A Conversation with Teenear

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by Nadirah Simmons

In a music environment where viral moments and Internet clout can make or break you, singer-songwriter Teenear has both and a whole lot more to offer on top of that. The 20-year-old singer started out singing covers on YouTube as a teenager, and today is signed to Slip-N-Slide Records. Not to mention her video for “Need Your Love” has is close to 2 million views on YouTube. It’s the kind of success artists who have worked for years dream of having, and the kind Teenear has to be proud of achieving at such an early stage in her career. But even with all of those wins under her belt, she’s just getting started.

We talked with Teenear about the roots of her music career, how spirituality influences her sound, the importance of asserting her voice and more.


When did you decide that you wanted to start making music?
I was born and raised in Miami. And honestly just growing up in Miami, the scene with Southern type records, I was always around it and it wasn't necessarily something that I was interested in immediately. In school I was doing entertainment and musical theater was like my thing. And then around the age of like 13, 14, you know when you're in junior high you're trying to figure yourself out-that’s when I was like “okay let me see what I want to do.” I started venturing out and trying different things with musical theater and to be honest to the studio I never tell and I just started going it was at the time Justin Bieber had just came out and I'm like “who is this kid?” I went to look him up and he came out with this contest where you had to write to one of his beats. And one night I just sat there and did that contest for myself I never put it out. But just that experience of creating something is what sparked it for me.

Then I joined the praise team at my church, and the CEO of Slip-N-Slide attended the church. And it was really just word of mouth, people telling him “you have to come see her sing.” And one moment he was there, he heard me sing and it was really just a conversation of once again taking it seriously. So I started posting my covers on YouTube and he knew this is something I wanted to do so he let me get in the studio.

That's amazing. I know you said that you're from Miami. How has your environment or that community in particular kind of influence your love for music?
I really just feel like Miami is such a creative space. There are so many artistic people here and that in and of itself is what inspires me.

A lot of our favorite artists have their roots in the church. What role does that play in your music making process? And does how does it either encourage or discourage you from talking about certain things in your songs?
Yeah for sure. It's a battle with me because I'm a very spiritual person and I'm still like a growing adult you know. So yeah when it comes to my music there are moments where like I want to do certain things I'm like maybe I shouldn't say that. I want to make sure like I'm a positive influence but I know it it's constantly going to be a battle because I don't want to say something that might get the wrong reaction you know. But I feel like it comes with growing and growing in me spiritually and growing and music. I'll figure out my balance. But yeah definitely a struggle.

Is there any pressure from anyone around you, not just management but the industry in general, to change who you are? As far as you know how you present and what you do decide to sing or talk about?
One hundred thousand percent. And it could be people that honestly don't have an influence on anything I do in my career but it happens all the time. I hear “Oh Teenear you need to wear this you need to do this you need to say this you need to be more sexy.” It's like leave me alone. Let me do me.

When did you like know for sure that this was what you wanted to do?
For sure it was when we wrote my first single because we recorded so many different songs and it was frustrating. I was like maybe I shouldn't be doing it. It wasn’t until we wrote [the single] that everyone actually loved that record. Out of all my other songs I had recorded before that, I finally felt like “okay this is definitely for me.”

So tell me a little bit about this song “Need Your Love.” When did you come up with the idea for this song?
This song was honestly just the ultimate definition of young. There’s people telling me I need to be careful and then I don't know and I don't know if this is love or lust. So this is a personal song for me because I deal with it right now. I'm young. I don't know what love is. Do you know what love is? Just young love and just having fun trying to be in the moment, even though you're hearing a hundred opinions.

I feel like a lot of times, especially when you're younger, you have this perception of what you think love is. And people are so quick to like shoot shoot you down like “no that is not what it is, this is and you'll know when you get older.” But it's doesn’t take away from what you’re feeling at the time. You're 20 years old and not just with the idea of love but also with you being an artist, you are super young and there are a lot of older people around you making decisions. How do you make sure you maintain like your voice and you assert your truth?
It's definitely really hard but I have a good team, we definitely have grown to work together. They listen to me, and if I have an opinion they actually do take it into consideration.

Before we got started we talked about artists who inspire you and you named Beyoncé. How do you feel about the people who just treat music kind of like a hobby or as a get rich quick type of thing?
I started out when I was young. I literally recorded all my covers in my closet. That is crazy to me you'd think from my back then now and when it comes to social media, honestly I feel like at the end of the day if you're not going to put 100 percent in something if you're just doing it for like one reason or for the moment it's going to come off that way. And like you said, Beyoncé worked so hard to get what they got. And if you're not going to do that it doesn't matter how many followers you have on social media that moment is going to come and go and you're not going to last. It’s up to how much effort you put into whatever it is you try to. You can do it, do it but right.

How do you separate yourself from all of the other singers and the other women who are trying to do the same thing? How do you make sure you stand out? Honestly I'm really trying to just be myself when it comes to it all. I'm not trying to follow the next person Even when it comes to like my music; none of my songs sound the same at all. “Need Your Love” is R&B, “Friday Night” is nowhere near R&B. If I like a song I'm going to put it out-I’m not going to stay R&B or because do pop because everyone telling me to do Pop. It's just how I feel, I'm going to be myself no matter what, today, tomorrow, five years from now. That's what I want to stand on. Being who I am because I have to look back on this, and I want to be proud of everything that I do.

So what is the story that you're trying to tell or that you want people to really take from your next EP.
I really just want them to see that I'm being unapologetically me like that. There's a hundred styles in it and I feel like it's definitely going to make people understand that I can't be placed in a box. I want them to just get that like this music is just me speaking, like it really is who I am.

That’s amazing. Where do you where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I want to already start another business for myself. I'm really big into like health and like young girls and that's a goal for myself. Whether it's in five years or ten years but I need to make that a thing by ten years. And also just being in not only the music scene but also in the acting scene because musical theater was my thing when I was younger, I love acting, I love singing, so being able to do all of that by then will be amazing. Just being an artist that people really look at and really are inspired by.

What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to do what you're doing?
I would just say be yourself, 100 percent. And believe in yourself, because at the end of the day you don't believe in yourself nobody is going to believe in you no matter how much you try to fake it. It's just not going to work. And just go for everything. If you have a feeling just go for it no matter what. If there's people telling you you can't do it, just do it. I think it just comes down to this believing in yourself. Just have faith.

 

Eccentric Women Have Made Some of the Best Hip Hop Music + Videos

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by Brooklyn White

Tierra Whack’s 2018 debut album, Whack World, was a Dr. Seuss-like doozy. It’s been celebrated for its minute-long songs, reminiscent of HitClips, but also for offering the deep dives and productional experimentation present in 50-minute projects. Whack discussed high fashion (“Hungry Hippo”), healthy eats (“Fruit Salad”), cappers (“Dr. Seuss”), and more, but what helped grasp the collar of the general public were the nearly surreal music videos. The Whack World videos (meant to be viewed consecutively, but perfectly trimmed 15 times to fit the 60 second limitation of Instagram videos) are weird. But not the “oh no, my ex is behind me in line at the gas station, is my card gonna decline?” cringey weird. It’s the perfect kind of individualism that inspires people to fully explore themselves.

In her short film, the Grammy nominated artist sported a prosthetic swollen, drooping face and revealed a Guess Who? board that exclusively featured her mug, and fans, new and old, ate it up. People have long complained that music videos have lost their creativity in the last 15 years, but Tierra’s kaleidoscopic view into her mental and emotional states circumvented any such accusations. The album was reflective of her overall self and overlapping brand, her gif-like promotional clip for “Unemployed” is a visaged potato jumping on a couch (an out of the box, “couch potato” reference”) and her music email reads “GRANDMA STILL HAS SEX”.

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“Unemployed” Out Now! 👑

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Of course, Whack has been compared to Missy Elliott, the mother of all things masterfully unconventional. Elliott’s lyrics are often onomatopoeic, telling, and funny, with an energetic delivery to boost. Her sophomore LP, Da Real World, turns 20 in June, and its best video, “She’s A Bitch” is out of the ordinary and without mar. Partially monochromatic and directed by Hype Williams, in one shot, the multi-million dollar music video presents a jet black, bald Misdemeanor, emerging from the subaquatic abyss with a number of skilled dancers. This is two years after making herself larger than life with the help of a trash bag, and also letting people know that slim women aren’t the only barbies. These messages are radical, especially for their time, assisted by the creative ways in which they were conveyed.

Maryland’s Rico Nasty is on her own wavelength as well, having rocked spiked hair with wispy baby hairs (“You don't have the balls to walk outside looking like this”, she’s said), or swirly, sharp, seashell colored nails. Her Zack Fox-directed video for the loose single “Sandy” is an amalgamation of zany images, including stairs covered in neatly places slices of bread and a foot dipped in spaghetti. Her face isn’t included in the mashup, but her personal eccentricity is alive in other videos like “Guap (LaLaLa)”. Nasty’s guttural verses are unlike any other right now, and are possibly only comparable to DMX’s own coarse approach. But her willingness to fully embrace punk influences and create her own stylistic trends ultimately separate her from the Ruffest Ryder. Rico is her own woman, standing in a winding, animated lane.

These are certainly not the only women in rap to disregard public desires and instead forge their own path. Doja Cat, the anthropomorphic bovine, went viral in 2018, and who can forget Nicki Minaj’s camp era (complete with sky scraping wigs and a surgical mask)? The conscientious weirdness jolts people, usually because deep down, they are afraid to show off their own healthy peculiarities. They play it safe, deep within the shell of their own ego, held captive to others’ opinions. If only these people knew that their freedom and joy, and maybe someone else’s, lays right outside of that shell. Always remember that weirdness is courage, and courage is the core of life.

A Conversation with Yung Baby Tate

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by Nadirah Simmons

Yung Baby Tate is a multitalented artist, whose creative ability knows no bounds. Not only does Tate rap, sing and produce, but she’s good at all in three in a way that doesn’t feel dubious. Tate is confident, resolved and constructs her music with certainty, effortlessly bouncing between genres. She’s the kind of artist you long for in music, and I argue even more-so in Hip-Hop, where unspoken rules dictate what artists should do, how they should dress, what they should write in their songs and at the most basic level: who they should be as an artist. Tate can’t be boxed in.

I first discovered Tate around this time last year, when her EP BOYS had just dropped. I’m not sure if the discovery happened on SoundCloud or Tumblr, but the track “Bubba Gump” was what hooked me to the Atlanta native. I did more digging, listening to her 2015 project ROYGBIV and even a Christmas EP that found her singing over pop and R&B harmonies. Her latest project, a full-length LP entitled GIRLS picks up right where her last release left off, with Yung Baby Tate transcending sounds while remaining herself at the core.

We caught up with the multitalented artist to talk about what it means to be an artist, the sound she describes as “urban pop,” her dream collaboration and more.


What does being an artist mean to you?
Being an artist means being myself and using the gifts God has granted me to bring joy into the world. Being an artist is self expression, self love, self indulgence and selflessness at the same time. The vulnerability it takes to openly express yourself for the entire world to hear, love, hate, relate to, or critique is scary at times but that’s what being an artist is all about. 

How do you identify, and how important is this representation in music?
I identify as a bisexual black woman. I think all people should be represented in music, tv, in politics, anywhere that has some type of broad visibility. Everyone needs to feel seen and heard and understood. It’s important for me as a black girl to show young black girls they can be successful by just being themselves - every part of themselves -and shining their light in the world.

How would you describe your sound?
I would describe my sound as “Bad Bitch Pussy Pop.” My music is for the gworls. I exist in music to be a boost to your day, that extra highlight when you’re getting ready at night, I am that friend hyping you up while twerking. My sound is fun. My sound is black girl magic. You could call it “Urban Pop” if you really want to put a label on it.

How has your education and upbringing affected your creative process?
I went to performing arts school from 3rd-12th grade. I’ve been professionally trained in music, acting, piano, and dance throughout those years and after high school. Having that type of upbringing just expands my knowledge and love for music so that when I make music I actually know what I’m doing. A lot of artists right now don’t know the first thing about composing a song or arranging vocals. I’m grateful to not be one of those artists.

Your mother is the legendary Dionne Farris, what role has she played in your path as an artist?
My mom raised me to have knowledge and culture in music. She made sure I was well rounded and well versed. A lot of the songs that the grandmas and aunties of today tell kids my age and younger “you don’t know nothing about this” I know a whole lot about. She wanted me to be educated in music so she made sure I got the proper training that would strengthen my natural inheritance from her. I got a lot from my teachers and instructors but my mom really taught me everything I know.

A while back you tweeted a picture of her pregnant with you attending the GRAMMYs, what importance, if any, do those awards shows play in the realm of music? Do you feel like institutions like that are equipped to reward art, especially art created by marginalized communities? 
I think all awards are what you make them to be. For me, it’s something I want to accomplish because of the legacy I want to carry on from my mother. I just know that feeling of growing up looking at my mom’s GRAMMY sitting in the dining room every day and telling myself I’m gonna get one one day. I think the “best” is a subjective term. But I want people to think I’m the best at what I do and I think a lot of people share that same sentiment.

Photo Credit:  Dom Daytona

Photo Credit: Dom Daytona

What was your vision for GIRLS?
My vision for GIRLS is a shift in the culture. Women calling the shots in this long “male-dominated” life we’ve been living. I want girls to feel the power they possess through this music. I want other women in the industry to collaborate more. We need each other. I wanted to show that. Young girls need to see that. We can succeed together, without tearing each other down. We can do things on our own. We can produce albums, write our own lyrics, make our own music without the assistance of a man. I want Girls to be a lesson. 

We are alive in a time dominated by social media. How important is it for the artists nowadays to brand themselves and present their work in this manner?
It’s extremely important. It’s where everyone gets their news now. It’s where everyone gets their “new’s” as well. New artists. New designers. New dancers. New everything. Social Media is a large part of my career and how a large part of my fan base found me.

What does your city offer musically that is different from other regions?
Everything. I’m from Atlanta. Specifically Decatur, which is where a large percentage of the most popular artists are from. I’ve seen grown adults with whole lives they’ve left behind move here from other cities just to claim Atlanta to look cool. Atlanta is on top of everything. We start everything. 

I’m a big fan of Black women taking time to relax and practicing self care. Outside of music, what do you do to receive stress and/or relax?
Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Your album features some of my favorite women in the game, Bbymutha and Kari Faux, how important is fellowship amongst women in music to you?
It’s so important to me because for years we’ve been pitted against each other when we are so much stronger together. It’s almost as if people know the power 2 or more women can hold together so they purposely try to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’ve never been the type of person who had to hate on someone else to feel good about myself. I give props when due and let my ego step aside when it comes to the art. The fact that I have five women who’s music I love on this project is honestly my favorite thing about Girls.

We’re in a time where it seems like politics are central to the art artists create. Nina Simone once said “An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.” Do you agree or disagree, and why?
I think it would be kind of backwards to not somehow reflect the times and have some sort of commentary on the world we live in. As an artist, I use my music and my social media platforms to spread positive messages into this world and I definitely think every artist has the right and responsibility to do so as well. 

What is your dream collaboration?
My dream collaboration is Pharrell. Imagine a project produced and written and performed by us both. Iconic. It needs to happen so I know it will one day. I’m waiting on you, P!

If you could sum up your plan for 2019 in one sentence, what would it be?
My foot will be stuck on your neck.

10 Years of 'In a Perfect World...'

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by Charne Graham

It’s the year 2009 and you just finished picking out a spandex color-blocking fit with studded heels for the party tonight. Getting dressed to music is imperative before a night out and of course, CDs are still a thing. You press play on In a Perfect World…, Keri Hilson’s debut album.

The fourteen track project from the Decatur, Georgia native is filled with party tracks and sexy deep cut slow jams alike. Set to be released in 2007 but pushed back several times due to issues with the budget, the album would go on to earn Hilson two Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards. That should come as no surprise, as Hilson has an illustrious history of writing hit songs for some of music’s biggest names like Ciara, Usher, Ludacris, Britney Spears and Omarion.

A bulk of In a Perfect World… is produced by Timbaland, Danja, fellow Georgian, Polow Da Don and Hilson herself. The features are star-studded as well with appearances from Keyshia Cole, Trina, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. On the 10 year anniversary of its release, here are three of the most notable and impressive singles from Ms. Keri Baby’s debut.


1. “Turnin’ Me On”  - The album’s third single featuring Lil Wayne is produced by Polow Da Don and Danja. The song gave us a futuresque vibe and peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The visual that accompanied “Turnin’ Me On” finds Keri in rockstar attire surrounded by shirtless buff men with a white backdrop giving a new perspective to the typical scantily-clad music video eye-candy. Besides Weezy, other stars make appearances in the visual like Rich Boy and Polow Da Don.

2 . “Knock You Down” - The fourth single from In a Perfect World… and her highest peaking song ever on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 3. The double platinum song, co-produced by Danja and Hilson and featuring appearances from hitmakers Kanye West and Ne-Yo is all about how love catches you slipping at the least expected moments. This music video is set in a swanky loft party which also a complete era of the late 2000s fashions. Remember fingerless leather gloves? Kanye and Ne-Yo both play a love interest of Hilson in a love triangle at this party. “Knock You Down” is undisputedly one of Hilson’s hugest songs and also got her one of her two Grammy nominations in 2010 for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

3. “Make Love” - The video, released on March 9th, 2009 was used as a promo for Hilson’s album. The “Make Love” also features Kanye West, and finds him cuddling in bed with Keri Hilson after she comes home to prepare chocolate covered strawberries and champagne. The promotional video cuts the five minute and 22-second song short at three minutes and 14 seconds successfully teasing us and wanting more.

Why "Buffalo Stance" Remains the Blueprint for Confident Black Girls Everywhere

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by Christine Ochefu

It’s been 30 years since the release of Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance.” At 8 years old I sat crossed legged in front of the TV set when its video popped up on the screen as part of an 80’s throwback mix. My mum instantly recognized the opening scratches, launching into a retrospective tale about the song’s success and singing the chorus without missing a beat. Doorknockers glinting and head cocking with each move, Neneh glided through her storytelling verses over the sounds of cowbells, offbeat saxophone and near-comical cockney adlibs. Cherry, in all her mean-mugging, curled-lip glory, was eyeing me fiercely on my TV screen, spelling out a punchy refrain of “don’t you get fresh with me” in front of two crazy-eyed, gyrating ladies. I didn’t understand it, but I was hooked.

Moving between Sweden, London and New York, Cherry’s history partially explains the uniqueness of her music style and individual appeal. The half-Sierra Leonean half-Swedish artist started her career at the age of 15, appearing in punk bands like The Slits and experimenting with DJing before releasing the 1988 smash hit “Buffalo Stance.” The song was one of the major British tunes to capture both UK and US audiences that year, reaching No. 3 on both Top 100 charts after its release. Even more impressive was the competition with the other music released that year. Cherry’s release came alongside classic Hip-Hop debuts from artists like NWA, Slick Rick, and MC Lyte, but still managed to perform successfully with both international and UK audiences. For a 24-year-old artist with counter-cultural and punk roots, this was far more than a small feat.

Despite only briefly grasping the content of the track, her delivery and confidence impacted a young Black woman like myself. Cherry made for a complete exercise in genre-bending, with her cadence seeming to be directly influenced by her punk roots. Propelled by a catchy yet assertive refrain “No money man can win my love,” the song is both textbook braggadocio and a quirky dressing down of the “gigolo on the street” soliciting her to stock up his funds. Jumping from pop elements to dance production to a bridge resembling spoken word, Cherry’s boldness in the video and captivating delivery had grabbed me - I knew I wanted to be that woman on the screen.

My mother, too, found Cherry’s presence important. She told me “There was just something about seeing a Black woman making music like that and being so well received and acknowledged.” As is the situation with its American counterpart, Black women have historically struggled to be acknowledged and gain visibility in the UK Hip-Hop and rap industry, something we’re still grappling with now. With Black women afro-trap, grime artists, DJ’s and music industry professionals working hard to assert the right to spaces contemporarily, she echoes my sentiments in garnering support for Black women in the scene. “It’s the kind of thing I’d like to see more of now, people really getting behind Black female artists.”

Since “Buffalo Stance” Neneh has created by five eclectic solo albums and endless collaborative projects, giving us further classics like 7 Seconds, Manchild and a recent work entitled Broken Politics, that deals with critical subject matter like the refugee crisis. Nevertheless, it’s important to return to the title track which first beckoned wider ears to her talent and acknowledge her for her classic place in Black British music history. As a Black woman artist being celebrated for her musical output, she’s worked to cement a place for Black women artists globally with the positive reception to her music on an international scale. I can never forget its significance to little Black girls like me who’d mimic her body movements, classic lip curl and fierce gaze to the audience of our bathroom mirrors, as a kind of ritual to channel Cherry’s confidence through our own imitations. On her 55th birthday, after over 30 years in the music industry, there has never been a better time to celebrate the timelessness of “Buffalo Stance” and importance in her fan’s hearts. And I will never forget its importance in mine.

A Letter to Bbymutha

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Brittnee, 

I chose to write you this letter to because you’ve inspired my growth as both a woman and creative. So let’s just call this “give em their dick ride while they’re still here.” Lol. This is me, appreciating you and how you change the narrative of being a woman and a mother of four, pushing the culture one step further. It’s admirable. 

I first found your music on SoundCloud about four years ago and immediately became a fan. It was so compelling that I had to reach out to you and tell you how I felt. I’ve watched you blossom and grow into such an incredible woman and artist while staying true to yourself, your purpose and your passion. 

You are hardworking. You are ferocious. You are passion in female form. You go after everything you deserve while raising four kids! Meanwhile some of us have a hard enough time pursuing our passion by ourselves-this is what I mean by inspiring.

I also love how raw and uncut your music is. You say things that resonate with a lot of Black women. You aren’t afraid of societal norms and it shows, not to mention the sound of your voice is as strong. Lol. It has a sense of power. One of my favorite quotes, “see these niggas only love you while ya happy. Love you when you bone straight, cut you when you nappy,” whew chile! If this ain’t a WORD.

People will really love the idea of you but won’t wanna deal with the flaws and everything else that makes you whole. So thank you for reminding me to show up and be myself in not only my creative space but every space. 

I’ve watched (via social media) some of your “fans” disrespect, bully and be verbally abusive to you out of pure ignorance and lack of understanding. But you’re brave enough to handle it, and I’ve witnessed you take your power back from their negative words, flip it and turn it into something positive for yourself.

My focus words for 2019 are fearless, confidence and love. You embody that. I encourage women to move with persistence and authenticity. Stay true to who you are, stay true to your purpose and stay true to your art. I support what you stand for and I hope you continue to inspire Black girls like myself all around the world. Thank you for being who you are. 

- Angel 

Mia X's Legacy Stands Tall after 35 years in the game

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by Brooklyn White

Who is the queen of southern rap? That’s a loaded, borderline unfair question. In the early days of rap, up until the mid-nineties, rap was certainly a coastal game. That’s not to say women artists in the south weren’t making music - they just weren’t the face of it, nor was the overall culture even prepared to digest a southern male act. Women like Salt N Pepa, MC Lyte, and Lil Kim dominated, and it made sense. Hip-Hop was born and bred in New York, and crept over to the west for brutal and spirited perspectives. In 1995 the south was ready for its close up, with a young, freshly booed Andre 3000 proclaiming that “the south got something to say” at that year’s Source Awards.

The tides began to turn, and the music that was reserved for basements and hydraulicized whips went mainstream. But the question of which woman out of the South reigns supreme remains. Some say Trina, the Dominican/Bahamian vixen who entranced listeners with her sexually charged cuts. Others say Three Six Mafia’s first ladies Gangsta Boo and La Chat (who have begrudgingly observed a second wave of the sacreligious, horrifying sound they helped innovate). And others will argue that Virginia’s Afrofuturistic, fashion forward storyteller Missy Elliott is the true standout talent of the south. Truthfully, none of that matters. Choosing a singular monarch is both unnecessary and divisive. But if we are going to discuss the southern women who reconfigured rap, Mia X has to be a part of the conversation.

During my teen years, I would watch a now deleted YouTube clip of Master P’s “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!” The track’s lineup was incredible and filled with heroes from my home state, Louisiana. The video is five minutes of a superteam of dirty south rappers trying to make the crowd jump, while in the middle of a high energy basketball game. But who stood out to me the most was the lone female MC, a beautiful brown skinned woman with a slick hairstyle, long acrylic nails, impeccable makeup and a clover-green jersey set.

Here was a woman, in a music video, who wasn’t light skinned or a size two. Mia X was surrounded by several rowdy men, some of whom were off beat, and not only held her own lyrically, but also showed people that a woman who rapped didn’t have to look a certain way to be sexy, or successful. She was effortlessly both. And this transformative representation gave me the inspiration I needed to jump start a rap career of my own.

Mia began rapping in the mid 1980’s, as a member of a DJ crew with another 504 musician, Mannie Fresh. They would throw parties around the city as teenagers, and Mia would battle rap as well. Her debut project Da Payback would come in 1993. The title track was a nearly 8-minute-long bounce record, overflowing with advice for women who wanted to get the creme de la creme from poorly endowed tricks. It’s an easy listen, with Mia’s commanding voice remaining the track’s center, even as the beat endures several timely switch ups. Da Payback is reminiscent of what people envision when they think of New Orleans. Though it is a long-time land of poverty and site for natural disasters, people have this grand daydream of Mardi Gras parades on Bourbon Street, pressed up-do’s sitting atop smiling faces, and honey-colored bodies bouncing in the sunlight. It is the best of New Orleans, while being unafraid to talk about life in the hood.

Her cadence is Nola-fied through and through - “pay” becomes “peh” and and “away” loses it’s hard “y” as well. This vocal style allowed Mia to cultivate a following as she released her first full length album, 1995’s Good Girl Gone Bad, Unlady Like in 1997, and Mama Drama in 1998-the second and third of which have since gone platinum and double platinum, respectively. Mama Drama spawned a Charlie Wilson assisted classic “What’cha Wanna Do”, which made its way to the Billboard Hot 100. (Yes, before Wilson was rocking straight backs and habitually adding flavor to hip hop joints, he collaborated with Mia X.) Then at the height of her success, at age 29, X retired to take care of her family. She has since battled and defeated uterine cancer and dedicated time to another passion of hers: cooking.

Women in rap come in all sizes and shades, though the sad fact remains that fatphobia and colorism hinder some artists’ career trajectories. Nonetheless there are women rappers who are enjoying comfortable, respected careers. The southern half of America has been the soil for rappers like Asian Doll and Chika, who discuss their surroundings, upbringings and relationships with vivid detail. It’s not a stretch to say that a space for them would exist without Mia X. Her vivid rhymes, proximity to one of the biggest rap collectives of all time, and ability to meander between battle rap and charting singles are some of the reasons why she goes down in history as a matriarch of Hip-Hop. Her legacy is strong, after 35 years of sonning anyone who would dare step to her.

Songs That Remind Me of Home

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by Jojo Parker

One Christmas, maybe a year or two before Hurricane Katrina, I was gifted a portable CD player and the Black Eyed Peas album Monkey Business. It was my favorite and most used gift at the time, despite having to hold it a certain angle to avoid skipping songs. There was nothing more powerful to me than listening to music on my own; creating a personal relationship with the notes, bars, melodies and words spoken without influence from others. To this day I prefer listening to music by myself with headphones in. But when Hurricane Katrina changed the space wherein I listened to music, my relationship with it changed. Songs became reflections of the homes—or lack thereof—I had.

"Choppa Style" was played everywhere in my pre-Katrina childhood-on the radio and at every function. The song sounds exactly like the city it represents: loud and boisterous on the surface, unexpectedly slow in some parts and repetitive enough to inspire participation, down to the call and response section in the middle. But outside of the noise and fun, it remains a grim reminder of my broken and dysfunctional family life. My parents went from arguing a lot to not speaking at all during my youth, and now the song represents a home that was broken before it even began.

I once asked my mom if she would scream in response when Choppa said "If you hate your baby daddy holla (Ooww)." Her response: "of course.” I don't think my mom hates my dad now, but I no longer speak to him, which could be a result of her willingness to scream out in joy about her hatred for him. I also have no doubt in my mind that my dad screamed "Oh yeah!" in response to the call out "If you hate your baby mamma holla" too.

Then home moved, blown away by 175 mile per hour winds and the instability of my single parent home. We found our footing in Houston, where everything became chopped and screwed. Growing up in a new city was hard and the older I got the less secure I grew with myself. I was reminded of these uncertainty when "These Days" by Z-Ro would play in the car.

Z-Ro's low voiced lyrical lament, "and these days / seem like where I go the fake taking over like real ain't cool no more / and these days / don't nobody show love / instead of lending a helping hand they want to see blood," would always feel like a direct commentary on my lack of connection to the people around me and, by proxy, Houston itself. Sure, it was home for a while, but it wasn't a home I understood.

I tried my best to fit in, dressing and talking in ways I had hoped would would give me the approval of my white peers. It was an attempt escape the “Katrina kid” label I previously held in elementary school—a label that was only placed on the Black kids. Thus, I leaned towards the emo pop-rock that congregated the music charts. One of the only Hip-Hop songs I had on my phone was "Crack a Bottle" by Eminem, which I would play after school with my crew at the time.

It was the crew that made feel at home, that made me feel safe and with whom I did not have to compromise my being. But as with most things, that sense of belonging was only temporary. One day friend got annoyed when I played the song yet again, angrily stating that they wanted to hear something else. I floundered. I didn't have anything else to play that would produce that same level of camaraderie. I was embarrassed to learn that, just like me, there was no staying power in "Crack a Bottle"; it didn't always belong; it fell out of favor fast.

Hurricane Katrina didn't keep us from visiting family when possible. 6-hour car rides were filled with gas station snacks and my mom’s infinitely large CD collection, which she would cycle through regardless of scratches, skips, or complete breaks. One song that always stood out to me was "More than Friends" from Estelle's second album Shine.

It wasn't the thesis of the song that got me. Instead it was the lyrics, "wonder why, wonder why, wonder why / why must we pretend," that always rang true. Every time we went back home, it didn't feel like home. Sure I was born in New Orleans and partially raised there, but I was losing almost all connection to the place. I felt like I was just pretending to be from New Orleans. I wasn't from Houston, but I was no longer from New Orleans either. I was just pretending to have a place that I could call home and I didn't want to anymore. But I really wasn't presented with any other options.

In my life, there is no pure definition of home. There is no one singular place that I can describe as belonging to. However, there are songs that bring me back to moments in time; lyrics that take to places that no longer stand; bass lines that conjure up car rides; and melodies that lay truth to my sense of belonging. Maybe one day I will have a finite and tactile place to call home. But for now I have an infinite amount of intimate little moments in songs that remind me of home.