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How 9-Year-Old Michelle Rasul Became An Expert DJ

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

One of the world's best DJs is only 9 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) Hit me with the horns.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Michelle Rasul, known as DJ Michelle, just became the youngest competitor ever in the DMC World DJ Championships. And out of 85 professional DJs from around the world, she placed 14th in the global portable scratch competition.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) Let's get it on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now, all right. A heads-up - this interview is going to sound a little weird. See - NPR is still having us work mostly from home, and that means talking to guests over Zoom while my side is recorded on a special remote setup. And it normally works until it doesn't. We had to use my backup recording for this one, but I promise the interview is still well worth listening to. Here it is.

DJ Michelle is on the line with us now from Dubai. Hello.

MICHELLE RASUL: Hi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You must be so excited. How are you feeling?

MICHELLE: I feel like (screaming).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

MICHELLE: Like, really super-duper excited.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was it like competing against people who are so much older?

MICHELLE: It was actually really exciting. It was an awesome feeling, like, because, like, they were all the best DJs from around the world. And my dad was in it, too, actually. So it was fantabulastic (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fantabulastic is a great word. Your dad competed too. He finished ahead of you in ninth place. But he's the one who first taught you about how to be a DJ, right? Tell me about that.

MICHELLE: Basically, when I was really, really little, I saw him DJing. And when I turned 5, I told him that I want to be a DJ on my birthday, and he got me some turntables. He started teaching me the basics. When I learned the basics, I was using online DJ schools like the Beat Junkies', DJ Qbert Skratch University. And for beat juggling, I'm using Brolic Army.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What inspired you to do this? I mean, you heard your dad. What do you like about the music?

MICHELLE: I like everything. Music is my life. Music is my passion. I can't imagine my life without music, so - like, from when I was, like, this little, I didn't listen to, like, "Baby Shark" stuff, ABC songs. I listened to 2Pac, B.I.G., Jay-Z, Chuck D - like, all those legendary rappers. When my dad turned on the music, I was like, dad, this is B.I.G., wow.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) You've got great taste. What makes you so good at scratching on the portable turntable?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MICHELLE: When we travel anywhere or, like, when we go on vacation or anything, we just take the portable disc scratch when we want. So you just take this little, small speaker and some cables and, of course, the vinyls, and that's all.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you're always practicing.

MICHELLE: Yeah, always.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you put the mixes together?

MICHELLE: First, you put the two songs on the two decks or channels - like, the two turntables.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) Unforgettable. Unforgettable. Unforgettable.

MICHELLE: For example, one song is 99 beats per minute, and the other is, for example, 102, right? So at the front of the turntable, there's this pitch. It looks like another fader, but it moves more slowly. So I just push the pitch forward of the deck where it's 99 till, on the laptop, it shows that it's 102 BPM, too. And then I just play one of the songs. And I wait till the chorus, where I scratch and, like, mix the songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVID BYRNE: (Singing) I'm wicked, and I'm lazy, lazy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's a lot going on. It's complicated.

MICHELLE: Well, for me, it's not because I've been doing it for four years already. And I know it's not too much, not like my dad. He's, like, been doing it for 25 years or something.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, how is it for you balancing school with your DJing? I mean, do your classmates know what a star you are?

MICHELLE: I don't usually talk about it with them because, like, most of them don't even know what a DJ is. But my friends - they are also musicians, and we're actually making our first tracks with it. I've tried producing, too. So basically, they went, like, crazy, and they were like, oh, my God, I'm so jealous. You're a DJ. Wow, you're so talented (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You are producing, too? My goodness. I mean, you are, like, a one-kid powerhouse.

MICHELLE: Yeah, I do a lot more things. I play bass guitar, solve Rubik's Cube, play chess with my dad, sing, dance - like, hobbies, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wow.

MICHELLE: Read books a lot - like, a lot - I also forgot roller-skating. How could I forget that?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I don't know how you could forget that. Roller-skating is fun. So I hear you want to beat your dad in competition.

MICHELLE: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me why.

MICHELLE: And I'm going to do that, no doubt.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have no doubt you will, either. DJ Michelle, 9-year-old Michelle Rasul, thank you very much.

MICHELLE: Thanks a lot, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.