This week, in honor of Women’s History Month and hip-hop’s upcoming 50th anniversary, Kim Barrington Narisetti spoke to up-and-coming hip-hop/R&B artist XO Millani nee Kemisha Frederick about making it in the industry, how those who came before her influenced her, and what it means to be a female artist today.
“I have actually been doing music for a really long time. Roughly between the ages of 7 and 13, I was a singer. I used to sing in church choirs and once my mom realized I had a talent, she went the extra mile for me and I began doing shows. She took me to America’s Got Talent, she took me on the X-Factor, I tried out for American Idol, and Showtime at the Apollo,” she says.
Signed to independent label Swervin Lanes Entertainment, Millani is grateful for the support it has given her. “I’ve been with them for roughly two years now and it’s been fantastic. I couldn’t ask for a better team, I couldn’t ask for better people to have by my side. It’s going exactly how I think it should be going. And, I can’t wait for everybody to get to know who I am.”
Breaking into the industry has not been easy. “As a female artist it is kind of hard because you don’t want to be out of date. You need to pay attention to what’s the hype, what’s going on now. What are people listening to? The hardest thing is allowing people to get to know you as an artist and connecting with them. I want to make that connection with my fan base in a way that they can relate,” she says.
Millani continued, “If it weren’t for the first females before me, it would not be possible for me to come up and do what I’m doing. In the early stages of rap, they were expecting these women to flop. They weren’t expecting Queen Latifah and Lil’ Kim and the other rappers to stand on their own and do this just like the men can. It’s always been ‘a man’s world’ but what about the females who can and did do the same thing. I commend all of these females because without them, there would be no me. I was the last of the 90s babies, I was born in ‘99.”
But Millani doesn’t feel she needs to compare herself to others. “I feel I am unique to myself. The trailblazing artists (Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, Lil’ Kim) are fire, but they are not necessarily who I look up to get my inspiration in my writing. I get it from older music, soul music and not this newer stuff that’s coming out,” she says. I don’t just rap, I don’t just sing. I try to do them both at the same time. I’m not trying to be the next Nikki Minaj or the next Sza, I am trying to bring my own kind of flavor to the table.”
The grinding is starting to reap dividends. On a recent Thursday evening, Millani participated in a showcase of 35 up and comers in the industry hosted by Power 105.1 radio station in a tribute to the life and music of slain rapper Nipsey Hussle. She got the packed, standing room-only crowd to its feet during her set with the two original songs she composed “Call Me” and “Water” at Now & Then club in Brooklyn.
“So far I have been doing a lot of venues, little shows here and there. Things that will get me out there and market what I’m doing and it allows me to touch base with other artists and see what they’re doing. I haven’t really been traveling outside the state really, but I recently picked up my first show in Rhode Island and that would be the first time I’m really leaving Brooklyn for a show and I’m really excited about that,” she says.
Millani has used social media to her advantage, posting her dates and promoting herself daily. But she admits it can be hit or miss. Social media “helps and also hurts artists. Artists are out there working at perfecting their craft and basically you do have the people who troll who are out there who have that kind of hate in their soul who don’t want to see you win,” she says.
“A lot of women feel like they need to look a certain way to feel confident with themselves. I’ve had that reassurance in my life from my mom so I didn’t really feel I had to change myself based on how other females appear nowadays. And the way I put myself out there is 100 percent me,” Millani added.
“When I’m in doubt, Juicy by Biggie Smalls, just the start of it, that first couple of beats, ‘yeah, it was all a dream…’. then I’m back and I’m better. He was lyrically so gifted that you need to sip it, and listen and catch it if you want to understand exactly what he’s saying,” she says.
Millani continued: “I write my own songs. And I have been writing my own songs since I was really young. As a female, you gotta touch base with what’s really going on here. Everybody is not a city girl but everybody can be emotional so I try to reach different people. I’m not a rapper, I’m not a singer, I’m somebody who can touch base with anybody.”
As Biggie said: That’s the Brooklyn way.
Follow XO Millani on Instagram for upcoming show dates, including a show this Friday at Secret Pour (1114 DeKalb Ave.) at 8 p.m.