Opportunity is a Form of Currency: Uniiqu3
Anytime I choose to profile someone on this particular platform it is because I am a fan of what they do and how they work. And let me tell you, this woman WORKS. At the age of 25, she has put in a solid 7 years of work and has carved out a lane for herself as Jersey’s Klub Queen and that crown is TOTALLY fitting. She has managed to go from DJ’ing at sweet sixteens to playing sets on an Australian tour, producing her own records and getting spins from Diplo. Oh, and did I mention this woman has been in the studio with Skrillex? Oh yeah black girl magic isn’t just some weird twitter hashtag it’s a real life description of the work black women put in to create spaces for themselves in industries they have been otherwise shut out of. Uniiqu3 is the embodiment of #BlackGirlMagic. I got the chance to talk with the Kween about Jersey Club, her humble beginnings, and working for yourself. Grab a cup of peppermint tea and vibe out to our convo. It’s a long one but oh man it’s filled with little gems.
When did you start DJing?
I was late 18 going into 19. My first gig was in the wintertime.
How did you even figure out that DJing was a thing?
My boyfriend at the time was Dj Sik. I was a party chick. I used to go to all the parties and dance. We used to have these things in Jersey called “street teams” they were like, you know, little cliques. I was in a collective called,“Party Divaz.” My boyfriend used to be the opener for Dj Lilman. I used to roll with Jdj Ent, the soundman, and was like, “there’s never no girls. What’s up with that?” I was just like, “teach me.” I used to fool around with his equipment. He had his own setup. I used to just go over there, play on the turntables with his laptop—well with his CDs. I wasn’t a laptop DJ. I used to play around on the CDJ’S before the doors would open.. That’s when they were like, “yo this party bout to be lit. You hear Lil Man going in real quick.” Then they opened the doors and was like, “wait that was you?”
So you did your first gig, what was the response to that?
They were messing with it. It still took me a long time. Lil Man was like—especially since I was new that was like my first party. I used to jump on the decks at house parties and stuff just to bombard. Like,”yo I got my CD books.” I used to just show up with my CD book like “Yo let me hop on.” I had a whole CD dedicated to Bow Wow. He had some bangers.
How did you go from THAT to Boiler Room, MoMa, Flying overseas, Skrillex dropping your records?
After I was with Little Man doing my parties, I branched off—that’s when I started taking Uniiqu3 way more seriously. At the time, K-Swift just passed away. Unfortunately, I never got to meet her. I remember people telling me that she had played at the Paradox in Baltimore. Infamous club in Baltimore and it was packed with a bunch of kids. She played. Diplo played. All the heavy hitters in Baltimore. She was about to work with Diplo and she just passed away. That was about to be their big break. A lot of people told me a black female doing club music hasn’t got this much recognition since she came out. I guess that’s why people were making a big deal. That’s when I wanted to do way more than team parties. I’m actually going to start doing bookings and stuff. The market in Jersey was very limited. It was either team parties that some big promoter threw or that you threw. I used to get my dance team to perform with me. And I wanted all females because it was all dudes. I used to do sweet 16s and make up dances for them. This was around 19-20. I started to get gigs and I got introduced to Philly because I got booked for Mad Decent Mondays. Got into contact with Gun$ Garcia who was running Mad Decent Mondays with Dirty South Joe. That’s when I had joined Brick Bandits at the time. (Philly) was like—the culture out there was cool. It was like back home but it was just—more people get it not just the hood stuff. Newark is very hood. You know how New York is still hood, but the people are still cool enough to get it? Newark ain’t like that. They’re like, “What’s that white person-ish you be playing?” They think anything with a phew is an EDM.
Now talk to me about that. The difference between Jersey Club and EDM?
Everything is EDM because EDM is electronic dance music and everything is made by an electronic device these days. EDM is like a category, not a genre.
EDM is the umbrella term and everything else that falls within that is a sub-category.
Right. I feel like Jersey Club within itself the BPM, the beat patterns, and the vocal chops are super important and essential to the song. There’s a lot of pieces in Jersey Club. You have multiple drops and kick patterns. I feel like a lot of it is fusing together. I’m down for the infusing of different music genres. It keeps it interesting.
So how did you learn how to technically DJ? You talk about BPM and beat patterns and things like that how did you learn about all of that stuff?
Jdj Ent showed me the basics and then they were just like alright go ahead do you. Since I’ve always been accustomed to music I feel like at the time—I learned how to DJ before I learned how to produce. I felt like it was kind of like producing. I knew that I wanted to produce I just didn’t have the tools to at the time so I was like let me learn how to DJ first so I could, at least, get money so I could get equipment to produce with. It was just making one track out of two tracks. Blending that together. I didn’t pay attention to BPM’s at first because I was playing CDs so that sealed me into being a good selector.
Do you think that’s more important than the technical aspect? Understanding which songs to choose?
Yeah. Even Dj’ing jersey club we’re very clever about the way we mix. Since there are mad vocal chops I would easily take the base out of this track I’m about to mix it in and turn the base down on this vocal track and it will create a whole new song because the voice is still on here but the bass is playing on here type of thing. When I started out DJ’ing I was using CDJ’s because I was using CDs. Then I moved to Serato.
So if you’re using a CDJ and you’re inserting the CD you kinda have to know the CD inside and out to know what parts to play, no?
Word. Sometimes I used to use a tracklist. I would write down the tracklist or I would write the artists name on my CDs.
That to me sounds crazy hard because you would have to know the record well enough to know at 1:32 this is the part I want to queue up.
Yeah. Before Serato, I had no way of knowing about BPM. Serato just made everything easier. So instead of carrying a CD case or a vinyl crate, everything was just on my laptop.Everything would be right there in my face. I could see the tracklist. I could see the BPM.
When you were DJing did you have a regular degular shmegular job?
DID I? Super regular degular shmegular girl. I started off DJ'ing very late. There was a lot of competition. And all of them produced and I didn’t produce. That was essential for bookings specifically in the Jersey market. That’s why I had a team dancing, delivering an entire package. Doing sweet 16s was tough at the time with the guys not in a sexist way but in the way that I was just a rookie. I worked at CVS. Quit that job and went to Blockbuster. My last job was a liquor store. I left that job at 23.
So you’ve been working for yourself ever since?
Yup. It’s a crazy blessing. A 9-5 is way easier than 7 days a week, 365. You don’t get any off days. You don’t get Christmas benefits. Tax returns. Health benefits.
What do you think a common misconception is about DJing? What do a lot of people think DJ’ing is but it actually is not?
I think people that DJing is so easy. Yes, DJing is easy. If you practice, it’s something you can catch on really quick. That part is easy. Being an actual DJ is hard. You gotta find your crowd and find your lane. You gotta read the crowd. Being your own boss is hard. Especially being the DJ that I am now, I don’t know how Skrillex and Diplo do it. They work hard. Even when I linked up with Skrillex in LA he’s like I just touched down. I’m gonna come over let's go to the studio tonight. After he touched down he came we linked up got to know each other went to the studio. After the studio, we went to a Zed’s Dead concert. Performed a song with them. Went back to the studio.
The work ethic has to be there for you to be your own boss.
Work ethic and the love for what you do. People think yeah playing songs is cute and easy being an actual DJ is not easy. You do have to put up with a lot of stuff. A lot of people try to lowball you. I’ve always learned opportunity is a form of currency. Earlier this year I got the opportunity to be a part of Boiler Room's first stream of 2016 curated by Discwoman showcasing female DJs of color. They have such a good reputation for breaking what’s in and what’s next. For me to have headlined an event like that for their first stream of 2016. That’s going to get me bookings for the rest of the year, so I always think about things like that. But it’s hard. Nowadays in the music industry, you don’t actually make money off of the music. You make most of your money off of merch and their shows. Being a DJ is a whole business. Just like being an artist. DJ’s get record deals now. The game has changed.
That's real. There are so many elements that make up an artist but you still have to remain true to yourself.
I want girls to feel like they could still—why can’t you have an R&B club song and be alternative. I just feel like that’s missing. More than ever I feel like people are starting to embrace female DJ's or just females in EDM period. They’re showing a female presence, which is cool so now I need y’all to get some Adobo in there.
Close your eyes. Imagine you're living your best life doing what you love to do and getting paid for it. Open your eyes. How can you make that happen? What is the first step in making your dreams come true? What are some opportunities you've passed up because you were afraid?
Tell us in the comments below or share with us on twitter at @wowiwrite with the hashtag #brainwash
Catch Uniiqu3 at her couch sessions entitled "Be Unique" DJ Scratch Academy in NYC on March 25 where she dives into how to build your career within the music industry (Brainwash will also be there!).
She will also be at SXSW spinning some new records!