Call Me By My Name: Meet Latasha
cover photo by Ren Revolution
2 empty canisters lie at your feet. Both without labels. Purposeless. You go to sleep everyday with these canisters at your feet—trying to sort out how they can best serve you. One day, you wake up and you notice that the first canister has been filled half way. You take a closer look. The canister is now bright yellow. It has palm trees and is filled with lots of light. It's tough, but does not yet know the power it holds. It's covered in glitter and shines like the hood of a new car. You hold it in your hands and you name her L.A. Each morning you open up your half-filled canister— using the glitter for your eyelids and the palm trees to hide all your power behind. That is, until the canister is empty again. All the glitter has fallen off and all the light has left. This canister no longer serves you. You fall asleep with, yet again, 2 empty canisters at your feet. The next morning, the second canister appears to have been poured into. The canister is covered in dirt and you can’t quite see what’s inside. You lift it up and immediately place it beside you. It's heavier than you expected. Darker than you expected. But there’s a sort of electricity bouncing off of the sides of it. It’s almost as if it's vibrating at a frequency you’ve never tapped into before. You hold it in your hands and you call her by her name. Latasha.
The multi-disciplinary artist Latasha, formerly known to many as L.A. is a masterful storyteller. She uses both her music and her visual art to touch the souls of little black girls like her who grew up in the hood. Who spent their days at Kings Plaza Mall and bought $10 dresses at Rainbow. For girls who rock doobies and spent their Teen Nights At Empire. Latasha grabbed my attention during her interdisciplinary performance art project, “All A Dream: Intro to Latasha” at the Brooklyn Museum where she told the story of her Brooklyn and the ways in which outside forces are attempting to strip it of its soul to make way for coffee shops and luxury apartments. I travelled to Flatbush Ave to have breakfast at one of Latasha's favorite spots, Blessings Cafe, where we talked about Brooklyn, her work, and the importance of telling stories when you still can.
Ayanna: What are you? Jamaican, Haitian, Panamanian, and—
Latasha: and Puerto Rican. That’s really good! You got a lot of them. Most people don’t get that many.
Ayanna: If someone were to ask you who you were, what you did, and why you did it, what would you say to them?
Latasha: That’s a great question. Who I am at the root is a creator. A co- creator at that. I don’t feel like anything I do is all me. I feel like I'm some vessel. I don't feel like I do any of this on my own.
A: It’s great you push ego aside. A lot of creators let ego get in the way of creating art. It’s impossible to do anything by yourself.
L: There's definitely a higher source working with me at all times. So, I’m a co-creator. I’m an artist. I guess creator and artist are both kind of in the same realm, but to me an artist is someone who creates experiences. That's my work. I'm really about creating full experiences. And I'm a child of hip-hop. Thats where everything started from.
A: When did you first fall in love with hip-hop on my Sanaa Lathan / Brown Sugar tip ?
L: I was always in love with hip-hop. Every Christmas was Ruff Ryders. Those were like our Christmas carols. Biggie, of course, because he is Brooklyn. Lil Kim was always in my headphones. I was like 10. My family is Caribbean, so we didn't grow up just on hip-hop. I grew up listening to reggae too. A lot of Shabba and Buju and listening to Merengue and Salsa and Bachata. I snuck in the room and listened to hip-hop. Thats how I developed my relationship with the music. In the [Brooklyn Museum] show I talked about my boyfriend who passed away. He wanted to be a poet. He was so obsessed with Jadakiss and battle rapping. I dived into it with him, and when he passed away I didn't have any support groups or anything like that. I didn't really have any support so I wrote poetry growing up to heal. I remember going to Wesleyan University and hating it. Hating it because I didn't feel like I had a space in it. But, when they told me I could create my own subject to study, I decided I wanted to study hip-hop. My major was Black Studies and Psychology and my concentration was Hip-Hop and Black Performance Art.
A: That’s a full circle moment.
L: Exactly. All of a sudden, when I got out of school people were hitting me up for cyphers because they heard my poetry. One thing lead to another, and all of a sudden I was doing it.
A: On your first project, you were going by L.A at the time. Talk to me about that project and your mental health during that time.
L: I had two projects that came out during that time. Presentation was my first project. That was my ode to Kanye West. I was a huge Ye fan. Every Kanye project I was appreciative of.
A: Makes sense. Ye creates worlds with each album and that’s sort of what you want to do with your work.
L: Exactly. We did a short film for Presentation it and it ended up being super viral. I used all of his [ Kanye's] old beats that I was in love with at the time and just went off. All of this stuff started happening. I ended up opening for Big Sean and Nipsey Hussle. All of this crazy s**t started happening, so I had to work on a new project really quickly. I was really stressed out. I was working for JP Morgan—I had a real job. I hated it. The industry was telling me I wouldn't make it. People were harassing me online. It was a lot.
A: But, why?
L: Just because I was a black girl online who liked to rap. Nicki [Minaj] was the only rapper out at that time. Everybody was going nuts about that. It’s crazy, I was just talking to Nitty Scott about this. Me and her came in the game during the same cycles. It's interesting because now everyone wants to hear the female voice, but when we were coming out no one gave a f**k.
A: It’s so crazy. That's why Remy winning Best Female Rapper at the BET Awards was so monumental. For years, no one cared about female rappers if it wasn’t Nicki.
L: No one cared. At that time, I was really about my expression and being hardcore and so was the project that I did after Presentation called, The L.A Riots: Mental Fatality. It was my fight. I was very angry. I was very depressed. I was losing friends left and right because of the music. People were telling me what to be and I didn't wanna listen. From there, I feel like that propelled a big shift in my life because it was the first time in my life being blunt as f**k. And that was the first time people heard me that angry. People didn't like it.
A: Of course they didn't. Black women don't get to be mad.
L: So I fell into an even deeper depression because I was like, "why am i doing this?" Then I got into, I feel like I've been telling this story over and over, this crazy bad relationship.
A: Is this the guy you were talking about on, "Glo Up?"
L: Yeah. He was really abusive verbally and in a lot of different ways. It was actually a little physical too. Went through a lot of s**t during that time. I was still was making music but just not feeling it. Actually, I was trying to make light and you can't make light and I was forcing myself into that.
A: You can't. You have to find it in the darkness.
L: That's where my project, Spark, came from. It was me trying to have light again and be happy and show people I can be this happy girl. Got out of that relationship and this woman ended up helping me and gave me 10 g’s to start my life over.
A: That’s so crazy. And it pretty much came out of nowhere right?
L: Yeah. She came into my life and pretty much saved my life for that time. From then on, I was a full-time musician and thats when I decided I wasn't going to call myself LA anymore. I was going to start calling myself by my full name, Latasha Alcindor. But that shit got so complicated because people were like, "I don't know how to say Alcindor." It was a big thing. I found out recently that Alcindor isn’t even my real last name. It’s my aunt's last name. My mom doesn't know her father and I didn't know this until some time. I decided it was time to drop Alcindor. Just be Latasha.
A: Talk to me about who L.A was and who Latasha is.
L: I think L.A was something I had to develop quickly because the buzz was there. She was a girl who was figuring it out. The hood would call me L.A because I sound like I'm from LA and it was my initials, so it all made sense. But then, I grew out of it. I feel like Latasha who is starting to appear right now is more of the full picture. I feel like she knows whats she's looking for right now. That's to create experiences that resonate with the people. I don't think LA had that yet. She was still in the ego a lot more and Latasha is not there anymore. I still have an ego. It’s there. But i learned how to tame her. I love the woman that I'm becoming now more than ever because I just feel like I have so much room. Before I felt like I was so confined to having to rap or having to be bar for bar, punchline for punchline. Now, I'm just ready to tell story with music and I'm ready to start singing. It’s scary, but It's cool because I gotta do it.
A: Why do you thing people like your music?
L: I'm honest. I think its about my honesty and my journey. People like to listen to all of my albums and then tell me, "so much growth," or "so much inspiration." My biggest thing is my honesty. I hope that in the next realm I get into you enjoy it, not just because of the honesty, but for the vibrations it gives. I really wanna make music that connects with the spirit.
A: I feel like you've started to tap into Source on Teen Nite at Empire. You were vibrating at a higher frequency and its still a fun record.
L: Yeah, that's my goal.
A: How did your show, "All A Dream: Intro To Latasha" come to be?
L: I've actually performed at the Brooklyn Museum before downstairs about 2 or 3 years ago. Became really tight with the people that curate. They came to one of my shows—I’ve been building this show for about 4 years now. They came to the last show I did at National Sawdust and they were like, “we need this at BK Museum.” From there, I just kept developing it. This is the latest development of the show but its consistently evolving.
A:What was the response you got after the performance?
L: It was nuts. People went crazy. I had at least 100 messages on DM. I didn't even realize the capacity of the show. Im just doing it, you know. So many girls hit me up which meant the most. So many women just being like, "that was what I needed to see." That’s why I did it. Shows for us. Girls like me who grew up in the hood. Girls whose stories aren't really told like that. The regular girl. So many times we do this whole, "she gotta be extra and she gotta have weave down to her ass" thing. Nah, I just wanna tell stories about the girl who goes to Rainbow and gets like a $10 dress and is kickin' it. To me, it's all about the multiverse. Women are the multiverse and we have so many different stories and things we can be so its about telling that. That's my work.
A: Brooklyn acts as a major influence on your music. Talk to me about Brooklyn and how it has shaped you as a person and an artist.
L: I think for my last two projects, that was the goal. To show you my environment. I know it’s so cheesy, but you know people through where they come from. I had this experiment in my mind where i tried to figure out if I am a product of my environment or if my environment is a product of me. That was a big conversation I was having throughout both projects. Brooklyn is everything I've ever known, you know? So, I had to tell that story—especially now that things are changing so quickly. It is so imperative that people started telling Brooklyn's story before its all gone.
A: What are some of your favorite parts of Brooklyn?
L: Flatbush. This is where i grew up pretty much. I used to walk up and down this block [Flatbush Ave] being cute and try to get a little boyfriend. *Laughs.* This block is everything to me. Downtown BK was always fancy to me. Even Kings Plaza Mall was a thing for us. You’d go to high school and then you'd go to Kings Plaza. That was the mall to be at, but it was mad hood. People fighting all the time. It was nuts. Flatbush is definitely my favorite part of Brooklyn, though. I literally grew up on these blocks and I could tell you a story on maybe every block.
A: There's a warmth about it. I know that guy. I know that girl. Thats my uncle. Thats my sister.
L: Absolutely. My dad was a drug dealer. I grew up right in this hood watching him do that. I know the people he used to deal with. I see them sometimes on the street when I'm walking around here and they be like," tasha" and im like," this is so awkward." My dad doesn’t do that anymore, but those people become a part of your family. That's life.
A: Who are some of the people that have had the biggest impact on your life? I know Sherilka is a major player in your life.
L: Sherilka is huge. She’s wild. My mom is definitely the first. So many stories in this woman. She was born in Puerto Rico— came to America when she was 13. Her mom and her sister came together, but their mother just did a lot of wild s**t and they ended up in foster care and pretty much had to learn how to live in Brooklyn by themselves. She had me at 18. Her life is embedded in my story too because i feel like I'm her eyes. I feel like I see the world in a different way now and she's just watching me. She always grew up, you know— get a 9 to 5, and to see me do this full-time? She's always like, "what the f**k." She used to be a dancehall queen back in the 80s. She wanted to be a singer. All types of s**t. I'm actually living the vision she had for herself.
Sherilka is my cousin. We grew up right on theses blocks too. Her story is crazy. She lived in this hood and got into mad trouble when we were in school. I was her good cousin. Her cousin that would keep her out of trouble, and when I went away to school she got into wild trouble and had to run away. She lives in Panama now. The recording you here of her on the album is actually a recording from her phone in Panama. Me and Sherilka used to go to the parties together. You know when you have that cousin? She's the one. And my Aunt Patricia. Patricia was like my second mom. She helped raise me pretty much when my dad was gone. She did everything for me too. She used to shoplift and all sorts of things so we can just chill.
A: What would you say are some of your biggest fears at the moment?
L: I don't have big fears anymore. It’s cool. The only fear that I might have is not having my stepdad see me fulfill certain things. I want him to see me get married and do those kinds of things but I'm so caught up in my work. I don't see that happening for another 4 years or something and he’s getting older. He’s like my road dog, my stepdad. I just wanna make sure I get some stuff done before that happens, you know? I fear my dad not seeing me win a Grammy. S**t like that.
A: Do those accolades mean something to you?
L: I mean—yes. Im a Capricorn, so i cant deny it. I know I want it. So, might as well just accept it. I wanna be a star. I wanna be an icon. Just gotta do the work for it.
A: What would you say to the girl who wants to do what you’re doing? On some, "I wanna build worlds, but I don't have any resources. Im in debt. I don't have access to the people I need to help me create." What would you say to that girl?
L: I would say, "you have a cell phone." Record whatever you're saying. Put a beat on it. Ask homies. I didn't have s**t when I started this. I didn't have a mic. I didn't have anything. I just had some people who fucked with me. I used to get caught up in that, "I need this, I need that" bs. Teen Nite [ At Empire ] was recorded on a little tiny Apogee mic in my room. The whole project. I remember being like, "nothing is gonna feel more pure than me just being in my room spitting bars." So, I put up my Apogee mic and I pulled up GarageBand and recorded every verse. I sent it to my producers and said, "what can you do?" So, theres no excuses. If you wanna create, just create. The biggest battle is your mind. I deal with that too. There are days where my mind is like everywhere and I can't even create, but once you can get over your brain you can do whatever you gotta do.
A: What are some things you do or say to yourself to get over that?
L: I let myself go through the process. If I'm depressed and I don't wanna do s**t I won't do it. Me fighting it is not going to work. The other day, I literally just watched The Office all day. I did not do anything. I just need to get through it. Cry some. And that's how you gotta live life. You just gotta let it be. Let it flow. And its hard. I think something else I've learned is balancing that frustration of feeling like you're not doing enough and that chill time. That’s what I work off of. To propel myself forward. It's hard, but it's worth it.