Out of the darkness of a nightclub emerges flashes of colorful light. Flowing upon it is one beat after another, creating a rhythmic vibe that sets the dance floor in a unison motion.
One of the mixologists behind the sounds fueling that vibe is Ranita Anderson, better know among the local community of disc jockeys as DJ Nita Beat. And although a relative newcomer to the Dubuque music scene, her name has quickly gained traction at venues like The Smokestack, where she can be found mixing.
Hailing from Chicago, Anderson has found creative ground in Dubuque, where in addition to DJing, she also models.
We sat down with Anderson during a recent TH Talks Music podcast to learn more about the art of DJing, modeling and more. Question and answers have been edited for length and clarity. To listen to the complete podcast, visit TelegraphHerald.com/Podcast.
TH: You’re originally from the south side of Chicago. What drew you to Dubuque, and what has inspired you to make your creative home in the area?
Anderson: I went to school at the University of Dubuque. I graduated in 2015 with my Bachelor of Arts degree in communication. I like it here because it’s very small and intimate in a way. You can benefit from a lot of people but within a small town vibe instead of being from Chicago or bigger cities. There, it’s kind of difficult. You have to force yourself through, you know, just to make friends and network. Dubuque is small and intimate enough to the point where networking is very easy. And then, people will network off of me. I will network off of them. And then, it just keeps going.
TH: What sparked your interest in DJing?
Anderson: Growing up, I’d always been surrounded by music. Chicago has a strong bloodline for music. When we had family get-togethers, cookouts, family reunions, whatever the case was, there was always music around. It was just always a passion for me, with music, and for me to be able to mix and blend music.
TH: What was it like trying to start DJing when you did, ahead of COVID-19?
Anderson: It was right before COVID when I decided to start training to become a DJ. When COVID happened, I had no resources. Businesses were shut down that I was working with. But later on in 2020, businesses were starting to open back up, and I was able to purchase my first DJ controller. I just started playing around with it in my apartment.
TH: With DJing and the ability to mix songs, you’re taking into account beats, key signatures, tone and other musical elements. Describe the skill that goes into what you do. I would imagine it takes a certain kind of ear and musical sensitivity.
Anderson: When you mix and blend, it’s BPM, so beats per minute. You try to put together certain songs that have the same BPM so it’s easier to mix and blend into the next song. When I first started learning, I was using my phone and my ear and just thinking through it and tapping my feet with the sound of the music. I would put playlists together with the same BPMs. The funny thing was, when I actually was able to buy my controller and had my laptop with the software that I use, the songs I had put together from my phone’s playlists were literally the same or close to the correct BPM. When you DJ, you just try to make sure the sound blends in well with the sound of the last song to the new song.
Then, there’s the art of it and scratching. There’s still a lot of challenges that I come across. And there are still a lot of things that I’ve had to learn as well. I’ve only been DJing for about 11 months. So, I’m very fresh with it. I’m very new to the craft. But when you love music, it just takes you to a whole other level. Once I’m on stage, and I’m actually like working as a DJ, it just takes you outside of your body.
With musicians, they try to tell a story through their music. With artists, they try to do it through a painting or whatever the case may be. For me, I try to tell a story through DJing by weaving certain songs together. I don’t usually come with a plan. I just work off of the crowd.
TH: When some people hear the word, “DJ,” they think, “the person that puts on a record at a wedding.” What you do really is an art. So how does one train for this type of art form?
Anderson: When I was just getting started, everything was pretty much self-taught. When I officially decided I wanted to DJ in 2019, another local mixologist who usually DJs at The Hub helped me. I would go down when it wasn’t as busy, and he would just show me the ropes.
TH: How does one work their way into the local DJing community?
Anderson: If you really want to do it, take that risk. Do what you can to try to get as much information and knowledge as possible. Like I said, there’s still a lot of stuff that I have to learn for sure. But I think I’ve gotten to the point where other DJs are actually fascinated by what I can do, and they’ve probably been DJing for anywhere between five to 20 years. That’s a blessing in itself.
TH: What have you established as your niche or style?
Anderson: I feel like I’m bringing this new flavor to Dubuque. You usually hear more hip hop, R&B, pop and EDM (electronic dance music). People like it, and that’s fine. But I’m trying to switch it up. I feel like that might be a reason why certain DJs out here are more fascinated with the flow that I have. I also have ties in Atlanta, which is top-notch when it comes to new music. Every time I go out there, I always get new music, and I try to bring that to Dubuque. That way it serves up a new flavor, and I think that that can be a part of my niche.
TH: Is there any song or artist that calls out to you differently?
Anderson: I don’t want to say specific artists. I feel like it’s all based off of a good beat. Sometimes, I didn’t really care about the lyrics. It all just depends on the beat for me. I grew up with hip hop, R&B, pop and gospel. Then with me being in Iowa, I’ve learned this new culture of music as well — country and EDM. I’m gravitating toward other genres of music as well, so that makes me more versatile.
TH: Many people who love music take up singing or playing instrument. Did you?
Anderson: I never really got into playing musical instruments. When it came to certain songs, just hearing the saxophone, the trumpet, the guitar or percussion was what I liked.
TH: How early did you notice this about yourself?
Anderson: Maybe my preteens. My family was kind of strict. I was raised by a single mom, and we grew up in the church. There were just certain songs and certain genres of music that we weren’t allowed to listen to. Sometimes, you just had to sneak songs that you weren’t supposed to be listening to.
I remember one of my cousins was around the same age as me. He let me have his MP4 player, and I listened to it. It wasn’t all good music, but I remember l still remember the beat. It was all about how the song was put out there.
TH: In addition to DJing, you model as well. How did you get started and where do you do this?
Anderson: It started out as just fun. I had a friend that was a photographer. He was just like, “Hey, let’s go to the Millwork District and take some pictures.” I was like, “OK.” I’m very shy, but my ultimate goal was to become an actor. So I thought, “I have to be comfortable in front of a camera.” It was perfect for me and also for him just to get his work out there. We would just do shoots every once in a while. Then, people started hitting me up and saying, “Would you like to model for me?” I’m all about taking risks and chances because I don’t want to regret anything. It just got to the point where it just kept going. I was getting gigs in Galena (Ill.), just modeling for certain boutiques. Ever since then, I’ve just been doing it. I still get nervous. But it’s fun overall. It’s all about just being comfortable with yourself. It’s just all about being yourself and believing in yourself. Regardless of the situation, just be yourself. When I tried to be like other people, things didn’t work out. But when I chose to be myself and do what I felt was good enough or whatever the case may be, things came through.