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Don’t front, you probably can't name three female Houston MCs of any substance. It’s not that they’re any less talented, it’s just that so much of rap is centered around misogyny and cock-strong braggadocio that a female looking to do anything other than, say, poppin’ her coochie is immediately dismissed as a malcontent.
That said, there happen to be several extremely talented female rappers in Houston She immediately comes to mind, and so does she. And Kenika sits somewhere near the top of that admittedly short list.
We were able to get a few minutes in with Kenika by phone yesterday prior to her performance at Mr. A’s (3409 Calvalcade), and she was gracious enough to answer our questions about her start in rapping, the definition of “swag” and her non-beef with any other female MCs.
Houston Press: Can you tell us how you first got started in the rap game? Is that what it’s called, “the rap game”? We’ve never been terribly sure about that and always feel a bit silly saying it.
Kenika: Yeah, we call it the rap game.
K: When I first began rapping it was like, the seventh grade. I used to be the only female at the table, rapping with the guys, beating on the table, just going back and forth. At first I didn’t take it too seriously. I just started innocently in middle school, but people were encouraging me, like, “Oh, it sounds good. You need to continue.” And it just really kind of boosted me up to continue doing what I was doing. I was about, probably, 13.
HP: Who is Kevin Tatum?
K: My oldest son who’s seven, that’s his father. He’s in prison serving a 45-year sentence for a murder that we’re trying to convince everyone was self-defense. I feel like since he’s in the prison system his voice was taken away, who better than me to speak [on it], knowing I have fans and listeners. I just feel like things that are going on in the prison system are very corrupt. He was not heard though on [his] case, I feel like it was an unfair case. I also have a four-year-old son whose father is serving a 20-year sentence so that’s just really close to home.
HP: Are you able to keep in touch with them pretty regularly?
K: Yes. I write both of them letters, I send pictures and I also visit my oldest little boy’s father because he’s very close, about 45 minutes away. My four-year-old’s father is a little far right now but he’s getting moved closer. Also, KPFT’s Damage Control [radio program], it’s a [show] a lot of prisoners listen to and I’ve been going up there for a while. I keep in touch with them and do let them know that I’m holding it down for them, basically
K: [laughs] To be honest with you, I looked at it and I actually applied for it, but I applied about a week too late.
HP: No kidding?
K: Yeah, it was after the cutoff date, so I guess they already had their people picked. I watched it and it was mediocre. I expected it to be something else. I was discouraged. I couldn’t even tell you who won, but I did look at it.
HP: I don’t think anyone could tell you who won. It seemed to be more them showcasing a gimmick than anything else, you know?
K: Yeah. I think it was a waste of TV time. I don’t think they were trying to make an artist.
HP: Yeah, exactly. Next question, can you explain exactly what “swag” is and how one goes about getting it? We hear it used all the time, but have never really been clear on its definition.
K: Swag is like, the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you dress, the way that you handle things. I don’t really know if you can earn it or you just kind of have it, but it’s everything about someone.
HP: Are there different levels of swag?
K: Of course. Somebody might have a little swag to where they’re not considered completely lame and some people’s swag just sticks with you even after they leave, so you remember it. That’s the best type of swag to have, I guess. The ones that don’t get remembered don’t have swag.
HP: Can it be applicable to professions outside of rapping? Can a lawyer have swag, or maybe a realtor?
K: Of course. It’s not just for rappers. It’s just kind of a positive effect to where people remember you.
HP: The other girl we were going to ask you about was [fellow Houston rapper] Troublesum. Maybe get some trouble started. But we just heard that you and her have done some work together. Can you talk about that?
K: I had met Troublesum a while back, and recently when I went to KPFT we were both there so we both did an interview. I actually met a lot of talented female rappers there. I agreed with a lot of things [Troublesum] said. We’re all in our lanes and doing our own things, you know. I don’t have time for that. I’m not worried about any other female rapper, but I’m in my lane, and if someone comes in my lane they will get run over. I’m not trying to be her and she’s not trying to be me, you know what I’m saying?
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K: [laughs] Okay.
HP: Great. So thanks for the time, Kenika, and congrats on your success thus far. We really hope to hear from you again.
K: Bitch, please. [click]
Keep tabs on your favorite rap chick (and purchase her swag-heavy mixtape, Diary of a Hood Chick) at www.myspace.com/kenikamusic. - Shea Serrano