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.
The interview highlights below are adapted from an episode of It’s Been A Minute. Follow us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and keep up with us on Twitter. These excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.
On collaborating with Beyoncé on Renaissance
Brittany Luse: You were recruited by Beyoncé to work on her album, Renaissance, and you produced “Cozy” and “Alien Superstar.” What was it like working with Beyoncé on that album and sharing your experiences of the scenes that made you?
Honey Dijon: Well, first of all, I had to pick my jaw off the ground when that call came. I was like, “How does Beyoncé know about me?” It was so humbling to feel that the work, that your lived experience, was being acknowledged by someone of that caliber.
One of the things that I was told from her team was that she wanted to make this a dance record and she wanted to go to the true source of Chicago house music. 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 all of these amazing artists that have gone before me. For Beyoncé to acknowledge that was just so gratifying, and it made me proud. I had to pat myself on the back. 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. So when that call came, it was such a proud moment for me.
On the parties she went to as a teenager
Luse: You are from Chicago’s South Side. And Chicago was famously the birthplace for warehouse music, house music, for short. And that’s where you started going to warehouse parties. Were you technically old enough to be out partying like did you have to sneak out of the house?
Dijon: No! I lied and snuck out of the house, like most teenagers do, saying I was going to study homework at a friend’s house and we would go out. And you could get a fake I.D. So I was a 13 year old dressing like I was 25.
Luse: 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. I always tell people, “You ain’t been to a party ’til you’ve been to a party like how Black folks party.” Because Black folks party were their entire being.
Luse: It’s true.
Dijon: From the rooter to the to tooter. From the hair follicles to the toenails. We use every part of our body.
On DJ’ing her own parents’ parties
Luse: Talk to me about the music that you would play at those parties.
Dijon: So I would play my hour and then they would put me to bed. 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 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, and that’s where I would hear all the music. You know, Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan. Minnie Riperton, the Isley Brothers. There was lots of Marvin Gaye. I like to call it Black consciousness music because it was post-civil rights. So those were the records I would play.
Luse: So you’re in your parents’ house. You play music for their parties. Are you starting, at that age, to notice how people are responding to different songs?
Dijon: Oh, yeah. I got off on just sharing the music. This sort of sense of fulfillment that just hasn’t left me. I think I was just born to do this.
On creating spaces of liberation through music
Luse: Have you met and/or seen people be able to grow and find themselves in those late night parties that you DJ’d, 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 a new generation of kids coming up and 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. “Oh, my boyfriend just proposed to me on the dance floor, and I wanted you to know.” The club is community for me. And it always will be.
So one of the things that I always tell people when they want to become a DJ, I say, “Well, why?” 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 [with]? I build community through sound. And I try to create spaces of liberation.