Updated: Dec 5, 2018
It’s a nice afternoon in West Philadelphia, amid the busy noises of the city, the rhythms and beats coming from a turntable down the street fill the air. The music is eclectic and invigorating; passersby on the street can’t help but nod their head to the beats. The music of DJ NA$H fills the streets with her mixes that combine nostalgic party music with an urban flair.
Nashirah Felder, also known as NA$H, is a 21-year-old up and coming DJ. The West Philly native is making a splash in the city’s music scene. She has collaborated with many brands including Heineken, T-Mobile and the School District of Philadelphia. Standing at 5 foot-7 with a slim frame and an impeccable sense of style, she could easily be mistaken for a model. However, music is her true calling.
Although DJing is a male-dominated industry, she is making strides and demanding equal rights. “Working in a predominantly male field is hard,” said NA$H. “The biggest problem that I have is people trying to underpay me and male DJs being inappropriate always in some way.”
She opens her orange laptop, which she tells me is her favorite color, and plays one of her favorite mixes *smile more, you look cute that way* (this is the title of the mix, it is intentionally lowercased). The title is a satirical homage to cat-calling culture, a phenomenon that unfortunately affects women, particularly in big cities like Philly.
Sexism in the streets also finds its ways into gigs according to NA$H. “I usually have to be very stern with pay because I know my worth and what I offer as a DJ.” she said, lacing up her signature Jordan Retros.
“I really hate that DJing is looked at as a male profession though,” she continued. “After every gig I always hear ‘you’re better than a lot of these dudes’ and it’s just like, did you think I wouldn’t be good?”
“I personally think females have more of an ear for music than guys,” she said with confidence.
Women empowerment is a cause that is near and dear to NA$H. “I believe in women empowerment a hundred percent, anyone would tell you.” she said. “Girls come to me all the time asking me to teach them how to DJ. I’ve taught so many so far. Everyone says I’m crazy for doing that as if they’re going to become competition with me. I don’t feel that way, I feel like DJing is an art, no one DJ is the same and everyone has a different vibe to offer. I never heard of a man not teaching another man to DJ because he may be “competition”. Why can’t there be as many female DJs as males?”
NA$H was introduced to DJing while attending the Charter High School of Architecture & Design (CHAD) in Center City. “I actually got into DJing by accident.” she explained with a laugh, “I went to CHAD and had a fashion class. I wasn’t too good with designing clothes, but my teacher knew I was trying so she [said] ‘how about you DJ for the fashion show, and I’ll grade you by that’. I’m like huh I can’t DJ. It was so random. So, I spent all semester learning to DJ for the annual school fashion show, while my classmates were designing clothes. I’m happy that she came up with that idea. I fell in love with DJing immediately.”
Her passion continued to develop as she DJed for small get togethers with friends. “We were having a Halloween party, and I never noticed how much of a liking Nashirah took to DJing,” said Quinyece Walker, a friend and former classmate. “Nashirah just took care of the music, she was on the mixer on her computer. She made the playlist and [it] was popping. She had that party jumping in the basement of her house.”
According to Walker, Nashirah frequently DJed at many of their functions. “I’ve always seen that she had a passion for music because of the concerts we would always go to and the parties.” said Nyla Williams, a close friend.
After graduating CHAD, she pursued other opportunities, but her passion for DJing found its way back. “I was really just into design for a very long time. I was more of a behind the scenes person, doing work for other artists and DJs. I was just a wallflower. I was searching for my purpose for so long. I was in college majoring in accounting, but it just didn’t feel right to me. I’m like I’m literally not doing what I truly want to do. It made me super depressed for about a year. I truly had no purpose. This year, I’m doing everything that I feel like I need to be doing, such as DJing, starting a music program for children etc. I know it’s my purpose because I don’t wake up “wanting” to do these things, but I more so feel like it’s an obligation.”
As she gained more experience, NA$H has been able to establish her own signature sound. “I would definitely describe my music as feel good” she said, slightly flipping her long hair which she recently dyed silver. She credits the local music scene for allowing her to find the inspiration for her sound.
“The music scene is Philly is very unique,” she said. “No Philly artist comes out sounding like another artist that’s already out and that’s what I love. I think it’s just a natural thing with us, because as a DJ I’m very unique. I don’t play radio hits, I don’t play what’s popular at the moment. I play what will make you feel good and I experiment with songs, a lot of DJs are afraid to experiment.”
Willams said, “Her style is different than others, her promotions are different than others, even her photoshoots are. She’s overall what we need in this generation.”
She is also heavily inspired by the musician, M.I.A. “Music fashion lifestyle etc. I love what she stands for,” said NA$H. “I love her originality I love her music. She is fire!”
Despite her humble beginnings, NA$H is making a name for herself. “I have DJed at every major music venue in Philadelphia except for the Mann music center and the [Wells Fargo] Center.” she said. “She grew fast, no one saw it coming.” said Nisa Rasul, a former classmate at CHAD.
She has no plans on stopping anytime now. “My hopes and dreams [for] the future [are] opening my own venue and getting music programs in as many rec centers as possible.” she said, “It’s always sports and maybe a little art, but never music. And more kids are wanting to get into music and don’t have any resources.”
She says the best part of her job is the independence. “Being my own boss is easy. It’s simple. If you need extra money, find a way to get it.” she said, “Depending on how bad you want it you will get it. Unlike my old 9-5. I had a steady pay. I love being able to control how much money I can actually make. It is tiring though. I had to start eating super healthy and find time to sleep a full 8 hours every day or I would be feeling super horrible.”
To keep up with NA$H, follow her on Instagram (@nashirah) and SoundCloud (@NASHIRAH).