Interview: Anya our Lyrical Street Queen
Anya's recent release, "The Unkind Summer" is original material that will blow you away. No lexicon or beats are spared in delivering high quality lyricism and storytelling. The summer may have been unkind but her music is anything but. I had the great fortune of seating with her for an interview. She arrived with her partner and producer Bluu Suede, another talented music-maker who has worked with a variety of artists including Jill Scott and Raspody. I have to say I immediately liked her. I liked her vibe, the way she was down to earth, and engaged. Find out more about what she had to say:
Hi Anya, it's great that you took the time to talk to me about what you are doing music wise. I am sure what is mostly on people's mind is how you got started?
I've been writing all my life. I have always written but I think everything changed when I was about 12 or 13. That's when I started getting into hiphop. You know, I did things at school. We used to get together and have cyphers at lunch. We'd have contest and battles. Then I stopped. I had my first kid at 17. I was pregnant when I graduated. I wouldn't say that the desire wasn't there to make music but the time, the mental and creative energy wasn't there. I was trying to survive at that time. I didn't write or rap for 15 years. About two years ago, Bluu (Bluu Suede) and I got together and I got into writing for other people. Together we have written for other artists. Eventually, he did two years in LA, doing the LA thing, and then came back to Austin in 2010. I expressed interest in wanting to do the artist thing myself. I wanted to just feel it out and see where it went. When I started, I got a good response. People liked it. People latched on to it. They were surprised but it fed my creativity. I released my first mix tape about a year after that.
How did you and Bluu connect?
Corporate job at Apple. We met there. Doing the full-time work thing is draining.
How do you find that balance? How do you motivate yourself to do the thing that you love? You know it is in you but it doesn't always mean you have the motivation to do it. I'm curious to know, especially when you have a kid.
I have two kids. Sometimes it can be hard for me to be self-motivated. It is tough for me to want to do these things. If I don't indulge my desire to create, I get pent up. Bluu can tell you that when I am on the verge of writing something great, I get more free.
I work till 4, the little one comes home, does his homework. I am cooking, cleaning, taking care of the house, by time 9:30 or 10PM hits, I am tired. I have learned this is part of my process. I need to let myself rest. If I go to bed at 10pm, I might wake up at 2am. The house is completely quiet. Everything is fine. My mind is clear. I can go into the studio and work. It is about taking that time to myself and knowing how to get myself to the point where I am open. I can grab whatever is in the universe and put it down. It took a while to formulate that. Bluu taught me that not to be so structured. It is not that I have put on headphones, take a pad, take a pen, and write. Forcing myself to write. It doesn't always work that way. It comes how it comes.
What was the name of your first mix tape?
The mix tape was called "Pretty Color, Bad News." With that one, I took some industry tracks, not too many. It's 75/80% original tracks. I got a good response on that. I took nine more months to write this new album "The Unkind Summer." This was completely original. There are 17 tracks. Everything that was pent up over the past 15 years that I didn't write, it's all in this album. I am working on one or two other project right now; I find that when I write and when I create, I'm creating from two different sides of my mind. There is this practical, down to earth side; and there is this more boastful, braggadocios side. I kind of write from both perspective at once. I can't lump all of that together. I think it has to be separate. I don't want to give people the impression that I am all over the place. I took a long time off but now it is something that I work at everyday.
How do you think your time off helped develop your style from when you were 17 and right now? Have you seen a transformation or has it stayed the same?
To tell you the truth, I don't remember what my style was like back then. That's how long it was. I can't dig up a recording or videotape. I have nothing. I count on other people who remember me doing this or that. Where I am now is completely up here in my head. I don't allow too much outside influence from other artists. I do what I feel. I gauge the response of other people and get Bluu's professional industry opinion on it and go from there.
After 15 years, most people would just say, I give up! What was the trigger? What made you say I am going to go back into the studio and try again?
It's going to sound funny. I try not to come from a place of negativity. When I hear what is out there. I feel like it's almost my duty to come back and do it right. To say, look, there is a different way to do this. We don't have to be vulgar, we don't have to put each other down, we don't have to be mean or nasty to each to make good music. I figure the best way for me to get that out into the world is to put it out into the world. The response that I have gotten is that people recognize that for what it is. That's all I want to do is change the world in my own little way.
What was the inspiration for your track "Not Chief Nor Beggars" that was featured in Austin Hip Hop Scene's monthly mix tape release?
Everything I do, I feel like I have to challenge myself to make it as poetic and as beautiful as I can. Even if I am saying the most common of things, I'm going to make it stand out and make it distinctive. So I got the track from one of our producers. It is a very simple track. It's basically a loop with no changes. Like a minute and a half long. I think this might have been the first song I wrote in 2012. So I said, I'm just going to see where it takes me. I am thinking about my everyday life. I don't want to rule the world. I don't want to be the richest woman alive. I care about being comfortable and surviving but I don't care about material things. Then again, I don't want to be broke. It's not fun. I just want to be happy. I figured everyone can relate to that. I just wanted it to also be poetic. That's where Not Chief Nor Beggar came from.
What I'm hoping is that by the time you get into that line "Not Chief nor Beggar" you start repeating it. Most people don't listen to lyrics. That was hard for me to accept at first. A statistic I read said 80% of people don't listen to lyrics. I feel like if I can start to rope them in by using my voice and using key words, and i can grab their attention by the time I get into that second verse, I've got their attention, they are listening, and they feel my message. They want to go back and listen again.
Who are your favorite female rappers or emcee?
Anya: I always dread when people ask me this question. I don't even like it when they ask who my favorite rapper is period! I never really know. I have people that I admire like Jay Z. I think if I had the chance to sit down in a room with any hip-hop artist and pick their brain. It would be him. He has mastered the lyricism, the catchiness, the business aspect of it. I want to be that. I want to be able to do it all. As far as female influences, I have to say honestly I don't have any. Part of it is because I just reject that title "female rapper", I don't want to be known as a female rapper. I want to be known as a rapper.
Bluu: Most of the dudes that address her, address her as a rapper. Not even best female or best anything, just the best. I won't accept for anyone to call her a female rapper because she isn't just a female rapper. If people don't respect female rapper. Artist that hold their own identity.
There are a lot of young girls out there who need an example of someone they can be. I have been a mentor and I hear girls tell me, I don't know if I can do that. I want to pull up examples but sometimes there aren't any…thoughts?
At this point, I think this is my job. I meet younger girls. I see the responses from young girls and it pushes me to keep going because I know they are seeing, hearing, and feeling something that they haven't before. They know that they don't have to be sexual as in Nicki (Minaj) or as hidden or as underground as some other artist. They can be sexy. They can be tasteful. It is ok to be your regular talented self and not have to apologize for it; not have to gloss it up, gloss it over, and pretend you are something you are not. It was also tough coming back into it being of a certain age too. I had to get a lot of reassurance from Bluu. I am unsure. What are people going to say? I have a son that is 16, he just got a drivers license! How is he going to look at me? What are his friends going to say to him? I always have these things on my mind. I am always conscious of these things. My parents listen to my music...
How would you define your style? Your message to the world. Who are you in this world?
I want to say it right. I want to say it right. It's basically, "Don't box me in!"
This goes back to being a woman in a male dominated industry. When I meet a lot of people. Guys figure out that I do music, they think it is cute. They laugh or they don't deal with me. They deal with Bluu. They ask him what I'm up to, what I'm doing and so on. I could be standing right there. They'll look completely through me. My thing is just to let folks know that I'm here. I have a voice. I have something to say. That's it. That's what it boils down to. I don't get to exercise that part of my personality in my daily life a lot because I have got responsibilities. I have got stuff to maintain. I do have a job. I do have to be at my son's school. I've got to be a mother, a girlfriend, and so on. I do have these things to do but that's not my whole life.
There is a part of me that's a fighter. There's a part of me that's very very militant. And my music is the way for me to express that.