Fans of artists like Ty Dolla $ign, YG, Sage the Gemini and even Kendrick Lamar owe a special thank you to Los Angeles’ DJ Carisma. If “Young California” was the dynamite that blew up the scene, Carisma is certainly the fuse. It was Carisma who championed the Young California movement that ultimately brought many of these artists and many more to the forefront of Hip Hop.
It started when Carisma was at LA’s Power 106 radio station and a group called The New Boyz were trying to launch “You’re A Jerk” in 2009. Carisma took that record and pushed her superiors until they let her play it on the radio, and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then she has helped launch countless artists and helped bring the West Coast back to the main-stage in rap and specifically to the radio waves.
Recently Carisma not only changed stations but also has started working with artists on songs like “Til the Morning” featuring Chris Brown and Def Loaf with a plethora of new projects coming soon. We got a chance with catch up with the infamous DJ and talk to her about her new move, how hard it was to change a culture that ignored her coast and her bright future.
Who outside the music industry really inspires you?
Music’s always been a part of my life. My mom was an entertainer, she was a hula dancer. So that really inspired me to get into the entertainment industry. My dad, he was really into blues and rock. He was the type to pick up the guitar and just start playing it. It really came from my parents and my family.
A lot of people talk to you about being a Latina woman and having to prove yourself twice over, tell us about a time that someone rejected you and how you overcame that?
That’s definitely happened. I feel like with promoters and things like that, I’m fighting for artists trying to start movements and people that like now. And I remember this one time there was this person and I said to them, “You’re going to regret this—don’t call me in two months expecting me to be in the same situation, because this is about to blow up.” And now it’s happened so many times. I just have to laugh, follow my gut and stick to what I believe in.
You’ve catapulted yourself to a whole new level in the last couple years.
A lot of hard work, lot of hard work, ladies (laughs).
How do you feel about your status as a role model to young people that look up to you?
Kind of like that Drake interview that just dropped the other day. Recently I woke up one morning and I realized I’m Carisma, I am DJ Carisma and I’ve become the best at what I do and I am doing something that’s never been done before by any female, by any Latina, you know? I’m the first of my kind to do what I’m doing I really realized that the other day and I was like you know what, no more games. It’s not about being a b*tch or being in this and that. When a man does this he’s the boss, so it’s just like I’ve got to the point where I know what I’m talking about I’m not going to second-guess myself or anybody.
I have proved myself so many times and I have changed it up. Because of me, West Coast Hip Hop reached the radio, because of me Ty Dolla $ign, Mustard, YG are popping—because of what I do. It wasn’t easy, it was a fight. I just realize that and I embrace it. I know a lot of girls look up to me. I’m here to break down the door for whoever wants to do anything. Whatever you want to do, you can do anything. Don’t let anybody tell you no. If the people love you and it’s organic, follow it and keep going with it.
Everyone knows you pioneered this Young California movement but how tough was it breaking through the threshold, and how hungry were the streets for that platform?
It was a big struggle from within. For me being in radio at Power 106, you think the rest of them would want to put on for our coast, and it wasn’t like that. I was the only one in that building really fighting for the streets from the Bay Area all the way down to LA to San Diego. Nobody was giving us a platform. So I had the chance. I was there, I’m a girl. A lot of people don’t like to speak up because they don’t like to ruffle feathers but I figure whatever, what do I got to lose? I’m here so I’m pushing it. It was a real fight to get these artists on the radio: the Sage Tha Gemini’s, the YG’s, Casey Veggies, even Kendrick to a point. I remember the first time I played Kendrick Lamar. Even with him being such a major artist, there was still a struggle. It still hasn’t ended because the West Coast had a big wave and it’s slowing down. And the South is taking over again, so it’s really just my job. This is what I’m here to do, to fight and I don’t mind speaking up.
How have the streets reciprocated that love back to you?
The streets love me. The streets made it undeniable for my bosses to see. That’s how DJ Carisma got so big, how I was able to change radio stations and I was able to impact radio stations. I love the streets and they love me. They’re why I could do things like have a song with Chris Brown—why not? He is special and we have a relationship. It’s all about networking and building relationships and your brand and I’ve been able to do that. That’s why people f*** with me, that’s why I got Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj calling me telling me they want me to do records with them too.
Tell us about the new venture with 92.3FM The Real, how’s it going so far?
I just changed radio stations to 92.3 The Real in Los Angeles, California. Shout out to Doc Winters and Big Boy, I love it. I’m excited to finally work for Urban radio. I’ve been at Rhythmic for a while and I’m really just passionate about urban, and passionate about the urban scene. So for me to be at an iHeartRadio station is exciting. They’re so big, I’m excited to work for them. iHeart is so connected, it’s crazy. To come from a “mom and pop” shop to a major chain, that’s like basically what I did, so I’m corporate now (laughs). I still got bosses, I’m still going to push the limit, I’m still going to push the line and just take advantage of the opportunities I got, so it’s exciting. Check me out every Saturday and every Sunday 7pm to midnight PT on Young California radio. Tune in, rock with us!
How crazy is your email? How many submissions are you getting a week?
Oh, man. It’s been like that for a while but I’m such a Scorpio, I’m such a neat freak, I need to have everything organized, so I do go through my email every single day. Artists, if I checked you out, if you catch my attention and I hit you back, great, and if not, keep working. I do check my email constantly.
What do you think are some of the common mistakes artist make early on contacting you?
Not really understanding what they’re getting themselves into. This is a business and very, very few people make it, compared to how many people are trying to do music today. It’s overwhelming. It’s a business! Don’t come to me if you think this is a game or be like, “I’m broke” or come at us with sad stories like, “I need a job.” I need a job too, you don’t think we have hardships? At the end of the day this is a business, so when you come to me come correct, not sob stories asking for handouts. Because even if I do for you, it’s not necessarily going to help you. You have to be ready for this and there’s so many layers to it.
How did you build a relationship with artists like Hello Kylie?
My manager Jason used to live in this apartment in Glendale and used to have this neighbor named Tim, who knew some people and he set it all up. They brought her to me and I was blown away from the jump. This little girl is crazy, she’s got the “it” factor. A lot of people don’t have the “it” factor, no matter how much money they spend or how much they try to force it upon us. If you don’t got it, you don’t got it. But this little girl’s really special, she’s just super young and all I had to do was meet her. I was blown away and then they started showing me things like her videos and I kept getting more sold the more they showed me. I love supporting women who are doing their thing and she’s a little woman, you got to support her.
Your website and Young California’s website is popping. How key is technology in reaching new listeners in today’s world?
It’s everything. And it doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in, if you’re not with the times you’ll get left behind. And if you don’t know how to adapt you’re just going to be one of those people that get stuck in an era, instead of someone constantly evolving and going to the next level. Who wants to stay in the same spot? Technology moves fast (snaps fingers) so you better train yourself. To the older generation, train yourself because your kids are getting job opportunities you never heard of in your life, like social media positions. I tell my parents all the time, I bought my mom a laptop. I told her to learn this, you have to, it’s crucial.
People are looking at you to break records and find new talent, but we see collaborations with the likes of BJ The Chicago Kid and Casey Veggies, Chris Brown and DeJ Loaf, etc. How many other big collaborations are you working on right now?
Tons, and this is just the beginning, this is really the beginning for me. Look at DJ Khaled and how long it’s taken him to really get to what he’s got right now. Took a long time, you know what I mean? So I’m just trying to build my catalog and trying to gain the respect of everyone keep pushing.
Should we expect a lot more Snapchatting?
Not like him (laughs). I’m not trying to be like that man, I’m just trying to do me. Thank God he’s the big homie. I don’t know if you saw this but he named me one of his Top 5 DJs of all time! He put me up there with DJ Premier and all these other guys and I was the only girl. It was crazy. It was really crazy for me and he constantly supports me anytime I drop a single, he shares it. I really feel like he’s giving me a blessing to be the queen of this, he’s the king of this, so it’s exciting.
How has it opened up business for you internationally?
International has been there. I’ve always had Japan, Europe, Australia. As soon as we launched Young California, we had Young Australia and Europe—it was crazy. It’s always been there but I haven’t traveled over there yet, just waiting for the right time. But I’ve always had Japan because I was on Power 106 in the middle of the night, which is their day time. So I always had a lot of fans from China and Japan because of radio.
Check out DJ Carisma on 92.3FM Saturday’s and Sundays from 7-12pm in Los Angeles or on the iHeartRadio app.