Merci D climbed on stage at the Dorchester Art Project last month for a half-hour opening set before Billy Woods, an underground New York rapper best known as half of the duo Armand Hammer. With her horseshoe-sized door knocker earrings swinging and the lights dimmed for the intimate yet packed engagement, the Dot MC spit and strutted, joked with people in the crowd, and walked us through the inspirations driving her tracks. It was a show of confidence almost unheard of for an artist with a few years under their belt, let alone one who just started performing a few months ago.
“I’ve been making music since I was 12, but professionally I’ve been doing it since last year,” Merci says. She’ll be opening for TiDES this Friday at the Verb Hotel as part of the Dig’s installment of Off The Record, an up-and-comer series hosted by Redefined and the Boston Music Awards. “I used to be in the church choir, and I have an appreciation for gospel, but rap has always been my music.”
She continues, “I came up on a lot of old-school R&B. My first indulgence with hip-hop was from girls like Lil Mama and Nicki Minaj. Really it was a lot of girls who were in the picture, a lot of stuff like Mary J. Blige.”
These were more than mere influences. They set Merci on a course to be the boss.
“Once I learned about Nicki Minaj, it was game over from that point. I was like, This is fire, I fuck with this. I just happen to be coming up in the age of Limewire, and I was coming up on Nicki tracks early. It would end up on my iPod Shuffle, and I just thought she brought something so different for hip-hop that I never thought about before. Not to say that it hadn’t been done, but I hadn’t done the research, and she’s the person who made me gain a love for hip-hop. She’s vivid, she’s theatrical in her speech, and you can tell she’s a hustler. She’s inspiring.”
That spot-on snapshot of Minaj—specifically, the theatrical delivery part—could also serve as a proper description of Merci and her music. It all started with her riffing on a schoolyard anthem, but has already evolved into something more dynamic, with tracks exploring her role in the game, personal challenges, and her hometown.
“One of my first songs,” she recalls, “I wrote to ‘Chicken Noodle Soup.’ The bridge goes, ‘Chicken noodle soup / Chicken noodle soup / Chicken noodle soup with a soda on the side.’ And I just started writing variations of that, like ‘Oreo cookies with milk on the side,’ and all of these other quirky things. It starts off really playful, and then I would write rhymes here and there in middle school and high school.
“I always felt very powerful when writing. I’ve always been a creative writer, but once I put that with the rhythm and the bars, it was over. … Anyone who has the talent can spit, but a lot of times I’m underestimated, unfortunately, because of my identity as a black trans woman. I don’t think folks expect to get out of me what comes out of me, which is that unapologetic, raunchy, fuck-you-pay-me attitude.”
Following high school at the Academy of the Pacific Rim in Hyde Park, Merci made her way to Hampshire College in Amherst, where she helped form the crew Blemme, a trio that helped the creative writing major focus a lot more on her musical talents.
“We brought that love we all have for music together, and from there I said that I was going to take this seriously,” she says. “Now we’re all getting our education in different parts of the world and can’t make as much music together as we would like, so I’m making a lot of this by myself.”
From there, she’s been honing show chops, and with serious results, as demonstrated opening for Billy Woods.
“My first show was the Black Woman Is God event [in April]—it was my first ever performance,” she says. “Then I started going to [Dorchester Art Project] open mics, then the Billy Woods show, and Off The Record will be my third gig.”
“I want to get into the studio,” she says. “Luckily I can use the studios at school, and I’ll start recording when the new semester starts. I don’t want to release something that doesn’t make the impact that it should make.
“When I deliver,” she adds, “folks are caught off guard.”
It’s all with a specific goal in mind.
“Art should be appreciated no matter who it’s coming from,” Merci says. “I think the message is what we should all listen to and appreciate, and we should consider someone’s passion before denying people a platform.”
OFF THE RECORD WITH MERCI D AND TIDES. HOJOKO, 1271 BOYLSTON ST, BOSTON. FRI 8.16, 5PM/ALL AGES/FREE.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.