Lyricist, performer and youth advocate, MADlines has taken reign of the Oakland music scene. Originally from Seattle, the artist uses beats as her canvas and vocals as her paintbrush, capsulizing an array of emotion with each breath. She’s opened for Hip Hop legends such as Souls of Mischief and Rah Digga, and her poetry’s been published in The Black Scholar . Today, MADlines gifted fans with some holiday cheer, dropping her highly anticipated album Word Play, free on Soundcloud. Needless to say, if you don’t pay close attention, you may get left behind.
WORD PLAY weaves together a unique blend of instrumentals from old favorites like BeanOne as well as Bay Area locals DJ Pharogami, Big Tunes and Phillip Drummond. The result is a sultry and diverse musical journey—from Old School, to Reggae Roots and even Trap. She worked with Castro native, Maya Songbird on her track “Over Their Heads, ” and used the sounds of Jamaica to capture her experiences on record during a trip to the island this previous summer.
Wear Your Voice introduces MΔDlines: In her own words.
My mother is white. She was born in Anaheim, California. She was the rebel in her family—she said her life completely changed when she went to Berlin, Germany after high school. My father was born and spent the majority of his life in Jamaica. He was a Rastafarian and grew up in a Parish just outside of Kingston called St. Thomas. They met in Seattle.
Growing up was weird, to say the least. I had a great childhood. I was loved and cared for, but I never felt comfortable navigating racial constructions. America saw me as African American or Black a lot of the time, which I basically had to just accept. But I am also the child of an immigrant from the Caribbean. What helped me cope was the fact that my mother always reached out to folks when she couldn’t handle my identity issues. She took me to Jamaica when I was about two and I stayed with an aunt for six months. She made strong connections with the Jamaican women in my family. I went back and forth as much as I could. But Seattle and Jamaica are like night and day. So, I guess something that motivates me is finding balance. I was so often spiritually wounded by dichotomies.
I also educated myself. I learned that Blackness is incredibly complex. I traveled outside of the U.S. and got to see how race is constructed from Nicaragua to South Africa. And, to this day, I surround myself with people from all cultural backgrounds and walks of life. Having a mixed-race family has really been a blessing because I can relate to literally anyone.
I was in high school when my father was brutally killed. It devastated me. It was hard to focus on school. It had rippling effects in my relationships and impacted my self worth.
I’ve been living in Oakland for almost five years now. I moved from Seattle in 2010. I moved for a lot of reasons. The Seattle sound is unique in that we don’t sound regional. We have an obvious west coast flavor but our lyrics are robust, so we sound almost east coast. I just got tired of it. I got tired of the awkwardness. People know each other but they don’t say hi. And I’d be guilty of it too. I was often afraid to open up because I’d experienced a lot of loss in my hometown. I didn’t trust people. So I moved to Oakland because I needed a challenge and I needed a change. Being in another city forces you to come out of your comfort zone socially and artistically.
The Bay Area, Oakland in particular, has changed my life. The sound that you’re hearing is a change in me. There’s this energy in Oakland that’s unlike any other place on earth. Sometimes it’s a rough, agonizing feeling of hustling, grinding—sometimes it’s a feeling of overwhelming, genuine love. Living here challenges you to be hyper-aware of how you are coming off and operating in the world. There’s so much talent to vibe off in Oakland. My sound, lyrical ability and performance has improved.
I’ve always been surrounded by art. But it wasn’t exactly a serious thing, per se. Because of the fact that my parents were artists, I just thought it was normal to be creative. But then I started to see how hard my parents struggled to make ends meet. There was sometimes this sense of shame around being an artist. Like, this voice in the back of my head that said “get a real job!” As I got older I began to realize that doing art is serious because when I didn’t write, I was depressed and felt, literally, crazy. So I have learned to make it a priority in my life.
I started to embrace rapping when I was in high school. Before that, I’d written in journals. I’d even published poems and plays. My poetry had rhythm and usually rhymed. For me, raps were about having confidence and battling in verse. I was obsessed with the free-style, improvisational aspect of being a rapper, but I was usually too shy to get in the cypher. It took me a while to gather up the nerve to free-style.
The very first time I wholeheartedly embraced rapping was when I was about seventeen. I won a spot on the Youth Speaks Seattle Slam Team and we got to go to the Bay Area to compete at Brave New Voices. The best part about the festival was meeting other young poets and artists. There were also workshops you could go to. My mentor, Angela Martinez-Dy, encouraged me to attend a workshop with her, which was taught by Aya De Leon. It was basically a young women’s rapping class. We got to build up our skills, vibe off of one another and have fun. After that I was hooked.
I always go off of the riddim, the instrumental that I’m given. But sometimes there’s a concept that I’ve been ruminating on. It has to come to the surface of my psyche organically. It has to be the right instrumental. I’ll listen to a beat over and over until I’m sick of hearing it. Other times the lyrics just come to me like lightening. It just depends.
Being a woman in hip hop mirrors being a woman in the world, which means everything is harder. You get paid less for the same work. You get over-sexualized and you have to deal with douche bags. The difference between being a woman in hip hop and being a woman in the world in general is that sexism in hip hop is, for the most part, very blatant. It may sound crazy but I prefer blatant sexism to subversive sexism. It’s easier to fight when you see and know what you’re up against. No sexism is the end goal though.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to mature into who I am as a woman and create boundaries that ensure my physical and emotional safety. I can tell when a man is an ally and when he’s a mark.
I started working at the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center through WritersCorps last year. It was, and continues to be, an amazing experience. I come in every Friday and supplement all five of the English classes with Creative Writing workshops. We talk about alliteration, simile and sometimes we write raps. My students are beautiful people, some have made mistakes, most were born into broken homes. I encourage them to write and the words that they put down are so often profound. One of my students wrote
my biggest fear is the Phoenix because it represents change and everyone says I’m afraid to change.
I recorded their songs and poems on an album.
In a strange way, the loss [of my father] connects me to my students. No young person should ever have to experience losing a close loved one. But, unfortunately, far too many do, especially in the Bay Area. When my students tell me that their brother was shot to death, or they want to avenge a dead homie, I encourage them to refocus. I can relate to them, to the frustration. There are so many ways to mourn. I just offer up poetry and writing as one way to heal—to build instead of destroy •
All photos courtesy of MADlines