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Meet Yahdy Hardy, stage name: Sensei

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yahdy Hardy, stage name: Sensei

Yahdy, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Well, my story starts off in Indianapolis, IN. The typical Midwestern city with hidden creatives around every corner. Though my full legal name [Kenyatta] means ‘the musical one’ in Swahili – integrating music into my career and life plans didn’t take place until the latter portion of my life.

I got the name ‘Sensei’ from my homies back home always highlighting my social intuition and empathetic personality. My childhood caused me to grow up pretty fast. I lived in hostels, took care of family members, and had to live off of my own resources all at a young age.

Though it was difficult – lots of the learnings and insights from that time period of my life became the foundational pillars of my personality. So when my homies would ask me for advice or perspective on things, my responses would often seem wise beyond my years. They’d always say stuff like “damn lil homie a Sensei or something – how’d he just breakdown the whole situation like that.” The name stuck with me heavy, and it’s something that’s always seemed fitting ever since then.

Music became significantly more important to my life when I was about 16 or 17. My home situation wasn’t the best (I didn’t have one, haha), so my bro DG let me stay in his studio for a little while. I always tried to make sure I didn’t overstay my welcome, but the studio was so enticing to me. Different artists coming through, different sounds, different energy – it took all of my attention. I was instantly hooked.

I was often hesitant to share my ideas on how to help different artists take their craft to the next level, but DG saw the fire in me burning brighter every day, so he would push me to share what I was thinking. My ideas wouldn’t always get used, but when they were – man… it would do something to me. It gave me a special feeling. I was using my empathetic nature in a new creative way to help other artists communicate their stories. It was a different type of fulfillment that I’d never experienced before.

I eventually moved out of DG’s studio, but I kept chasing that feeling in different areas of my life, but especially with my career. I dabbled with the idea of becoming an artist but if I’m being honest, I wasn’t ready to be that vulnerable with the world – so I looked to find opportunities to help other artists grow and develop.

I managed artists, freelance creative directed, and underwent a data analytics/business intelligence program. That combination of creative experience and my recent introduction to data landed me a position at Spotify. I loved what I did, but I could tell I was craving being able to truly express how I feel, versus helping someone else express their feelings.

This is where the story takes off. Four months ago, my friend Bianca overheard me discussing music and offered to let me practice DJing on her controller. The same fear of BEING the artist rose up in my chest, but I knew that the opportunity cost of not going for this would greatly outweigh me playing it safe.

She sat me down and walked me through every button and taught me the basics. For the first few hours, I was pretty trash haha, but after sticking with it for what seemed like forever – I finally made a song transition that didn’t entirely suck.

This was it. THIS was that feeling of creative expression that had been dormant all these years. The last time I had experienced this feeling was back when I was living out of DG’s studio. I knew I needed more.

As if God herself were listening – shortly after that, my best friend Saheed moved from LA and sold me his controller. A numark ns7ii, I renamed the numark controller “Vibez” – simply because that’s what she [the controller] helps me share with the world.

I practiced tirelessly every day after work for hours on hours. To add fuel to the fire, around this time I was dealing with a multitude of different personal issues. Key relationships in my life were falling apart, family issues were progressing, etc. it was all crazy. But ultimately it ended up being a blessing in disguise.

Whenever I’d have intruding thoughts, I’d go practice. Whenever I’d have family issues, I’d go practice. Whenever I’d have distant moments in my relationships with people, I’d go practice. I felt terrible but at the end of the day, I was putting in 50+ hours of practice a week so my skill set grew exponentially.

I practiced so much, but I’d yet to perform in front of any group of people. So when I got word of the homies throwing a kickback, I nervously volunteered to provide the sounds that night.

Honestly, I thought my set was trash that night! But everyone raved about it which gave me a crazy confidence boost. A friend of a friend who attended the kickback worked for CAA (creative arts agency) and told me they were looking for talent for an annual celebration of theirs.

One thing lead to another, and I got booked for the gig. My first time truly ever performing, IN LIFE – was in front of 1000+ people, in the middle of Hollywood, with what seemed like every celebrity, influencer, and their mom in attendance.

My nerves were out of this world but as soon as I started, I tapped into the same feeling. I felt like I was back in DG’s studio, just giving my 2 cents on the creative task at hand.

That was about three months ago, and I’ve been booked almost every weekend since then. I’m learning things in real-time here, but I’d be lying if I said this 0-100mph start didn’t feel like home to me.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way
Financially: Affording all this damn equipment haha. 

Skillwise: Finding good teachers. Not necessarily in the sense of someone sitting down with me, but just people to model myself after. I’m a crazyyy Soulection fan, so the last few months have been filled with me watching their sets on youtube & in person from a student’s perspective to see how they do their sets. 

Imposter Syndrome: Things have been going pretty fast. It’s a blessing – sometimes I just get in my own head and disqualify myself as a DJ. I’m not sure why I do that, but it’s something I try to avoid. I thank my friends for always supporting me, which helps fight those moments.

Within my personal life: Even though djing as an escape pushed me to get better I’d beat myself up thinking thoughts like ‘how can you sit here and practice while you have so many other responsibilities to attend to’. 

Oh, and learning to talk on the microphone during sets – haha I’m secretly introverted so I always feel slightly awkward when I speak while DJing.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Just know that I’m always down to spin a set :] I specialize in Hip Hop due to it coming naturally but I have such an eclectic setlist. Depending on the crowd, I could end up playing anything from mainstream pop, R&B, electronic, house, afro beats, Latin music, jazz interludes, etc.! I pride myself on reading the room and being able to cater to everyone.

I’m learning how to produce music as well :] That in itself is a whole ‘nother animal, but I’m putting in the hours now, so be on the lookout!

I throw an event every other month called ‘The Function’ alongside my homies Beltran and Kemitt. It’s an event where we invite all creatives from across LA to a warehouse event in DTLA. The goal is to provide an opportunity for creatives to meet and link with other creatives in LA. Makeup artists, musicians, actors, designers, etc. We bring everyone together, throw some sick visuals on the wall, provide snacks and refreshments, and we’ll DJ for hours. We’re planning the next one for February 2020! 

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
So many people to name.

Kemitt – Day 1 LA homie | Bro lets me practice DJing at his house virtually every day. We’ve also started throwing a series of events under the umbrella title of “the function” that promotes all forms of art and creatives. I usually DJ these events and it’s created a phenomenal artistic community in LA.

Saheed – OG Homie | Sold me his controller and really truly believed in me before I even started spinning on a regular basis. He taught me a lot and promotes my gigs even when he’s not in town. This is my brother.

Bianca – My go-to if I ever need a DJ partner | Her stage name is Bizzy B, so when we DJ together, we go by the name Bizzy Sensei. She also is the one who showed me how her controller worked.

Beltran – My fellow DJ amigo | He’s given me so much knowledge and resources to help expedite my learning curve. A great soul and friend with incredible song recommendations

Rebecca Alexander – An awesome friend that I met through another awesome friend, Rebecca the person who pitched me for the CAA gig. Without her, I’m not sure things would have taken off so quickly.

SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE TO MENTION – Jessamine, Lai, Nicholas, Hector/HECNO, SYO, Olea, Ji, Trisitn, Cuzzin, Maha, Cory, but essentially everyone that’s been to a gig, listened to a mix of mine, sent me music, or supported me in any way – I’ve got hella love for. Thank you so much.

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Image Credit:

Ariana Gleckman, CJ Nicdao, Rhianna Israni, Alex Vespestad

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