Smile Politely

DJ Silkee’s sonic odyssey

A person with dark hair and long, blonde dreadlocks cascading over their shoulders is captured against a red backdrop. They are attired in a black shirt. On the left side of the image, a tree branch can be seen.
DJ Silkee on Instagram

Twelve years ago Ja’Nea Modest was in a “badass motorcycle rider in a motorcycle club” called the Covergirls. When it came time for nicknames, Modest knew she was smooth as silk, and therefore the moniker Silkee was born. One day in September she and other members of the Covergirls, as well as some friends, decided to make the trip to Indianapolis to ride on the Indy 500 track. Little did Modest know that would be the day that her entire life changed.  

A reckless driver on the interstate caused an accident, sending Modest into the median and her motorcycle to the other side of the highway.  

“This is how I know I’m supposed to be here,” Modest said about the accident. “The crazy thing is I didn’t have my leathers until the day before. I wasn’t gonna get them, but something told me to go get them because I found a leather jacket marked down to 50% off. So I went ahead and grabbed it. When I say I tore up that jacket, my vest, my chaps, I [actually] tore up my knees, and broke my finger. It just snapped.”

A person is standing in front of a large, geometric sculpture. They are wearing a black polo shirt with a white logo on the left chest and holding a large, black DJ mixer. The sculpture consists of multiple triangular and rectangular panels in varying shades of gray. It’s situated on a grassy lawn with a brick building in the background.
DJ Silkee on Instagram

Despite severe injury Modest refused treatment at the hospital in Crawfordsville, insisting she be taken somewhere she felt safe and comfortable. A few days later some of the EMS workers came to check on her and shared they had never seen someone survive an accident that bad.

Modest is nothing if not badass, and two years later she received a settlement. Once she had the capital, one of her best friends who performed in a group called Prince Night, pushed her to get her DJ equipment. Shortly after, Modest started DJing with them and then moved to Memphis on Main for their Thursday night event, Old School Nights.  

For the first seven years of her DJ career, Modest worked a regular job as well as DJing, but then she decided to make the leap most performers only dream of. When I asked her how she found the inspiration to do so she said, “It just came to a point where I was like, ‘I can’t do this any more’, and my partner [Dionne] was one of the ones who pushed me. She said, ‘You’re making enough money, just do it!’ and so I stepped out three years ago. So much has happened in three years.”

In that time Modest has become the DJ to call for the U of I, CU Pride, and countless other community events. She has started her own camp called “She Spins” which is aimed at young women and encourages them to step outside of what is “normal” and explore new opportunities. 

“I want to use my platform to show little kids who look like me, that you can be something different and be great at it,” Modest said.

A person stands in front of a wooden wall adorned with autumn leaves and flowers. They are dressed in an orange baseball jersey with the word “Illinois” and the number “5” on it. The background features a wooden wall decorated with autumn leaves and flowers, and a wooden bench is visible on the right side.
DJ Silkee on Instagram

Modest contributes her inspiration for the camp to Girls Rock! Champaign-Urbana: “They were the ones that made me open my eyes to teaching,” Modest said. “They asked me to teach DJing to their girls and so I did it. But I noticed out of all the staff and the little girls, I was the only Black person. So I wanted to be able to show DJing to kids who look like me. It catapulted me to make the camp happen. My main thing was I wanted to do it in areas that don’t get the opportunities to do that. Then Dr. Rachel Storm from Urbana Arts pushed me to start the camp. I started in Champaign three years ago and this year I got to do a ten-week course, smack dab where I wanted to, at Douglass Park.”

Modest’s goals don’t end with starting a successful camp and being an in-demand DJ. She one day hopes to open a lounge. Most people may not know that Modest went to bartending school after she’d started DJing. “When you have a lounge the best thing to make sure it opens and stays open is to know everything about the lounge,” Modest said.

Modest spent some time at a local lounge called Flight, in Lincoln Square Mall, where she says she got her first taste of running a club. Eventually, she was hired as their DJ and had a close relationship with the owner. Whereas most people would be scared off by the amount of work required, Modest doubled down and continues to pursue her dream amidst her busy schedule.

If you live in Champaign-Urbana it’s hard to go a weekend without finding DJ Silkee bringing great music somewhere. If you haven’t gotten the opportunity to hear her yet, add it to your bucket list and cross it off quickly. You’re guaranteed to have a great time.

Check out DJ Silkee on Instagram and Mixcloud.

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