Genesis Blu: Defiant Southern Empress of the Houston Hip-Hop Scene

Genesis Blu: Defiant Southern Empress of the Houston Hip-Hop Scene
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
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Genesis Blu
May 5, 2017

Midway through Genesis Blu's record-release-party set, we found ourselves waiting. Pictures of famous black women — entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, star athlete Serena Williams, trailblazing congresswoman Shirley Chisholm — cascaded across the Rockefellers ceiling. Her all-black, all-female band sat waiting patiently. Anticipation crackled as the crowd kept their phones trained on the stage. But sometimes it takes a minute for a flower to reach full bloom.

That's the driving philosophy behind Bluming Season, the latest release from the self-proclaimed "Fem C" Genesis Blu. The album germinated from a moment when life came at Genesis fast: In the fall of 2016, she tore her Achilles tendon, leaving her mostly bedridden for two months. As she put it, "everything stopped"; the injury made it both physically and mentally difficult for her to move forward. That was a tough pill to swallow for Genesis, who at the time was holding down three jobs, including the challenging work of being a licensed therapist at Harris County Health Center.

Stripped of her normal means of inspiration — nature, her vibrant social networks, even the city of Houston itself — the artist had to look inward to find the creative spark for her album. Her recovery and her creative process wandered through the stages of grief, ultimately coming to a state of acceptance that permeates her current work. "I was in pain, but I didn't want to complain," Genesis explained in an interview before her set. "People have this thought that there's a timeline," she said. "I have to finish college by this time. I have to be a musician by this time. But there is no timeline. There are no boundaries. There are no limits. You say when."

Genesis Blu: Defiant Southern Empress of the Houston Hip-Hop Scene
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Listening to the album, it's clear that Genesis Blu is "saying when" right now. Bluming Season overflows with a sense of urgency. From the image of her as a fussing June-born infant on "Gem.N.I" to the fully bloomed woman on "Melanin Monroe," Genesis Blu demands that her personal message of perseverance be heard. The album is compassionate but makes no apologies; "Even a blind man is born with insight," she raps, one of the many bootstrapping lyrics emblematic of her project.

That message-driven work, woven together with "Golden Era" hip-hop beats, 2Pac samples and the rapper's sly country twang, gives the music a distinctively '90s flavor while still maintaining a fresh flair. It also showcases the artist's binary, "Gemini" spirit: She's positive and poetic, yet crisp and caustic, with a maturing flow that refuses to be contained by contemporary rap tropes. Bluming Season, therefore, is not just a motivational speech chopped into eight bar bits; it's a personal statement that announces the artist's arrival.

For Genesis Blu, that arrival has been hard-fought, and hard-won. For all her H-Town love, which runs so deep it inspired her catchy single "Local Love," the rapper has at times found it hard to flourish here. She attributes this to a cultural inertia in the local rap scene, one that fails to provide a platform for new voices or foster nascent talent. She also laments the sexual pressures thrust on women MCs, driving them to leave Houston or rap music in general.

Genesis Blu: Defiant Southern Empress of the Houston Hip-Hop Scene
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

"I literally get told, 'You're going to have to do something sexy, or you're not going to make it,'" Genesis said. "At the end of the day, you respect Jay Z, you respect Nas, you respect Kendrick, you respect J. Cole...why does a woman have to be expected to show her body and be very sexual?"

Trying to cultivate a music career in such barren local soil gives Genesis bite. No song flaunts this like "The Sermon," which comes for lazy, sexist hip-hop with trenchant bars:

See I bleed for hip hop - not this new sensation;
I'm castratin' the penetration of any rapper that's blatantly
disrespectful, I'm leavin' 'em tagged toe,
I'm takin' over your coast K. Dot, I'm in control
And while you're ridin' Jay's pole, I'm plannin' to take over,
I'm outcha range like a rover.

For all of her positivity, and for all of her encouragement, the rapper gives would-be haters a stern warning: "You don't want to play chicken with the head fuckin' hen."

Genesis Blu: Defiant Southern Empress of the Houston Hip-Hop Scene
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

But that acerbic twist of the lyrical knife is less about posturing and more about Genesis Blu's careful commitment to herself. The artist navigates a musical landscape that can prune away the nerve, the ambition and the hope of even the most dedicated talent. With limited resources and support, the temptation to defy one's principles beckons with every turn.

So that's why Genesis took her time returning to the Rockefellers stage: her temporary silence was an act of defiance, a way to quietly claim herself in a world where everyone wants to lasso her body and voice. Her reappearance marked a point of rebirth; dressed in all white, head draped with the silver jeweled headpiece of a goddess, Genesis Blu emerged with her mike like an empress of the South. Her season, her time, her moment to bloom — it was finally here.

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