Sophia Clayton has some of the most dangerous hands in the country. And she’s only 13.
This lawn-mowing Dover teen is better known as DJ Sophia Rocks, an eighth grader at Postlethwait Middle School with 70,000-plus followers on social media.
Since 2020, she’s performed at the world-famous Madison Square Garden three times. And she’ll pump up the crowd for a fourth time when the New York Knicks host the Cleveland Cavaliers at MSG on Saturday afternoon.
The prodigy turntablist, who is skilled at DJ techniques such as scratching and juggling beats, will perform during Knicks game warm-ups, TV timeouts and at halftime.
“The last time was super fun,” the skinny 13-year-old DJ said, recalling her latest MSG appearance in December. “It’s cool to see myself on the Jumbotron and hear the announcers announce my name. Hearing the echo throughout the entire stadium is very cool.”
She was blessed with the mic for the first time at her last visit at MSG.
“I was hyping the crowd up and getting them excited and warmed up for the players to come on,” she said. “They loved it; they all reacted to it. It’s very New York, so they really like to interact.”
Blooming in the Garden
If you tune in to watch a Knicks home game, you’ll hear random organ melodies.
Those aren’t prerecorded sounds. They’re played live by organist Ray Castoldi, who has been with the Knicks for three decades.
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DJ Sophia’s journey to the Garden has a lot to do with Castoldi, whom she linked up with after networking with legendary producer/DJ Keith Shocklee of hip-hop group Public Enemy, said the teen’s father, Dave Clayton, a veteran DJ of over 20 years.
Castoldi reached out to the Clayton family. The rest has been history.
“We just kind of hit it off. We had good conversations and then they invited Sophia,” Dave said.
The teen’s first game at the Garden was in late February 2020, just a few days before the pandemic started. She worked the event from the floor where she stood really close to the court. The arena was filled with 19,500 screaming fans.
The eighth grader said she didn’t know what to expect her first time at MSG.
“I knew the stadium was big. But when I first walked in, it was ‘really’ big,” she recalled. “I got to watch the basketball players and hear the crowd, and everybody was enjoying themselves.”
Since her Madison Square debut, DJ Sophia has done virtual events for the Knicks, too.
Meeting DJ Jazzy Jeff
As if that wasn’t enough for the teenage DJ, in March 2021 she was invited to DJ Jazzy Jeff’s home in Bear to celebrate an event for Women’s History Month.
The event featured women DJs handpicked by DJ Jazzy Jeff to do at least an hourlong set.
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While the other DJs performed remotely, DJ Sophia said she was the only one who made it to Jazzy Jeff’s home because she lives in Delaware.
“I didn’t even know he lived down here,” she said. “I got to meet his family and his dog. I think his name was Champ. He was super sweet.”
Even before going to his house, DJ Jazzy Jeff was someone the teen considered a mentor. He has a famous “Peter Piper” routine that she (and countless deejays) have used to improve their craft.
DJ Jazzy Jeff and his wife were very down to earth when the Claytons met them, the teen said. But after she played her set, Jazzy Jeff did something unexpected to her.
“He bubble-wrapped me,” she said. “He literally takes bubble wrap and wraps you in it.”
As her mom watched a confused Sophia get wrapped in plastic, Nicole Clayton couldn’t help but crack up. “I was laughing because I knew she didn’t quite get it.”
The bubble wrap was DJ Jazzy Jeff’s way of symbolizing protecting and preserving DJ Sophia’s talent.
Jazzy Jeff has wrapped only a few artists, Dave Clayton said, including legendary singers Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan.
“[DJ Jazzy Jeff] said, ‘Thank you, Mom and Dad. You guys have done a wonderful job. I think she’s amazing,’” DJ Sophia’s dad explained.
“It was chilling to me because it basically validated the fact that he really appreciates you and knows that you have a real skill set and sees you and knows that we’ve got to keep the next generation coming along,” he added.
His daughter appreciates the experience now. “That was super cool,” she said.
Celeb birthday parties
Right before the pandemic, DJ Sophia was on pace to take her business to another level.
The little girl who fell in love with playing on her dad’s turntables at age 2, who worked her first professional gig at age 6 in Dover, played the main stage at NY DJ Con in Time Square in 2019.
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DJ Con has featured big names such as DJ Funkmaster Flex and Wyclef Jean of The Fugees.
In 2020, the month after her Madison Square debut, DJ Sophia was slated to do a set in North Carolina as an opener for emcee Rapsody. But the pandemic had other plans.
After COVID-19 hit, DJ Sophia pivoted and began doing a number of virtual gigs. Sometimes she’d have multiple gigs on the same day and would juggle them in between doing her schoolwork virtually, her mom recalled.
The young artist posted videos on social media and eventually connected with the team of R&B singer Chris Brown.
In 2021, the DJ flew to Los Angeles for the first time. It was to deejay a jungle-themed birthday party for Chris Brown’s daughter.
“There were big snakes … like eight people carrying a huge snake, and then they dropped it on the ground and I was like, ‘Oh God,’” she remembered.
There also was a talking bird, “which was my favorite,” and other cool animals. “I got to meet Chris Brown, which was even cooler. I got to meet his daughter and she was super nice.”
She had fun even though they didn’t get to spend much time with Chris Brown, the young DJ said, because she was working and the singer was constantly moving around the party.
“Overall it was a 10-out-of-10 day,” the rising star said.
That same year Sophia found herself going back to Los Angeles because former Miami Heat superstar Dwayne Wade, and his actress wife, Gabrielle Union, were interested in having her deejay a birthday party for their daughter.
“We were in his garage, but his garage is really huge and it’s big enough to hold a party down there,” DJ Sophia said. “I had a really fun time meeting Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union.”
She had a chance to chat with Wade for a bit.
“[Wade] was like, ‘I tried to be a DJ.’ And I was like, ‘I tried to play basketball. You see how that worked out for the both of us?’” she joked. “He was just super cool. He really seemed like a genuine guy.”
The 13-year-old said it was culture shock when she first visited Los Angeles because the cars are fancier and there are more celebrities floating around than you’re likely to spot in Delaware.
The traffic is also different. “We were driving and some lady ran across the highway, which was six lanes, and I was like, ‘Oh God.’”
A month later she worked another celeb party. This time it was a birthday in New Jersey for rapper Lil Kim’s daughter, Royal Reign.
Nicole said her teen daughter was nervous about mixing up the name of Lil Kim’s daughter with Chris Brown’s kid, who is named Royalty.
“Every single time before I said it, I made sure I said, ‘Roy-al,’” DJ Sophia explained slowly.
Keeping her normal
Deejaying is an everyday thing for DJ Sophia. In addition to going to school and being on the track team, she still manages to rehearse on her turntables for two hours every day.
In her home, you’ll find a room where she deejays in front of a huge green screen when she’s making new videos for social media.
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Her mom said they sold the furniture to make space for her turntables and the green screen.
When she’s preparing for an event, DJ Sophia said she’ll spend weekend days rehearsing from morning to night.
In warmer seasons, it’s a little challenging because the music from the ice cream truck temps her.
“My favorites are strawberry shortcake,” she confided.
Her parents said they try to keep their daughter as humble and normal as possible, even though she lives an unconventional life.
So she still has chores such as cutting the grass. But the DJ’s parents also encourage her to get out of the house and spend time with friends, too.
Her mom and dad said they want DJ Sophia to work a regular job when she’s of age because they want her to be grounded in the reality of how hard the average person has to work to make a living.
As a result, they’d like that to motivate her to expand her own business if that’s what she wants to do.
Meanwhile, the young DJ is looking ahead to her fourth gig at Madison Square on Saturday. Having performed there so many times, she’s finally getting the hang of the layout of the building.
“I can work my way around a little bit more,” she said.
The turntable prodigy also is looking forward to seeing her buddy Castoldi, and others folks from the Knicks organization.
“They always treat you with so much respect and they treat you like family.”
The New York Knicks will host the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden at 1 p.m. Saturday. For more information, visit nba.com.
DJ Sophia is on Instagram and Facebook as @DJSophiaRocks.
Andre Lamar is the features/lifestyle reporter. If you have an interesting story idea, email Andre Lamar at [email protected]