DJ Ohso has spent the last decade of her career being the life of the party. However, when it was time to resurrect her Atlanta party series Bounce Dat at Loft earlier this month she was nervous.
‘I didn’t know if anyone was going to come out,” OHSO told Okayplayer. “It was cool to even DJ that type of set, I don’t get to do Bounce Dat sets everywhere, and now I have that spark of [bringing] the party back.”
Bounce Dat, which took a two year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, began in 2019 after OHSO — who was born Born Amran Hassan — observed women, femmes, non-binary, and queer people were unable to have safe and enjoyable experiences at Atlanta parties. Seeking an experience where attendees could be their authentic selves and evade the annoyances of male aggression, cat calling, and harassment, OHSO decided to create it herself. Conceptualizing the idea for Bounce Dat in 2016, DJ Ohso had the foresight of embracing the current era of female rap well before it popped off.
“I started recognizing when Cardi B was coming out with her mixtapes, like, ‘Something is brewing and I think that even just these artists that are taking these risks, it’s going to liberate more women to feel comfortable getting behind the microphone.’ Then it was Meg [The Stallion] coming out. I was like, ‘This is the right time,’” OHSO said. “The girls have been putting out so much good music to the point where you can have a whole night where you’re just playing rap records from girls, or even just the R&B girls too. I think the timing was perfect. The rap scene is very fucking male-dominated, so to me it was a great opportunity to lift other Black women up, and that’s essentially what Bounce Dat is.”
When she started Bounce Dat, Ohso, who was raised in Toronto, had been living in Atlanta for five years. So she had established strong relationships in Atlanta’s music scene. Because of that, Bounce Dat’s message of inclusiveness spread through word-of-mouth. “This is a space for Black women to celebrate one another, but because it’s a safe space for us, that means it’s a safe space for other marginalized groups,” OHSO said. “Once people started to hear about that, all of us were on the forefront of ‘We want to feel safe, we want to feel comfortable, we want to be liberated without having to worry about men trying to talk to us or harass us.’”
Atlanta and Dirty South rap has become the signature of Bounce Dat, with high-level energy that OHSO says she’s never felt in any other city she’s lived in.“New York hip-hop never really did much for me besides maybe some of the underground stuff with Mos Def and Wu-Tang Clan and shit like that,” she said. “But the south has the shit that made you want to move – It tugs on something in my spirit. I love Atlanta, honestly, this is the closest to home I’ve ever felt.”
With Southern rap and shake anthems making its presence known during Bounce Dat, the music adheres to the party’s don’t-hold-the-wall policy. Before the pandemic hit, in November 2019, Bounce Dat held shop during Red Bull Music Festival in Atlanta, with performances from Queen Key, Molly Brazy, Empress Rah, and two Queens of Crunk — all artists that were on OHSO’s wishlist.
“We had fucking Diamond and Princess from Crime Mob. It was serendipitous. I had made a list of different artists when [my team] was asking me who I wanted to book, and they were the second ones,” OHSO said. “We ended up going with the girls and it was cool because it was the 15-year anniversary of ‘Knuck If You Buck.’”
Bounce Dat also gives attendees the opportunity to celebrate the ghetto fabulous aesthetic with pop-up tooth gem activations, photo booths, nail salons, baby hair stations and a pop-up tattoo parlor. Wanting to align with brands that fit the Bounce Dat aesthetic – and subsequently building their presence in Atlanta – OHSO has also pitched to music labels bringing Bounce Dat on the road during tours with women in rap and R&B. The idea came to OHSO in 2019 while playing a Bounce Dat set at a Spotify’s Rap Caviar event in Miami, with two special guests paying the set extra attention.
“At some point I saw Saucy Santana behind me and I was like ‘Yo, can you come out? They love your song.’ So he comes out and the crowd goes fucking insane, and then we ended up being able to introduce Lil Kim,” OHSO said. “That was the moment I was like, ‘We should be opening for all these tours.’ That would be cool to bring Bounce Dat on the road and even do some afterparties.”
Improvising on-the-spot has become OHSO’s practice, and her ability to adapt to any space she’s in can be credited to being one of the reigning female DJs over the last decade that specialize in hip-hop sets, along with Vashtie Kola, Kitty Cash, and Venus X. “I think I’m one of the first few who started doing it from my generation of girls. We opened up the floodgates and look at where it’s at now,” OHSO said. “It never felt like any competition or anything, it’s just all the girls finding their own sauce. I think it’s incredible how many women DJs there are that we might have inspired along the way.”
At the height of the pandemic, OHSO’s life took a turn with the passing of her father, leaving her, as the oldest of three siblings, with the responsibility of saving her family’s Toronto home. Born in Saudi Arabia, OHSO’s family moved to Toronto when she was just four-years-old, although her Ethiopian parents didn’t speak English. Through her father’s death, it took the family almost two years to get access to his estate, but OHSO was given a boost of encouragement with returning to Bounce Dat to support her family’s mission.
“It’s extremely important for me because of how much I understand his sacrifices,” OHSO said.“When I think back to me deciding to take a leap to DJ and moving [from Toronto], I’m like, ‘They created so much from nothing, so how can I not keep that part of his legacy alive?’
From artists to A&Rs, the embracing of women in hip-hop has a long way to go, with OHSO shooing away other male DJs and rap-enthusiasts who once doubted her skills. When she first began deejaying, OHSO noticed that occasional male mentors were waiting for her to mess up during sets.
“A lot of old heads that were looking at me crazy, like, ‘Do you know how to use vinyl?’ It was very condescending and gross,” she said. “From when I was younger, I was always a tomboy. Anytime someone would say, ‘Oh, you’re a girl, you can’t do something,’ my spirit was like, ‘You have to do these people wrong.’ That pressure has kind of forced me to be ready for anything. By now, I’m used to shit getting thrown at me.”
OHSO also notes that she’s seen other Black women being underestimated in all sects of the music industry, and in order for this unfairness to change, it starts with upholding Black women into spaces where they’re the tastemakers. “The music industry needs our voice. They need Black women to cosign things, they need Black women to help create moments, but they’ll have us do that at a lower level and have male execs take credit for it,” she said. “We need more representation as A&Rs and music producers with men becoming more of an ally for us, because I don’t think men in the industry realize their privilege and how difficult it is for women.”
With her eyes on booking talent and elevating the Bounce Dat production under her Homegirl brand, DJ Ohso has rediscovered her purpose after years of being told what she couldn’t do. Casting doubters aside, she’s on to her next act.
“This is gonna be a bit of a rebirth and one of the most uncomfortable times besides the first time I decided to DJ,” she said. “This being the 10th year of my career, I need to evolve a little bit more and I think that’s going to happen now.”
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