What Success Means For An Independent Woman Rapper

Photography by Hollie Hart
It’s hard to be a woman rapper in today’s music industry. There is often only room for one success story at a time — we’ve recently seen one of the unfortunate outcomes of this exclusivity. But it’s important to remember that a major record deal with a label, or even the “Queen of Rap” sash, are not the only end goals for Black women who have chosen music as one of their creative outlets.
In fact, there is a huge gray area inhabited by people like TT the Artist. The millennial Florida native, who has put down strong roots in Baltimore, is flexing her creative muscles as a rapper, visual artist, and designer. Several of her tracks have appeared on Issa Rae’s hit show Insecure on HBO and Comedy Central’s Broad City. She has songwriting credits on one of J.Lo’s hits, thanks to a relay race collaboration that started with Diplo using TT’s vocals on his track “Dat A Freak,” and then sampling that track for J. Lo’s “Booty.”
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I had the pleasure of speaking with TT and it became crystal-clear that forging these kinds of links is what builds a career in the music industry. But most importantly, for people like TT, a bona fide jane-of-all-trades, there are many routes to “making it.” If nothing else, she 's proven that for independent Black girl artists, there are levels to this shit. Check out how she's shaking up the game, below.
I think a lot of people assume that being famous is always the end goal for music artists. Is that your goal? What does that mean to you?
"There’s so many levels to it. Personally, I feel like I have reached a certain level of success. To me [that] means [you] are able to sustain yourself by doing what you’re passionate about. Music and art are my passions, and for the past three or four years, I’ve been able to sustain myself doing them independently — working full-time as an artist, a performance artist. But I think I do desire the recognition on a bigger level for my artistry, because with recognition comes support. So, in order for you to really have these big ideas and these big goals, you need more support around you in a lot of different ways — financially, and you need the exposure. If you have a desire to actually do this for the rest of your life, and do it full-time and build something, you do kind of want to achieve the level of notoriety like a Beyoncé or a Nicki Minaj, because with that notoriety you get the stream of infinite support towards your creative ideas."
So what does a typical day or week look like for you?
"You have to be your own manager if you don’t have one, your own booking agent if you don’t have one, your own assistant if you don’t have one, and be creative. The weekends are usually performing and doing a lot of shows or you know, I’m traveling Thursday through Saturday or Sunday, earlier on in the week, I’m catching up with emails and doing interviews. I’m often working from home if I’m working on a video [or] if I’m working on music or emailing my producers trying to get those files organized and get them where they need to get to. Then toward the end of the week I might have shows, so I’m coordinating dancers, trying to fit in rehearsal time if possible, getting show sets together. I’m never not doing anything, though. To the naked eye it might look like I’m all over the place, but for me it’s just my life, you know, what comes with the territory."
How did your music placement on Insecure come about?
"
I [self-]released my record 'Lavish' about two years ago on my EP Art Royalty, so it was in all major retailers online, like iTunes and Spotify, and I noticed about a year ago that Spotify streams for that particular record were starting to peak. It had gotten to about 500,000 plays. So there was something about that song that I didn’t even pay attention to, so when HBO reached out to me, it was definitely a surprise. I don’t know exactly how they found the song, but maybe they heard it streaming somewhere because it got put on a playlist for Spotify."
Yes. That soundtrack is so lit! So how do you go about getting your music on platforms on iTunes and Spotify? I’m assuming you have to pay for it?
"Yes, if you are an artist and you’re independent, you want to release music and distribute it. There are companies out there online that are made for people to self-release their music. If you want to get your stuff on iTunes, you can use a service like Tunecore.com or CD Baby. You sign up for a membership and they give you direct access to uploading your own music and paying for which outlets you want your music to be distributed in… [Independent artists] don’t have to wait for anybody to put a song out anymore with the internet. Everything comes down to how you market and PR your work. That’s why we have so many [music] phenomena online because people no longer have to wait for a big bag of money or a big investor to put out a record. You could put out a song for $30, put out an album for $40 or $50 and get direct sales coming into your bank account, your PayPal."
You’re a rapper, but you also do dance and EDM-style music as well. How do you navigate that crossover? Do you feel pressure to only stay in one lane?
"A lot of the music that we hear, a lot of these more white, you know, bodies or you know white people, this is our music. These are our drums, these are our percussions, these are our synths, these are our melodies, and they’ve just managed to, because of the way the industry is set u,p they have the privilege there, out the break, okay. We should take pride in the fact that we have these types of opportunities to expand our demographic. We don’t have to be boxed in because we never should have been boxed in, like we created this wave."
So what are some of your goals?
"
Right now the music is doing what it does, and I’m really trying to get back into my visual art side of me because I went to college, art school. So I’m a painter, I’m an illustrator, I’m a cinematographer, filmmaker, director. I want to make movies. I want to make films that highlight culture, so those are projects that I’m actually right now pitching for… A lot of my work is very collaborative, so if I’m making a film I’m reaching out to my friends who do music to help do the soundtrack, or my friends who are animators to help with my motion graphics. I want to create platforms for people that are, for other artists that are coming up to also share their talents."
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