WORDS BY CANDACE MCDUFFIE | PHOTOS BY JAY HUNT
HellaBlack is a way for the Boston Center for the Arts to celebrate culture centering around the work of black artists here in the city. But for its third installment of the series, taking place on Feb 11 at the Plaza Theatre, there will be some changes. Whereas prior editions of the series have featured an array of performers and included dancers, actors, poets, and opera singers, this time around, only Boston-based female rappers—CakeSwagg, Dutch ReBelle, Malia The Model, Red Shaydez, Oompa, and Brandie Blaze—will take the stage (alongside actor and playwright Regie Gibson, who is carrying out hosting duties).
As I initially noted last year in a Boston magazine spot piece that put light on these standout performers, these women are carving their own creative paths in Boston and beyond. According to HellaBlack organizer and BCA Director of Theatre Arts Lyndsay Allyn Cox, these are the exact kinds of artists HellaBlack hopes to uplift.
“I’m a black woman and I wanted an event that amplifies the voices of black women,” Cox told the Dig. “What better black women to choose from than these six female emcees that are really blowing up here in Boston?” she says. “I think so many times black artists get used to performing in spaces that are mostly occupied by white audiences, and it’s important that black artists have the opportunity and experience of performing in front of a majority POC audience. I’m just really excited about that.”
To show how far these artists have come even over the past few months—through Boston Music Awards wins, headline performances, and national media attention—we brought them together for a special shoot, Vanity Fair-style. On the set, directed by the talented longtime Boston music photographer Jay Hunt, the ladies, appropriately clad in all black, displayed a seamless chemistry, emanating positivity together and also serving up sultriness one at a time.
In between takes, the performers were playful, energetic, and had a downright fun time. Laughter filled the theater as the rappers exchanged stories about Boston’s music scene, positive as well as negative, and gave each other feedback on poses and more. They also danced to some of their favorite tracks. If the camaraderie is any indication of their upcoming joint showcase, then attendees are in for an unforgettable evening. You can learn more about the co-headliners below, and you can check them all out at the BCA on Feb 11.
Brandie is known for her raw and gritty stage presence as much as she is for her impressive catalogue. Her sophomore album, last year’s Late Bloomer, reiterated her unadulterated passion for her craft and cemented her growth as a skilled lyricist. Brandie’s delivery is adventurous and well-executed; she’s a star in the making. As she told the Dig last year, “I would describe my sound as trap feminism. … You don’t have to feel pressured to be something you’re not. You can be anyone, and you can be anything, and you can still be sexual and still tell them, Yeah, I’m bossed up. That’s what my music is about.”
- Essential Downloads: “Model,” “Fraud,” “Tame”
CakeSwagg’s prolific pen game is admirable, with her “Talk That Talk Tuesday” freestyles becoming the rapper’s trademark to display her innovative approach on a weekly basis. Among other things, she’s making noise around Boston for her sumptuous sound and captivating aesthetic, which she unapologetically embraces both internally and externally. CakeSwagg’s Candy Cake Season EP from last year was a charming exploration of bold beats and wondrous word play—two aspects of her art the rapper executes with ease.
- Essential Downloads: “Classic,” “Ice Cream,” “Candy”
Red Shaydez is a storyteller, saturating her songs with grace and intense poetic flare. An up-and-coming visionary on the scene whose style bridges Golden Era and contemporary hip-hop, her Chillin’ In The Shade EP zeroes in on her multidimensionality and lyrical prowess. She weaves together words with precision and care, pushing style boundaries while maintaining her authenticity to represent the best of many worlds. She also pays it forward, recently teaching those coming up in her wake how to “jumpstart a music career in Boston” through a workshop at Dorchester Art Project.
- Essential Downloads: “Old School R&B,” “Come Here Lil’ Baby (Feelin’ My Aura),” “No Resentment”
Malia The Model
At the crux of Malia The Model’s public persona and discography are two ideals—lavishness and loyalty. As she puts it, with her “one of a kind voice and slim figure, she is Naomi Campbell meets hip-hop.” Runway bona fides aside, her rap style is ornate, complementing her performance chops with a tenor and cadence that gives her serious distinction on a soundscape overrun with so much of the same. Looking for longevity as both a model and musician, Malia considers her strongest traits to be her charisma and determination to be successful—both necessary, since she plans on winning on her own terms.
- Essential Downloads: “Check,” Kate Moss,” “No Time”
Probably the best-known MC of the bunch, Dutch ReBelle’s no-holds-barred approach to music making has made her one of the most notable artists to hail from the city in any genre. Her career has consistently yielded well-crafted tracks, with Dutch felicitously raising the bar for her creative counterparts regardless of gender. She prides herself on top-tier lyricism and on having an innate proclivity for experimentation. As Dutch continues paving roads for other Boston rappers to find their footing, don’t be fooled—she’s always down to apply pressure to anyone up for the challenge.
- Essential Downloads: “Big Zoe,” “Big Zoe (Remix),” “Supafly”
Oompa’s magnetism stems from sonic splendor; she’s a gifted and layered artist whose personal trials and tribulations bleed through her discography. Using the power of the pen to transform her pain into gold, last year Oompa turned innumerable heads toward her with Cleo, a Boston-born masterpiece displaying her resilience, hope, and existentialist songwriting skills. The project has been lauded for its compelling vision and transparency, a potent indicator of how much of a prodigy Oompa, who also took home last year’s Boston Music Award for best live performer, truly is.
- Essential Downloads: “Cleo N ’Nem,” “By You,” “Thank You”
HELLABLACK AT BOSTON CENTER FOR THE ARTS PLAZA THEATRE, 539 TREMONT ST. TUE 2.11. MORE INFO AND TICKETS FOR THIS AND OTHER HELLABLACK EVENTS AT BCAONLINE.ORG/CALENDAR.HTML.
Candace McDuffie is a respected cultural critic and music journalist who focuses on the intersection of race, gender and entertainment. Her written work has been featured on digital platforms such as: Rolling Stone, MTV, Forbes, Grammy.com, Paper, Entertainment Weekly, Glamour, Vibe, Tidal, Marie Claire, NBC NEWS and Boston Magazine.