We recently hung out with Melbourne DJ, YO! MAFIA over shared plates of Vietnamese at Hanoi Hannah Windsor, we embarked on a sometimes rambling, sometimes personal, always fun, chin wag. Here’s a straight-up Q&A, no filter, straight from the horse’s mouth.
BeetBox: You are known for your high energy shows, how the heck do you keep up all that energy? Does the bounce come, at least in part from your sneakers?
YO! MAFIA: Funnily enough I’ve been joking to all my mates about copping some epic moon boots that have built in suspension! I gotta look into a colab with NASA. Look, to be honest, your guess is as good as mine as to where all the energy comes from. It has stumped me for years, even more so in recent times with loads of people commenting on how high energy my shows are. I respond to energy like a sponge. It’s a revolving door of the purest most ecstatic energy from stage to crowd, crowd to stage and it keeps going around in an infinite figure eight. So you can imagine how I feel when I come off stage. I feed off the vibe.
BB: We read that you used to be a b-girl (still are?) Is it true you got to the point of winning every comp you entered?
YM: Haha, you’ve done your research. Yeah look it wasn’t that hard back in 1985 at the Red Light Discos of Adelaide. While the other girls were up the back doing the robot or an awkward body wave, I was front and centre smashing out backflips and freezes while stealing everyone’s heart! I’ve never shied away from an audience especially when it comes to a good dance comp, so I think that OTT (over the top) Young Talent Time training came in very handy. Still trying to learn to dial it down, not succeeding much.
BB: Are you naturally driven to want to be the best and not stop till you get there? Or are you just doing you, and success is a by product?
YM: Definitely the latter. I am not a hugely driven person I admit. I think I’ve had a lot of luck and worked my ass off — my work ethic is bar none, but having said that, it never felt like work, so that’s what leads me to believe I am not “that” driven. I’m an OG hustler though and can network the socks off anyone (ie — talk talk talk and talk some more about myself) however the success has always just been a huge added bonus. It’s not what drives me. What drives me is to have passion and an undying authentic love for what I do, no matter what it is. I go 0–100 very quickly with anything I love, be it music, career, love, friends, food. Some call it excessive. I call it passionate.
BB: Tell us about some major influences in your life.
YM: Career wise it’s always been Queen Latifah. She was one of the first recognisable female rappers in the game who turned her love of Hip Hop into a fully-fledged production company and business, way before anyone in Hip Hop was thinking on an entrepreneurial level. She knocked down so many barriers and crossed over all platforms from music, to TV to film to production. She’s had such a huge impact on the Hip Hop scene and a longevity that reflects her insane work ethic and refusal to be boxed in.
BB: You are on the road a hell of a lot, how do you stay sane partying, moving about from show to show?
YM: You’ll hardly ever see a drink in my hand unless its water so that helps a lot. I have no interest in getting wasted while I perform (most of the time haha!). I like to be 100% present and in the zone for all shows. I do a lot of self-care after each show with massage, chiro, acupuncture, swimming, meditation. A lot of silence and me time. It truly goes a long way.
BB: Tell us about a typical day for you leading up to a show.
YM: If it’s a VDJ set then there’s a lot of prep going into each show with sourcing the best music videos, pop culture references and gifs that align with the event. Each show I do is completely bespoke to the event, so it changes every time I perform. I have to produce and edit each video and add in all my YO! MAFIA pops and illustrations then curate the mix and practise until it’s like second nature to me. When you add in another element than just mixing music you have to be dead certain nothing can go wrong and it’s absolutely full proof once it hits the stage. It’s a very new way of working for me as all my DJs sets are improvised on the night. So it’s been an amazing new challenge. Other than show prep, it’s doing my laps at the pool, going for walks, eating a very light meal before jumping on stage — as you know I literally JUMP on stage, so there’s nothing worse that having a heavy meal before show time. And just chilling as much as I can.
BB: How has your identity evolved over the years? And how has the perception of your identity changed among those around you?
YM: I’ve always had a super strong sense of identity. I’ve always been different — or as my mum says “a square peg in a round hole”. I’ve always copped looks down the street for my crazy outfit choices or the fact that I can’t be boxed in. My style is heavily influenced by 90s hip hop (esp TLC — shout out to the ladies who made it OK to dress like a dude, but still be cute AF — and how surreal to tour with them 30 years later!). I’m not sure how other’s perceive me — I’m a kind of take it or leave it kinda girl. I’m super familiar with people so anyone who would want to judge, quickly changes any initial perceptions they may formed once I open my mouth and engage in conversation. But perception is truly a funny notion in this day and age of social media. It’s all about perception and that leads to a life that is not “real” or your own to have. I try to stay true to who I am — especially with my style and DJing — it hasn’t changed much since I started out in the game, it’s just evolved. I stay in my lane, I know who I am, and I’m unabashedly unapologetic about that.
BB: What’s a typical weekend for you?
YM: You’ll find me at The Virgin Lounge waiting to board a plane most weekends! There’s a lot of travel. When I do have a weekend in Melbourne — it’s catch up with friends time. I miss them all so much and they are the most important part of my life.
BB: Do you cook much? What’s your specialty?
YM: I never used to. But I’m definitely a foodie. I love nothing better than a simple BBQ and salad (definitely throw in a corn on the cob please). I make a lot of salads, and bowls. I love eating out too as it’s a great excuse to catch up with mates and be a fat bastard. I NEVER cook for my mates. I’m a simple girl and can only manage a meal for two — if that!
BB: Tell us about your attitude to food, wellbeing and health?
YM: A few years back I was diagnosed with chronic arthritis in my entire body — thank the 16 years of gymnastics, the jumping up and down on stage and the healthy (if not over indulgent love of food) for that! I was told by my doctor to lose at least 15kgs to take the heat of my joints, and it was then that I really started to focus on my health. I never really cared too much before about it, but once my body started yelling at me to quit it with the rich foods and sugary treats I sat up and listened. I’m the slackest when it comes to dieting, but managed to move 20kgs. It’s always going to be a struggle for me as I’ve never been thin, but I’ve always loved myself and never had a body [image] issue at all. I feel great and I’m incredibly happy so I just try and reward my body to feel the same way.
BB: How do you treat yourself?
YM: Mate I’m never not treating myself! I think that’s a bad question to ask me hahah! I over indulge myself a lot. Got too much love for life! These days I reward myself by sitting still with my thoughts and reflecting on life — learning self awareness. It’s been a huge growing year for myself. A lot has shifted and changed. 2018 has been a VERY different year for me.
BB: If you could be anyone for a day who would you be?
YM: Phyllis Diller said it best when she said “everyone has their bag of rocks” so I think I’ll just be me. No matter how good someone else’s life looks, we are all battling in this game of life. It just depends how you tackle it. I feel like I’m doing a pretty OK job so I’ll stick with me for now.
You can check out some of YO! MAFIA’s video DJ sets and book her here: yomafia.com.au