Being a woman in Hip-Hop is not the easiest task. Surfing through the waves of misogyny, bias, and assumed physical inferiority, ladies in the industry are faced with multiple obstacles just to align themselves as equals to the fellas. DJ Cocoa Chanelle is no stranger to this struggle. A seasoned DJ- one of the greatest in the country in fact- Cocoa has solidified her position as one of the strongest in the game (male or female). With successes on both BET and HOT 97, Cocoa garnered enough notoriety to achieve nationwide popularity among viewers, listeners, and true school DJs.
Evolution has brought Cocoa Chanelle to the next level of her career in Hip-Hop. With one element mastered, Cocoa is perfecting her craft as both an MC and producer. Catching the ear of distinguished MCs like D-Block and not-so-newcomcer Saigon, Cocoa is geared to show the world that her skills carry over from the decks to the MPC to the mic. With many successes under her belt, DJ Cocoa Chanelle shares her journey, her future, and subsequently, her inability to part with vinyl.
AllHipHop.com: How do you feel that youve managed to bypass to a certain extent the gender bias of female DJs?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: It wasnt easy; it was hard. When I first got in the game and I started DJing, there werent a lot of female DJs around. It was Spinderella and Jazzy Joyce that had the biggest names as far as females, so there wasnt a lot of people. When I came in, people automatically assumed I did something else. When they found out I was a DJ, they thought maybe I was just somebody to stand behind the turntables as like a prop. They didnt know that I was really really into it like doing tricks and you know, cuttin and scratchin taking it seriously like that.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel that youve been given the same opportunities on the production side?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: That was hard also, and Im still kind of climbing the hill trying to get respect in that category, but I think like when I started doing tracks for D-Block- I produced on Sheeks first and second album, Styles Ps album- Ive been doing work with them. I produced Saigons first single, and these are all street dudes, so me working with them, I think definitely got my name a lot more respect on the street level as far as production. People started really looking at it like, Okay, shes really serious.
AllHipHop.com: How did you start working with D-Block?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: I hit up [their manager] Super Mario one day because I heard Sheek Louch was working on his album, and told him I wanted to play Sheek some beats, and he set it up for me to come to the studio and everything. When I went up there, I played him the tracks, and Sheek was feelin everything. We just built a relationship after that. He told me [that] after he heard the beats and liked everything I did, that he didnt expect me to have anything and expected the beats not to be good. He said he just took the meeting out of respect for who I am and you know, on the radio, but he wasnt really expecting me to have nothing. So when he heard the beats, he went out the room and you could hear him sayin, Cocoa got heat! really loud, like screaming! [laughs] We had a relationship since then; weve been cool. He calls me for all his projects, and we work together.
AllHipHop.com: Who are some of the producers of the past and present that impress you?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: I like Havoc a lot; Im a Mobb Deep fan. Dr. Dre, Im influenced by Dre a lot, and I respect him as a producer. [DJ] Premier. Bink, and I feel he doesnt get enough credit. I like him a lot as a producer. Theres a lot of dudes.
AllHipHop.com: Its crazy because now with producers in Hip-Hop, its almost like theyre a brand. Do you feel that once these producers crossover and get branded so to speak, their production style gets better or do they get lazy?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: I think some of them you can definitely see them developing and getting better. Sometimes they start to switch and go with the trends, but for the people that I named just before, they get better.
AllHipHop.com: After a decade on HOT 97, whats the craziest thing youve witnessed while being at the station?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: Fortunately, when all of the crazy stuff goes down, Im not around. [laughs] So all of the crazy madness that went on, I wasnt in the area. Didnt get to see that.
AllHipHop.com: What about funny?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: Well some interesting things, not necessarily funny, like Jay-Z, he popped up on our show [Ladies Night]. He wasnt planned, but he came up and gave away a pair of $4500 earrings to one of our listeners. He wasnt like a scheduled guest or anything like that.
AllHipHop.com: When you, Angie Martinez, and Jazzy Joyce started Ladies Night, there had never been such a successful display of female comradery before. Why do you feel that its so rare on-air?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: I think just like with DJing, its always been a male-dominated field. Its always hard for people to take females seriously, like they didnt think females could really hold down a mix show on their own. I feel like Ladies Night helped open some doors, where people started looking at it like, Okay, this is an all-female mix show. It can be done. Then I started noticing across the country, you would see other mix shows with all females on it, so its a good thing. It opened up a lot of doors for people.
AllHipHop.com: You mentioned before the idea of a female DJ as a prop, and in a lot of clubs you see a girl DJ just standing there behind two iPods. What do you think about that? Is she making things better for female DJs?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: [laughs] If shes not really a DJ and just a prop with two iPods [laughs], I dont think that makes it better for us. For the person thats booking them, theyre thinking, Well, we dont need a real DJ, we can just hire somebody thats cute and can just stand there. I personally dont feel like it helps. I like to see females who really have talent and take DJing seriously get those types of jobs.
AllHipHop.com: As a strong woman in this industry, do you feel women in Hip-Hop have evolved or devolved?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: I think its evolved from where it used to be, because for a long time you didnt hear about too many females, maybe just a couple like MC Lyte or Queen Latifah, Moni Love. Now you hear about female DJs, and now hopefully a couple of female producers, female rappers, youre hearing about women in Hip-Hop a lot more than back in the days. Women are getting a lot more attention.
AllHipHop.com: What are some of your upcoming projects?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: Well the Saigon single is out right now, so Im really excited about that. Its called Pain in My Life, and were getting ready to shoot the video for that. Im getting ready to work with Sheek on their [D-Block] next project that they have coming out, and Joe Buddens- weve been talking about getting together. Styles P, his album Time Is Money about to come out, I have a track on there. So, a couple of things. Hopefully youll be hearing a lot of Cocoa Chanelle in 07.
AllHipHop.com: At what point did you feel confident enough to spit on the mic?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: Well I actually started as an MC first before I was a DJ. I started rhyming when I was twelve. I was doing that for a minute, but I never pursued it in terms of getting a record deal. The DJing was the thing that took off for me. I just kept rhyming anyway, but more for therapy. Like, anytime I would go through a situation, I would rhyme about it, and just lay a whole bunch of songs. And one day, I laid something down, it was just a freestyle, and Sheek got on there. We leaked it out to the streets, and it got a real big response. A lot of people didnt even know that I rhyme.
AllHipHop.com: Wow, will you be pursing that along with production?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: Well something I would like to do is put out an album where you can hear me rhyming and making beats, doing everything. Also, bringing new artists to the table. Kind of like how Dre did on The Chronic when he came out and hes rhyming, hes producing, and then hes bringing new artists to the table; a project like that.
AllHipHop.com: Ok, so as a DJ: vinyl or CDs?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: Im still on vinyl and everyone makes fun of me [laughs]. Theyre like, Why havent you switched yet? Im still on vinyl; I havent been able to make that switch.
AllHipHop.com: Im still on vinyl too [laughs].
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: Youre still on vinyl too? See you get points for that, because I have all of these cases of records when I go to clubs and radio stations, and then I see these other DJs with their little backpack and one little thing. Sometimes, Ill be feeling like, Man thats not fair. [laughs] See if I make the switch it would be to something like Serato, where its more of a real feel and get to actually use vinyl.
AllHipHop.com: With podcasts becoming so popular, what do you think the fate is of the mixtape?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: Well right now not everybody has an iPod, so for right now, the mixtape is going to be okay. But eventually, theyre going to have to switch over to the iPod. But I think podcasting is going to get really really big as time goes on. I always said that, even when I first heard about it. I feel like its going to keep getting bigger and bigger. But you know, as far as people who still have the CD players in their car or whatever, theyre gonna keep listening to the CDs.
AllHipHop.com: What would you play as the last song on your last DJ set ever?
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: Probably Encore [by Jay-Z]. It just sounds like a finale song [laughs].
AllHipHop.com: Then again, if its reflective of Jay-Zs career, it will leave it open ended.
DJ Cocoa Chanelle: [laughs] Very true.