Original Published on pages 11-12 of the VIBEAmbition Issue.
Darkness has set in on a Friday evening in December in Brooklyn, New York. Rapper L.A. is sitting in the bright lobby area of the Sheraton hotel at 228 Duffield street, with her video crew (close friends) who have documented her journey thus far on her website UCanCallMeLA.com. Dressed in a leopard print top, she applies fuchsia lipstick as she gets ready for the camera. It’s 7 p.m. and L.A. has had a long day but her bubbly words and giggles cover any sign of stress she has balancing her rising hip hop career, and her nine to five in the “real world” as an investment banker at (she won’t say).
In anyone’s mind that doesn’t add up. But L.A. is used to not following the format. “I was supposed to be a lawyer. That’s what my mother would have said,” she says. The courtroom is a stage for an attorney in a sense, but the Brooklyn-native has chosen hip-hop as the venue for her talents. Only taking rap seriously a year ago, L.A. has created a brand that’s landed her gigs that would make any unsigned rapper jealous: being hand-picked to open for Big Sean at NYU, an MTV Sucka Free Freestyle, being featured in the “That’s Rocawear” campaign, and also opening the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival this past summer, headlined by Q-Tip. All a result of going off path a little.
In summer 2010, L.A. was approached to do a cypher called “We Got Bars.” The response brought L.A. more attention, and people in her circle encouraged her to take things a step further. That’s when she conceived The Presentation, her own version of one of her favorite albums, The College Dropout. She also filmed a mini-movie, (imagine a hip-hop Glee) for the project in which she acts, dances, and dons the brown bear mascot. Her follow-up project L.A. Riots, released in September, takes a turn to a darker and edgier L.A., who comes intentionally to shred each beat to pieces with her emotional lyrics.
She’s a lady in the rap game but she believes the label “femcee” is an attempt to limit her. “Don’t put me in a box!,” she says. But spend any time with L.A. and it’s apparent, no packaging could hold her. L.A. (who happens to be a former VIBE intern) sits down with VIBE and tells us about her come up, dating another rapper, her thoughts on Nicki Minaj, and what her dream rap collaboration would be.
Read on to get off track with L.A.
Ambitious One: What is a normal day for L.A. like?
I’m an investment banker in the morning. I work at “omits name.” By the evening time, I’m back to this career of mine of being an official hip hop rapper, along side with a million other things that I do, that we’ll probably talk about later.
Did you have any idea you would be rapping right now?
No idea at all. I was supposed to be a lawyer that’s what my mother would have said. I started getting really interested in performance and art and in college and in high school I was doing poetry. I graduated from Wesleyan University and majored in African American studies and performance arts and psychology and that was like my main thing. I was like I’m geared to black art, nobody can tell me anything. That’s what I wanted to do.
So when would you say your rap career officially began?
Some kid just randomly hit me up and was like ‘Yo you want to be in my cypher?’ Cause I did poetry, and I was like yea whatever I guess. That one cypher triggered everything. Everybody was like woah who is this chick and why is she rapping like this? And it was just a really dope natural thing that I found, that I fell in love with.
How was the idea of of your first mixtape The Presentation conceived?
I’m a huge Kanye West fan, huge. Back in the day I was just like retarded with Kanye posters everywhere, then the DJ I was working with at the time, we didn’t know what we were going to do next after the cypher, but we we were just joking around, and was like what if I did a project based on all Kanye West? So that’s how The Presentation came about. The concept was me revealing myself to the world, and on the cover you’ll see me with the mask off and stuff. And you know it also spoke a lot about the industry just being a student and all the crazy stuff that life throws at you.
I know with every creative person they go through a process where they want to take things to the next level. What did you want to do better as an artist going from The Presentation to LA Riots?
The LA Riots was growth in all types of aspects. You know like how when somebody’s growing their hair and it’s at that really ugly stage and they don’t know what to do with it, that’s what the LA Riots was to me. It was that ugly stage of realness and being natural. So when I was writing it, I really wanted it to be as raw, as possible and it’s called the LA Riots so of course it’s gotta be hard. Also like I said I was a poet before I was a rapper. So a lot of it has poetics in it. and you don’t understand it the first time you hear it, but if you hear it again, you’ll get it. And that’s the type of music that I like to make, got that from my uncle Jay-Z. To me the LA Riots was about me finding my voice.
What’s the next project you’re working on?
I have this dope project called L.A. Lights coming. It’s an EP project so it’s gonna be shorter. It’s with Fresh Nerd from 100 Akres, he’s from London, amazing, amazing producer. He has all types of crazy samples in his music. And the project is a very huge transition from the LA Riots. Now you guys are going to see that quirky weird L.A. that you guys read on Twitter and I really like the sound. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a lot of dance tracks. But I’m still staying to my realism within it. I’m getting crazy influence from M.I.A. right now and so I’m listening to her every single day. Then my album for September is called Revelations of a Life Addict and I’m so excited because I’m already working on it. Then I have this funny series that’s called “10 Things That Are Illuminati,” it’s mad funny. We do that too, and just do these shows and possibly a tour next year.
Do you listen to other female rappers today, like Nicki Minaj?
Yea, I listen to Nicki. I have a song for Nicki Minaj called “Brand New.” Just because of the image. My biggest thing was like I love Nicki but I just can’t deal with that Barbie image, because that was everything I was against in life. But she’s amazing! She’s a hard ass worker. Like I can not knock her hustle and that’s influential in itself and inspiring and just being a female artist and being able to do that. Now everybody knows, you’re a household name. And you were just a little girl from Queens. I really appreciate her for that. I listen to everybody out here, Listen to a lot of Rhapsody. So dope I love her. Female rappers I really appreciate where they are going right now because they’re so diverse and each of us have our own thing right now. And that’s dope because I think that is what’s necessary. People don’t want to always hear about sex. Dudes may want to but that’s besides the point (Laughs).
What are guys’ usual response when they are witnessing you perform for the first time?
There’s like two reactions. It’s either like “O my God I’m so in love” or like “Yo what the hell?” (Laughs) It’s never like and in between. They’re either absolutely infatuated with L.A. or I can’t stand her, because they don’t know how to deal with a girl coming out and being herself and saying whatever I feel and never holding back. I like it though. And you’re going to figure it out. And if you don’t it’s cool. Just enjoy the music for what it is.
But you’re also dating a rapper. How does that work out with such hectic schedules?
Um I don’t know. My boyfriend’s also a rapper his name is Lyriciss. So he kind of understands the lifestyle that I’m dealing with right now. And he also knows that I’m a new artist so people are always looking for me. He’s been out for a little while, and he’s coming back with a new project so people have been really on the clock for him. But we kind of just understand. And this is mad emo- and mad lovey, but we Skype everyday. He lives in D.C. so it’s a long-distance relationship. It’s nice to just have somebody who cares. He’s always looking out for me and everything that I do.I’m always the tough one in the relationship and he’s like the really nice guy , friendly, and he’s always like “Hey!” and I’m like stop talking to them! (Laughs). We balance each other out, that’s my boo.
What’s your dream rapper and producer collaboration?
Sheesh, there’s so many. I want to work with Kendrick Lamar. But I also want to work with Kanye. So like Kendrick and Kanye both rap on the track and then Kanye make the beat.
What do you think the song’s concept would be?
It would probably be on some “Murder To Excellence” from Watch The Throne, but more introspective and more alien, because that’s all Kendrick Lamar talks about. And Kanye is an alien. So it all works out.
Lastly, for the Ambition issue, we are covering artists who we feel embody ambition the most. So to you, what is ambition and how do you garner that?
Ambition to me is being able to go through anything without fear. And my biggest thing is being brave and being fearless in this thing. I’ve gone through so much in my life that it’s like what’s the point of being afraid anymore. I can make anything happen.