Phillip Rollins 1 and Jalisa Keyes participated in the Mississippi Arts Commission’s 2020-2021 Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program. This grants program supports the survival and continued evolution of community-based traditional art forms. During the apprenticeship, the master artist teaches specific skills, techniques and cultural knowledge to the apprentice, who is an emerging artist of the same tradition. Participants are awarded $2,000 to assist with the teaching fees for the master artist and other expenses such as travel costs and supplies. To learn more about the program, click here.
Phillip Rollins knows that it is easy to take for granted the basic skill sets involved in DJing. Hip hop is a relatively young music tradition having started in New York City in the 1970s, and has since rapidly developed in world-wide popularity. While hip hop once primarily relied on turntables and vinyl records as musical instrumentation, technology now allows artists to create the music through digital manipulation. For their apprenticeship, Phillip took on Jalisa Keyes to pass on his expertise in turntablism and traditional DJ techniques so that the foundations of DJing would not be forgotten. Jalisa’s drive and dedication brought her into an artform where women have historically been underrepresented – and she is thriving in it.
Master Artist: Phillip Rollins
It was important for Phillip to teach Jalisa the foundational techniques so that she could expand her skills and someday teach the next young DJ to follow her.
Phillip Rollins, aka DJ Young Venom, has been DJing since he was twenty years old, marking seventeen years. While his friends played sports in high school, Phillip enjoyed making mix tapes and playlists – all pre-Spotify. Before becoming a DJ, he started out as an A&R (Artists and Repertoire) for a record label, scouting cool music and trends that would be marketable for the label. He then took an internship with his mentor DJ Scrap at “Hot 97”, the local radio station 97.7. At the Upper Level night club, DJ D Lowe taught Phillip the basics of mixing, blending, and crowd control. He learned that DJing involves “mood manipulation” and that the music can serve to control the crowd and how people experience these events. Phillip explains:
“Music can enhance your mood in certain ways. Kind of like a drug, it’s a mood enhancer. If you’re feeling sad, more you’re than likely you’re going to listen to Frank Ocean to feel even sadder. Or if you want to feel happy you’ll probably listen to Pharell’s “Happy” or something that uplifts your spirits to get you out of a bad mood.”
After his internship, he bought his own equipment and DJ’d at poetry nights at “Seven Studio,” and then he started DJing for his own hip-hop nights. “I was getting paid like pennies – like literal pennies, to DJ from eight o’clock at night to four in the morning,” Phillip says. “But I loved it. I just love DJing. I was actually getting to do what I loved to do.” Phillip has since DJ’d on the radio, and opened for famous performers including the Flaming Lips, Snoop Dogg, Big K.R.I.T, and Whiz Khalifa. For the past seven years, he has been running OffBeat, a record store located on Millsaps Avenue in Jackson, MS where he welcomes DJs to dig through his records and learn more about music.
Apprentice: Jalisa Keyes
A pharmacist and pharmacy manager by training, Jalisa found her passion in DJing after reading Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” “Who knew ten to fifteen years ago that I would be DJing?” Jalisa expresses. “To be able to pull that same music, that same genre, that same feeling, give us that same energy, it’s kind of transformative for me because it’s just like, I didn’t know that this would be something that I would be pursuing later in life.” When Jalisa hears a song, she listens for samples and knows when the music is borrowed from some other song, whether it is lyrics, a cadence, or an instrument. For Jalisa as an artist, she hears how pieces of music are brought together to tell a story. She explains, “If you come and listen to me do a set where there is a chill vibe or a theme, I’m going to take you on a journey.”
“Music has always just been so fulfilling for me. It can say things that you don’t know how to say.” - Jalisa Keyes
Growing up in West Jackson, Jalisa Keyes only heard male DJs at parties while in high school. Jalisa finds that it is easier for her to collaborate and find opportunities as a woman in the DJ community, and people are impressed by her work – she has even DJ’d at the National Civil Rights Museum. Phillip connected her with local DJs, and she has had the opportunity to practice with them and learn new techniques at Phillip’s shop during scratch sessions. For a scratch session, DJs gather in a circle around one turntable and a mixer, then one person will follow the next as they scratch over a beat for a set number of bars.
It was important for Phillip to teach Jalisa the foundational techniques so that she could expand her skills and someday teach the next young DJ to follow her. He set out to teach her how to blend, mix, and transition between genres of music in order to build on her versatility and ability to play for different audiences. As she describes, “knowing the foundation, you can learn how to add your own sauce to it – your own flavor to it, because I feel like no DJ Djs the same.”
“You have to know music to even be able to step out and play, have a party, or anything like that. You need to know your counts, know your music, know when the beat’s gonna drop, know when to cut off, when is a good place in the song to transition to another song. And if you don’t know those foundations and stuff like, to like a DJ or a music person, or even sometimes to a person that don’t know music, they’re gonna be like, why is this music sounding like rocks in a dryer? You know, something like all beating all up together… You need the foundation to even be able to build and learn.” - Jalisa Keyes
The pandemic affected the music community when events got cancelled and live shows came to a halt. During the apprenticeship, they had planned to go to record stores in New Orleans where Phillip could help Jalisa build her record collection. Instead, Jalisa has been practicing the vinyl techniques she learned, purchasing better equipment, and keeping in communication with Phillip on her progress.
For Phillip and Jalisa, it was challenging to practice virtually or to do virtual scratch sessions because this work is such a tangible experience. “I want her to keep at it during all this and keep her skills sharp, so that when it does pop back open, she can hit the ground running,” says Phillip as he reflects on her preparation for DJ sets when the pandemic ends. Now with the apprenticeship completed, Jalisa is building up her crates of records to pursue her passion for music. They both hope to do a show together featuring a 90s set full of fun and familiar music once it is safe to do so in public.