Photo by Mikayla Gamble
First Look Friday: Liv.e Is A Genre-Blending Songstress
Dallas-bred, Los Angeles-based singer Liv.e is our latest First Look Friday feature. The artist spoke with us about her forthcoming new album, Couldn't Wait To Tell You, collaborating with Earl Sweatshirt, and more.
"I'm a regular ass person."
WhenLiv.e described herself as such, amid discussing how she's coping with the coronavirus pandemic, it doesn't come as a surprise. The rapper, singer, and creative polymath could care less about pretense, celebrity, or other aspects of the music industry that feel inauthentic and forced.
It's this perspective that she applies to her own music and those that she collaborates with, the authenticity she conveys through her art helping her amass a fanbase that includes like-minded musical peers like Earl Sweatshirt and Hiatus Kaiyote's Nai Palm and veterans like Erykah Badu.
That Liv.e once didn't want to do music — she didn't want to follow suit with her family, with both her father and brother being musicians — is surprising, because she's so good. Her music is an amalgamation of Madlib and Dilla-inspired beats; shea butter-glistened R&B; and gold-grilled underground rap that tethers the East and Third Coasts together. Her upbringing in Dallas, college education in Chicago, and artistic pursuits in New York and Los Angeles inform how her art looks and sounds. Look no further than "SirLadyMakemFall," one of her latest releases. The opening lines are a reminder of Liv.e's roots: "Texas girl / I'll pull out my saddle."
Live.e has released six projects so far. Her catalog displays the evolution of an artist breaking the rules of genre and style. She counts artists like D'Angelo and Sly and the Family Stone as influences; artists who also championed creative expression and experimentation, and did so with an effortless, natural cool. Liv.e is of that lineage; challenging convention is her native language.
With her new album Couldn't Wait To Tell You on the way, Liv.e has been focused on sharing singles. (Aside from "SirLadyMakemFall," she has also released "LazyEaterBetsOnHerLikeness.") And although she said she's been doing "a lot of regular shit" during this time — drawing, reading, watching movies — she's still being creative, having recently shared a live set of unreleased music.
As a part of Okayplayer's First Look Friday series, we spoke with Liv.e about the challenges of remaining creative amid a pandemic, the difference between creating music for self and for survival, Erykah Badu comparisons, and more.
Photo by Mikayla Gamble
How does something like being quarantined affect your day-to-day?
I don't think it's necessarily changed too much. But now I just feel like I don't have the freedom to do a lot. That, and I feel like I just miss doing shows. But other than that, it's been interesting. The comforting part about it is that you're not alone in it.
How are you spending this time? Are you writing? Plotting? Crate-digging? What's going on?
I honestly commend anybody that's actually being productive. Because to have all that's happening and thinking about it, it doesn't really feed your creativity. It actually kind of makes you — I'm gonna speak for myself because that might not be true for everybody. But it's kind of hard to be like, "Yo, I'm gonna sit here and do this, while also thinking, "Why is so much stuff going on?" I don't know, I guess that's me. But I feel like I've been drawing more than anything. I feel like it's such a brainless thing to do. But writing? I don't even know. I can't even link up with friends, you feel me? I don't record myself at home; I do write and work from home. But I just feel like I get more inspiration from, obviously, living. [Laughs] It's like, "OK, this is really holding a nigga back."
I feel that. If your inspiration is coming from what was typical, then the halting of that can definitely stall that out.
Absolutely. I mean — I've been reading, spending time with my man, and that's cool. On and off you get to remember it, tap out, and forget about it for a few seconds. But then you're just like, "Damn, when I go outside I really gotta come back in. I gotta go outside with caution." It's kind of wild. It hasn't been that long either. I'm trying to remember that. It feels like forever but it's maybe been a few days.
Where does your music taste come from? Are you just digging? Are you abusing the algorithm? Where does it all come from?
I be digging, really. I get put on by my friends a lot. They'll give you one thing and you can just go off from that one thing. If you really like this one artist, then you can find artists that are like them, or styles that reflect them. Sadly, you can't go on YouTube and just do that shit no more. You really gotta work on your algorithm, like every day, which is so wack. But yeah, just doing good research on the things that you like, and being willing to broaden your search.
Right on. And some of that seeps into your own music. I mean — there's obviously what people can hear in your music, right? I know you're probably sick of hearing it, but there's the obvious and overstated Erykah Badu correlation.
Why do people say that tho?
I don't know. I mean — it's Dallas but it's also an energy. Maybe not sonically, specifically. But I've always been told that Dallas niggas just carry a certain kind of energy about themselves.
I'm just curious. I feel like the comparison where I'm most like, "OK, I feel that," is Tweet. Nobody ever mentions Tweet. And that's really annoying.
It's really so simple to be like, "Yeah, Erykah Badu." Like, it's really people out here that really sound like Erykah Badu, you feel me?
The fact that you even mention Tweet!
Because for a lot of people, you've got a really small window that Tweet occupies. There was a small, early 2000s window where she was in people's casual perspective. If you're referring to some deep cuts, you might be putting me on some game. You're gonna make me go back and peel through Tweet's discography.
I mean — just listen! Tweet influenced mad women. I just feel like people could broaden their scope, but I know it's like the average listener and shit.
What else would you say inspires your sound? Personally, I hear D'Angelo in your music.
I love D'Angelo. But I also feel like before it was D'Angelo, it was Sly and the Family Stone.
Oh, so you got all the source material —
You feel me? You gotta ask yourself, "Who inspired them?" Those are the people who don't get spoken about enough. I love Average White Band.
Photo by Mikayla Gamble
How much of your artistic perspective was molded before you became an artist?
Honestly, I wasn't shaped at all. I didn't really start doing anything until 2017 — like, my first year of college. I was like, "Hmm, let me see what's up," because I was trying to get my mind off the stress of school. My whole life I've probably been avoiding that. I didn't want to do music because everybody in my family did — my brother plays drums, my dad does music. But I'm glad I went to school — tried that, didn't like it. I'm glad I made the decision when I did, because I wanted to be sure more than anything else. As opposed to being like, "I should've did this, or I should've did that."
Before you went to college you went to Booker T. Washington's School for the Performing & Visual arts. What did you study there?
I went to Booker T. for Visual Arts. I also went to college for visual arts. I'm more on the visual side, truly. That's where I feel the most calm. Unless it's, like, "Yo, we got this job for you," visual art is definitely my peace. Music is like — I don't know how to explain music yet and how I feel about it. I was diving real into music when I was there, because of my influences and who I was influenced by during high school. I'm around all these jazz musicians that are so cool. They graduated but I was still hanging out with them, and it made me more inclined to do musical things inside the school.
Do you feel like your visual creativity feeds into your musical creativity?
Yeah. Words come from what you imagine. Your imagination is the source of it all. When I think of visual art, I think about "OK, even though this nigga blind, how did Stevie Wonder — I know he was listening to things, but also what was he seeing in his head without being able to see anything?" Visual definitely aids the musical, because it starts as a story in your head.
You've put out, what, two videos now? Do you take a lot of pride in how they're aesthetically created?
Sometimes. As of right now, I'm not 100 percent where I wanna be. But that's okay, because I know my ideas are so large. What I'm doing right now is only a starting point.
We share a hometown, and I've been a fan and contributor to the scene in our hometown. Before you relocated, you spent a brief stint in the Dallas underground scene — like just for a little bit before you took off to college...
What? That's so funny. It wasn't a little bit. I feel like — since I was in high school I was dropping a little bit of stuff. But it wasn't as prominent as I'm dropping right now.
And that speaks more to my awareness because when I realized you were out there, there was already a great amount of excitement from DJs and some artists about you.
Sometimes, yo — it really sucks but with Dallas it takes leaving. Literally having to uplift yourself. And it's weird, because niggas will really, really ignore you and everything you're about until you're co-signed by somebody they fuck with. But no, it's so many creative people and geniuses in Dallas. It's like, y'all niggas really playing yourself by not linking up together. And it sucks because I know so many people have tried, you know?
I think my first time experiencing you live was at Expo Bar across from Fair Park. You had a DJ set.
I remember that.
Yeah, with Ursa Minor. Was that early on?
I had to remember where Expo was. Yeah that was very, very early. I wasn't even Liv.e then. I was like Codeine Kardashian or some random shit. [Laughs] That time was weird though. I feel like niggas wasn't really looking at me like that. Niggas was like, "Oh yeah! She's cute.'
But the people whose opinions are valued — the tastemakers, the people who push the sound — they were aware. Ursa, myself, Lord Byron. You've always seemed to have the approval and the belief from people who are more forward-thinking about music. It took you getting a bigger stage and a bigger platform for folks to really see and understand that.
It's just really funny to me because it did take that. But the first niggas that actually know about you, are the niggas that people are a fan of. It don't even be regular people — it really be your favorite musician. And that makes it so regular when regular people are like, "Yo! You need to be out there!" And I'm like, "Well, shit nigga. They just don't know yet."
There have been some pretty big co-signs for you. There's Erykah — she shows mad love. You were on tour with Earl Sweatshirt. How does that change your perspective of what you're doing?
It really doesn't. Because that shit's been going on for so long. That's one thing people don't know. It's like, these niggas been on my line. [Laughs] These are friends.
Now we get to see it.
Yeah. It's really not a change at all. It doesn't change how I do anything. It just really gives me more gas. Like, whether you like it or not, I'm still finna do what I'm finna do. It does make you think though — some of these other niggas are weird. There's a lot of famous people that listen to new artists on the low, and just don't be saying nothing. Like, why are you doing that? So, I really appreciate the people that actually show love and ain't weird about it.
I wonder if it's because people worry if that'll expose them. Will introducing your fanbase to something dope or potentially doper than you put your food at risk?
Exactly. I think that's really what it is. But nigga, it's enough room for all of us. We can all be making money. But I feel so sorry for people who don't see that.
You did have a pretty dope collaboration with Earl, which subsequently became you assisting him on tour. How did that come about? Was that one of many sessions that just happened to make the final cut?
No, we didn't have no sessions before that happened. [Laughs] That was just — I randomly got hit up. He hit me up on Twitter like, "Bro, you so hard. Go on tour with me." And I'm like, "Yeah, run it." And that was that. Deadass. Didn't even know bro. Met him for the first time on tour. That happened and then we did that Mtume shit. ("MTOMB" from Earl's 2019 album Feet Of Clay. The track interpolates Mtume's 1978 song "Theme (For the People).") But all this stuff is very natural. It happens so naturally, as it should. None of this is forced. Ain't nobody paying nobody to do nothing. [Laughs] Nobody's having to reach out through niggas to make connections.
Photo by Mikayla Gamble
Have there been talks about you and Erykah doing music together?
[Laughs] Never. I've never had that idea. That doesn't make sense to me. Why can't people just be friends? [Laughs] Like, do y'all wanna see us hug? I would prefer that.
I feel like sometimes the perception is — from a fan standpoint — all artists do is record and perform. So, if you know somebody or are connected to somebody, then you gotta be working on something together.
Real shit. Niggas be really needing regular interactions. Like, non-musical interactions in order to survive bro. For real.
And that takes the currency out of relationships too.
Absolutely. Like, "Aye you tryna work bro?" Unless that's what started the conversation, then that's definite. Y'all both fuck with each other like that. But if it started off on some friendly stuff, then I feel like it should just remain that. Unless y'all both feel like, "Oh, we could really do something."
It's important to build normal relationships with people.
You have a couple projects that exist outside what will probably be your official debut, Couldn’t Wait To Tell You. I know you got Frank out, but you did —
I mean — ::hoopdreams:: is damn near my sixth.
Yeah, with 10.4 ROG, right? How did those ideas come together?
Honestly, out of the sole hunger to pay my rent and to stay alive. ::hoopdreams:: — all the shit that's on bandcamp. Straight up. People have really helped me stay alive by showing love to my shit. That's a blessing. This album is the first one where I don't have to be like, "Nigga, I'm hungry." I can just express myself and I can take time on this. I made this album when I was living with my mom for a little bit. So it's very reflective of the freedom I felt. I was still working but I think I felt more freedom because you gotta have this money for what you really gotta do.
The way music is put out sort of non-traditionally, it may be very natural to you just being a young person and being both a consumer and an artist. Do you feel there's a more efficient way that is more suited to your growth or your pace as an artist?
I feel like people get caught up in how saturated the market — and everything is in general — because there's no cap to what people can do. Anybody can be a rapper, you feel me? Anybody can do this. Is it coming from the same place? No, probably not. I feel like it's just as important to not stress yourself out about what everyone else is doing. If it takes holding back for a few years, niggas is just going to have to get used to whatever your process may be. That's how I look at it. Like, ain't nobody coming to your job saying, "Aye man, you gonna have to finish this work before you go to the crib." Don't oversaturate yourself. It's OK to take a moment. But I feel like people get stressed and feel pressured by how much is out there already. And also, just sitting still. Niggas hate sitting still.
Photo by Mikayla Gamble
How would you introduce this new project to both people who have followed you, and also people who are being introduced to you for the first time?
I'm pretty sure that anybody who really knows me, knows that I would never, ever, ever give an introduction to nothing. [Laughs] Like never, ever. Just like, "Yo, I'm finna put it right here and I'mma fuck your head up." That's what we on. (Laughs) That's my goal and I want to see if I can reach my goal. If I'm dropping singles, like, use your imagination. What do you think it's gonna be? I'm all for participation. And that's also a visual art way to go about things. Because you don't want to necessarily be like, "So, this is my painting about a baby in a womb." Like, what if someone else wasn't seeing it like that?
You don't want to dictate the interpretation.
Absolutely not. But the interpretations I've been seeing have been really funny to me, because they really think they know. I'm also mad excited to explain when the time is right. Like, when I get questions after it's released. I would love that. I'm ready for the conversations that come from it. I'm so ready, honestly. But I'm not giving away nothing. [Laughs]
A contingency plan in case things never go back to normal, are you thinking of creative ways to support the release?
So, that's a hard thing to do, because you don't know.
Like, are we gonna lose internet? What is it gonna be? I don't have everybody's home address to mail anybody anything, so I can't say be a part of my mailing list. That's a good question. I feel like we'll see, but I have really strong hope.
We'll be alright. We always manage to make it through shit like this.
I have to get this shit out because it's an egg that's been waiting to hatch for a very long time. Regardless, if I got to put a megaphone up to the world with this motherfucker, we on and popping. For real.
Rodney Blu is a multimedia personality, digital storyteller and music curator. He spends time in and out of quarantine injecting realness and reason on twitter timelines near you, playlisting on Spotify and Apple Music while also advocating for Dallas, TX arts, culture and communities through his platform @alreadyRADIO and its shows like #DTXSelects. Spiritually, he is a wolf.