The Hirshhorn’s sophisticated advance-ticket After Hours series continues this Friday, July 24. Sip a few cocktails and enjoy the multimedia exhibitions while DJs izzy b and nyko skyye control the treble and the bass, along with special guest dahlu. Just try doing THAT during the daytime. And curator Kristin Hileman will be around for the festivities, giving a gallery talk at 8:30. Don’t worry about having to leave early either—the lounge will be open from 8:00 PM until midnight, while the galleries are open until 10:00 PM.
The Hirshhorn, it turns out, is a familiar place for DC native DJ izzy b (Iona Rozeal Brown). She’s not only a DJ, but also an accomplished visual artist whose Asian-influenced "Shinto Hip-Hop" art is part of the Hirshhorn collection. Smithsonian’s Jeff Campagna spoke to Brown about the upcoming event.
Does it feel cool to be spinning at a venue (the Hirshhorn) that’s got one of your pieces in their collection?
I’m pleased, for sure. I’m honored to be in the Hirshhorn’s collection and I’m honored that they would ask me to DJ their event. I’m from DC and this is huge for me…I’m blushing.
So for the uninitiated readers, what type of music would one expect to hear you play at an event like this?
Myself, I like to mix it up. For this night, coming up, I’ll probably spin some hip-hop, definitely. I spin mostly underground or old-school hip-hop, like when hip-hop was actually hip-hop and actually good. What’s being played now, I only listen to it for research. It’s nothing I would subject anyone to. I like to bring in other elements as well. The tempo is what’s motivating me. I’d like to spin a variety of things, and not just one style of music.
You say you like the old-school style—so do you ever get the desire to do a little record scratching?
Yes, I do, actually (laughing). I do get the itch to scratch, and I do occasionally. I’m no turntablist, though, just understand that. I’m not a Rob Swift and The X-ecutioners, DJ Babu, or Qbert—I’m nowhere near their level. Those guys are amazing. . . In my dreams I would love to be able to do that. I do a couple little things, but that’s it.
You’ve been noted as having an Asian influence in your artwork—any Asian influence in your musical selection?
All the time. I usually don’t play it out. I’ll use it for special events. . . I haven’t done it in a long time. Grad school was probably the last time I’ve played any of the music that I’ve worked on with an Asian influence. It’s kind of private, so I don’t usually do it a whole lot.
So what inspired you to go the DJ route—do you find the resulting creative satisfaction is anything close to what you feel as a visual artist?
I’ve been wanting to DJ since I was 19, when I first heard Plug Three of De La Soul and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest. Those are the two guys that made me say, "I SO wanna do that." I love Jam Master Jay, and obviously I have an affinity for Run DMC. I love those guys and really respect who they are. I’m very aware of not actually seeing myself as a DJ until I heard Plug Three and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. . . Since I was a child, I always sort of envisioned myself as being a player of music. Going to parties with my friends, I was the one that brought the records. I would make sure that I got at least three records we heard at the club the night before.
Do you think your audio style and visual styles have any commonalities?
Yes, I do. I think that the way that I approach the work is very similar to the way one would DJ, in relation to sampling. Usually when you’re sampling something as a DJ or a producer, my belief is you’re sampling something you’re very familiar with. . . When I use images and symbols and things from other areas of the world, it’s usually something that I try to focus on and really learn what it is, and what it’s used for. Not just "let me just throw this in there ‘cause that’ll be cool." The whole piece with the blackface (view referenced art series here) and comparing it to Kabuki is because Kabuki is an art form that I have a lot of respect for, and was exposed to it at a very young age. I have a very clear pinpoint in my head as to what excited me about it, why it stayed with me for so long, and so I have a lot of respect for the world. There’s no such thing as too much respect.
You’ve got a few others working with you this Friday—how does working the room with multiple performers compare to working a room by yourself?
I think that being able to DJ with more than one person means you actually do get to work the room. I think all three of us will be able to interact with people. It’s actually really nice. Sometimes you’re the DJ and you have to do the whole thing and you don’t get to talk to anybody. . . It’s bad to come up and talk to a DJ when he’s trying to do something. . . If they’re hunched over and the headphones are on, don’t come up and touch them. . . I don’t think people take it very seriously. . . I’ve had people pull on me while I’m trying to drop a record. It’s like I’m a chemist, so if you, like, shake my arm, it might be nitroglycerin and we’re all done—the party is over! (laughing) I’m hoping it will be a really lively time!
Where are you looking to go from here, music and art-wise?
I think that the two are starting to merge, once again. They’ve always merged for me. Then the job of the artist is to put it out there to you and watch for the reaction, see what people say. It’s becoming more and more apparent to me that I have more to do. A lot more work to do. I just hope for the time to do it. I just want to be around long enough to get some of the stuff out of my head, and hopefully get a platform to present it. Because you can’t take that for granted.