San Francisco native Sam McDonald earned quite a name for herself as Oh Blimey, one of the fiercest battle rappers to come from the Bay Area. However, the lyrical gladiator sport started to emotionally wear her out behind the scenes. Despite her winning record, being an openly gay white woman made her a target during battles.
“When you’re about to go at your opponent, you’re always thinking about what they’re going to say about you and how you’re going to tear them down,” explained the now L.A.-based rapper during an interview with HipHopDX earlier this year. “I was just becoming caught up in a world of negative thoughts. None of that had to do with the person I am.”
Hitting the rap career reset button in 2016, she changed her alias to Blimes Brixton and launched Peach House Records as a safe haven for female recording artists. So far, the imprint's releases have included a joint EP between Brixton and Broken Complex rapper Gavlyn, along with several singles from Brixton, Gavlyn and singer-songwriter Olivia Braga. She says the whole career transition was challenging financially, emotionally and mentally, but worth the effort.
“I was in a pretty dark place for the first half of the year,” Brixton says over the phone while on tour with dad, a member of the blues band Tommy Castro & the Painkillers. “The only thing that really pulled me out was giving myself entirely to my vision, pushing myself to set goals, matching those goals through effort and showing gratitude for what I accomplished.”
But during that tough time, an unexpected door opened. Brixton’s roommate, fellow female MC Nova Rockafeller, got word that her manager, Jensen Karp (once a formidable battle rapper himself under the name Hot Karl), was executive producing a show for TBS titled Drop the Mic on which celebrities try their hand at battle rap. Despite the somewhat gimmicky premise, Karp and the show's host, Method Man, wanted to ensure that Drop the Mic, which premiered Oct. 24 and airs Tuesday nights, represents the culture as honestly as possible by enlisting actual battle MCs to coach the celebs.
“Method Man and Jensen Karp were discussing in the writers room which battle MCs did they want to get to help coach celebrities,” Brixton explains. “Meth brought me up because I was one of his favorites. Jensen just connected the dots via email.”
Though her coaching work took place off-camera, Brixton eventually got to meet Meth on the set of Drop the Mic, where she watched New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski battle Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez (who's got skills, Brixton says — though she's not allowed to say who she coached) and Anthony Anderson go up against Usher. Working on the show, she says, was more than just an enjoyable experience and paycheck — it also allowed her to see the bigger picture in her relationship to battle rap.
“I had a bad taste in my mouth about battle rap for a while just because of who it turned me into and what it made me do,” she says. But after doing Drop the Mic, “I see the light [in it] more than ever before.”
“My nerves went out the window when I started battle rapping. I’m not afraid to do shit.” -Blimes Brixton
Brixton’s time on the set of Drop the Mic also allowed her to meet the Iron Lung himself. She remembers every detail of the encounter vividly, even the way Meth’s shirt hung off his shoulders.
“He started singing one of my tunes to me,” Brixton says. “Then he says, 'If you ever need a feature from me, holler at me.' In that moment, I was just so bewildered by the greatness of the man in front of me that I didn’t even comprehend that he meant the shit.”
Taking him up on his offer, Brixton got Meth to feature on her upcoming Lou Koo– and Cambo-produced single “Hot Damn,” from her years-in-the-making album tentatively titled Castles — her first full-length release as Blimes Brixton. Taking things a step further, Meth showed up for the music video shoot as well, which took place at popular Silver Lake bar the Virgil, where Brixton enlisted help from friends she gained from working in production on such feature films as The Wedding Ringer and The Revenant. She expects the single and video to drop in January as she works on finishing Castles in time for a March release date.
At this stage of her career, it’s clear that Blimes Brixton is appreciative of the life in battle rap she had once hoped to forget. “As much as I try to put my battle rap past behind me, I still have to pay so much respect for what it did for me as a rapper, period,” she says. “My nerves went out the window when I started battle rapping. I’m not afraid to do shit. To know that my battles have made it up to that tier or that level of talent and success just makes me so grateful for that experience.”