DOWNTOWN – As part of the Central Library’s Hip Hop Appreciation Week, Aja La’Starr Owens hosted her annual “I Am Hip Hop” event, celebrating women in hip hop, in the Carnegie Room of the Central branch, 1301 Olive Street.
Each year the event focuses on a different group of women in hip hop. This year, she assembled a panel of female DJs and music producers who spoke about their relationship to the genre, as well as their journeys to deejaying, a famously male-dominated field.
On May 14, Owens introduced her event and spoke about her commitment to celebrating women in hip hop each year, calling music “the universal language to keep us together.” She also asked for a moment of silence to reflect on recent violence in the St. Louis community.
Before the panel, Owens showcased her documentary “I am Hip Hop: The Women Behind the Music,” in which she interviewed nine female DJs and one female sound engineer to explore their ideas about the DJ world as women.
Afterward, she invited up the panel, which included six DJs and music producers: DJs Natural, AKAY Tomboy, Kimmy Nu, Nico Marie and Rico Steez, as well as music producer Poetiq. A few of them were featured in the documentary as well.
Each panelist had her own unique story, and many have branched beyond music. DJ Natural, for example, also runs a body-positive fitness studio in St. Louis Curvy Girl Fitness. DJ Nico also works as a yoga instructor, incorporating her DJ skills into her classes.
The women on the panel giggled over their favorite parts of deejaying while sharing their triumphs and failures with the audience. Owens asked them a series of questions that covered how they had become DJs, who had taught them to DJ, and if they thought that a St. Louis female DJ collective would be possible.
Some, such as DJ Kimmy Nu, whose father and uncles were also DJs, always knew they wanted to be DJs.
She told the audience that she knew at the age of 14, after her first gig at a party, that she wanted to make a career out of deejaying. Having her father teach her to deejay could be a struggle, she said, because he insisted she practice and perfect her craft before taking any jobs. But, she said, “There was something in me telling me to keep going.”
But many said that deejaying was never the original goal. DJ Rico Steez, for example, said, “Deejaying didn’t hit me right away,” though she had always wanted to be involved in music and art.
A big portion of the conversation revolved around the difficulty of building community in St. Louis. Owens suggested that DJs didn’t need to compete with one another but instead could focus on lifting each other up.
“Where there are no opportunities, create them,” she said.
Questions from the audience addressed how to break into the DJ scene and whether the Creative Experience, a section of the Central Library where visitors can learn all things digital, had deejay equipment for the public to use.
Honna Veerkamp, who is in charge of the Creative Experience, said no but that she was definitely open to further discussion of the idea.
This event was just one of the many offered by the Central Library in celebration of Hip Hop Appreciation Week, May 13-18.