We all have gifts and callings. But to respond to that calling is a different story—to nurture your gift requires courage, bravery, wherewithal and much more. You never know how many chances you’ll get to live the life you want, so you have to rely on your intuition. You have to show heart; you have to bet on yourself.
Amran Hassan, known as DJ OhSo, was a young girl in Toronto, who dreamt of one day being a full-time DJ but was told it wasn’t possible. Regardless of objections to her true dream, she never let it go. She started to DJ in her hometown of Toronto, until it became apparent that she wouldn’t be able to grow there. One fateful day in 2012, OhSo headed way south to Miami, Florida, and club gigs, residencies, and a Grammy party or two later, she is realizing that dream. She formerly was the official DJ of Oakland rapper Kamaiyah, and is currently an instructor at Jam Master Jay’s World Famous Scratch Academy in Atlanta and Miami.
When you truly believe in yourself and push relentlessly, special things happen. The first step is commitment, and I spoke to OhSo about that, and many other things as we chronicle her journey from teenage girl with a dream to a woman striving towards her goals. We met in a small restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (the burgers were FLAMES) on a typically ice cold February day, and covered OhSo’s past, present, and future. Sweet and forthcoming, OhSo had a very clear vision of what she’s done, and what she wants from her life and career, going forward.
ROBBY SEABROOK III: When you moved from Toronto to Miami, you didn’t know anyone, how did you hit the ground running and start to pursue your dreams?
DJ OHSO: I jumped into the deep end. I knew what I was getting into when I decided that Toronto wasn’t the space that I wanted to build my brand. I just knew that every opportunity, every person that I was going to meet, I had to put everything out on the table. I started introducing myself to different people, club owners and promoters. I also looked at the signs; every time God brought somebody into my life, I felt there was a reason for it. I’m supposed to meet people, I’m supposed to learn more about the area, through these conversations. I utilized all of it.
Your ability to feel a crowd out, was that natural, or something you had to learn over time?
That was definitely like, studying my environment. I was going into different parties, and seeing what different crowds of people were reacting to. I couldn’t go a underground party and expect everyone to rock out to some old-school hip-hop. So I’d be in different areas, in different cities, and I’d just pay attention. I didn’t realize how much homework it was gonna be, but I’ve definitely done a lot of homework when it comes to DJ shit.
Also, when I was younger, I didn’t go to parties. So it was kinda weird to be like, “I’m gonna be a DJ at parties!” and not having really been to parties.
How old were you when you went to your first party?
22, maybe? I didn’t really do all that. I’m scared of my parents. I was so scared of my mom at the time [laughs].
I feel you, I definitely had the sheltered kid thing too. Matter of fact, when did they let you listen to rap with cursing, or were you sneaking to listen to it?
First off, sneaking ALL of it. I remember one time, I tricked my uncle into getting me Puff Daddy & The Bad Boy Family’s No Way Out. I said: “Uncle Key, get me this tape!” when we were in the mall and he said: “Yeah, sure!” Then one day, in 7th grade, I was in the car with my mom, and I put it in. I don’t even know what made me put it in when my mom was there, the minute she heard a cuss word, she ejected that shit and threw the it out the window. I felt soooo bad, because my uncle just spent like $20 on it. My mom definitely wasn’t with that cursing shit. “Stupid” was a curse word in our household. I used to get in trouble for saying that.
What was your first gig?
My first real gig was a party called Classic Sundays in Miami. The DJ that booked me for it had never seen me [play] before, so the whole time I was like: “Are ya sure? I haven’t really DJ’d before, I’m new to Miami, you don’t even know me like that, how do you trust that you can book me for this!?” So when he booked me, I was still shocked that anyone liked me that much at that time. The party was from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., I got there at 11 thinking that they were gonna have me open up. He was like: “No, I’m just gonna have you go on at 1!” so I’m panicking now. “You mean… when people are here?”
“I can’t DJ to an empty ass room? You mean people are gonna be paying attention?”
The DJ booth was high up, so everyone can just see me. It started getting packed at [midnight], and the guy tells me to come set up. He then says: “Oh yeah, Will Smith is here too.” Will Smith is instrumental in me quitting my job, and thinking, I’m doing this full time, for sure. When he told me Will Smith is here, I was in straight panic mode, you’re talking about Will Smith. THE Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith!
Can you expand on how he motivated you to quit?
Number one, he’s just fire—everything about him when it comes to his work ethic, it has always been admirable to me. I just never knew where to focus it... There was a video of his interviews, a 10-minute inspirational video. His perspective was just genius. I thought, you’re right, what’s the point of plan b?! So I just thought, what’s the worst that can happen at this point? I’m quitting [my job], and if it doesn’t work out—my parents still love me, [I’ll just go home]. I just took the leap, he literally was like “JUST DO IT!” So that’s always been the mantra; just try, what’s the worst that could happen?
So they are telling me, Will Smith is in this club, and I’m thinking, what the hell am I gonna do? So, I’m up there, I started DJing, sweating… I’m sweating! I don’t even know what’s going on anymore, I just know that everyone is dancing. Then, I play “Motownphilly” [by Boyz II Men], and he goes nuts. He was in the middle of the dance floor going off. It was surreal. The set was done and I asked to be introduced. They told me the minute I started packing up [that] he left. I can’t believe it, I’m never meeting Will Smith. Have you met Will Smith, have you seen him down the street? When do you see Will Smith? I gotta look at the good in this experience, he saw that I existed, for like an hour. And he was dancing! I helped him enjoy his night.
There seems to be a different kind of camaraderie amongst female DJs than male DJs. Do you think that comes from all of you knowing what it takes to maneuver through the industry, or something deeper than that?
I think that, when it comes to female DJs, it’s really just knowing we don’t have that many chances. The bar is ten times higher, because of the fact that you’re a girl. Just knowing that other women have experienced it. We also know what it means to learn how to do something in this male-dominated industry. I hope it’s the same with other industries.
I think it is. Just, in my personal experience, there’s something about female DJs. It’s not hard to find a group of female DJs who know each other and who respect and like each other. The way female DJs band together is refreshing—you can easily find an event where there’s only female DJs.
The only scary part is I’ve run into some women women who were kind of “every man for themselves,” which is cool, I get it. My mantra has always been “give love.” It doesn’t matter what level that you’re at. Especially if you’re someone that’s new and you’ve thought about doing it, why are we not encouraging more girls to do it? Are we doing it because we’re trying to keep our jobs? That’s part of the reason that I like my job as an instructor—it’s because it’s giving opportunities for people to learn it, that didn’t go to school for it. I didn’t even know there was a school for it.
Talk about that, about being an instructor.
That started off in Miami. I was just looking for a space to use equipment, because it was too much to bring all my turntables and stuff down (from Toronto). I reached out to see if I could help out around the space in exchange to use the equipment. The director [told me to] pull up. I came in thinking I’d have to answer phones; instead, he told me to assist with his instructing. I was a teaching assistant for a year and change. Then when I moved to Atlanta I [asked around] and found out they were opening [a school] one in a month. I was then told to go meet the people at the new location, and the guy at training told me they had all of their instructor spots filled, but he still wanted to fit me in. They didn’t have any female instructors. So I thought: “Okay cool, that could be a dope opportunity.” The minute I got into Atlanta, I literally started teaching classes there at the Scratch DJ Academy.
Even back then, you just carried yourself like a regular person who happened to DJ. I think that’s important with anything you would want to do, even outside of the creative ranks.
Then over time, I started to notice, I let people be involved with my work. I want people to be a part of my journey with me. I have at least a cool 1000-2000 people who were following me from the very beginning. When I talk to them now, they remember 2011-2012 when I just started.
How do you get through the rough days?
I got to a point just before I started DJing [when I realized] that we control our own thoughts. I just decided to always choose happiness. Even though there have been days where it’s been: “Holy shit, I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know when I’m gonna have money,” I just choose to find joy in something else. Whether it’s talking to someone who always makes me happy or watching standup comedy. I’ll just go and cheer myself up, or distract myself from whatever got me down in the first place. So when people ask me how am I happy all the time, I make myself happy. Whether it’s me going to get a brownie with some ice cream, I do those things because I know it’s gonna make me happy. Or I’ll take a trip to Miami, and I’ll just lay on the beach and meditate. But a lot of it has to do with your thoughts. I could either just sit there and sink deeper into that quicksand of sadness, but I don’t want to. Happiness is a choice, so I just wanna be happy all the time.
A majority of people get consumed by [sadness], which I understand. There are a lot of bad things out there in the world. But that’s the thing, do I accept it? No! I’m gonna go find a way to cheer myself up, because I don’t know when I’m gonna die. I’m not gonna spend my last day on Earth sad. If I have to be the one to cheer people up, I don’t care, I’ll do it.
Anything else you wanna say to close this?
Photos by Michael Anthony Hernandez.
OhSo is wearing the “RSWD 10” anniversary collection, available only at The Hundreds Los Angeles aka RSWD.