On the Record
KDON’s Savvy is an all-too-rare female DJ with a penchant for independent hip-hop.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
James Brown once wailed, “This is a man’s world,” and in most circles, professional and social, that declaration still holds true.
But DJ Savvy, the “hostess with the mostess” of 102.5 KDON’s Project Hip-Hop, happens to have two X chromosomes. And she’s busting down the gender barricades in a male-dominated genre one Sunday at a time.
“I think since I’ve been [DJing], I’ve definitely seen more females on the scene,” she says. “I’ve seen [hip-hop] evolve, and I think it’s a beautiful thing. We can’t move forward without them in the movement.”
Every week, propelled by the mixes of her co-pilot Statik Selektah, Savvy broadcasts a two-hour show from KDON’s Salinas studios that is dedicated to the artists and tracks normally ignored by mainstream music moguls. Savvy, who goes by the single moniker on and off the air, works relentlessly in the days leading up to the show to find out who’s hot in the underground hip-hop scene to present a program that’s as entertaining as it is illuminating.
“There is so much s*** going out in this world,” she says. “Artists talking about popping champagne and pouring it on girls’ chests. But there’s also artists putting honest, conscious music out there.”
Savvy sees herself as their messenger.
“My mission is delivering the new music to the people,” she says. “For me, it’s really important to play a record first. And finding those buried treasures is such a reward. I like keeping people up on music, but also giving people the history behind the songs.”
For an underground hip-hop DJ, it’s surprising she doesn’t hold the music KDON plays 166 hours a week in contempt – “I’m not mad at the mainstream music,” she says. “I like to get dumb sometimes” – but she is concerned about the effect popular hip-hop has on kids too young to discern bad influences from good ones.
“There is a sense of spirituality that youth are being robbed of,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s the artists’ fault or the record labels’ fault. If the listener looks a little deeper, they’ll find more.”
The 26-year-old Detroit native recalls people laughing at her when she started out, solely on account of her gender.
“People would automatically dismiss me,” she says. “It was very discouraging.”
She came close to retiring her turntables for good until a conversation with Harlem rapper and political activist Immortal Technique.
“I was like, ‘I’m over this. I can’t do this anymore,’” she remembers. “And he said, ‘Nah, man, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to persevere.’ And I did. In my heart I knew I shouldn’t quit, but there were definitely times when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. If I had quit, I’d be missing a huge part of my life.”
Savvy makes a point to feature local artists on her show, encouraging them while she’s on the air to e-mail her and send tracks her way.
Sincere, a Watsonville original now residing in Berkeley, is a rapper grinding away in the underground scene. He met Savvy at a bar years ago while promoting a mix tape. They’ve stayed in touch, and Sincere has gotten encouraging calls from Savvy telling him how much buzz surrounds his work.
“She’s all about pushing artists from the Central Coast,” he said. “She’s all about pushing the roots – the heart of the music. That’s what I appreciate about her show.”
Without DJs like Savvy giving him play, Sincere says it’s impossible for unconnected artists to get their music to the masses.
“With Clear Channel, it’s definitely hard for an underground artist to get through,” he says. “That’s why it’s very important to know people like Savvy to get you in the rotation.”
Northern Californian hip-hop producer Nima Fadavi is also quick to recognize Savvy’s rare vision.
“She’s very unique. She’s definitely helping a lot of local, underground artists and she’s definitely keeping that community vibe, which a lot of people just don’t support,” he says. “She gives them a chance they wouldn’t normally have.”
Fadavi says this deepens her appeal with dedicated rappers.
“Savvy has the vibe of an independent artist,” he said. “She helps them out and they help her out, and that’s why her show has such a big following among independent artists.”
While Savvy can go on at length about her hopes that her music movement can move beyond the underground and onto festival stages and airwaves across the country – and can speak articulately about her aspirations for other female DJs – she needs just two words when asked what she would tell skeptics who don’t think a female can play with the boys: “Hi, hater.”