I’ve known Stasia Irons for about a decade, ever since we both attended the University of Washington together during the Bush years. This was a strange, Pre-Obama era of post-9/11 anti-war protests, when Twitter hadn’t been invented, MySpace was a website people visited and certain radical energies in American politics that we now take for granted had yet to find a voice.
The music Irons made in those years and beyond—together with Catherine Harris-White in the now-disbanded group THEESatisfaction—was ahead of the curve. Today we recognize the #carefreeblackgirl hashtag, television shows like Insecure and the music of Solange Knowles as examples of Black Bohemianism, but Irons’ music established that ethos well before it was endorsed by popular culture. Her latest record S’WOMEN finds her in a state of transition, moving from the lightness of her 20s to an emotional break-up in her 30s.
I caught up with Irons over the phone to talk about what it’s like to pioneer a trend that you're no longer fully part of.
City Arts: I remember reading a tweet of yours recently where you said you felt like your work with THEESatisfaction was ahead of its time because back in the late 2000s the world hadn’t embraced carefree Blackness as a cultural movement.
Stasia Irons: Yup. We missed the peak of this movement for sure. It’s dope to be able to watch Netflix and HBO and watch Insecure and listen to Solange's last record, or even to see the amount of people that are cool with natural hair, versus five or ten years ago. I think Cardi B’s rise has been a huge “fuck you” to respectability politics. I’ve always been down for the whole gamut of Blackness; even though I went, I wasn’t one of those people who thought you have to be coming from a university setting for your voice or perspective to matter.
So much of the academic perspective is stuffy and disembodied. I remember being at a show at the Crocodile in 2010 and seeing how people moved to your music; now you’re at Bumbershoot with Lil Yachty. How was that?
Dance is therapeutic for me; my mom was a choreographer. I missed out on the Studio 54 era and sometimes I wanna bring back what I imagine it felt like to be there. The crowd there was really young, and Lil Yachty went on right after us. There were a lot of THEESatisfaction fans there even though it was Yachty’s crowd. It feels like church when I’m able to perform, being filled with the spirit and doing what I was born to do.
Even in the Yachty crowd there were people familiar with your older records. Isn’t he a teenager?
Yachty is 21! And I’m 30, which in rap years is pretty old. My new record S’WOMEN was reflecting on the past few years, seeing what people are putting out. I’m so tired of rap in some ways. Not many people are sitting down to listen to lyrics anymore, and it seems like people are more into production and hype. I’m not going to follow trends so much because that isn’t me. The people who I grew up with in the music industry have either gotten onto the new wave or they've taken on other roles. Since I’ve stayed pretty consistent, I try to give some of the new MCs guidance, especially women.
It sounds like you’ve been through a lot yourself. How was it navigating a breakup while making a new record?
The majority of the songs on the new record are beats that I made while we were going through troubles with my ex. But I hadn't written to them because I was going through this sort of experience where I was living with it. Sometimes the initial point of the beat didn't really match up with what I was saying, so I went back and made changes.
It’s always inspiring to hear when an artist’s praxis isn’t shaken by life events. Do you have any other projects that you’re working on now that the clouds have cleared?
I have a new record that I’m working on—I actually played some of the songs off of it at Bumbershoot. I have a few instrumentals that are almost like gospel trap, where I take vocalists like Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary and put a new drum pattern under them. I also have one instrumental that’s like a neo-disco record. All in all though, my head is really into fashion and visual art these days. Aside from getting material for my KEXP radio show Street Sounds, I guess I don’t indulge as much music as I used to. That feels weird for a rapper-DJ to say!
Stas THEE Boss plays Barboza on Oct. 23
Photo of Stas THEE Boss at Bumbershoot 2017 by Jake Hanson