I grew up in a home with two parents who sold me the dream anything being possible. There was no prison for my passions, no cage for my creativity, and I’ll thank them until my dying day for their unwavering support in all my hopeful and hopeless endeavors.
Many months ago, I wrote an article praising the parents rappers who were the backbone careers during the early, uncertain stages. Parents who supported before any money or fame, simply the wind beneath wings that could potentially soar or possibly never leave the ground. I applauded the mother Kanye, the parents Chad Hugo, the grandmother Big Sean―but deep down I knew these stories were rare, and not the norm. It’s hard enough to be an artist, but even harder when there’s no solid foundation to stand upon, no real system support.
“She didn’t want me rapping, period. She was like, either rap and you live on the street or you get a job and you stay here with me,” Latasha Alcindor confessed.
Alcindor was walking me through 2012, the year she fell into a deep depression. It was the year following the release her debut album, The L.A. Riots: Mental Fatality, when she was still rapping under the name L.A. What was meant to be the beginning a music career was deeply affected by problems in her personal life: A mother’s demands led her to work as an administrative assistant at temp agencies. A stormy, tempestuous romance with a boyfriend. Being bullied heavily online―from Twitter mentions to the comment sections on blogs that posted her music, attacks on her slightly overweight frame and her womanhood tore into Latasha’s psyche. For two years, depression weighed on her spirit, and suicide weighed on her mind.
This dark phase her life is what makes what happened next such a radiant source inspiration. She continued rapping and persevering, changed her name from L.A. to Latasha Alcindor and was greeted with success from the release “Bee Em (Black Magic)” in 2014. The lyrical and visual assault against cultural appropriation and racial prejudice was premiered through Noisey and made rounds on the net. It fell upon the eyes a woman who will not be named, but who was so impressed by the song that after hearing Latasha’s story wanted to help. Like a guardian angel magically appearing in her life, the woman invested $10,000 into Latasha, helping her move out her mother’s crib and into a space where she could create.
“I kind ran away from home, leaving the relationship, and starting over,” she said over the phone, a complete restart on her life.
Life isn’t a fairytale, the happily ever after doesn’t come after a miracle meeting with an angel, but it does give you a chance to start the second phase your life. $10k dollars isn’t enough money to help you become the world’s biggest star, but it allowed Latasha to create a foundation to be successful. The rap game now is much different than the one she entered in 2012―sounds have changed, blogs have died, writers are in different fields.
For an artist who has seen the past and is starting anew in a much different present, it can be intimidating, but Latasha’s mind is more focused on telling her story than being the best rapper. A story she hopes will uplift, inspire, and bring a black woman’s perspective to rap that tends to dwell below the surface.
During our interview, Latasha laughed reminiscing on her days wanting to be a music journalist and envisioning a future as an MTV VJ. Poetry and plays captivated her before writing rhymes; it’s obvious when you hear the way she constructs words. Before deciding to be a rapper, she was already known as a wordsmith. All that changed when she was invited to rhyme in a We Got Bars cypher. Fearlessly, she tackled the challenge and was met with praise.
The sudden notoriety brought new inspiration to take her skills with words to the rap medium. Things started moving fast, and before she knew it Latasha was opening up for Big Sean, Nipsey Hussle and Q-Tip. With all the highs and lows stepping into a new creative space, she never forgot an early love in her life: “My boyfriend got shot when I was really young, and he wanted to be a rapper. I always feel like he’s my holy ghostwriter.”
The devastating story this heartbreaking circumstance is told on “I Was 15,” a track on Latasha’s B(LA)K, her first album in five years. The story walks us through the blossoming young love that ends tragically—her tearful final words took me back to the feelings hearing Ab-Soul’s pain-drenched “Book Of Soul.”
The raw honesty that fills “I Was 15” is heard throughout B(LA)K. The project is filled with lyricism and interviews digging into blackness, womanhood, gentrification and various pieces Latasha’s life. This isn’t just a glimpse into who she is, but an authentic look into the world that surrounds her. The cover shows a body in a tub, naked, with only a Tweety Bird tattoo with her name written in cursive―a vulnerable portrait for a vulnerable album.
When we first spoke a few weeks ago, B(LA)K was unfinished: “It’s a real, true story. It’s like pulling teeth at this point. There’s a part me afraid being that true, but I have to be this honest. Once I tap into that space, it’s a thing artists go through, when you’re creating you enter this vortex truth that when you start writing you can’t get out it. I’ve been in those vortexes because I have so much to pour out. I haven’t stepped into that space in a while. B(LA)K is a deep space I’m trying to hit and heal from.” What she expected to take months was done in weeks, and now she has a new baby in the world.
Admittedly, consistency was the problem when she first began her career in music. A lack confidence due to the psychological strain negative comments played a major role in how she decided to move. “I give a fuck, but I don’t give a fuck about what people say. I’m in a place where what people say won’t stop me,” she said with a tone that exuded conviction and self-assurance.
Visual releases have been consistent, the new album is out, and another project is already in the works for a May release, entitled Teen Night At Empire. The forthcoming mixtape has Latasha working backward to her teenage days at the local Brooklyn skating rink on Friday nights. Teen Night was like a right passage, the youthful equivalent going to the club. A DJ from Hot 97 would come through, not the most popular like Flex, but they would play all the jams while the teenagers danced, twerked, and bounced to the hits. It was the only time there was no skating at the skating rink.
After sending all the freestyles to her producer Kaui, one the young beatsmiths signed under Timbo’s label, the producer took them all and recreated them with new production. He turned a mixtape that was essentially nothing but freestyles into an original body work. The nostalgic story an adolescent coming age was given a deeper perspective by the narration Latasha’s cousin Sherika. If Latasha was the good girl, Sharika was the bad one. She was the outgoing, wild, more adventurous person and Latasha admired that.
Both B(LA)K and Teen Night At Empire present stories from a young, black woman’s perspective. More women having a place in hip-hop is positive, and there’s a need for such a narrative. Representation matters, but more than just a face, having these stories is equally as important. Going into label meetings, Latasha knows that what they want is a woman that can out-rap the dominating men. But that’s not her calling, and to follow that path would go against what brought her this far. With a mind full goals, conforming isn’t one.
“Kendrick has consistently been out here being himself. That’s exactly what I want to do: consistently be myself. At the end the day, artists who do that end up being bigger than the genre and are able to transcend,” she said.
The power music brought her an angel who invested money when all hope was lost. She went from working at a bank to being one the first hip-hop artists to have a residency at National Sawdust in Brooklyn. From being verbally abused for her weight, to facing her fears by pushing out more and more visuals, Latasha Alcindor has felt the darkness depression and now shines with a glow that can’t be dimmed. The beauty her story isn’t where she is going, but the steps she has taken to get here.
Artists must be strong, honest, and able to walk fearlessly on ice if they desire to reach the fire’s warmth. Latasha is an artist.
By Yoh, aka Y(O)H aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Instagram