’s dope. I’ve been looking at her a lot, I’m definitely excited about her and I want to be able to meet her.
Two time DMC USA champion DJ Perly first consciously started paying attention to DJing when she discovered DJ AM and Mark Ronson videos during YouTube’s infancy, and played DJ A-Trak’s winning ‘97 DMC routine on repeat. Their creativity and going beyond the norm piqued her curiosity. She began by teaching herself, but really dug into the artform at the Scratch Academy. Learning about turntablism, the blending, the mixing and music stoked a fire within her to go after DJing with a passion.
Most influential DJs: Jazzy Jeff, Mark Ronson, A-Trak, DJ AM (RIP), Aaron LaCrate. Roc Raida (RIP) DJ Shiftee, DJ Craze. These DJs had at that moment for me, had an awakening of like, ‘Oh my God, you can do all these great things with music, you could literally make a remix live on the spot with the upbeat juggle or doing something crazy like AM did with his blending, his Wonderwalll routine. That blew my mind.
Best DJ moment of career: I’m just going to say everything that I’ve done so far is the best moment for me because it’s just not only gratitude and appreciation for all the hard work that goes into it, but also the fact my little Perly self will just be so proud. It’s like, ‘Whoa, you did that at the times where I wanted to give up. I kept believing in myself like, “Yo, I’m going to do it. I’m going to be like my heroes. I’m going to meet them. I’m going to say thank you to them for the inspiration.” Even though it seems so far-fetched, it seemed so impossible, deep down inside I knew it was going to happen. Then when those moments did happen, it felt like it was the best day of my life.
Most important skill for a DJ to have? I feel like the skill a DJ should have is being open to learning new things. Just be open and just be curious about finding new music, learning new skills, and just being curious about learning new ways of how to incorporate technology into their life. And also just have fun with it as well. Learn your history. If you’re ever getting into DJing, go back to the humble beginnings of Hip Hop where it all began, because it will give you a greater appreciation for the things that we have now and also for all the things that the pioneers have done for us to have a platform and the stepping stones to where we are today.
It may have begun as motivation to get noticed by a High School crush, but DJ Rina’s DJing journey would soon be driven by a determination to prove her skill as a DJ. “I just wanted to break the stereotypical biases like, ‘Girls couldn’t be great DJs’.” This resolve, plus support along the way from other women DJs and a cool cousin who taught her to appreciate music, led to career-changing and defining moments.
Best DJ moment of career: Winning the Japan Final of Red Bull 3Style DJ Championships. The event changed my career forever. People used to tell me things like, “You only got the job because you’re a girl.”
I was frustrated by these stereotypes, and many female DJs also faced the same biases. Some even said, “You get expired when you get old.” These words made me decide to prove my skills and break through these stereotypes. That’s why I joined the Red Bull 3Style. Some people doubted me but I was determined to change everything. At first, I didn’t win any prizes but I didn’t give up. After three years, I finally won first place in the Japan Final.
I just wanted to break the stereotypical biases like “Girls couldn’t be great DJs.” I hope my challenge will encourage other female DJs and help them believe in themselves. After that win, I got lots of job opportunities not just in Japan but from other countries too. It was really a turning point in my career.
Which women DJs have impacted you most? I really like DJ Emii. She has a great taste in selecting songs. We were both in the same competition, the Red Bull 3Style World Final. I remember when I lost in the preliminaries, she came to me and cheered me up. Because I was crying. She told me, “Don’t cry, and don’t worry about the results. We had fun.” She was really supportive and kind, and her words meant a lot to me. Competing in the Championships was a wonderful thing. Her words made me realize that. I’m really proud to have competed with her in the same competition.
I have a lot of respect for Nina Las Vegas. She doesn’t use scratches that often during her set. I like that. I think she’s really good at creating the groove. I often check out her music on SoundCloud, and I’m always impressed. She also has a unique talent for mixing different styles and catching the latest trends. I’m always inspired by her choices. I have a deep respect for her and her approach to DJing.
One new woman DJ you’re excited about: Recently I really like Yuri Nagahori. She’s a talented house and techno DJ, and she’s doing some really great things. She is crafting her unique groove. She combines elements of Hip-Hop and House, including scratches in her house mixes. This is really unique. I haven’t seen anyone like her. When I listen to her play, I can’t help but get excited.
A former professional dancer, DJ Emii recalls being so moved by the vibe of the music at a club one night that she had to take a moment to pause, “I closed my eyes and started crying because it was so powerful.” She wanted to pass that feeling on to others. Already a vinyl collector and music enthusiast, she quickly bought her first pair of turntables and set about learning how to mix. “It was the love of the feeling of music that made me become a DJ.” In 2017, she won the France Red Bull 3Style and cites playing at PHCLUB in China, to more than 3,000 people as the best moment in her DJ career. “I felt such love that night, for an hour and a half the crowd went wild, the exchange of energy was insane, it’s one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced.”
Who inspired you to become a DJ? Manoo, an Afro house producer based at the L’Ambassade club in Lyon. He’s the person who made me understand that music is like a wave, that it mixes as if the two sounds were identical.
DJ Spinna – I’ve been to see him play several times in clubs, and he’s an inspiration to me, because his sets are very groovy, the way he gets people dancing, I love the way he can play different styles in one set, and move from one sound to another with wonderful transitions.
Today for me the best is DJ Nu-Mark. He has crazy inspiration, he mixes everything in the same set with unexpected transitions, his sets are sonic discoveries and full of surprises, he does a huge job, Big respect uncle Nu.
Which women DJs have impacted you? Natasha Diggs, because of her ability to mix on all types of equipment, her collection and her musical culture which is incredible, she brings us joy, good music and she brings us together.
One new woman DJ you’re excited about? Jolani Jhones From Holland, she brings something different with her own style and tastes, mixing all kind of music with dope remixes and edits, a DJ To follow!
One record that defines you as a DJ? Brandy – I Wanna Be Down (feat. Queen Latifah, Yo-Yo & MC Lyte) The sound suits me, I recognize myself in this vibe, I can listen to it even 20 years from now and I’ll still have the same feeling. I recognize myself in the style, the vibe, the women who represent hip-hop culture, and above all these women have been a great inspiration for me, born in the 90’s I grew up with it and it followed me all my youth, I listened to it over and over again dreaming of becoming a professional dancer at the time, so this sound put me in a good mood. It’s flow in its purest state.
DJ K-Sprinkles grew up watching her Dad DJ, going to his gigs with her mom, and listening to his mixes on the radio. She was naturally drawn to it, and one day she told him, “I want to do what you do”. Seven years later, she counts winning a youth battle with the AM Project as a career highlight, as well as a third placing as a newbie in the DMCs. The biggest reward though, was the fun of the experience, and the love and respect she felt from her fellow DJs there.
Favorite and most impactful DJs? My dad, he’s the one who really taught me everything I know, and if it wasn’t for him, I know I would not be where I am today, so shout out to him. DJ Qbert, when I first started picking up interest in DJing, his videos were the first videos I started watching. It was just so inspiring to me and I just thought, ‘yeah, I want to do that’. Hands down DJ Shortee, big shout out to her. She was so supportive of me and she helped give me so much confidence and courage that I didn’t think I had in me, so she helped bring that out and she just had such a wonderful impact on me and I’m really grateful for her.
Shout out to Lady Style and Killa-Jewel. Craze, Rob Swift, Buck Rodgers, Skratch Bastid, A-Trak.
New women DJs you’re excited about? DJ Wasabi and DJ Baby B. They’re so dope and their skills are just incredible. They really inspired me like, okay, these young girls are getting it. They each did a set at the Beach Jungles booth and they were just so dope and I was like, man, I can’t wait until we get older and we can work together more in the future. We’re going to kill it.
One record that defines you as a DJ? Don’t Stop Believing by Journey. The feeling and mood and the tone of the song really gets to me and it just feels like a really inspirational mood. It’s really uplifting. I feel like it gives me confidence whenever I really need it. When I hear that song and it just really gets into the hook, it’s just I get this feeling like I can accomplish anything and I got this. I can do this. I feel like the world is at my feet.
Most important skill for a DJ? To have knowledge, and when I say that, I mean know your music, be good with people, reading the crowd, so when you go to a gig, you know what you’re getting into, what to play.
Family cookouts and a backyard set up was Kendollaz first introduction to DJing. She had observed the culture through her uncle and godfather, but hadn’t considered exploring it for herself until it came time to throw a party in college. Her depth of musical knowledge made her the obvious choice to DJ, and after getting a crash course on how to use a controller, Kendollaz played to a crowd for the first time. “That first night was so much fun. So I went home and saved up for a controller, and I’ve been a DJ since.”
A pinnacle moment in DJ career: I ran my movie this summer and I felt like the icing on the cake was being able to do the TMM x Nike Block Party and Everyday People in the same day. Those are two separate, very notable events. It kind of just lets me know that the work that I’m doing doesn’t go unnoticed, and it was for sure a highlight of this season.
Favorite DJ? Kaytranada is my favourite DJ, and it’s because he’s shown himself to be a force to be reckoned with without being the loudest one in the room. I feel like in terms of showing up, I can be kind of Introverted. That’s something that’s really inspiring, and I’d like to see myself take on the same type of opportunities and see myself doing the same thing.
DJs that have impacted you: DJ NA$H. Coming from Philly, I feel like we’ve come up together, and I’m a firm believer that iron sharpens iron, so just seeing us being able to compliment each other in terms of playing style and picking up where the other one leaves off, and it be a story being told on the same lineup. She’s definitely impacted me as a DJ because it forces me to get better.
Big shout out to DJ Cocoa Chanelle for not only being one of the first female DJs in the game, but pushing female DJs to be taken more serious, while also upholding the fundamentals of DJing and really just pushing the culture forward in the most authentic way. I want to shout out Bobby Flowers for continuously pouring into my career as a woman DJ, as someone who sees potential in me, and just passing the torch, passing the baton, however you want to call it. Just continuing that sense of community within DJs.
New woman DJ you’re excited about: DJ Killa Court. I will co-sign her on any given day. She’s such a good DJ. When I have opportunities to curate lineups and decide who’s going to be part of the music programming, I’m throwing her in a conversation because she’s versatile.
DJs Amira and Kayla
The first time Amira and Kayla set eyes on a DJ was at a relative’s party, and the DJ was a woman, “We thought that was pretty cool.” Their Dad also introduced them to DJing at a young age. They’d play around on the equipment thinking it was a toy, pretending to DJ and host. As they got older their Dad sensed their keen interest in learning the craft. “He started to teach us the basics about the equipment and Serato software.”
Best DJ moment of career: DJing at Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s house for Blue Ivy’s party was amazing and definitely a highlight for us. It was a pretty surreal moment, especially when Beyoncé came over and thanked us for DJing the party.
Name one record that defines who you are? It Takes Two by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock. It’s a timeless record that could play at any party and get a great response. I think that record would define us as DJs.
Favorite DJs? A few of them would be Jazzy Jeff, Roc Raida, Mell Starr, Q-Bert, D-Styles, A-Trak, DJ Craze and D-Nice. They all have different styles but we like elements from each one of them.
Which Women DJs have impacted you? I think we have to go back to a lot of the pioneer women DJs like Cocoa Chanelle, Spinderella, Jazzy Joyce, and Pam The Funkstress. All of these women could rock parties and also had turntables skills.
One new woman DJ you’re excited about? DJ Diamond Kuts is a very energetic DJ that has great music selection.
Thank you to every DJ for being a source of inspiration and encouragement. Thank you all the DJs around the world for bringing smiles and happiness to millions of people by playing music. DJs are therapists who help heal people through music.
DJ Kayper grew up watching DJing on TV, her brother and cousin would buy all of the DMC battle tapes that she’d watch with them, and she’d get up early to see DJ Skribble and Little Louie Vega on MTV’s The Grind. She’d watched her cousin practicing DJing and wanted to get involved. Her brother tried to be a DJ, buying one turntable and using a record player as the second. When he decided he wasn’t really into it, Kayper decided to take over. There weren’t many women DJs she was exposed to when she began DJing in London in the mid-90s. The first female DJs she discovered, DJ Rap and Kemistry & Storm, were from UK rave tape packs. But now? “There’s so many up-and-coming females that impress me. I love seeing it.”
Most important skill for a DJ to have: To read the crowd, to know how to compromise between playing music that you like, and what they like. Being able to read a room and read a crowd is something that takes practice. It’s a lot different to DJing at home. Being in a crowd, being in front of a crowd, that really matters. You can have all the skills in the world, but if you don’t know how to do that then it doesn’t really matter.
Best DJ moment of your career? Maybe because I’m never satisfied, I don’t feel like I’ve had it yet. Probably meeting Jazzy Jeff when I was 18 or 19 years old and I looked up to him so much. He was another person that I grew up watching on TV and I always dreamt of meeting him. I started promoting parties when I was a lot younger. That’s how I met him through just booking him to DJ. I remember how big of a deal it was. Everyone in town was like, “Oh my god. Is Jazzy Jeff really coming to your gig?” Nobody believed he was coming, and then he did, and that was a pretty big deal. And now it’s nice to know him.
Favorite DJ? DJ Jazzy Jeff obviously. Skratch Bastid. For anyone that knows or follows me, you know that I play house music as well. Some of my favorite house DJs as well, Louie Vega, Kenny Dope, Armand Van Helden. All the guys I grew up watching on TV who were in the charts.
There’s a lot of women who DJ that I respect. I think growing up for me, especially where I’m from, there weren’t that many females DJing. When I started DJing in the early to mid-90s there was no internet, so I couldn’t really look people up. It was really just what I heard on tape-packs and stuff like that. In the UK, raves would record the night and then they’d sell them. So a lot of drum n bass raves would have all these tape packs and I would listen to DJ Rap and Kemistry and Storm. Those were the first females that I ever had heard of that were DJs. Obviously there were many more, but I just didn’t know.
Women DJs you’re excited about? There’s so many now. Obviously Perly I love, I love watching her grow. I’ve been watching her for quite a while now. I love Natasha Diggs. I always tell her she’s my favorite. She’s like “No, don’t say that.” She never believes me.