Getting Back in the DJ Booth: DJ Rosegold Talks Spinning in Front of Obama, Bringing ‘Island Vibes’ to Her Sets & Wanting to Be the ‘Female DJ Khaled’

·13 min read

As clubs have been reopening and shows have been resuming across the country after a year-and-a-half-long COVID-19 pandemic pause on the live music industry, Billboard is asking club and touring DJs about their experience fading between spinning at home to performing back outside.

In 2017, DJ Rosegold asked the music store where she bought her first-ever controller, a Pioneer DDJ SB2, what their return policy was in case she didn’t want to pursue DJing. “I didn’t end up returning it,” says Rosegold five years later, after becoming one of Toronto’s most sought-after DJs.

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Growing up with a reggae singer as a father, Rosegold learned more about what she truly enjoyed doing at the recording studios he constantly brought her around in their native Jamaica rather than in college, where she was initially studying to become a French teacher. She eventually dropped out of school and became a student of a different craft, one that’s taken her from opening for Ashanti – something she envisioned for herself for years – to being handpicked to DJ at an event in her Toronto homeland for former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Describing her style as “playing the music you didn’t know that you needed to hear,” Rosegold never fails to incorporate big island gyal energy – mixing hip-hop, dancehall, reggae, soca, Afrobeats and more flavors of the world – in her sets as well as giving female rappers the recognition they deserve in the trap scene.

Billboard caught up with Rosegold about how cutting up Billboard magazines for her vision boards outlined her dream-come-true gigs, and how mocking her old university sweater became the inspiration for her debut EP.

Pre-pandemic, where were you spinning usually?

I was DJing a lot of clubs here and there [in Toronto]. But right before the pandemic, literally weeks before, I DJed for Obama when he came to Toronto. There’s an organization in Toronto called the Economic Club of Canada, and they were bringing Obama to do this huge event. And one of my really good friends, Rooks, put my name forward because she was helping them organize it. It was such an amazing feeling, and I literally ran off the stage to go to the airport to go to L.A. for Grammy weekend.

Two weeks after that, I DJed in Jamaica. I did four events for All-Star weekend in Chicago. I went to L.A. to DJ and the pandemic hit when I got to LA. That was my four weeks leading up to the pandemic, so I was really slating for 2020 to be the craziest, busiest year. I didn’t have a working visa at the time to work in the U.S. And when I got to the border, when I was coming to LA, they were like, “What do you do for work? You’re traveling a bit much these last couple of weeks.”

Who’s been the biggest artist you’ve opened for/DJed for at their event so far? And were you more nervous DJing in front of them or in front of Obama? 

To be honest, I don’t really get nervous. I turn my nerves into adrenaline. The only reason why I would get nervous before an event would be if there’s a lot of people there. But my favorite bookings are when there’s a lot of people there. The last time I’ve gotten nerves/adrenaline rush would be when I opened for Young Thug and Gunna at Billboard’s SXSW show. That and Obama are very, very close. That was one of the best performances I think I’ve ever had as a DJ. And I think the thing that was nerve-racking, if you want to call it that, about it was the entire lineup was DJ Rosegold, Gunna and Young Thug. I’m literally setting the tone for the rest of the set.

What music were you listening to a lot during quarantine?

I was listening to a lot of R&B actually. I think there was a lot of good R&B music being released, like dvsn released their new album A Muse in Her Feelings. Dvsn is like top three favorite artists of all time for me. It’s Beyoncé, Popcaan, then dvsn. My really good friend Savannah Ré released an amazing EP during that time, she’s an R&B singer from Toronto. I was listening to a lot of throwback R&B, too.

How have your roots/upbringing shaped the music you like to listen to and play live?

I’m Jamaican, my dad is from Jamaica. My dad is a reggae artist, and I spent my entire childhood in Jamaica going in and out of studios. That was our vacation. I hated it at the time, but now I’m like, “Thank you.” Because it’s shaped exactly who I am as a businesswoman, as a DJ, the style of DJing. I love to play dancehall, reggae, soca, Afrobeats. No matter where I am, the culture is now elevated in LA in terms of Caribbean music and worldly music. But when I first moved here last year, I’d be shocked if I heard even one dancehall or reggae song. Every single one of my sets that I do, no matter where I am, I always throw in some sort of island vibes, and that definitely comes from my upbringing. My mom actually built a recording studio in our basement at home like 15 years ago. I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life, so it was inevitable that I was going to end up being a DJ.

Did you perform at any virtual events within the last year and a half?

I did a charity benefit event that was online called LiveXLive Music Lives 2021 Festival. John Mayer, Wiz Khalifa and Davido headlined it. That was really cool. I had done Instagram Lives and things like that during the pandemic, which were cool, but I got bored of that real quick. But with this one, it was cool because it was an online festival and they allowed us to record anywhere that we wanted as long as we just stayed within our time limit. So I actually went and set up my DJ controller in the middle of downtown Toronto, on the side of the road.

What was the first live music event after quarantine that you attended as a fan?  

I want to say it was the “Free Larry Hoover” concert, with Drake and Kanye.

What was the first live music event after quarantine that you performed at as a DJ?

[My] first live music even was in L.A. for sure, Soho House in Malibu. My first festival back was Rolling Loud LA. That was really cool [because] that was my first Rolling Loud ever, so it was cool experiencing it from the backend of things. And I like to discover new artists — like, that was my first time seeing Rubi Rose perform.

On Instagram, you posted a picture of your 2022 Goals and one of them was “DJ @ 4+ festivals (Rolling Loud, Coachella, etc.),” and you’ve already accomplished those two by April. Which other two festivals would you love to perform at before the year is over to officially cross off this goal?

I would love to DJ at Wireless Festival in London. I know the lineup’s already out, so maybe that’s a next year goal. I would love to do Day N Vegas and I would love to do some fest in Jamaica, like Reggae Sumfest or Dream Weekend. But further on my goals list, with the festival goals, is being on the main stage of Rolling Loud or Coachella. That’s what I’m manifesting for this year into next.

I am such a vision board girl. I’m such a big believer in speaking things into existence, willing it to happen. I make vision boards every single year, and I’m so specific about the things that I put. Billboard magazines are my favorite to read and to cut up and put on my vision boards. They just mesh so well with everything that I want. Something else that I put on my vision board this year or two years ago was a picture of Ashanti I think that I got from a Billboard magazine. And then I ended up opening up for Ashanti this year. So shoutout to Billboard!

Are there any songs you were listening to/spinning at home that you were excited to play for a live audience? 

“Go Crazy” by Chris Brown and Young Thug. Every time I DJ, I have to play this because we were deprived of getting it in its prime. That’s the one that automatically comes to my head, because when that song dropped. I was like, “Oh my God, we need this song in the clubs, but the clubs are closed!”

Did you have any worries that certain songs or albums might be considered “too old” because it came out during the pandemic?

I don’t feel like there’s such a thing as music being too old anymore. I’ll play some ‘90s sh— sometimes and mix that in with something from 2022. I feel like as long as you are curating your set properly, I don’t think it matters what you’re playing, like what era or what year of music you’re playing. I don’t think that was ever really a worry of mine because as long as I’m blending properly and the crowd is hyped, I’m good. I can play anything I want.

What are some of the newer songs or albums that came out after lockdown ended that you’ve been hyped to play?  

I love throwing in new Shenseea. I really, really liked her album a lot. I also love Coi Leray and Rubi Rose. I feel like in a lot of what I’ve witnessed from trap sets, DJs forget about the female rappers. And I love throwing them in, like, “Yeah, I’m going to play this Future song then play Rubi Rose right after.” And I’m obsessed with BIA. I discovered BIA when her song with Russ came out. And I ended up listening to her album, For Certain. And I was like, “Oh my god, who is this? Where did she come from? She’s amazing.” I don’t think I’ve played a set in the last year that I haven’t played a BIA song or like multiple BIA songs.

What are you looking forward to during your future sets/Where do you wanna perform next?

I am working on music as a producer. I want to be like the female DJ Khaled, Mustard, Calvin Harris – that is my goal. I really want to have DJ Rosegold concerts, like dance parties mixed with me playing my own music mixed with me bringing out special guests. I put out a couple of songs before; I have an EP that’s out on SoundCloud called Rosegold University: Homecoming. So this year has really been focusing on getting really cool DJ bookings, meeting new people, adjusting to my life in LA and working on my own music.

How did you assemble all of the artists for Rosegold University: Homecoming EP and create this “university” motif? 

The name Rosegold University actually came from me. I was actually in university to be a French teacher. I speak fluent French, I was in French immersion my whole life. I ended up dropping out of school to become a DJ. And I made a piece of merch once that was a replica of my York University sweater, but I put “Rosegold University” on it. And I was like, “This would be really cool as a brand.” And Homecoming was definitely paying homage to Beyoncé’s Homecoming, but I also want to release Rosegold University projects in increments with different themes. So homecoming obviously is the beginning of the school year.

As far as getting the artists, three of the artists on it I have very personal relationships with. One is my cousin from Jamaica, Nemessz. One is my best friend, Chantel, who’s one of the best Latin artists in my opinion. She’s my best friend from high school. And it’s funny because neither of us were in music when we met and then both of us now are touring and doing stuff, which is so funny. And then my brother Chillaa is on the first song on the project. Then there’s an artist named Angeloumae, who I met on Clubhouse actually. And it’s funny because the project I’m working on now, a couple of the artists that are on it are people I’ve met on Clubhouse, too. But that’s really how the whole theme and brand of Rosegold University came along – it came from me making a mockery of my university sweater.

Speaking of university, you started going back to school again this year at UCLA. What’s different now about how you balance school and work?

The main difference is I’m actually doing something that I enjoy and something I care about. I found out that I didn’t care about French anymore. I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore. I was just not enjoying it. I’m grateful that I had parents who were like, “Oh, you’re not enjoying school anymore? Then stop wasting your money and drop out.” I didn’t have to continue to pursue something that I didn’t like.

So, at UCLA, I was taking music courses. I took a music marketing course, which was taught by Dion Singer, who was the executive vice president, creative marketing at Warner. I was there every single day, front and center, taking notes. He was teaching us how to market ourselves on social media, how to brand yourself. When I dropped out of school, I was not against going back to school, but I want to go back to school for something that I like. I love marketing. I love music. And I was just like, “What can I do to continue to better my craft, better my business mind?” I’m probably going to take some more classes next year.

I follow you on Instagram and notice how you stay cheffing it up in the kitchen even after a long day. What’s the meal you’re most proud of cooking for yourself?

I make really bomb wings. When the pandemic hit, and I was out of work like everyone else was, I actually opened up a pop-up restaurant in Toronto called The Hungry Gyal. And [the wings] were the staple at The Hungry Gyal, it was a honey BBQ Scotch Bonnett wing using Jamaican Scottch Bonnett peppers. Also, I’ve never gotten good birria tacos in Toronto, so I ended up finding a recipe and tweaking it a little bit. I make really, really good birria tacos.

Check out DJ Rosegold’s playlist for Billboard below.

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