DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Michelle Rasul had just learned to read and write and was already spinning turntables, scratching hip-hop records and making the beats drop. Four years later, at the age of 9, she’s one of the world’s top DJs and competed in this year’s global championship.
At her home in the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai, the turntable whiz from Azerbaijan nodded her baseball cap-adorned head to the beat and showed off her skills scratching, cutting and fading. Her tiny fingers flew across the turntable as she created a sizzling landscape of electric audio effects and recalled how she got her start as a child turntable celebrity — which, in fact, wasn't all that long ago.
“I looked at my dad while he was practicing DJ-ing and I saw him and was like, ‘Wow, is he doing magic or something? He’s a real magician, bro!'” Michelle told The Associated Press earlier this week, bubbling with enthusiasm. “When I turned 5 on my birthday, I told him, ‘Dad, I want to be a world famous DJ. I'm going to start practicing.’”
As though recounting a decades-long career, she grinned and added: “And the rest is history.”
Michelle, the youngest-ever contestant in the DMC World DJ Championship, ranked 14th out of 85 DJ stars from around the world in the “Portablist” category this year, the global portable scratch competition. The 2021 competition was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although she didn't advance to the next round this time, she's determined to beat her father, Vagif “DJ Shock” Rasulov, a professional who taught her the tricks of the trade and made 9th this year, in next year's competition.
“I love competing in battles, I just love DJ-ing,” she said. “It's my passion.”
Turntabling, which burst onto the music scene from hip-hop artists in the late 1970s, can look like a basic act — taking a record, putting the needle down and sliding it back and forth with one's fingertips. But for the wizards, it's an art form, involving spontaneous sound mixing and advanced techniques like quick, rhythmic scratches and “crabs,” rubbing the record under the needle.
From the moment her parents gave her a mini DJ starter kit, they recognized her extraordinary abilities. Even as a baby, she was fascinated and would punch all the buttons on her father's equipment.
“She just catches things so fast,” said her mother Sadia Rasulova, a former violinist who also encouraged Michelle's love of music. “I realized that she's a star, that she's really talented."
When her peers were listening to nursery rhymes, or as she put it, “'Baby Shark' stuff or ABC songs," Michelle said she was hooked on rap legends like Tupac Shakur, Chuck D, Jay-Z, the Notorious B.I.G. and Michael Jackson, who remains her favorite.
Her parents started posting footage of her scratching online, and Michelle's popularity exploded. Her Instagram account and persona as the self-described “ youngest DJ in the world,” has racked up 110,000 followers. Online messages from aspiring DJs ages 6 to 65 poured in from around the globe, she said.
Michelle's feed is populated with posts of her break dancing and scratching furiously alongside her sunglasses-sporting father, spinning hip-hop and techno tunes live for her listeners, strumming the bass in her free time and playing at events such as Dubai's recent food festival. Before the pandemic put big gatherings on hold, Michelle performed regularly at weddings, parties and music festivals across the city.
While the rest of the world is focused on her accomplishments as a DJ star, Michelle is busy bouncing through life as a third-grader, attending online school, skateboarding, reading and hanging out with friends and dogs at her neighborhood park. But her heart is always in her turntabling.
“I can't imagine my life without music,” she said. “Like from the start, from the very beginning, when I was really little.”