From the Margins to the Mainstage: How DJ Cocoa Chanelle Made Hip Hop Herstory
DJ Cocoa Chanelle is a trailblazing dynamo who’s been smashing through industry barriers way before it was a hashtag. She’s living proof that women don’t just belong in Hip Hop—they can lead it. As we celebrate 50 years of Hip Hop, Chanelle’s story serves as a reminder of the genre’s diverse and revolutionary roots.
Cocoa Chanelle’s DJ Origin Story
Every origin story has a beginning, and for DJ Cocoa Chanelle it couldn’t be more personal. “I got into DJing ’cause of my brother Andre, rest in peace,” Chanelle openly shares of her “first and favorite DJ”. While many of us inherit hand-me-down clothes from our siblings, Cocoa received something far more timeless—a legacy. “He was the one. I saw him doing it, and I wanted to do everything he was doing,” she adds, highlighting the profound impact Andre had on both her life and musical ability. Cocoa honed her skills in her grandmother’s basement, “Like every day for hours and hours,” practicing until she could glide over turntables the way Andre once did.
“At that point, there had never been a female DJ for a male group or anything.”
“I came into the industry with a group called the Kings of Swing.” A label rep, struck by her style and complexion, coined her unforgettable moniker. “At that point, there had never been a female DJ for a male group or anything,” Chanelle says. Intrigued by the buzz, the Kings of Swing visited her home. “I auditioned for them. They came to my house, and I was doing the turntable tricks and everything.” In that defining moment, Chanelle didn’t just join the Kings of Swing; she broke an industry ceiling, becoming the first female DJ in a male Hip Hop group.
Her Defining Contribution to DJ Culture
“When I first came into the business, it was an all-male-dominated field,” she recalls. “It was very rare to see women. “People used to assume I was a prop or dancer – anything but the DJ. You could be standing right behind the turntables, and they still don’t think you’re a DJ.” That all changed with her seminal appearance on BET’s ‘Teen Summit.’ “Every Saturday morning, people could tune in and see me doing turntable tricks and beat juggling. That changed the perception of the female DJ.”
“ I was able to contribute to showing that women can do the same things that the men can do.”
But Cocoa Chanelle’s journey from crates on the subway to televised gigs didn’t just happen overnight, it was a hustle, juggling her 9-5 with weekend flights to BET’s DC studio. “Initially, they used to have me taking a train, and then they started flying me in,” she adds with a chuckle. For seven straight years, she was the face—or rather, the hands—that inspired countless young girls to take DJing seriously. “I was able to contribute to showing that women can do the same things that the men can do… A lot of girls would reach out to me and say that I inspired them.”
A DJ’s Number One Skill
When you ask DJ Cocoa Chanelle what the most critical skill for a DJ is, she doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all answer. “There are so many different types of DJs—the party DJ, the battle DJ, the radio DJ. Each has a different skill set,” she explains. But if she had to generalize? “Know music. That’s the greatest skill you can have.”.
“I wanted to be compared to the DJ Scratches and Jazzy Jeffs of the world.”
What drove her to be this multifaceted? “It was just natural.” For her, mastery was never about ticking boxes, but proving that she could flex skills as tight as any of the boys in the game. “I wanted to be compared to the DJ Scratches and Jazzy Jeffs of the world,” she affirms, “I always wanted to be in that conversation as a woman.’ Why? Because back when she started, seeing a female DJ was like spotting a unicorn. So she practiced. Relentlessly. “Skills were the most important thing,” she underscores. And now? She’s not just in the conversation; she’s leading it.
DJ Cocoa Chanelle Sheds Light on the Next-Gen DJs
DJ Cocoa Chanelle opens up the Pandora’s box of what the future holds for Hip Hop and DJ culture. She considers the role of tech—AI, to be specific—as a game-changer. But what about the role of women in this brimming, futuristic landscape? Chanelle assures us, the revolution is already here. “Women DJs are everywhere,” and they’re increasingly becoming the norm, not the exception.
You can feel the respect and excitement in her words, as she lists the next gen of DJs she has her eyes on. “DJ Sophia Rocks. She’s a favorite of mine.” Chanelle is eager to see where she’ll be in a few years: “I mean, look where she is now. She’s very advanced, and she’s very well versed.”
Then there’s Amira and Kayla, who Chanelle can’t help but gush over: “I love them. They are so dope.” And she gives a special nod to DJ Diamond Kuts, “She’s the generation after me, but she’s the GOAT of her generation.” From clubs to TV and radio, Diamond Kuts versatility shines she adds, rounding off a list that paints a bright picture for the future of DJ culture.
DJ Cocoa Chanelle’s Favorite DJs
When it comes to choosing a favorite DJ, Cocoa Chanelle’s answer is rich in both emotion and history. “Well, first I always have to pay homage to my brother Andre. Rest in peace. I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for him,” she starts. But her admiration doesn’t stop there. “Jazzy Jeff’s impact on my career as a kid … if there’s a movie about my life, there has to be a scene with Jazzy Jeff in it. She cites Jeff as a monumental influence in her DJ career. ” I actually wrote him a fan letter when I was a kid,” she admits, chuckling at the memory. “It’s the first and only fan letter I’ve ever written.”
“If there’s a movie about my life, there has to be a scene with Jazzy Jeff in it.”
DJ Scratch also gets high praise. “He has a scratch that I call The Bone Thugs.” According to Chanelle, Scratch aimed to invent a scratch that mimicked the rap flow of Bone Thugs and Harmony, and it became her favorite.
What’s in the Cards for DJ Cocoa Chanelle?
I have a lot of things I wanna do,” she starts. “People might not know, but I produce too. I’ve been behind the scenes for Sheek Louch’s first single, Styles P, and Saigon’s debuts.”
“My ultimate goal is far bigger. I aim to make a difference in the world. That’s my greatest ambition and the real reason I do what I do.”
“But here’s the thing,” she adds, “my ultimate goal is far bigger. I aim to make a difference in the world. That’s my greatest ambition and the real reason I do what I do.” As she finishes, her infectious laugh fills the room once more, punctuating her statement like the perfect mic drop.
DJ Cocoa Chanelle Says #ThankYouDJs
When the conversation turns to the DJs who laid the groundwork for her career, DJ Cocoa Chanelle takes a moment to reflect before diving into a heartfelt tribute. “I would have to say, of course, you know, Grandmaster Flash, who’s the ultimate,” she initiates, tipping her cap to a foundational figure in the game. But she doesn’t stop there: “Kool Herc. Grandwizzard Theodore. Shout to Jazzy Jay,” she adds, each name acknowledging the titans who shaped the world of DJing before her.
“A lot of people don’t realize there’s another generation of women who were around opening doors.”
Cocoa Chanelle takes the spotlight off herself for a moment to shine it on other female pioneers. “I wanna give a shout to the ladies who was around in the seventies. You know, a lot of people don’t realize there’s another generation of women who were around opening doors. DJ Wanda D, DJ La Spank, DJ Flame, DJ Baby D,” she emphasizes.
“So salute to the ladies and just everybody who opened the door for me and paved the way. I really, really appreciate you” she concludes. And the final note, one of deep gratitude: “Thank you, DJs.”
Check out DJ Cocoa Chanelle’s legendary tribute to 50 Years of Hip Hop on her Instagram.
Don’t miss out on paying tribute to the DJs who have helped shape Hip Hop culture. Feeling inspired? Join the Serato HH50 movement and create your own routine using #ThankYouDJs and #Serato hashtags – and don’t forget to tag @serato so we can help you share the love.