Montreal DJ Killa-Jewel chats about finding her way as a woman in hip-hop & DJ culture

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A kilojoule is a measure of energy. A jewel is a beautiful and rare stone.  It is also multi-dimensional, valuable and one of the strongest minerals on earth.  So, if you’re going to name yourself DJ Killa-Jewel, you’re going to have to produce.

Classically trained in piano for 10 years,  with a background in musical theory, turntablist, singer/songwriter, composer, producer and internationally known DJ for 25 years, she started dabbling in music production around 15 years ago.

“I think the transition from DJing to music production was just a natural progression for me. At a certain
point, I wasn’t feeling as challenged as a DJ. I felt like I needed to expand my musical knowledge and
develop my ability as a producer and composer.”

Killa-Jewel is also a proud Montrealer.

“I’m born and raised in Montreal. I’ve always loved it here. I’ve felt like Montreal has been such a great city to experiment and to develop your craft. I feel like I’ve been part of a very supportive community when I found the hip-hop community here. I was welcomed with open arms and Montreal is a great little city to experiment with your sound.”

But being a woman in the music world isn’t always easy. Killa-Jewel says women have to fight harder for respect, even in 2021.

“I feel like there’ve been times where I’ve felt like I’ve had to maybe work harder to prove myself in what I do and to be taken seriously. I typically I find that even now, like even after all these years where you think, you know, there’s so many more women​ ​DJs or producers​. And I feel like people have always had sort of a preconceived notion of what a DJ or music producer should be and how I should act or how I should dress.

And I think my challenge over the years has really been to kind of break that belief​ ​or normalize the fact that you know, DJs and producers come from all different types of backgrounds​. It doesn’t matter what your gender is. It doesn’t matter what colour skin you have or what clothes you wear, what matters is​ what comes out of you and what you produce creatively. The first time somebody meets me and they don’t know what I do, they would never think in a million years that I’m a DJ.”

This year she was chosen to participate in the Women In The Studio Accelerator program and is excited to meet and collaborate with other female artists. 

She’s been signed to Hydrophonik Records and is working on new music. 

What struck me most during our Zoom interview wasn’t how soft-spoken and deeply pensive she was but her killer energy that radiated through my computer screen.  KJ has that secret special quality that drives her to constantly learn and expand.   Fuelled by a limitless curiosity and a passion for her craft, she is more than a precious stone.  

A veteran of the underground Hip-Hop scene and turntablist community, DJ Killa-Jewel has rocked the decks across Canada, the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia at some of the most prestigious clubs, concerts and festivals to date. Well known for her collaboration with Thud Rumble’s DJ Q-Bert in his ‘Do It Yourself Vol. 2’ DVD, Killa-Jewel’s participation in the Canadian DMCs, ITF Scratching Categories (NYC), the World Vestax Extravaganza (Japan), and the Red Bull Thre3Style Canadian finals (Calgary) solidified her place amongst the best in the industry and has propelled her to the top of her class.

Killa-Jewel has always made it a point to think outside of the box by pushing the boundaries of her art form and breaking through the confines of what most would consider being the typical role of a DJ/producer. Trained in classical music, she spent years fusing Hip-Hop with the theatre milieu by composing “turntable music” live for theatrical productions, and touring extensively with Canadian actor and director Robert Lepage on his highly acclaimed productions “Zulu Time” (Co-produced by Peter Gabriel) and “The Buskers Opera”. She has also scored for television and video games, in her most recent collaboration with Bioware on their acclaimed title Dragon Age, where she produced and remixed Inon Zur’s theme “I Am The One”, and composed the music for CBC television’s hit show for kids, “Surprise! It’s Edible, Incredible”. Her first full-length record, “Saudade”, is a mélange of styles ranging from classical and trip-hop, to soundtrack-style atmospheres. It is often dark and gloomy to brilliantly triumphant and can be compared to the sounds of Portishead, DJ Krush, DJ Shadow and Amon Tobin.

As a firm believer in the importance of giving back to her community, Killa-Jewel’s Sunday Scratch Sessions (in conjunction with DJ Manzo) has become a mainstay of the local Montreal turntablist scene. Now over 5 years strong, this monthly event has brought DJs of all skill levels together by providing them with a platform for an exchange of ideas and musicality, and a place to promote the elevation of their craft.

Whether it’s party-rocking for hyped-up crowds or collaborating with other highly respected artists in the industry, Killa-Jewel has made it her mission to propel turntablism and turntablist production into fresh, uncharted territory. It’s no wonder people respect her as one of the baddest pioneers in the game. Her ability to break past boundaries and push her own limits as an artist has helped pave the way for others, and she has no intention of slowing down.

Watch our interview below where we chat about her expanding music career, hanging out with Dave Chappelle and her post-pandemic plans.

Reckless is available now on all streaming platforms.

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