Music

10 Black & lit DJs in New York you need to know

August 15, 2017

By Priscilla Ward, AFROPUNK Contributor*

DJs are the master controllers of parties, helping to set the vibe, bring people together and even introduce lifelong friendships on the dance floor. In an era of playlist powered parties, DJs don’t get nearly as much love as they deserve. We rounded up some of our favorite New York based DJs quickly marking their territory and making a name for themselves in the New York party scene.

Brina Payne
(DJ Brina Payne)

What does it mean to you to be Black and Lit?

For me, it means to love and trust yourself completely and unapologetically despite the level of challenges before you…Knowledge of Self!

How did you first get into DJing?

I have been collecting CDs/Records since I was in school, but also the encouragement from my friends because they’d love the music I play in the car, on vacation or wherever. They’d make me the designated “music curator”.  

What’s the DNA of a good DJ set?

Understanding and catering to the crowd, as well as having a good ear for music.

Christopher and Ari
(DJ Duo Gold Vibes Önly)

What does it mean to you to be Black and Lit?

To me, being Black and Lit is being the best version of oneself, while being on a path to realizing one’s goals. These two aspects should, ideally, inspire and encourage others to do the same.

How did you first get into DJing?

I became a DJ in high school. Growing up, I was always involved with music. I’ve been a percussionist since the fourth grade, and did stepping throughout high school and college, so music and rhythm have always been outlets of expression that I enjoy. When I realized that I could channel these creative superpowers into yet another craft, I decided to learn how to spin.

I actually started out on those CD-based controllers, the ones where you have to upload the tracks from a compact disc, and look at an analog screen similar to a TI-83 calculator. The person who taught me the basics (one of my favorite DJs to this day, I should add) insisted on fusing my natural musical affinity with very refined technical skills, and that’s where my first DJ name, DjPrecise, came from – precise cuts, flawless transitions, etc.

Dylan
(DJ Dylan the Gypsy)

What does it mean to you to be Black and Lit?

It means I must look back to move forward; be aware of where I am going while still paying respect to where I came from. It also means I must use my platform to engage in larger figurative discussions with society on behalf of people who look like me with unheard voices.

How did you first get into DJing?

I started during college, however it’s been a goal since high school. I asked my DJ friends for software recommendations, did the research, and taught myself.

What’s the DNA of a good DJ set?

A symbiotic relationship with the crowd. You have to know people and understand demographics. Once you have that understanding it is easier to make good choices in a DJ set.

Gabrielle
(DJ GabSoul)

What does it mean to you to be Black and Lit?

It means we’re in a time where WE undeniably know and own that we’ve always been the bomb.com in every way. We are collectively embracing the magic in our blackness. And it seems like it’s becoming cooler to spread love to our fellow brothers/sisters rather than bring each other down. We can all be lit! Despite the odds being largely against us, I’d say it’s a special privilege to be Black AND Lit.

How did you first get into DJing?

I’ve always been around it, whether it was my dad or uncles, or keeping up with my favorite DJs around the way. I pretty much grew up in a basement party and evolved from there. The music is embedded in my soul. But my dad didn’t teach me how to DJ until I graduated college in 2015. By the way, the recent years leading up to that were really good for music. And it was around the time when eclectic DJing started becoming more of a “thing,” if you will. So I felt like, “Hey this is hella inspiring. I can do this in my own way. Why not?” Developing this deeper connection with music has been a sublime release.

What’s the DNA of a good DJ set?

For starters, be aware of the crowd you’re playing for. Find a way to cater and deliver your sound to them and keep people engaged. I think it’s important to set a consistent vibe all the way through, even if you switch BPMs. Think at least three songs ahead. Think about how you would react if you were the one in the crowd. And know your music — beat drops, lyrics, different eras, regions, etc. It’s not just about what’s hot right now. It’s about curating a memorable soundtrack for the experience.

Kess
(DJ K. Kess)

What does it mean to you to be Black and Lit?

As a DJ, being black and lit is accepting the responsibility for positively representing people of color across the diaspora. This occurs not only through the personal example I must set by the way I conduct myself as a business professional, but also through the music I play and the experiences I curate as a cultural ambassador.

How did you first get into DJing?

I first got into djing almost ten years ago. I was the cofounder of a company called Triumph Lifestyle that hosted events catered towards young, urban professionals in NYC and Boston. The DJ we hired for all of our events, DJ Nix in the Mix, noticed I had a good ear for music and encouraged me to DJ. I borrowed some turntables and began practicing everyday for a year in my bedroom. After torturing anyone who came to visit me in Harlem with my “skills”, I finally built up the courage to do a guest set at a Triumph event. I fell in love.

What’s the DNA of a good DJ set?

The DNA of a great DJ set is all about being able to read the crowd. I rarely have a pre planned set going into an event, as I prefer to organize my music in a way that allows for full flexibility. If I am doing my job correctly, I am able to control your body effortlessly without you even knowing it with smooth transitions and well-timed song selection. My goal is to be the soundtrack to your memory of the event, long after the party is over. That’s the mark of a great DJ set.

Kenneth Kyrell
(DJ Kenneth Kyrell)

What does it mean to you to be Black and Lit?

Being Black and Lit means being able to connect, inspire, and entertain with fellow creatives, music enthusiasts and anyone else in between that is all about being an individual and unapologetically making their dreams a reality. Its about connecting by doing the things we are passionate about to push culture, act as a support system as well as encourage each other to advance towards greater heights.

How did you first get into DJing?

I have always had an indescribable love with music and appreciated the way it acts as therapy and a global adhesive by bringing so many people together from contrasting backgrounds. One day I was having a conversation with a friend about becoming a DJ so that I could share the music I love that I rarely hear being played at NYC events/clubs. A few days later I ordered a starter controller via Amazon and snapped a video on snapchat of me playing around with a few songs. My friend Leon responded and said I should come DJ his newly started after work happy hour event uptown and see what happens. The following week I was there with little to no idea of what I was doing, a lot of nervousness, and a dope set full of down south classics. It was in my uber ride home after my set that I realized I had just fallen in love with something that made me feel so complete. 10 months later and I am even more in love and looking forward to the potential of the future when it comes to DJing.

What’s the DNA of a good DJ set?

Other than keeping the people moving; when I build my DJ sets, I always have two things in mind. My goal is to introduce people to new Artists/Sounds and I also want to take people down memory lane. Its more than playing popular songs that are on the radio at the moment. I make it a point to include songs/mixes by both well known and underground Artists that many people have never heard before as well as incorporating songs from the past that takes that person back to a particular time in their past.

Max October
(DJ Max October)

What does it mean to you to be Black and Lit?

Highly favored and blessed beyond the imagination.

Our genetic makeup is a blessing that I for one do not take for granted.

#NIG

How did you first get into DJing?

I tried rapping in my early teens (which I was pretty good at); which lead to producing/beat making by my late teens.

I wanted to apply the art of scratching to my beats and had a couple friends teach me the technique. That was around 2008 and ever since then I’ve been hooked.

DJing gave me the same (if not more) energy rapping and producing did at the time and I haven’t stopped since.

What’s the DNA of a good DJ set?

It’s all about timing, song selection and transitions.

If your set has all three running fluidly you’re in a good space.

Sadé Council
(DJ Dae)

What does it mean to you to be Black and Lit?

To me, being Black and Lit means being unapologetically proud of your Blackness and thoroughly aware of the envy and awe it inspires in others. It means using the strength that inherently comes with being Black to propel your success and lifting the culture and community as you climb higher. It’s the understanding that  “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same” – Marianne Williamson

How did you first get into DJing?

I grew up in a household of artists — photographers, rappers, dancers, illustrators — I had a love for music early on and my eclectic surroundings afforded me an well-rounded exposure to all genres. It was when my mom gifted my brothers and I with a CD burner for our computer that I started creating mix CDs for fun and giving them out to friends. I really took meticulous care choosing the track order, making sure the vibes felt right and each song transitioned well and enjoyed my friends’ reactions to the compilations. In college I started trading music with friends of mine (some of whom DJ’d professionally), and they told me I had chops and encouraged me to pursue DJing. Even still, I didn’t take it seriously until years later around 2013-14. Been rocking out ever since.

What’s the DNA of a good DJ set?

Without a doubt a good DJ set should have amazing transitions. Entering/Exiting at the right point of a song is crucial — it takes trial and error for sure, but transitioning a song too early can kill a vibe quick. Conversely, coming in at a really hype song bridge or beat drop can make a huge difference too. Each song choice has to make sense — vibes should feel seamless and you should always inspire an audience reaction. A good DJ set is really fueled by the audience ultimately. You need to be in tune with the crowd and able to see/feel/hear how they’re engaging (or not) — you can’t be a great DJ if you’re self-serving.

Story King Brent

What does it mean to you to be Black and Lit?

To be unapologetically unique and sincere in the pursuit of living your best life.

How did you first get into DJing?

DJ’ing came as a natural progression from producing, which I’ve been doing since grade school. When I arrived in NYC four years ago I was repeatedly asked to DJ parties and events because of my background in music production. At the time I didn’t have the skill set, it wasn’t until a huge opportunity came that I was forced to pass on, that made me realize the universe was telling me to take DJ’ing seriously. I haven’t looked back since.

What’s the DNA of a good DJ set?

In order to have a great DJ set, you must read the energy of your audience and provide the soundtrack accordingly. Preparation is key, going into a set you should know your theme and the story you plan to tell musically. Track selection is king, however, it means nothing if the crowd isn’t prepared to receive it yet.

Sydney Love
(DJ Sydney Love)

What does it mean to you to be Black and Lit?

“Ayyyye”, lol. That is pretty much my response. To be Black and Lit is to bask in the beauty and awesomeness of being a cool, independent, socially aware, self-loving Black woman that’s just down for the universe and whatever it brings.

How did you first get into DJing?

I first got into DJing by watching an old friend of mine spin 2-3 parties a night about 4 nights a week. Since a child, I had always been into collecting music, be it CD’s, vinyl, cassette tapes or MP3. I grew up recording songs I loved from the radio onto Just 4 Me tapes. It was actually obsessive at some point. By 2010, I became a music hoarder. I decided to use that energy, and my love for play listing at the time, to try something new that I knew for sure I would be great at. So I looked up how to get started, researched equipment, read books, spoke to a few OG DJs and then I ended up being cool with and taught by one of the greatest DJs in the world, DJ Scratch. With that, coupled with my own experiences, I stood on my own two and started pushing myself. 7 years later, still here, growing and loving it.

What’s the DNA of a good DJ set?

Number 1: Relevance.

It’s important to know where you’re playing and who you’re playing for. Don’t get caught slipping playing Reggaeton at a UK Garage/House party or Salsa at a Hip-Hop party. You’ll look crazy. I think every DJ has had that weird moment when they’ve played a certain song that made the crowd look back like “????”, so, yeah.

Number 2: Body Language.

It’s important to have exciting and positive body language while playing a set, because people often look to the DJ for vibes aside from what they’re already hearing. If you look miserable, they’ll wonder why and then that affects the balance of the whole party. So plaster that smile on and leave your problems at the door.

Number 3: Preparation.

I find that things go very smoothly when I take time before a set to sort out music I want to and might play. In a library of over 20,000 songs, it helps to narrow that down ahead of time. So that, with help of Number 1, I don’t have to waste time pulling up a track, cueing it and possibly missing out on the opportunity to blend the current one out.

Number 4: No Requests –During 🙂

No interruptions: makes a DJ, well, ME, happy and focused.

Number 5: Focus.

Simple.

Come hear a few of the DJs on this list spin at Casablanca Lounge in Brooklyn on Saturday, August 19th from 5-9pm. Free. Click here to RSVP. This is a BLCKNLIT powered event.

*Priscilla Ward, is the founder of BLCKNLIT, a brand dedicated to celebrating dope Black people doing amazing things regardless of age or socioeconomic status. Her work has appeared on Salon, For Harriet, Okayplayer and ESSENCE.

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