DJ Niena Drake is one of a handful of female deejays who can spin with the best of the big boys.
Drake had to put in work to master those turntables, and in the beginning no one wanted to help. “There were no other females that I could go to in Chicago,” Drake told young Chicago-area girls during a recent MEDIA Girls Foundation seminar.
“I asked my male friends to teach me the technicalities of it, I love music already; I needed someone to show me how to do this the right way. And a lot of people said no, they didn’t believe me, they said, ‘no, she’s not serious.’ ”
Drake shared her story during the MEDIA Girls Foundation event that took place at the new Lighthouse community center on Chicago’s south side.
Drake prepared for her life as a deejay long before she touched a turntable.
“I started when I was 12 or 13; I used to make mixtapes,” she says. “I started because of all of my friends, I had more music, all different types of music, and so when we would have parties or hang out together, and I would be the one that they would always have all the music. People would ask me to make their tapes.”
However, Drake didn’t pursue her love right away; it took some nudging from her mother to make her connect with the music. “I went to school, and I was a television producer for a lot of years. My mom, before she passed away, told me to stop helping other people shine so much, and be the star I was born to be.“
Drake emerged from the background and began her deejay quest in earnest, and after a string of letdowns—male deejays wouldn’t help her out—she found a friend who would.
“He showed me the technicalities of how to spin, and it took a long time from me wanting to believe that I really wanted to do it as a career.”
Drake’s mother also instilled in her daughter to continue to learn, not just about music, but about everything.
“One of the things my mom taught me is that you pay for what you don’t know. In every aspect of your life you’re going to pay someone for what you don’t know. So research, learn a lot and a little about everything. Research
and read; there’s no excuse for not reading.
And if you don’t know, find out. If someone asks you something, find out. It will come in handy when you start bringing people in to work with you and to help you.”
Last but not least, Drake advised the young girls to be mindful of their online reputation, and their real-life friends.
“Be mindful of your presence on social media — Facebook, Twitter, or your website, at the end of the day, someone is always watching,” Drake states.
“Your friends, potential business associates, and your family, [will be watching] so always carry yourself physically and on the internet, your overall viral presence, very respectfully. Don’t curse, don’t copy and paste stuff that other people say that are negative thoughts.”
Drake continued with her real-life advice: “Surround yourself with people who are honest with you, respectful of you and will love and support you, because you’re going to have those times when you’re not feeling your best and those people are going to believe in you, when you don’t believe in yourself.”
At the end of her talk, a young girl announced that she wants to be a deejay and that she, too, received resistance when looking for help.
“You’re going to get people to say no to you, but I love you, and I’ll help you any day, so you won’t have to go through all the ‘no’s’ that I did,” DJ Niena Drake gushed.
“I believe there are a bunch of young women who ask for help, for someone to show them how to deejay, and I will give you the number to the bat phone; you can come over and I’ll show you how to do it.”
Celebrity Brunch: The MEDIA Girls Foundation will host its True Beauties celebrity brunch this Sunday, Nov. 6, featuring actress Naturi Naughton. The event takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at 4338 S. Prairie.
The MEDIA Girls Foundation is on Facebook.