From couch surfing to swag surfing, DJ Olivia Dope is everything in her name:
"(D)riven (O)n (P)ositive (E)nergy"
Which of course for most is always easier said than done. Although many of us would love to live a life solely fueled off of daily mantras and positive affirmations, in the real world, staying focused is hard. And staying inspired sometimes feels impossible.
But for DJ Olivia Dope, being anything less than successful is unacceptable. For the Brooklyn-native who turned her "5 to 9" afterwork grind into her full-on dream job, success is measured in increments of happiness--and music makes her very, very happy!
“I knew I loved music; I really wanted to make this music thing happen and just be happy with doing what I'm doing. But it had to be music driven in someway shape or form.”
Prior to becoming one of the most in-demand female urban DJ's on the East Coast and the curator of the #LivDope movement, Olivia–real name Tamika–was a professional hip-hop dance instructor. Having had the chance to two step with the best of them (including Chris Brown and Shaggy), Olivia soon found herself fed up with the background politics of typecasting in the industry, and instead looked for new sources of inspiration.
Hitting up her “DJ friends from Brooklyn,” Olivia gave the DJ booth a shot and hasn't' looked back since.
“I was so used to being on the dance floor, but once I got behind the DJ booth and started seeing what they're doing I was like, you know what? Let me try it out and see what's going on here and try it out too. Just a hobby, nothing serious. But once I started doing that, people started asking "Oh hey. I see you DJ now. So could you DJ my little backyard party? My Bar-b-cue?' And four years later, we're here!”
And four years later, a musical star in the making was born. Olivia created a name for herself after drawing inspiration from Scandal's very own Kerry Washington, who plays "Olivia Pope" on the show. After a little wordplay on the name, it stuck. She'd spin her way from backyard parties to becoming a regular staple at major award and music scenes.
But don't get it twisted, she is as happy as she is humble, and as real as she is talented.
[Tweet "I'm not an overnight success, this took years for me to build where I am. And I'm still on the rise."]
Olivia tells me. She is sure to add:
“I haven't made it yet. So every accolade that I've gotten so far, I'm very humble about it. I'm very grateful for it. I make sure I remind myself, like hey, I'm blessed to have this so far. People recognize the real and they respect it.”
They sure do. And apparently, people reward the "real" too. Olivia notes that starting small was ironically the biggest thing she could've done for her career.
“Starting off small is so important. Because you never want to get ahead of yourself. You have to understand that everyone has their time. That's one of the main reasons why anytime someone asks me 'Well, how do you feel about competition?' No, there is no competition. Everybody has their own lane. Everybody has their own journey.”
True indeed. But before she was on the ones and twos, Olivia Dope had a regular 9 to 5.
It was just as recently as two years ago that the beautiful, mocha-hued disc jockey made the decision to quit her office job, and recently that very same decision finally started paying off.
“I was [still] working as a normal person should and I was absolutely miserable. So I had to make a decision. Do I actually want to follow my dreams full force? Or do I want to work on somebody else's dream because someone has me on their payroll? And I'm coming [to my day job] every single day and doing their work that they need me to do and not really taking what I want out of life seriously. So I had to make that decision and I quit. And two years later, I'm DJ'ing full time. Paying bills with it and everything.”
So much so that Olivia proudly points out that working as a DJ a convenient three to four times a week has finally afforded her a pretty comfy space in New York City (a seemingly unattainable dream for most considering the hefty price of rent), as well as more time spent with her daughter, Ava. This was especially a big feat for the single mother of one, considering that she was just in-between homes back in 2013. During this time, Olivia made her biggest career sacrifice to date–her daughter. Olivia allowed the seven year old to live with her father while she ultimately worked on their future.
“[Ava's father] actually took her the two years when I was struggling. I was in no position to be couch surfing with a child. So he was a great support with that. And she was living with him when I was trying to make my dream happen.
[My daughter] is my little best friend. One of my toughest critics. My everything. She is right along with me for the ride.
Working for somebody else and you really don't want to be there, that is rock bottom. Mentally. You're not happy. And if I'm at rock bottom right now, there is no place to go but up. So let me do what I want to do and if I die, at least I died trying. At least I died trying to make where I wanted to go happen.”
But of course the road to success doesn't come without some bumps in the road. She points out that although she is inspired by the stories of many Black women in the industry before her, “Like Necole [Kane], Taraji P. Henson and Oprah,” Olivia says that she is still underwhelmed by what she feels is a lack of support from her fellow sisters and spinners. Admitting there has been progress, Olivia reveals there is still a long way to go:
“The thing that I have a problem with is other Black women in the industry not [always] automatically supporting one another. We come into the same space as each other but we're not automatically embracing [one another].
Like ok hey. I'm a Black woman. You're a Black woman. We're both trying to get the same goal here. Let's connect. And if you win, I'm going to be just as happy as if it were me winning. We're not doing that enough.
And I feel like that's one of the major qualms I have with being a Black female DJ's. We're not doing that to other Black female DJ's in our community enough.”
DJ Tiff McFierce and Olivia Dope parlaying at the Essence Street Style Block Party
When I ask the ever so bubbly and bomb disc jockey and momprenuer what her ultimate goal is in life and her work, she makes it very clear that both are all about the pursuit of happiness.
“I don't even know anymore. People say 'Yeah, I want to get millions (of dollars)!' And if I do, great because I would love a mansion too (laughs). But I'm just all about finding happiness, that's the goal in life. Money doesn't make you happy. Having certain things aren't going to make you [necessarily] happy. And once you find that, skies the limit.
I already obtained my personal goal which was to work, doing what I love full-time and paying the bills with it. So everything else is just an added bonus!”
[Tweet " I feel like I'm living my personal dream right now. I feel like I'm living THE dream right now!"]