Sound Select: Kay Illah

Written by Waylon O'Day

As the ending months of 2016 are approaching, we’ve been keeping the Modern Life Mag motor running with featuring various individuals in interview specials, features, podcasts, and more. In another week where we focus on the ascension of artists, we wanted to pin-point a 3rd Coast DJ who’s been making waves with her essential sound and artistic curation. 

Kay Ilah hailing from the depths of Houston, who presents an aura that shaped by coolness, being discrete, and ultimately letting her playlist do the talking whenever someone walks into a venue, concert, or bar where she is turning her wheels of steel. These skills have earned her spots in Free Press Houston and stripes as being a new tastemaker in the Houston night scene. 

We recently had a chance to speak to Kay Illah about her influences, her taste and style when it comes to wheels of steel, her preference of Serato, and more. 

 How did you first get into Djing?

I always collected music since I was young, it was like a hobby. I litterally would carry a back pack with CD cases, batteries (for the CD player), and my CD player I would carry that everywhere, then I got older and still with the same habbit, I will spend hours looking for music just because, but the part I love the most was when I would play it to my friends, I would take pride when people would ask "yo, who is that?' or "whats the name of that song" it happen all the time then I realized that DJ would was something for me to express in my music selection. 

What is it like to be a hip-hop DJ from a city like Houston, a city that has a long and rich cultural history?

To be a Dj in Houston to me is perfect timing, the city has a lot of culture that most of the young generation need to be reminded of at the same time. My goal here is to let the city not forget and let everyone else know what Houston really is and at the same time with keeping up with whats relevant these days, not what you have heard already but what I want to show you, what I feel. I'm here to bend some rules.

What do you see as the position of the DJ in today’s music industry? Would you consider them to be tastemakers/moodsetters?

The position as a DJ is to have a certain music taste that would identify you without dropping your name every minute of a set. A DJ is in control of everyone in the room, yes you can say a mood setter. 

"My goal here is to let the city not forget and let everyone else know what Houston really is and at the same time with keeping up with whats relevant these days, not what you have heard already but what I want to show you, what I feel. I'm here to bend some rules."

Outside of hip-hop, what sounds pique your interest?

Outside of hip hop, I am aroused by the whole Soulection sound, that to me is the most unique sound I've hear. Those guys are brilliant, they put people on their sound and rolled with it. Definitely something I listen to aside from hip hop.

How do you feel about hip-hop’s new tendency to lean on more EDM style productions? And how does that aide or make it harder for you to include those tracks in your music?

I don't listen to EDM, I like house for sure and would consider mixing it with hip hop.

What is your favorite era of music?

There is two different eras I would like to point out, of course I love the 90s, thats when hip hop had the greatest albums. When no one relied on only one artist to come out with hits,  almost everyone in the rap game had legendary albums/songs, but then we move in to the 2000s and it bring us the Murder Inc, Terror Squad, G Unit, The Diplomats, etc. I mean everyone is wearing pink, tall tees, the forces, the jerseys you name it. I would go home after school turn on TV and watch music videos all afternoon just to keep up with the trends, Hip hop impacted every culture.


How do you feel about the whole Serato DJ v. Vinyl DJ debates?

I use Serato myself, but I have turntables too. I feel that yes, we are in an era where every DJ uses controllers. You can say for the convenience of it being very easy to transport form gig to gig but then again seeing someone in turntables is a whole another level of respect, its authentic which is something that I am trying to master.

What kind of environment do you imagine your mixes fitting in best? Like a layed back smoke-sesh, or a hyped up house party?

In my mixes, I try to cover every angle of hip hop as much as I can. I play what I feel at the moment, for example I can be playing MF Doom then I can switch it up to a Lil B, then to Pete Rock then hit you with Pac Division. My mixes are different than when I DJ at an actual set, when I do it live is more of a party ambient.

Who, in your opinion, is the most compelling artist out there currently?

In my opinion, Dom Kennedy is someone I can listen to everyday, when I first heard of him was late 2009 and man from there its been a long commitment I had with him. I love that he stays himself through out all these years. Of course there are some artist out there that are extremely vital to hip hop generation as far as Future, Kanye, Lil wayne, the list can go on thats what the people want to listen to and well I give the people what they want in a very small portion in order to relate with them once I execute that connection then I drop what I want them to hear.

What’s your favorite H-Town song? Album?

My favorite Houston song has to be Big Mello- Funk with yo mind, it reminds a lot of my childhood growing up in the Southside ( Bellfort and fondren to be exact). Favorite album has to be (not Houston album) In My Mind by Pharrell.

Listen to one of her well favored mixes here below and followed her here and here