vashtie kola, vashtie
[Photo by: Edwin Ortiz]

If you haven’t heard of Vashtie Kola, let’s just say that there’s no way she hasn’t influenced your life. She’s served as the music video mastermind behind the likes of Justin Bieber’s “One Time,” Kendrick Lamar’s “A.D.H.D.,” Gym Class Heroes’ “Martyrial Girl$” and many more.

Va$htie is also well known for her DJing work in New York City and has traveled the world spinning records alongside Post Malone, Kid Cudi and the like. Her original claim to fame is starting the “1992 Party” in the city during the 2000s, where outcasts and alt kids could come and rage to all the hits of the decade without having to hear a single modern mainstream radio hit. 

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Beyond blowing up in the music industry, she’s an artist and fashion icon. In fact, she became the first woman in history to design a pair of Air Jordans in 2010. Her signature shoe was an eye-catching lavender with a deep purple trim. All in all, Kola is a trendsetter, always staying true to her hardcore roots by repping band shirts and pairing them with chains because it fit her, not because she saw it styled in a magazine. Instead of fitting into spaces, she created her own, and others now follow her lead in fashion, music, art and beyond.

Vashtie , vashtie kola
[Photo by: Edwin Ortiz]
There’s not a lot of representation from women or people of color in film. How was your experience breaking into that industry as a music video director? Do you have any advice for other young women who want to go into anything related to film? 

I think at the time, I won’t say it was unheard of. There were definitely female directors of all sorts, but I think that for me, going into the music video world, there weren’t that many. There were maybe two or three that I could name that were influential at the time. Oftentimes, I did have meetings with people at record labels who were just playing tough with me and just testing me out and maybe being like, “Oh, are you sure you don’t want to be in the music video? Do you want to direct the video?” There was definitely sexism in that era. [It] was definitely known for that. Since then, times have evolved wildly. I think that we are at a beautiful place in 2021. I think we’re able to have the conversation of what’s appropriate, whereas things back in the day, that’s how people would say things. And people could get away with saying inappropriate things. I think now we know that’s inappropriate. That’s not something you should say. And so I think women have an even better opportunity now because I think that we’re more aware. I think that also coming into the game at that time, a lot of women probably put up with a lot more nonsense, feeling like, “Oh, that’s the way it goes.” And now we don’t have to take that. We don’t have to accept something where we feel uncomfortable, and we can be verbal about it and vocal and put it on blast in a way. 

I think that’s also part of the reason why there weren’t so many women in those fields when I was coming up because A. They didn’t see themselves there. So they didn’t know that was a possibility. Or B. Because it was such a boys’ club, and maybe it wasn’t so easy to break in. So I think now is a great opportunity. It’s a really wonderful time. And I think that if anyone’s unsure about their vision, I’m a huge believer of your own personal touch is what makes everything “you,” and it’s different. I can’t be you; you can’t be me. And I think that we all have talents to bring to the table. So I think that it’s amazing that we are in a time where you can pick up your iPhone, your smartphone and film something and do something. And I think that’s great. I know at the time, like when I was coming out of film school, [with] new technology with any industry, I guess it was the question of like, “Oh, so many people now have access to something that was so coveted.” For me, I went to film school. I spliced film. I cut it by hand and reeled it in and loaded film cameras in the dark. And then all of a sudden, there are digital cameras and iPhones. Even for me, [I’m] someone who didn’t come from the DJ world, and now I’m a DJ because I have a laptop. Before that, it was DJs with records. Obviously, the industries are evolving and changing. Some people might feel like it’s for the worse, but I think it’s for the better. I think people having access and having opportunity is wonderful. And I think that it doesn’t make anything worse. It just makes us creatives. It just makes us realize, “Oh, I can do better. I can work harder. I can think different.” And I think it’s great.

So, when did you start DJing? You’ve done so many events with artists such as Post Malone. How did that all come to be?

So that came about because when I had started directing my music videos and just living in New York, a lot of the culture is just nightlife culture. A lot of the people who are in music started off in nightlife. I can just think of right now Lady Miss Kier, the singer of Deee-Lite, she started off as a club dancer. A lot of nightlife [is] the core of a lot of musicians that came out of New York. And it’s just a natural transition. Being here, you’re going out, [and] you maybe want to go to a club that only plays music from the ’60s because there is an opportunity for that, and there is a group of people that want to hear that. And for me and my friends, we wanted to only listen to music from the ’90s. We didn’t like Top 40 anything. And so, I started a party called “1992,” which was just as fun [and] a love letter to everything ’90s. And it got a huge following. A lot of people also would reach out to me like, “Hey, we want to book you to DJ.” And I’m like, “Oh, I’m not a DJ.” And I was so adamant about not being a DJ because I felt like it wasn’t part of my journey. And I say that because, at the time, growing up in the ’90s, you couldn’t just become something. You had to put in the work. You couldn’t just say, “Oh, I put clothes on a model. I’m a stylist.” You couldn’t do that. Obviously, now young people do that, and it’s a different take on the word. But you really couldn’t say that without having the resume for it. And so I felt like it wasn’t something I could say and I could do respectfully to actual DJs who would carry crates of records with them through a club. But then over time, the technology became more accessible, and then more and more people were DJing. And eventually, I started doing a party with Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, and he was like, “Dude, you know all of the music. There’s nothing I’m really teaching you about music.” And so I felt like, with his blessing, I was like, “OK!”

Vashtie
[Photo by: Edwin Ortiz]
On top of music and directing, you’re involved in the fashion world. By being the first woman to design Air Jordans, did that affect the industry as you saw it? Did you see the shoe industry change?

I don’t think that it changed immediately. And I don’t think I personally saw a shift in the industry. But I did see a real reaction from the community of female sneakerheads. And what I guess was exciting for me was that, as much as it was a huge leap for me and my career, [it was] the biggest leap to be able to say I was the first woman who designed a Jordan, but to see how other women responded to the news and responded to the sneaker… It quickly went from being my huge success and award, but then it became ours because I realized, as much as I quietly was a girl who loved sneakers and didn’t really identify with the moniker in the way that it was like, “Oh, I’m a woman. I’m a sneakerhead.”

I didn’t really think of it that way. And then, as soon as the shoe came out and I saw, “Wow, there’s all these women from all over the world who are excited about this.” And as much as this felt like it was my claim, it was really our claim. And I think that it’s been incredible to see since then—all the other women who have made such incredible history with what they’ve done with the brand and not only the brand Jordan but also other sneaker brands. And just seeing [how] coming from a place where being a tomboy and being a sneaker lover wasn’t mainstream. Oftentimes, I was made fun of for wearing sneakers during Fashion Week in Paris, which is funny now because now that’s what everyone wears. Or trying to go to a nightclub in the early 2000s in New York City and being told, “You can’t come in here because you’re wearing sneakers.” Which is also part of the reason why I started a party. I was like, “Well, forget this.” I don’t care about VIP and bottle service. I wouldn’t say right after my sneaker I saw much of a difference in the industry. But as far as the community, I realized how big [it] was and how incredible it was.

You can read the full interview in Alternative Press’ debut Power Issue: Women Rising, available here.