We spoke to Montreal-based hip hop artist Shades Lawrence about her new single, “Turn My Head.” The queer love track rocks ’90s hip hop vibes and flips the heteronormative love song narrative. Shades channels her spoken word roots as she describes the butterflies surrounding a budding romance, assisted by Emma Maryam with soulful vocals. The single is part of a tantalizing lead-up to the release of her EP, Second Life, due out in June.
Besides her music, Shades has made a name for herself in Montreal for her ambitious efforts to provide platforms for female and non-binary musical talents, as well as for womxn of color. She regularly organizes and co-presents events for advocates of mental health, the women and non-binary artist showcase, Sister Singer, as well as a DJ night for black womxn DJs, called Sister Spinner. She also recently brought together the Lux Magna Festival, curated to highlight the creative talents of womxn of color.
As a lyricist who is in touch with the needs of her community and a dedication to being transparent in her work, Shades brings a fresh and necessary narrative to the music scene in Montreal and beyond. Listen to “Turn My Head” below and check out our interview with Shades for more details on the inspiration for the track, her upcoming EP, and her activism.
AF: Congratulations on your new single! Was it a specific relationship or story that inspired it?
SL: Thank you! Yes, “Turn My Head” is based on 3 [to] 4 different relationships that I progressed through. I thought for simplicity’s sake to combine similar experiences into one song and narrative.
AF: “Turn My Head” flips the hetero narrative normalized in most love songs. As a queer hip hop artist and a woman, how do you make sure your music stays true to you and what would you tell another artist or woman who’s feeling boxed into certain roles or stereotypes?
SL: I speak from my experience of life and tell stories that reflect my reality. I find it important to be as genuine and authentic as possible in the music I write and release. Additionally, coming from a mixed-race background, I’ve always almost intuitively avoided boxes and labels as much as possible, but at the end of the day, folks are going to have an impression of me that is based on their reality. So for me, freedom from stereotypes is about letting go of what I can’t control and focusing on my music and my art.
AF: Will there be a visual coming out for the song?
SL: A visual is in the works. Will keep you posted!
AF: Tell me a little bit about what fans can expect from your upcoming EP. When’s it coming out?
SL: My EP Second Life is coming out June 7th and it is a diverse representation of my influences. There’s a dancehall/Latin infused track that speaks of my origins; there’s storytelling aspects to another track. And there are songs that make a political statement, all with beats that are catchy. I am so excited for this release.
AF: When did you start practicing spoken word and when did that evolve into your rapping career?
SL: I started practicing spoken word in early 2015. Emma Maryam, who is the featured artist on “Turn My Head,” was actually at one of my shows the second or third time I performed poetry. In 2016, I had a collaborative spoken word show called “Extreme States” with Carole TenBrink in the Montreal Fringe Festival. I thoroughly enjoyed that experience. After having put together a complete spoken word project, I realized that I love the interaction with music so much, so I decided to cross over to hip hop, which was one of my original passions from when I was growing up.
AF: You’re well-known in Montreal for your activism and events that empower women. Tell me a little bit about these events, what they mean to you, and how you hope to help others.
SL: Two of the events I’m currently involved in organizing are Sister Singer and Sister Spinner. Sister Singer is a platform to highlight womxn and non-binary musical talent based in Montreal. Sister Spinner creates dance parties that feature all black womxn DJs. I was also recently asked to curate a show for the Lux Magna Festival in Montreal. We chose to feature womxn of color in the lineup.
I am proud of these undertakings because I know that womxn and non-binary artists, especially of color, have so much to contribute to our cultural landscape. It is also important to create these spaces and feature artists from underrepresented communities, since it provides opportunities for growth, while also enriching audiences and the music industry as a whole.
AF: Who are some artists you look to for inspiration?
SL: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill informed much of my youth. Lyrically, I would say André 3000. Content-wise and stylistically, currently I quite enjoy Shad (a Canada-based MC).
AF: Anything else you’d like to add?
SL: I am grateful for platforms, such as Audiofemme, that provide a space to share a bit of my process and the backstory behind the music. Enjoy “Turn My Head (feat. Emma Maryam)” and thank you!