Hip Hop music as a genre developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans and Latino Americans in the Bronx borough of New York City in the 1970’s. From the beginning hip-hop has been about storytelling. Rap is a vocal technique in hip hop that emphasizes rhyme, rhythm, and individual expression. Male and female rappers over the years have used wordplay, repetition and extended metaphor in their songs to relate experiences that were dark, violent, romantic or even hopeful.
We have seen big hip-hop artists like Wu-Tang Clan, 50 Cent, Notorious B.I.G, Jay Z and many more evolve the genre through the years with new elements in music and storytelling. But given the music industry’s history, even the genre of hip-hop was majorly male dominated and considered a boys club. Many songs were lyrically centered around sex, masculinity, reign over women, violence while others did speak about the artists life experiences. It was hard to find a dominant female representation in the hip-hop industry in the early years. To break this chain came along some revolutionary female names in the hip hop culture such as Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, M.I.A., Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige and many alike. These female rappers with their formidable presence, centered their lyrical texts around interpretations and experiences of the world they lived in. Though they all had clear-cut variations in their flow, style and lyrics, what they had in common was fiercely independent voices and the power to remain consistently themselves.
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Today, we see a new generation of female rappers, highly influenced by these revolutionary artists, who are changing the narrative for women in hip hop. Their activeness goes beyond hip hop to represent women at large in the society as well. Through their lyrics they are showing their pride in being a woman, the ability to be financially independent and also claiming their power in relationships. This has made women find hip-hop a more inspirational.genre.
You can’t convince people to work with you unless you believe in yourself and your productTracy De Sá
Tracy De Sá is one of the new generation female rappers who is the definition of a Rapper in the truest sense. Coming from the small state of Goa, she has managed to make an impact on the world stage of hip-hop. She incorporates the values and older principles of the Hip-Hop of the 90s, and mixes it with her other influences like Reggaeton, Latin Music, Dancehall to produce some of the best music we have heard from her generation. Tracy’s journey has not been an easy one but definitely worth while with the release of her viral album ‘Commotion’.
At Goan Insider we had a very candid and informative interview with Tracy where she gave us her unique perspective on the music industry. She also shared with us her journey till date and simple tips artists can use when getting into hip-hop. The excerpts of our conversation are below.
Tell us a little about yourself
I am Tracy De Sá and I’m a rapper. I was born in Goa but I left when I was 2 and a half years old. I moved to Portugal and then moved to Spain when I was about 3 and a half. I grew up in Malaga, in the south of Spain. I moved to France when I was 18 to study and this is where I currently live and do music. I am based in Paris
I consider myself as a rapper. I define my style as creative Hip-Hop because I take the values and older principles of the hip hop of the 90s, but I mix it with other influences like Reggaeton, Latin Music, Dancehall etc. because these are the genres I grew up with. I got into hip hop through dance. I was a dancer before, I used to teach dance, battle, do street shows.. but when I moved to France I met a few rappers who convinced me to try my hand at Rap. At the beginning I was hesitant, I felt like corporal expression was enough for me but as I started writing I realized that I had something to say, a message to transmit. That’s when I started going deep into Rap, focused on working on my flows and that’s where it all started.
With the stigma related to the arts field among Indian parents, how did your parents react to the decision of you wanting to be a rapper?
I basically played by the rules. My parents are divorced. My dad lives in Goa and I moved with my mom to Portugal and then Spain. My mum still lives in Spain and she basically sacrificed her life so we could study so that’s what I did. I did a bachelor’s, did my Masters Degree, but I was always doing music while studying. I was performing at little shows and open mics while I was still at uni and the aim was to finish my studies so that my mum could be fine with whatever I did after that. I also worked after I completed my studies. I stopped working around 2 years ago because it was exhausting, I had to take days off to go and do my shows. I worked the whole week and then on weekends I was touring, while simultaneously developing my music, music videos and related projects. It got very exhausting and that’s when I quit my job. At the beginning my mum thought that it was just a hobby but as I started accumulating projects she realised that it wasn’t a joke for me. She always supported me even if sometimes she worried about my health and safety. But she trusts me and knows that I am always going to try and make the right decisions. She also realised how hard and frustrating the process was and that she had to be there to push me and motivate me when I was ever thinking of giving up.
How has the experience been being a woman in the music industry?
Even in today’s world just like the past, if you are a woman you always have to work the double sometimes the triple. It’s not only in Hip-Hop, it’s generally how the world is made. In Hip-Hop it’s the same pattern, you have to work harder, and in my case it started by the fact that I didn’t have any references. When I was growing up there was no ‘brown’ female rapper on TV. I had no one in the industry to look up to, no references, no role model so I had to build up and create that for myself. At the beginning I thought I didn’t even have access to it. I remember seeing M.I.A. on TV one day and suddenly thinking to myself, ‘Why is there a girl who looks like me on TV?’ This made me question a lot of things like how as Indian people living abroad, we feel like our career paths are limited cause we don’t see people like us doing the jobs we wish for. There was a good representation of ‘White’ and Afro-American artists, but we didn’t have that for ‘Brown’ people while I was growing up. Today kids have a lot more references. So first I had to get over that dent. When you start making music there is a lot of pressure on the style you make. People are not used to seeing a girl Rap in a ‘fast style’ like I do. A lot of people were pushing me to do melodic stuff, sing more and be more chilled because for them my rapping was way too aggressive for a girl. Aggressive or not, I knew that that was my style and that was the way it was going to be. But I had to answer all these questions and go against what people were telling me to do. Something we always forget is that the way we socialise also changes the way our career is built up. Guys are often on the street, they hang outside, they show music to each other while they chill but girls don’t do that. Girls have to deal with a whole mental charge of what happens at home, so when we go outside we go from point A to B, that’s it. We also have to think about how we dress when we go outside, about our protection and security. So we just can’t be out on the streets and hang out for hours and hours. So we can create the music but we have more trouble sharing it. In addition to all of this it’s also really hard to know which guys within the industry have good intentions. It’s hard to tell which guys are gonna say let’s go work and it’s all going to be purely professional. I have had guys who expected me to sleep with them after we worked together or while working, they would try to get close to me or put their hand on my shoulder.
Once your songs are ready and you go on stage, you find yourself in front of a public which is 80% masculine. I used to be very intimidated by this at first, especially cause guys have no pity with girls. As a female performer if you aren’t good on stage, they will boo you off, literally take the mic and tell you that you don’t belong there. This happened to me as well. I got booed off stage a couple of times until I decided that I had to own the stage, it was my space and I deserved to be there. To make this happen I worked a lot on my self-confidence and on the fact that I should not be intimidated by guys who have less technique than me. But I still get negative comments even today. I did a concert recently in January 2020 and when I got there I heard these guys say, ‘Is she going on stage?’ ‘What is she doing?’ ‘Do you think she can Rap?’ I went on stage and Rapped for 10 seconds and their reaction changed entirely and they came forward to jam with me.
The experience with the press is even worse. I remember an article that came out with a review about an incubator I had been part of. There were only three lines about me and they literally detailed how I was dressed. They didn’t write anything about music or my style or technique. This just reinforces the idea that when you are a woman you are just meant to be a pretty object for people to look at and nothing else.
How do you get inspired when writing music and how do you generate new ideas?
I got into Hip-Hop through dance. I used to dance a lot as a teenager, I even gave classes and workshops, so I have a way of listening to music that is very much rhythm oriented. Hip hop had a huge impact on my youth, it was a culture that made me feel included, it spoke about poverty, immigration, growing up with single mothers, you know things that were important but couldn’t always be said. This is super important in my creative process as I want my music to have purpose. So I think about what needs to be said. I work in different ways though. I do not immediately start with the lyrics. Sometimes I receive a beat and I try out different melodies. Other times a melody just comes and sticks in my head and then I record it and send it to my beat maker so that he can do something with it. I also sometimes find an instrumental on the internet and start writing or looking for a good melody and then send that to my beat maker. Sometimes we sit together and start working on a beat from scratch, in that case I tell him the kind of beat or vibe I want for the track. I have different methodologies and don’t always work in the same way. I believe that there are different ways of reading and perceiving music. You have the beat, the atmosphere, the ambiance of the song, the flows, the text, the rhythm… I want to be able to reflect and work on all of these. When it comes to the style of rapping, I am not very fond of linear flows so I like looking for variations. So I’d say that my creative style is more melodic and musical than text centric.
Tell us about your album ‘Commotion’. How was the experience in getting the album out and what inspired this album? Do you have Indian inspired songs in the album?
Working on this album was a great journey. Previously, I always had problems with my labels and managers and was never able to get an album out. There was a lot of pressure on me for this first album, I wanted to explain to the public who I was, where I was coming from and what my style was. It took me a long time to find the right people to work with and the right idea. But it all came together very naturally as I started writing the songs, everything made sense. Today, when I listen to it, there are a thousand things that I would like to change but I feel it’s great as a first body of work and it really took me places. It helped me get into the Indian market, Spanish market, travel, tour, gain new fans and get onto playlists. I am working on the second album now which is going to be way better, we are taking it to the next level. But “Commotion” is super special to me as it set the base of who I am as an artist.
My album has a song called ‘Rickshaw’ that talks about my homecoming. It talks about the fact that for me it’s sometimes really hard to come back to India because I don’t always feel I belong there as I left when I was very young. I don’t really know anything about the Indian culture, the traditions, the history and the people in general. I love coming to India because it does feel like home but at the same time it’s not my home. It’s a very weird feeling like I want to be accepted there but I know I have a lot of things to learn about the country. I know I have to be in India for a longer time to be able to adapt to the culture and understand it better. So ‘Rickshaw’ talks about that and it is one of the first songs I recorded in India, I remixed it with 3 rappers from Mumbai. We also chose to film the music video between Goa and Mumbai and it was the first time that I worked with a local filming crew. It was a full female team which made the experience even more special because growing up abroad I always had this image of Indian women being very traditional and influenced by patriarchal ideology. When I met these women, I realised that women in India are as progressive and open-minded as women in Europe. It was very inspiring to see them work. It was a very empowering experience overall.
In 2019 you had done an album tour. How was that experience? Any particular show which was the most memorable?
I toured Europe and India particularly. This was my first tour in India. It was really amazing to finally be able to come back home and do music. For me to tell my family that I’m coming back to India as a Rapper was something I would have never imagined. During this tour I headlined my first show at ‘Goa Hip-Hop Festival’. It was really amazing for me to see that they decided to have a woman headline a Hip-Hop festival in my hometown Goa and that they picked me. On the tour I learned so much, I worked with different people to set everything together. It was also the result of a lot of work because I take care of a lot of these partnerships myself. I am signed with an independent label called ‘OVASTAND’ they are specialized in the French market. They help me develop my audience and market in France. But when I go abroad, I’m in charge of finding contacts and potential collaborators. I traveled to India a couple of times before I was able to create a team over there. This was a result of a lot of work, it seemed huge but it was only like planting a seed. This is going to help me come back, have greater shows, tap a more creative side and be able to work with a lot more people. This tour was a huge step for me but I know it’s just the beginning of a bigger path I’m going to be headed on.
If today someone wants to get into the Hip-Hop industry, what advice would you give them?
- Believe in yourself: I may sound very corny but I feel like that’s the base, you can’t convince people to work with you unless you believe in your product, and you can’t make people like your music unless you like it yourself. We all wanna do social media, get likes and followers but before that you have to develop your music, your style and your technique. So work on yourself, work on all these things and then start going out and exposing yourself and your talent.
- Don’t believe what other people are saying: People are going to try and put you down, they are gonna tell you to change your style, tell you to change the way you do certain things, but just believe in yourself. Also believe in your instincts and your gut feeling and do whatever you feel is best for yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks: Sometimes you may have to move to a different city to push your career and as much as you love your homely comfort, you know that to be able to move forward and grow, you have to make changes. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles and ways of rapping. The problem with a lot of rappers is that we are self taught. Once we know how to rap, we tend to settle for what we know how to do. Rappers also should take singing lessons because it’s gonna help them breathe better, find melodies easier, find different notes, interpret their songs differently. Rappers should also jam with people from other genres because that is gonna give them a different vision of music, expand their horizons, and help them understand how much more they can do. Getting out of your comfort zone and taking risks is the only way you are gonna grow as an artist.
When you started out you must have had a few goals and challenges. How did these change over time?
My goals were very basic at the beginning, now I know that I want to build a future with music, buy my mum a house, reinvest the money into social projects etc but the biggest challenge concerns my family life. I ask myself when the right time to start a family is, if I want to have children at all. I know that it’s a decision that will block me for at least two years, my body will change, my responsibilities will change, will I be able to continue making music ? Touring ? It’s a decision men don’t really have to make and I find it very unfair. I wish the world could make it easier for us sometimes.
How important is social media for an artist today? And how important is an artist’s dressing style or fashion sense in the music industry?
It’s super important, today an artist cannot live without social media. But it is a lot of work. You always have to find new ways of creating content, coming up with new things, you always have to look presentable for the camera, have something to say and in addition you have to answer people’s messages and connect with your public, it’s an unending list. It takes a lot of preparation. So I personally use a monthly schedule where I organise what I need to work on, what I’m going to post, to always have content coming up, with photos or videos, freestyles, stage snippets etc. There is a lot to think about and I know it’s not our job as artists to concentrate on this. Our job is to write music and not work on social media content so it’s hard for us to come out of this artistic and creative space and get into a commercial and social media strategy. But this is something that we have to do and will definitely help us grow our audience.
Fashion plays a huge role in this and it’s something that can take from being a simple artist to being an influential person. For me, fashion is a way of expressing myself, it represents who I am. I know there a lot of people who relate fashion to money but there are alternative ways of creating dope outfits with small budgets. You can buy at second hand shops, thrift shops, you can buy new clothes and then resell them, recycle clothes by taking the old ones and customizing them. For me fashion says a lot about how creative someone can be and how ready they are to really put themselves out there. And we can’t deny it, we live in an era of image, you stand out more by the way you look than by your actual talent. So allying these two is key for artists.
How has your journey been with your current record label OVASTAND?
I made a very good decision by signing with OVASTAND. I had a few other propositions but I stuck to the people who liked my music before I started buzzing. I knew that they liked my creative process and my way of working even before I started to develop a public. I knew that they were the people who were going to give me the liberty to do whatever I felt was needed. A couple of labels had contacted me when I was starting to grow but I could really see that they were only interested in the potential of the project and not really the artistic side of it, so I stuck to OVASTAND which is an independent label. It’s not always easy, they are a small team but this allows me to have an overview on everything that is happening. I didn’t want to get lost in a big label where I wouldn’t know which projects are being commercialised or being sold, or what they are saying about my image or about me. I wanted to have full control of what was happening and this is what I have with this label. We communicate well, I even do most of the meetings with my manager and hence I’m also involved in the marketing part. It’s great because I can ask questions, give my opinion and my point of view is always considered, this was really important for me. They respect my music, absolutely love what I do and give me a lot of freedom to grow. They do tell me to change some stuff from time to time but it’s only because they know what my potential is, what my capacities are and how to push me harder.
According to you, what aspects of the music industry are a boon and what aspects are a bane?
The bad things about the music industry is that it can be really frustrating because music is very personal. As much as we want to think music is our job, it is still super personal. Music is about speaking about your life, about you wanting to be a better person, about you wanting to have money to feed your family. Also, nobody gets famous from one day to another so it takes a lot of years of work. It’s not a diploma where you go to school and two years later you finish your course. Music can take 2, 5, 10 or even 15 years, you never know when it’s actually gonna happen. The music industry is huge so you can’t always control and know about everything. For example, when you are a musician you don’t always know about music management, publishing, editorial work. There’s a lot more knowledge to acquire because you’re going to have to make decisions and it requires a lot of research. So when you are a musician you end up working on a lot of things outside of music which is very overwhelming.
The good thing I would say is that music makes you very human because you are confronted with your own fears, traumas and insecurities. Music makes you a lot more emotionally intelligent, empathetic, honest with people and with yourself. Music gives you a lot of freedom, it’s a way of expressing yourself, a way of transmitting, it helps you connect with people, it’s a universal language where you do not even have to speak the same language as the other person to transmit an emotion. These aspects for me are super liberating and empowering. As an artist you get to travel, meet a lot of people, discover new places, cultures, new instruments and technology. But you have to go through all the bad things first to profit from the good things.
Do you have any plans of moving back to Goa in the future?
I would definitely love to live in Goa when I’m older but right now I don’t think it’s the right moment for me to live there. Though hip hop is growing in India, you do not see a lot of Indian hip hop artists tour internationally. For me it’s much easier to be in Europe and come to India to tour than me being in India and trying to tour internationally. Right now I just have to focus on which is the most strategic place for me to be based. From Paris I have access to the whole world. It’s a real shame because I would really love to reconnect with my roots and live that “sossegado” lifestyle but I know it won’t always benefit my career. I have spoken to labels in India who would need me to have a territorial presence in order to develop me but I do not want to close myself up to the Indian market. The Indian market is a great market, but I know that my music is made for the world.
What’s the dream?
The dream would be to have a world tour. I really feel that my music is made for the world and not only for France or India. I really want to tour North America and South America. I have never been to that side of the world and I really want to expand my music to those zones. I want to be able to travel more in Asia as well. I just want to be able to properly live from my music and be able to do something with that. I know that my music is always gonna have a social role as well because I talk about female empowerment, gender roles, and I want this to be a part of my job.
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