Breaking Barriers and Dominating Dance Floors - An Interview With Jersey Club Royalty UNIIQU3
Hailing from New Jersey, the multifaceted UNIIQU3 joins us to speak on her journey as a DJ and producer, which began with a deep-rooted love for house music since she was young. Nurtured through her early experiences attending dance classes, her passion for the genre snowballed, propelling her to become one of the biggest Jersey Club DJs in the industry.
In our conversation, UNIIQU3 shed light on a crucial topic: breaking down the barriers of gatekeeping within the music scene and an unwavering commitment to championing female musicians, producers, and DJs, she emphasises the importance of creating equal opportunities and fostering inclusivity for all artists. UNIIQU3's dedication to empowering underrepresented voices became a driving force in her career, making her an inspiring advocate for change within the music community. As we delved into her latest artistic endeavour: a captivating remix of Crystal Waters' iconic track '100%.' which celebrates it's 30th anniversary upon release, UNIIQU3's unique vision and exceptional talent has shone through as she injected her signature style into this timeless anthem, breathing new life into the already beloved masterpiece.
New Wave Magazine were given the opportunity to dive into the insightful world of UNIIQU3, exploring her musical origins, her mission to break down barriers, and her artistic prowess. Inspired by her passion, creativity, and unwavering dedication to making a lasting impact on the music industry, we find out why this Jersey Club queen is here to stay.
Hi UNIIQU3! How are you doing?
I'm good! I’m just settling back in at home. I just got back from Europe so, you know the time difference… the jetlag. [laughs]
Oh, amazing! To get started, I would just like to give our readers a bit of background to who you are and where you come from. So, why don’t you tell us about where you're based, and how growing up was like for you and in your neighbourhood?
I'm based in New Jersey, USA, and just being from the Essex County area, you heard club music. And I was just a creative kid. Honestly, like, I did dance, and I was a cheerleader. I was just involved, you know? But dance music has definitely always been a part of my life. I just used to party with my friends and that's how I got introduced to club music which just took me on a whole new life path.
So, you would say that from a young age, you've always had kind of had an interest in dance music and club culture?
Yeah, I feel like it's something that we grew up with simultaneously. It was just one of those things that was just a part of the soundtrack and the soundscape of the area.
What would you say was your earliest memory of getting into that culture?
Since I used to take dance class, I feel like we used to listen to a lot of house music. And I remember I did like a routine to one song that I wouldn’t even recollect until now… But you know when you look back and your parents show you those videos and you're like, ‘Oh, I was dancing to that? That's in my DJ sets now!’ So, I just love that, but that was definitely my first introduction. Taking dance class and being introduced to all these different genres even just outside of dance music, it just stretched my knowledge. Because going up on the East Coast, you're gonna hear hip hop. I heard a lot of Latin music. But taking dance class was like, okay, you're hearing classical music. You hear old school, disco, and house music for sure. That was definitely on the soundtrack. And then they used to play the club music because we were young, and we wanted to get up.
Was that your first introduction to Jersey Club music as well from dance class?
Well, yeah, I guess you could say that. I used to go to the downtown district because that's where my dance class was held, at a performance hall called Newark Symphony Hall. It's a dance hall you would want to perform that if you were in the fine arts. They also do parties in there though in the basement. But yeah, I would be taking a dance class upstairs and go downtown and we would hear club music coming from the corners from the guys selling CDs and bootleg CDs. They would make their own mixes of like house or Jersey Club and it would be the new hot Nicki Minaj or 50 Cent. So, I just used to cop all of those because I was an enthusiast. I liked to have the hottest new mixtapes and just run them to the ground. And when I bought them to my friends after dance class, we used to pop in CDs or whatever anybody had, and they would be like ‘What! You got this? You got this CD?’ and then do all the dances. So, that was my introduction. And then from there, my dance class friends took me to all the parties, whether it was at a high school, a community centre, a little hole in the wall… probably an adult club that they rented to teenagers.
That sounds so fun! Would you say that that was probably the thing that spurred you on to want to become a DJ? Alongside finding all of these bootleg remixes trying to find the best ones and holding on to them?
Oh, yeah. Because since I was a performance artist, I play piano too. So that was kind of like my introduction to composing. I wasn't really producing because it wasn't like a laptop, it was a keyboard instrument, so it was more like composing. So, I just was into music. I was like, I’m into music period so it doesn’t matter. With club music, it shocked me. I was like ‘Woah!’ because it was so different from piano or a concert band. This is so different from dance class music. This is like, you know, ghetto! [laughs] Like so ghetto, raw and nasty, like you got all of that shit. My mother hated that shit, she used to be like ‘turn that shit off! They’re talking about doing what to the what? And you want to go to the party? I don’t know…’ [laughs]
So that was what piqued my interest and I thought yeah, this is hot. When I used to go to the parties though, there was mad girls on the dancefloor. I mean I was one of them, but I was just like damn, there are no women that be DJing at these parties? So, I just would be around whoever I needed to be around who has equipment so I could practice like my friends, my boyfriend at the time… I would actually go over to the sound man’s house because yeah, the DJs are playing what’s hot but the sound man is the plug so I’m just gonna go straight to the source! I remember when there was a period of time where everybody wanted to use Serato or CDs, or an SD and I just learnt it all. USBs stuck with me, that’s my weapon of choice.
What do you think draws people to like Jersey Club so much?
I love Jersey Club. I fell in love with the sound because I felt like it was super creative and witty, and I feel like that’s my personality. I appreciate any type of witty creativity. And the wordplay just really caught me. So, from there I just liked the way they chopped up songs and be like ‘Oh my gosh! They took my favourite song and made this whole different situation’ or maybe they took my favourite parts of a song. So, that’s probably the first thing that really caught my attention and Jersey Club sonically made me love it. But what made me fall in love with Jersey Club was the community part of it. Growing up in Jersey, I felt like as a kid, that kept me out of trouble. It kept me so busy actually that it put me in trouble! But it kept me out of it at the same time and just being in certain places off the strength of the music like, I had to be there, but I shouldn’t have been there. But yeah, I just really fell in love with that.
I met so many friends and whether we were super close, I just feel like we all know that we grew up with each other and we could just really appreciate that era of our life. And little did we know the whole world would get really inspired from it, it’s just so raw. There was no real planning to have to tell where Jersey Club would be where it is right now. It was just really organic, and I feel like that’s why people love it. It’s just so, you know, raw, young music culture – everyone loves that. Just like how we love the 90s and those types of raves, we could dig into them and be like ‘Oh my gosh that looks so fun, I wish I grew up there…’ I feel like people appreciate that with Jersey Club and the dance moves. It was just energy. I live every time I play Jersey Club, every time I hear it at a party I’m just like high.
I love that. So, you’ve have described that how it makes you feel to see that Jersey Club is making it into the mainstream and now we’re hearing it from artist such as Lil Uzi Vert in ‘I Just Wanna Rock’ for example. Are you worried that it’s going to be overplayed?
I mean, I’m happy that it’s in the mainstream. I can say that it took me a minute to grow into that because it was a shock factor to all of us. This isn’t really the first time that Jersey Club has gone mainstream in a way as we’ve had so many phases of new scenes discovering it and it has a moment in that scene. And right now, it’s Hip-Hop and before that it was maybe EDM. It hasn’t ever been Pop but it’s merging into that. So, I’m really interested to see where things will go and I’m not worried because Jersey Club has enough of a repertoire and representatives that are legends in their own way. I feel like with the way things are going in the music industry, gatekeeping must stop. Especially when it comes to young talented black kids, you’re just as bad as any other appropriator if that’s the case. I just think we're at a point where there's enough diehard Jersey Club fans and there's enough history out there about us. Before there was not enough documented history and it's because we're so young. But now there's enough history of house music and all those other genres, because they’re over 50 years old, Jersey Club is like 20 years old.
I just feel like, now we're at a point where people are getting to know everybody's different story to just add to that. And now there's enough outlets to tell our stories, just like you guys. So yeah, I'm not really worried. And when you google it, we all pop up. I’m very honoured that we inspire the masses. Years ago, I knew I was on mood boards, I got plugs, they told me [laughs]. I was on mood boards for music labels so it’s no surprise. I’m just really honestly honoured and it pushes me to keep elevating and being different because I’m the sauce! We’re the sauce sis, straight up.
So, would you agree that you're an ambassador for the genre since you’re at the forefront when people think of Jersey Club DJs? We’ve seen that you have the title as ‘JERSEY CLUB QUEEN’ on your Instagram.
Well, to correct you, I was given that name. We have this thing in Jersey, where everyone sees themselves as club royalty and we would have ranks. And it was super competitive amongst us. So, before the world hopped into what they want to call Jersey Club, we were competitive with ourselves. Like, we had different productions teams, different DJ squads and everyone was just fighting to be the best of the best and have the best parties, then have the best club tracks. And then we had the best remixes of those club tracks. That’s why you hear one thousand different kinds of Ciara remixes because I wanted the best one! So, if you were the best, you got a crown and we had king or queen, you feel me?
There were no other women at the time doing it like me. I had a whole production and a street team of girls, and we were throwing parties. And then I started going out of state and from out of state to overseas and just breaking club music in different cities and states, clubs and raves, museums, institutions, festivals… I’m stamped up!
I then went beyond DJing and started to produce my own tracks and write my own lyrics because why not? We need more female driven club music. I don’t need a dude to tell me to drop my ass, but I’m gonna tell my girls to shake that ass though! So yeah, it’s just the title I was given a long time ago and I just ran with it. I feel like people are looking up to me very seriously and I inspire the world, but I inspire my peers the most, and they inspire me. I feel like I’m very blessed that I could just do what I want and make impact somehow.
As you mentioned, as a young female DJ yourself, do you think there still needs to be more representation in the women for women in the music scene?
Yeah, definitely. The percentage is so low for what makes up women producers and it’s actually pretty sad. I feel like we have enough accessibility to the point where women should be able to increase that number. There are also certain things that bother me such as how there is no woman super producer. Personally, I could name a few but say for instance, there’s different men that have done soundtrack albums to films such as Metro Boomin doing the new Spiderman movie. And then Mark Ronson who just did Barbie. Why did they not get a girl to do Barbie? They could have had Missy Elliott do that or just teamed up with different female producers and have writers and composers. I’ve been to meetings and I’ve been to award shows to know there is enough out there for that. I’m just hoping that gatekeeping breaks down along with that with people trying to make Jersey Club music. We’re so accessible and there’s no reason why you cannot just hit somebody up and get them involved at this point. I feel like the one thing I’ve observed when it comes to being a woman producer and the representation, and not just for black women and dance music, but in general. That's what I'm hoping though because it seems to be that. I don’t know if social media has anything to do with it but if you guys are gonna watch us all day and learn how to imitate us, you might as well hit us the fuck up.
Most definitely, that’s so important to speak on. You also mentioned earlier on that you just come back from tour as well. Do you still have more dates to go?
Yeah, I have plenty days to go. It was crazy too because overseas they love Jersey Club. There are so many French rappers who rap on Jersey Club, and I feel like they all have at least five Jersey Club songs each. I was like ‘Oh my goodness! This is insane.’. That really surprised me. Jersey Club is such a stem of off Hip-Hop so I’m so happy that we could inspire people like that. It happens with every great genre. Kind of like when you make a cute cupcake and everyone’s like it tastes good and then boom! cupcake business. [laughs]
But yeah, I have plenty tour days left. I have my PBNJ block party coming up, I’ve been doing them just to get my essence back so people that love Jersey Club could some experience the raw and the real at PBNJ. I’ll be in Philly and Newark real soon and then I have some stateside days which is really nice, because I feel like I’ve been overseas so much like, they’re so spoilt. There’s Hard Summer Music Festival in August, PBNJ in August and then a few more club dates so that should be fun before I take a little break to work on some more music. Y’all have been keeping me busy! I haven’t really been able to drop as much as I’ve wanted to, but I did just drop a remix of Crystal Waters ‘100%’ and I’m so honoured to have met and work with her in person because she’s definitely a big, big, big inspiration to me and how I go about my production when I stepped into the Jersey, House and R&B vibes. I’m dropping a Latin-infused club song with my homies Dos Flakos so that should be really fun. But yeah, I’m outside! I’m everywhere, everybody never knows where I’m at, but they do know where I’m at… on a plane somewhere in the world. [laughs]
About that new Crystal Waters track as well. What was the inspiration behind it? Aside from the fact that you find her as an inspiration, because there are a lot of Crystal Waters mashups on TikTok and SoundCloud. So, how did this remix come into play?
I got approached for this remix some time ago. And I was so honoured, and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, what? They want me to remix this?’ and they said ‘Sure, Crystal Waters wants you to remix it’. And it just so happens that this year is the 30th anniversary of the track so it’s perfect timing really. I could have gone so many ways about it with there being so many different styles of Jersey Club but honestly, I wanted it to be a refresher of just her and her version. I wanted to put some me in there but still keep the essence of the original version because I had so many breaks in there and with this song… I don’t get stems like that. With all these songs, they kind sound the same and have 808s and this and that, but this sounds very raw, and you can tell it’s just got this old school stem so I didn’t want to mess that up. Because how do you remix a classic? That’s really hard and I want people to know that that’s really hard because you don’t want to mess it up, especially when you know that it’s going to be an official remix. So yeah, I just broke it apart and wrote new chords, a lot of new basslines just to buff it up and make it clubbier. I made the breaks all brand new like, I really dissected this one. And she loves it! We got together and I got to DJ for her performance in New York City which was super iconic. She had her dancers out there doing the damn thing! And yeah, it was just great to have that full experience and super full circle moment, it was crazy.
That must have been such an incredible moment! Aside from these next singles that you've got coming as well, is there going to be a new EP?
I’m shooting for an album now! I’ve given you so many different EP’s, especially during lockdown. I had DIGITAL DIVA VOL 1, VOL 2, BITCHES IS OUTSIDE, Heartbeats… I feel like I’ve given so many different sides of me that now it’s just album time. And I’ve been to so many places that I’m so inspired by all the different soundscapes and all the different places where Jersey Club has put a little influence into their scene, and I hear how they’ve adapted. I’m ready to make some music with a lot of awesome people that I’ve met. Through all my tours, I meet so many new friends, artists and communities so, I’m just ready to put all those experiences into my music as I do my other club experiences. That should be fun.