From politics to pop culture, a lot can be said for 2017 — but one thing we should all be celebrating is the importance of women in hip-hop this year. Orange Calderon is one woman who’s been key to changing the game. While female artists like Cardi B, SZA and Kehlani continue to challenge the status quo in hip-hop and R&B, Calderon is making her own lane in the world of DJs.
When you mention OJ, it’s hard to not mention some of her accomplishments. She has her own show on 1AM radio, her live performances are insane, and the fact that she was the first woman to ever win a McDonald’s x Complex Flavor Battle competition is just another accolade.
OJ is prominent player in the world of sneakers and her taste for fashion is just as strong as her taste for music. Following the release of her latest mix, Heatwaves, we sat down with the Houston native to hear about her story as an artist and gain some insight about how she got to where she is now — in both fashion and music.
Nice Kicks: When we spoke with you for My 5, you told us you actually used to be the sneaker plug back in the day. Working in retail and hooking up friends, what was the first pair of kicks you had to have for yourself?
Orange Calderon: The Bo Jacksons! The blue and orange ones. Those were the shoes that I fell in love with first. I remember being so excited to wear them, and wearing them every day which was something I couldn’t do. I was even worse than I am today about the sneaker rotation. I couldn’t wear stuff twice in the same week because I thought people had seen me, so I wouldn’t wear them around them. I was just weird. But those trainers changed that for me. I wanted to wear those every single day. I felt like that was my shoe. It was shoe that I loved. It was in my color — orange — and my other favorite color is blue so it was great. I have very happy nostalgic feelings for that shoe. Unfortunately I did wear them far too often and beat it into the ground. I might need to get another pair of them but that would be the one for me.
Nice Kicks: Can you recall your earliest encounters with music?
Orange Calderon: My father is a really gifted musician, so music has always been around. As a kid, I was climbing up on the piano bench and just slamming on keys that sounded good to me before I could walk or talk. My dad played the drums, he played piano, guitar, bass, everything. So, I’ve never known a reality outside of music. It’s just always been around, it’s never not been a thing. I couldn’t possibly remember a time with out it — the way you might remember food in your life is how I remember music in mine. Like I don’t remember my first meal I just remember I’ve always been eating. [Laughs]
Nice Kicks: At what point did you decide to start putting your own music out there?
Orange Calderon: I think that was at the very beginning. When I started DJing, I almost didn’t want anyone to know. I’m very competitive, I’m very serious about what I do, and if I claim it I have to be good at it. So I kinda quietly starting teaching myself to DJ. And with that inclination to professionalism, I started giving myself deadlines.
I started out with a workout mix but I wanted to be really good at it. I wasn’t sure anyone was gonna like it. It got to that point to where you’re working so hard at something, you want it to be perfect — and that can really get in the way of things. So I was like fuck it, drop it. You’ll know if it’s good by how people react to it. And the reaction was overwhelmingly good — so much so that I didn’t trust it! [Laughs] I was like naaaaahhh I don’t know, are these people just gassing me up or what?
Anyway, I continued to stay on that deadline so that I could get better. I tried a couple of different genres. I have you know, the workout stuff where you get uptempo and I had some R&B stuff shortly after. I just wanted to start to exercise these talents and make sure that I could cover different genres, make sure I’d be able to do different stuff. Honestly I don’t know how lucky I got but people have supported me the entire way through — no one has ever said, “You suck, you shouldn’t be doing this” at any point ever, so it’s been like a drug. You know, it’s only ever felt good and only ever created good. So I’ve just been lucky in that regard.
Nice Kicks: Your sound is always growing. With that in mind, how do you keep things signature?
Orange Calderon: I think, without intending to start out that way because I kinda just jumped into it. I found that what sets me apart, or made me different from other things that were going on was the ability to hear music the way I hear, because I have that background. Or because I did have that start in production. The way that I isolate sounds in a record when I first hear it… the way I hear the drums different from the sample. I can hear the beat, the tune, the key of the record, so when I’m mixing, I incorporate those things. Especially in mixes — and those are like the recorded pieces of work that stand for a long time, the things people get involved with — and they notice that even if they don’t know exactly what it is that sounds different, you can hear that attention to detail. And I think that’s what makes my sound a little bit different, on the recorded disk.
In a live scenario, I think, the background and relationship with music and having listened to a bunch of different stuff plays a huge role in that space. And not having started a catalog in adulthood, but doing so early on as a child was huge thing for me. Nirvana, Lauryn Hill, The Geto Boys — that was my CD collection at like 9 or 10. So, it just progressively got I guess, more cultured. The library in my brain is pretty extensive so I’m able to pull from that when I DJ live and it’s a lot of fun for people because I can call up a lot of stuff that maybe they haven’t heard in a long time — or maybe something that they have heard and enjoy a lot. It allows me to kind of dance between genres really simply by putting elements of different records together. Like putting the drums from an older sounding track onto a pop record — aka remixing live. That’s how I believe I stand out.
Nice Kicks: Sounds like you’d be a great person to go vinyl shopping with. Do you have a music collection at home?
Orange Calderon: In Texas, my father and I have a very extensive vinyl collection. It actually started with my padrena, who was a DJ on air, with vinyl records. So that was his collection and then he gave it to my dad, and then when my dad decided to give it to me once I started to begin building my own. So, I didn’t want travel that out to California. First off, because vinyl is really difficult to move — I drove out here, so I wouldn’t want to warp any of them in the car — and secondly, so you know, it lives in Texas, but that is like — that’s my baby.
But that’s my physical collection, even my digital collection is nuts. But when I think “music collection” I think about vinyl collection for sure.
Nice Kicks: Is there anything that isn’t music that inspires your music?
Orange Calderon: Definitely. I have a background in theatre as well that kind of has run the same line in my life as music has. And I have a strong affinity for storytelling, so I like a mix or a set to have a beginning, a climax and a resolution. I do that in the mixes with the intros, they kind of give you a vibe of what you’re getting into. Even if it’s abstract, the intro provides that and I kinda try to tell my story through the music and then I resolve it at the end with an outro specifically. Sometimes not, though. Sometimes the last song is enough to end the story but it definitely, intentionally, has like a progression through the experience. I learned that from theatre and that has always been a big part of everything I do, even visually through graphics or social media stuff. Even outfits sometimes, like it’s just all storytelling at the end of the day and I think even more than that being a music thing, I think that it is very much an acting and then a theatre thing.
Nice Kicks: You’re main thing right now is your music; you have your mixes, a radio show on 1AM and you also have your live shows. Do you have any aspirations for your music or creativity to transcend into other mediums?
Orange Calderon: 100%. That’s always been the goal. I’ve been lucky enough to be inside of lots of different mediums and acting and theatre is one for sure. My background before I started DJing was marketing and that was very visual and creative. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself by telling plans but I absolutely do have ambitions to move into other mediums by curating content in other ways for myself and other people as well. I have every intention of moving towards curating experiences. In different ways: visually, sonically, through touch and feel. I’ll leave it there. There’s lots of different projects I’m pursuing and I definitely want to get back into acting as well, but right now I’m kind of trying to respect the music and not try to do too many things so that I can give it the attention it needs in order to be good at it. When I have the time, I wanna feel like I’ve done enough with music. It’ll be in that period that I’ll start to give my attention to something else. I believe in really like focusing and not trying to do too much — I think we all have that problem as millennials. Trying to do everything all at one time and it dilutes how well you execute any one thing. I try not to play myself that same way and just sit down and focus and do music right now.
Nice Kicks: You opened up for Outkast. What was that like?
Orange Calderon: [Laughs] That was nuts. I’d been DJ’ing for 3-4 months at that point. I was working with Chuck Inglish at the time and he called me like, “Yo, we have an opportunity.” He wanted me to DJ his set that I was also given the opportunity to open for. So Chuck performed and you know I did his set for him and then I did a DJ set and then Outkast came out. I remember just being in the green room and everyone was like chillin’ and drinking and having a good time — and I was SO shook because I was so new. I wasn’t confident that I knew what I was doing just yet and I was opening for Outkast which was the most legendary influence on my life maybe up to that point so it was a huge occasion. It was just huge, I was just shook. It was very exciting. It was a high and then after it went well, I was offered another opportunity with the same people that had wanted me to do that and I was still shook. Like I didn’t feel worthy? I was waiting for somebody to pinch me and wake me up because I didn’t know whether or not this was something I deserved.
Nice Kicks: As a DJ/influencer, it’s almost like you’re always on stage — so you always gotta be fresh. How do you decide what’s a fly fit and what isn’t?
Orange Calderon: Silhouette is important, like visually if it can be perceived as a unit. I see the outfit kind of like a graphic design, like a piece of art almost. You can have the right sneakers and some cute pants and the right color and a shirt that compliments all of it and on the set it might go together, but the cut is not right. Do the pants compliment your ankles or do they cover up the sneaker? Or do you tuck the shirt in instead of letting it loose? All t-shirts I like should be cut the same, that same longer sleeve cut.
Your clothes just gotta fit — they gotta fit you and look right on you. Your clothes just need to fit you properly, that’s what it all boils down to. They need to look right on you.
Nice Kicks: Back to music, we talked before about about your love of debut albums. Who has the best one this year?
Orange Calderon: That’s tricky, I’m very invested in SZA. I love her, I think she’s so amazing. I’m so happy that her album did as well as it did and had the reception that I feel like she’s deserved for a while. Also, just to see the growth as the artist. From what she was putting out before she had the big eye on here and the way that she just really showed up and delivered on this project. She’s been good. Her voice has been good, she’s been able to write songs, her production was always on point. There was just a huge level between that and the cohesiveness and the realness of this project. I feel like she tapped into something that she hadn’t yet and that just resonated with everybody. It is such an amazing project, such an amazing debut album. I think it’s like a classic right out the gate. Like a moment in time — there’s those albums that come out and you remember those forever. You remember what was going on in your life because of the way that the album effected everything that was going on, the reception that it had and the effect that it had on you. I feel like CTRL is one of those albums.
Nice Kicks: If you could DJ one person’s birthday party dead or alive?
Orange Calderon: Hmmm that’s tough. Dead or alive? That’s even tougher. I’m gonna say Andy Warhol. Just because of the factory days and everyone who he was involved with and found himself around. That would be such a party without… I don’t know. There’s just a vibe about that environment that I can especially resonate with. So to be able to provide music for that kind of environment that would be, like, I could die.
Nice Kicks: Lastly, what were the inspirations behind your latest mix, Heatwaves?
Orange Calderon: Heatwaves was the follow up to FEELS. It was one of my recent very popular R&B mixes. People love their R&B and I feel like it’s a very R&B time. This is a weird thing, but I like to put the R&B mixes out during Mercury Retrograde. You could drop an R&B mix on Valentine’s Day and people will still not be as ego as they are in June, during retrograde. So, that’s a big influence, I thought it was a good time to drop the R&B vibes, just bring them back. And just for what I’m going through, just the music that I’ve been listening to and been excited about, as far as artists that are climbing, or just discographies that I’d not been aware of — most of it has been R&B music. So that’s what I’ve been listening to lately.
The intro to that was Basquiat. I just resonate with him. He had a dual personality. He had a very extroverted personality, but also a very shy part of his personality. I feel that exact same way. During that interview, he seems uncomfortable. And so the interview feels uncomfortable. The point that he’s making — and I feel very strongly about it as well — is that it’s important to maintain a degree of privacy in your life. To stay kind of hidden and push the media out. But at the same time you have to be be able to provide for these mediums. Like social media — that’s the game that we’re playing right now. But walking the line of giving people what they want. Giving them enough too keep them interested while also trying to juggle keeping your personal life just that is difficult. Especially for people that don’t really enjoy having it all out there like that. I’m very private, so it gets tricky trying to do both. I think that’s what he’s getting at just being private. I think more than any of that, I put it in the mix because of the somberness of how he sounds and the way he was feeling in that moment, think that’s right in line with the vibe of the mix.