Ladies First

Female DJs Got a Foot Through the Door, Ain't Goin' Nowhere

"I would say as a generalization that when it comes to emotional music, women have a broader appreciation for it than men do," says Bobbito "DJ Cucumber Slice" Garcia, who resides at Apt. on 13th Street. "A lot of DJs don't actually dance; it's a really interesting phenomenon to me. But I think that most female DJs I've seen, like Belinda Becker and Beverly Bond, come from a dance background. When you come from a music-aficionado background and start DJ'ing, it presents a different sensibility."

The slew of female neophytes, who usually spin at posh clubs and lounges, aren't necessarily tech geeks or tricksters who'll cut and scratch the groove out of a song two minutes in. "There's nothing more annoying than when I am at a party trying to get my dance on and someone just gets scratch-happy on me," says 25-year-old Japanese American DJ Erica "E-Love" Hamilton. "I'll cut in between a chorus of a Premiere track, but I try to be as subtle as possible." With the exception of seasoned revolutionaries Kaori and Cocoa Chanelle, when women gig at clubs and lounges, the groove is generally more laid-back.

Clubland mvp: dj Beverly Bond at Joe's Pub
photo: Cary Conover
Clubland mvp: dj Beverly Bond at Joe's Pub

Once upon a time in SoHo, A mélange of hip-hop aficionados and industry people gather at a re-launch party for Honey magazine. DJ Beverly Bond, surrounded by kaya-puffing male groupies, becomes lifted in turn by every nod and grimace of satisfaction. Maryland native Bond, whose Sony studio headphones are squashing her gigantic 'fro, cruises from M.O.P. to Prince to Buena Vista Social Club to Jay-Z, "gradually telling a story," says Joe's Pub co-owner and publicist Jodie Becker. E.R.'s Eriq La Salle sits a few feet away from the booth, frantically pumping his limbs, while two female patrons squawk about who's going to start DJ'ing first. "Spinning is so sexy," says girl one; the other rolls her neck in total agreement.

Bond is not a turntablist in the purist Jazzy Joyce, Cocoa Chanelle, or even Kuttin Kandi sense of the term. While she does cut gracefully, her skills lie in how and what she blends to move the crowd. Giving a lesson in Africa's continuum in Black music virtually every time she plays, Bond will weave a quilt patching Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Ibrahim Ferrer to the Notorious B.I.G. and Erick Sermon seamlessly.

"I know that I have set myself apart from girls who are models, who are trying to be DJs and trying to be trendy," Bond says several weeks later. "I like to surprise people. I changed the game in a way." Bond supports her record collection and supplements her income by modeling, since collecting records in hip-hop is particularly expensive. Unlike techno or house music, rap DJ'ing generally relies on heavy sampling that crosses into soul, world, and Latin music, making record shopping a costly, arduous sport. "For hip-hop [vinyl], you gotta get your old-school hip-hop, for soul you gotta go diggin' through every little record shop you can find, little mom-and-pop stores, thrift shops," says Bond. A 5-foot-9-inch amber-colored honey, Bond doesn't care about lugging 60-some pounds of musical biscuits up and down the narrow steps of her fifth-story walk-up almost every night of the week. Since 1999, dozens of crates, jam-packed shelves, and equipment have replaced the furniture that once cushioned the butts of the friends who've urged her to pursue DJ'ing as a full-time gig.

In just two short years, Bond has become the MVP of the club scene, due in part to her nights as Joe's Pub resident DJ. "I was like a club head, the person who the DJ played for," says Bond, "so it was kinda easy for me to absorb what they did, and taking it to finding my own flow." When she's not on tour with Musiq Soulchild or Sunshine Anderson, Bond spins at Joe's Pub on Tuesdays.

And still, while Bond and a handful of others have earned respect in hip-hop's fight club, female DJs on the whole have a long misogynist road ahead of them. Hip-hop culture's undercurrent is organically violent toward women. Videos, anthems, and artists go to supa-dupa homoerotic lengths to reaffirm their unyielding devotion to their brothers and neighborhoods, and their rabid disdain for the opposite sex. Belinda Becker, who has an infant daughter, tries not to play music that promotes any kind of hatred. However, the popular consensus from women who focus strictly on hip-hop/soul is not to bring gender politics onto the dancefloor. "I'm not really too much into censorship," says Cocoa Chanelle, "so if there's a record that bothers me, I try not to get too personal to where I am like, Well, this offends me, but everyone else wants to hear it."

This apathetic attitude toward gender politics in the hip-hop nation has resulted in a scarcity of female role models. "For the most part, I don't see a lot of positive women with at least some commercial status that I can think of who are representing women in hip-hop," says activist and 5th Platoon member Candace Custodio, better known as DJ Kuttin Kandi. A co-founder of a collective of DJs, artists, and B-girls called the Anomolies, the 25-year-old Filipina American is one of the most respected beat jugglers in the country. Kandi spins (usually with her longtime partner and boyfriend, DJ Roli Rho) at various underground clubs around the city. "From my own personal conclusion," says Belinda Becker, "hip-hop is a much more violent world than other musical genres. If I'm in a crowded house-music club, I am not afraid. But when I'm in a hip-hop club and it's really crowded and it's tense, you just know instinctively something is going to happen. And it usually does."

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