One of the hottest names on the underground scene, Yasmin Shahmir has made a name for herself in a short space of time as one of few respected female DJs on the hip-hop circuit. Having toured with mega stars such as Will.i.am, Taio Cruz, Eve and Pharrell Williams, she has proven herself as a no-nonsense hip-hop DJ who knows her stuff.
Not content with conquering the decks, Yasmin is now ready to take on the mic as she gets set to release her first solo single ‘On My Own’, co-written by Donaeo and produced by Shy FX. She featured on the top 15 Devlin single ‘Runaway’ earlier this year, giving us a vocal sample of what’s to come. As she puts the finishing touches on her debut album, Yasmin sits down with Flavour to discuss her whirlwind journey so far and living the dream…
She begins by reflecting on the events that have helped steer her career on its current path. “I’ve always been a big fan of music and always collected music. I just searched a bit deeper than what I could get on the radio or TV. When I was 17 I met a friend who was a DJ and I used to go with him to his club nights and hang out in the DJ booth. I used to keep nagging him to play songs I thought people would like. On one occasion he went to the toilet and told me to play some songs until he got back. I just caught the bug from there.”
Yasmin’s love for music and DJing was so strong that she packed her bags at the age of 17 and moved to London from Glasgow. “Moving to London by myself with no qualifications was a big risk. I had no plan B. It was like this has to work or else I’m screwed.” And work it did! Within no time Yasmin was the most talked about female DJ in the hip-hop scene regularly hosting popular club night Bad Intentions in London’s trendy West End.
“I keep a very positive attitude,” she says, “and I dream so big to the point where I actually believe it. I think that’s part of the reason why everything is happening so quickly for me, because I keep a positive outlook on everything I approach. I try not to be intimidated by anyone or anything, so I didn’t see it as scary at the time; I just saw it as one big challenge and couldn’t wait to get involved.”
This year alone, Yasmin has DJd at some of the most high-profile music events, including Wireless Festival and Glastonbury. “It’s an amazing energy! Everyone there is all about the music and up for having a good time. It’s the best feeling.” However, she is now searching for a new feeling. International fame maybe?
Speaking about her unexpected career change from hip-hop DJ to solo artist, she explains where the desire came from. “I’d always written songs and sung, but I guess I didn’t really have the belief that I had what it takes. I hadn’t found a sound that worked for me. I dabbled but I hadn’t really found myself. When I moved to London I met a lot of producers and artists who eventually got me in the studio and gave me that confidence. After a bit of trial and error I fell into my groove and felt comfortable with the kind of music I was making. I think because I’m a hip-hop DJ people expect me to be this RnB diva. Making RnB music isn’t what comes naturally to me. I don’t have an RnB voice and it’s not something I could pull off.”
Although Yasmin hasn’t opted to go down the commercial RnB or hip-hop route, she has teamed up with label-mate Wretch 32 on a forthcoming track, praising his ability to make “crossover music, but in such a unique and creative way”. It is clear she is not a fan of the generic cheesy bubblegum electropop that has taken over the charts of late. “My music is very organic and raw. It’s fresh and different from a lot of music currently out there. I hope it will be welcomed as a bit of a change and a new direction for [UK music in] 2011.”
Comparing herself to Massive Attack, Erykah Badu, Portishead and Neneh Cherry, Yasmin’s distinct sound is difficult to label. The 90s breakbeat influence is evident and works well with her succinct and sultry vocals. Her lyrics are almost autobiographical, telling the tale of a young girl trying to find herself in a big strange world and carving out a path for herself without silver-spooned assistance.
Yasmin may well be living the dream, but criticism is unavoidable. When you meet her you can’t help but notice how stunning she is. With a beauty that has been compared to that of Cheryl Cole, Yasmin’s unique English and Iranian heritage can’t have hindered her rise. Blunt and observant she concedes that her appearance may have helped get her bookings in the past. “There have been times when I’ve gotten gigs and they’ve not even heard me play before. You’re going to get gigs just for being a girl because you are a minority, especially in hip hop. I don’t really care because when I get behind the decks no one can say I don’t deserve to be there. To succeed in a male-dominated industry you’ve got to know your stuff. When you’re on the same line-up as amazing hip-hop DJs like Shortee Blitz, DJ Snips and MK you need to know your shit. You’re not going to pull a fast one on these guys if you turn up to DJ and you don’t know what you’re playing. Knowing your stuff is so important.
“People are going to talk; they’re going to say whatever they’re going to say. I know how hard I’ve worked and the hustle I’ve put in. It may be hard to believe, I’ve gotten to where I am, because I’ve worked my arse off but it is what it is. I’m happy and I’m cracking on with what I’m doing.”
Ambitious, feisty and grounded, she is not naïve. “I am aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I’m not delusional and I’m not in denial.” She knows she still has a lot of work to do in order to be taken seriously as a credible solo artist. Performing live is just one of the areas she is determined to master, but she admits it is daunting. “Standing on stage and performing to a crowd is a whole new experience. It’s very different from being behind the decks, so I plan to do a lot more gigs and tour. I’m quite a perfectionist so this is just another challenge I’m determined to take head on. I’ve done no more than 10 shows live so it’s all still very fresh and new. You’re just standing there and it’s like, OK, judge me.”
As she focuses on completing her album, Yasmin lets slip that it is her goal to take her music overseas and is currently in talks with major labels in Europe and the US. With super-stardom knocking at her door, the question on everyone’s lips is: Will Yasmin be stepping away from her decks for good? “I could never stop DJing. I may not be able to DJ as often because of my schedule but I would never stop, I love it too much.”
Yasmin’s debut single ‘On My Own’ is due for release January 31st
Words by Toya Berry