When the rapper took the stage, clouds formed in the sky. As the wind picked up, tired parents packed up their children and older vendors wobbled to their vans with their handmade jewelry and colorful knickknacks. The energy physically shifted as the air became static and thunder boomed in the distance. The event was no longer for hippies and their pricey arts and crafts. Mother Nature had unleashed the sky for Mama Duke as she yelled “Hey y’all, it’s about to get real Black in here!”
Mama Duke, 33, is a Texas native rapper, producer, and pop artist who recently caught Austin by the ears with her 2020 EP, “Ballsy.” It’s a hip-hop album filled to the brim with her personality, as she raps about the challenges of being a Black, Latina and queer woman.
“You feel…the weight of the world is on your shoulders, like, man,” Mama Duke said “I’m queer and I’m mixed-race and I’m a woman, and the world is hard for us.”.
For female and LGBTQ+ rap artists, being taken seriously as a musician can prove to be difficult. Duke said her sets can be cut short and she has to fight to grab the attention of her audience.
“Every show I do, it’s mainly predominantly white, and so being a loud Black girl is always challenging,” Duke said. “But I feel like we have to demand respect, especially in hip-hop.”
And demand she does. Throughout her set, she’s constantly joking with her audience, maintaining fierce eye contact with women in the crowd, screaming into the microphone and forcing people to stop scrolling on Instagram and listen to her words.
Despite the energy, her left leg was trapped in a brace from a recent scooter accident. However, she wasn’t hobbling on the stage assembled from scrap wood; she just made it look like she was walking with a little bit of extra step. She twists everything into an asset.
“I feel like every time I grab the mic, I have to demand respect,” Duke said. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful to be present and demanding respect, not hoping that you get respect.”
A lot of her music is centered around being gay, Black and a woman. After most shows, Duke said people who identify with her congratulate her for her performance.
“I love when women come up to me because a lot of my lyrics are naturally towards dudes, because I’m a female in hip-hop so if I’m talking shit it’s 100% probably to a guy. So it’s beautiful when women come up to me and are like ‘When you said that line I want to say that shit, too,’” Duke said. “I’m here to empower women. If dudes get empowered that’s cool too but my main focus is a girl hearing me and going home and being like ‘Oh actually I have f—ing power.’”
In her opening track, Duke raps, “Did this shit with three whammies, to make it up I need three Grammys cuz I’m Black, female and gay and somehow still found a way.”
Her “triple whammy” of an existence was the inspiration for her record company, “Triple Whammy Records,” which she runs with her DJ, Cheets.
“It’s been a high, to be honest. Every day is something different, boom-boom-boom, and it just keeps going higher,” Cheets said. “She writes all her own stuff, she does all her production, she does everything. I add to her energy. To be honest, I’m just someone she can bounce stuff off of.”
Throughout their first tour, Cheets has been her right-hand man for every show, including across the seas in France. She has also exposed him to a variety of places he had never been, most notably gay clubs and predominantly LGBTQ+ spaces.
“It was different, I’m not used to that,” Cheets said. “I might refer to somebody as ‘she’, but ‘she’ doesn’t necessarily refer to herself as that. So it’s just a question, like I might ask afterwards, am I disrespecting that person by saying it like this.” Cheets said.
Mama Duke said that it would be ideal if everyone would take to change like Cheets does. He is also his own independent artist outside of Mama Duke and Triple Whammy Records, and his adaptive actions help queer and women hip hop artists feel more accepted in spaces where traditionally, they may have been kept out.
Even though Duke has to combat bigotry in the hip-hop industry, she relentlessly stays positive about her music and her success.
“For some reason they let me in the door, I don’t know why, but now I’m going to be gay as f–k and queer as f–k. If I can get away with it like this, I’m going to be extra gay,” Duke said. “It’s our duty to do that. They let us in the door; they don’t let all queers in the door. So, I take it as a personal challenge to push that shit. Every time I hit the stage I say ‘I’m here and I’m queer!’ It’s in my lyrics. It’s in me.”