I grew up in a home with two parents who sold me the dream of 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 of rappers who were the backbone of 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 of Kanye, the parents of Chad Hugo, the grandmother of 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 of 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 of 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 of 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 of her life is what makes what happened next such a radiant source of inspiration. She continued rapping and persevering, changed her name from L.A. to Latasha Alcindor and was greeted with success from the release of "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 of 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 of her mother's crib and into a space where she could create.
“I kind of ran away from home, leaving the relationship, and starting over,” she said over the phone, a complete restart on her life.
"She told me not to call her a sister, not to call her a mentor, because it was uncertain how long she would be in my life. It was so weird, it was kinda like an angel, and now we never talk. We got into it about some shit that had nothing to do with music. But people come into your space for a reason, for a time. That’s what happened. She came into my life right on time, right when I needed somebody to help me. I still can’t believe I can tell this story. From that woman helping me because of a song she heard, that gave me all the reason why I can’t stop. Even when I have struggles, I like to call them challenges, I like to think back on those moments."
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 of 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.
"Women are out here―the comeback of Remy Ma, Young M.A, and Nitty Scott is still out here—there’s a lot of women here, but there’s not a lot of women giving their raw story. There’s still this stigma that I have to show I’m a better rapper than these niggas. I can do that, but I don’t care about that anymore. In hip-hop you get caught up in the competitive shit, but at the root it’s not about that for me anymore. Hip-hop is beautiful right now, there’s a lot of room to do whatever the fuck you want. I’m here for the weirdo kids who can’t fit into any place. I always felt like that kid in hip-hop. I had a crazy life, I want to tell my raw story."
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 of 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 of this heartbreaking circumstance is told on “I Was 15,” a track on Latasha’sB(LA)K, her first album in five years. The story walks us through the blossoming of young love that ends tragically—her tearful final words took me back to the feelings of 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 of 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 of me afraid of 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 of truth that when you start writing you can’t get out of 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 of confidence due to the psychological strain of 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 of passage, the youthful equivalent of 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.
"Teen Night was the first time I got out of my house and got out of being this goody girl that I was. In Brooklyn around the '90s and 2000s, Hot 97 bootleg CDs were all you got. They were 2 for$5 and you would get all the fire shit that was happening. All the freestyles. Everything you could ever want. I would pick them up when I was a kid and I would live off the bootleg CDs. I wanted to make a project and just freestyle on every song. And I would record these freestyles on Friday night. But I would only freestyle on songs that I heard on Hot 97 bootlegs or at Empire. I was freestyling over 'Deep Cover,' Craig Mack, 'Knuck If You Buck.'"
After sending all the freestyles to her producer Kaui, one of 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 of work. The nostalgic story of an adolescent coming of age was given a deeper perspective by the narration of 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.
"The project is dedicated to Sherika. She represents the hood for me. She represents the kids who used to act out and fight. Sherika was always fighting, I would always see her in the dean’s office. They would ask why can’t you be more like Latasha, why can’t you be more like your cousin. She was like, ‘Fuck that they gonna respect me!’ *laughs*. We grew up together like that. Everyone knew I was the good one, but she had a hard life. We talk about the fun shit on Empire, but we also talk about complexities of growing up in Brooklyn as a little girl and how hard that was dealing with her mother and shit. In between her storytelling and me going through the skits all the music is my version of music you would’ve heard at Empire during Teen Night."
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 of 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 of the day, artists who do that end up being bigger than the genre and are able to transcend,” she said.
The power of music brought her an angel who invested money when all hope was lost. She went from working at a bank to being one of 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 of depression and now shines with a glow that can’t be dimmed. The beauty of 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