Honey Dijon on Beyoncé's Renaissance and the Black origins of house music : It's Been a Minute 2022 was a banner year for Honey Dijon. She co-produced two of the fiercest tracks on Beyoncé's latest record, 'Renaissance,' and she released her own studio album this fall, called 'Black Girl Magic.' But Honey – one of the only Black trans DJs playing the biggest clubs in the world – has been a mainstay on dance floors for decades. And she's become a historian, and champion, of the Black musical traditions that house music draws from. In this episode, Honey talks to host Brittany Luse about using music to create spaces of liberation and paving the way for future generations to do the same.

Serving house music history with Honey Dijon

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BRITTANY LUSE, HOST:

It's always good to talk to somebody else from the Midwest. I'm from the Detroit area, so...

HONEY DIJON: Oh, OK. So we're going to keep a real 100 up in here today.

LUSE: We will. We will. We will. We will.

DIJON: OK. You know how Midwest people do.

LUSE: (Laughter) We talk straight (laughter).

DIJON: Real real. Too real.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: Hey there. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE From NPR. I'm Brittany Luse. In 2022, there was one album that I kept coming back to over and over Beyonce's "Renaissance."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALIEN SUPERSTAR")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Please do not be alarmed. Remain calm. Do not attempt to leave the dance floor.

LUSE: I played that album out, of course, because it made me want to move. It made me want to dance. It made me want to party. But also because when I dug into it, I found a rich history. That's because "Renaissance" is a love letter to dance music's Black queer roots. And Beyonce didn't just pay homage. She literally hired the source.

DIJON: My role for her in creating this album, I wanted to do the community justice.

LUSE: My guest today, Honey Dijon, is a legendary DJ who's blessed dancefloors around the world with her talent. I was lucky enough to catch a set of hers a couple weeks ago in Brooklyn, and I do not exaggerate when I say that it changed my life. You see, Honey was there when house music was born. She was just a teenager sneaking into sweaty warehouses with other young, queer Black kids, absolutely going off. And for "Renaissance," she advised Beyonce on what those spaces sounded and felt like.

DIJON: So I sent her books on voguing, and I sent her books on "Paris Is Burning."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PARIS IS BURNING")

JUNIOR LABEIJA: (As self) Opulence. You own everything.

DIJON: And I sent her songs that, you know, were played in Chicago that may not be universally known...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVE YOUR BODY")

MARSHALL JEFFERSON: (Singing) Gotta have house music all night long.

DIJON: ...Club anthems in New York that may not be universally known.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL HOUSE YOU")

JUNGLE BROTHERS: Check this out. Girl, I'll house you. Girl, I'll house you.

DIJON: I just wanted it to be a love letter to the community and done in the right way. And she knocked it out of the park.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALIEN SUPERSTAR")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Unique. That's what you are.

LUSE: Today, Honey is taking us back to those parties that helped her discover herself. And as one of the only Black trans DJs playing the biggest clubs in the world, she's paving the way for future generations to do the same.

You're from Chicago.

DIJON: South Side.

LUSE: South Side.

DIJON: I'm real South Side.

LUSE: We got to be specific. We have to be specific.

DIJON: Yeah, receipts.

LUSE: (Laughter). But you're from Chicago's South Side. And Chicago is famously the birthplace for warehouse music or house music for short. And that's where you started going to warehouse parties. And, I mean, I might have the timeline wrong, but I'm guessing...

DIJON: Well, we don't deal in timelines here.

LUSE: OK, good (laughter).

DIJON: We don't deal in timelines.

LUSE: Time is a flat circle (laughter).

DIJON: But yes, I grew up in Chicago.

LUSE: Were you technically old enough to be out partying?

DIJON: No.

LUSE: Like, did you have to sneak out of the house to...

DIJON: I lied and snuck out of the house like most teenagers do...

LUSE: (Laughter).

DIJON: ...Saying I was going to study homework at a friend's house. And we would go out. A lot of early house music parties were held and Catholic school auditoriums. And you could get a fake ID. And as long as you were 16 or 18 plus, you could get into the club. So I was a 13-year-old dressing like I was 25.

LUSE: (Laughter). Talk to me about what those parties were like. What was the vibe?

DIJON: Unfiltered abandon. You just had, you know, all this teenage energy and angst and community, and it was just electric. And people - you know, I don't know if you know of the famous house track called "Jack Your Body."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JACK YOUR BODY")

SILK HURLEY: Jack your body. Jack your - jack, jack, jack your body.

DIJON: Jack, jack, jack your body. And so that was a form of dance where you were just jack the speaker. I mean, people were literally - get in front of the speaker, and you were just like you were on a pogo stick, and you were just jacking the speaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SILK HURLEY SONG, "JACK YOUR BODY")

DIJON: I always tell people, you ain't been to a party till you've been to a party like how Black folks party because Black folks party with their entire being.

LUSE: It's true.

DIJON: From the rooter to the tooter. From the hair follicles to the toenails, we use every part of our body.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: Honey Dijon is now a world-renowned DJ, but she's also a dance floor historian. She's watched as dance music has evolved from those underground warehouse parties into a billion-dollar industry. And I wanted to know, can the dance floors of today give us the same liberation she found as a teenager?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: We get into it after a quick break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: So you are a big-time vinyl collector.

DIJON: Lifetime vinyl collector.

LUSE: Lifetime.

DIJON: Lifetime.

LUSE: What is the best, most important record that you've got in your collection?

DIJON: How are you going to ask me that question?

LUSE: (Laughter).

DIJON: I'm just, like - literally, I'm thinking of the B-52s' "Mesopotamia." I'm thinking of Grace Jones' "Nightclubbing." I'm thinking of...

LUSE: For as long as she can remember, Honey has been collecting music. So I'm not surprised she went on for several minutes, listing off all the music she wanted to put at the top of her best of list.

DIJON: I'm thinking of every Charday 12-inch that I have. But if I had to narrow it down to one, the one that gives me the most joy is "When You Wake Up Tomorrow" by Candi Staton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN YOU WAKE UP TOMORROW")

CANDI STATON: (Singing) When you wake up tomorrow, will you forget the things you said tonight?

DIJON: It was the end of the night at a loft party, and my best friend, Derrick Carter, played it, and it just so resonated with me spiritually and musically and vibrationally, lyrically, being hopeful in love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN YOU WAKE UP TOMORROW")

CANDI STATON: (Singing) When you wake up tomorrow, will you remember? Give me something to hold on to.

LUSE: At one of Honey's sets, it's not unusual to hear a Chaka Khan vocal minutes before she plays a classic by a Swedish synth-pop group. That's because she's absorbed so much music throughout her life. And that all started at home.

You got your start as a DJ by playing music as a kid at your parents' parties.

DIJON: My parents used to have basement parties.

LUSE: Talk to me about the music that you would play at those parties.

DIJON: Oh, well, I mean - so when you want to talk about atmospheres - so I would play my hour, and then they would put me in the bedroom.

LUSE: You played a full - they let you play a full hour?

DIJON: Well, my bedtime was, like, 9 o'clock, so I could play from 8 to 9.

LUSE: Before it got totally jumping, right?

DIJON: But then we would go to bed, and then around 11 o'clock, we would start hearing all this laughter and cursing. And we could smell the cigarette smoke and glasses breaking. And it was just like, what is this world? And we would sit on the top of the steps because we knew they weren't coming up because they were too busy partying. And that's when I would hear all the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WHISPERS SONG, "AND THE BEAT GOES ON")

DIJON: The Whispers - my dad loved The Whispers. "And The Beat Goes On" must have been on rotation, like, 500 times.

LUSE: That's a good one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AND THE BEAT GOES ON")

THE WHISPERS: (Singing) ...Ending. And the beat goes on just like my love, everlasting.

DIJON: Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan - you know, Chaka Khan was a huge influence. Minnie Riperton, the Isley Brothers - there was lots of Marvin Gaye. And, you know, it was really - I like to call it Black consciousness music because it was, you know - at that time, it was post-civil rights, and so those were the records I would play.

LUSE: You know, you're at your parents' house. You're playing music for their parties. Like, are you starting already at that age to notice how people are responding to different songs?

DIJON: Oh, yeah. I got off on just sharing the music. This is so good. You have to hear this. They brought me this sort of sense of fulfillment that - it just hasn't left me. I think I was just born to do this. And I'm not - and I'm saying that with humility and not with arrogance, that this is just something that I came into the world, and I was - I could - 'cause I could have been born any time. You know how many accidents have to happen for your parents to meet and have you?

LUSE: It's the truth.

DIJON: How many chance encounters and how many random things that - the randomness of life of you to be here.

LUSE: And here you are.

DIJON: And here I am.

LUSE: I know you would spend a lot of time in your room listening to music with headphones...

DIJON: I did.

LUSE: ...And flipping through fashion magazines. Like, take me back to that room. Like, what are you listening to? What clothes were you obsessed with?

DIJON: Well, I had a little room. Well, I shared it with my sister for years, and then we moved to the suburbs when I was about 15. And then I got my own room, and I used to plaster my walls with - Women's Wear Daily was this huge newspaper.

LUSE: Sure.

DIJON: And I used to plaster my walls with Women's Wear Daily. But I was very bullied as a child, so music and fashion were my two - those are my escapes. And those were my friends. And I got also - not only from the kids in school, but my father's brother was a tailor. And that's when I discovered GQ and Vogue. Because whenever my dad would take me over to have his clothes fit or tailored for him, I would see these magazines. And I was hooked at this imagery because it was so beautiful, and it was such the opposite of the ugliness that I always experienced as being bullied. And so during my teenage years, I just would hole up in my room and dance. I was a dancer before I became a DJ, like, a club dancer. So I would just put on all my Salsoul records and, you know, "Hit And Run" by Loleatta Holloway, first choice. And I would just dance with me. I would dance with myself and then read magazines for hours...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIT AND RUN")

LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY: (Singing) You can't hit and run. I've got to be No. 1. Better make up your mind 'cause you'll never find a love so divine. You can hit and run.

HOLLOWAY: ...Not knowing how I was going to fit into these worlds. But it was just - this is what gave me joy.

LUSE: It's so interesting, like, being able to - when I think about, like, how young people might develop a sense of taste or a sense of style or just their own sensibility now. I came of age, like, right, I think, at the tail end of being able to, like, figure that stuff out pre-internet. But it's so cool that you were able to have this experience of, like you said, dancing with yourself, looking at magazines on your own, putting these things on your wall, developing your own sense of self, your own sense of taste, like, as an individual, without necessarily looking outward. I think that's so cool.

DIJON: Well, I mean, it's so funny that you say that because, you know, we had Ebony and Jet around the house, but (laughter) we didn't...

LUSE: Of course. Of course.

DIJON: My parents were - you know, because Black people are very - how you look is, you know - I think that comes from oppression, like, you know, Sunday's best. And so Black people pay a lot of attention to how they look and present themselves because that's a form of empowerment. You got to look sharp when you leave the house.

LUSE: I mean, like you said - you just said your father's brother was a tailor. So it's like the fashion thing also was a family thing.

DIJON: It was a family thing. And I think it's part of Black culture, you know?

LUSE: Absolutely.

DIJON: What our - because so much of our humanity was stripped away from us. And so that was a way of reclaiming our humanity. But, yeah, it's so funny because - me and my best friend talk about this. Like, we're really this middle transition generation because we went from analog to digital, so we know what life was like before and also what life is like now. So I'm glad I had that chance to really engage with myself on that level instead of having - because the thing about social media and the thing about the digital world - things are chosen for you...

LUSE: Through an algorithm. Right.

DIJON: ...Instead of you actually going out into the world and looking for it yourself. And you tend to find yourself in an echo chamber. And the thing about pre-internet is, like, there were so many accidents and so much discovery. You know, I would go to record stores. And this is one of the things I hate about myths about physical record stores. You can walk into a record store and hear music that you never would have picked for yourself...

LUSE: Right.

DIJON: ...And found yourself in love with it.

LUSE: Right.

DIJON: I always think about that in physics just because, you know, what you don't see is also there. If I'm being fed things that I know all the time, how boring would that be if you served your favorite dish every day? Too much sugar makes anyone sick, honey.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORK")

DIJON: Believe you deserve all the things you see for yourself and more. Commit yourself to this moment in your body.

LUSE: I have to be honest. I have been a little depressed since I left Honey's show because now I want to see her every single weekend for the rest of my life. That same sense of self-discovery Honey's talking about is exactly what I found on her dance floor. I got lost in the music and got in touch with a piece of myself I hadn't seen in a long time. And life is a little sweeter because of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORK")

DIJON: Come on. Work.

LUSE: Next up, the dance floors of today, Honey's thoughts on Beyonce's "Renaissance" and her advice for all of you who want to be a DJ after a quick break.

Recently you collaborated on a creation that I would say most of the world has heard at this point. You were recruited by Beyonce to work on her album "Renaissance."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COZY")

BEYONCE: This a reminder.

LUSE: And you produced "Cozy" and "Alien Superstar." What was it like working with Beyonce on those songs on that album and sharing your experiences of the scenes that made you?

DIJON: Well, first of all, I had to pick my jaw off the ground when that call came. I was like...

LUSE: (Laughter).

DIJON: How does Beyonce to know about me? You know what I mean? It was just sort of, like - it was just - it was so humbling to feel that the work that you've been doing and your lived experience was being acknowledged by someone of that caliber. So it was very humbling. And one of the things that I was told from her team was that, you know, she wanted to make this dance record and she wanted to go to the true source of Chicago house music. And that was, like - you know, I think of so many people that have laid the groundwork for me to be able to express that. You know, I think of the Frankie Knuckles and the Ron Hardys and the Derrick Carters and the Lori Branches and all of these amazing artists that have gone before me.

And for Beyonce to acknowledge that was just so gratifying. And it made me proud. I had to pat myself on the back. And my mother always says, you may see my glory, but you don't know my story. And I just thought about all of the years of being told no or what I was doing was being misunderstood. Or I was even told sometimes that my music was too sophisticated. And so when that call came, it was just - it was such a proud moment for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COZY")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Comfortable in my skin, cozy with who I am, comfortable in my skin, cozy.

LUSE: So the album was about celebrating Black music history. Does it feel like those places and the community that the music built, the community that you were able to be such an integral part of when you were - you know, when you were in your early, early days?

DIJON: My formative years, yeah.

LUSE: Your formative years. Are those types of spaces - is that kind of community, like, capital-H history? Like, or do you still find places like them around the world?

DIJON: No because, you know, you're talking about an art form that's 40 years old. And so it's evolved, you know, and new generations are bringing to it what their vibe is. I think we're starting to see more Black artists come through dance music because for a long time, house music and dance music was considered white music.

LUSE: Right.

DIJON: It's been so far removed...

LUSE: Yeah.

DIJON: ...From the origins that a lot of Black people even think house music is white music.

LUSE: Like, they always talk about untz-untz (ph), and it's like, there's so much more.

DIJON: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

LUSE: There's so much more than that.

DIJON: You know, they don't - they hear a four-four kick drum, and they think it's house music. Four-four goes back to disco and R&B. What I try to do in my work is create the vibe of those spaces that I experienced. But, you know, dance music now is commercial, and it's been commodified. It's a big business. It's a billion-dollar business, especially in Europe. EDM and tech house in America has taken over. There's a party called Queen at Smartbar that still has the ethos of that time. But they're smaller parties, but they do exist around the world.

LUSE: You know, you've - you're name-dropping all these places from around the world. I mean, you have traveled the world playing music, and you've played at some of the biggest, most, quote-unquote, "important" venues in the world. And just like those parties that you went to as a kid, I'm sure those places have changed you or taught you something about yourself. Like, what parts of you have you discovered on the biggest stages that you've played?

DIJON: Well, I've had to learn how to entertain, educate and enlighten at the same time.

LUSE: Say more about that.

DIJON: Because most of the people that are clubs now and festivals are between 18 and 24.

LUSE: Ooh. yeah.

DIJON: So you're talking about a whole generation of people that didn't get to experience the '90s. They were born in 2000. Some were born in 2000. I was 23.

LUSE: You said that. I'm just like, ah. You're right.

DIJON: Yeah. It hits you. It hits you, right?

LUSE: Yeah.

DIJON: That was the oh.

LUSE: I was like, 2000. I was like, I was already wearing a bra and...

DIJON: Yeah.

LUSE: ...By then.

DIJON: So - yeah. So what I don't ever want to do is go into a space thinking that it was better when I was doing it. So I always try to go into these spaces and connect with what's going on now, play things that I experienced but also be true to who I am. So there's a juggling act because you don't want to be the DJ that's or the soapbox saying, oh, my God, but the club was better 20 years ago - because the club for them is great now. This is their now.

LUSE: Right.

DIJON: And so - and I'm DJing now.

LUSE: Exactly.

DIJON: So what I've had to learn to do is be honest but also not be arrogant.

LUSE: That's like - that seems like one of those lessons that comes with mastery is it's like, OK, I've got all the knowledge. Now what do I do with it?

DIJON: It comes from - actually, I think my skill set comes from being othered and being marginalized within the marginalization. You know, being a trans woman of color, I didn't really fit. So I went to all different kinds of scenes to try to find a connection. You know, I think I've DJed every kind of iteration of a party - gay white parties, Black gay parties. I DJed a Black gay hip-hop party. Straight parties, weddings, festivals - I DJed on the bar tops and bars. I've DJed a hundred-capacity room to 10,000 people at Red Rocks.

LUSE: Oh, wow. That must have been nuts.

DIJON: Yeah. I opened for Disclosure five years ago at Red Rocks. And so I've had the good fortune of being able to be in all types of environments, to walk into something and being able to read the room. They call it experiential. My art is experiential. And all of the things that I was marginalized for or oppressed for have become my strengths. So I've turned my weaknesses into strengths.

LUSE: Have you met and/or seen people be able to grow and find themselves in those late-night parties that you DJed...

DIJON: Oh, yeah.

LUSE: ...The way that you were able to at that point in your life?

DIJON: Well, in their own way, yes. Of course. I mean, I see new generation of kids coming up. I can tell that they feel a bit more liberated just by my existence and what I stand for. I've had people tell me they've met their spouses and future partners on my dance floor. I mean, I just had that Sunday. Oh, my boyfriend just proposed to me on the dance floor, and I wanted you to know. And so the club is community for me, and it always will be.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS A STATE OF MIND")

DIJON: (Singing) I can love myself and still have love for you.

So one of the things that I always tell people when they want to become a DJ, I say, well, why? Well, I love music, and I want to share it with people. I say, you don't need to be a DJ with that. You could do that without being a DJ. What is it that you want to do as a DJ? Do you want to contribute to culture? Do you have a voice that you want to connect people? My work is based on I build community through sound, and I try to create spaces of liberation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS A STATE OF MIND")

DIJON: (Singing) You will find that love is a state of mind. It will bring us all together.

LUSE: And you can hear Honey putting that into practice on her album "Black Girl Magic." Just listen to this track, "Love Is A State Of Mind." This is the energy I'm taking into 2023.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS A STATE OF MIND")

DIJON: (Singing) Keep your head up. Just believe. Just believe.

LUSE: Honey, this has been...

DIJON: You're welcome.

LUSE: ...A fantastic conversation. I'm so glad you came on and that you lent us your time. You are so knowledgeable and - yeah, I appreciate you sharing that with us.

DIJON: Oh, thanks. If I didn't share, what I'mma (ph) do with it?

LUSE: That's true.

DIJON: Keep it to myself? How boring.

LUSE: That's what they always say. They say, you know...

DIJON: I already know everything I know.

LUSE: And my mom says, you can't take it with you, so there you go.

DIJON: You cannot take it with you. Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: That was Honey Dijon, the legendary DJ and fashion designer. This episode was produced by Barton Girdwood and Corey Antonio Rose. It was edited by Jessica Placzek.

Now, before we end the show, I just want to say what an honor and a joy it's been to take the reins of this show and work with our incredible team. You all have given me such a warm welcome, and I'm so excited for more stories, more conversations and more fun in 2023. I'm Brittany Luse. Have a very happy new year, and I'll see you next week for another episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE.

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