For once, the Language Nerd is asking the questions, not answering them!
I’m joined by Bianca Clarke, a hip-hop artist from Mobile, Alabama, and the winner of both Hottest Female Mixtape and Hottest Breakout Artist at the 2015 Alabama Music Awards. She sat down with me to talk about language, hip-hop, and the language of hip-hop.
Hello Bianca, I appreciate you meeting up with me today.
I’m glad you came by, I appreciate the opportunity. I’ll try to answer these questions as best I can.
Alright! So, one reason that I was interested in interviewing you in particular is that you write your own music, which not everybody does. Can you tell me how you started writing?
I was very young, about 11. My aunt had a bookstore, and I worked in her bookstore. She was the editor for the Press-Register. So she’s a writer, and she taught me how to get into writing. English always has been my favorite subject. I’m just a natural writer first. Then it got into the music, but I just love writing. So I was like 11 when I started writing stories, different things like that.
And then how did that become writing music?
I started doing music in high school. I started just trying things, trying to see how could I turn it to the music. I got into the chorus at school, I started wanting to see if I could write my own music. So I put my singing talent, my rapping talent, with my writing talent, and just combined them. I didn’t know I would be good at it, I just practiced and practiced. I’m still getting better and better now.
Awesome. Can you walk me through your writing process, if you’re gonna write a new song?
It’s not really a process. Sometimes, I could be in the car, and listen to a beat, and I’ll actually get my phone out and record something, if something come to my head, like a melody or something like that that I don’t wanna forget. That’s the start, right there, an idea. Then sometimes I might sit down and actually write everything out. It go out vibes, how I’m feeling. That’s pretty much what it is, like I just write off what I feel. I start off with my hooks in my music. I make sure I get my hook, and then I do my verses.
I saw your interview with 93BLX, where you mentioned that hooks are your specialty. What’s different about writing the hooks versus writing verses?
Well, the hook is the most important part. It has to be catchy, it has to be stuck in people’s head. That’s the main part of the song, is the hook. A lot of people don’t really understand that. When I hear a lot of people writing things, they verses be on point, but the hook don’t be about nothing, and the whole song is messed up. The hook is a very important part. You can have a smashing hook, and you might not even be talking about much in the verses, but as long as that hook is stuck in people head and they keep hearing it… The hook you hear three or four times so it has to stick.
Another thing you mention in the 93BLX interview is that you consider writing any song to be similar to writing a rap, and it depends more on the delivery. Can you expand on that a little?
Basically, it’s different genres of music. I feel like whatever you write, you can deliver it in different ways. It starts out rapping, though. Even if I’m writing a country song, as I’m writing it, if I speak it, it’s rapping. And then I put the vocals in and make it a country song, or a pop song, or an R&B song. But I feel like it starts off rapping.
So you’re very words-first, lyrics-first.
Exactly. And I have to go through and say it first, to make sure it makes sense. That’s what I meant by that, that really we all rap. If you write music, when you first write it, it’s rapping, because you haven’t put a vocal to it yet, you haven’t did anything different. You talking. And that’s what rap is, what hip-hop is, dope lyrics and a nice voice.
Gotcha. So are there any differences? If you were gonna sit down and say, “Ok, this time I’m gonna write a country song,” is there anything that would be different in your mind when you were doing that?
Yeah, it’d be different… The topics would be different. Maybe the way I write the hook. If I was writing gospel or rock and roll, it would be different. I would approach it differently, because those genres are different. I study the different genres, so I know how to go into writing a song for whatever I’m writing it for. If somebody came to me and they’re a country artist and they want me to write them a song, I’ve studied country music, so I know what they talk about, I know what makes sense. Because certain lyrics in country music and other music, they don’t really have to make sense.
In hip-hop, you can’t just say anything and people gonna like it. But with country, it doesn’t really matter what you say, they like melodies and they like the nice tracks. They big on melodies. You can listen to some country music and it really don’t make no sense, but the song, itself, people love it. So it’s different. It’s all about studying the different genres and knowing how to approach certain things.
Alright. When you’re writing, how do you construct your rhymes?
I just listen to the beat. I’ll listen to it over and over again, and then I’ll get an idea of what I want to talk about. And then I go into the content. I don’t really break down my bars. I actually write my music as if I’m writing a story.
Really! Like prose?
Mmhmm. That’s the way I’m used to writing. That’s how I started, writing stories and stuff. My aunt used to have me writing, my mom used to have me revising her papers when I was younger. I was probably 12, and my mom had me go through some stuff that she had to type. I would go through and revise it. I’m good at writing and English. So when I write, I write as if I’m writing a story. Nobody would be able to read my lyrics and go back and rap it, because of the way I write. They wouldn’t understand it. Some people write a bar, skip a line, write another bar, skip a line… I just write.
Do you have any thoughts about why hip-hop in particular has such a focus on flow and rhyme, as opposed to other or older kinds of poetry or lyrics?
I think cause that’s where it started from. DJs started hip-hop, and they started with that beat. It starts with that music and that beat. Even if you go back to people beating on they chest, it has to be a certain type of rhythm. It’s hip-hop. Hip-hop makes you feel good, it’s that type of music that makes you wanna dance, make you wanna have fun. You got some hip-hop music that might not be up-tempo, but the lyrics hit you and it makes you feel it, makes you relate to what they saying.
I just think that the beat is the first thing it come from. I think that’s the reason why it’s so big on rhythm, and the way you say certain words, it has to have rhythm. Hip-hop has to have rhythm, whether it’s up-tempo or a slow tempo song, it has to be a rhythm, that make that stick. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not gonna be nothing else.
The DJ, the beatbox, like Doug E. Fresh, those type of people made it. Because it started with rhythm before lyrics. Hip-hop used to just be music, used to be tracks from DJs putting together they own little rhythm, they own little tracks. It used to just be house music, and then people started adding lyrics. So it started with the rhythm, and that’s why it’s so important.
Coming to a different point, I think everybody’s aware of the divide between East Coast and West Coast hip-hop, but you don’t hear about the Gulf Coast so much. Can you tell me what’s distinctive down here?
I think the talent here is way better, and I’m not saying that just because I’m from here. We have to go way harder, because we want people to pay attention down here. This is where all the talent is, I can honestly say that. A different type of artist, not just one type. I know I come across a different kind of artist all the time.
On top of that, we’re three different states combined. You got Florida, and you got Mississippi, and you got Alabama. We’re all the Gulf Coast. So it’s not just Mobile. It’s crazy how we are combined, cause you know Florida thirty minutes away, Mississippi thirty minutes away. So it’s different artists, different styles.
The performances from here, these people be going in. It’s some very good performers down here, and that’s what’s distinct. Just based off of me going out of town, and going to different places, they don’t put as much in they performance the way that people would do down here. I have to give it to people, that people be going in with their performances down here. Very very good entertainers.
I’ve been to different states and cities, and I go to different open mics around, and our open mics are just way better when it comes to talent. And I’m good on talent. If I go out of town and do an open mic, I instantly would win. I’m just sayin! Every time I go out of town, it’s nothing hard to do, but here, at one of the open mics, Runmob — shout-out to DJ Oktoba — it’s hard. You going up against twenty artists, and you have to make yourself stand out, and these artists are going hard. Just cause they not on a certain level [of fame], these people are going hard. You have to come with it, cause it’s some talented people down here, I can really say that. I’d just say the Gulf Coast, it’s long-awaited. It’s overdue, and it’s time. I feel like people are about to start branching out from here.
One language thing that hip-hop is known for and that you’re defying is the stage name. You occasionally go by Queen B, but mostly when I see your shows and your CDs and things it’s under Bianca Clarke.
People always ask me about that. I don’t call myself Queen B to make a name stick. [Other] people gave me that nickname. I’ve had that nickname since high school. I won Prom Queen, and from me having a “B” name, people started calling me Queen B. And then I continued doing my music, went off to school, and it just stuck. But I go by Bianca Clarke, my first and last name.
I feel like the greats go by their first and last name. You have Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, you have Beyonce, Alicia Keys, you have Missy Elliott, you have Bianca Clarke.
So in the same style?
Mmhmm. I feel like God gave me the name from birth, cause He knew what I was gonna do, so He made it a name that I could use and not have to change up, cause that’s my real name.
One other thing that hip-hop is known for is shocking imagery. And as it becomes more mainstream, is there a push find new ways of getting a shock? I’m thinking of your song “9/11,” which seems like something that might get people to go [gasp] “I can’t believe she said that!” Which people don’t do for a lot of songs right now.
I took [9/11] and compared it to music, to the industry, and what we going through. A lot of artists are the World Trade Centers in my mind, and I’m the airplane that’s gonna blow them up. But it’s not in a bad way. I’m using it another way, it’s my creativity. I don’t wanna say the wrong thing, cause I know that it’s a touchy touchy subject, and I know that people lost a lot of family members and people they’ll never see again, behind that tragedy. But instead of making a sad song like everybody else been doing, I took it and made it into a song where I compared it to the industry and how I feel right now. I say I’m knocking people down like 9/11. I’m making my way through.
I was iffy about that song, though. Cause I didn’t want people to be like, “Is she being disrespectful?” or this and that. But how can I write a sentimental song about it when I don’t know nobody that was involved in that. I can’t be fake like that and get deep into it. We stay all the way down South. I know about 9/11, but it didn’t fully, completely affect me the way it did people from New York. So I didn’t want to be fake about it.
But I did like the subject. When I thought about it, I’m like, “Man, that’s crazy.” Because it’s all about competition. It’s all people trying to be on top, and want things their way. And that’s the way the industry is. It’s all about competition. So I just compared the two topics and mushed them into one.
What are some ways that you see hip-hop changing or evolving in the future?
Over the years, it has changed a lot. It has gotten worse than it used to be, in my opinion. But now I’m starting to see a different type of thing going on. People are making better music now. A lot of the BS music is going away.
What’s the improvement?
In terms of content, of style…?
Content, style, lyrics, just not coming with a gimmick. Don’t have to be a gimmick, they can get up there in a T-shirt and some jeans and rock it out. They don’t have to have no crazy-looking stuff. It’s strictly about the music, and that’s what it’s supposed to be about. At the end of the day it’s all about the music. Slowly but surely, it’s coming back. It had got worse over the years, but it’s getting better now.
Also as part of the future, do you see women becoming a stronger force in hip-hop?
Yeah, definitely. Thanks to Nicki Minaj. The people before her too, but what she has done, nobody’s ever done as far as a female hip-hop artist. She has kicked the door open for people like me to be able to do what I do. She’s very smart. The way she came in the industry and dominated the industry, she is really killing dudes right now. So thanks to people like her that has came along and made it possible for us to be able to take over on a whole nother level.
It used to be where if you wasn’t up under a dude, you wouldn’t get a certain notoriety. But Nicki Minaj is doing her own thing. She’s not known off of a verse on a Lil Wayne song. She’s known because of her music. And that’s the difference. A lot of female artists have came along, but they don’t have they own significance. They hiding up under a man, whether it’s they CEO or they boyfriend or whatever, they hiding up under them and I don’t respect artists like that. Not being mean, but I feel like a woman should have her own significance. You shouldn’t let a man dignify you as an artist, you should do your own thing. There’s nothing wrong with that platform, like how [Lil Wayne] brought [Minaj] into the industry, but she took that and spent it and did her own thing. She could sit around and wait on Lil Wayne to help her do certain things, and she’ll be looking crazy. She wouldn’t be doing as much as she doing now.
She took that platform and went up. She went into things like, “Ok, God blessed me with this opportunity so I’m gonna make the best out of it that I can do.” A lot of females don’t do that. So by her doing that, she has kicked the door open, and they are paying more attention to female artists now. Because they see that a female hip-hop artist is capable of being on the Forbes list. So I have got to give it to Nicki Minaj. It’s a little bit easier now. Before her, it was pretty hard. Trina too, but right now, Nicki Minaj did something that no one else has done.
Does being a woman in a male-dominated field influence your writing?
It does sometimes. I get to writing sometimes and if I’m mad about something, I come off very aggressive. It [influences me] when I do my rap music. Now when I’m writing my R&B, it’s a little different. But rap, I come hard, because I’m coming up against guys. I have to come hard. My goal is to have men rapping my lyrics, and they do. And that’s hard for a female artist to get. It’s hard for a man to like your music to where they know your lyrics word for word. And I have people all the time write on my [Facebook] wall and my page, and they’ll write my lyrics word for word, and it be guys. So that right there is my goal.
Females, it’s easy, because females gonna relate to females anyway. We know, we have some of the same emotions and things that we go through. But I’m trying to get the guys too. If you can get the guys to really like your music, a female hip-hop artist, you doing something. And it’s all about content. You have to be smart about what you choose to write about.
It’s different being a woman in a male-dominated industry, it is. It makes me have to go harder. You got these rappers, they going hard, and I don’t want them saying that they could outdo me, so I try to go hard every time. Bar for bar, I try to go hard.
On a more local note, where was your video for “Toe Tag” filmed?
I actually was on the bridge back here [the Cochrane-Africatown bridge]. Behind me was the steel mills and the city. I like that bridge, and I was like, I don’t understand why nobody ever utilized this bridge in videos, because it’s so pretty. It’s like one of the prettiest parts in Mobile. That bridge is gorgeous at night, and the whole scenery. So I just wanted to utilize that scenery, do something different, and show off our city. I’ve had people ask me where I was at. I’m like, I’m in Mobile! I’m still here in Mobile, I didn’t go out of town.
People always do they stuff downtown. You can tell where you at down there, cause we don’t have that many buildings. So you know that you in Mobile! But by me doing that over there, you can’t really tell. Cause we don’t really use that bridge like that.
So many people only know Dauphin Street.
Exactly. I just wanted to use something different.
I gotta wrap up now,
but looking forward to seeing you at Bayfest next month. Yes, October 2nd, Friday, I’ll be closing out the show with Matthew Bates. He’s gonna play his band behind me on the Launching Pad stage, 10:15! I have 45 minutes to make an impact. This’ll be my first year, so I’m very excited about that. Everybody come out and support local artists.
Locals that’s headed to national. I’ll be national by next year. That’s a guarantee. Cause I’m not gonna stop working.
I believe it.
I appreciate you for coming by.
Thank you so much for talking with me today.
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So within hours of this post going up, Bayfest was friggin cancelled, two weeks before the show, out of nowhere. Not cool, y’all. But Bianca’s new project, “Direct Message,” will be dropping Oct 2, so look out for that!