NEVER LISTEN TO THE NAYSAYERS
By Rosei Skipper
Photography by AB-PHOTOGRAPHY.com
Jas Tastik’s biggest piece of advice for aspiring creatives? “Just keep going. Never listen to the people who tell you no. And a thousand people will.”
Growing up in Rochester, aspiring to be a hip-hop artist, DJ or actress wasn’t exactly normal. But for Tastik (who’s known professionally as artist LaidEe P), music and performing have been her passions for as long as she can remember. Her first time on stage was at age 8, and by 14 she’d put together a small home recording studio and was releasing her own albums and mixtapes. Every Rochesterfest, local fair and Juneteenth you’d see her pounding the pavement, selling home-burned CDs out of her backpack for whatever people would pay. “Some people graced me with $20, others only had $2—whatever was in their pocket!” Within five years, she’d released five studio albums and three mixtape albums locally.
Tastik’s transition to DJing happened almost by accident, when her John Marshall dance team was hosting a mixer and didn’t have a budget for entertainment. A school staff member who happened to be a DJ offered to lend his equipment, and Tastik ran the music with a friend. “I had so much fun, and everyone at the dance had a blast. I realized that I could actually do it as a job.”
THE RIGHT PLACE, AT THE RIGHT TIME
For the next couple of years, Tastik continued plugging away at both her music and DJing. But she was frustrated that things weren’t moving faster. Wanting to make a change, she headed to Florida to advance her career. But it wasn’t until a fateful solo trip to Atlanta that things took off. With a bit of tenacity and a lot of luck, she connected with Ronald Lopes, brother of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC fame. “Call it god, or the universe or whatever you want, but my career exploded after that.” Tastik spent an evening in the recording studio with Lopes and TLC, which was “literally a dream come true.” Tastik had idolized the performers since childhood and still considers them her greatest musical influence. Eventually she landed a role in “Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Movie.”
During filming, she was invited to stay with family member Reigndrop Lopes, which proved to be a valuable connection in the industry. She tagged along to meetups, primers and other red-carpet events, got gigs playing in festivals and appeared in movies.
“Lopes would introduce me as ‘her DJ,’ and at first, that irked me. I’d say, ‘I’m not just a DJ though!’ She would always correct me, ‘You’re not, but all you need is one talent outright and tell them the rest after they’re interested!’” Tastik didn’t accept that advice right away but in retrospect says that Lopes was 100% correct. “I became known that way. People I’d never met would walk up to me at events saying, ‘Hey, favorite DJ!’ That’s when I realized it was time to take professional DJing to the next level and things popped off.”
DIFFERENCE IS A MIXED BAG
After over 15 years working in the male-dominated field, Tastik has many thoughts on her experience of being a woman of color in the industry. On one hand, being a female DJ was unique when she started out, and people took notice. Lopes encouraged her to embrace that uniqueness, and Tastik is proud of the success she has achieved, despite facing discrimination. These days, she doesn’t shy away from embracing the qualities that make her stand out.
Of course, being a female performer of color has had its challenges over the years, which Tastik describes as “slow to change.” For starters, female DJs face entirely different standards than their male counterparts when it comes to their appearance. “A guy can DJ in jeans and a t-shirt and everyone thinks it’s cool, but if I showed up looking like that, people would wonder what’s wrong with me!” In addition to fighting the stereotype of the “female DJ in a bikini, pressing play on a computer,” being a female performer costs more. “I’m expected to get my hair done, nails, full makeup, lots of bling—it’s expensive.” While Tastik enjoys putting on a great show, it’s not lost on her that women incur considerable expenses that male performers don’t even consider.
Tastik also notes that as a woman of color, people tend to assume that the only music in her repertoire is hip-hop. While she loves that genre, she prides herself on having a large repertoire, including honky tonk country, which was a favorite when she was growing up. In the 90s she became obsessed with new jack swing (think a fusion of rhythms, R&B and production techniques found in hip-hop and dance-pop). And while she has always loved rap, she tries to explore every genre. Tastik emphasizes that variety and flexibility are key to her professional success. She says, “I grew up on everything. I love music, period! My shows are never a specific genre unless requested by the host.”
She notes that she’s found it difficult to break into the southeast Minnesota DJing scene—something she hasn’t experienced in Atlanta, where she spends about half her time. “People here are more likely to hire someone they’re comfortable with—someone who looks and sounds like them.” While other DJs are able to get hired simply by listing their prices on a website, Tastik finds herself working hard to convince potential clients that she’s a legitimate option. “In Atlanta, I work with well-known artists and entrepreneurs with no problem. The ‘Oh-my-gawd! It’s a girl’ and ‘Whoa—she’s brown!’ thing doesn’t happen.”
Tastik describes her performance style as “loud, extremely comfortable and a little bit crazy.” While most DJs prefer to sit back and press play, Tastik likes to travel the room, encouraging the crowd to let loose and have some fun. “I’ll walk up to Grandpa and tell him to shake his booty with me!” Given her background in performance, dance, acting and even stunt work, it’s no surprise that Tastik takes an active role while entertaining the crowd.
EYES ON THE PRIZE
Asked for her thoughts on the Rochester music scene, Tastik sounds both frustrated and hopeful. “Honestly, many problems haven’t changed. It’s the same ‘Where can we perform, how can we get people to come, should we have a door price?’ Venues are hard to find. People don’t respond until the day of or say they’ll come but never show.” On the other hand, she sees plenty of room for optimism, particularly noting some of the DIY performance spaces in town, such as Canvas & Chardonnay, which recently hosted a packed hip-hop show featuring local performers, including Tastik. “There is SO much talent in Rochester—we just need more opportunities to showcase it!” She hopes that the upcoming generation will continue to build on the successes that have already happened.
Asked what keeps her going despite setbacks, Tastik says, “I always try to remind myself that I’ve gone through hard times before, so I can do it again. I look at the photos I have of myself with Grammy-winning artists or Oscar-winning actors and remember that, while I haven’t been in the leading role yet, or been the leading act at EDC (a music festival), I’ve been involved in these things deep enough to where I won’t ever look back.” She hopes that her hometown will continue to support her and other artists to whatever heights of success they may reach.