A deep, knowledgeable, and insightful woman, Jazzmyn "RED" Rodrigues impressed us with more than just her music in advance of the upcoming Women in Music Boston Spotify showcase. Motivation, influences, and family are just a few of the things we spoke about during our recent interview. Read below for excerpts from our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
KL: Just to start, could you tell me a little bit about where you grew up?
JR: I’m originally from Massachusetts. I lived in New York for a time as a child, and then came back, but I’ve been a resident of Brockton, Taunton...I just say I’m from Mass; I’ve been kind of nomadic in that sense. I grew up in a pretty musically-inclined family. My dad rapped and my aunt rapped and sang. So they were two really big influences for me. I started rapping when I was seven years old. As soon as I could make sentences, I was starting to write rhymes. One of the funniest things is that my friends from middle school will pick me up, even now, and say 'Remember when you used to rap at the school dances?' I sold my first mixtape in middle school. It was an interesting childhood.
KL: Music has always been a big part of your life then.
JR: Absolutely. I’ve found that I’ve always been a person who kind of looked around at the world. Things have tested me and I’ve wanted to talk about them. When I talk about them, I’m bringing them to the surface for other people who maybe can’t communicate how they feel, what’s going on in their community, or what’s going on in their own bodies or own lives. So it was a release in many ways at first but then it became a vessel of communication for anyone who could relate.
KL: So it sounds like you’re very purposeful about your music then. You see it having a purpose connecting with people?
JR: People say to me, 'How do you go about writing?' Usually, I have to be in the middle of an intense emotion. It’s usually when somebody makes me angry, upset, when something hurts me... it always comes from a place of emotion. Across the board, humans can relate to emotion. You might not be able to communicate verbally, but someone knows when someone else is hurt or angry. You can feel that on a human level. Even sometimes when I don’t mean to write things with a purpose, it comes out because the emotion is the driving force behind it.
KL: You mentioned that your music responds to the world around you. Do you find that it’s been responding to the current political moment?
JR: Yeah. Outside of music, I have my Bachelor's degree in communications and media studies, and I have a minor in Africana studies. I was a pretty woke kid — my mom was a political science major. The whole time she was going through school, she was teaching me. She had me when she was 19. So growing up, I had this extra history teacher in my house. And my dad, he was a street dude, and he passed on that knowledge to me. So growing up, while I was cultivating my skills, my singing and my rapping, I was always tied to the community. I was always tied to what was going on and able to view things through different lenses. Tupac is my idol. His music...I gravitated to it. When you have those influences, your music has to reflect that, because it’s part of you. I had to talk about these things because they moved me so much. I have a song that talks about police brutality and violence in the city. How did we get here? When you have these things that have happened over the past couple of years, you look at Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Philadno Castile, Jordan Davis. I have black brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, cousins. I have to talk about this, because it’s my life at the end of the day.
KL: It’s a really interesting moment. You have some musicians who are choosing to engage, like Kendrick Lamar, but then you have so many who are choosing to ignore it.
JR: I’m really concerned when it comes to women in hip-hop too, because there are no mainstream women in hip hop who are actually talking about what’s going on. We just had a women’s march. There’s no female rapper to address that and that’s problematic for our girls at the end of the day.
KL: Why do you think there aren’t any mainstream women in hip-hop addressing these kinds of issues?
JR: I think that hip-hop is a very male-dominated world. It’s always been misogynistic in some ways. So I think with that mixture, it makes it not only difficult for a woman to get into the industry, but even more difficult for a woman who has an opinion, who is talking about something, to get that backing behind her. It’s a society problem and then it’s a music problem, and then it’s a genre issue. I can only speak to my own genre, but looking to hip-hop, we had Queen Latifah, we had MC Lyte, Lauryn Hill, and various other female rappers who were very conscious in the '80s and '90s, and then we really got away from that. You haven’t seen any major female rappers who are popular and who have a message in a long time.
KL: Yeah, I feel like it’s been like that across genres too. The topics musicians have been addressing on a mainstream level has become less serious.
JR: In the '90s, you had what we have now —the Cardi Bs and the Nicki Minajs, but you also had the Lil Kims and Foxy Browns and that kind of thing. You had choices. Right now, these little girls don’t have it.
KL: Where do you see your music headed in the next few years?
JR: I’m hoping all the way up! It’s a more difficult road for me, because I’ve chosen not to bend or conform to what the world might want me to be. I’ve chosen to be who I am. I’ve decided for myself to not be pigeonholed. This can make things a little more difficult because people can hear me one day doing Positive Vibes Only, but another day another emotion hits me and a real hunger comes out in the track. I know it’ll be more difficult because of the path I’ve chosen.
KL: At the same time, being true to yourself is so essential, especially if you’re trying to make the kind of music you’re describing, conscious hip hop and conscious rap, it’s essential to stay true to yourself.
JR: Honestly, that part is easy for me personality-wise. Respect how I feel, respect my ideas, and that’s fine. It translates into the music, and it translates into my stance on my career. If you like me, I love you. But if you don’t, that’s okay.
KL: Is there anything else in particular that you wanted to talk about?
JR: How much of a driving force my brother was for me. He was murdered in November. He was a music artist out of Rhode Island and he was really kind of on his way. He was doing his thing, and that was taken away from him, and he was taken away from us. At a very crucial time for me, when I wanted to give up music, he took me under his wing and pushed me. So I always like to make sure that he gets his shine as long as I do, because without him, I wouldn’t have gotten here. I wouldn’t have been doing the Women in Music Boston Showcase at Spotify if he hadn’t come through for me years ago to say, ‘You have talent, and you’re going to do something with this whether you like it or not, because I say say so.’ That’s something I always like to mention. That’s my gift back to him for everything he’s done for me. His name is Carlos ‘Lokolos’ Rivera.