bbymutha Should Be Your Favorite Rapper
The Chattanooga Artist on Style Inspiration, Self-Acceptance, and Ugly-Cute Men
- Interview: Ruth Gebreyesus
- Photography: Rebecca Storm
On the Saturday afternoon that I call bbymutha, the 29-year-old rapper is in bed. “I'm chilling in the bed eating Skittles,” she giggles. She’s recovering from The Mutha Land, a Red Bull concert in Nashville she creative directed and headlined just two days before. For the past four years, the Chattanooga, Tennessee native has been releasing a stream of singles, mixtapes and EPs that have progressed in frequency and quality. Last year, her Twitter savvy led to the viral success of the video for “Rules,” a sermon on carnal discernment set to a minimalist and bouncy bass track.
bbymutha fits into Southern rap’s legacy of originality—a refusal to conform to any coastal trends, choosing instead respective local flairs for self-expression. The mother of four, two sets of twins, she’s spun a stage name out of an often pejorative phrase, while rapping with candor and incision about her sexual desires, her past experiences, and her future ambitions. She leisurely wraps her sharp lyrics around beats that are typically endemic to experimental and electronic corners of the internet, where producer tags matter more than genres. The result is a sound all her own—a Chattanooga drawl coming through distorted and progressive production from the likes of LSDXOXO and My Friend Meesha. “Sorry I ain’t perfect/I ain’t workin on it either,” she raps on “Translucent,” a standout track from her Free Brittnee EP. Delivered in a self-assured tone, the line counts as one of many resonant mantras from her catalogue that capture her charisma. This month, bbymutha is set to release Christine, her debut studio album. Titled after the rapper’s middle name, the concept album centers around a woman who’s in love with the devil, an abstraction of a new bit of recently discovered ancestry: “I found out I have a serial killer in my family,” she tells me. “She would date these men and they would abuse her or they would cheat on her, so she would murder them.” It’s bbymutha’s ability to turn misfortune into myth and gather inspiration from unlikely sources that distinguish her music and style. During our hour-long conversation, she told me about the sort of men that get her attention and her style inspirations, from Aretha Franklin to the Teletubbies.
What was your upbringing like?
I grew up in two different environments. I had my mom that I would live with during the week for the most part. Then every other weekend, I would go with my dad, and I would go with him in the summer. So I grew up in a Christian household on one hand and in a Muslim household on the other hand. With my mom, it's church every Wednesday and Sunday. Wake up every morning, read a Psalm and Proverb before you go to school. On my dad's side, he was strict but he was more secular than my mom. I had access to computers and I could listen to music that I wanted to listen to. I could watch cartoons.
Were you online from a young age?
My daddy got me my first computer when I was like 8. So even before MySpace I was on Yahooligans. The little Yahoo for kids. I've always been a social media baby. I was always on MySpace. Doing the normal coding. Making the page all cute. Putting a song on the page. Then Facebook came out and honestly ruined the social media experience. That's when things became more about, like competition [rather] than just like the fun of being on the internet. I was Facebook famous for a minute. I would make vlog videos probably still on YouTube. They're probably horrendous. They're probably so problematic. I was coming out of high school and going into being a grown person. Being 18, 19, 20 with kids thinking I knew everything. But it helped me get my sense of style.
What do you mean?
Social media has always been a big part of who I am for some reason. I think it's because I didn't fit in in schools. When you get on social media, it shows you in a different light, or gives you the ability to control how people see you. When you’re on social media, people don't know that you're broke necessarily, but they see that you're creative.
Did your style stand out in high school?
It wasn't even that it stood out, I couldn't afford what everybody else had so I had to get creative. Back then, Chuck Taylors were like 20, 30 dollars so that was my go-to shoe. And Chucks came in every color, so I would wear different color Chucks. I would get creative with my hair. Remember Melissas? I would get those and they would come with two different sets of shoe strings. If I would wear like the red ones, the red ones would come with the white shoe strings so I would put the white shoe strings in my ponytail. So instead of being able to afford butterfly clips, I'd put shoes strings [in my hair]. I'm just very resourceful. People just thought I was weird.
Is your style influenced by children's television shows? I imagine you have to watch a lot of them.
Yes, a lot. But even before I had kids, Teletubbies have always been like, oh man... I really love the Teletubbies. Especially the green one, Dipsy. He had to be black. There's no way he wasn't black. He had so much swag. Even his little cow hat. Dipsy was very hard. Then Po is hard. Then Tinky Winky with the bag, with the red bag? How the red fits the purple. How the green on Dipsy [fits] with the cow hat. I always try to pick a color to offset it, that doesn't make sense. So if I have blue and green, I might throw yellow in there.
What other things inspire your style?
I've always been into dark shit. I remember [when] Hot Topic used to be very great. They had really sexy gothic bustiers and I would go in there and get hella cute bustiers. Be on my goth shit a little bit, but it would be like sexy goth. And then I would go to the clubs in Chattanooga and they would be like, "What the fuck is that?” I've always been on some rebellious shit because my mom was super, super religious. I was just like fuck it, I'm the devil. Not to spite my mom but to make fun of Christianity, period. On the opposite end of that, I really love color and rainbows. Jimi Hendrix is a big style inspiration for me. Kelis too. BET did a special on Nivea the other day and I didn't realize how influential she is. You look at her videos and she always had the colorful hair, the colorful bangs and very innovative hairstyles, like, really cute. Even if I didn't grow up looking at them and being inspired by them, I always think it's cool to go back. Donna Summer is like a big inspiration for me, but I didn't know much about Donna Summer coming up. Even Aretha Franklin. I like the fact Aretha had big long titties and she ain't give a fuck. That's fashion to me. Just rocking your titties the way they are, not trying to make them look no certain kind of way, and wearing whatever the fuck you want to wear with them titties. That's inspiration to me because I got long ass titties.
She would wear these strappy tops with no bra and look good as hell.
With no bra! She would look as good as hell. Even me with my stomach. It took me so long to be able to embrace the fact that my stomach looks the way it looks because I've had children. I could get it fixed if I wanted to but at the same time, everybody's stomach's don't look like this, so it's a fashion statement. Even the knot. I have a fat deposit on my forehead, everybody doesn't have a fat deposit on their forehead. It's a fashion statement to me. It's something that I have that nobody else really has. So I have to finesse and it make it work for me.
I love your attitude on this because when people say “come with your flaws,” it’s not always entirely true.
It's like manufactured flaws. It just kills me. I was talking about this on fucking Tumblr the other day–how it's cool to be a certain way but only in moderation. Nobody appreciates actual rawness. It scares people. You have to water down everything in order for it to be socially accepted. Even body positivity movements. I've never seen women with stomachs like mine. Even the melanin poppin' dark skin girls. You have to look a certain way in order to be considered an acceptable dark skin girl.
Can we talk about “ugly cute men,” a concept you tweeted about earlier this year?
I feel like there's niggas that have cute features but they don't all go together. I appreciate features more than I appreciate the whole package. So if you have like nice lips but you're cockeyed, I can take you. I like a nigga's face to have personality. I hate all these light skin, man-bun wearing ass niggas that look the same. You know when you ugly you kinda have to develop character because people treat you weird. I feel like I'm funny looking. I got all these funny looking things about me. I've had to develop this character about myself and this personality about myself.
What can you tell me about Christine? You mentioned in an interview on True Laurels that it centers around a woman who's in love with the devil.
She's in love with the devil. That's her man. That's her main nigga. But she's also bored like, "I've been with this man my whole life. It's time for me to test the waters, see what else is out there." So she goes to these different relationships and they don't work out the way she thinks they're going to work out. Instead of leaving, she's very hurt by the way that these relationships are working out, she ends up murdering the men. I'm really excited about it. It's cinematic, but it's also abstract.
How has it been performing some of the heavier songs off of Christine live?
Well, the only ones I've really performed is the funner ones. The ones that are like, "Hey, I want to fuck with this person." And the murder ones. I haven't really performed the middle tracks, the ones that are about like, "Damn this is why this nigga hurt me." I can't listen to them. They make my stomach hurt a little bit. It's going to be hard to perform those. I'm probably going to be crying and shitting on myself on stage when that time comes. I mean it'll be cute to cry on stage, I guess.
I feel like the story is so relatable. It goes into me at 16 fucking with this [23-year-old] man at the time that I thought really fucked with me because he wanted me. He just ended up getting me pregnant and leaving me. I know there's bitches out there that can relate. It's going to be a good album. I'm very excited about it. I'm very proud of it.
People might be crying in the crowd. You won't be alone.
Crying in the club! That’s going to be great.
Ruth Gebreyesus is a freelance writer and editor based in California. Her work has appeared in SF MoMA's Open Space and The Fader among other places.
- Interview: Ruth Gebreyesus
- Photography: Rebecca Storm
- Styling: Romany Williams
- Photography Assistant: Raymond Adriano
- Hair and Makeup: Carole Méthot
- Production: Alexandra Zbikowski
- Production Assistant: Erika Robichaud-Martel