“A lot can get done with a dance party. If you watch movies from the 80s, how did everyone save the community center? With a dance party!”
DJ Lil Ray is the bat mitzvah DJ you wish you’d had. She’s cool, young, and she knows what you want to hear…and plays it. Top 40 and obscure stuff that NME doesn’t even know about “weaving in and out”, according to Lil Ray, in ways that keep the party moving. “I like electro and hip hop and those things have been intertwined,” says Lil Ray, citing that “there’s no hip hop without Kraftwerk.” I highly doubt that there are serious bat mitzvah DJs that would throw down about German experimental music, and for that, DJ Lil Ray wins the award for coolest DJ ever.
Lil Ray had previously been in Atlanta, where she cut her teeth as a DJ with the Astoria group and a regular Saturday night spot at The Highland Inn Ballroom. But the move from Atlanta’s small party scene to the hub of culture had more to do with career than with art. With a masters degree in Social Work from Georgia State, Lil Ray planned on moving to New York to work in the non-profit sector. Turns out, no one needed her, even “for the lowest entry level job.”
So Lil Ray broke the mold and did something few creative people ever do: she “fell back” on her artistic ambitions. And now, after just a few months of living in NY, Lil Ray has positioned herself as an up-and-coming player in the local dance party scene.
This includes her incredible niche market: DJing bat mitzvahs. It doesn’t seem like a trendy DJ like Lil Ray would want to even go there, but for Lil Ray, DJing to twelve and thirteen year old girls is…well…a mitzvah in and of itself.
“It was a dream come true. I played Top 40 female vocal hits and they were screaming. They were the roudiest crowd I have DJ’d in a long time.”
DJ Lil Ray is proud of her bat mitzvah work. On her website, Lil Ray talks about growing up in “Ft. Lauderdale bat mitzvah scene” and told me that, through her DJing, she hopes that she has a “meaningful impact” or her teen audience, that they, too “can be a DJ or anything that they want to be.”
I asked Lil Ray what, if any, role being Jewish has in her work. Normally Jewish musicians have nothing to say about this, citing that music is universal and that tribalism is meaningless. Lil Ray shocked me with this answer:
“Growing up in an enclave, the value of joy…is always there and important to celebrate. So after all of these years of being an activist, landing on: being a good person…really goes a long away. Religion and culture can give a framework for being a good person.”
In a way, DJ Lil Ray fulfills two amazing spiritual values in Judaism. Through her work as an activist, she has shown an incredible commitment to tikkun olam (repairing the world). And through her hip shaking record spinning, Lil Ray is shaking the branches on the Tree of Life with the mitzvah of simcha, of bringing joy to others through her music.”
You can catch Lil Ray in action at Enid’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn on Saturday, July 24 for Hot & Sticky, a totally free Hip Hop dance party.
What’s Lil’ Ray listening to? Check out her hot picks…
Aloe Blacc – I Need a Dollar (Pristine Blusters and DJ Mulher ‘Millionaire’ Remix)
Brazillian DJs get all Baltimore on an instant neo-soul classic.
Round Table Knights – Calypso
This song is magic because most people don’t know it but it gets them going anyway.
Get Em Mamis – Shake It All Night
I love sassy lady MCs spitting on throwback club tracks. I not so secretly dream about doing a show with them. If Kid Sister was there, I would probably plotz.
Sensato Ft. Black Point – Watagataputisberry
If you like jumping up and down and shouting and having fun, you like this song.
A-Trak – Trizzy Turnt Up
A-Trak, a fellow Jew, is a big inspiration. His free Dirty South Dance mixtapes are genius.