It’s a Beautiful Thing
Kayla Meisner interviewed by Joshua Jean-Marie
Known to many as DJ Slim Thicc, Kayla Meisner is no stranger to Louisville’s art scene. Choosing to play Hip Hop music exclusively, Kayla rapidly developed an audience and a reputation for herself. In recent weeks, however, Kayla has found herself spending less time gathering crowds in bars and more time gathering groups on street corners.
Last month, Joshua Jean-Marie sat down with Kayla (safely distanced) to learn more about her ability to rally people together for both entertainment and change, and how her professional and personal lives have unexpectedly begun to merge into one.
Joshua Jean-Marie: One of the things that influenced our conversation today was a statement Ramona Lindsey made during her presentation as CreativeMornings Louisville’s monthly speaker in 2016. Ramona said, “Being able to bring people together is a form of art and a form of creativity.” Are you able to resonate with Romona’s words at all?
Kayla Meisner: That’s pretty much me as a person, I think. Professionally and personally, I’m always trying to bring different groups of people together. I’ve always had a lot of friends, and I’m a pretty open person. I really love people, and I love the community. I think the more people that can interact with each other–it’s just a beautiful thing.
JJ: When seeking to gather a group of people, what does your planning and executing process look like?
KM: I think a starting part for me is asking, “what is the intention?” With DJing, is the intention to curate a space where people feel welcome where they usually wouldn’t? Or with protesting, is it to target an audience that otherwise wouldn’t be targeted? It’s always my intention to include those who weren’t included before.
If you’re not growing your network, you’re just really siloing yourself and only being inspired by people that already agree with you. So that’s always a huge thing for me, just figuring who I am trying to reach and what the message is and what’s the point.
Secondly, and I learned this the hard way DJing, but working with businesses, you learn who owns businesses and what their intentions are. Last year, when trying to throw a big Pride event, the LGBTQIA+ friendly businesses were already booked out. Then there were the places that aren’t going to let you do it, and it was very hard for me to accept that there was nowhere I could find where I could change someone’s mind, even though they have this venue space that would be ideal for what I’m trying to do, but they won’t let me do it. And I think the lesson I learned last year that’s coming to manifest this year is understanding who’s involved in every little intricate part. So if I can find a local business owner, a female business owner, a Black-owned business owner, then I’m going to go the extra step to make sure I’m partnering with those people. In the long run, we’ll probably vibe the best and want to do more stuff together.
I think the intention and genuinely the execution of where an event will be and who is going to be involved–for me, it all has to be very holistic because the last thing I want to do is not be true to the message I’m trying to get across. And I think that’s what’s changed from DJing and me trying to be more involved in the community, and that’s just my outlook–to be honest and authentic about it all. With the things I don’t know, making sure I say I don’t know. Like with organizing the protests in St. Matthews, it was always my intention to provide another space, it was never my intention to be the leader of a movement. That’s what I continued to preach; no matter how big or small it got, it really was just a safe space, and I think we did that successfully, and it was beautiful. It ended, and people are still out there, and I love that. I think that’s how you build stuff that lasts.
I think it’s interesting when people realize they have enough power to create change, and that change can be visible.
JJ: What drives your spirit of inclusivity?
KM: I think a lot of the spaces I’m usually in, I’m the diversity count. Professionally, in my day job, I’m speaking for the masses, and I take that really seriously, but I also remind people that this is just my experience. I feel like I’ve become the poster child of diversity in my professional life and then I switch lanes, and I’m surrounded by people in my personal life that look like me and are like me and identify all over the spectrum, and it’s more so I’ve had to work on breaking down barriers of the mentality of being one person during the day. I think in that mentality, I’ve now been a lot more critical of who all is at the table. I’ve always thought Black and Queer persons first, as this umbrella, and now I’m like no, actually it needs to be a Black Trans person–and this is why, because specifically, that demographic is not being represented. And there needs to be a differently-abled person at the table, specifically because that demographic is not being represented. You want to make sure everyone is being heard, but even beyond that, you want to make sure [the marginalized communities within those demographics] aren’t being shunned out of their own communities.
JJ: A lot of people know you as DJ Slim Thicc. Outside of the music scene, what are some hidden gems some may not know about?
KM: I went to the University of Louisville and studied bioengineering, and even that track, and that mindset was very much so the guaranteed “good life.” From a young age, I was very good at math and science. People fed this to me and told me, “this is what you should do,” “you’ll make so much money,” “you’ll be so happy.” At UofL, I got the free ride, and the way was just paved for me, and I never questioned it because I was happy, and I was good at it. It felt authentic, but really it was just the easiest path for me.
So I think it shocks people a lot when they hear I even went to school, or went to Speed School, or have this nice, cushy engineering job because I guess I don’t give off that vibe. I think a lot of academics are really snooty people, so I’ve tried to shelter that, not because I’m ashamed of it, but I’m hesitant people will judge me and think that I think I’m better than they are.
In my professional life, I deal a lot with the startups from UofL. So if a researcher wants to license back their technology or research, our office supports them in that startup endeavor. Within that, I’m constantly thinking of how to make this community better. How to make it easier for minorities to get startup funding and business funding, and not even minorities, but just a network of good people who know we all exist and can help each other. In the last two years, I’ve been doing that, and I feel like I’m starting to reap the rewards of playing both faces in the community. I really fucking love this city, I really do.
Everything important right now has always been important; we’re just talking about it.
So people are always really surprised when I have my suits and everything because I have to play the role, but I love it, and I think UofL is a good place for change. I have a few startup companies in the back of my head that I’m waiting to pour into this city. I feel like we’re on the come up of something beautiful.
I think it’s interesting when people realize they have enough power to create change, and that change can be visible. People need to know you can change this world, like you really can, for the better. I feel like Louisville is really special because people fucking love Louisville.
JJ: Top 3 Podcasts?
KM: Still Processing – New York Times, The Daily – The New York Times, and GirlTrek’s Black History Boot Camp
JJ: What inspired you to put on the headphones and spin the 1’s and 2’s?
KM: I think what I wanted to get out of DJing and why I “blew up” so fast was because I was intentional about playing Hip Hop music only, and I still primarily do. I say that because Hip Hop, to me, is like the foundation of American culture. From a young age, I remember my older sister would listen to Hip Hop and R&B. My first poster in my room was Usher. It’s just embedded in me.
When I first started DJing, my complaint was all of these bars were supposed to be so diverse and when you go there, they are playing radio shit, and all the people in the crowd are White, and you’re like where are all the Black people and where is all the good music? I would go to bars in other cities, and they are playing stuff being dropped on SoundCloud that night, so I just said to myself “there’s a problem here,” and that’s what started it—filling the void, filling the gap, and I felt and still feel so confident in that lane. I know Hip Hop history, I know the albums, I love this. I think that’s kind of my cornerstone–here’s a woman who knows Hip Hop, the old and the new, will play it all, and it sounds good. At the same time, I can play it for my Mom or for whatever the crowd and I can push them to feel like they can like Hip Hop as well.
JJ: In a recent interview, I read about how you and a group of friends organized protests in the St. Matthews neighborhood of Louisville, KY, a neighborhood that generally wouldn’t experience demonstrations. In that interview, you said, “I’m not a professional activist, but I feel like we’re doing something really good out here. It feels good.” Speak on the importance of jumping into something you believe in, even if you don’t hold all the right cards.
KM: I was always worried about saying the wrong thing, and the word activism to me holds a lot of weight–that’s not something you say lightly. That’s like a vocation to me. That’s you as a person. So I didn’t want to put that on my resume lightheartedly because activism is something I care about, but it’s something we all should care about. So I struggled in the beginning with wanting to be a leader or even inserting my opinions.
More and more, I’ve realized there are those who are activists, but everyone else who is in my category of wanting to make a change and doing the right thing, you really can’t do the wrong thing. As long as you continue to ask and don’t get hurt when someone says you are doing the wrong thing, you’ll be good. But also know that no one’s opinion is the end all be all. If someone’s going to do something in this movement that I don’t agree with, Black or White, doesn’t matter. It’s not my call.
So I’m never going to call myself an activist just because it’s not my vocational call in life, but I genuinely care about giving power to people. We’ve come so far away from having communities. I used to be in that mindset of living in one place for a few years and another for a few years, and that’s a beautiful thing. But still, there is something special about having a community. I think that’s my tie to organizing, just caring for the community as a whole, and thinking of it in every situation. Whether it be housing or business, startups, or coffee shops, and asking if they are here for the right reasons. Are they serving people?
My whole mentality is always to be a part of something and to let that thing be good, and to let that thing serve someone.
JJ: Have you been able to merge your passions for music and organizing together during this time?
KM: I’m trying to plan some outdoor things that would be like block party vibes. I think it’s important too, in the midst of all this, we need to laugh and have fun and kick it back. I’ve been trying to reach out to people, still all under the intention of directing cover costs to organizations or encouraging people to donate clothes and food.
We need to be able to coexist in spaces where we are drinking, but we’re talking about politics, or we’re talking about policy. We’re dancing and having a good time, but we’re also benefiting the community or putting funds back into the community. We can do both simultaneously. Yeah, there are times to be very serious and be the protestor, but at the end of the day, you should still be able to walk out of these spaces, feeling good, happy, and a part of something. My whole mentality is always to be a part of something and to let that thing be good, and to let that thing serve someone.
JJ: What do you see in your future? What do you want to put your energy towards?
KM: I am trying to increase my network with people, and I want to support and just be aware of people’s talents more. A huge intention of mine is not to feel like I have to do everything. I think people are always so secretive over their stuff because they’re afraid to collaborate. I think we need to get over that and do more things as a community, as a group, as a collective, and it’s easier when the burden is shared amongst people.
And then to just continue the conversation of everything important right now. Everything important right now has always been important; we’re just talking about it. And no one has stopped talking about it for like three months now, and that’s a beautiful thing. Another huge goal would be to invest in the community. Hopefully, by the end of the year, there will be business moves made.
I’m trying to be as authentic about all of those things. DJ Slim Thicc is growing, but I think she’s becoming more and more like Kayla.
JJ: Is there anything else you want people to know about you?
KM: I think I’m trying to break down all the compartments I’ve created of what I thought my professional self was, and what I thought my DJ self was — it’s all the same thing. I’m trying to be as authentic about all of those things. DJ Slim Thicc is growing, but I think she’s becoming more and more like Kayla.
Cover Image- Photo: Joshua Jean-Marie
1- Photo: Joshua Jean-Marie
2- Photo: Perri Leigh
3- Photo: Perri Leigh
4- Photo: Andrew Cenci
5- Photo: Andrew Cenci
6- Photo: Perri Leigh
7- Photo: Perri Leigh
8- Photo: Perri Leigh
9- Photo: Perri Leigh
10- Photo: Perri Leigh
11- Photo: Perri Leigh
12- Photo: Andrew Cenci