“I want people’s jaws to always be dropping and be like, ‘Damn, what’s this bitch do?’ – and I want them to say 'bitch.'”
As a rapper representing everything from social change and animal rights to motherhood and the LGBT community, iRAWniQ is more than comfortable with hearing the word “bitch.” It’s the least she expects to hear after a career that’s seen her last EP, January’s Black Girls on Skateboards, make waves with tracks such as “FCK SHT” and “Alien Pus.” But as brash and aggressive as the Michigan native might seem, her tireless work ethic and refusal to conform to anyone’s rules — musically or in the rest of her life — has made her a fan favorite among those who don’t feel represented by Los Angeles’ male-dominated, heteronormative hip-hop scene.
“I just don’t want people to have these expectations of me like there’s a box that I fit in,” iRAWniQ says. “There is no box for me. I want people to understand that realness and rawness is prevalent in everything I do, so you can’t be surprised by me.”
The same realness that earned iRAWniQ the social media adoration of Adam Lambert for 2014’s “No One Said It Would Be Easy” has her slated for one of her biggest performances to date, at this weekend's Mothership Women’s Festival and Retreat in Desert Hot Springs. The all-female/genderqueer festival, presented by HER/LA, promises three full days of music, workshops and talent across all forms of entertainment, making it the perfect fit for the gender-fluid rapper-singer-songwriter.
“HER/LA is a really cool little society in the feminist realm of L.A.,” iRAWniQ says. “They approached me and told me what they were doing, and I thought it sounded cool as hell. I’ve never been to Joshua Tree, and it seems really cool to go there when these women will be doing everything from yoga to tattoos — everything you can think of that’s female-fronted. They’re putting together this effort to show everyone that we all have something in common: That we’re rad-ass bitches and we can make shit happen.”
Growing up in a strict household in Grand Rapids, Michigan, iRAWniQ was a teenage poet, but wasn’t able to listen to rap or much other secular music until she was well into high school and making trips to Detroit for parties and other events. Once she finally was exposed to hip-hop, iRAWniQ knew she’d found her calling.
“I’ve always been into poetry and I’ve always been into music, but I don’t think I was able to correlate the two until I was 16 or 17 and could digest hip-hop in a way that I could understand,” she says. “It kind of pulled something out of me. I had all of these feelings and suppressed emotions that I wasn’t really able to talk about, and then I found a way where I could express it.”
Although she’s spent several years working on new elements of her sound, iRAWniQ has always valued speaking from her soul rather than trying to drop club-friendly bangers. Rapping is a therapeutic experience for her, and she’s always focused on discovering herself and the world around her just as much as when she first realized there were valid religions outside of the Christianity she was raised with.
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“It’s about following your heart and being able to express what you want to express,” iRAWniQ says of her straightforward approach to tackling social injustice in song lyrics. “It’s never been about money or anything materialistic for me. It’s about spreading knowledge and being that beacon of light for people who might not otherwise have it. Having people vibe with me and tell me that what I do means something to them means more to me than being able to turn up every other weekend.”
Armed with a flow and vocabulary capable of going toe-to-toe with just about anyone in L.A.’s rap scene, iRAWniQ still encapsulates the harsh realities of the Detroit she left seven years ago. Although the baby she moved to California with is now an 8-year-old boy, don’t expect parent-teacher meetings to slow iRAWniQ down anytime soon. She’s already gearing up to release a new EP, The Elephant in the Room, toward the end of the year — and the first track from it is tentatively titled “Cunt.”
iRAWniQ plays the Mothership festival this weekend, Nov. 4-6. Tickets and more info at www.herpopup.org.