So far as album titles that encapsulate the essence of an artist, Mama Duke’s “Ballsy” is pretty much as good because it will get.
The rapper, an out-and-proud lesbian, doesn’t pull punches on her full-length debut, an 11-song, 27-minute blitzkrieg of hard-hitting bars tempered by a Drake-ish knack for a sing-song hook. On lead monitor “Ghost,” she skewers the rappers who ignored her warmth on the come-up. She mocks her haters, stacks her paper and flaunts her sexual prowess on debut single “Mad.” By the point she warns you to step off her imaginary male appendage within the penultimate monitor “Get Off My (Expletive),” the gauntlet has been laid, the (ahem) sword unsheathed. It is gender-bending braggadocio.
“Once I say that on stage, it feels so good to be embraced,” the rapper also referred to as Kori Roy mentioned over a Zoom name from her household’s residence in late December, every week after the album dropped. The hate is cool, too. She’s amused by the lads who really feel compelled to remind her that she is just not truly in possession of mentioned appendage.
“I really like that vitality. Inform me. Please, inform me once more. I really like the best way you get,” she mentioned.
The aggro rap that propels the gathering of rapid-fire bangers fleshes out her “Ballsy” persona, however Roy is fast to notice that it’s only one facet to her artistry.
“I am a lot greater than this aggressive rap, however I’m that naturally,” she mentioned. “I needed to be that. It retains me secure. It is my protection mechanism.”
She calls it her “armor.”
“You’d by no means method me with any (expletive). Why? You understand, I would not take that (expletive). Does not imply behind the scenes I am not crying with my woman in mattress as a result of I really feel like I am not embraced by town,” she mentioned.
‘I felt empowered my entire life’
Roy grew up within the small coastal city of Palacios the place there’s “just one site visitors gentle. Like, the largest retailer is Household Greenback,” she mentioned.
As a younger lesbian coming into her personal, her mom — who acknowledged that her daughter could be homosexual earlier than Roy put the items collectively herself — was her largest supporter.
“I felt actually secure,” Roy mentioned. “It was like, OK, my mother mentioned it was cool, (expletive) what y’all speaking about.”
In 2003, Roy was one of many first individuals in her small-town highschool to return out, however she didn’t really feel afraid. When a trainer known as her out for holding her girlfriend’s hand within the hallway, Roy pointed to a straight couple throughout the best way and insisted the college apply guidelines persistently. The trainer relented.
“I’ll endlessly be glad about my mother,” she mentioned. She described herself as “Black, queer, a masculine-presenting lady,” marginalized by society at massive, however “I felt empowered my entire life.”
At college, “everyone would huddle round at lunch” and freestyle, spitting nonsense and information off the highest of their domes, she mentioned. Extra enamored by the gang and the vitality than the rap itself, at some point she mustered the braveness to take a shot. The one lady within the recreation, she stood out amongst her male friends.
“I used to be the best, dopest rapper, as a result of I used to be a feminine,” she mentioned.
However highschool hype comes with an expiration date. A pair years after commencement, Roy was bumming round her hometown whereas her pals went to varsity. When she determined to enlist within the Military, her mom satisfied her to decamp to Houston as an alternative. Staying with an uncle within the large metropolis, the world opened up. She enrolled in pictures lessons on the Artwork Institute however quickly realized that music was her actual ardour.
“So after I heard that Austin was the Stay Music Capital of the World, I immediately thought my desires (have been) there. In order that’s why I moved to Austin to do music,” she mentioned.
The capital metropolis wasn’t precisely the music mecca Roy was anticipating to search out, and at first she struggled to search out her place.
“Austin could be very whitewashed,” she mentioned.
She additionally grappled with crippling stage fright. For 2 years, she haunted the sting of open mic nights however by no means stepped as much as take a flip.
“I’d get nauseated interested by even occurring stage,” she mentioned.
Then at some point, an acquaintance provided her a slot on a bunch present. She mentioned sure earlier than she had an opportunity to second-guess herself.
“I used to be simply thrown into it,” she mentioned. “It was similar to, ‘Rattling, proper right here, I’ve to step up.’”
She was prepared. That gig led to a different gig, and by her third go-round, she was opening for Naughty by Nature at Empire Storage.
Roy believes her speedy rise was as a result of her energy as an entertainer. “It is greater than music,” she mentioned. “Individuals love me. So then they love my music, not the opposite approach round.”
‘Discovered a Manner’
Whereas Roy was mustering the energy to take the stage, her coronary heart was increasing in different methods. She had fallen in love with a British YouTuber. For 4 years, Roy and Keeley Thomas courted over Skype. Ultimately, the 2 married, and Thomas relocated to Austin and have become Keeley Roy. Collectively, they made a fierce crew. They created lovable YouTube movies about their relationship, and Keeley turned a recurring character in Mama Duke’s songs. The British expat turned Mama Duke’s DJ. Behind the scenes, she was the artwork director for “Ballsy.”
With the hip-hop business barely recovering from many years of rampant homophobia, some members of the family questioned Roy’s choice to middle her sexuality in her music. When she drops new Mama Duke joints on-line, she usually consists of hashtags like “queer” and “LGBTQ.”
“Why do it’s a must to, you realize, inform individuals you are homosexual? How many individuals do you see that seem like you?” she remembered her brother asking early on in her profession.
However Roy was decided to extend visibility and write her personal narrative. For the previous couple many years, the accepted lane for girls in hip-hop has been hypersexual, however Roy has “by no means been like this attractive bitch,” she mentioned.
“What’s tremendous cool about being genuine is that I do not consider lanes; I am simply naturally in a single,” she mentioned.
“Did this (expletive) with three whammys/ To make it up I would like three Grammys/ as a result of I’m Black, feminine and homosexual and by some means nonetheless discovered a approach,” she raps on “Discovered a Manner” her voice rising triumphantly as she bridges into the hook.
Roy believes the nationwide consciousness is turning into extra open and accepting.
“Individuals are prepared for it. Individuals wish to see us,” she mentioned. “It is larger than the music. Individuals wish to see us on movie. And on stage. You understand, I really like the place it is in proper now.”
A very powerful factor to her is making music that’s “impactful,” she mentioned. She has cultivated a group of followers who’re deeply invested in her as an individual. They message her to say how her confidence evokes them. They ship her their popping out tales. When she dropped a line of merchandise to accompany the album proper earlier than Christmas, it bought out in 48 hours. She turned a task mannequin in an business missing proud lesbian figures.
“You simply really feel like it’s a must to placed on this cape. You are like, ‘Oh (expletive), there is not anyone like me. What am I gonna do with that?” she mentioned.
Although she does sometimes “get in my ignorant (expletive)” — rapping about debauchery — she additionally acknowledges the next social duty to her artwork. “I do drop mindless music, however I really feel prefer it’s my responsibility now to a minimum of discuss actual issues,” she mentioned.
‘Essentially the most blessed I’ve ever felt’
Earlier than the world shut down in 2020, Mama Duke was poised for a South by Southwest breakout. Gigs have been canceled and plans have been shelved, however because the 12 months unfolded, good got here with the dangerous.
“I believe the pandemic simply made me be like, ‘Sit your ass down and determine it out. Who’re you? What do you wish to be?’ And it allowed me to not have a job and actually be a musician,” she mentioned.
She was capable of full the album, engineer the rollout and get some profitable music writing alternatives within the works.
“That is essentially the most blessed I’ve ever felt in my life. That is essentially the most seen I’ve ever felt. That is the happiest I’ve ever been in my profession,” she mentioned. “I’ve essentially the most cash I’ve ever had. I’ve essentially the most alternative I’ve ever had. I’ve essentially the most peace I’ve ever had.”
After the pandemic and the racial reckoning of final summer season, Duke envisions the music business opening to a brand new chapter, an ideal reset.
“If the world opened again up, and we went proper again to the identical (expletive) … I really feel like we would not tolerate that (expletive) anymore,” she mentioned.
“Even me, like I used to stroll in rooms, and I’d by no means make myself smaller, however as Black individuals we study to adapt. As LGBTQ individuals we study to adapt. As ladies we study to adapt, when to make ourselves smaller, when to claim ourselves. We’re simply always strolling in numerous rooms and must put on these totally different masks. And I believe now, it is like, ‘I haven’t got to try this (expletive) anymore,’” she mentioned.
Roy has new music within the pipeline, however don’t be stunned if it’s softer across the edges.
Report execs, promoters and the media are all the time down with a feminine artist who appears good and sounds good. However what comes with being a masculine lady, Roy mentioned, is just not all the time understanding how you can embrace your femininity. “I am not this female lady,” she mentioned. “If I used to be a female lady, (I might) go up there and I might get a shot it doesn’t matter what.”
Roy all the time felt like she needed to masks her personal femininity with a tougher edge. “It was my responsibility to not be that for a very long time,” she mentioned.
She’s able to shed the armor. “Now, let me actually present you who I’m,” she mentioned.
MORE AUSTIN360 ARTISTS OF THE MONTH
ARTIST OF THE MONTH: MAMA DUKE
Members: Kori Roy aka Mama Duke, vocals; Keeley Roy aka Meme Keeley, DJ
Releases: “Ballsy,” 2020