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Interview: DJ Rashida – Internationally Renowned Deejay

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DJ Rashida is known across the globe for creating musical environments that allow partygoers to free their minds, release some stress, and dance the night away. Ironically, in these trying economic times, her job as an in-demand deejay offers a form of therapy that no doctor can lend. And based on her long list of corporate sponsors (MTV's America's Best Dance Crew) and celeb-filled showcases, as Prince's official deejay, once you've experienced Rashida's vibrations, you won't be satisfied until you get some more.

As DJ Rashida continues to take the world by storm, she managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on Michael Jackson, her first gig as a deejay, and how she survived in a male-dominated industry.

Although your life is currently immersed in the world of music, at what point did you develop an interest in music?

Well, I grew in two musical households. My mother was a Spanish radio deejay in the '70s and early '80s in New Mexico. She also played the winds — saxophone, flute. She majored in music and the flute was her main instrument. I've been listening to her do that my whole life. She sang, and that is how my father met her; she was singing Spanish boleros in clubs. My father is a record collector, and he's really into Brazilian music. So between those two things, that is where my love of music came from. As far as dee jaying goes, I really got into the club culture when I was a teenager in high school. I actually started sneaking out and going to clubs when I was 15. There were so many great scenes in Atlanta at the time. And diverse – everything from ska clubs, hip hop clubs, house clubs, drum-and-bass clubs. I kind of went through it all. And I discovered at the center of them all was the deejay. They were controlling the room and the vibe and it fascinated me. I didn't understand the mechanics of it and it seemed kind of magical to me. I just enjoyed going to clubs and dancing and hearing the music – that was the greatest thing in the world for me. As I got older, I focused my attention on deejaying. 

Do you recall your first deejaying gig?

Yes, it was in Atlanta, and I was actually forced to do it. My friends have a magazine called Frank151, and it was for one of our friends' birthday party. I had been a bedroom deejay for, like, two years. Everybody knew that I had turntables. I worked at a record store. I just wasn't playing out. They were basically like, "You're the deejay for the night," and forced me to play. I was completely terrified and my hands were shaking. I think on my second or third record on, I went to blow some dust off the needle and it scratched across the whole record. It was like everything that could go wrong went wrong but it taught me how playing out live is such a different beast than playing in your bedroom. Because of the live element, you never know what's going to happen. I think what I learned from that is basically how to recover from something, because something will happen. Somebody will bump into the turntables or the power could go out or something will go wrong. It's just how you deal with it. At that moment, I was in good company—with all my friends—so they gave me a hard time. They were all joking. After that, I was like, "Okay, that's the worst thing that could happen. I'll be all right." That was the first gig.

As you've traveled around the world, what have you learned about the power of music?

Interestingly enough, when Michael Jackson passed, I was in France. I was set to play two different kinds of clubs. The one in Paris was to be an electro club. The next night, I was playing in Luxembourg and it was to be kind of like a funk-soul party. I, like so many others that I know, was so deeply affected by Michael's passing. I grew up with his music. The first record that I ever wore out to the point that my mom broke it over her knee because I would not stop playing it over and over. He was the first poster on my wall and probably my first crush. Anyway, I just decided to play all Michael. That just showed me the universal power of music, and in particular, his music and the vibration of his music. I went and played it in an electro club. The younger generation is not really hip to a lot of stuff we were into, like Off The Wall and Thriller and all that. But sure enough, I just played cut after cut and people just wouldn't stop dancing. It just created a certain kind of vibration. It's a positive one, too. There's nothing negative about it. It was a celebration, everywhere you drove, people were playing his music. I think every club in Paris that night was playing his music. That's something that transcends language barriers. It's funny, too, because songs that we play out here are not the same ones that are playing out there. I discovered pretty quickly that what we consider his flops here in America are huge out there. They love "Bad," "Black or White," "Blood on the Dance Floor." Out here, for me personally, I like "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" or "Off the Wall" – things of that nature. But for them it's more ‘90s, that's the era you really hear deejays playing. You know, music is a universal language, period. So whether it's Michael or any other artist, it transcends all barriers – race, color, language. People don't have to know what's being said to feel it.

When you're not in the deejay booth, what kind of songs pull you onto the dance floor?

Oh, there are so many. Dancehall gets me going. Salsa. Meringue, any kind of Brazilian music, house music like Masters at Work, hip hop classic, '90s hip hop, anything by A Tribe Called Quest – all of that will get me on the dance floor. But I'm a dancer. That's what I was doing in the clubs before I became a deejay – I was dancing.

As a female in a male-dominated business, are there any particular obstacles that you've had to overcome in your career?

Everything I've always done has been a "boys' club," if you will, so I've never felt intimidated. I'm comfortable around men. I was raised by my father for the most part. Obstacle-wise, there's a preconceived notion about who I am when I'm walking up. Now, people know who I am a little bit better. But back in the day, my homeboy would be carrying my records and they're ignoring me thinking he's the deejay. Sometimes they don't expect a lot from you. The attention is given once they see you ripping it up and because its something different – you're a woman. Now, there isn't anything real novel about that. Once you get up and play and put it down, it's a done deal. There's nothing that needs to be overcome. I don't really feel like there's been any sort of struggle. I think it's like anything else, any other craft, where you have trial-and-error and have to hone your skills.

Were there any particular people that you looked up to or served as mentors as you were making your way?

Yeah, I definitely have some mentors. In Atlanta, the first record store that I worked—More Dusty than Digital—is when I really started to take deejaying seriously. The record store was owned by deejays. Basically, they all just took me under their wing. I would watch them. They would show me a few things here and there. Deejaying is like riding a bike: People can show you, but for the most part, you just have to practice on your own. In the beginning, I would go open up for them at clubs, or for their radio shows or whatever, just things to build up skills. As far as taking my career to the next level, it was mainly observing deejays like Beverly Bond and Mark Ronson – actually, their manager manages me now. I remember at the time looking at Beverly in a Mercedes Benz ad and I was like, "Wow! That's what's up. She's not just doing this as a hobby; it's a job." And Mark Ronson is traveling the world as a deejay and in movies and whatnot. It's a career and they're obviously doing really well. So, I put it out there that that's what I want to do and, sure enough, the universe brings you what you want. So after a few years, their manager ended up finding me through a friend, and started managing me. Of course, that brought things to another level, too. I already had been working with Prince, but on a corporate level my management took the business aspect to a whole other level. 

Since there is no such thing as an "overnight success," what piece of advice would you give others?

Before I became a deejay, I was in art school. I was a photography major with a minor in drawing and painting. One of the most profound things my head professor told me: "As an artist, you're going to have to create your own job." And its true. A lot of times, there isn't a lane for you. You have to make your own lane. To a certain extent, you might follow somebody else's path, but at some point you'll have to create your own path if you want to be truly successful. There was a Barbara Walters before there was an Oprah but there was never an Oprah before there was an Oprah. Yeah, there were female journalists or TV journalists before her, but she created a whole other lane for other women to follow in, you know? That's my best advice: be prepared to create your own lane. I'm still in the process of doing that. I want to bring the visual-art aspect into what I do and just try to put those worlds together. Also, it's a business. If you're going to take this seriously, if it's going to be more than a hobby, then you have to look at an aspect of it as a business. For me, I wasn't the best business person. That's why I have management. I don't like talking about money or things of that nature [laughing]. They do that. You have to take it seriously, when you turn a hobby into a business, so you can eat off of it.

For more information on DJ Rashida, visit her official website and personal blog.

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About Clayton Perry

  • Louise Gomes

    Wow, great interview. DJ Rashida rocks!

  • ur lucky starr

    DJ Rashida is my new hero! I saw her at Kiss N Grind last month and have been following her since. Her mix that night was incredible!! My friends and I COULDN’T get off the dance floor, literally (lol). Big ups for this interview. Check this one out as well, a really cool video interview with DJ Rashida about DJing, inspiration, etc. Enjoy!