She was the first female white rapper and seamlessly transitioned into heavy metal without question. Her new album, Feminenergy, combines her outspoken political views with her skills as both musician, artist and feminist. Tairrie B. Murphy talks with me about feminism, bullies, violence against women, social media, and of course this historial election.
I want to start back to your solo career in rap music. At that time, it was not common to see a white, female rapper. Nowadays we hear a lot about “white privilege” and the easiness of not having to think about situations the way blacks do. From an outsider, I would think that your situation of being a minority in the rap scene (not just female, but a white female) would be interesting to hear. Speak about how your race (not just your gender) made you the minority, if you felt like one, and how you handled being in that situation.
TBM: Being the first white female rapper signed to a full album deal on a major label was an anomaly in those days. When I look back I on my early years, I can now recognize that a lot came with this seminal moment in my musical journey. Much like the metal world, the hip hop world celebrates misogyny and sexism. It’s no secret, It’s blatant. I went through many things I did not expect I would go through and some I did yet was not fully prepared for at the time. Unlike most female rap artists today, I did not have a huge management company behind me looking out for my best interests and playing go between with my record labels (Comptown & MCA) nor did I roll with a posse of people who were there to protect me. In the beginning it was just me and it was often trial by fire. When I decided to go with a female manager, this did not sit well with a few people we had to deal with behind the scenes who were mostly men. It was never easy for us due to the fact we were women. A white woman and a Mexican woman but nevertheless, women, first and foremost. I really had more issues about my gender than my skin color back then because I was often having to confront old school mentalities from men who loved the image of a woman “Being In Total Control of Herself” on record but were not so accepting of this concept in real life. Many male rap artists had a similar way of thinking. This was the main issue which lead to my song “Ruthless Bitch” which addressed my being physically attacked by Dr Dre. His ego did not mix well with me speaking my mind which lead to him publicly assaulting me. Thankfully Eazy E (who signed me) always treated me with respect as did the men I worked with at the time such as Philly gangster rapper Schoolly D and QD3 (Quincy D) son of the legendary producer Quincy Jones. Much like it is in the metal world, hip hop has always been a very male dominated genre of music. Thankfully more women are finding their voices and place in both nowadays however, my experiences as trailblazing as they were to some degree, could also be considered cautionary tales and hard lessons learned when it came to the music industry.
In terms of my skin color, I’m sure there were many who questioned my record deal and thought I didn’t deserve it at the time not just based on the fact I was both a female and white rapper. I think white male artists in hip hop (Beastie Boys, Everlast, 3rd Bass, Lordz Of Brooklyn) were viewed differently and more easily accepted without their gender being such a huge issue. That said, I’ve always been true to myself. I never felt it necessary to apologize for being white or put some sort of affectation on my voice to try and sound a certain way to sell records and pretend to be someone I’m not. I’m just me. As far as “White Privilege” goes, I believe it is very real. In all aspects of life however, I am the first to admit, I am not an authority on the topic. I am still learning. I know the mere mention of this can make for uncomfortable conversations, but it is also the reality of many situations. Some find it difficult to discuss race without getting defensive on both sides however the hard truth is that a person’s whiteness has come and continues to come with an array of benefits and advantages not shared by many people of color. This doesn’t mean that as a white person, I didn’t and don’t work hard or that I haven’t known my own struggles. I did, I do and I have but I can also acknowledge that my skin color played a huge part in my entrance to the music industry and Eazy E wanting to sign me. Of course, it did. I wasn’t a fire spitting rapper 30 years ago but I was a good rapper with lots of attitude, blonde hair and white skin which at the time was a rarity in hip hop.
The idea of “White Privilege” means many things to me. One of which includes having the ability to escape certain violent stereotypes associated with my race despite the fact that throughout this country’s history, white people have been responsible for unspeakable atrocities against people of color including and not limited to lynchings, forced migrations and genocide. It also means a generally positive relationship with the police. Meaning I do not have to fear being murdered by cops over a simple traffic stop or having police break into my home by mistake while I am sleeping, unarmed and shoot me dead but never be held accountable like what happened with Breonna Taylor. Ultimately, “White Privilege” is the ability to be insulated from the daily toll of racism and everything that goes along with this openly and in the shadows. Donald Trump has given a face and voice to white nationalism and white supremacists are using this moment to come out of the shadows and make themselves known because they feel emboldened by this current President. One of the laundry list of reasons he needs to go and will hopefully be voted out on November 3rd. Contrary to the divisive rhetoric being pushed by Trump, Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist organization and if you don’t understand the basic fundamental idea behind these 3 words and why they are so important, you never will. It’s not about All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter. Unarmed black men and women are being murdered by police in America at an alarming rate. This has been going on for a long time but it is only now being addressed on a real level because it is being caught on film. In 2020 we are living in our own Civil Rights Movement at this unprecedented time in history. America is finally being forced to address the systemic racism that runs rampant in our country from police brutality to voter suppression. It’s is up to those of us who believe in justice and equality for everyone to stand up, speak out and make good trouble. Never, ever give up or give in or give out. To quote the late great John Lewis.
I have spoken on the blog a lot about bullying. I cannot imagine being successful and dealing with it since it is worse now with social media. I also find there is a lot of women bashing other women, cancel culture, and so on. What were your experiences with bullies? Not just when you were in the rap scene but also when you grew into your hard rock / metal projects. We see you as this strong, independent, smart woman but I imagine you have had moments that made you feel otherwise.
TBM: Empowered women, empower women. I think it’s great that you are so vocal on this topic. I’ve always been a believer of sisters supporting sisters and I’ve supported a great deal of women over the years from taking their bands on tour with mine to having them sing on stage or my albums with me and championing their music in interviews. I’m not fan of mean girls. I’ve known a few in my career and I’ve seen how they operate and manipulate friends and fans of their bands. With age comes wisdom and I’ve learned to stay far away from those types of women these days however, I do have one story that comes to mind at the moment. It happened many years ago when I was introduced to a female journalist / editor of a high-profile metal magazine based in the U.K. Over time she became someone I respected and considered a friend in the music industry. Unexpectedly, she turned on me in a surprisingly vicious “anti-woman” way when she decided to write something derogatory about my weight in her magazine after a photo shoot I did with a photographer who worked for her while promoting My Ruin’s first album “Speak & Destroy” during a press tour. This was over 20 years ago but I can still vividly recall how her comments snowballed into other journalists who wrote for the same magazine at the time and many rock fans writing in letters with degrading comments about my body which she also allowed to be in print in attempt to demean me. Up to that point in my career I had never really given my weight a second thought. I was happy in my own skin and comfortable with my body image on stage and off. Suddenly I found myself feeling self-conscious due to the constant bullying. It took on a life of its own until I addressed it in the only way I knew how at the time. On record. I plan to detail the full story in my memoir because I have been asked about the song for years. Looking back today, it was ridiculous that I allowed her to do this to me but in the moment, it affected my state of mind and well-being. That is the whole idea behind bullying. The point is to disrupt the mental peace of a person which can also lead to a physical altercation or self-harm. Thankfully neither of those things entered the picture but they have with so many people. It breaks my heart when I read stories about people being bullied to the point, they felt the only way out of the terror the situation was causing them was to take their own life. In 2020 we are living in a different age. There needs to be new laws in place to deal with online and in person bullying and stalking. The world is filled with assholes and trolls. I’ve been sent death threats from Trump supporters who have some across my posts on Facebook and decided I should die for having an opinion on the President. It’s crazy. Just look at what happened to Michigan Governor Gretchen Witmer for simply wanting to protect her constituents and implement common sense mask wearing. Trump targeted her and then his followers made her their target. Thankfully the plot to kidnap and kill her unfolded before they could implement it but this was the President bullying a female Governor of the United States to the point his MAGA supporters felt it was necessary to take her out to shut her up. I mean, what in the actual fuck? This is not normal.
You have given us some great feminist anthems. Songs ranging from Ruthless Bitch to Terror, Made To Measure, Cycle of Violence, Beauty Fiend and BTCHCRVFT. I could go on all day. Thank you for all of these! Feminism means something different to everyone so tell us what you define as feminism. What is the motivation to always reference it with your music? Who do you look up to in terms of women?
TBM: Thank you. My feminism is important to me. The definition is so clear and easy to understand “the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” As cliché’ as it sounds, I do believe feminism is for everyone. This includes men. There should be no disputing or disparaging this concept unless you are a misogynist. In 2019 I wrote what I consider to be my most feminist anthem to date called “I’m A Woman” which I released with a protest inspired video in honor of “Women’s Equality Day.” It was inspired by a version of the song “I’m A Woman” which Cher & Raquel Welch did together on the Cher show back in the 1970’s. I’ve always loved the sexy swagger of the original but after hearing it again so many years later, I realized the lyrics were in desperate need of a modern-day update for “Woman Against Patriarchy.” It’s my WAP in the era of Trump. The original was written by the famous songwriting duo Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller who also wrote “Trouble” for Elvis (which My Ruin did a metal cover of in 2013) and it has a similar vibe. The fact that two men wrote the lyrics in the 1960’s (when it was first sung by Peggy Lee) was very telling as to the message being conveyed. I decided to flip the script and make it a more empowering message, keep the hook and give it a new feminist twist. We have remixed it for 2020 and included it on my new album “Feminenergy” as the perfect fuck you to Trump and his complicit conservative, sycophantic cronies for the last 4 years.
In terms of women I look up to, there are many. I have always been drawn to bold women who speak their minds and stand in their truth no matter what field they occupy. I wish there were more women like this in the music industry today. Some of my longtime personal heroes include Bette Davis, Frida Kahlo, Gloria Steinem, Marlene Dietrich, Jane Fonda, Angela Davis, Betty Friedan, Stevie Nicks, Bell Hooks and Ruth Bader Ginsburg who sadly passed away last month. The song “Truth Bomb” on my new album was written with respect to her legacy of fighting for justice & equality for women and the sacrifice & service she gave to our country for many years as a Supreme Court Justice along with Congressman John Lewis who also left us in 2020. Today there are so many incredible outspoken women making a mark for themselves in history. Tarana Burke, Joy Reid, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Tamika Mallory, Malala, Michelle Obama, Marie Yovanovitch, Fiona Hill, Yamiche Alsindor, Rachel Maddow to name just a few of the women I admire along with Senator Kamala Harris who will hopefully be our next Vice President and future first woman to hold the office of President.
Media often brings up the infamous time Dr. Dre punched you at an after-party when you were signed with Eazy-E (I am sorry to be one of those people) and label mates but what I want to make out of this is that this wasn’t an isolated incident. We have continually, as a society, ignored the shit men do in place of their music or skills. I think of artist like Chris Brown, R Kelly, various athletes, and Tim Lambesis from As I Lay Dying who hired a hitman to kill his ex-wife. These artists have been welcomed back to their bands and fans, still promoted and booked, and have not seemed to face any consequences. Talk about your experiences with witnessing this (not just the Dr. Dre situation, but other instances I am sure you have witnessed) and do you think this will ever change? What can we, as women, do to help make the necessary changes within the music community?
TBM: It’s extremely disheartening to think so many of these men get away with this behavior simply because they sell records. I didn’t have a personal relationship with Dr Dre. I was just his label mate; however, he was physically abusive to girlfriends and well as various women in the music industry. Not just me. The fact that he has continued to profit and be embraced on the level he has been when his violence against women is common knowledge is astounding. I have witnessed a great deal of questionable behavior over the years from artists, to managers, promoters and label reps/owners dating back to my early days in hip hop throughout the time spent touring with my bands Manhole, Tura Satana & My Ruin. When you are on the road as a support band to a bigger more established artist you are treated much differently than the tours which you are the headliner. From the men you are on tour with to those working behind the scenes. For women, it can be a real eye-opening experience. I have a few interesting stories I am planning to share in my book including the full behind the scenes details of what went down with Dr Dre before, during and after the assault. It’s a long time coming.
Underground cult film director John Waters makes a cameo appearance in two songs on your new album. Can you share how this transpired and are you a fan of his films?
TBM: Yes, I am a fan of both Mr Waters and many of his films. We spoke for the first time by phone recently. I reached out to him through a business associate because I wanted to let him know I had sampled him on my new album, and he called me. By the end of our conversation we were laughing and trading home addresses for Christmas cards. It was surreal and he was cool as hell. Just how I had imagined he would be. In 2015 a few fans in the UK had written me via Facebook to let me know Mr Waters was on BBC radio for a Halloween special show with Iggy Pop and had played my song “Ruthless Bitch” which he had also shared a few words about with Iggy. It blew my mind to hear one of my favorite directors talking about one of my hip hop records. I remembered it when I was recording “I’m A Woman” so I decided to sample part of their conversation. In 2019 I was once again contacted by a fan of my band to inform me Mr Waters had mentioned me in his new book “Mr Know It All.” Needless to say, I was extremely flattered, so I decided to sample him again for the intro of my new song “KNXVLN.” After all, one good turn deserves another and Mr John Waters rules.
It is election year and I, myself, have made it clear that I will be voting Biden/Harris. I have gotten some slack from the community for “supporting” Biden due to some of his past statements. I do not love him, and he would not have been my first choice, but he is the nominee. I know that voting for anyone else would be useless and if I must choose, it is going to be whoever has the best chance to vote Trump out. I have a feeling you might feel similar on this subject. Talk about why this election is so detrimental to saving Democracy and if you think it is important, we vote for Biden rather than “writing in” a different choice.
TBM: Thank you for voting #BidenHarris I am as well. He is not perfect by any means but given the two options, he is the only logical choice at this point. I really do believe he and Kamala want the best for this country. You really must question the intentions and the common sense of anyone willing to vote for Donald Trump after the last 4 years. Just reading his twitter feed for one day or seeing 10 minutes of his speaking at one of his rallies lets’ you know exactly who he is. He doesn’t even try and hide it anymore. I tend to view it this way; If you voted for him in 2016, you can consider what you did to be a mistake. If you choose to do this again in 2020, It’s a crime against humanity. Period. There is no way to justify the stupidity. I don’t love the idea that two old white guys are the best we have to choose from as a country and one is an impeached, criminal con man who is also a misogynistic credibly accused rapist who cares more about his self-image, ego and brand than the health of the people is supposed to represent. At this point Trump might as well be called a serial killer. America is in the midst of a pandemic which has killed over 230,000 people dues to his mishandling and negligence, but all Trump does is run his big mouth, deny, deflect and neglect. Now he’s trying to claim doctors are lying about deaths to collect money. It’s beyond sick. At a time when we are in desperate need of unity, he spews garbage and gaslights us with division. We crave calm and reason but he rage tweets and feeds us chaos and conspiracy theories. We are living the very American carnage he railed against on the day he was sworn into office. Our country feels like its on the verge of a civil war due to this President and everything he represents. He’s lied about the virus. Lied about his disrespect for troops & veterans. Lied about his affairs and taxes. All while his incompetence & his crimes speak for themselves. Joe Biden is everything Trump is not. He loves deeply, mourns greatly and gives fully. He is a profoundly decent man with empathy who is willing to listen, capable of evolving, and able to admit mistakes.
Let us talk about social media. I know that you have often taken breaks from it and I think that is great for mental health. I do hate it, but I also think nowadays it is a necessary evil. It is the new way to promote projects and it is important to be a part of it. I feel inadequate with most of my life when I see others looking and doing better, so I try to ignore it. What bothers you about social media, and as an artist who was around “before” all of it, do you prefer having it around or do you wish it were never invented?
TBM: I have always had a love/hate relationship with social media going back to the early days of My Space and everything that came with that platform good and bad. While I recognize the toxic aspect of it, I also understand it is a necessary evil. Especially if you are an artist and trying to promote yourself on any real level. On one hand I do like the personal connection aspect. On the other hand, this can sometimes turn into a nightmare when dealing with certain types of people and personalities. Back in the day my blog postings were for the most part music related and a way to promote my bands albums & tours. These days, I have become very vocal politically which is sometimes met with attacks on my music, character and as I mentioned previously, death threats due to my stance on certain topics and resistance to all things Trumpism represents. I would by remiss in saying I don’t miss the days before social media (and cell phones) because there was something much more calming in not knowing or having access to everything everyone does at every minute or the pressure to produce content. It’s exhausting. I rarely share personal photos of my home or my private life. Some things I still want to keep sacred. It hurts my heart to read you feel inadequate about your own life due to things others are posting. I get it but you must also remember, we are living in the age of envy and humans are inherently competitive. Half of everything you see is styled or set up to make people looking at it feel envious and question the quality of their own lives, relationships, careers, body image, talent and everything in between if we allow it. Don’t believe the hype. Live your life and try not to compare yourself or your accomplishments big and small. Free your mind and allow yourself the chance to shine.
You have moved out of California to a more peaceful and quieter place. What was the motive to leave L.A. and start fresh? How has living away from Hollywood impacted your life? Why is that town so fucked-up? Haha.
TBM: I was born & raised in Los Angeles and will always be and LA woman at heart. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley and as soon as I was old enough to get my own place, I moved over the hill to Hollywoodland and began my journey into adult life. Los Angeles is fucked up on many levels, but I still loved it. After so many years, leaving it was not an easy decision to make but it was a needed escape from our surroundings which had become a bit disenchanting to say the least. My husband Mick & I were living in Silver Lake which is an artist community nestled between Downtown & Hollywood. ln our early years together our neighborhood was great but over time the city began to take a turn. Streets were filled with so much trash and the homeless situation was both sad and often very scary. I will never understand why funds can’t be allocated to help those in such dire need. Especially women and Vets who have fought for our country. When our street began turning into a tent city and we were witnessing the realities of the situation up close from our apartment windows, we no longer felt comfortable or safe. We knew we had to make a move. Mick is from Knoxville Tennessee and I’ve been coming home with him to visit his family for the holidays since 2000. Our band My Ruin also recorded our last 2 studio albums here, so I felt a connection. His only brother unexpectedly died in 2015, which was a life changing event that ultimately helped us solidify our decision to leave LA and be closer to his mother. Thankfully, we now have a home studio where we can record our music and a lovely house rather than an apartment, so our situation greatly improved on that front. Unfortunately, our move came 2 months after Donald Trump was inaugurated in January 2017. While there are many things I love about Tennessee (including the beauty) I would be lying if I said it has been easy. It’s been a bit of a culture shock and sometimes hard to deal with due to the reality tv shitshow of this Presidency and everything that encompasses it on a daily basis. It’s neverending. I am not a fan of the politics a majority red state prefers to embrace or the conservative Christian way of life so many seem to be a part of in Tennessee but Knoxville is probably the most open minded and exclusive of all the cities. I’m a loud, proud radical liberal who believes in progressing forward not going backward so this can sometimes be a challenge to my personal and political sensibilities. The struggle is very real but like the majority of the country, I am hoping there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel which will be illuminated on or soon after election day. I can’t imagine having to wake up to Donald Trump as our President for another 4 long years of his lies, hate and fear. I don’t think our country or many personal relationships can withstand it. Over 100 million people have already voted so hopefully America will send him packing in numbers he cannot dispute or attempt to litigate as he threatens to if he does not win. This needs to be an overwhelming referendum on both his Presidency and him.
You have referenced the occult in your music before and it seems sometimes your image has sometimes been influenced by it. What are your exact views on religion and the occult?
TBM: I don’t consider myself religious in the Biblical sense. I would say I’m more of a solitary witch mixed with recovering Catholic and a firm grasp on reality. I believe knowledge is power and like many women, my path is ever changing depending on my cycle of life. My last solo album “Vintage Curses” from 2015 was heavily influenced by the occult with an old school West Coast flavor to it. Lyrically I felt it to be the appropriate vibe to invoke being that I had been screaming in the otherworldly genre of heavy metal since 1993 (when I formed by first band Manhole) and my lyrics had evolved over time becoming more intense with a darker aspect and depth to my storytelling. I decided to delve into the occult side of things which is something I have always been fascinated by and drawn to privately. I am an avid book collector/reader. When I made the decision to revisit my hip hop roots after 25 years, I knew I couldn’t go back to what I was doing in 1990. It would be redundant. I needed to create a new atmosphere to accompany the woman I had become with the wisdom my age had afforded me. “Beware The Crone” set the tone for the entire album as much as “Nasty Woman” sets a similar tone on my latest offering.
Throughout my career I have used the Bible as a silent muse and tool of reference artistically within my lyrics & imagery with all my rock projects. I suppose I am somewhat of an atheist as I cannot understand or relate to the Evangelical extremism, dogma or the hypocrisy which has come to permeate politics and become so apparent within the cult of Christianity. Personally speaking, I’ve always found the concept of revelation with its accompanying horrors which are meant to strike fear in the hearts of the most devout followers as terrifying as they are thought provoking. That said, I believe in Mother nature. She is far more terrifying and real than God, the Devil or the fire & brimstone of hell in my opinion.
Let us talk about your style influences. Has image been important to you? I picked up the My Ruin album when it came out without even hearing or knowing anything about it. I just thought you looked amazing! I fell in love with it and have been a fan ever since. It was the image that drew me to it!
TBM: Again, thank you. I love the color black. Or should I say the absence of white? Contrary to popular belief, I am not now, nor have I ever been “goth.” My black clothes, white skin and red lipstick has often been mistaken for my being into a subculture I really have no interest in other than my longstanding love for the music of Nick Cave. I’m not into dressing extreme and over the top although I do love a good suit & fedora. As I get older, I prefer to keep it simple style wise although velvet and sequins are two of my favorite fabrics. Preferably in black to match the rest of my wardrobe. At the end of the day, I believe the woman makes the clothes, not the other way around. Wear whatever makes you feel good.
Do you think that the younger generation is being sabotaged of listening to true artists and great music since the industry has wiped out so much of what was organic about music? We no longer have DJ’s that can play deep cuts or introduce new artists, auto-tune is on almost every track, and the most “rocking” music you hear is Maroon 5. People go on TV shows to be ridiculed and embarrassed, and then even if they win The Voice, you never hear from them again. As a music lover, it is depressing. What are your thoughts on the current state and what has your experience been like throughout the years with all the changes?
TBM: I agree with your sentiment. Not a fan of bands like Maroon 5 or shows like The Voice. Most mainstream music does nothing for me. It never has. MTV doesn’t even play music videos anymore yet they have the nerve to have the Music Video Awards which are really just a big circle jerk of the same 4 horrible auto-tuned artists or half naked strippers shaking their collective asses ad nauseum singing about sex because apparently they have nothing else to talk about except their lady parts. It’s a shame to see so many women allowing themselves to fall into this category and be exploited to such degrees. It’s all style over substance with very little style. With all that has been going on in our country for these last 4 years alone, I am constantly perplexed as to why there are so few women in music addressing the current social issues, police brutality, civil unrest and sexual misconduct which has taken center stage of our collective consciousness on their records. When I hear songs like “WAP” and see the video that accompanies it, I don’t get it. There’s nothing at all empowering about that message to young women. Everything is always reduced to the lowest common denominator and the bar just keeps getting lower.
My husband & I collect vinyl. We usually just look for albums from our early days that we’ve always loved to add to our collection. Timeless old school hip hop, classic rock, metal, punk, funk and soul however, the new self-produced album “Safe Space Invader” by Bay Area rapper Paris is my favorite release of 2020. I love conscious rap with a message and he’s one of the originators whose music is always raw, essential and reflective. A true artist who has stayed true to his brand and message since inception and I respect that.
I could honestly talk to you all day and pick your brain, but I will end this interview with a question I love to ask artist. What makes you truly happy?
TBM: My husband Mick, my cat Magick, a rad shade of red lipstick and making music that moves me. It also makes me happy to see people care about others by being considerate to the human condition we are collectively experiencing due to Covid. Kindness, compassion and common sense go a long way these days.
I love you and I thank you!!!!!! You are such an inspiration to me and If I can even turn one new fan onto you, I feel I have done my job!
TBM: Thank you Elizabeth. I’m a fan of your writing and I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me. Please let everyone know they can download my new album “Feminenergy” FREE @ https://tairrieb.bandcamp.com/album/feminenergy
and don’t forget to wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance and VOTE Donald Trump the fuck OUT on November 3rd.
❤️ Tairrie B. Murphy