From her origins touring with Def Jam to her residencies at upscale nightclubs across the globe, DJ Mary Mac has accomplished the ultimate achievement amongst DJs: making her living (and her mark) solely through her musical talent for nearly two decades. Between playing at premiere venues and heading up an entertainment company with more than 40 other musicians across the country, GO was able to schedule a behind-the-scenes interview with Mary, getting her to dish about everything from making it in a competitive industry to rubbing elbows with other talented celebrities.
What first interested you in DJing?
My brother used to DJ when I was growing up, even from when I was a baby. I was able to sneak downstairs and mess around on the turntables. As I got older I went to clubs and was judging the DJ a lot, like ‘he should be playing this, he should have played that.’ I started making tapes and started DJing professionally in college. Now I make my living entirely through DJing. This is what I do for a living. I don’t have any other jobs. This is what I love to do.
Which DJs or role models influenced your early work?
Grandmaster flash, DJ Camilo, DJ Yoni. We’ve got DJ Roman Anthony. Spinderella influenced me and gave me an opportunity to DJ on Hot 97 in 2000.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had to face in a male dominated industry?
[Guys who] think that because you’re female, you can’t do it better than them. You get a pat on the back, like, ‘Yo, you rocked it like a dude!’ The name of the game is, you have to have talent if you want to be a female DJ. The radio scene in New York is definitely male dominated, but at the end of the day, do I cry over it? No. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about it.
Tell us a bit about your work with Def Jam.
I was on tour with Run-DMC and Redman, among other artists. We did one of the first hip-hop tours on pay-per-view. I was the DJ for a female rapper called Boss, a West Coast gangsta rapper, so I was totally in gangsta mode, hangin’ out with NWA, Easy-E, Snoop Dogg. We were on tour for about two years. Russell Simmons moved our group out to Texas to work on another album but it never happened, so I moved back to New York and started getting a few gigs here and there.
You’ve worked with one of our favorite girls, Queen Latifah. What was that experience like?
I did the Rosie O’Donnell show with her; I spun at her mother’s birthday party; I’ve done a lot of things with her. She knows me very well. I’m one of the DJs she would hire for bigger events.
You’ve spun all over the world, even in China! What are some of the differences performing abroad?
There’s a huge difference. The music is at a faster tempo out there. They have a hip-hop scene, don’t get me wrong, but they want to move fast. I was DJing seven days a week out there in Shanghai, from Monday to Sunday, at a club called Club NY and a few other places. I lived there for three months.
If you had to pick one song to play to get everyone on the dance floor, what would it be?
A timeless song by Daft Punk: ‘One More Time.’ It has a fast tempo that gets everybody up no matter who they are.
For the last 15 of your 20 years in the business, you’ve been the resident DJ at Lovergirl. It’s uncommon for DJs to have such long residencies in this scene—you and the promoters must have a strong relationship.
Kate has had me occupied every Saturday for 15 years. I love her. She’s helped me with my booking, makes sure I get great deals since I’m a part of Lovergirl. She’s been a longtime boss, friend and mogul. And if anyone’s looking for the place to go, it’s DJ Mary Mac, look for Dreamgirls, this is where it’s at.
You also own your own business, Mary Mac Photography, and have photographed people such as Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj. How do you make time in your busy schedule for a second career?
I always loved taking pictures. I just started shooting and branded myself as Mary Mac Photography. I like to give people a closer look as to what it’s like to be around the celebrities. That’s how I got to photograph Nicki Minaj and Brandy. I never leave the house without my camera.
I own 5 Star Productions, too—we’re nationwide, we’ve got DJs in Miami, Houston, and Boston. We give quality work as a self-sufficient entertainment company. We do everything in-house. We’ve been around for five years, and we act as a sisterhood, a mentoring collective.
What advice would you give to aspiring young women looking to succeed as entrepreneurs or in the musical industry?
Number one, be organized. Number two, get on those social networks. Promote your product, gather a team and cooperate, and be good to people. That’s very important, to be good to people. Remember your worth and stay grounded. And if they want to DJ like me, come to my party and see how a professional does it!
Check out Mary’s blog, 5starnationworld.blogspot.com.