Austin is the city for live music; we have non-locals regularly coming to perform here at festivals such as ACL (Austin City Limits), SXSW or Sound on Sound Fest. However, for local artists (of any genre) but particularly hip hop, major celebrity status from the labels in Hollywood are far and few between. That’s why rappers here spend time enjoying their passion for music, giving back to the community by running events like Jump On It, or become a licensed musician for TV shows. All of those activities I mentioned though are information I gathered from MALE artists, and until this week I had never met a local female artist, or truly knew what that musical population looked like.
Story | Sara Loretta
Photo | Sara Loretta
I have always tended to be drawn to particular sounds in hip hop, rather than saying I like one sub-genre over the next. I believe in the power of vocality and have never listened to a rapper because she was female or because he was more respectful than other gangstas. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there isn’t an unequal balance in the gender gap. But that is exactly what the problem is a gender spectrum. Mainstream female artists are either extremely sexual like Niykee Heaton or are more masculine and “in your face” with their music like Remy Ma, so they can gain notoriety easily. There are female artists in the industry who leading the charge towards gender equality like Rapsody and Beyonce, but I wanted to learn more about finding balance in a historically male dominated industry. That’s why I wanted to sit down with a local female artist who isn’t on either one side of that pre-conceived spectrum and learn more about her dedication to staying true to self and not selling yourself out to become a categorized rapper based on gender, sexuality or topic content.
Since deciding to become a rapper a handful of years ago, Anastasia “FKA ANYA” has performed at several nightclubs around Austin including the Flamingo Cantina, a popular spot inhabited by Sway in the Morning during SXSW, and has won Austin’s Best Female Artist two years in a row at the Austin Hip Hop Awards. She’s also been interviewed by the Austin Chronicle and has been approached by upcoming artists for features; but Anastasia’s dedication to staying true to her personal message and love for her craft is what keeps her going and not the predetermined sexual categories of the music industry.
It’s no secret that hip hop has two extremes for their female artists; sexy (i.e Ciara, Niykee Heaton), or masculine like Missy Elliott and Young M. A. Unfortunately the individuals who are somewhere in the middle of those characteristics have maintained a steady career without explosive growth like Little Simz or Syd. While Anastasia is a tiny, tattooed and beautiful, she quickly realized that her power came from her voice and not her outfit.
“It has to do with creating my own sound, and how I am able to sell and get away with being my own thing altogether. I don’t do the extremely sexual thing so you can’t compare me to a Nicki Minaj and you can’t expect me to come out on stage dressed like a Nicki Minaj. I’m also not a Young M.A., I’m not talking about fucking niggas up and all this.”
“All of that is not for me, and you know when I was deciding that I really wanted to rap, that I was not going to hesitate when people say “hey what do you do?” I was going to say “I’m a rapper” without any irony or sense of having to feel like I’m apologizing for being a rapper. Everything I do I feel like has to be true to who I am as a person; when I go home and take all this on and put my sweats on, I’m still going to be the same Anastasia. So yeah, that’s my goal. I feel like it starts with the sound and and it just branches out from there.”
The music industry, particularly hip hop (not R&B) has minimally incorporated women rappers into the mainstream charts. Recently, Nicki Minaj explains herself as the change in the game for women, and made it easier to break through the male-dominated industry in a Rap-Up interview. However, for local rappers like Anastasia, respect doesn’t come from clothes or one banging record, it comes from having confidence in her craft.
“When I first started to take the artist thing seriously for myself, I knew that it was going to be an uphill battle. I did feel in the beginning like I had a lot to prove; and yes I did feel like I wasn’t being taken seriously by other male rappers. I don’t think I have anything to prove anymore, and that had a lot to do with my self-confidence and they way that I see things; and taking myself seriously. I couldn’t expect anyone else to take me seriously until I really took myself and my craft and my art fully seriously.”
Anastasia’s 2012 single “Not Chief Nor Begger” was a direct response to the above statement and a turning point in her career. While just short of 2 minutes, the track calls out the way the music industry transforms artists into having a different style in order to fit the mainstream mold (if they want fame and money enough). Anastasia proclaims that “no title, no position is nothing when it comes to my survival or ambition” and that she won’t chase any status as a rapper.
By setting landmark milestones for herself, Anastasia has been able to tap into specific areas of Austin that have historically not been as welcoming to hip hop such as The Drag at UT or the Austin Chronicle (a newspaper largely critical of local artists). However, she has had struggles like any other artist, such as being taking seriously by friends and family that have known her since she was little. In response, Anastasia is pushed to work harder and create better music for the community.
Anastasia’s 2017 EP Born to Love You is a cohesive project that embraces heartache, personal strength and vulnerability that stems from her personal experiences as an unsigned artist.
“Born to Love You was a product of me knowing that it was time for me to put out something, and feeling overlooked and taken for granted; and wondering why different things weren’t happening for me. I don’t have management; no one has ever come to me and said “hey I want to manage you, you’re so awesome, we believe in you” and I figured maybe people are just not hearing me, that maybe there’s a connection I’m just not making.”
Perhaps Anastasia is right, that there is a certain sound that management are looking to fill with hot young artists. It’s true that today upcoming artists who want to earn a record deal must have a certain look, sound and repertoire; but industry executives also don’t want over-saturation to wear them down (hence why you only see one version of Lauryn Hill). Of course there are people trying to replicate that persona, but they ultimately end up as independent or unsigned. On the other hand, record labels who are willing to invest in an individual or group want to get their money’s worth. If an artist is only capable of one album before forcefully changing their sound, they could lose their fan base and sales. I think this is why artist’s today who are signed either last (like Eminem) or fade away after a few years because they are no longer an artist but instead an untouchable material.
“I realized [from talking with Chaka from Riders of the Storm] that people just weren’t seeing my humanity, and maybe there’s just something else I can do and be a little more vulnerable. Born to Love You is a different side of me, that I think people get it a little more now. I think that if people can see something in common with me through my stories, then I’m doing the right thing.”
The music industry for everyone not just females is cut throat and oversaturated with non-originality. During our conversation Anastasia said that rapping for her is a passion, not a way to make a million dollars, and if you are entering the industry for that reason, you won’t last long. Her advice for young artists considering following music is to “embrace the vulnerability [on stage] or energy you feel, and to keep a critical eye on yourself, don’t run yourself to the ground but be strict on yourself. Every opportunity that someone has to listen to you, you have to be at your best, so go hard for yourself.”
You can find out more about Anastasia on her personal site, www.officialanya.com.