"Learning how to perform is something that has to be developed..."
David Guetta. Swedish House Mafia. Skrillex. With a growing number of fans and a billion dollar industry riding on their backs, these once obscure DJs are now household names. But where does God fit into this growing movement? Enter Kristen Newton, aka “DJ KB”- disc jockey for the Indiana Pacers, WNBA’s Indiana Fever, and recent deejay for dance choreographer Wildabeast. Delivering a fresh sound and faith based perspective, this self-described “musicion-ary” and AMTC grad is serving the Lord through her music, while putting Christ on the map.
Your debut album with Level 3:16 (now known as 6 Way Street) charted #1 on R&B/Hip Hop Christian SoundScan Chart, #1 on Christian Rap Amazon MP3, and #1 on Christian Contemporary Music Amazon MP3, all in the first week. That’s exciting! Were you expecting that much success early on?
Absolutely not (laughs). We were fresh- very green, kind of out the gate. Just trying to be faithful to what God was calling us to do to, to walk away from what we were doing in that season of life to join this group, and to really pursue this dream of doing music full time. We didn’t know how people would respond to us, because we were almost the first of our kind within Christian hip-hop. To have two rappers, three vocalists, and a female DJ, it was like this new eclectic thing; we didn’t know if people would palate us very well. But they did. We got a lot of love in Christian hip-hop and the gospel charts.
Your group 6 Way Street has described themselves as “musician-aries”. Tell us what that means exactly.
Sure. So 6 Way, formerly Level 3:16, was a group of individuals that auditioned to be a part of a summer missions trip for an organization called The Impact Movement several years ago. And “musician-ary” is this word that we came up with to describe what we do as musicians and missionaries. We use music as a tool to get the gospel of Jesus Christ to people. So that’s where the term “musician-ary” came from.
You are now in your third season as the official DJ for the Indiana Pacers as well as your second with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever. That sounds like the coolest job on the planet! How did you get hooked up working at Bankers Life Fieldhouse?
It was really the Lord. We had been doing the group for about four years and had gone independent from the label and changed our name to 6 Way Street. And I was at this place in life where I thought, I don’t know what the Lord will continue to do with the group, because I’m married, another member was trying to get married, and another had accepted a job to work at a church. So I thought to myself, Do I still want to be a DJ full time if I’m not doing it within the context of a group? And I really felt like the Lord was saying, “Yeah. You need to do this.” So that was one of my steps of faith in life. Okay, if I’m going to remain a DJ, I need to be cultivating my craft and really making steps to grow. So a friend of mine said, “Hey, you should go audition for the Pacers. They’re having open auditions for DJs.” And I said, “I don’t think that’s my scene.” I’ve been a band kid since fifth grade. So I’m like, “I don’t know if that’s what I want to do.” And she said, “Well, you should at least go out.” So my audition for the Pacers was an opportunity to step outside of what I was comfortable with. I went in- there’s like a row of older white guys in Polos and button ups… (laughs), and I was the only girl that walked in. I set up, they told me I’d have three to five minutes. I come up, and every guy pulls his phone out to record. So I do my thing; at the end they give me a small golf clap, and they’re like, “Thank you for coming.” And this guy, my now boss, comes up to me afterward, and says, “We love your energy; you did a really good job. We’re thinking about giving you a call.” Like before I’d even started packing up! So that’s how the Lord did that; He gave me much favor. That’s how the Pacers came about, and after I finished the first season, they asked if I wanted to do the women’s game. Then next season came, they asked me back. I assumed they were going to ask me to audition again, but they were like, “Hey, we’re just going to ask you back; you don’t have to re-audition. And same thing this year, they said, “Hey, if you want to come back, we would love to have you as long as you’d like to stay.”
How does your relationship with Christ affect your career as a DJ/ musician?
It completely affects it. Because out of my relationship with Christ I live, and I have purpose. This is what the Lord has called me to do in this season, why He’s put me here. I get to use my gifts and talents in a way to be a light in some really dark places, and to build the body of Christ up. A lot of times I get asked to be a part of tours, or to do concerts with other artists, and help prepare the way for them as a DJ. I really take that as a privilege, to be able to prime the audience before the main event gets on, you know? But all of that to say, my hope is each day wherever I’m at, at a secular event, a mainstream platform, or if I’m at a church doing a youth event, my goal is to glorify the Lord in what I do.
What did you perform at SHINE, and how did AMTC help shape you as a performer?
Well, I didn’t know anything about it, so I think I thought when I went into the audition that there would be space for me to pull out my equipment and do a set. But I found out shortly thereafter that they don’t normally do DJs. They do dancers and comedians, but not DJs. But I remember Jayme Doyle, she was very encouraging at the registration table. She was like, “You should stay still. Do you model?” I was like, “No.” She said, “Well why don’t you just sit in orientation and see.” So I did that. I went through the audition. I do sing and play guitar; I’m a musician at heart. So I ended up doing something with my guitar in the singing audition, and they asked me to do a cold read and they liked that. So I got a call back the next day, and John Montez was actually at the site and said, “I want you to sing,” and I sang. And he was like, “You have a nice voice. What do you do? You say you’re not a singer?” And I told him I was a DJ. And it was actually John’s idea for me to combine the two. So at SHINE, I sang and DJ’d at the same time. That’s how we ended up incorporating my turntables. They rolled them out on stage, and I kind of scratched and sang at the same time (laughs). It was a cool thing. AMTC really gave me some perspective for what I could do. I was kind of in a bubble, in a subgenre of a genre for a long time (laughs). So SHINE opened it up. AMTC helped me see that there is so much room for the Christian in the entertainment industry as a whole.
You are a panelist/DJ with the Queens United Tour. Tell us more about that.
Queens United Tour is a tour full of women, which is like a first in Christian hip-hop. You don’t often see just an all-girl anything (laughs). So it’s a crew that was put together with the heart of reaching women and young girls about biblical womanhood. On the tour are several artists and myself; I’m the DJ for the tour. I have a set where I perform, and I have a couple songs I do, but I mainly a throw a mini-party in the middle of the concert. So it’s a concert/mini-conference, and we launched in August in Atlanta. With each city we are growing, and it’s been developing and becoming more and more solid. Our next stop will be in Houston, and then we’ll do a stop in Chicago. So we’re really excited about finishing up the Fall, and then revamping it to launch again next fall.
Many DJs start out playing private parties, weddings, prom etc. What is your suggestion for someone looking to make a career out of DJ’ing, but wants to take his or her career to the next level?
I think right now in the culture, DJs are everywhere. I mean, you can look at Good Morning America and see a DJ on there. And I think that that’s hilarious. I mean DJs are also some of the wealthiest entertainers now in the industry. So I definitely think that there’s a market for DJs, especially ones that love the Lord. They have a lot of influence right now, so in my mind it would only make sense to want to equip individuals who love the Lord and want to be DJs the way that AMTC does. Advice-wise, if it’s something that you really want to get into, it does require more than just a love for music. In order to be set apart, you have to enjoy performing as well. And learning how to perform is something that has to be developed for most people. A lot of people would say, “Oh the DJ was cool.” But many DJs don’t talk. They don’t want to introduce your wedding party; they just want to play the music. Or there are DJs with a lot of personality that don’t actually have any skill. They don’t know how to scratch or cut or mix their blends, they just play a playlist and get everybody excited about being there. So with the opinion on what you define as excellent in the world of DJ’ing, I’m sure you’ll get a million answers, but at the end of the day there needs to be a heart for wanting to perform. I think that is what helps it become a career.