When it comes to spinning hip-hop on the ones and twos, DJ Carisma is the sole woman you'll find on the FM dial in Los Angeles. Her distinctive platform on Power 106 didn't come easy. Deejaying, as with other elements of the culture, is all too often a man's world.
Carisma, who grew up all over Orange County, finally landed in Santa Ana, whose only notable claim on rap radio comes courtesy of a verse in Warren G's "This DJ." While an unlikely launching pad for a girl with DJ dreams, the city influenced Carisma's eclectic take in her mixes. "My dad was always into blues, jazz and classic rock," Carisma says. "My mom was always into her Christian and Hawaiian music. . . . Everyone listened to everything in my family except for hip-hop."
It was through an older friend that Carisma got into rap music in elementary school, listening to the likes of Kris Kross, Da Brat, Tupac and Biggie. Later, as a student at Santiago High School, she got turned on to turntables. "Me being a girl, I'd always see the boys doing it, and they'd never let me. I had to save up my money and get my own set."
Carisma saved her cash for weekend trips to a now-shuttered Civic Center Drive record store. "Ghetto Records is the first record store I ever went to," she says.
Word of Life Church let her perform at youth events where she honed her skills. Word spread quickly about her turntable talents, leading to gigs at house parties and quinceañeras. "I used to DJ on upside-down trash cans back in the day," Carisma says. "Whatever I could fit my equipment on, put my speakers up and do my thing, I was doing it, paying dues!"
All the hard work eventually paid off for the 25-year-old. She landed her spot on FM rap radio in 2009 with a big assist from OC's jerking movement. Spinning all over Southern California, she noticed youngsters kept requesting "You're a Jerk" by the New Boyz. She persuaded E-Man at Power 106 to have them perform a gig at Westminster High School. "The whole entire gym swarmed the floor and just started jerking," Carisma recalls of the dance craze.
Before that moment, Carisma's applications to the station netted at least four rejections. "I grew up listening to Power 106; I remember being introduced to Mr. Choc and the Beat Junkies," she says. "It was all guys, though, so I never thought I could make it happen." She now spins Friday mornings and Saturday nights, helping to re-establish West Coast hip-hop's prominence on the airwaves.
Carisma's next album is scheduled to drop in January. "I finally feel like I've gotten to a point in my career where it's time to take it to the next level," she says. "I've pretty much done every club in Southern California and every mega concert." Her forthcoming DJ Carisma Presents features an assembly of rappers with whom she has networked. The first single, "Anyway," brings together Tory Lanez, Sage the Gemini, Eric Bellinger and Mishon. It's building momentum ahead of the album's release.
"I'm really proud to put on for Latinas and women," Carisma says. And she has become a role model for young girls, who come up after shows telling her she's inspired them to take to the turntables. "I'm so honored that I'm doing something in a positive manner, keeping my self-respect as a female because this game is crazy."
All along the way, she never forgets where she came from. "I'm proof that you can do it," she says, "and I'm from Orange County."
For more information on DJ Carisma, visit www.djcarisma.com.