Fresh Fest Cleveland Headliner Spinderella Discusses Her Illustrious DJing Career

click to enlarge DJ Spinderella. - Courtesy of Fresh Fest Cleveland
Courtesy of Fresh Fest Cleveland
DJ Spinderella.
A DJ, rapper and producer, Spinderella started performing when she was just a teenager. Spinderella, who grew up in Brooklyn, NY, was still in her teens when she got a gig with Salt-N-Pepa, a hip-hop group that became hugely popular in the late '80s and early '90s thanks to hits such as "Shoop," "Push It" and "Whatta Man."

Now, Spinderella regularly DJs as a solo act.

In a recent phone interview from her Dallas home, Spinderella, who headlines Fresh Fest Cleveland on Sept. 11, spoke about her lengthy career that dates back to the days when DJs only played vinyl records.

You started DJing when you were still a teenager. What was your first gig like?
I was in school. It wasn’t even my gig. It was my boyfriend’s gig. He was a DJ. I was learning. He was teaching me. It was a partying school, and I was helping him carrying records. He went to the bathroom, and I would hold it down. It was that type of thing. Prior to that, he was showing me the technique, and he was teaching me. I played a few songs, and that sparked a fire right there. My first real gig was with Salt-N-Pepa. It wasn’t something that I was trying to do. I just knew how to do it. I had just learned not too long before that. I was a lover of music, and my father was a collector of vinyl. I was always around it, and music was in my life since I was a baby.

That must’ve been a great time for hip-hop. What was the Brooklyn/New York scene like when you started out?
Well, I was in my own world. I was dealing with school and my friends and my boyfriend and working on an ice cream truck. I had a lot of siblings and there was a lot going on in my household with the parents and the kids. Hip-hop in those days when I was coming through, we had DJs who would plug up. We had DJ crews who would plug up. I grew up in the projects. There was a crew that lived in my building, and we had DJ Keith Watkins who lived in another project that was always giving parties right in the center of us. They were called outdoor jams. They would come and bring their turntables out and plug up to the light post or whatever or they would run their extension cords from their apartment windows and plug their turntables up and just start playing music. It was not a club, so you didn’t have to pay for it. I was literally a kid playing jump rope or tag with my friends, and the music would turn on. They would play disco and breakbeats. They would be going back and forth with that late ’70s and early ’80s timeframe. Our music developed. Of course, you had Kurtis Blow and Sugar Hill Gang. That’s what you heard on the radio randomly maybe once in a blue moon. Of course, you had the kids with their boxes. The bigger the box, the better. That’s where you would hear it. It was the voice of the street. I remember Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. It was interesting. I could tell that there was a fire brewing with our young people.

What was it like to try to gain respect as a female DJ during that time?
It was a boys’ club.

Well, you proved them wrong.
It just makes you stronger and makes you go back harder. A lot of the naysayers really just provided the fuel that I needed. There was a time that I was down on myself. And I would never say that I was the best DJ. I just did what I could, and I learned to love it. Getting that respect is always a part of it. I got to a point that none of that mattered. I felt like it was a gift that God had given me, and there was a reason it was for me. Why let others outside take that from me? That’s when I started to focus more on it, and I just started to enjoy it. There was a time when I wasn’t enjoying it, and It was more of a job. I feel like that’s probably what most people deal with it. You have to get attached to what art is. Sometimes, you go through the periods when it becomes more like work. It’s definitely different for me today. I now see it in a different light.

I imagine it became "work" at the commercial peak of Salt-N-Pepa.
It was work. It was like we were a machine. We had to crank this stuff out and keep everybody happy and be on time and cute and smile while doing it. Being with my former group, that was a mechanical wheel you had to keep turning to achieve what we wanted to achieve. People go into this thinking they want to be an artist. There’s a lot of work that goes into that, and sometimes you just become this machine.

I think you recorded a solo album at some point. Talk about that.
I signed to Salt-N-Pepa’s label, which was a big ol’ mistake. Whatever the deal they had with that label they had fell through, and I wish I would have come out with this project. It was called Spinderella’s Ball. I had Busta Rhymes and Pete Rock on it — just the artists of that era. I had written and produced a lot of it. It was like my baby, and it was one of those projects that was shelved because of the falling out they had with the label. I still had a lot of those tracks. Maybe one day they’ll be redone and re-produced in some kind of way. Who knows?

Who’s your favorite old school hip-hop artist?
I play all the old school hip-hop artists. I like old ’80s pop and ’90s hip-hop. I like to mesh it with retro dance. I love edits that have old and new. I even started to make some edits and recreate some songs. I love everything from the ’90s that has that booming beat that was going on back then — old Mobb Deep and Biggie and Jay-Z and Nas. I have a very vast collection of music, and I incorporate it all. I can play some Madonna with some Beyonce. I can play some Michael Jackson and some Chris Brown. It’s kind of open. I like to keep the tempo. When you ask about what old artists do I love? Honey, it’s all of them.
What will the performance in Cleveland be like?
It’s going to be fun. I’ve been on the road, and so I kind of brushed the quarantine cobwebs off. During quarantine, I was doing a lot of virtual events and staying with it. Everyone took a seat, but I made sure that I stayed on it. When you sit back a lot, it’s hard to come back to the crowd. But Cleveland will be a great show.
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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