After her second year showcasing as an official SXSW artist, Austin rapper Mama Duke gave us details about her upcoming project and offered advice on paving your own path.
Story by Cruz Rendon
Photos by Samantha Dorisca
Mama Duke is here to dominate 2019. Her past accolades include a nomination for Best Female Vocalist in the Austin Music Awards and two Austin Hip-Hop awards won in the same night: Artist of the Year and Female Artist of the Year. We’re not even halfway through 2019 but Mama Duke has plans. “This project has bars,” says Mama Duke. “I used to say [regarding over-masculine audiences] ‘it’s not their fault, I caught them on a bad day’ but now I’m like ‘fuck your ego.’ Watch what this album does… that’s where that energy went.” The untitled project is set to drop later this month.
The Afro-Latina rapper, originally from Palacios, Texas, says she’s had to bully her way into the Austin hip-hop scene. “Even in the queer spaces,” she remembers a queer event where she performed, “I’m not all the way accepted. [There are] five black people in the room. So, that’s not my home.”
“I’m finessing my way through all these communities,” says Mama Duke. Finding her path has been a constant theme in her life. “I’m not black enough for black people, I’m not Mexican enough for Mexicans, I’m black and [people claim] I’ve had no struggles because I’m lightskin. That don’t mean nothing. I was raised Catholic and half of my life I thought I was going to hell,” she says referencing a battle with religion and her sexuality.
The artist credits her family as a support system. “My mom told me I was gay,” she says. If someone in high school asked why she was holding a girl’s hand, her response was “fuck you. My mom said I could.” About the same time, she started rapping. Students would bang on a surface during lunch and Mama Duke would freestyle to the beat. Her mother would buy blank CDs then the rapper would burn her music on them and sell them at school.
Her first mixtape, titled “Pre-K,” was a raw, self-produced album. Since then, Mama Duke has released two additional mixtapes, Detour and Safe Travels which showcase a cleaner, R&B vibe. The latter titles referencing the path she’s on and the traveling to and from the UK to see her muse, her wife Keeley. After getting to know each other on social media, Keeley moved from Manchester to Austin and married the rapper. The R&B sound of the last two mixtapes can be attributed to the rapper’s appreciation of Drake, “he’s a scorpio, I’m a scorpio,” she laughs. “He’s the softest, hardest [rapper] you know. That’s me.”
Mama Duke reveals that she quit her barista job a month before SXSW, “It feels so good… Don’t get me wrong, bills are due, but I get the money how I want to get the money.” Since then, she has dedicated time to her upcoming project and designing new merch alongside her wife. Priding herself in writing her own rhymes, Mama Duke announces that the upcoming project, being released on SoundCloud is her last “free” album and is ready to upload music to other streaming services.
“It’s a good time to be alive,” she claims when asked about the direction hip-hop is taking. “I’m a black, gay woman that’s married. All those things used to hold me back. Now I stand apart from [other rappers] because we crave authenticity... Somebody trans could be on the billboard charts tomorrow. People just want real and there’s space for it.”
Mama Duke’s biggest takeaway is to create your own path. “I want people to listen to my songs and be like ‘I can do whatever I want to do,’” she says. “You are where you’re supposed to be and your power is within you to create your own blueprint.”