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My blog is my space to highlight academic work outside of my formal publications. Posts vary from short essays to album reviews to exemplary student work to small sample-digs that I use as warm-ups for my courses. This blog also contains the burgeoning archive of artist interviews that I am collecting for my dissertation, "Writing in the Break."

  • Tyler Bunzey

Purple Haze and the "Now-Phenomenon" of Performance

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

I was able to sit down emcee, artist, activist, and educator Purple Haze this December in her office at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.



As you can see from my dumbfounded responses throughout ("wow" and "incredible" seem to be the only coherent responses I could muster for most of this conversation), Purple Haze melded the story of her journey with how she got her emcee name with some amazing hip-hop theorizations along the way. Some of my favorite moments*:


-when she theorizes the cipher past and present between 00:09:42-00:11:46

-the persona as making the emcee "god-sized" right before 00:15:05

-the undefinability of flow around 00:17:04

-her whole story of her name is really amazing and populates most of this interview, but she specifically talks about the pressure on up-and-coming women artists around 00:55:58

-the importance of the color purple to her name and life at 01:01:35

-the centrality of performance to her hip-hop craft at 01:16:33

-the "in-the-now phenomenon" of performance" at 01:20:58

*control+F the time stamp if you want to find individual moments in the transcript


You can follow Purple Haze on her SoundCloud, check out her work as a Next Level cultural diplomat, or follow her work with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

Note: All artist interviews are posted with explicit consent of the artist. None of this transcript has been edited for time or content, and I have added annotations when necessary to elaborate on the conversation. Edits, additions, or changes will always be made with the artist's request.

Interview with Purple Haze aka Sheikia Norris

Offices of New Jersey Performing Arts Center—Newark, NJ

12/18/19


Tyler Bunzey:

All right, so are you okay with me recording?


Purple Haze:

I am, and you have my permission.


Tyler Bunzey:

All right, great. We're talking about this poster above your computer, and so it says "the hip-hop declaration of peace", but then it's got essentially the MC ancestors especially from the '90s, [00:00:18] or are there some '80s?


Purple Haze:

We got Kurtis Blow, we got Herc up there [00:00:23] up there, and we got Rez [00:00:23], so I always say '70s, '80s and '90s, [crosstalk 00:00:26] the turning point.


Tyler Bunzey:

You're talking about how performance is so central to MC-ing, like beyond just the rhymes itself.


Purple Haze:

Yeah, I think once we get it written, I think the recording and the performance to me was always something emphasized. I even group the two because the recording to me is capturing, you should be performing when you're recording and capturing a presence and an essence of your delivery that's true and authentic in your voice and your engine and your spirit, but something that's going to captivate people when they listen, it's going to engage them. It should be moving the crowd even before you get to them, and so you've got to perform.


Purple Haze:

Now, recording technique is a very different beast, and that's where I struggled with the most. What I was saying is, like A&Rs and everybody was like, "Yo, come on, you're ready, you're a star," and I'm like, "Yo, I need more development." I kept being told, "No you don't, you're fine, you're ready," and I realized my standard was different than theirs, and it was something so important to me.


Purple Haze:

My background, I started as a breaker, I was one of those kids.


Tyler Bunzey:

Oh really?


Purple Haze:

[00:01:30], and it wasn't initially performance, it was very much early '80s ciphers. That was because I was extremely scared to speak and be seen, and I wasn't someone that jumped into the cipher. My older brother is nine years older than me, he went by the name G.O., And his crew around the way, they were like the first Wu-Tang. They had all these descriptions of their characters, I found their papers like years later.


Tyler Bunzey:

Okay, wow.


Purple Haze:

And this intention, building their what we now call and understand to be a brand, and they weren't doing that, they just were so like, "Here's who we are, here's who we're going to be," like working on their superpowers. Anyways, so he would break dance, he knew how to pose for photos and modeling, he was very big on his image and his clothing and the fashion and his hair. I got to see an MC behind the scenes and on the scene per se around the way, so he could dance his ass off, he could rap his ass off, he was funny, he was charming, and he looked good.


Purple Haze:

He was popular in being a clown and really clever in that way, and totally failing academically, totally failing academically. I literally just watched him and wasn't telling him I was watching him, and he would catch me watching him sometimes and then bring me in. That became really my rite to passage, even outside of our homes. [00:02:49] my crib, and we would step out I would be practicing by myself in my room of course, and watching videos, a lot of heads back then were watching Video Music Box, we were listening to the radio. On my way to school, best part about going to school was looking at the trains, seeing what different tags I would see that day, pieces, and-


Tyler Bunzey:

Did you ever write [graffiti] at all?


Purple Haze:

I was not a writer, but I've got stuff in my notebook. Yeah, I got nice with it, so I started doing shoes and I could do my jeans, and that was, again, very much usual culture for us back then, designing.


Tyler Bunzey:

Of course, yeah. A forgotten part of that now, like people don't realize that was an element itself, and so in the way the fliers used to be too, it was like its own thing.


Purple Haze:

Yeah, we had the fliers. My man Curtis Sharad at The Hip-Hop Culture Center, which I can connect you to him, he was known as Mexican Ray, he has the largest hip-hop fly collection [00:03:36].


Tyler Bunzey:

Really? Wow.


Purple Haze:

Yep, he won't even give them to the museums because he got them. Right, because they would draw new designs, so this was just life. It's like on the way to school, I'm born in '79, I'm going to school across the Bronx at 84th, and I'm seeing tags on the inside of the trains while I'm going to school, and I'm seeing pieces on the outside of the trains. I'm in it and I'm reading them, and that became, I was more interested in leisure reading that way than I was any books, though I grew up in a high performance academic environment.


Purple Haze:

My father's standard of excellence was that you were a learner, and that education happens outside of institution, and you should be going to an institution to inquire around your own inquiry, I mean that to inquire around your own theories. I was very astute in that way, but disconnected to the usual process.


Purple Haze:

Back to MC-ing, yeah, so I would see cats performing, and people were performing all over in the neighborhood, and we went to concerts and shows in the park, and so performance was very much usual. At the same time, at Christmas and holiday times, they're like, "Go ahead, break dance," so it started literally getting me out there. When it came to ciphers outside in my neighborhoods and in the parks, my father would tell me to go up front. He's taller, it's some simple mathematics-


Tyler Bunzey:

Yeah, of course.


Purple Haze:

Geometry of height, so he's like, "Yo, go up front." I would make my way through the crowd and stare and be looking, and they would see me watching their feet. I was studying when I'm realizing that's what I was doing, and I was doing it so I could go home and practice. People would see me, apparently I wasn't noticing I was seen in the park because I prefer to be invisible and quiet as a kid, I was super introverted. They would pull me into the cipher that way, so that's a very different rite of passage and invitation.


Purple Haze:

I would copy their moves right there in front of them, but I'd be focused on that person that brought me in, because that was like my teacher right then and there. I would totally forget everyone else around, and I would be emulating their moves, and then they would fade out and I would be able to break off and do my own thing, because I would get in a trance and I would, boom, start doing stuff that I have no idea, my father, everybody in my family would be like, "Yo, did you see that kid?" We don't know how I would tap in, but that's the power of the cipher.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

Starting off with dance and then being invited even more and people knew that, they would say, "Yo, Kia can dance." We'd be at a birthday party in someone's home or in the community center or something with my friends, and I'm getting quiet and shy, sitting with the adults. Maybe sometimes with the kids, kids start doing stuff they ain't supposed to do, I'm dipping because I might get in trouble, I'm not a follower, definitely not a snitch, not a follower, I've got to figure out my own lane. Then when the dance party started, I'd be happy because the music was on-


Tyler Bunzey:

Of course.


Purple Haze:

But I'd be terrified because I was shy, and so I'd still be just sitting on the couch watching. Someone in the room would always say, "Hey Kia, go do your thing." I literally was dependent on having to be invited, and then I would break out. My friends would say, "We didn't know you even did that," that'd be it. I think naturally, performance would be where I would start, what I was drawn to as an MC, because of that type of lineage. My dad was in a band, like many people in the '70s, and not something that was going worldwide, but just passing times and really investing. He was a drummer, he played a lot of music at home.


Purple Haze:

I remember being three, sitting in front of vinyl and being fascinated with the album covers that every day at snack time, I would just keep flipping through the same covers every single day. Those images and the costume and the expression to me, from the '70s and beyond, I like that that was in hip-hop, I like that Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, they had moves and they had wardrobe. Again, like I was saying, I think a lot of that got lost when we started getting big money deals and when they started saying you didn't need development and A&Rs were taking a different approach.


Purple Haze:

I think they took the emphasis off of the MC being a performer, I think people started standing there reciting their rhymes, but disengaged in their bodies, the way me as a dancer, I couldn't be. I can't turn that off.


Tyler Bunzey:

With that specifically, any claim about poetry and hip-hop depends on spoken word, and Last Poet's of course is so important to thinking about where hip-hop emerges from, but there is a difference, what you said, like reciting rhymes versus being an MC. I think actually, in one of your songs you said something like people take MC-ing, they don't take it seriously. I'm trying to think of where-


Purple Haze:

Is it, "Too many people take that word MC lightly"?

Here we are referring to Purple Haze's "MVP.HaZE" from her mixtape Painted Purple.

Tyler Bunzey:

Yeah, that's it.


Purple Haze:

"I'm not trying to pass..."


Tyler Bunzey:

I love that play too with MC Lyte.


Purple Haze:

Thank you, shout out to KRS-One.


I thought the line was referencing legendary emcee from the late 1980s and early 1990s, MC Lyte, an influence that Haze references later in the interview. Really it's a reference to the line "Too many emcee's take that word emcee lightly / they can't move a crowd, not even slightly" from KRS-One's MC's Act Like They Don't Know" (1995).


Tyler Bunzey:

With that, what is the difference between spoken word when ... I was in Schomburg [00:09:14] watching this Sonia Sanchez performance, and she's so powerful, but at the same time, the text is right in front of her. I'm reading that as that's different than when I see an MC perform.


Purple Haze:

Yes, [00:09:27].


Tyler Bunzey:

And that these are actually two different forms that are doing different things. Can you suss out what that difference is?


Purple Haze:

Yeah. I think we come from that. I think when we say we come from spoken word, I think it's obviously like Last Poets and Amiri Baraka [00:09:42] and the Black Arts Movement, but I think we also come from the spoken word of gospel and preachers and sermons, I believe that. I believe we come from the spoken word of speeches, so whether it be your Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, so therefore you've got presence and power while speaking, whether the text is in front of you or not.


Purple Haze:

I think when people said hip-hop's spoken word, they did get mistaken for your poetry style of spoken word. I think both of them are poetry, I think it's a tree, the way I have to explain it to people in my opinion is they're a tree. The tree grew has different branches, one, the more spoken word, and then the other being hip-hop's form of spoken word, verbal communicator, MC-ing.


Tyler Bunzey:

Okay, interesting.


Purple Haze:

Those are the two different things to me, but because both are considered spoken word, they got collapsed. I think embodying, I think your body is important when it comes to MC-ing, also the crowd participation and engagement and the intention of that. We are very much still creating the cipher, to me, if you're onstage.


Tyler Bunzey:

Interesting.


Purple Haze:

The entire room is in cipher formation, that's the way I see it.


Tyler Bunzey:

I was going to ask you about that, because the cipher, I was trying to explain to someone who was very unfamiliar with hip-hop was a cipher was, and it was just like I don't have any conception. Not me, but they were like, "I don't have any format or framework to understand what that means," because I think it's not a part of commercial hip-hop culture. You see the cipher as, like even though it's not always on the street corner anymore-


Purple Haze:

That's our space, that's our container.


Tyler Bunzey:

It's now in the stage?


Purple Haze:

For me, yeah, because I think because of that early cipher experience and understanding the power and the significance of the cipher, I always see it as circumference. I think it's our lifeline as hip-hop.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

I think just like the sun and the moon, we absolutely need those [00:11:46] sources, and it's where we build and exchange skills. The building or the "battle" is to sharpen your skills, from early cultural practices. Also the cipher exists in indigenous practices, in Hawaii they call it a talking story, you sit in a circle and you talk, and you [00:12:02] exchange information. Seeing this all over the world also, seeing it in martial arts, like capoeira per se, it's like that's not new.


Purple Haze:

If you haven't checked it out already, one of my teachers was Toni Blackman, who did a TED talk on the culture of the cipher. She even reinforced it from when I was building my skills, a different phase of my experience.

Tyler Bunzey:

I've met Toni, she's amazing.


Purple Haze:

Right?


Tyler Bunzey:

Yeah, she's incredible.


Purple Haze:

How I explain MC-ing and the difference with poetry.


Tyler Bunzey:

Or could you maybe [00:12:36] like, since you branched out the two of them, what is the ... Because I think I am hesitant, like I'm trying not to lead you to anything, so I'm trying to tell you exactly where I'm coming from, I'm hesitant to embrace poetry for hip-hop because poetry conjures a really specific thing for people. When I say "poetry" to anyone, most people respond with, "Oh yeah, high school, there's a piece of paper, I'm supposed to write simile, metaphor."


Purple Haze:

Right, you aren't thinking your own, [00:13:08] Robert Frost or something like that.


Tyler Bunzey:

Yeah, exactly.


Purple Haze:

I think that's one form, and then now people think more of your like J. Ivy when we say spoken word, and that's your slam poetry. The two keep getting collapsed, and I say it more with my community friends who want to do it publicly, but, "Hey, we going to record." I'd say a lot of slam poets, I bet you they rapped or wanted to, and a number of them cannot and will not. A lot of rap artists, if coachable, can be taught to deliver their lyrics different and be powerful and that realm.


Purple Haze:

There are still some very intricate techniques to slam poetry, and you've got to respect that, and that's what I would say with MC-ing. We have very specific techniques, your stance, your sight, the way you're looking at the crowd and allowing the crowd to see you, because remember, we're bold, there's a certain level of confidence and borderline arrogance that we need to have as MCs, we're obnoxious and audacious.


Tyler Bunzey:

Yeah, of course, because the persona is so central.


Purple Haze:

Yeah, and we're super powerful with superpowers, we're beyond this usual image of who we are, we are a caricature of ourselves, an amplified version of our inside self and who we are in our heads. We dare to say so and do so, it's not about appropriateness, and we created our own pact. As a creator, we're God, to us we're God and God-sized and we don't have to stay in form, and that's something really big. Though there's format, we don't have to, [00:15:05]-


Tyler Bunzey:

Can you talk about that a little more, like what it means to not stay in form? And maybe if you could compare it to another form that not over-relies, but is actually really invested in form itself?


Purple Haze:

Yes. I would say something as simple as haiku, we know the structure, and not saying that there's not, again, technique to MC-ing because we have our standards, we have what works, and then people go beyond that. My example would be somebody that gave me permission and I didn't realize my flow was patterned after, and this is way beyond the industry, then I'm going to point to some industry examples of not necessarily staying in form. I would say Left Eye from TLC, Lauryn Hill from The Fugees, and Black Thought from The Roots, and Andre 3000, even Mos Def or Black Star.


Purple Haze:

Your regular rhyme scheme pattern and change ups happening in an easier, more listener friendly way so you're consistent with your rhyme schemes and your patterns, and your change ups are happening, it's a little early in the four, but probably the eight. If you're going to do a change up on an eight, but most often you keep the same rhyme pattern throughout the 16, it's easier on the listener, it's industry, it's considered a hit. Not them, they didn't do it like that, even Common.


Tyler Bunzey:

Yeah, absolutely.


Purple Haze:

It's the finding of flow, and I feel like if you listen to those same artists speak, this is what I give myself permission to do, and this is what I teach students, listen to yourself speak to find an original flow.


Tyler Bunzey:

With that, because that's fascinating, and I don't think I've ever heard anybody connect flow to your speaking voice, because flow is also, [00:17:04]-


Purple Haze:

It may not be the speaking voice, it's how does the words flow out of you? When you're saying the rhyme, once it's on paper because it might just all be on paper first, then you've got to find the flow, but even for it to come out, you were flowing. Your pen was flowing, the ideas were flowing, you got stopped at some point, you had to reignite, you had to step away, come back, get the word structure right. You're finding how to say it, and how to say it in a way that it flows out of you, it feels good, you can feel it when it feels right.


Purple Haze:

Then when you're in the studio, everyone can feel that take when you're tapped in, you're in a groove, the jazz folks would say and funk folks. You get in the groove, and so as an MC, you're exploring and playing around with rhythm patterns until you're in the groove, like a DJ would put the needle on the record. Your more spoken word or slam poetry and your poetry, you've got to stick to your stanzas, being in whatever rhyme scheme it is, and in MC-ing, those artists I mentioned are few ... I hear Immortal Technique, nah, like the change ups?


Purple Haze:

I'm telling you, the industry is like, "You ain't supposed to do that." If you listen to a lot of songs that are recorded and played for the masses, it's the consistency.


Tyler Bunzey:

Oh yeah, very consistent.


Purple Haze:

These artists did it different, and I think they represent the MCs in the industry.


Tyler Bunzey:

With that, because to me it seems that flow, like in what you're saying, there are a lot of people who are like, "Flow is the way that the voice hits the beat here and the way that the words kind of like ..." But flow is this, to me everybody defines it a little bit differently, it's almost like a fluid thing. Is there a way to define flow, or what is really flow?


Purple Haze:

I think it's best not defined, but-


Tyler Bunzey:

No, which that's important.


Purple Haze:

I see it like a river. We're over here by the river, it's not going to move the same every day, so it's how you move. Like I said initially, I think you even find flow in the words are coming to you, the ideas are coming to you, they're flowing out of you, something moving in a direction away from the mass body or to the mass body. I've never said it like that, but as I really get a visual of the river, so I think it flows, the ideas flow to you. I think it flows the pen, if you're writing with a pen or you're typing you're in a flow right there, and then they're speaking it.


Purple Haze:

I would even juxtapose that point because the art of MC-ing, we got certain pillars to hit, and it's not always with music. If you're hitting the acapella, there's no music there so it's not about the synchronicity with music, or it's not codependent on it. You still have to be able to have a rhythmic pattern, I say a consistent feel-good, and it feels good again from coming to you, how it's coming on the paper, how you're saying it out your mouth. I just heard this from a theater friend of mine, like, "Does that word feel good in your mouth?"


Purple Haze:

I'm like, "Yo, that's kind of crazy," because when it's coming out, why do we not say it this way and do say it that way? That's how it flows through us, and then that's how the listener ... Because we're creating patterns based upon the ease of the listener, and I do think that's a very valid thing, it helps you to memorize songs easier, it helps to know what to expect, not change up too quick, not get confused or get in their head, with the [00:21:03] music, right?


Tyler Bunzey:

And to sync up, yeah.


Purple Haze:

I do think if you're really nice with it, you find pockets, you find pockets and it still has an ease and fluidity.


Tyler Bunzey:

Interesting.


Purple Haze:

Flow to me is the way something continues to move to and from.


Tyler Bunzey:

I was going to [00:21:23] ask about-


Purple Haze:

[00:21:23] accessible, available, engaging, it should be energizing, elevating and igniting.


Tyler Bunzey:

Do you mean accessible to a listener, what do you mean by accessible?


Purple Haze:

Whoever it's engaging with. If it's me writing a rhyme, I need to access flow, it needs to be accessible to me first before it gets to y'all. [00:21:48] That's one of the things people point out about me, they're like, "Yo, your flow is sick, your flow is sick."


Tyler Bunzey:

Yeah, and you switch it up, like it's not always the same either.


Purple Haze:

It's not always the same, and I learned how to write consistently with writing on demand and collabos [collaborations] [00:22:01], and I do that and that's fun, but I like the other style. It really was Left Eye, listening to Left Eye, who's not always considered a hip-hop artist or MC, but I would tell people, "You take the most popular verse that most people know or the song the masses love, it was 'Waterfalls', listen to her flow on 'Waterfalls', it's crazy, her change ups are constant, constant."

Purple Haze:

Because it was not dictated by something outside of her, and I think that's one of the most important things about flow, if you're going to do it in a not inconsistent way, it is authentic. Is water water if it doesn't move and react and respond as itself? You can put it in the palm, it's still going to react to elements in it and around it, there's still movement in still water, [00:22:55].


Tyler Bunzey:

The way that you're describing it, it's almost like instead of ... I could say water isn't water unless it's hydrogen and oxygen, but you're saying that there's this essential quality of water, like it's dynamic-ness 00:23:07], how [00:23:07] it's always-


Purple Haze:

Once it's in form.


Tyler Bunzey:

It's always in movement, and that that dynamic-ness is actually more important to understanding water than understanding [00:23:16]-


Purple Haze:

The elements that created it, yeah.


Tyler Bunzey:

Is that-


Purple Haze:

I would agree with that, and I would say I would go maybe one step right before it. I'm glad you brought that up, the elements coming together, how they bond, and then how they move together. That maybe is right, if we listen to that, maybe that's what I'm trying to say, is like how did the ideas come to me? For me, it's like a combination of spirit and just energy. Ideas come to me, have the pen against the pad, then how I read it back, how now my voice bonds with it, then how I bond with it with the music, and then bond with it in the performance. Maybe it's the bond and the movement that happens after the bond.


Tyler Bunzey:

Man, there's so many different ways we could go. [We laugh] I wanted to ask you about this before I forget, but I want to get back to your process. You actually described something in a very similar way that Rakim describes his process, [00:24:24] and I'll talk about that in a second. "Mistaken Identity" on your project, it's really interesting because there's no music, and this is what you were talking about, like no music at all, but it's not ... Because there's other pieces where you have spoken word playing in the background, it doesn't seem to me at least like spoken word because of the way you layer voices.


Tyler Bunzey:

It almost sounds like you wrote it, you put it to music, and then just took the music out altogether. What's the difference on that, like why isn't that spoken word, why is it rap, why is it hip-hop, why are you MC-ing on it [00:24:57]?


Purple Haze:

I think the difference between the two are delivery. In addition to delivery, the acronym a lot of us talk about, rap, Rhythm-And-Poetry, so you hear poetry part of it, you hear a rhythm in it. There's rhythm in poetry, but there's where there's the consistency. I'm always hitting, you know I'm going two, four, six, eight, 10, 12, 16, I'm building up to a 16, and then it's either I'm going to be consistent in that, or I guess I'm going to have some change ups. I think the difference in spoken word is the intention, because, one, it's connected to hip-hop, very much from hip-hop.


Tyler Bunzey:

Absolutely.


Purple Haze:

The voice of hip-hop and the voice in hip-hop. Then I think in that, because I didn't write that to music, but I have a consistent rhyme scheme. "I gave up my slave name and got a new one for the industry to flow," the flow was important. [00:25:59]


Tyler Bunzey:

The way you layered the voices too in a way that I feel like-


Purple Haze:

That's where I say you could perform in recording. I am the music, like if we say our voice is our instrument when it comes to beatboxing and MC-ing, then I'm playing with myself like an ensemble in that train.


Tyler Bunzey:

Fascinating, that's so cool.


Purple Haze:

Because ad-libbing, the hype person has a role, and so it could represent my alter ego, it could represent my inner thoughts, but it's ad-libbing myself, it's echoing myself. It comes to me, it was more from that end of like, who's going to be my hype person, who's going to add a texture in it for me? I'm still wondering, "Am I clear?" I'll probably sit with it some more, like, "What else is the difference?" Because I have to answer this often in my role and my job here, it's like, "What's the difference between spoken word and MC-ing?"


Purple Haze:

I'm like, "Well, rap is Rhythm-And-Poetry, and it's created with an intention without being codependent, but we making music." That's what that is, poetry is not for music, rap is, rap is music.


Tyler Bunzey:

Interesting. With that-


Purple Haze:

That's where I go to, why our voice is our instrument, and then we're playing it, we're making music with our voices.


Tyler Bunzey:

Absolutely. Do you produce at all?


Purple Haze:

I don't. I love, love producers, and a few of them right now want me to collaborate because I get a lot of ideas, and I like to be involved in an aspect of it in recording, so I really fuss with the engineers.


Tyler Bunzey:

Absolutely.


Purple Haze:

Because that's when we can play with things.


Tyler Bunzey:

I'm sorry, this is completely unrelated, but I was at a DJ ... I teach with 9th Wonder at Duke.


Purple Haze:

Dope, yeah.


Tyler Bunzey:

He was playing this set, and it was Easy Mo Bee, him, Statik Selektah, crazy. Guru just rolls in, like speaking of engineers, I was just like, "You're kidding me." He just walks up next to me, gets a drink, like I'm pretty sure my jaw was on the floor.

I'm referring here to Young Guru, legendary sound engineer, most famous for engineering the sounds of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Beyonce, Rihanna, Pete Rock, Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah, Rihanna, and more. Shit's wild. He's also very tall and intimidating. I almost went to go buy him a drink just because "why not," but I hesitated because I was too scared to say something stupid.

Purple Haze:

[laughs] I love this man.


Tyler Bunzey:

It was incredible. With producers then though, like and engineers and all of this, when I talk to them, and this is a problem with Hip-Hop studies too, they're like, "MCs, MCs, MCs, MCs," and then just like, "That's it," they go-


Purple Haze:

Nah, nah, nah. Production changed the culture.


Tyler Bunzey:

With that, production can be much less verbally accessible, it doesn't mean in the way that MCs make meaning, it's like, "Oh, I'm writing something down, so people get a message from that." There's all these other things in the art of MC-ing that's important, but the words still give people an access point. [Purple Haze generously offers me a cough drop] Producers are a little bit different, in that it's almost like feeling-based. If rap is rhythm and poetry, would we consider producers rap artists or hip-hop artists, or is it even worth going down that route? Does that make sense?


Purple Haze:

I wouldn't consider them rap artists, I would consider them conductors. I see myself as an artists, but not all rappers are artists, and I think a number of producers are musicians. I see them as musicians too.


Tyler Bunzey:

Okay, but you see yourself as an artist more than a musician?


Purple Haze:

[thinks for a moment] I'm an artist, the type of artist I am is musician. Yeah, I would say that, so not more or less, that is because my artistry is solo through music making. If I had other mediums that I practiced, then I'd be an artist, and here's the different things that I express my art [00:29:44] self with, my creative self, my creative expression is music. I could see how somebody would say a rapper is a producer because we're producing lyrics or songs, but nah, I think that the same as for me, they're our orchestra, they're our ensemble.


Purple Haze:

They're putting all of the instruments together, they set up a platform. Without the producer, what was the DJ playing? What are rappers rapping to? Yes, I could probably bust so much, but I still don't, we need some additional sound and texture, we marry, we bond with that. I think they set up the groove, I think that they add the energy. I think the MC, I think we're all supposed to bring energy to that, but I know production and rap go hand in hand, because as they access different instruments, different sounds, different technology, then the music production changes, then the inspiration changes, and therefore the lyric patterns, the flow, the subject matters, that all gets altered.


Purple Haze:

I still think there's a lot more to study around music production and how it keeps changing the culture based upon legal, what happened with Biz and them then and what happens with technology. Every time new technology gets created or altered, because hip-hop, we always use shit different than we supposed to, once it gets changed, then now you got different access to sound and energy. Therefore, when I play a beat, that's what's going to give me something to write sometimes, so I write both ways.


Purple Haze:

Sometimes I meet the producer and I'm like, "What's the name of this track?" They may have it, they may not. Then my next question becomes, "What did you feel while you were making it?" Another question becomes, "What was going on with you when you made it?"


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

Because that's in that.


Tyler Bunzey:

That's incredible.


Purple Haze:

Then I can take from that to make sure I'm honoring the initial work, and I get on the same vibe you on. I don't have to, but it's interesting to me, I'm curious. Some producers literally give you a track, "This joint is called that." If it's called that, now what's my feeling about that, interpretation of that, experience of that, research on that? To write "Purple Heart", I watched like five or six war films.


Tyler Bunzey:

Really?


Purple Haze:

I went to museums, yeah. I remember watching, when I was a child I watched Platoon and Hamburger Hill, but I watched that, I watched Saving Private Ryan, and I started responding to the things that was in the film. I started reading the paper about war, looking at what was going on in 9/11 around that time, it's like, "How do I feel about war? What do I think about soldiers?" Looking at the veteran's hat of a person that you pass on the street, and like how many people don't see their hats? They're letting us know who they were, I'm like, "Yo," and then sitting back and really thinking about that person like, "Oh shit, whether they liked it or not, they went and did what?"


Purple Haze:

I'm never going to know, I'm never really going to get with that human body experience, so how do I acknowledge the complexity of their experience and my opinion on that? I'm observing the outside in that whole thing, because that track literally came from being an outsider and then it was then revealing that I actually wanted to go to the military, and decided not to at the last minute.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

Not last minute, but decided not to, and forever will be an unfulfilled piece of me, like to this day I know there still is a part of me that wants to go to the military and will never go, and I was a cadet when I was younger. It was like, how do I let this truth of me, desire in me, not popular, be expressed and not shit on the people that are doing it, so how can I honor? Because I'm interested in like, one, this is just more like my belief and my personal value, so how can I honor as many people in this position, and not just me?


Purple Haze:

Then because I'm interested in tapping into the human core, the thing, that's me. I always say like Jimi, my name is Purple Haze, it came from Jimi Hendrix, and I always tell people it did not come from weed.


Tyler Bunzey:

I was going to ask you specifically about that, because also I was actually thinking Prince when I heard Purple Haze.


Purple Haze:

A lot of people do that, and that actually is my favorite artist of all time. It just was a coincidence, I was not thinking Prince at all when I was choosing an MC name.


Tyler Bunzey:

Purple is so foundational to black women's art, like that color invokes of course Color Purple, but I think Sonia Sanchez has a poem about purple, there's just something about it. I was wondering what exactly ... Yeah, I guess it comes from Jimi Hendrix, but if you could talk about that a little bit, and maybe the importance of having a name itself.


Purple Haze:

It shows up lyrically for me a lot, or I'll put it in my lyrics and it guides some of my lyrics. I loved Prince as a kid, I wanted to be like Sheila E. in Krush Groove, like so meeting Sheila E. through Krush Groove, you knew that her music was playing in my life, it was seeing her and Krush Groove, who the role she was, and when she was doing Holly Rock [00:35:51], and she's hitting the guitars and she's proving herself. I was that girl that could be and hang with the fellas, the fellas like but not really the same way, and so she probably was more of someone who influenced me in her role in that film.

Purple Haze:

Then to find out Prince, she was like a female version of Prince, basically, and Prince's mentee. Knowing none of that, I wasn't even rapping back then, so [00:36:25] none of that had anything to do with choosing the name Color Purple. When I would tag all my books, I was K-Love, because I loved hearts and clouds, I used to always draw these clouds with thunder going through it and these hearts, it was weird. Not weird, but it was very much what I did.


Purple Haze:

As a kid when I was breaking, everybody would say, "Yo, you special," or just in my life people would say I was special, in my neighborhood, my family, everybody would say, "You're special, you're special, you're different, you're different." My full name is Sheikia [00:36:55], my family called me Kia or Kiki, and so the K, then so I be Special K. There were 1,001 Special Ks back in the '80s. It's like because everybody called me special, so my breaker name, I identified myself as Special K, my tag name was K-Love.


Purple Haze:

Then when I started MC-ing, which was like late high school, it was Big Kidd because everyone always called me a kid, like, "You're just a kid," "you're just a kid," "she's a kid." I was skipped when I was younger twice, so I was always younger than everyone, so literally I was related to as a kid. Some of what comes with that is by not having anything to say for so long and not speaking up, people really related to me that way, and it was comfortable and it was normalized. Now as an MC in finding my voice and using it, I'm bigger than y'all know.


Purple Haze:

That was it, it was this fantasy in my mind always being crafted and built, whether it was from dancing or MC-ing. "I'm way bigger than the world knows, and one day I'm going to show them," was the plot going on for the first 10, 12 years of my life. I was like, "Yo, B-I-double-G-K-I-double-D," and I rocked with that for awhile. I remember being in college, not the kid, "Well, who's the kid?" The kid is Prince in Purple Rain, so I'm not even realizing all of what's in me, and [00:38:19] this.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow, yeah, that's incredible.


Purple Haze:

I'm just knowing everyone calls me Kid all the time. Boom, get to MC-ing, that's my name. In high school when I started doing my demo, somebody got a photo of me, they were going to a model agency to be a model, there happened to be a picture of me in there, they asked me to come. They was like, "Yo, the agency want to see you, can you go?" I related to myself as the world used this term "tomboy", and I was like, "I don't get that." My mom is pretty, I'm all right, I'm the fat, but let's go. I'm not that confident, I don't feel comfortable in my viewpoint in that way, but I go and I take these photos, and I try to do what they're asking.


Purple Haze:

It's very interesting to be seen as beautiful when I don't think the standard of beauty is communicated to me that way, and therefore I sign on to that. I'm not as aware of it, but I'm just like, "I don't get this, but I'll do it." My mom was happy, and so cool. What happened at that same time, I had just transferred here to New Jersey, I go to an all-girl Catholic school after going to graphic arts in New York. 1,500 kids in my high school in New York, 140 at my high school in Jersey.


Purple Haze:

Right? Eight floors in New York, one level and a trailer in Jersey. I got a culture shock, I went from wearing whatever you want to wear, and I can't actually hang with the New York City kid trend, to I've got to wear a uniform. My world is just [sings descending notes] at this time, I'm considered a rich kid in Newark because we live in what was supposed to be a gated community, and they didn't finish their gates, and I'm like, "This is not rich." I'm like, "What the fuck?"


Purple Haze:

All of this is infusing me crafting this MC identity. My aunt is working with somebody who's a music producer, my cousins and I always performed together in my grandma's living room. We'd learn songs, we'd break down parts and we'd do them, and we'd do TLC. I'm walking around swearing I'm T-Boz but dressing like Left Eye, and my aunt was like, "You're really good." This shy kid, but at these times I'm comfortable, and it's something that she was like, "You really want to do this?" I was like, "No, I do."


Purple Haze:

She was like, "You really want to do this for real?" and had me go ask somebody, because I know I got my job as producer, I was like, "Yeah." He happened to live in Jersey, so he invites me to come down and do my first demo with this guy, I'm 15. Maybe we met in the summer, I go back to school in September, his niece happens to go to my school, a freshman. He's in middle New Jersey, and his [00:41:00] niece is coming to school right here.


Tyler Bunzey:

Incredible.


Purple Haze:

I'm like, "Oh shit," so we rock this, and at the time he had an artist signed to Sony. He was like, "This is going to be easy, because they ready for my next artist," and he's like, "And you're nice with it." I come in with ideas, he's a producer, he's like, "Well, what do you want?" I rap, and he starts just feeling what I'm saying, and he tries to copy something off of my rhythm, because again, I'm writing to the beats. Most of my practice was writing to know beats, all concept-based.


Tyler Bunzey:

That has changed since then? We can talk about that later.


Purple Haze:

I do both. Having to collaborate and learn and grow in this, I felt it was better for me to expand. Then also when it became looking at going in the industry, and having a few people that were in it already and talking to me about what the demand would be like, I have to. Initially, I wasn't looking at no underground, no independent, the world, I didn't even know that truly was an option, I only seen the big.


Tyler Bunzey:

Around what year is this?


Purple Haze:

This is 1994, '95, so you see what's happening. My family moves out to Jersey in '91, I still go to school in Harlem.


Tyler Bunzey:

Oh wow.


Purple Haze:

My father lived in Harlem, my mom was in the Bronx. My parents separated when I was like eight, so I was going to school in the Bronx, my brother goes to Rice High School in Harlem. My grandmother lives across the bridge from my father, my grandmother's on the Bronx side of the 138th Street Bridge, my father's on the riverbed Harlem side. Music was just always a part of my life and my experience and culture, I'm like that New York City kid that grew up going to different feasts, whether it be in Greek area or Chinatown and the Italian Day parade, I went to all of it [00:42:46] as a kid, so I was super duper exposed to sound and imagery.


Purple Haze:

I went to every Barnum and Bailey circus, I'm like a 'hood privileged kid, and none of my friends and family get this experience. You get I'm exposed, in a way, and going to school in New York in the '80s, at least in my schools, we went on a lot of field trips, so I went to Broadway every year.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.

Purple Haze:


Then eventually, so I went to East Harlem Performing Arts too, that's really important, from 7th to 9th grade. Our school went up to 9th grade, I started in 5th and 6th, and you had to study all four areas of the arts. It was a feeder school for LaGuardia, New York School of the Arts, so the middle school version of it, of Fame [like the TV show], if you could get an image of it. That's what's going on at the time in my moves to Jersey, so I don't quite make the real move yet because I'm still going to school in New York.


Purple Haze:

I'm out here for summers, weekends sometimes, and then I'm out here during the school week and I'm commuting back and forth, so I'm moving between my mom's house and my grandmother's house. That 9th grade year is my breakout year in performing arts, it's the first time I go from instead of being a stagehand, instead of helping the teacher, instead of building the costumes, I'm now starting to be onstage for the first time ever.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow, okay.


Purple Haze:

The year before that, I was in dance routine and in chorus after auditioning and never getting anything the first year, not dance, because I got friends that go to Alvin Ailey Repertoire Theatre at Harlem School of the Arts, whatever. People are coming in, doing their thing, I'm in this competitive realm and I'm not an artist, but they sent me there because of my visual arts, because they used to watch me draw.


Tyler Bunzey:

Interesting.


Purple Haze:

Everybody kept saying like, "That kid is talented." Again, so you've got those little dance moments, you got me drawing, and everybody like, "Yo, she should go to art school." Boom, we go, I'm in. '90s happens, and New York City in the '80s in the Bronx, at least for me, it was fascinating. I bumped into Just-Ice going to buy his record "Nobody Beats the Wiz." [00:44:49].

I was having trouble finding a Just-Ice record of this name, and I couldn't find anything except Biz Markie's famous "Nobody Beats the Biz."

Purple Haze helped me identify my mistake in an email on 2/17/20:

"Biz had a song that played off the store title and commercial, the store was called "Nobody Beats the Wiz." It was a chain record store around NYC with a catchy jingle. Check it out. The Just Ice record is called "Going Way Back" (which I played off of in my hook for "Taken Back" verse on Sweet16)."


Tyler Bunzey:

Oh my God.


Purple Haze:

"Nobody Beats the Wiz." [00:44:50]. It's crazy, like I saved my allowance, I go to school near 3rd Avenue, we walked to the record store-


Tyler Bunzey:

Oh my God.


Purple Haze:

I bought his album, and dude is in the store. I'm like, "Yo Just, look, I just got it!" On the 41 bus on Webster Ave., KRS-One is shooting "My Philosophy" video.

Tyler Bunzey:

Oh my God.


Purple Haze:

While we're going by, we like, "Yo look! Yo, look at KRS, what they doing?" That's New York City, Nice N' Smooth lived up the block from me.


Tyler Bunzey:

Oh my God, that's wild.


Purple Haze:

All of this is happening, Run DMC ... Because my mom is from Queens, so now I got the Queens side too which is not always the case in New York, like your borough, your family is all in that one area, so I got Bronx and Queens, and we would ride the train every Sunday morning and go to church in Queens. It felt like two hours, it was an hour and a half-


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

Just to go to church with my whole family. My aunt goes to school with LL Cool J, my uncle's dating Pepa from Salt n' Pepa, Ed Lover [00:45:51] lives around the corner. We go to the annual party at Crotona Park, that's Run DMC and them. This is not as separate and distant, right? [00:46:04] But they're also not ... As a kid, these are my family's friends, and I'm not even seeing them technically on television yet, so I don't know who they are or what they up to, but [00:46:16]-


Tyler Bunzey:

That's incredible.


Purple Haze:

You're just with people, and everybody's doing hip-hop everywhere some way, so just they're equivalent to my brother, and my brother is my favorite star. All of that leads up to this move in the '90s, and why this move is crazy, I remember my brother gets a job, he also graduated school early and he took a year off, so he graduated high school, he gets a job, which mean that he's got the money to buy records. Every payday he comes home with new tapes and new CDs, so he comes home with the House Party soundtrack, and we listen to House Party 3, Biggie, "Party and Bullshit" over and over, we like, "Yo, this is crazy."

Purple Haze:

Who's the Man soundtrack, what else comes out at that time? You got Reasonable Doubt comes out, you got The Fugees, you got all of this expansion happening. Puffy [as in Puff Daddy, aka Sean "Diddy" Combs] lived across the street from us at a period of time, I didn't know him, but there was a guy across the street in the Bronx that used to play music super loud, a lot of reggae tapes they'd play for the whole block, everybody's got that dude. So when Karl Kani...I used to spend my allowance on magazines and reading about all the artists, and I definitely studied the back of albums, so I had a Karl Kani picture up on my wall.


Purple Haze:

My older brother came home, I'm like, "Yo, that's that dude Sean from across the street," he's like, "That ain't Sean." I'm like, "Yo, that's him," because that's not his friend but he knows him, because they're the same age and they passing by. Boom, then he finds out, "Yo, that is that dude Sean." He talked to us, he talked to his friend Ray [00:47:55], he's like, "Yo, that is Sean," that's Puffy. Ironically, Puffy's father and my father are from the same projects in the Bronx.


Tyler Bunzey:

Oh my God. [laughs in disbelief]


Purple Haze:

This starts to be, all of this is the name Purple Haze, by the way, because I didn't get that name, that name got me. This is all [00:48:11] background crafted-


Tyler Bunzey:

This is incredible 00:48:12].


Purple Haze:

By the way, I'm working on writing this and putting it out with the music for the first time, so the [00:48:19] music that hasn't been released is like an autobiographical musical and a video. When Beyonce put out Lemonade, I was like, "That's just the universe telling all people the same idea." I was like, "I got to fucking tell this story somehow," and my people was like, "Yeah, you should make a short film." All of this is in the background, all of this funky music happens, I go to this school, I start discovering deeper stuff, I start discovering sisterhood.


Purple Haze:

Somebody that I go to Benedictine with, which is my high school, dates this guy named Stan, Stan is a dancer, they come to our school and they dance, who are they the background dancers for? The Fugees. When you live in these regions, it's happening while you're living, it's just all happening. We used to tell people, "When you get off 280, take the highway, when you see the abandoned projects, get off," because we couldn't remember the exit number, and sometimes the number wasn't on there.


Purple Haze:

The number wasn't on there for years, [00:49:21] there was no exit sign. It's Clifton Avenue, but there was no sign, no number, so the projects was there, and they'd be like, "What?" Because as a New Yorker, you'll never see an abandoned project in your life, wildest shit to see. Where is that project? It's in "No Anybody Interest" video.

I'm unsure what this reference is for. Currently reaching out to Haze to figure it out.

Tyler Bunzey:

Holy shit.


Purple Haze:

This is the '90s in Jersey. I sneak into The Zanzibar because Jersey was big with house music and club music. I sneak into the Zanzibar, then I hear about Club America, Club 88, and I ain't old enough to go, but I'm going because these Jersey kids got cars, and they doing shit way different than we do in New York. I come out the club, and it's Cool V is right there, I'm like, "Yo, the most smiling-est DJ, what up?" Because I'm fucking a hip-hop head, [00:50:10] more than anyone knows.


Tyler Bunzey:

Oh my God.


Purple Haze:

All of the background people matter to me, where they're from, where they live, all of that matters to me. I make this demo during that time, I'm listening to Aaliyah's "At Your Best" every time I'm on the Jersey transit going down to Somerset. That's when I was listening to R&B, because I love soul classics the most, '70s soul classic is what my dad played, Harlem Nights always playing and we sleep on the terrace outside on a good summer night. I love how they dealt with harmony and melody, and I think my flow came from that.

Purple Haze:

I think it also came from my grandmother speaking in tongues when she would pray, she would say, "I give you the glory, give you the praise, give you the glory," so her tongue movement was crazy.


Tyler Bunzey:

That's wild, yeah.


Purple Haze:

Crazy, and it's all informing my ear, all of this story is all informing my ear, and then boom, playing basketball because I finally find something I'm good at while I'm at East Harlem Performing Arts, like intramural basketball. I try it, I'm good at it, fuck it, I'm having a good time in this arts thing, I'm too scared to go to the audition at LaGuardia they set up for me, because they set it up in theater and I don't consider myself an actress, so I have no idea what the fuck just happened.


Purple Haze:

I break out because we had an assignment, A Raisin in the Sun was what me and my best friend decided, everybody had to pick a scene and act a scene. I act Raisin in the Sun, and my drama teacher goes crazy, she's like, "You've been here for three years, and we never knew you had that in you. I got you. You're going to LaGuardia."


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

Everybody's just like, "It was so good," and this is the end of the school year project. I had never been related to by a mass group of peers as talented and a star, I've been behind the scenes making sure the stars could shine. I didn't even go home and tell my parents about it [00:52:06], I just went along with the program. I went back to silence, end scene. My aunt says this, I make the demo, I do the Big Kidd thing, and boom, we finish it. It's my senior year of high school, and no one from my family had graduated from college.


Purple Haze:

I was like, "Fuck, my mom wants one of her kids to go to college. Fuck, nobody around here can do college, I got to go to college." The papers are writing up about me in basketball, and [00:52:35] I'm not expecting it, I got MVP for my team, but I made the all-star league, and I didn't stripe it, I was not "the player". The player we all thought would make the all-star team didn't, and I did, and I had no interest in reading the paper. This guy would always see me at the bus stop and tell me what my stats were and all that shit, because again, I don't relate to myself as a star.


Purple Haze:

We have a fashion show that year, I get in the fashion show, it's on my birthday. Boom, I break out and show another side of me, the whole crowd goes crazy. I'm like the hit, one of the main people in the fashion show, everybody's like, "Who the fuck are you?" It's slowly starting to peel off and really reveal this personality and this self, and I've got to go to college, it's a choice I made. My dad's like, "You ain't got a choice," my mom was like, "Well, you do what you want to do."


Purple Haze:

The demo was finished, the producer says, "What do you want to do?" I go, "I'm going to go to college next," because I thought I could do both, and he's like, "You can't do both." When you about to go in the industry, that's it. I was like, "Fuck it, I'm going to go to college." Go to college and don't play basketball, but I get down there, and the second day of school, I decided to rap.


Tyler Bunzey:

Where'd you go?


Purple Haze:

Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte.


Tyler Bunzey:

Yeah, sorry.


Purple Haze:

Freshman year, there was a talent show, I get onstage and I rap, and the crowd boos me.


Tyler Bunzey:

Oh shit.


Purple Haze:

I'm just opening up as somebody that might have something, though in my mind I've been dreaming about this for my whole life.


Tyler Bunzey:

Of course, yeah.


Purple Haze:

I think they boo me because I'm wack, they booed me because the mic was going out and they wanted to hear me, [00:54:04].


Tyler Bunzey:

Yeah, of course.


Purple Haze:

But on stage I don't know that. I get offstage, I find out people started relating to me, it's like, "Yo, you're real good, but it was quiet, you have to be there." If I would drink anything, be under the influence, I would jump into ciphers and rap and freestyle, but I'd never freestyled before. The next day, I would find out from people on campus what I was doing and saying, because I had very little recollection, not because of intoxication, because the zone. I snap and go somewhere else, and then come back in.


Tyler Bunzey:

We'll return to that, I want to talk about that, that's amazing.


Purple Haze:

And I can only hit that zone with inhibitions, you know what I mean? With some altering substance, which to me is danger zone. The guy I'm dating, he had a friend who rapped in Charlotte, I think Mecca Don Records [00:54:52] was really doing their thing down in there, East/West Records, Adina Howard, Pudgy the Fat Bastard, a couple of cats. Me and my friends and dating different guys, like you know what I mean, got a cute girl crew, whatever, guys wanted to get into the concert, go to the show.


Purple Haze:

We're hanging out at shows all the time, getting in and chilling, and the guy I'm dating at the time, his friend Corey wants to rap. They're like, "Yo, you need a gimmick, go find Kidd or a girl or something," so the dude calls me and says, "Yo, can you do me a favor? Just audition with my friend, because they just need to see him side-by-side with somebody to see what they could do with him?" I was like, "All right, cool," and I go. Now, labels come on campus to find people, like I remember LaFace [00:55:30] came, all these different people came, and people are like, "Yo, you should go talk to them," and I'm like, "Nah man, I'm in college, I'm good."


Purple Haze:

I go and audition, and they keep asking me to rhyme, they keep asking me to rhyme, they change the beats, they ask me to rhyme, they take the beats off, they ask me to rhyme, they literally canceled him out. They stop even paying attention to this guy in the room, he's sitting on the couch at this point, I'm like, "Ah shit, I feel bad for him, this ain't about me." They give me a contract on the way back to campus for a management deal [00:55:58] right there, but I'm 17 so I can't sign it.


Purple Haze:

They also ask me, do I have a photo of myself with less clothes on, and I'm like, "Damn, this is so fucked up." At the time, Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown are about to be out, so they want to compete with that, and Adina Howard is out, and Eve is coming. This is that time in the '90s, but one thing they said in that meeting that changed things for me for life, obviously, was they said, "We've got to change your name. If you're signing with us, you've got to change your name."


Purple Haze:

Because I told them I was going to sign, I was going to call my mom and then get a lawyer, and going to sign. He's like, "All right, when you get back from Christmas break [00:56:37], right? Bring back the contract, yeah?" I changed my mind on break, by the way, on break I was like, "Man, we ain't got money for the lawyer, fuck it. Don't worry about all this shit, I'm going to go finish school." They was like, "We've got to change your name," and I said, "Why?" They said, "Because you won't always be a kid, what happens when you grow up?"


Purple Haze:

That's when I realized I needed a different name [00:56:59]. As I said in Sweet 16, it simply was because I had pictures of Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix on my wall. My dad visits me my second-to-last year at school, and he goes, "Oh shit, I ain't know you was into this," he's never heard me listen to Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix. He's like, "What, who are you?" Again, the reveal, because I'm always introverted, and so you get glimpses of who I am in my imaginary world, or who I am to myself. The reason Jimi Hendrix was on the wall is because the first time I heard "Purple Haze", I was like, "What the fuck is that?" That dude tapped into a frequency that I got through his guitar, like he took me out of my body-

Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

Just listening to it. Sober, no substance, nothing, I was like ... First of all, the bass of the beat, [plays the beat out with her first on the table] it was so hard, to this day I feel like it's this African drum I wound up hearing in Ghana years later. It had such a heartbeat, and then the way he's playing the guitar, it's a little off, it's off to me, I hear where it's off, or to me I hear it as off. How he could be off and on at the same time? That's how I related to myself.


Tyler Bunzey:

Fascinating.


Purple Haze:

It's off and on at the same time, light switch off and on at the same time, in and out, like my world for me was that I'm always off and on. When I would hear it, I liked the way I would feel like my cells did something, I feel like I had a shock therapy or some shit every time that song came on. Years later when I'm like, "All right, I'm going to rap," because by the way, I ain't rapped for seven years, I'd stopped [00:58:47] after I was in college. I just stopped, I was like, "I can't, I'm not going to do this no more, I love it and it hurts, and I don't want to talk about it and I don't want to do it, and let's just move on."


Purple Haze:

Seven years go by, and it's during my senior thesis, I'm working on my research paper, and my roommate finds me on the floor crying. She's like, "What's wrong?" and I'm like, "I hate it, I hate school, I never wanted to go. I don't want to do this, I'm going to fail, I didn't want to do this anyway." I'm just crying, and she's like, "Yo, what do you really want to do, what do you love?" I'm like, "I just want to rap." It takes two years after being on the floor that day before I start rapping again.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

While I'm rapping, I'm like, "All right, I'm going to do what I got to do," because my friends in my inner, inner circle always heard me dreaming and talking about it, they're the only people I was talking about. They bought into it, they'd be like, "Yo, when you hit mad, when you get out there and do your raps ..." They always believed in me in our inner circle.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

Mind you, they ain't even heard me sometimes and believed in me. I was like, "Yo, I'm going to come back," and they were encouraging me. I was like, "So I got to have a name," and I'm sitting there thinking like, "What's my name going to be?" I was like, "Because you can't be Big Kidd, you're not even a kid anymore." What they told me helped me, and all I hear is my father's voice. He's alive to this day, still alive, he goes, "Purple Haze," and I go, "That's stupid, the fuck going to call myself for? Ain't that weed? Yo, I'm not doing that."


Purple Haze:

When I tell you believed in a higher power and I learned and grew to trust spirit, because that's the only thing that really I felt like was constant, that and the sky. That's the other theme, is the sky was my best friend as a child because it was constant and it was always there. I was like, "Yo, I don't know why, but something tells me to go with that thought." Then did I start discovering the color purple, I hadn't even paid attention to it, all I knew is it was my cousin's favorite color.


Purple Haze:

No writing, no reading, I knew the movie, red was my favorite color, starting to be blue now, still has come back to the purple, I'm a narcissist [laughs] [01:00:47]. That's where the name comes from. What the name came to do and mean as people around the world talked to me about the color purple, [01:00:58] people talked to me about what it is, like a haze. I learned that, and I said it on one of the recordings, every time it goes from night to day and day to night, you always see a purple haze in the sky, so it's a unifier, I see it.


Purple Haze:

Then I used to always say that, because I'd listened to people for so long, since I wasn't a speaker most of my life, and I would listen, listen, listen deeply, people would share with me vulnerably, and then I'd tell them something. They would say, "Yo, you wise as shit." What I got from listening to so many people's journey is, the line that divides is also one that unifies. It's the same shit, you're just on different sides, you can't see it. [01:01:35] That's purple, it's right there in the middle, it's Democrat, it's Republican, it's Blood and it's Crip, and there's a part of me that's always engaged with politics.


Purple Haze:

I'm a hippie, I think, and it's just like I want a lot of this bullshit to stop, because this bullshit is tricky. I really want the peace and love, I can't turn that off. It's like if we can get that what divides us is what unites us, this shit will look different, [01:02:05] this shit will be super different. Now, Purple Haze is more of a distinction, it's about being on purpose, and it's about making sure I use my lyrics, my truth as a way to elevate people and unify people.


Purple Haze:

I got that because that talent show at Johnson C. Smith, 1996, I wound up auditioning for a theater piece, [01:02:26], and it was written by a brother from New York who wound up working with Spike Lee, I think, in his master's program when he went to NYU. Brian Ferguson wrote this joint called "Black Is", there was a group called the Black Ink Monks, they were poets and slam poets on Johnson C. Smith campus, and he did this homage and tribute to poetry and jazz in a beautiful way. I had a small role in the joint, but the night before opening night, Abiodun [Oyelowe] [01:02:58] from Last Poets came.


Tyler Bunzey:

Oh shit.


Purple Haze:

I tell him, I said-


Tyler Bunzey:

Because he was in North Carolina for a bit, yeah, no, I remember that, yeah.


Purple Haze:

I don't know who the Last Poets are at the time, I don't know I know them. I heard them but don't know I know them, and what did I tell you when my brother first got his money and he bought a cassette tape? He bought "Party and Bullshit", what joint was in the play? "Party and Bullshit", [01:03:25] because it comes from the Last Poets. I go up to him, and he talked to the whole cast about the power we're doing, and why it'd been on purpose, and the journey, and I go, "Hey, I just wanted to let you know I'm a rapper." No, "I rap," because I never said I was a rapper, I was like, "I rap."


Purple Haze:

He was like, "Oh yeah?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Oh well then what are you talking about [in your music]?" [01:03:44] "A lot of times, I'm just talking about what I think and what I feel," so all right. He said, "Listen, make sure you use your words as a source to elevate your people." He gave me his autograph, he wrote that message on a loose leaf piece of paper, I still have it to this day.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

That really informed me in what to do with my voice, so now it's not lyrics, now it became if I come back, using my voice, and using my voice to elevate my people. Purple Haze, because Jimi was high as shit [I laugh], elevated, and I started getting this synchronicity in this story in this point. I was like, "Yo, I'm not going to use drugs or drink, I'm going to get high off of Haze, off of using my voice, off of them seeing, or learn how to tap in, learn how to be used."


Tyler Bunzey:

Becoming Purple Haze for you then was actually a shift in your artistry and in the [01:04:41] way that you approached MC-ing?


Purple Haze:

My life, my life, my whole life shifted. I got Baptized, I was going to Bible study, I learned about the voice, how to take care of my body differently. I was going to Gary Knowles's lectures in New York, learning about alternative medicine, I was swimming and working out six days a week, so finding flow, I found my flow in the water. I was swimming 25 laps in 25 minutes and always going for new times, and I was finding this effortlessness in the water. I was running on the treadmill in ways I'd never ran before, and I was hitting miles, it was crazy how my workout was going.


Purple Haze:

Then I would go home and I would write. I was an insomniac, I was writing in the middle of the night, I was watching Oprah. [01:05:33] because they used to show Oprah at 1:00 in the middle of the night, so I was like, "Fuck it, since I'm up anyway." Whatever topic she would talk about, I'd start writing about them, I'd start writing to her, but lyrically. [01:05:43] I'd start answering what they were saying as if I was in the audience, or as if I was being interviewed, or if I was talking to Oprah. A lot of my lyrics are answering the different things I heard in the world. On Wednesdays, I was going to Bible study right after I'd work out.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

I was writing lyrics in church, like when the pastor would say some shit, and I'd hear something and I'd write it down, hear something and write it down. I'm going to show you actually the books of all of these random-ass thoughts in binders and books. Then I would get a beat, and I would say, "That sounds like this," or if the producer told me what it was about, then I would write the subject down and I would go through all of those books, and look at any of those lines that either felt like they connected to the subject or directly connected to the subject.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

Then I'd take that, I'd put all of those lines on one page or a couple of pages, and then I would look at them. I loved playing puzzles as a kid, and I would rearrange the lines like they were puzzles, because the first rhyme I ever wrote, I stole Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte, and my brother Joe's lyrics. I rearranged their lines and changed some of their words, and I told my best friend. She asked people to come, our other best friend, we had this circle of crew and six other girls, and she said, "Y'all come over."


Purple Haze:

The guys that were playing football came over, so there was like 10 kids surrounding me, and I do the rap. She's like, "Yo, but Kia can rap." I do the rap, and then they went and got more people, they say, "What you doing over here?" The cool girls come over, the cool kids be like, "What you doing? Yo, do it again." I did it three times, the third time I looked up, everybody in recess was surrounding me. That was the first rap I ever wrote.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

Shout out to Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte and my brother. I did meet Roxanne Shante in 2003.


Tyler Bunzey:

Really?


Purple Haze:

At the first conference, because once I said, "Okay, I want to do music, what do I do? How do you do this shit?" I heard some shit, and showcase your showcase, never forgot, and I went and she told me a story about where she was all of the time that we didn't hear from her anymore. I was a huge MC Lyte fan, I think she's the one that gave me permission, like girls can also do this. I think it was Left Eye, girl's my favorite MC, that was my favorite group, was TLC, but I think Left Eye, a lot of her contemplation about herself and her life, it wasn't subjects outside of her the way MC Lyte was.


Purple Haze:

MC Lyte was on topic, Left Eye seemed to be exploring something, she seemed to be using writing for herself. She had the topics in it, but I felt like I got to know her and what she thought for real, and I think the combination helped. I wound up meeting her when I was in high school, I went over to meet TLC.


Purple Haze:

She talked to me, and I didn't say anything about being a rapper to any of these people. Later on when I met Roxanne and I introduced myself to her, and she said, "Good people always meet each other again, so I'll see you next time."


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.


Purple Haze:

Changed my life. I've seen Roxanne Shante every year since then.


Tyler Bunzey:

Really? That's incredible.


Purple Haze:

For somebody that was a "MC Lyte fan", and I got compared profusely to Lyte, Latifah, and Lauryn [Hill], in this area, people that were behind the scenes as Latifah and Lauryn were building, I was bumping into, and they were seeing me at shows. Then they would be like, "Yo, you remind me of Lauryn, you're just like Lauryn," and she started out and would tell me stories, same thing with Latifah.


Tyler Bunzey:

That's incredible.


Purple Haze:

It's just proximity, and someone had one of Lauryn's producers come see me at a show.


Tyler Bunzey:

Wow.