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Lisa Love’s DJing 101.

October 19, 2012

Text by Aneesah Coley. Images by Sharon Calvin.

Lisa Love remembers being 18, living in  upstate New York, visiting a club one night where she saw DJ Smooth on turntables. It was 1984 and she had grown up listening to the radio. Like many others, Love had never seen a live DJ before, even during her early days in Philly. She was amazed to see someone making music using the ones and twos.

“I was looking at the turntables,” she remembers. “He had a mixer. I didn’t know what none of that stuff was but I just knew that he was making it happen, and making it sound like what I was used to hearing on the radio.”

She started going to the club whenever Smooth was spinning.

“I would go on Fridays and Saturdays and just stand there and watch him,” Love explains.

She eventually went up to him and said, “Yo, you sound like the radio.”

Then she asked him to teach her the craft, which he did. He became her mentor, encouraging her to land her first job as a DJ.
Love has been DJing ever since, performing with or opening for the likes of Bilal, Floetry, Jaguar Wright, Jill Scott, LL Cool J, Musiq Soulchild and DJ Jazzy Jeff.

And now she’s turned the tables – in addition to spinning and mixing professionally, she teaches people the art of DJing from her studio in Kensington.

She founded the More Than Music DJ Institute (MMDJI) in 2007 after being inspired by the volunteer work she did for an organization called The Girls’ DJ Collective.

“It was two ladies who had an after-school program for young girls, 13 to 17,” Love recalls. “It was a DJ class but it taught them more about self-empowerment, to be yourself, free to venture into things that you’re interested in and not worry about it being a male-dominated situation.”

When The Girls’ DJ Collective folded, Love had received the blessings of the organization’s founders to go on and do her own similar thing.

Her students come from all walks of life, staying true to the institute’s motto, “Where Everyday People Become DJs.” She teaches students of various ages, interests and professions. One student, an accountant named Ravi Jackson, has amassed a huge following as an event DJ, specializing in Bhangra and Bollywood music. Another student, Reza Sayah, is a Pakistan-based international correspondent for CNN. He sought out lessons from her during a visit to Philadelphia.

Love teaches on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at MMDJI after finishing her day job as a prison recreation specialist. She gives her all when instructing, offering students four two-hour classes as a course.

“I can teach a person that has no skills how to DJ basically in two hours,” she says with confidence.

Amongst the various things that she uses as teaching tools are Technics, a 57 mixer, Numark NS7 and Serato Scratch Live. Students learn to mix, blend, go from one genre to the next and also how to find their “one,” their rhythm. Students also learn about professionalism and the business side of DJing.

“I love teaching more than I like DJing because I wanna create monsters,” Love admits.

Business has been so good, Love started schools in two other locations – in upstate New York and Greensboro, North Carolina. Her old mentor, DJ Smooth, operates both.

For the past 22 years, Love has worked in the federal prison system. A former social worker, she calls hers the fun job in the prison system, where the prisoners come to classes, learn beneficial societal skills and earn certificates upon successfully completing courses.

To her, it’s both challenging and rewarding.

Born in Southwest Philadelphia in a Catholic home for children and unwed mothers, Love had a tough time growing up, even facing homelessness at one point. Today, stability is really important to Love, which is why she plans to keep her job at the prison alongside her jobs as a DJ and teacher until she reaches retirement.

She says there is neither fear nor intimidation in being one of only a few local female DJs. It inspires her to go hard.

“The females, we’re so small a percentage in the world,” Love says. “I just tell them, ‘Go out there and do it. Don’t be afraid.’”

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