In 2015, West Philadelphia resident Nashirah Riggs (aka Nashirah) got her start as a DJ in an unusual way.
As a student at the now defunct Charter High School for Architecture and Design, she was working with classmates on putting together a fashion show when a teacher suggested she work on the event’s music. After the event proved successful, Riggs quickly earned a residency at Dahlak Paradise, an Eritrean restaurant and bar on Baltimore Avenue.
“That was the first time I DJ’d for a crowd,” she told Technical.ly.
Now 23, Riggs has founded popular events like Beats and Babes and Internashional Bounce and built a reputation for playing uptempo music like staccato Jersey club tracks and acts ranging from Jamaican dancehall artist Shenseea to Philly rappers Tierra Whack and Bri Steves.
But with venues closing and her sources of revenue dwindling at the beginning of the pandemic, Riggs had to get creative. At the recommendation of fellow DJ and branding specialist It’s Sean Mc, she began using the graphic and web design skills she honed at CHAD to help other entrepreneurs and brands with their web design.
“My main job has been graphic design and web design for brands,” she said. “There are a lot of new businesses and especially young people that need logos and websites done. I’m grateful that I know how to do those types of things.”
To stay connected with listeners who would normally go to her events, Riggs has used Twitch to livestream from venues like Warehouse on Watts. Twitch has advantages compared to other platforms like Instagram in that Twitch won’t end users streams if copyrighted songs are played too long. An affiliate program also allows streamers to earn money as their subscribers increase.
“Instagram has a copyright issue and will throw you off live if they catch songs playing too long,” she said. “With Twitch, they won’t shut you out, but if you play it back, they’ll cut [the music] out. But that’s better than them shutting your live off and you’re DJing.”
In addition, Riggs said that while Instagram allows DJs streaming on its platform to post links to their CashApp accounts, Twitch allows its users to become affiliates and create new streams of revenues.
Riggs’ skills as a DJ took on a different meaning last fall when she helped early presidential election voters pass the time they spent in line. In collaboration with Seed the Vote and Working Families Party, she DJ’d on four days for nine hours at a time in the rain. But seeing people dance and tell her how grateful they were afterward made it all worth it.
“If people are going to be outside in lines three or four blocks long around the corner, the least I can do is have music and make people not feel super bored,” she said. “People said it made the line move faster.”
This summer, Riggs will partner with local design firm Sally Blagg to execute projects relating to mental health and wellness. With a focus on COVID-19 recovery, Riggs has also DJ’d for people in line awaiting their COVID-19 tests at the Penn Medicine testing site at Sayre Health Center.
She hopes that general health and morale improves by the summer so she can host a safe block party: “I know stuff is going to be open in the summer at 25% but I don’t feel comfortable with that yet,” she said.
But with a podcast in the works for women in entertainment, more parties to energize people in the works and ongoing design clients to serve, you can expect to see more of Riggs soon.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.