A Conversation With Houston's 'Raptivist' Genesis Blu

Dec 10, 2017
Originally published on December 10, 2017 6:46 am

Those who know the Houston hip-hop music scene know that it's long been dominated by men — like DJ Screw, Paul Wall and Trae Tha Truth.

But as Texas Monthly wrote in October, "For perhaps the first time, there is a growing contingent of women taking over Texas's hip-hop scene."

The "blue-haired matron" of Houston hip-hop is Genesis Blu.

"Women have been here. They'll make you think that we just got here," she says. "I have big sisters in the game all around here and they've been here."

NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro met her at SugarHill Recording Studios, where Genesis Blu recorded the tracks for her EP, Bluming Season.

Genesis Blu calls herself a "raptivist," mixing hip-hop with advocacy. She says she dedicates time to "facilitating change in her community." The dual passions for politics and music started at a young age.

"I would be like 12 years old, going to a nightclub, where people are smoking and drinking. I was always a different type of kid, so my songs would be about the struggle, the political climate — even that young. And they would be like, 'Where is this little girl coming from with this stuff?' "

But when she got older, she put the music career on hold and focused on school — a lot of school. She got a bachelor's, a master's and started her doctorate. Until she had an epiphany one day — she wanted to be back in the community, writing music. She was in the middle of her dissertation.

"I literally stopped that day, put down that pen and picked up another pen and a notepad and began to write music," she says. "And I've been doing that since."

Well, it's not quite all of what she's been doing since. She's also a full time psychotherapist.

Blu works with children and families and teens "who are removed from their home due to abuse of some sort or due to their emotional disturbances," she says.

"People ask me to choose [between music and therapy] and I cannot, I love them equally," she says. "Because you're able to change lives both ways."

Genesis Blu talked more with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro about growing up in the Houston neighborhood of Greenspoint and her grandmother's influence on her life.


Interview Highlights

On the diversity of Houston and how the city is changing

The diversity is beautiful. But yes, I don't want my people left behind. So, what's happening here right now is gentrification, in the worst way. They are pushing these people out. And there's not many other options [of places] to go, because we don't have a great public transportation system, in case you haven't noticed.

It's upsetting a lot of us who have been in this community and are working in this community. And so even though I'm very happy about the diversity, what it also is doing is allowing people to come in with a bunch of money, throw money at some things, tear some things down, buy it out — and then leave the people who have been here stranded.

On her grandmother's influence and calling herself a "raptivist"

My history is that my grandmother grew up in another neighborhood in Houston as well called Acres Home[s]. So living between Greenspoint and Acres Home[s], which were rivals at the time when I was a kid by the way. So I would have to go to my grandmother's house after school if my mother couldn't be home from work.

And that was interesting because I was bullied — a lot. Because I'm too proper for the black kids and I'm not white enough for the white children, so I'm in a very awkward place. But still loving the culture of where I come from.

But my grandmother was also an activist. She was very influential in the war on drugs here in Houston. So as a little kid — I don't even know, I was little, I don't even know how I remember it — she would have me marching with her. So I get that from her.

And she passed away. But I always said that I would continue that legacy for sure, because she inspired me.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Those who know the Houston music scene know that it's long been dominated by men - DJ Screw, Paul Wall, Trae Tha Truth. But Texas Monthly wrote in its October music issue, for perhaps the first time, there is a growing contingent of women taking over Texas's hip-hop scene.

GENESIS BLU: Women have been here. They'll make you think that we just got here. I have - listen. I speak the truth. I have big sisters in the game all around here, and they've been here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Genesis Blu. She's a blue-haired rapper and hip-hop artist. We met her at SugarHill Recording Studios, where she laid down the tracks for her EP, "Bluming Season," and where, as soon as you walk in the door...

BLU: You have to start with the shrine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's the shrine...

BLU: This is where this was recorded.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...You run straight into Beyonce.

BLU: We're looking at Destiny's Child. This is Beyonce before the - oh, my God. It's Beyonce, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

BLU: Because honestly, in Houston, they were kind of pretty chill right? But...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Houston-native Beyonce got her start here with Destiny's Child. They recorded seven hit singles at the studio in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And behind a glass case, there's a lot of memorabilia commemorating that. We walk down a hallway lined with other photos of famous musicians who have passed through here before settling onto a couch to talk. Genesis Blu grew up in Houston's Greenspoint neighborhood. She says it's poor, but it inspired her to start writing music at a very young age.

BLU: I would be, like, 12 years old, going to a nightclub where people are smoking and drinking. And I was always a different type of kid, so my songs would be about the struggle, the political climate - even that young. And they would be like, what is - where is this little girl coming from with this stuff?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So she tabled her music career and focused on school hard. She got a bachelor's, a master's and started her doctorate until she had an epiphany one day. She wanted to be back in the community, writing music. She was in the middle of her dissertation.

BLU: I literally stopped that day, put down that pen and picked up another pen and a notepad and began to write music. And been doing that since.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOCAL LOVE")

BLU: (Rapping) H-O-U-S-T-O-N. It's time I share my feelings for you. Let me begin. It started way back with a swing and a bling. Then the world suited up, and it changed the game. Remember...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about your song "Local Love."

BLU: So this year, we have had really highs and really lows happening, even up to today, when we got snow for the first time since 2009. That's huge. I was a kid. You know what I'm saying? So it's a big deal. But yeah. This city is so strong, and so I wanted to show some love to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOCAL LOVE")

BLU: (Singing) Roll through my hood switching lane, lane, lane. H-town, stay running through my veins...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This how we do it, man.

BLU: (Singing) Local love.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Local love.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We're here looking at Houston and its incredible diversity. There are so many different groups here, but the African-American community has been here since the beginning.

BLU: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so I'm wondering what you feel about Houston and how the city's changing.

BLU: So it's beautiful. The diversity is beautiful. But yes, I don't want my people left behind. So what's happening here right now is gentrification in the worst way. They are pushing these people out. There's not many other options to go because we don't have a great public transportation system, in case you haven't noticed. And it's upsetting a lot of us who have been in this community and are working in this community.

And so even though I'm very happy about the diversity, what it also is doing is allowing people to come in with a bunch of money, throw money at some things, tear some things down, buy it out and then leave the people who have been here stranded. And so I certainly have mixed feelings about that. And so I tried to bring light to that issue.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you rapped about gentrification a lot?

BLU: Yes. Absolutely. Gentrification is up there for me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you give us a preview?

BLU: (Rapping) I am not of this world, neither in it. But I'm above it. I interpret translations and revelations to the public. Why your favorite rapper see the injustice and don't discuss it? I've been enabled in NWA, but easy does it. So I guess it's about time to spit a narcissistic rhyme about how I'm the best rapper alive.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You call yourself a raptivist, and I want you to describe what that means. And I guess it harks back to that little girl who was talking about issues.

BLU: Absolutely. So you have to realize my history is that my grandmother grew up in another neighborhood in Houston, as well, called Acres Home. So living between Greenspoint and Acres Home - which were rivals at the time when I was a kid, by the way, so I would have to go to my grandmother's house after school if my mother couldn't be home from work. And that was interesting because I was bullied a lot because I'm too proper for the black kids, and I'm not white enough for the white children, you know?

So I'm in a very awkward place but still loving the culture of where I come from. But my grandmother was also an activist. She was very influential in the war on drugs here in Houston. So as a little kid, I don't even know. I was little. I don't even know how I remember it. She would have me marching with her. So I get that from her, and she passed away. But I always said that I would continue that legacy for sure because she inspired me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have another job that's not just music. Tell me about that.

BLU: Yes. So I am a full-time psychotherapist. I - people ask me to choose, and I cannot. I love them equally because you're able to change lives both ways. You really are. And so just before coming here, I had two clients this morning, change, get cool-looking, come here, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

BLU: And that's just how - I don't even think about it anymore until people bring it up. I just do it. It's just my nature.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Who do you work with?

BLU: My main population is children and families. So at the treatment center, there are teens, 10 to 17, who are removed from their home due to abuse of some sort or due to their emotional disturbances.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You wrote a song for some of the people that you work with. It's called "Bluming Season."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUMING SEASON")

BLU: (Rapping) Never holding back, not for no reason. See, it's my bluming season.

"Bluming Season." Yes. It's for anybody who has had a dream or a goal, and they thought that it was untouchable because people definitely don't think that I should be where I am, given my background. But I'm here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUMING SEASON")

BLU: (Rapping) I'm just speaking from the bleachers, trying to do it brand new instead of scuffing up my sneakers. It's just one thing that I know. You got to put it down if you want to see it grow. Let it grow. Let it grow. Let it grow. May you forever reap from the seeds that you sow.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You sound like a good therapist.

BLU: Thank you. I try.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to book an appointment right now...

BLU: You want to (laughter). First one's one me. First one's on me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUMING SEASON")

BLU: (Rapping) Nobody's going to stop my past. I'm here...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Rapping) Nobody's going to stop my past. I'm here...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Genesis Blu, psychotherapist and rapper. Her EP is called "Bluming Season." Thank you very much.

BLU: Thank you so much. Peace and light.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUMING SEASON")

BLU: (Singing) I'm headed to the promised land. Nobody's going to keep it from me in the land of milk and honey.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) I'm headed to the promised land. Nobody's going to keep it from me in the land of milk and honey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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