Ana Tijoux on the state of female MCs and whether she’d ever rap in English
The critically praised Chilean MC is neither Team Nicki nor Team Queen B.
By ANGIE ROMERO
Don’t expect Ana Tijoux to take sides in the highly publicized and never-ending Lil Kim-Nicki Minaj beef, which was reignited when Kim paid a recent visit to the Power 105.1 “Breakfast Club” radio show in New York to promote her current “Return of The Queen” tour.
The 34-year-old Chilean MC, who just wrapped the first leg of her U.S. tour in support of her sophomore set, La Bala, is comfortable in her own lane.
“I don’t listen to them,” Tijoux told us via phone after a recent sold-out California show. “It’s not that I don’t like their work, it’s just a language that I don’t identify with.”
And she’s not just talking English. Born in France while her family was in political exile during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, Tijoux is known for rapping about topics like corruption and classism and has more in common with revolutionary-minded rappers like Immortal Technique than with any female in the game right now. And that’s just fine by her.
The Grammy-nominated artist says she is turned off by stateside femcees’ vernacular, which she says is often materialistic and braggadocious, and even disparaging toward women.
“They use terms like ‘bitch’ and we don’t use that word in Chile, so people get turned off. When you admire an artist, you like their videos, their universe,” she said. “I look at their videos and they appear with gigantic cars, and that type of car doesn’t exist where I’m from. It’s not part of our culture, so it’s difficult to identify yourself with it.”
Clearly, the image of Tijoux at a Nicki Minaj concert, drowning in a sea of pink-wigged Barbz, is highly improbable. You’re much more likely to find Tijoux, headphones on, bobbing her head to old-school female MCs.
“I like Bahamadia, MC Lyte, and Queen Latifah,” said Tijoux. “They were really influential when I started.”
The contemporary female hip-hop artists she does eff with are far from the obvious choices. Mention Harlem native and new It girl Azealia Banks, whose debut album Broke With Expensive Taste drops in September, and she says she’s never heard of her. No surprise there. I didn’t even ask about Brianna Perry.
“I like Invincible from Detroit, whom I discovered via MySpace,” said Tijoux. “I think she’s one of the best in the game,” she adds of the white rapper who’s made some festival rounds in the U.S., including South By SouthWest, but has yet to break out in any major way.
The two collaborated on the track “Sube,” off Tijoux’s debut album, 1977, released in 2010.
On her latest, Tijoux continues her minimalist aesthetic (sparse and jazzy 90s-era beats), and calls on artists such as Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler, Brazil’s Curumin, Cuban hip-hop group Los Aldeanos, and Monica Blaire, another Detroit-reared talent, who gives the song “Quizas” a soulful hook.
Surprisingly, Tijoux doesn’t totally shut down the possibility of recording in English.
“No, I’m not opposed to it; it’s just not natural to me,” she shares. “I haven’t done it because it’s not part of my consciousness. I don’t speak in English, I don’t dream in English. I’m afraid that if I were to do it, it would be for something commercial. If I were to do it, it’s because I’m really feeling it.”
When that time comes, we have a few ideas for collaborators. At the top of our list is the Bay Area’s Kreayshawn, who’s buzzing again thanks to her new 2 Chainz-assisted single, “Breakfast.”
Siiiike! I couldn’t find two more divergent artists if I tried. Maybe Tijoux has a point in avoiding American radio…
Actually, a dream pairing would be with Jean Grae, of whom Tijoux is obviously a student.
“She’s a tremendous writer with tremendous flow,” she said of the Brooklyn-based lyricist, one of hip-hop’s most respected.
But don’t hold your breath for a Grae-Tijoux duet.
“I don’t like to give out names,” replied Tijoux when asked who she’d be down to work with next. “I think that the collaborations have to be natural and not forced. And the collaborations also derive from the energy you get from another person. I don’t have someone that I’ve observed or have chosen.”
Meanwhile, Tijoux can feel good about exposing audiences in the U.S. and abroad to her message-driven rap en español. She already has a fan in Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.
The fact that the crowds at her U.S. shows aren’t just Latinos (but a good mix of non-Spanish-speaking hipsters thrown in) still shocks her.
“It totally surprises me,” she says. “But for those of us in Latin America, we’ve been consuming a lot of American music over the years even though we don’t understand what they talk about.”
Those who missed Tijoux during her U.S. stint can catch her in July during the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York, at a concert in Brooklyn celebrating the festival’s 13th anniversary with Calle 13 and Ritmo Machine. She’ll also have a couple of one-off shows in Chicago in July.
No word on whether Nicki Minaj will open for her.
(Photo: Courtesy of Nacional Records)