Sneaker collector, vinyl freak and all-round music geek, Yo! Mafia is fresh from playing the official Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras Party and will hit The Newport Hotel this Friday, March 14 to drop her signature hip hop flavour. CLAIRE KNIGHT catches up with the Melbourne DJ during her stint in Sydney.
For an event synonymous with Kylie Minogue pop anthems, a hip hop-centric act did seem like an interesting addition to the Mardi Gras lineup.
“I can play Kylie!” counters the international party DJ, who has made a career of bending genres to appeal to a wider audience. “I’ve got a mad bootleg Missy Elliot, Pass That Dutch into Slow – it’s crazy.”
Mafia’s enthusiasm is palpable. It is strikingly clear that this is someone who absolutely loves her job. Using her unique position on the dance-heavy lineup “to give Mardi Gras something a little bit different”, she draws from an extensive background in ’90s hip hop, R&B and a love of current music, to perform a diverse three-hour set.
“I love Whitney, I love Mariah,” she says, citing her favourite ’90s gay icons. “I love all that shit and I’ll bang that out too. When I played at Meredith Music Festival in front of 15,000 people I was like, ‘You know what, fuck it – I’m gonna play some bangers and gay anthems,’ and they were going bananas! It translates. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are; if you love music, you love music.”
Contrary to rapper Macklemore’s belief (‘If I was gay, I would think hip hop hates me’) it seems as though now, more than ever, hip hop is finding its place within queer culture. “I know a lot of gay guys and girls are really into twerk music at the moment,” agrees Mafia. This fresh appreciation of the genre within the community has been spearheaded by acts such as Le1f, Mykki Blanco and Big Freedia – the ‘Queen of Bounce’ with whom Mafia toured last year. “It was all gay audiences and I know they love that New Orleans bounce and twerk shit,” she says.
Refusing to be pigeonholed, Mafia has never let her gender or sexuality influence her craft. “I made a point early on not to be a gay DJ,” she explains. “No-one ever knew I was a girl either, because my name is Mafia and I kind of dress like a boy. When I took that name I really wanted something that wasn’t gender specific. I didn’t want anyone to look at me and go, ‘Oh, that’s a chick DJ, she’s shit’ and have a preconceived notion.”
After the Perth show this Friday, she’ll be supporting Harlem rapper A$AP Ferg on his first headline tour of Australia. Soon after she will be playing alongside Australian dance legends The Presets and signing her first record deal.
“It’s pretty exciting. There is a group of us that are coming onto this label,” she says, remaining tight-lipped about the finer details of the deal. “All I can say is that I’m really excited to release my first official mixtape. I have some incredible drops from some of my favourite MCs and international rappers.”