DJ KK, also known as McDaniel College senior Kekuta Bah, is facing off against the nation’s top talent this week, hoping to be named 2021′s Top College DJ and win a $10,000 cash prize he’ll split with his favorite charity.
Bah, 21, of Silver Spring is riffing his way through the DJing world after picking up the skill just a few years ago, during his freshman year. He mastered his new skill during pandemic lockdowns and his quick development led to his selection as the Mid-Atlantic region’s No. 1 seed in the National Collegiate Performing Arts (NCPA) bracket-style tournament. The competition is organized by UpStaged Entertainment Group.
Greg Bogich, spokesman for Upstaged Entertainment Group, said Bah received some of the highest scores in the categories of creativity, DJ skill and music selection in the first round of competition. Judges who selected the Top 32 contestants, including Bah, were Jamie Keogh, also known as DJ Immortal, the 2020 Disco Mix Club reigning national DJ champion, and Andrew Bisnaught, also known as DJ Babey Drew, a Grammy award-winning producer.
After reviewing recorded submissions from contestants, DJ Immortal called Bah’s performance “very creative... loved the wordplay, scratching, selection and fast-paced mixing,” the DJ said in a statement.
DJ Babey Drew said Bah had a lot of movement or “juggling” and that his tricks were “very clean.”
“I can tell he knows how to create a good vibe at parties,” the Grammy award-winner said of Bah. “Nice play on word transitions ... I love the genre jumping.”
The public will decide which DJs move on to the second round. Bah faced off this week against No. 4 seed DJ Morriscode of Hampton University, each presenting a three-minute video. Polls closed Nov. 23 and Round 2 will start on Dec. 3.
The accounting, economics and business administration major said his DJ career started in early 2019, during the spring semester of his freshman year at McDaniel. His interest in making beats started when he was in high school. Though he wasn’t interested in pursuing music producing at the time, he enjoyed playing with music apps on his phone.
A few of his friends who are DJs encouraged Bah to give the turntables a spin, he said, so he did some research and gave it a shot.
“At first, I was kind of not taking it seriously,” Bah said. “Then I was like, ‘let me not block my own blessings.’”
After watching videos of DJs online and playing with music-making programs on the computer, Bah got his first sound board and “fell in love,” he said.
Soon enough, DJ KK was born. His DJ name stems from a nickname he had since he was a kid. Bah said he’s always been really interested in music, but mixing songs and finding the right transitions are his newfound loves.
“It’s something about how you can go from one song to another,” he added.
If Bah wins the DJ competition, he would split $10,000 with the Sickle Cell Disease Foundation, a charity choice inspired by his cousin, who died from the disease a few years ago. Bah said he would use his winnings to buy a new car. The winner also receives $20,000 in high-end DJ gear.
Bah started off his career performing at McDaniel events, and has since performed throughout the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. region at colleges such as Howard University, Bowie State University, Morgan State University, George Mason University and even Penn State University.
He worked closely with the Student Government Association president Marnice Briscoe, who he’s known since 2019. Briscoe said Bah has been open to constructive criticism and has improved over the years.
“I would say that KK is a DJ that’s always improving and always trying something different,” she said. “Our freshman year, he wasn’t the best. Let’s be honest,” she said. “As time went on, he got better.”
Bah improved his DJ skills during the pandemic, when he spent a lot of time at home. He said he was DJing for several hours every day because there was nothing else to do. He also performed live via Instagram. But DJing online just isn’t the same, he said; it’s a profession that needs a live audience.
“It all turned out for the best, I guess,” Bah said.
Aside from virtual battles on Instagram, the National Collegiate Performing Arts competition is the first one in which Bah has competed. As he continues to grow in the profession, Bah said he’s not yet sure if will be able to DJ full-time; however, “I probably plan on doing this for the rest of my life.”