SPEAK YA CLOUT: WAN.ILLA NICE

Speak ya clout is a series of heart to heart conversations, exclusively found at BSTN Chronicles. From insiders of the fashion business to blazers of new trails and creative forces from other industries, topics vary for each conversation.

This time, we sat down with Berlin-based DJ Wan.illa NICE who – if not heating up dancefloors with her vibrant mix of Hip Hop, Soul, Afrobeats, Dancehall, Disco, Funk, and R’n’B – is busy running acclaimed hip hop blog and eponymous promotion agency I Still Love H.E.R.


On discovering nuances in people’s music taste when touring worldwide:

I definitely noticed some. So in Germany, I feel like people are more genre-specific, like people want to know exactly which genre they’re going to hear when they go to a party. Whereas, for example in South Africa, there will be events with, let’s say, five different DJs. And every DJ is playing a different genre or different genres in one set. And most people, they are very open to that. They just want to hear good music. So in that sense, playing in Germany and South Africa is very different. But then there are also small things.

There are certain songs that were big in Germany and if you play them, you’re going to get a great reaction. And then that same – let’s say American hip hop – song: If I play it in South Africa, it might not get that reaction and vice versa. And it’s the same in the States: you play it over there and you get a completely different reaction just because they relate to that song differently. At some point, you learn like if you spend enough time in the place, you will know there’s certain songs that work in this country, but they don’t work in this other country.

For example, in South Africa, people love Kaytranada so much. There’s a couple of Kaytranada songs, if I play them there, it doesn’t matter when or where I play them in SA, it will always get a great crowd reaction. And if I play them here [in Germany], very few people will react to it. It’s a very interesting thing.

On her connection to South Africa:

So the first time I went was in 2019 and I actually had just become a DJ then. When I went to SA, I went there at the end of 2019. And I started DJing at the beginning of 2019. So me going there had nothing to do with me DJing. I just wanted to explore a different place for a while and it was very random: I watched a Netflix movie that was shot in Johannesburg. And it wasn’t a very good movie [laughs], but it showed the city and I saw it, and I thought that place looked kind of cool. So I started doing some research and then I decided I wanted to go there.

And then, from the first time I was in Johannesburg, I started DJing there right away and people were just very welcoming. And I really fell in love with the place. Like now I’ve been there, I think, six times and each time I stayed there between three and six months. And it’s become like a second home. Really. And I love DJing there. I love being there and I made a lot of friends there. So, it’s a beautiful place.

On shows that hold a special place to her heart:

Yeah. So actually, this one is also in in South Africa: And this was in Soweto, which is a township right outside of Johannesburg. And it was… It’s very hard to explain, especially to people in Germany, because we can’t really imagine what a township looks like. We were basically doing this on the street: There was a small grill, where people go and just buy barbecued meat and stuff. And they had a super small parking lot, just space for one car. And in that parking lot, we set up the DJ booth. So a friend of mine was organizing this because he’s from that area and he just wanted to give back to the neighborhood. And so we set up the DJ booth right there and we played there all day. We started, I don’t know, around 2:00 PM and we went until nighttime. And people were walking past and they stopped and they were enjoying the music. And towards the end of the night, when it got dark, the entire street was filled with people. To the point where cars could barely drive through anymore because people were just on the street dancing.

And to me, that whole day was so special because it just… I mean, we were out there playing hip hop. Like hip hop hip hop! [chuckles] It just felt so, like the essence of hip hop: To make something out of nothing. And to reduce things to the essence, which is just the music. And people enjoying the music and people connecting through the music. So that day was so special to me, and also, just knowing that I’m from an entirely different continent, but I’m here in Soweto and people are embracing me and they are happy to see me and they are enjoying my art and we’re connecting through that. So it was very special and it will always be my favorite gig that I ever played.

On getting started as a DJ (at the right time):

Throughout I Still Love H.E.R., which I’ve been running for close to 20 years now – I have always done curation. So I’ve always put together like playlists, mixtapes, or just finding artists and presenting them to people. So I think in essence, I’ve always done this, in a way. So I don’t think it was urgency that I felt. But I always had an interest in DJing. I actually I wanted to DJ when I was like 16 or 17, but I didn’t have money for the equipment.

So then I just kicked that thought out of my head. And then throughout the years, I thought about it sometimes, but I also was very occupied with my work. And then, like end of 2018, I don’t remember what exactly was the thing that made me go through with it. But I just thought like “Hey, you know what? You’ve been wanting to do this. Let’s just try it out.” And because I tend to change my mind and lose interest in things easily, I just ordered a very small, super cheap DJ controller off eBay. Because I was like “Let me not invest a lot of money, so I can try it out and see if I really want to do it.” And I did that and a friend asked me to play a birthday party. And after that, the next morning, I ordered a real controller and then two months later I had my first gig.

And, yeah, I can’t say that I’ve felt urgency, but I definitely think it happened at the right time. Because when I was younger, I don’t think I would have had the courage and the confidence in myself to be on a stage. So I think it needed to be later. It needed to be at this time. And now it’s my favorite thing in the world. Like I’ve never done anything that makes me happier than DJing.

On the beginnings of ‘I Still Love H.E.R.’:

I Still Love H.E.R. started on Myspace. And Myspace… For the younger readers who do not know Myspace: Myspace was pretty much like the first social media. And there, you weren’t really posting regularly, like you weren’t making posts like you do now. You were showcasing your interest, but you weren’t doing posts. And my page there was called ‘I Still Love H.E.R.’ And so that just continued to carry on to the other social. And the promo agency, that started during Facebook times around 2006 or maybe 2007.

How I got there was, I was managing a group from Detroit before that. And this group I had met on Myspace. So I managed them and I would always promote the music to my contacts. And I had accumulated a long list of contacts by that point through Myspace and through all my connections that I made with people who also just loved hip hop. And so I would find ways to promote the group’s music. And then when I decided to quit my day job and that I wanted to work in hip hop… At that point, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know how I was going to make money, and about two months after quitting my job, it just hit me. I realized what I was doing for the group that I was managing, I can do this for other artists without managing them and just charging them a fee. And that’s how that was born.

On people praising the uniqueness of ‘I Still Love H.E.R.’:

I think it plays a big role that I am a woman. And that I am looking at the subject matter from a female standpoint. Because most of the pages that have a similar reach, most of them are ran by men. And you can tell. Like I can tell when I look at the content, I can tell that this was done by a man. And I wish there were more women in this space because I feel like we approach things with a softness. And with more compassion and empathy. And also with more love. And I think that people can tell. So for me, I don’t post scandalous stuff. I don’t post any real beef that is like violent or whatever. I mostly stay away from negative things. Because I just want to show what makes hip hop so beautiful. And I want to celebrate my love for hip hop.

And also as an outsider… And what I mean by outsider – as a white woman in this Black culture who has been given a platform – I do not want to contribute to what a lot of white media has done and still does, making Black people look bad. So there are things that I stay away from, that a lot of other pages post because negative content is always going to get more engagement than positive. Like, I get it, but I just don’t want to contribute to it. So I think that people can feel that it comes from a place of love and celebration, and I think people can tell that it’s genuine. And I think that’s what makes people feel this way.

On over 800,000 followers sharing her love for hip hop:

It’s amazing. It’s also… One thing that is so interesting to me is how us as humans, you will always get used to a state of being and you will always strive for more. What I mean is when I hit 50,000 followers, I was like “Oh my God, this is crazy!” I never thought I would have this many followers. And then a 100,000 happened. And again, I thought this was insane. And never at that point did I think of a million. So now when I hit 500,000, I was like “Ok, now we’re going for a million.” So the crazy thing is that it becomes normal. So now to me, having 800,000 is normal. Even though that’s not normal at all, but it has become my normal.

So I don’t think about it a lot, but when I do stop and think about, it’s insane. Especially when I think about how on my Myspace blog, just on that blog section of the page, I had 20 followers. One of them was Talib Kweli [smiles]. But back then, those 20 followers meant a lot to me. That was amazing to me, that 20 people were reading my thoughts. So it’s insane and it’s beautiful.

What I also understand is that, having this amount of followers, I think in any niche, is not easy because the more followers you have, the more you deal with negativity or weird DMs, stuff like that. So you deal with a whole new set of things. But that’s also why it’s good to not have a million followers overnight. Because you get used to things. Like now I’m used to negative comments and stuff. So I just ignore it, it’s fine. I can deal with it. But if I had gotten to a million followers like two years ago overnight, I would not have known how to handle it. So I think that’s something we always need to understand. That there is a benefit in growing slowly or relatively slowly. But yeah, it is amazing.

On the excitement when her heroes react to ‘I Still Love H.E.R.’:

[Smiles] It does still excite me. Of course it depends on who it is. And also again, I have gotten used to it, which is kind of weird. But there are people where it still excites me very much. And also, again, those are moments where I have to pause and tell myself like “Look, if 16 year-old me knew this, she would lose her mind.” So I do have to pause and really appreciate what’s happening. But if I don’t do that, then yeah, it kind of feels normal. But I do I have a lot of screenshots in my group chat with my best friends where I always send them screenshots of like, you know, people who I’m a fan of following me and then I’m like “Oh my God!” So it is. It is so exciting.

On favorite interactions with pretty-well-known followers:

One that I thought was very funny… There’s this old clip of Destiny’s Child being interviewed, like in Amsterdam, and they seem very high and people have been posting this clip very often. It keeps resurfacing online. And I posted it because I think it’s super funny. And also, there’s nothing wrong with them being high if that’s what they did. And then Kelly Rowland commented on the post [chuckles] and she was like “Guys, we were not high”, something, something. And I was like “Oh my God, that’s crazy.” But that means I can never post this clip again, because now Miss Kelly Rowland has corrected me. So that’s that. [laughs]

On future goals and aspirations:

As a DJ, I really just want to continue what I’ve been doing. I just want to travel the world and play music for people. I think I’ve kind of let go of the huge ambitions. As a DJ, I used to say “Oh, I got to play all these festivals and I got to play in front of this many people.” But I realized, DJing is such a sacred thing to me. I don’t want to put myself under that kind of pressure. And at the end of the day, it’s all about just that moment of making people happy with the music I choose. So it really doesn’t matter the size of the stage or the audience. So yes, as long as I can continue traveling and DJing, I’m happy.

With I Still Love H.E.R., I definitely want to see the million [followers]. It should happen soon. I don’t want to look beyond that because I want to be happy with one number. And with I Still Love H.E.R. as a brand overall, I would like to make more money [laughs]. That’s a goal. What I really would like to do is produce more of my own content and make short documentaries. I would really like to showcase hip hop around the world. And showcase the origins of hip hop around the world, the differences in the hip hop scenes, how it started there and how it made its way over there from the US. So that is a goal. But otherwise, like I said, I don’t plan far ahead. I just kind of go with the flow, as they say [smiles].

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