“All my niggas in the whole wide world, made this song to make it all y’all’s turn, for us, this shit is for us.” Beyoncé might have stopped the world, but it was her sister who gave us permission to exhale again upon the release of her seminal album, A Seat at the Table. With these now-classic lyrics from “F.U.B.U,” Solange reclaimed Black femininity’s oft-copied, yet often-uncredited space in the cultural imagination. “For Us By Us” (F.U.B.U) – a slogan popularized by the ’90s hip-hop clothing label of the same acronym– reminds us that we as a people, Black *femmes and women, especially, are often imitated but never duplicated.
This is a timely message nearing the end of Black History Month. As we reflect on the role that Black womens’ music plays in shaping the social zeitgeist, think of even the most non-stereotyped musical genre and Black femmes probably had a hand in either inventing or advancing it. Take Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Black, queer electric guitarist who’s writ in history is the “Godmother of Rock & Roll.” Have fun getting Crystal Waters’ eponymous “La Da Dee, La Da Da” out of your head when considering the fundamentals of house or dance music. For any Radiohead fans out there, this video of Thom Yorke passionately spinning Amerie’s “1 Thing” during a DJ set will be the most entertaining thing you watch today. You can visit any corner of the music ether and you will find that Black femmes simply are the moment.
The following Black-feminine music talents prove this to be true in our city, navigating the challenges of the industry with poise, determination and swagger intact. These individuals, from veteran MCs to indie-radio mainstays, were asked to discuss fellow Black women artists who have inspired them to do what they do, resulting in a curation that speaks to our collective experience, simply, a playlist for us by us.
*Editor’s Note: “femme” is used herein as an imperfect, but encompassing term for anyone who identifies with Black feminity. The artists below all expressed comfort with the dual usage of “women” and “femmes,” although they don’t all explicitly identify this way.
Jay Triiiple – MC, Storyteller
Like Allen Iverson off the dribble, Jay Triiiple is an all-around threat. Through an ambidextrous blend of flow, storytelling and wisdom beyond her years, the MC (Alyssa Taylor) has emerged as one of the Mile High City’s premier rap talents. The UnCut Entertainment artist (she shares a label with fellow Denver hip-hop notables, Trev Rich and A Meazy) has earned some mainstream clout as well, booking shows with artists like Lil Baby pre-pandemic.
In other words, Jay Triiip isn’t fucking around. The seriousness with which she takes her craft has played a role in her rapid ascent and has won her respect in a field where she, as a woman, as an openly queer artist and as a rapper in a smaller market, has had to work thrice as hard to get a fraction as much. Taylor was the only female rapper in the crew that she came up with in high school and although she says her male peers have been nothing but supportive, she is no stranger to the tribulations and posturing that comes with navigating her identity within the hip-hop scene. Female success brings weirdos out of the woodwork, but Taylor stresses that discrimination couldn’t overshadow her talent or drive.
Being discounted has given the rapper a unique understanding and perspective that she translates into her music. “I want people to know that, just because you don’t look a certain way, or rap about certain things doesn’t mean you can’t make it far. As a girl, I know that I’ve always had to be the first one ready to spit, I always have to have the hardest bars – no one is going to put more pressure on me than I put on myself.”
TLC – “Waterfalls”
“Left Eye was a really big inspiration to me. Everyone knows about her verse in “Waterfalls” but every time it comes on it does something different for me – it’s one of those things that motivates me to keep trying to be lyrical and to input my emotion into the music. Her stuff has helped me to be more vulnerable.”
Rapsody – Eve (Album)
“First of all, Rapsody is just super rare. I can’t even pick a song. On her last album [2019’s, Eve], every song she did is named after an inspirational Black woman in history – she has a song, “Oprah”, a song, “Sojourner”, “Afeni”, etc. We’re the center of it. And I’m listening to each one of those songs and she’s just hitting everything, her lyrics are crazy, her swag is crazy. I’ve seen her perform and I was like yo, I gotta keep coming back to this.”
Demi Harvey – Digital Promoter, Indie (102.3) Darling
As the digital and social media editor of Colorado Public Radio, with a focus on Indie 102.3 and CPR Classical, Demetria “Demi” Harvey lives and breathes music. In her long and varied journey through the media world, Harvey has covered events ranging from Denver’s Underground Music Showcase to the 2012 London Olympics. She’s recently interviewed artists like Fleet Foxes, The Avalanches and Beabadoobee for 102.3’s “At Home With” series.
The cognoscente Harvey lists folk and bluegrass as some of her favorite genres so, yes, she says that she’s had to get comfortable with being the “only one” in some of the music spaces she loves. Some of the most difficult memories of her work include doing press coverage at festivals and watching people double and then triple-check her credentials as if she didn’t belong. At one point, the instability and gatekeeping saw her take a hiatus from the music world for a time. The disappointment of having to step back from even one’s deepest passions due to implicit, yet resounding messages of undervaluation is something that many Black femmes understand intimately.
However, to the benefit of Colorado indie radio, Harvey eventually did return. She says that she’s watched gradual change happen in Denver music as inclusivity becomes more central to the conversation. Simply put, “you can’t shut Black people out and expect your city’s music scene to be poppin'” — truer words were never spoken.
Missy Elliott – “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
“As far as I’m concerned, Missy Elliott took us into the future. The “Supa Dupa Fly” video just blew my mind, I was like, ‘who is this weird Black girl rapping?’ Everything Missy did was so before her time, and she did it all. Her cyphers, her fashion, her production, her genre-blending, her interviews. She’s this intellectual — she makes wild connections between everything. Missy really set the tone for the evolution of rap and hip-hop.”
FKA twigs – “Two Weeks”
“I was working at the Colorado Springs Business Journal the first time I heard this and I’m not kidding when I say that I screamed at my desk. She had this weird high-pitched voice — it was super experimental. It was a lot like the first time I heard Missy. I listened through the whole project [LP1 (2014)] and it was crazy. I was half-writing a music blog at the time, and it made me think about how much I needed to dig into really writing and curating again — it inspired me to get back into music.”
Kayla Rae – Singer, Songwriter, Popstar
In her path to R&B and pop stardom, Kayla Rae refuses to fight the universe.
“Embracing who I am as a biracial, queer woman has opened many doors for me and has also gotten me kicked out of them – being queer, especially. But, it’s also helped me realize that God has put me exactly where I need to be the more that I’ve learned to accept myself.”
Another law of the universe? All actions have equal and opposite reactions – and Rae’s self-love has returned to her manifold in community recognition and critical acclaim. Rae’s single, “Y.K.T.F.V” has racked up tens of thousands of streams on Spotify and she’s been featured on KS 107.5’s Summer Jam roster, an important, local pit-stop on the way to a mainstream breakout.
In her journey, Rae has been intentional about surrounding herself with other Black creatives, her artistic community is a space where she feels comfortable, loved and accepted. Her collaborations have allowed her to experiment and push her sound.
“People expect me to always be R&B, which is truly where my heart is rooted but I’m very versatile and I want to pop star — I’ve said that since I was young. So, I try to break out into different lanes and show that Black people don’t have to be confined to just R&B or hip-hop.”
As creative industries slowly embrace Black womens’ multiplicity, Rae made a point about outdated, Eurocentric standards of beauty – colorism, in particular – changing with the times as well.
“I’m so glad to see women like Normani, Megan Thee Stallion and SZA being so looked up to and successful. They’re in a mainstream light and they’re reminding people that Black women are beautiful and desirable across the board.”
To quote fellow music hotties, the City Girls – period.
Aaliyah – “At Your Best” and ” Try Again”
Rihanna – “Pour it Up”
This song is my shit. It’s old but it’s been the turn-up song. I always feel like the baddest in the room when it plays.
KoKo LA – MC, Instrumentalist and Member of RAREBYRD$
Our conversation with KoKo LA, one half of the hip-hop duo, R A R E B Y R D $, took us to the cosmos. While KoKo LA (Korryne Coleman) takes pride in the beauty and vibrancy of Blackness, there was an expressed refusal to cling too tightly to a “temporary” identity in the grand scheme of things. Their Highness (the artists’ pronouns) is simply too big for that – a rare soul to the core. Coleman and Kheya Lenay Yeager, the other half of R A R E B Y R D $, met in 2015, drawn together serendipitously through a shared love of music. Their sound, like Coleman’s self-expression and identity, is an “intended blur” – their Highness cites everything from Carnatic music (traditional South Asian hymns) to Bach’s Baroque stylings as inspiration. Clearly a music lover, the identity that Coleman did freely expound on was band-geek (or “orc-dork,” in the artists’ own words). Coleman is a classically trained violist and has since tried to master every instrument, traditional or electronic, that could be found.
Incisive and wickedly funny, Coleman’s commitment to becoming a “top-notch Earth-being” shines through in personality and in R A R E B Y R D $’s music. The hip-hop outfit’s spiritual bent is, however, grounded by technique and hard work – Coleman and Yeager showed us their studio virtually and their DJ setup resembled something out of Star Wars. “Your set-up sets you apart. You have to know what you’re working with, what it takes to create the sound you want.” The rapper/producer definitely knows what it takes. “I’ve been dreaming since I was a jit – I’m always calibrating, identifying, evolving myself.” As these dreams come into fruition, Coleman and R A R E B Y R D $ continue to radically redefine the limits of sound and identity in our city.
Patrice Rushen – “To Each His Own”
“You already know. I listen to this at least once a day every day. You have to listen to the lyrics – ‘a person came to my door yesterday wanting to know if I believe in what they say.” It’s about not just swallowing people’s gospel at face value. People be trying to get you to read The Watchtower and shit, but Patrice Rushen is just so underrated. She was doing a lot of this progressive post-disco shit before everyone — to each her own, she was living that.”
Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda
“My favorite album of hers, one of my favorites of all time is Journey in Satchidananda. She’s part of how I found Hindu traditional music, ragas, bhajans, Carnatic. It’s their worship music and you can sense the similarities to [American] Gospel. I also really like ‘Los Caballos’ off of Eternity — she has some amazing unreleased stuff you can only find on YouTube, too. She was a genius.”
Gangsta Boo & La Chat – “Witch Brew”
“My dad’s side is from Texas and growing up people would clown me for listening to that slowed-down, chopped and screwed shit – Hot Boyz, La Chat, Gangsta Boo. Fast-forward 10 years and now your favorite rapper’s doing it — her sound was just ahead of its time.”
You can find R A R E B Y R D $ on Bandcamp.
Hex Kitten – DJ, Reigning Alt-Black Girl
For unconventional Black girls of Scorpionic descent – Hex Kitten is your new favorite DJ. Having grown up in the church, while simultaneously being drawn to punk aesthetics, Afro-Caribbean spiritualities and astrology from a young age, Jasmine Batson (aka Hex Kitten) learned to embrace multiplicity as a part of her nature. This feeling of not quite fitting the mold is what Batson claims began her journey into music. “I was like 14 and just started throwing all these different beats together in my room – eclecticism is a part of my signature”.
Batson credits DJ MIA, the musical curator of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, as her catalyst for getting over any doubts. She hadn’t seen many women on turn-tables up to that point and MIA’s sets were inspirational. Even though DJing is still largely a boy’s club, she says that she’s been surprised and deeply humbled by the support she receives from the Denver music community. But, as Batson aptly put it, “with new levels, come new devils.” She laments that she’s often boxed-in or stereotyped as a hip-hop DJ, even though much of her repertoire is in house, electronic and R&B. She relayed experiences of DJ friends who gained popularity and suddenly got requests to play at clubs that wouldn’t let them in months prior – she says this can’t help but feel racialized and exclusionary.
Like her peers, however, Batson has too much in the way of pure skill to be held back by the nonsense. Her Soundcloud boasts ear-catching mashups, creative house and Afro-beat mixes paying homage to her half-Jamaican ancestry and a particularly fun spin on Brent Faiyaz’s “Fuck the World” that will impress your friends at the next social-distanced kickback.
Follow Hex Kitten here.
Women of Neo-Soul – Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Mariah Carey, India Arie
“I grew up listening to a lot of neo-soul. India Arie, Jill Scott, Mariah Carey were all inspiring to me as a kid — Lauryn Hill too, because of the things they sang about. I felt that it was some real-ass shit versus just a hot song – the music was fire, of course, but as a kid, I always recognized that they were actually talking about their experiences. Although I’m not a songwriter and I don’t really express my art in that way, I still found the courage to be who the fuck I was through them because they were 100% themselves, even in love — even in heartache. They were sharing their truth and I was always very inspired by that. To this day they’re still my favorite artists of all time. I love these women.”
Megan Thee Stallion – Discography
“I love Megan and I feel like I don’t even need to say it because who doesn’t? Everything that she’s been through this year, with her mom and grandma passing, that shit with Tory Lanez. She’s a success story. The fact that she continues to persevere gives me some perspective. She’s amazing, she’s a ‘Hot Girl.'”
Koo Qua – Veteran MC, Bar-Raiser
Niquasia Waddles aka Koo Qua is cool as hell. The rapper’s charisma is so palpable that she’d be doing the world a disservice if she wasn’t a performer. What sets Waddles apart though, is that her confidence doesn’t come from any sense of being “cooler than thou.” Rather, Waddles pours her authenticity and ease with herself into her art.
“What I’m trying to put out is just, be yourself, you know? It’s a sense of getting more in-tune, more in-depth with knowing who you really are and then expressing that — it can be ratchet stuff, it can be sweet stuff, as long as it’s you.”
Plus, it’s easy to be self-assured when you’ve been at the top of your city’s rap scene for over a decade, as Qua has. Her rhymes, hard-edged, yet playful, often draw comparisons to Da Brat, a parallel that Waddles welcomes. Although her style and content can be rough, Waddles embraces positivity above all. She’s been intentional about empowering her peers in the Denver rap underground, producing the first Colorado all-female rap showcase, and she is a headlining voice in the “Rap Chicks Do Rap Shit” movement. Most importantly of all, Qua’s music, like her persona, stands out amongst the crowd. Her newest single “Dope Love” is arresting and soulful – a product of only a veteran artist’s maturity and polish. Even after a decade of success behind her, the rapper shows no signs of plateauing.
Erykah Badu – “Fall in Love (Your Funeral)”
“You know I gotta pick Miss Erykah Badu. That ‘you don’t want to fall in love with me song.’ That’s my jam, I like it because it’s a woman talking about, she isn’t just going to be this easy-going person in a relationship. If you fall in love with me, it’s gonna be some slow singin’ and flower bringin’. She used Biggie lyrics – so you know that you’re really going to have to change your life if you mess with her.”
Elle Green – “Honey”
“I’m gonna put you on game – you definitely have to look into Elle Green (Green was also featured on “Dope Love”). She’s one of my music friends, but man, she’s just an awesome artist, she has a very angelic voice. She’s got a song called ‘Honey’ — the first time I put it on, I was like that is me. That is Koo Qua. Elle, man – she knows how to touch my heart.”
SUCH – Singer, Renaissance Woman
From touring with one of the premier youth jazz bands in the country to winning acting awards off-Broadway, to finishing amongst the top 65 contestants on American Idol, R&B singer, SUCH, doesn’t ever seem to slow down. When Steven Tyler tells you, personally, that you have too much talent to let go to waste – as he did on SUCH’s season of Idol – perhaps going full-throttle is the only option. Pipes, willpower and ingenuity have carried the singer far and she draws upon aspects of her identity, motherhood, in particular, to fuel her creative drive.
“I needed my son to grow up knowing that he could do anything that he put his mind to. It became abundantly clear that I could not wish this for him while not pursuing my dream myself.”
Of course, same as her peers, SUCH has encountered drawbacks — people who want to flatten her to fit their preconceived notions.
“I do get boxed in. I’ve worked with non-Black artists who have told me to sing more like Whitney, expecting riffs and all that.”
She attributes some of the misunderstandings of her sound to the relative lack of diversity in Black music here.
“You go to D.C., you go to Atlanta and you have these long legacies of Gospel, jazz, neo-soul, Go-go. I think if we had the same, there would be more of an understanding that we don’t all sing or play music the same way. It doesn’t mean that it’s not here – we just have to keep building that legacy.”
SUCH, naturally, is part of this effort. If there is one comparison to be made, fans of Denver’s-own India Arie will have an easy time making the crossover into SUCH’s music. There is a similar neo-soul vibe, backed by an unapologetic emphasis on self-love. “My most recent album, Wide Nose Full Lips, is a love letter to Blackness. The ways that we style our hair, that special feeling you get being in the company of Black women —it’s incomparable.”
Jill Scott – Discography
“I love Jill Scott like crazy. I love the fact that she’s so poetic, she’s a super talented lyricist. I’m just inspired by her. She defies everything that the industry says you should be and it’s beautiful and confident and it’s gorgeous. I think that she’s very comfortable in her skin and you can tell.”
Sade – Discography
“Big, big influence. What I love most about [Sade] is that she’s just so effortless. Her music is simple, yet it’s impossible to imitate — people can’t even cover her, I barely want to cover her, because nobody wants to hear anyone sing Sade but Sade — she’s impossibly cool. She doesn’t sacrifice any vulnerability, either. Since the beginning, her feelings have been right out there.”
Destiny Shynelle – A DJ on the Come Up
Destiny Shynelle, an open-format DJ (Afrobeat, Hip-Hop, new disco, R&B, neo-soul) and resident curator at Infinite Monkey Theorem had some of the most interesting perspectives on her craft, yet.
“Playing a DJ set is an energy exchange. It’s paying close attention, taking the temperature of the room and nurturing a feeling. These are skills women learn from the time we are young, it’s almost feminine – what I’m saying is, the door should be open to more girls more often. People think if there is a woman, a Black woman, especially, that there can only be one of us. But there are so many dudes out there getting paid more and getting more recognition for doing the same thing that we do. We get so much more out of this if we work together.”
Shynelle is a native of Northern California but was raised in Boulder. She was introduced to spinning by her stepfather who is also a DJ and her sound is influenced by the diverse forces that shaped her upbringing. She builds upon the velvety, mellowed-out vibes of fellow Bay-Area producers like Larry June, reggaeton influences from her Latina heritage (Shynelle’s mother is Mexican) and, strangely, a house music touch attributed to her stepfather’s Filipino roots. “I don’t know what it is, but you’re going to hear the best techno you’ve ever heard in your life at a Filipino function.”
You can find Shynelle’s upbeat collection of riddim, neo-soul, hip-hop and other genres on MixCloud. You can also support her live stream, the main way she’s been getting her DJ-fix during the pandemic. “Music, to me, is always going to mean feeling at home”.
Tems – as featured on DRB Lasgidi’s “Trouble”
“This song is one of those things I can listen to at any time of the day and sing along to, it doesn’t matter if it’s good for me. It’s basically about another person’s twisted perception of love, what love can be in relationships, in friendships, even with people that hurt us. Being a Scorpio, I’m emotional and that stuff just sits with me, I can feel it in my heart, my mind, my body. It’s wild too because the beat is fire. It almost sounds like a happy song if you’re not paying attention to what they’re saying.”
Summer Walker – “Body”
“Something that’s been on repeat right now is “Body.” It’s not her latest stuff but I like this song because it also portrays a twisted sense of what love is. So, I guess, there’s kind of a theme here. I love songs about love because love can be really beautiful, it can be toxic, whatever, but we all have our own fucked-up ideas about it. It’s something we can all relate to. Summer Walker is also just an interesting character to me. When I first started listening to her, she had this angelic voice, she reminded me of SZA and then later I saw that she had face tats and shit. I was like okay, you know what, I’m into it, it’s different.”
Grace Jones – “The Crossing (Ooh the Action…)”
An icon’s icon. The original “bad gyal.” The whole Slave to the Rhythm album samples snippets of an interview Jones did with The Art of Noise’s Paul Morley in the late 70s.“The Crossing” is particularly hypnotic. In spoken-word, Jones touches on her desire for admiration, her refusal to be pulled down “from a cloud.” It’s utterly human, a window into Jones’ mind at the height of her effervescence.
Personally, the song carries such significance because I found it while studying abroad in Copenhagen. It anchored me to a sense of Black ego against a backdrop of — well I was in Denmark. I listened to it every morning on my walk to the bus, sometimes four to five times in a row. It is still something that I turn to to keep the world from getting in.
Babyxsosa – “Hectic”
Something about this song is too soft to handle. It could be Sosa’s sweet-voiced, impossibly-tender delivery or, maybe, it’s the beat – something ICYTWAT or Ethereal might create if they were tasked with lulling a baby to sleep. The actual producer, PEACE, ate and left no crumbs. Either way, the song has all of the makings of a Soundcloud sleeper hit, but the content, featuring the rapper in a heartsick, one-sided conversation with the man who’s not really her man is what really makes the track so touching – “you mad ‘cuz I ain’t the type to worry you, but I’d rather give the world to you.” Perhaps, “Hectic” is so special because it pulls off the enduring #BlackGirlMagic trick of weaving a universal experience into something cool and slick and beautiful.
There you have it. Eight local tastemakers on twenty-two of music’s most influential voices. Black femmes to Black femmes, a musical genealogy. To circle back to A Seat at the Table, Master P had one of the most important lines on the project – “if you don’t understand my record, you don’t understand me” – the takeaway being that music is a translation of the soul. For Black femmes, music has often been the only way we could make ourselves heard and understood in a world committed to doing the opposite. If you consider yourself an ally in any form, sit and listen with an open heart. This shit is for us.