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Artist Q&A: Laaee Uzumak!

Laaee Uzumak! at Penguin Park. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.
Brought to you by 90.9 The Bridge

I first came across Laaee’s music on Cameron Capers’ blog Beyond The Sound back in March. Right away, I was gripped by her confident delivery, her bevy of outrageous one-liners, and her ability to jump between multiple distinct vocal styles with ease. If you haven’t yet, check out the fairytale nightmare music video for her song “Yes!” to see what I’m talking about. I met up with Laaee at Penguin Park in the Northland in mid-May. She says she visited it as a kid and had always wanted to do a photo shoot there.

Did you grow up in the area?

Yeah, so I actually grew up around the Zona Rosa area, like Northland. But both my parents are from Liberia, West Africa. So it's a lot of culture.

When did they move here?
They came here I want to say maybe 37 years ago. They've been here over 30 plus years. My dad came here first and then my mom and him got married. That's what got him his papers and then she got her citizenship later on. But I'm like the baby in the family. I was born in 2001. I have seven brothers, three sisters. They saved the best for last, that’s what I like to say.

When did you first start making music and who are some important musicians to you?
I started getting real serious maybe July 2020. And that was when I was just going through a lot of stress and I shaved my head on some Britney Spears type shit [laughs]. And I really felt like this was my calling. This is my passion. I didn't really see myself in any other occupation. Like, I like fashion, I like music. I only see this in my future.

I will say, I’ve always been inspired by a lot of upcoming artists. I don't even listen to him that much, but Lil Tjay, he blew up in a year. I fuck with Playboi, D Savage, Hook, any female artist, but my biggest inspiration is myself. Just ‘cause, back in the day-day, I used to be treated like a loser. So that's why I took the word back and now that’s my adlib, ‘cause everybody has that glow-up.

Were you into music when you were a kid?
I feel like I've always been a big music fan. My mom, she likes to say that I can memorize lyrics, but I can’t memorize math questions like that. So I've always been a big music fan, but I will say that really at 17, 18, 19, that's when I finally, finally started seeing this as my calling. My birthday’s in nine days. My golden birthday. So 5/20 I'll be 20, so we’re gonna wish for the best.

Your mom’s in a bunch of the TikTok videos you’ve posted. It seems like you guys have a fun friendship.
Yeah, I love her to death. She’s one of my biggest supporters even though sometimes she doesn't quite understand me. I know she really does care for me. I'll be telling her, “Mom, we’re gonna meet Adam22, we’re gonna meet Charlemagne. Just wait.” My mom, she wants to live back in Liberia, so I want to buy her a house and stuff. She provided for me. I want to provide for her.

So, Uzumak! is an anime reference.

That's Naruto last name. Naruto Uzumaki, but for copyright reasons I changed the “i” to an exclamation point. But my brother, he’s the second to youngest before me, he's been a really big inspiration. I grew up with him, we grew up watching Toonami, Adult Swim, all that type of shit. He's really into anime and he's really into gaming. He does gaming tournaments and stuff like that. So just him being an influence on me, I feel like I'm really into pop culture stuff like that. So that's why I went ahead and just chose Uzumak! I feel like it's a very big mainstream anime, Naruto, so everybody knows that. So just for the public, for the culture.

What are your personal favorite series then?
I fuck with Naruto, but there’s other anime out there. That's a long series as well. There's a bunch of filler episodes. So I would say my favorite anime right now that’s not finished would be Kengan Ashura. That's my favorite one right now.

And Laaee is your first name?
Yeah, but in the future, if I really do blow up, blow up, I want to just change [my stage name] to L4433. Laaee means reliable in our language, which is Krahn. That's my grandma's name, so she passed and they named me after her. They were like, “She was hella nice when she was here.” So they say I’m hella mean. But, I feel like I’m hella nice! Yeah, Laaee is my real name, thank God. My dad said he would never name me Laaee, he would name me Stephanie and I just don't see myself as a Stephanie.

I watched all of your music videos in chronological order the other day and it seems like you’re getting more confident in each one.
Yes. And I would say it’s just me progressing. I really do see my talent progressing, better and better. I never thought I could get better and better. Practice makes perfect, whatever, but like just freestyling by yourself or just really writing and sitting down and writing your own stuff, it does make you feel better, especially with the visuals by itself, as you can see in the video, like the first one right? That was a year ago. You can see the effects getting better, like just a lot of things progressing. It feels like I'm leveling up each time.

Yeah, the “Red Dot” video is the one shot at the lake, right? Where is that?
Yes. Weatherby Lake. It’s right up north by Zona Rosa and the guy that's standing on the side of the boat, he was actually the security guard there. He was like, “What are y'all doing?” And I was like, “We shootin’ a music video. You tryna be in it?” And he was like, “Sure.” So that's how we got to shoot there. But that was actually really fun. That was back when I shaved my head and everything. That was back when I started taking rap seriously.

Is that somewhere you hang out or did you think it would just be fun to shoot there?

It was more like we want to do a video there just because I know a couple people who live there but it's kind of trespassing if you don't live there [laughs]. I thought it’d be hard for the video.

I also really like the video for “Yes!” What inspired the kind of dark, psychedelic vibe that was happening on that one?
Okay, so for “Yes!” since that song is already like -- I would say just my tone in general, I can do a gritter. I can do a really sweet [thing, too]. I can really change my voice -- honestly, truly. So that's why I wanted to be kind of sugar trap, but still I want to keep the person entertained. Like you're watching me like, “Oh, this is actually a cold visual, which is kind of nice.” Like, especially with Cam, Souped Up, he's so hard. He's so talented. He's gonna shoot my next one actually, which is this Thursday. I'm going to be shooting my “Token” music video. So I just want to do something that when you look at it, you're like, “Oh, she's great and tight,” you know?

Your bio says you’re working on a mixtape right now. What goals do you have for it? What’s that going to sound like?
So for the mixtape, it’s gonna be the Uzumak! Tape v1. The first mixtape, I really just want to get out any songs I have in the vault that should have been out or whatever. So it's gonna be a sweet, dark vibe. I feel like my music is very much not male or female oriented. Like anybody can listen to it. I feel like most songs you can sing along if you're a female, some songs if you're male you can still sing along, but it probably won't resonate with you like that.

But I feel like this tape coming up will really sound like me, like Laaee. Like, “Who is Laaee?” Especially, now I'm gonna feel myself, but I'm really glad to have my name. Like everybody has their own name of who they are, type shit. I really just want people to hear my sound and hear me and not just see me. I really want them to hear me.

I missed an important question. You reference The Wizards Of Waverly Place in a lyric. Is that your go-to Disney show?
I fuck with anything pop culture. I like Disney, I like Nick, I like Toonami. Anything pop culture, anything has to do with TV, I probably most likely know, just because I really grew up watching TV. I really fuck with Kim Possible, Lizzie McGuire, a lot of girls. Even the show The Buzz On Maggie. It’s an old show, but it was a show about like a fly and she was to be in a band. Even Hannah Montana. I feel like I'm Hannah Montana every day ‘cause I don't go outside without the jewels, so it really is a double life type shit.

You do use a deeper voice in some parts of your songs. Do you see that as an alter ego or character type of thing?
I feel like I do have different personas. So when it’s gritter, when it’s real deep New York type tone, his name is Lawrence. And when it's real sweet, like a Valley girl, that’s Lindsay. And then Laaee, it'll be a mix of the two, but it really just depends.

But that's why I honestly feel like I have an upper hand, just because I can change my voice. Maybe a little bit earlier this year, I was looking at my horoscope and stuff and it would just say, “Let go of anything feminine or masculine you thought about yourself.” And a lot of people, they're scared to show who they are. And especially with me being a black woman, they already put a hard exterior on black women. So that's why I was scared to even do the voice and stuff, but this is what's gonna make me different. This is what I need to do. ‘Cause that's honestly my passion. I just want to show all of me and not hide anything.

Do you think a lot about gender dynamics and stereotypes and stuff outside of your music?
Of course, of course, I really actually do. Especially when people are going to high school, they went to high school with me and now they're hearing me now. I feel like I've changed a lot from high school, and in good ways. And I feel like we're in 2021 -- everybody's a little bit more fluid. Everybody's a little bit more open-minded. And I'm all for the LGBTQ community. That's why I say my music could be for males or females. It doesn't matter. That's why I do want to show every part of my voice.

How long have you been doing your makeup like you are now and using all the jewels?
I want to say maybe 2018, 2019. I used to listen to Asian Doll a lot. She used to wear diamonds on her face and she has a bar in her song, she's like, “Bitches been hating, diamonds all on my face.” That's hard. But I don't mess with Asian Doll anymore because she glorifies violence and I don't like glorifying violence. She tweeted like, “Oh, you have to have three bodies to talk to me,” knowing her ex-boyfriend just died to gun violence. I’m all for everybody loves everybody.

But I've been doing my makeup like this for about two, three years now. At first I just did glitter. And then it started evolving to like, oh, maybe my necklace broke, let me glue this on my head. Ever since then. And I can't see myself doing anything different. I put on makeup to look different. A lot of people, they put on makeup to enhance themselves or they're just putting on makeup just to cover something. I really wanted to put on makeup to look different. ‘Cause every day, we human, so it's like why not look different each time? You know, character select type shit.

Click here to find Laaee's music on her YouTube page.

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[This article first appeared in Issue 2 of Shuttlecock's free monthly print edition. Click here to read more about the issue and find your copy.]  

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