Interview: Lil MC
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I've been musical since I've had the ability to make sounds! I started writing songs and performing when I was 5 and learned the piano when I was 6. I played different instruments growing up (clarinet, drums, xylophone) but mostly piano up until highschool. I would write musicals, and put on shows for my entire family, my neighbors and pretty much anyone who would watch from the age of 6 all the way through middle school. I loved performing and creating, it was something that came so instinctually to me and just brought me so much joy. No one in my family was artistic in that way, and I never really was surrounded by music; it was just something I always gravitated towards and I felt an immediate passion for. When I was 14 I experienced a series of traumatic events that led me to stop pursuing music and performing, and I became addicted to alcohol. It wasn't until I was 17 that I discovered the art of rap and freestyling and my desire to make music returned with such an intensity that it consumed my entire life. From that moment on my life was centered around hip hop.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Aside from making music I create curriculum around hip hop, specifically the art and culture of hip hop, and women empowerment in hip hop. I am also a professional hip hop educator and have spent the past 3 years developing a women's empowerment in hip hop curriculum with my colleague Amani Jade. I work for an Oakland Based non-profit called Hip Hop for Change, and with them I have taught kids from kindergarten through college the history and culture of hip hop and have even had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador to teach Hip Hop to students in Spanish. Through Hip Hop for Change I've had the opportunity to develop this women's empowerment curriculum and teach workshops for college level students, the most recent being UC Berkeley.
I'm also an event curator so I spend a lot of time organizing hip hop events, specifically women-centric events. I am the founder of a quarterly all-women hip hop showcase called Queens of the Underground, which I built with my colleague Kaila Love, to provide equitable spaces for women in the male dominated genre of hip hop.
Aside from education, music and event curation, I also am a comic book creator, a podcaster, an athlete and a mother. I am a firm believer in mental health so I spend a lot of time doing self-work, therapy, meditation, affirmations, mindfulness and breathing. I am a boxer and a runner so I spend a lot of time at the gym and am very health conscious. I was an addict for 15 years of my life, so in these past two years of finding sobriety I have dedicated a lot of time to removing blockages, regulating myself, identifying triggers, and centering my life around holistic healing.
Most importantly I am a single mother to my 9-year old son and making sure he is happy and has all the opportunity to achieve whatever ambitions he has is my ultimate goal. I spend a lot of time finding activities, sports, and extra curriculars for him to engage in. I am incredibly busy trying to become a successful artist and educator so that I can financially support him in whatever he chooses to do with his life but it's also incredibly important that we spend quality time together and do fun things so I always try to balance work and family.
How long has music been your career?
For the past 4 years I have been doing music professionally and made the conscious decision once I graduated from college with a degree in Psychology and Spanish, that I did not want to pursue a career in either field but I wanted to immerse myself completely into music, and hip hop education.
Where are you based and how did that influence your music?
I lived in South San Francisco until I was 6 then I moved to a small beach town 20 miles south of San Francisco called Half Moon Bay. I grew up in Half Moon Bay for my entire childhood and I would say that it did impact my music as I started rapping when I was 17 and there was a pretty active , while small, Hip Hop Scene in Half Moon Bay. I was the only female rapper but I was embraced by the rappers and got invited to perform and record my first album at J7 studios which was located in Half Moon Bay and I was mentored by Maleko who is a well known battle rapper, event curator and community organizer from HMB. I moved out of half moon bay when I was 18 but would come back frequently and continue working at j7 studios. I moved to Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Oakland, and now I'm in Alameda- which I call Oakland Island. I was definitely raised on hyphy music but most of my musical influences are new york rappers and LA rappers.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
i think one of my worst shows has to be when I was booked for a show and agreed on a performance fee with the booking agent but when I arrived at the venue (after the venue was changed last minute) the booker told me she wasn't going to be able to pay me my full fee because not enough tickets were sold. Also half the people on the bill didn't end up showing up (i don't think they ever agreed to perform in the first place, they were just put on the bill to incentivize other artists to agree to perform) and there wasn't even a stage it was just a bar room with pool tables.
My best performance was when I performed at the first "Queens of the Underground" event, a quarterly all-female Hip Hop event that I founded in October 2021. I curate underground Hip Hop events to provide equitable space for women in Hip Hop and for the premiere showcase I performed with an all female dance crew called "Iron Lotus Street Dance". It was such a historic moment for myself as an artist but also as an activist and event curator and I felt overwhelmed with pride at what I was able to achieve and felt the genuine joy of everyone who attended the event. I felt like that was a "level up" moment for me and It really set the stage for me as a performer.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
I really enjoy performing at the Midway in San Francisco and the Starline Social Club in Oakland. I think visuals are such a crucial component to any artistic experience, and a musical performance is no different, so I love venues that incorporate imagery, lighting, fog machines, and projected visuals. The Midway has a huge stage with an amazing screen for projecting visuals and the Starline social club has an incredibly talented lighting engineer that curates different light shows to accompany the musical performances. The supporting staff at Starline social club is so amazing, especially the sound engineer. What I particularly love about the midway is how big and vibey the space is and how they really dial in the vocals and acoustics. Ambience is hugely important for me. The feng shui of the space greatly impacts the energy flow of the audience, so I always take into account the layout, lighting, and sound of a space when performing.
My goal is to someday sell out the Fox Theater- which is a humongous, beautiful theater in downtown Oakland. This iconic Oakland landmark has housed musical legends and it would be a dream to someday play on a stage where so many great musicians have set foot on.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
The artist I want to play with more than any other artist is Snow The Product. She may not be as famous as some other artists but she is an underground Female Artist who is absolutely killing it and doing it all without label support. She is a Mexican-american female rapper so she raps in English and Spanish, like me, and she spits BARS. She is a Rapper Rapper and she knows how to make HITS. I have so much respect and admiration for her, so she is the one artist I manifest working with and performing with on a daily basis. I would also love to be on a bill with Saint Jhn who is my absolute favorite artist, Doja Cat who is so incredibly talented and has a similar sound to me, and Bia who is another Latina rapper who has such a swaggy energy it's infectious.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
If you really want to make music your career commits to spending 10 years on just developing your craft and finding your sound. Once you find your sound start thinking about the business side of music, branding, marketing, and building a solid team. Remember you are a business and sometimes your creativity might have to be stifled for the sake of being marketable and tailoring music to your audience, but you can always find other ways to tap into unrestrained creativity, whether it be writing songs for other artists or doing side projects.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
I don't really regret anything in my life, I've made so many astronomical mistakes but I feel so aligned with the universe and tapped into my purpose. I know that every mistake I've made led me to where I am now and served a purpose. I suppose that would be the advice I give my younger self- appreciate the mistakes and learn from all the lessons.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
One of the first songs I ever release called " I need you" is really important to me because It was the first time I really exposed my truth to the world and was so raw and transparent about all the trauma I underwent as a young girl and how it led me to self-sabotage, self-harm, suicide attempts, and addiction. Aside from that song "Sirens" also means a lot to me in that I was able to be vulnerable and hard and deliver my lyrics in a digestible way. I think it's important to have substance in lyrics but I also recognize that not everyone wants to hear about trauma when they turn on the radio so finding balance in sharing your story but also not leaving listeners triggered is important to me.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
My favorite song of mine right now is my recent drop "Aint No One Checkin' For You" featuring LA rapper and fellow femcee Vel the Wonder. Vel is one of my favorite underground rappers her voice is so dope and my boyfriend and amazing rapper/producer Unlearn The World made the beat and it goes crazy. The other track I love is "You've Been Infected'. I co-produced the beat with Unlearn the World and I love the hook I wrote but because it talks about covid I realize people might not want to hear it because we are all over covid.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
Ever since I founded "Queens of the Underground" and developed my own Women's Empowerment curriculum and started running my own education program, it's been a lot more difficult to find the mental energy and time to create so I have a very intentional process. I'm very dedicated to my self-care and mental health regimen because I reach the brink of burn out often, so before I can even set time aside to write I have to give myself a self-care day. When it comes to writing music for myself, I am very intentional with every component of the music, where do I want this song to be played? Is this a radio hit or a song for sync? Is this a clean record or can I get in my bag and do some uncut explicit raps? Is this a song I want to perform or is this something intended for play-listing? Once I identify what kind of song I want to create I reverse-engineer it. I've spent so much time studying music, the music industry and how to make hits, that I can apply all this knowledge to the song writing process in order to reach my musical goals. There is also benefit in creating for the sense of creating without any restraints, and that's why I have a band and write songs to sell to other artists. When I create with my punk, metal, reggae band I can really just let loose and say everything on my mind without worrying about marketability. Also sometimes I want to write tracks about my relationship but because my relationships are so public and I don't want anything I put out to negatively impact my partner's image, it's easier for me to write those songs for other artists to sing. So there are ways to tap into all of my creative desires but the process is different depending on what I'm creating.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
The message that is most important for my audience to hear is to be your most authentic self. I am a huge advocate for equality when it comes to marginalized groups especially in gaining equality for women but that supersedes that message is to embrace your individuality and accept others for their uniqueness. Hip Hop is a culture that embraces all types of people, especially people that were historically excluded. Hip Hop was created so that black and brown youth could find safe spaces to express themselves and enjoy themselves in a time and place where there was immense poverty, crime, and discrimination. So Hip Hop culture invites all to participate and only asks that you stay true to who you are and don't try to emulate and be whoever you think you're supposed to be in order to be received well. I also love to express the importance of embracing dualities. My brand as an artist is "Ratchet and Woke" and what that means to me, is that it's ok so be sexual, raunchy, and provocative and that doesn't mean you aren't intelligent, empathetic, knowledgeable and for the people. We need to break free from these mental constructs we've created in order to navigate the world without taking into account all of the subtle nuances that exist. It's easy to look at someone and pass judgement and have implicit biases based on how you've been socialized, but once you become aware or "woke" to these biases and presumptions it's important to work towards unlearning them. Everyone has their own unique story and you can't pigeonhole people into acting, sounding, or looking a certain way based on their gender, race, or seuxal orientation.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
I'm really easy to work with, I'm very empathetic and understanding of other people's needs so I don't usually have issues collaborating. I make it a point to get to know an artist and their work before I agree to collaborate because my time is so valuable, so I don't want to waste time making a song if we're not going to be able to agree on the roll out process or the overall vision.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I have so many plans for the future it's hard to put them all into words. I would love to highlight my underground female rap showcase "Queens of the Underground" and remind people to follow and stay tapped in because we are definitely looking to expand outside of the Bay Area in the coming years. I am also working on a music video for my latest track "Aint No One Checkin For You" with featured artist Vel The Wonder, which should be released sometime in June. Other than that just stay tapped in with me on social media because I'm always performing, dropping new music and doing dope stuff!