One thing that was apparent on Sunday night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center was …BLACK GIRLS ROCK.
Black Girls Rock
DJ Megan Ryte has created her own lane in the music industry for years and when she’s not DJ’ing for some of the biggest artists like Remy Ma, Justine Skye and Faith Evans, you can catch her on air spinning the latest hits on Hot 97 from 10 AM to 3 PM. As one of the hottest DJ’s in the game and only female DJ on the radio in New York City, Megan is proud of the milestones she’s achieved throughout her career and is currently prepping to embark on a new one: an album.
The first single, titled “On and On”, featuring Tory Lanez and Hood Celebrityy was released on April 13th. The dancehall-inspired track includes Hood Celebrityy’s smooth vocals and Tory’s signature style auto tune, blending together to create what could be one of the biggest summer hits of 2018.
We caught up with Megan to discuss the single and how it feels to be mixing and releasing her first album. She expresses her thoughts on the rapid rise of female DJ’s in the music industry recently and even lets us in on the exact moment she knew she wanted to be a DJ.
What was the thought process like for choosing what artists would be on your upcoming project?
Megan Ryte: So, I think with every song it’s going to be different. As a DJ now, I definitely hear records all the time. I have an ear for knowing what a hit record sounds like. So, there are some records where I am like “I know that’s a hit, I want that record!” and there are some where I am going to start from the ground up, and co-produce with different people. I am definitely going to A&R each record where I’ll go and I’ll say “Okay, I have either worked on this beat with somebody or I have this!”. I am always online and looking at up-and-coming producers and I have a lot of producer friends but you never know where you’re going to hear what is going to catch your ear. With this one in particular, I was like “who do I want on this record?” and I had just started playing “Walking Trophy” by Hood Celebrityy. I thought pairing her with Tory (Lanez) would make for a summer smash. So, that was my thinking behind it.
I was going to ask; how do you figure out who meshes well together?
Megan Ryte: I think that is a part of what I know that I can bring to the table and what I am going to be doing with this project. I can hear a record and know who would be amazing on it, and it could even be somebody that you might not expect but I can hear it and be like “alright, this is going to be great”. So, I hit up both parties and was like “can we do this?!”, and they actually did not know each other at the time. A little bit after that, they met in Miami at LIV and were like “oh, we just did that record for Meg!”. So, they got to meet each other but I know it is going to be a big summer record.
It’s crazy because you never really know how much you need something until you actually get it because I never thought of pairing those two together, but now that I’m hearing them together they sound so good.
Megan Ryte: Yes, it is going to be great.
(In reference to how she started to make this project) So what comes first, the song or the artist?
Megan Ryte: I think its depends. I am a DJ first. Hip-Hop is obviously m heart and my passion, but I am a DJ. I play music. I am focused on making amazing, great-sounding records. So, I think it is a little bit of both. With this (single), obviously the beat came first but then there is going to be certain situations where I am going to go in to the studio with artists and we are going to start from the ground up. Say for instance, “alright, I know I want Joey Badass on a record. Let’s get in the studio together and do something from the ground up!”. I think it is a case by case situation but I know I will be able to hear it and be “okay, that’s what I want”.
What kind of sound were you going for, for this project in particular? Will there be a combination of various genres or sub-genres?
Megan Ryte: Just great music. I’ve been going through and working on different stuff and everything I’m hearing is great. For my first project, I am trying not to pinpoint it and make it too boxed in. I want to bring back the mixtape concept, where I want you to be able to tell from listening to it as a cohesive project that I am a DJ and it was put together this way for a certain reason, but it does not necessarily mean that it has to fit in a certain box for me to say “this is a great record!”.
You probably get this question a lot, but how do you feel about the current rise of female DJ’s right now? Of course, there were a handful of female DJ’s in the past but I think there are a lot more now than there ever were. Especially with social media, there have been a lot of public figures entering the DJ scene recently, so how do you feel about all of this?
Megan Ryte: As far as the public figures part, that is not just a gender-based thing. We see that across the board. When I first started, I would go to these clubs with my backpack on and play, and people would ask me “are you a new waitress?” or tell me “oh, you’re here early!”. Their first thought was never that I was a DJ. I have actually played in places before and I have had somebody tap me on my shoulder and say “Where is the DJ?” and I’m literally DJ’ing. So, I am totally for there being more women doing it because I can think about the amount of people that told me that I could not do it simply because I am a woman and they thought “oh, you just want to do this today and not do it tomorrow”. On the other hand, this is not a gender-based thing. I take being a DJ very seriously and I feel like you have to earn the name “DJ”. The same way I would not just pick up a basketball and tell people I am a professional basketball player. If it is something that you want to do the you should definitely perfect your craft and take it seriously. If that is the case then I am here for it.
(Laughs) that was a good answer! So, what advice would you give to someone who is interested in doing what you are doing? Someone with no previous knowledge and is just starting out?
Megan Ryte: I feel like we are in a weird time period because of the amount of access we have in our hands. I feel like it keeps you from thinking outside of the box about things. Sometimes, I will have people contact me about getting a job at Hot 97 and then I say “have you ever gone to the website and simply applied?!”. So, to me it is kind of the same with this. There is no easy answer and there is no one-way answer that will get you on the right path. The things I have realized once I sat and looked back to when I first started being a DJ at 16 years old, is that you have to buy your own equipment because you have to be able to practice. Also, it is very important that you have music knowledge because now you can download anything and play it. I will be in clubs and I will hear the same songs which is fine because you know you know what songs will rock the party, but you need to be able to DJ without playing those same 10 songs. You need to know a lot about music history in general. When I first started, I was playing at 25+ clubs and those clubs are actually 35+ clubs because even 30-year-old’s will go to 21+ clubs. So, I was a teenager playing at these parties and I was opening up for a DJ named Mr. Nice, and I credit him a lot to teaching me the fundamentals, and when you are an opener DJ it is really important that you know how to play records to warm people up and get them dancing. You are not supposed to blow through a bunch of hit records. So, I had to learn to DJ for 40-year-olds when I was about 17, but not playing that recently came out. The amount of music that I had to learn helped me so much through the years that now, I can do 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s parties. Of course, I am always going to be most comfortable in my space as a DJ and where my career has been but I can go back and do things because I have learned. Music knowledge is very important and not rushing to do a gig. Making sure you know what you are doing and practicing is at the top of my list.
Was being a DJ always your initial career path?
Megan Ryte: I couldn’t figure it out. I always had a love for music and I knew that as a kid. I knew I wanted to do something in music and I could not exactly figure out what it was. I thought I was going to be a singer but then I can’t sing for shit and nobody told me that, and then later on I was going to be a dancer but I can’t do that either. So, I was in college very young. I went to Hampton University when I was 16-
Wait! You went to Hampton when you were just 16?!
Megan Ryte: Yes, I skipped a grade so I graduated after 3 years of high school. So, I went to Hampton and I was like the baby at the school. I used my college I.D. to go to a party and I had never been to an actual college party. I remember, I walked in and saw the DJ and automatically knew that’s what I’m going to do. That is going to be how I will be able to bring my passion for music and do it as a job. So, I passed out flyers at a promotions company that held all the school events and I was really trying to DJ but of course everyone wants to be a DJ. I ended up not being able to pay for school for a semester because I did not have the money so I used some money from my job and my refund check to buy turntables. I spent a whole semester practicing and teaching myself how to DJ. That’s kind of what started it.
So, it just randomly came to you, in that moment, that you wanted to be a DJ?
Megan Ryte: Yes, because when you go in to a club atmosphere and realize for that moment that everyone forgets about their worries. You have this one person who is responsible for everybody else having an amazing night. I like a challenge and being able to have that feeling of everyone having a great night because of the musical journey that I put them through, that is what I wanted to do. However, my idea of how far I could take it was very limited. I did not realize all the things that I could do. My only thought then was being in these clubs and playing, and I was not even old enough then so I was always sneaking in.
They were booking you even though you were underage?
Megan Ryte: Yes, they didn’t know. College parties are one thing but then my thought process was “alright, the average person graduates in 4 years and then what? Then you go home”. So, instead of focusing on college parties I am going to focus on the local parties then when school is done, I have created my own local base. I started doing clubs in Norfolk, Virginia and Virginia Beach to get my name out there. Then I started doing radio not too long after that.
How was that transition from being a DJ in local parties and clubs to now being on the radio?
Megan Ryte: Well, it was interesting. The wife of the program director at 103 JAMZ, which is the first station I worked at in Virginia, was at a club that I was playing at. She introduced herself to me and I was like “Oh my God, you’re DJ Law’s wife! Tell him I really want to be on the radio!”. I never thought about radio and I had no experience but he ended up calling me and asked me if I would be interested in coming in. I started to learn that nobody really knows that you do not know what you are doing unless you tell them, so that is when I decided I was going to pretend like I know what I am doing and then maybe I can convince him that I do so they’ll give me a job. That’s how I got my start in radio.
Like “fake it till you make it”?
Megan Ryte: I am a firm believer in faking it until you make it! (laughs).
Now that this is your job, what is your most and least favorite part about it?
Megan Ryte: I love the creative part. I love to be able to have ideas in my head and for them to actually come together like “that’s my baby, listen to my baby!”. My least favorite…. (pauses).
(in reference to what may be her least favorite part) I watched an interview you did a while back where you talked about leaving an artist in the middle of tour. Do you still do tours?
Megan Ryte: I don’t tour so much anymore. I am glad that I did tour but now it is difficult because when you leave you are out of sight, out of mind. So, on tour, unless you are blessed to be with an artist who can pay you on retainer when their tour is done, you come home wondering what you are going to do next. I also got tired of living out of a suitcase but when I was touring, it was definitely an experience that I will never take back. I learned something from (DJ) Khaled and it was his persistency. Over the years, there have been quite a few DJ’s who have successfully put out albums and it is not an easy thing to do. I am obviously not done with mine (laughs) but I have heard that Khaled will call you many times until he gets you on the phone and you get that verse done. Because I am putting together a compilation, I have to call these artists and I have to say “hey, I need you for this” and then I have to wait. Then I may have to call them again and say “hey, we have to do this!” so persistency is key. I don’t get embarrassed easily or feel like I have any type of ego so it does not matter to me if you answer my phone calls, but I learned that from (Khaled) and that is definitely a hard part of (the job). As DJ’s, we are definitely on-call for artists whenever they need us but to do that on my side is something that I am learning to maneuver.
My last question for you is was there anyone in the business that influenced you musically? It could be other DJ’s, artists or just people that you looked up to in the industry.
Megan Ryte: There are different ways that different people that definitely influence me. Somebody in particular, who just so happens to be a female DJ, is Beverly Bond (author of “Black Girls Rock!”). Beverly, to me, is an example of somebody who carved her own lane and made her own path when people were telling her that she had to do things a certain way. I feel like most of my career was spent on people telling me that I am doing things wrong and I need to do things their way. So, to watch someone like Beverly Bond not just be a DJ or a pretty face, but also be a brand, model and an author while being able to take what she wanted to do and grow it in to so many things despite what people told her, all while being a black woman is very inspiring.
At the beginning of April, Google Team visited multiple cities engaging in African-American focused programs.