Sneaker collector, vinyl freak and all-round music geek Yo! Mafia is headed our way to spin at the official Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Party – and she’s mighty keen. “I can’t wait to get back to Sydney! It’s been ages,” says the Melbourne local, brimming with excitement over the fact that “Mardi Gras are finally putting hip hop on”.
For an event synonymous with Kylie Minogue pop anthems, a hip hop-centric act does seem to be an interesting addition to the lineup. “I can play Kylie!” counters the international party DJ, who has made a career of bending genres to appeal to a wider audience. “I’ve got a mad bootleg Missy Elliot, ‘Pass That Dutch’ into ‘Slow’. It’s crazy.”
Mafia’s enthusiasm is palpable. It is strikingly clear that this is someone who absolutely loves her job. Promising she’ll use her unique position on the dance-heavy lineup “to give Mardi Gras something a little bit different”, she will be drawing from an extensive background in ’90s hip hop and R&B, and a love of current music, to perform a diverse three-hour set.
“I love Whitney, I love Mariah,” she says, citing her favourite ’90s gay icons. “I love all that shit and I’ll bang that out too. When I played at Meredith Music Festival in front of 15,000 people I was like, ‘You know what, fuck it – I’m gonna play some bangers and gay anthems,’ and they were going bananas! It translates. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are; if you love music, you love music.”
Contrary to rapper Macklemore’s belief (“If I was gay, I would think hip hop hates me”) it seems as though now, more than ever, hip hop is really finding its place within queer culture. “I know a lot of gay guys and girls are really into twerk music at the moment,” agrees Mafia. This fresh appreciation of the genre within the community has been spearheaded by acts such as Le1f, Mykki Blanco, and Big Freedia – the ‘Queen of Bounce’ with whom Mafia toured last year. “It was all gay audiences and I know they love that New Orleans bounce and twerk shit,” Mafia says.
Refusing to be pigeonholed, Mafia has never let her gender or sexuality influence her craft. “I made a point early on not to be a ‘gay DJ’,” she explains. “No-one ever knew I was a girl either, because my name is Mafia and I kind of dress like a boy. When I took that name I really wanted something that wasn’t gender-specific. I didn’t want anyone to look at me and go, ‘Oh, that’s a chick DJ, she’s shit’ and have a preconceived notion.”
After her Mardi Gras appearance, 2014 will see Mafia supporting Harlem rapper A$AP Ferg on his first headline tour of Australia, as well as playing alongside Australian dance legends The Presets and signing her first record deal. “It’s pretty exciting. There is a group of us that are coming onto this label,” she says, remaining tight-lipped about the finer details of the deal. “All I can say is that I’m really excited to release my first official mixtape. I have some incredible drops from some of my favourite MCs and international rappers.”
Mafia’s last unofficial mixtape, made especially for Mardi Gras, is streaming on Soundcloud now. At the annual Mardi Gras Party, she’ll play alongside international party-starters Kim Ann Foxman, Derrick Carter and Alex Taylor. In her own words: “Bring your rainbow flava… I’ll be bringing the badass hip hop steez to the queers this year! Get ready for something completely different.”