By Ameera Steward
For The Birmingham Times
Jealena Dillard, known as DJ Dolly, is a 26-year-old DJ from the West End area of Birmingham—and she never let anyone deter her dream of becoming a DJ in a male-dominated industry.
“I just always loved music,” she said. “I love the beats, the lyrics, videos, even how music can help you think back to a certain time. … I was just like, ‘I can be a DJ. I don’t want to be a singer. I don’t want to be a rapper.’
“I feel like it comes from watching shows like ‘The Get Down’ on Netflix … [and] seeing Diamond Kuts on ‘The Basement,’ [a show on BET]. … I also look up to Vashtie, [a DJ, designer, and creative director], because she’s doing all the things I want to do. … I don’t want to just be a DJ. … I didn’t really know of any female DJs in Birmingham until I became a DJ, so I didn’t really have anyone here that inspired me to do it. [I just looked at] people I saw on TV, and I was like, ‘I can do that.’”
Dillard gained confidence from her first event.
“[It] was at Victoria Secret, and I had just bought a board, [an audio-mixing console used by DJs to control and manipulate multiple audio signals], two weeks before. … The fact that I was able to ‘fake it till I make it’ and … do the best I could from what I learned in a short amount of time, [let me know] I’m a D.J. If [people in the crowd are] enjoying themselves, that’s all that matters.”
Her parents and boyfriend were also inspirations.
“It’s really important to have that extra push you may need on certain days when you’re feeling down, as well as financially,” said Dillard. “Tomorrow I could decide to be a firefighter, and [my family is] going to be there.”
As a DJ, Dillard likes to both feed off of the energy in the room and control the energy by playing a certain song. That’s one of the things she loves about DJing.
“If I’m trying to get the crowd moving a little bit or if I need that one song that’s going to get it started, it’s going to be an old-school song, an old R&B song. It can be something as old as the Gap Band’s ‘Outstanding,’” she said. “[At my last event], the first song I played was Young Thug’s ‘Hot,’ and everybody went crazy. … Usually, it’s either a song that’s very new or an old-school artist.
“Ultimately, your job is to control everyone’s energy; to make everybody happy and feel good; to make people want to dance, bob their head, or remember that song they haven’t heard since they were 16.”
With that control comes freedom, and Dillard said it’s important for her to be free.
“I feel free, my chest feels clear,” she said. “With me being a woman, I feel like it helps motivate the next girl to decide … [she doesn’t] need a male to do a certain thing; … it helps inspire little girls … and even grown adults to do something with music. … You can do it, too, and you can do it better than [men]. … I really love to be able to inspire people, and I feel like with DJing I inspire a lot of people to do what they want to do, [whether it’s DJing or not].”
As for memorable events, Dillard recalled a recent show before a mixed crowd, for which the people who booked her did not want to hear trap music.
“I was able to still play music that everybody was able to enjoy,” she said. “[I played] a mixture of R&B, a little [electronic dance music, or EDM], and little pop music, so the energy was really cool.”
Dillard believes female DJs are important because “women bring a unique edge and inspiration to other women to help them excel in the music industry despite being told, ‘Only boys and men do that.’”
Follow DJ Dolly on Instagram at @iamdjdolly or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.