ROCHESTER, Minn. — DJ and entertainer Jas Hardy is trying to break a cycle she was part of.
Also known by her DJ name, "LaidEe P," Hardy left Rochester, Minn., to pursue a music career shortly after graduating from John Marshall High School in 2006.
The support for the arts community in Rochester is “not really there,” she said, nor was the support she needed, and that made it difficult to get off the ground.
“She wants to open up the market,” said Rochester DJ Ivan “Supafly” Avalos, who has known Hardy for over 15 years. “What matters is your creativity, the mood you’re trying to set, reading the crowd — and that’s the hardest ... because if you’re not keeping the crowd, the owners of the bars will get upset.”
“I think that’s her major goal, where she’s trying to do what she wants to do, but others aren’t letting her,” he continued.
Hardy went to Florida and then Georgia, where she was able to launch her career as a DJ.
She returned to Rochester in 2016, and has since tried to build the community she and other artists needed to have successful music careers here.
"We leave, and that’s why you don’t see anything happen here, because no one stays here to make it happen,” Hardy said. “I’m trying my best to do what I can to make it happen, at least. I’m not expecting people to stay here, but I definitely want people to know this is home, and if you go have some art career in Los Angeles, you know to come back and perform in Rochester when it’s time to. That’s my mission.”
‘Music is life’
Hardy didn’t have a recording studio growing up — she had a coat closet.
It was in the dining room, and it didn’t get much use, so the family computer was placed there instead of coats.
When Hardy started getting into music in high school, she turned the closet into a mini studio, using a gaming microphone and studio equipment friends gave her to start writing and producing her own music.
“(Music is) life. It affects everything,” she said. “It will affect your emotions, it will help your emotions, and it’s motivating. I can’t sit in silence. Music has to be played 60 or 70% of my day. It’s everything.”
After high school, she tried to make a career for herself in hip-hop. She was involved with shows and events, but soon realized it wasn't enough to sustain a career.
“It wasn’t celebrated very well in the community. It had a really bad vibe around it,” she said. “A lot of establishments didn’t want to host things because they thought it was trouble.”
“The very few shows artists and I would put on would be great,” she continued. “They would have huge turnouts, but it was once or twice a year. That’s what drove me out of Minnesota, was having such love and passion for something I couldn’t pursue here.”
When Hardy moved south, her career started to take off. She performed at events with celebrities, and appeared in movies such as “Magic Mike XXL” and “CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story.”
Those who knew Hardy before she left Rochester knew she was obsessed with the hip-hop group TLC. T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli inspired her to go into music.
When Hardy started doing events with them in Atlanta and appeared in “CrazySexyCool,” that’s when she said the support started to come from back home.
“That kind of woke people up,” she said. “Of course, I started getting support, but the time I really needed it, I didn’t have that.”
When Hardy returned to Rochester in 2016, she was looking for a fresh start.
She focused primarily on DJing through her entertainment company, FELINE MU$IK & Ent. LLC. In a normal year, she would do a minimum of 40 events, in Rochester, the Twin Cities, or other locations around the country.
That number dwindled drastically to three in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hardy started donating her time DJing at events such as last year’s Rochester Juneteenth Fest and smaller events at restaurants.
“It wasn’t more so I was looking for credit or support or whatever, I just needed to do it,” she said. “If I didn't, then I’m going to lose myself.”
As she got more involved, she started seeing her hometown differently.
“It was a blessing in disguise, because I have been disconnected from Rochester for years, and I’ve had a negative vibe and outlook on supporting this community for years,” Hardy said. “But since this pandemic and things that have happened and my involvement in it, all of a sudden, a light shined back on my hometown.”
“It was like, ‘You know what? I’m back. I’m here for a reason, and I’ve got stuff to do.’ ”
Supporting the scene
Over the past year, she's been helping others pursue their own career goals in the arts.
If there’s an event in the area, she makes sure she’s there and that others know about it, too. If a friend is selling merchandise, she buys it. If someone she talks to is passionate about getting into music, she gets their email address, tells them where to go, what to get, and who to reach out to. Then she follows up.
Hardy has also helped people start their own businesses and get their LLCs.
One of those people is her childhood friend Tony Khuth.
Khuth, who is Khmer-American, wanted to start a podcast to raise awareness about hate crimes against Asian-Americans, but wasn’t sure how to proceed.
They cite Hardy for helping them through the process and pushing them to launch the podcast. The first episode of “de facto with Tony Khuth” aired in January, and they received their LLC on Feb. 1.
“I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do this 'til April, but then I realized Jas was really the one that kept me grounded, that way I could get it done. I owe her a lot,” Khuth said. “I don’t really have a support system, so her being there to be that rock for me, I was just really grateful.”
Hardy is hoping that by offering others the support she lacked, she’ll help break the cycle and keep Rochester talent in Rochester.
“If I wasn't the person I am, I would’ve quit 10 years ago,” she said. “But there was something that was built in me to be like, ‘Nah, don’t let them, keep going, girl,’ and I did.”