As all my many, many loyal readers know, there’s nothing I love more than girlie emcees in their indie hip hop glory. So imagine how excited I was a few months ago when a friend from Seattle sent me Boss Ladies: A Mixtape, by the underground raptacular duo, CanarySing.
CanarySing, made up of spoken-word-artists-turned-emcees ispire (Hollis Wong-Wear) and lioness (Madeleine Clifford) will instantly bring to mind favorite fem-powerhouse groups like TLC and Salt-n-Pepa. But cerebral lyricism and a focus on unabashedly confronting what’s fucked up about society takes CanarySing’s oldschool sound to a fresh new place.
Recently, I had a chance to chat with these ladies about their approach to writing, performing, and rocking Seattle’s indie hip hop scene:
GH: I read that you’re working on some new material. Can we expect an album in the near future, and what will it sound like?
Maddy: Yes, we are very excited about releasing a brand new EP entitled Beautiful Babies. It will sound like a beautiful baby being born. No, seriously, it will have some new tracks that showcase Hollis‘ vocal abilities, and of course we’ll still be bringing it with the lyricism. We’ve also tweaked and revamped some of our classic songs.
GH: As independent artists, who do you work with on the recording process and in making videos? What kind of community do hip hop boss ladies need around them?
Hollis: Boss Ladies build their community up brick by brick, song by song, show by show. The people we collaborate with are artists we admire, and who have the same passion and joy for the music as us.
Maddy: Having imaginative people around is hella important. We feel inspired when young people come up to us and give us props after shows. Performing at bars and clubs is fun and everything, but you can really tell youth are hanging on to your every word.
GH: What experiences made the call for social justice and strong community such a big part of your music?
Maddy: Social justice is just us. It’s not like it’s inserted into the music, the music is social justice. Look at the history of hip-hop itself.
Hollis: Our music would not be possible were it not for our community. We were youth artists whose activism and leadership was fluid with our poetry and music, all parts of the same forward movement. It’s our experiences as young women, as biracial women, as women of first generation Americans, as girls who went to college and as girls who just wanna have fun.
GH: How do you balance talking politics in your music while still bringing the good fun times, or is that something that you think about?
Maddy: What are you saying? Politics aren’t fun? I feel like in the U.S. we get so uncomfortable with the word “politics.” Some people even fool themselves into thinking that they can completely disassociate from politics, but that’s impossible. When I’ve traveled to other countries, it seems like people are always talking about politics, over dinner, at parties, or on the bus. Sometimes they’d get drunk, or make love or play a soccer game.
Hollis: I agree. And I think there’s a misconception that to make something political or even to just identify something as political diminishes or dilutes the musicality or pleasure of music or entertainment. As if politics is necessarily righteous, straight faced, and preachy. To us, music is discourses and dialogues, and if music isn’t talking about something then it’s not really music, now is it?
GH: There’s a complex discourse surrounding the objectification of women in hip hop – do you feel pressure to put forward a particular image?
Hollis: The whole idea of CanarySing, Maddy and I doing music together, is that we were going to be unabashedly ourselves: young women who like to read and learn, who like to debate and think critically, who are working to claim all of our power and not forever compromise our talent and our message, and also who like to kick it and dress cute and go out and dance, etc. Obviously we’ve been brought up in a sexist culture, and hip-hop music acutely reflects sexist conditions, compounded with issues of race and class.
A lot of people are really surprised when they see us perform, like, “you just blew my mind,” because what we did – rap – was so drastically removed from what people expected of us. To be objectified means to be treated as an object. By speaking out on the mic, being on stage, being in a partnership, we are flipping the equation, making ourselves the subjects. So no matter what image we push forward – which is basically just us, being ourselves – we are radically challenging the traditional treatment of women in almost all historical forms of cultural expression.
GH: Hip hop vs. poetry – how do you negotiate all the history you’re coming from as rappers as opposed to spoken word artists?
Maddy: I personally feel that hip-hop is poetry. Spoken word and hip-hop come from a similar vein. Shows like Def Poetry Jam hosted by Mos Def are a prime example of that. The only difference I see between the two is that when you rap you usually fit a rhyme scheme into bars. I started off with spoken word, but my poetry was always really rhythmic so rapping was a natural progression for me. It also challenged me to be a better, more meticulous, writer because I had to “compound concepts.”
GH: Are you seeking a deal with a label or producer, or do you prefer to be independent artists?
Hollis: We will always be independent artists. I could write a book about how the music industry is shifting dramatically, and trying to emulate the grassroots nature and outreach strategies of independent artists. But even if we sign with a label, it will be on our own terms. That’s what being a boss lady is about!