With The Renaissance Project launching next month, Editorial Revolutionary Juwan J. Holmes is publishing his 3 PhotoViews from his time at Humans of Hip Hop in their originating, unfiltered format, in addition to two previously unreleased PhotoViews. This serves as a preview of the kind of content or topics of discussion that will happen at The Renaissance.
VKYSmallz is a DJ, Actress, Bar girl, and Break-dancer. She is also a strong woman, mother and video game streamer leading remarkable careers in fields where men are catered to, or still the most recognizable names, but that hasn’t bothered her at all. She’s performed at plenty of events such as parades, showcases, competitions, and tournaments attended or viewed by thousands, and recently started The VKYSmallz Experience podcast. Her motivation is inspiring and admirable, but she is more than her story — she’s a storyteller.
“…sometimes you’ll want something right then and there, and — not that we’re not working towards it or working for it — but it’s like, we just see someone doing something and then we’re like, ‘woah, damn, I wish I could be doing that,’ but patience has really taught me. Especially, like, deejaying … you have to wait.”
So, tell us who you are.
“My name is VKYSmallz, and I’m a DJ, I break, and I act.”
So, tell us what makes you a Human of Hip Hop.
“Well, what makes me a Human of Hip Hop is that I like self-expression, and that’s pretty much what hip hop is, so I like to express myself through deejaying and through the arts. So, that’s what makes me hip hop.”
What was one of your first experiences with Hip Hop?
“One of my first experiences was when I started breaking, so that was in 2012, 2012. That’s when I knew, “yeah, I’m definitely hip hop.” *Laughing* “Yeah, it just started to go from there.”
How do you feel about hip hop right now? The state of it in general.
“I think that…it could be better, you know? I’m born and raised in the 90’s, right? So hip hop nowadays, a lot of the artists — they’re not saying anything — and I’m used to the Public Enemy and the LL Cool J, that type of era.”
“But J. Cole is cool, I like J. Cole…and Kendrick. J. Cole is more of a conscious rapper, so that’s pretty awesome. I’m glad that it’s still there, but it’s not what it used to be.”
What about breaking describe about you?
“Well, what breaking describes about me is just — my style, the moves…yeah, but I’m more of a footwork type person, as opposed to a power move person, but…that’s the good thing about breaking, is that everyone has their own style, no one looks the same — or should look the same, so that’s what I like. My son, he does it, too.
It’s become a family tradition now.
“Yes, where we both train together, if his dance teacher puts breaking in their routine, he’ll come to me like, ‘Mommy, can you help me with this? This is not looking right, how do I fix this?’ You know, things like…but deejaying has been taking up a lot of my time…
Would you rather be doing one over the other?
“No, I would rather be doing them all!” *Laughs* “Yeah.”
*Laughs* That’s fine. I like that. So, what do you think deejaying says about you?
“Well, what deejaying says about me is pretty much, how smooth I am…because my transitions are nice, I like my transitions…my musical selections…you know, it’s really hard being a female and being in hip hop, period. There’s a lot of females that feel like they have to dress showing off all of their body to get the attention, but I want to stay true to my style and not have to go that route. I like to be clothed and be able to express myself, and be like, ‘this is me’, and people don’t look at me first, they’ll pay attention to the skill first, and that’s pretty much what I want to portray, and encourage for woman to do, period — and young girls.”
Right. So, how do you feel like hip hop has treated you?
*Laughs* “Well, hip hop, how have I felt hip hop has treated me…? In some cases, I feel like it has embraced me, and in some cases I feel like it hasn’t. Like, being a female, there’s certain expectations, or whatever the expectations are…but I don’t know. With breaking and deejaying, I’m welcomed, you know? ’cause everyone doesn’t have the same style as me, but the same approach, so the females there are more like how I dress, you know what I’m saying? When I deejay, I bring that to the set, so especially if I’m with a lot of guys, ’cause the guys that deejay are used to the girls that are showing skin or things like that…but I don’t do that. So I’m like, ‘this is me, either you accept me or you don’t, oh well.’ You know?”
Do you think the future of hip hop is female? Will women grow into the majority or the popularity will trend toward more women?
“Yeah, I think so, I mean, it’s already starting with like Cardi and Nicki and those types… I would hope more women like Snow Tha Product gets more recognition, I like her. I would just really hope that the women that are coming up are more conscious of what they say in their music, because a lot of young girls listen to Nicki and Cardi and they’re like, ‘well, I got to be like this.’ A lot of artists that are in hip hop don’t understand — and some do — their power, they have this big power which is their voice, and it’s either you use your voice positively or you use it negatively. And I hope more women are conscious of that, and uplift the community instead of making women this sex object.
You said you have a son. How does being a mother affect you, what’s it like being a mother in hip hop?
“I get to teach my son…hmm…well, it’s not like, really that difficult, it’s really been a great thing to actually incorporate my son into the hip hop scene and expose him to that life, and also, like, how great music — we can differentiate the music from today and the music from back then, and so he actually appreciates the culture a lot [more] deeply than most kids in his class because they’re not exposed to that, they’re not exposed to that lifestyle. My son, he draws, he dances…so it’s like giving him an all-round [view], you know…he started actually doing beats of his own. Yeah, so…”
Oh, that’s how it starts.
“Right, and he’s like, ‘Mommy, I want to deejay now.’ So I’m teaching him that. I think it’s a really positive way for kids. They have something positive to look forward to, and not end up in the streets or whatever the case may be.”
Do you think conscious rap will make a comeback, or return to the mainstream?
“I would hope so. J. Cole is doing a really good job of keeping that alive and I would like to hear more conscious rappers come out…I just think there needs to be an even balance, you know? There’s not an even balance right now, there’s just the bitches and the hoes and that stuff, and the cars and the money. That’s what’s being said in every song nowadays, instead of what’s going on politically, what’s going on in the communities…yeah, but I would hope that there would be a comeback.
When you deejay, how do you approach songs that aren’t conscious, or you don’t approve the message of?
“Hmm, it’s really difficult, kind of? Normally, where I spin at, it’s the younger generation, so they do want to hear that — the Cardis and the Nickis and the Migos and all of that — but I feel like I can still do it, it’s just a way of bringing it in, where people don’t feel like it’s…the way you approach it. Like, everyone knows Cypress Hills. If you’re thrown on a Cypress Hills track, people will go ‘oh yeah, “Insane In the Membrane”’ — but it’s mostly learning how to play things people know and playing things that people don’t know. So, yeah.”
What does your average mix, or the process of making your average mix look like?
“I try to incorporate a little bit of everything, you know, everything, all genres…different styles of genres…but I would have to be inspired to make a mix. I don’t know, I like to do a lot of wordplay with songs, so I’m doing that a lot lately. Sometimes it’s just [one] genre, sometimes it’s like, ‘oh, I want to do an old-school hip-hop mix, or a new school hip hop mix…’ I’ve also done house. I love house, every style of house…deep house, afrohouse, like, soulful house. All house. EDM, yeah.”
So, if you weren’t doing hip hop, what would you be doing?
“I don’t know.” *Laughs* “Yeah, I have no idea. Somewhere in the arts, you know? I’m really into the arts, period. So, maybe like, acting, but I’m still doing that as well.”
Do you think you would be a different creative if hip hop wasn’t in your personality?
“Probably, ’cause hip hop, I feel like, gives you a certain type of edge, a certain type of flavor, that you can automatically tell. Like, people look at me and go, ‘yeah, she got a really old-school type…style,’ and stuff like that.”
What’s your favorite thing about hip hop?
“My favorite thing about hip hop is the community aspect, I like the togetherness and ‘each one, teach one’ type of thing, because I feel like that’s very crucial and that we do need that, not just in hip hop but in general.”
What’s the one thing you try to make your message in hip hop, in everything that you do?
“Just to be yourself. Be original. Don’t be the herd. That’s definitely my message. I preach that to my son all the time, like, ‘be different, don’t be like everybody else.’”
What’s the most recent thing that you’ve learned from being in the hip hop community?
“Being more patient…patience. So much patience, I’ve learned so much patience, ’cause like, sometimes you’ll want something right then and there, and — not that we’re not working towards it, or working for it — but it’s like, we just see somebody else doing something and we’re like, ‘woah, damn, I wish I could be doing that,’ but patience has really taught me. Especially, like, deejaying — deejaying has taught me so much patience!”
…Because you have to do so much…
“Yeah, and you have to wait.”
Do you feel like you’re waiting for your big moment, or do you think…?
“No. I feel like I’ve had a lot of big moments already. So, people do ask, ‘what’s your ultimate, ultimate goal,’ [and] I’m like, ‘whatever comes next,’ you know? I’m just going to go with the wind. Wherever the wind blows me, wherever deejaying takes me, wherever, that’s where I’m going to go. I did [NYC] Pride [Parade] already, and that’s a big thing, you know?
Yeah, like, millions of people are listening to you on the street, you know?
Describe, in a perfect world, what hip hop would look like to you.
“Just everybody, I don’t know, helping each other…not so much in competition with each other…”
Yeah, I feel you. I feel like competition is overrated in hip hop.
“I feel that way, too, because that’s all it is now. Even with breaking, it’s like, ‘oh, you got to compete to get a name,’ or whatever, instead of just doing it for what you love to do it for in the first place.”
Would you rather have one thing, one moment that you’re famous for or a bunch of things, through longevity?
“I would rather a bunch of things. Like, people would go, ‘Oh, VkySmallz, she acts, she dances, she deejays,’ you know. Yeah, I would rather have multiple skill sets.”
If it were all said and done today, what would they say about you? Or, what would you want them to say about you?
“I would want people to say, ‘she’s hardworking, she’s dedicated, she’s driven, she likes to help people…’
Okay. Do you think if it ended today, they would say that?
“Yeah, pretty much. Yep. Or, ‘yeah, she’s dope’…” *Laughs* “Yep, they would say it.”
What would your advice be to other people, other Humans of Hip Hop?
“Just to be confident in yourself, be confident in your skillset…just do everything confidence and hard work, pretty much, and uplift people as you climb. Grab people as you climb up.”
You seem like the type of person that’s more into collaboration than competition. I’m exactly the same.
“Yep, more collaboration, less competition.”
Do you feel like the nature of deejaying is more competitive…
“Ohhh yes — I was just in a battle, not too long ago. A-Plus — shout out to him — he made a battle, called the Link Up Tour DJ Battle, and it’s like a party-rocking battle, and I went up against five guys! I was the only female, and I went up against five guys — and I won, all because…I had fun, I knew how to connect with the crowd, I wasn’t trying to do too much, because partygoers usually don’t like it when a DJ overdoes things, it’s not a DMC battle, you don’t got to wicka-wicka all over the place, you know? Just get people moving, and that was my main goal.
“But it’s more competitive. It’s so competitive. It’s like — it was so funny because one of the guys really thought that I didn’t know how to use turntables, so he made a switch…and then I still did my thing on the turntables, so I’m like…that’s nothing, you know. And I had a big smile the whole time, so — but it’s still very competitive. Especially with a female? No dude — and this is something I learned — no dude wants to get shown up by a female. Like, they don’t want to get beat by a female. So…
Does the general treatment of women in hip hop bother you?
“Yes, yes. ’Cause — Us as females, we can do pretty much anything we put our minds to, but so many females are so scared to even come out…because things are so male-dominated in hip hop. So, they’re scared to come out, like a lot of them are coming out now, but it’s like, it takes a while. ’Cause it’s like, ‘oh, well, if I’m going to go up against these people, and for them to think I’m good, I’ll have to do x, y, and z…’ instead of just bringing what you bring to the table, and if they don’t like it, they don’t like it. If they do, they do. I’m learning that now, with myself. Not so much depending on what other people think of me, but more so what I think of what I’m doing. ‘Do you think it’s good enough?’ Or whatever the case may be, instead of relying on somebody else to tell me that I’m dope or that I’m good enough, or yeah, I got a place here.”
Yeah. So what do you always leave your audiences with at the end?
“Feeling good. I love to do that, I love to leave my audience with good vibes. Good vibes. They’ll be like, ‘oh, I like the way she, like, blended these songs’ or whatever, but I always try to leave my people or my audience in an uplifting, dance-y kind of vibe.”
Anything else you want to say? I think you’ve said it all. What’s next for you?
“Just to continue to hone my craft. I will actually be in a web series called The Book: The Story of Breeze. So, that’s coming out, I want to say, maybe in the summer? Keep a look out for that. I’m actually going to be doing a voice over, so it’s like — it goes from reality into this cartoon kind of world, I play this character, ‘Sweets’, and she’s in the animated world.”
Alright. Thank you, this was fun.