Tasha the Amazon Is Unstoppable: Interview

“I wrote through the story arc of the last year of my life.”
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The music industry can be brutal. Born and raised in Toronto to a German mother and Jamaican father, 27-year-old rapper Tasha the Amazon went from being nominated for a JUNO Award (the Canadian equivalent of a GRAMMY) in 2017 and touring the world, to being put on bed rest in 2018 for throat surgery for half a year. Finally, with late 2019’s EP, Black Moon, Tasha took us through her cathartic journey as she got back on her feet and proved she’s a force of nature.

Now, a little history: Tasha met her musical match her first year at the University of Toronto as a psychology major. Producer Danny Thrax was deep in the trenches of gully hip-hop when he met the more melodic Tasha through mutual friends. The two clicked immediately, although it wasn’t until later that they collaborated on the projects, eventually leading to their friendship, and their becoming roommates and business partners.

After several singles and a mixtape, FIDIYOOTDEM, between 2013 and 2015, the two dropped a debut EP, Die Every Day, in 2016 to critical acclaim. Its hook-heavy, electro-trap sound brought labels knocking and earned a nomination for Best Rap Recording of the Year at the JUNOs. That same year, Tasha also became the first female ever to win the Music Video Award for Best Hip-Hop Video with “Picasso Leaning.”

Coming off a tour in 2018, Tasha dropped singles “Intercontinental” and “Wayz,” and was ready to jump two-footed into the next album. Sadly, life had other plans. Tasha’s throat began to swell; she constantly had a fever, and one day she could barely get out of bed.

Tasha later found out she had Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder shared by Missy Elliott. Doctors placed her on bed rest for a month. As she slowly recuperated, Tasha used the time to cancel out the noise of her health scare and focus on healing, through her music.

When you talk to Tasha, there’s a restlessness, latent energy. Her grey eyes dart around the room. And as Tasha admits, her aura bears the mark of an extroverted introvert. It makes sense that her music borders on contained chaos. Exploding with vibrance, Black Moon emerges as a tribute to her journey of healing and channeling wounded energy.

When you achieve success in the industry, everybody wants a piece of you. Black Moon explores what happens when there’s physically nothing left to give. Yet, Tasha comes out on the other end of catastrophe older, wiser, and an Amazon.

Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: You don’t fit into any industry archetypes. Has that been the case since day one?

Tasha The Amazon: It’s weird because I meet people who work in the industry, and you can see them struggling: Do you fit into this pile or this pile? Which one is it? It’s important to be three-dimensional. Obviously, I’m doing that shit and about that life, but I’m also tough and also Lauryn Hill on the inside, and even Missy Elliott. Fans get that, people who listen to the music get that. But it’s just the business people in music don’t get that because they’re trying to see, “How do I make money off of this, how do I market that?” But I care about directly reaching the fans.

Does that have to do with your upbringing?

It has something to do with being mixed; I can’t speak for all mixed people, but there’s this feeling of being in-between many cultures. I’m Jamaican, and fucking love dancehall, I grew up with that stuff. Everyone on my side of the family is in some kind of reggae band or is a DJ or a rapper. But there’s also my German side. I grew up playing classical piano, and then hit middle school and was super punk and into skateboarding—that rebellion stuff. I started making music and producing around the end of high school.

How did this upbringing factor into your music? How did you start producing music?

I remember being in kindergarten, and my teacher asking the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. I was like, “I’m going to be a musician.” And the teacher was like, “Oh, that’s great. Do you play any instruments?” And I was like, “Nah.” It’s been there since day one. I started playing piano in the fourth grade and writing songs and poetry. That turned into writing raps. If you know the piano, you can easily teach yourself other instruments. So I played that, and the saxophone.

Your partnership with producer Danthrax—has always been instrumental to your career. How did that come about?

We met at the University of Toronto, and he had been producing his music since he was 13. So it was just this meeting of the minds—two people who loved dope shit and wanted to push the envelope.

By the time I met him, I had been collaborating with people and showing up at people’s studios. I had been a little disheartened because when you’re that young, going into people’s studios, everybody has an idea of what songs they want you to play. And I’m out here like, “I don’t want to do stuff that’s written by other people.” I didn’t want to be in this industry where everybody has their ideas of what you should be. But then I met Danny, who was like, “Here’s what I do. I want to collaborate and see what you do.” So it was just this partnership of equals. That kind of foundation is necessary.

In 2017 you were nominated for a JUNO. How did this impact your career?

It was crazy. We were nominated for a JUNO, and then we went on tour, did the [United] States, Canada, Mexico, a bunch of countries in Europe. It was a whirlwind, and every time we got back into the studio to record stuff, [we ended] up going back out on the road and not having time to record. Finally, by 2018, we were like, “Let’s take some time and hop back in the studio, say ‘No’ to some opportunities so we can finally figure out what we want to write about.” For me, it was tough because that whole year you’re not at home; you’re not nurturing your relationships and stuff.

Obviously, that’s amazing: meeting fans, doing press, and meeting your favorite artists. But there’s this disconnect from who you are and where you’re from and your people. Coming back that year, I wanted to jump right back in the studio again, and we did two songs, “Intercontinental” and “Wayz.” [They] did well, and people were like, “Oh, snap, there’s going to be a new album in 2018.”

You had a throat operation in 2018; it must’ve been scary as a singer.

I have a scar right here [points to throat]. I had a crazy infection going on and cysts around my vocal cords pushing into my windpipe. It kept on getting worse and worse, and we didn’t know what it was. Finally, the doctor was like, “Oh, shit, we need to get that shit out.” I had to be in the hospital for a while. It’s kind of weird when you want to be creating, and your whole body’s like, “Nah, you can’t.” That forces you to figure out what you’re about.

How did your recovery impact the creation of new material?

In the music industry, we often don’t get an opportunity to be three-dimensional and show all those sides of ourselves. Someone’s like, “Oh, you’re the chick who makes the wild music and we crowd-surf to it? Just keep doing that.” I want to take that opportunity to explore some more subtleties in me. I probably wouldn’t have gotten a chance to do that if I didn’t get put on bed rest. I was forced to chill and be like, “What is this side of your life about?”

Black Moon deals with some dark shit. Tell us about that.

With [Black Moon], I was like: in what ways can I grow more on this [project]? [2018] was a breaking point for me where everything was coming to a head. Finally, the dust settled, and I was like, “I think I know the kinds of things I want to say and how truthful I wanna be.” I’m the kind of person who likes to write my way through the story. I wrote through the story arc of the last year of my life. It starts with dark, trippy beats, dark corners of emotions. It hits on the dark sides of partying, the dark sides of touring. And then it grows into a lighter, happier place. That’s the story I want to tell: emerging or coming out of a cocoon. 

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