By 6 p.m. on a brisk Friday evening in February, the block of office buildings in Burbank that houses radio station Real 92.3 is mostly dark. The 9-to-5ers have left and are already draining their first round of TGIF cocktails.
At the station, Nhandi Craig, aka DJ Young 1, has just wrapped her rush-hour set. But her work week isn’t finished yet — she’ll be back here tomorrow for her Young 1 O’Clock Mix. Not that she can go grab a drink anyway.
She’s only 13 years old.
“It’s tough being a child entertainer. I barely have time to stay in school!” the Culver City eighth grader says. She’s comfy in sweats, her caramel-colored curls slicked into a high, tight ponytail. Beaming, her dimples pop out. “But it puts me in such a good mood. Sometimes it waters my eyes that I’m putting smiles on people’s faces.”
As the youngest employee at iHeartMedia, the parent company of Real 92.3, Craig squeezes in two weekly slots between classes and homework. When she snaps selfies, they’re often with the celebrities she meets while performing on The Queen Latifah Show or for Grammy events. In 2014, she even met the Obamas when she DJed the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.
“You can hardly see her over the wall,” says Nina Chantele, an afternoon host at the station. “But she comes in here and she [doesn’t act like] a little kid. She’s gonna make it.”
Born in Santa Monica, Craig was immersed in music from a young age. Her mother, Ellen, who recently left her longtime job as a school principal to manage her daughter’s career full-time, played piano and flute. Her grandfather was a DJ himself (“He used to work with — I wanna say John Coltrane?” Craig says hesitantly). Craig picked up the violin when she started elementary school, but her practicing fell by the wayside when, at 9 years old, she received the video game DJ Hero.
“I beat all the levels. My mom was like, ‘You’re really good. Maybe you should try to learn it for real,’ ” Craig says.
Enrolling in the late Jam Master Jay’s Scratch DJ Academy, she found herself in a class of mostly older men. But she was unfazed. At age 10, she became the youngest graduate in the school’s history. “DJing is all about precision, especially when I scratch,” she explains before rattling off a bunch of technical terms: “Transformers, flares, cuts, stabs, baby scratches …”
Family friends hooked her up with her first gig, an event during San Francisco’s Pride Week. Soon thereafter, she appeared on America’s Got Talent, which led to a request from President Obama to spin at the White House’s Easter egg hunt.
A chance meeting with popular morning show host Big Boy led to an audition for Doc Wynter, Real 92.3’s program director, who offered her a job on the spot. April marked Young 1’s one-year anniversary on air, and she’s still adjusting to her growing fame.
“Some people wanna be friends because I’m this cool DJ who spins everywhere and meets celebrities,” she says. “People don’t want the real me, Nhandi Craig. They want DJ Young 1 who’s on the radio. They want shoutouts and VIP passes.”
Still, in many ways, she’s just like every other adolescent girl in the world. Asked who could crack her veneer of cool professionalism, she suddenly seems her age. A flutter of excitement enters her voice.
“I would freak out if I met Drake.”