Angelenah Wears Her ‘Disasters’ Proudly
Written by Vocalo Radio on October 28, 2022
Angelenah is the do-it-all artist. From multiple musical projects to founding mutual aid collectives to teaching yoga, she’s got her hands in everything.
Born and raised in Chicago, multidisciplinary artist Angelenah grew up freestyling her poems and trying to sound like Cher and Mariah Carey, who she would hear on her parents’ cassettes. Now the artist says music flows freely from her, and it’s evident through her flowing rhymes, produced by fellow Chicago artists The O’My’s.
When she’s not pursuing her music endeavors individually or with her partner in BIG $ILKY, Psalm One, Angelenah is also a poet, dancer, photographer and yogi. Her yoga practice specifically finds its way into her songwriting.
“Being better connected to different types of breathing, being still, and being in motion have all changed the way I perform, the way I write, the way I think about writing and singing,” she explained. “Yoga offers me a oneness with myself that I see reshaping me over and over again.”
Angelenah takes this oneness and produces music for the soul: intimate, emotional and powerful. This also factors into her connection with listeners, hoping people will relate, feel her energy and take away self-love.
“I hope they’ll listen or come to a show and leave content with being messy, imperfect people and love themselves even more because of it,” she remarked.
After her new single “Drama” was featured in Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for October, Angelenah broke down her new single, her mutual aid cooperative and the intersection of yoga and music.
Are you from Chicago originally? If so, which part?
I am from Chicago. Born in Cabrini Green and raised on the Southwest Side of the city, mainly Gage Park.
How long have you been creating music? What were some of your formative influences?
I’ve been creating music since I was maybe 4 years old. I remember freestyling my own songs and poems very early, and then I got into musical theater in third grade. I loved being onstage and would spend lots of time digging through my parents’ cassette tapes listening to musical phenoms like Whitney Houston and Minnie Riperton, Mariah Carey and Cher… I would try to imitate their moves, style and, especially, their vocals. I spent a lot of time learning to control my voice that way.
How has Chicago influenced your music taste and expression, if at all?
I think the grit of being from Chicago shines through very easily when I’m rapping. I’m guttural and forceful, almost scary when I rap, which I think is a Chicago thing. I’m making a point that I’m here, amazing and you’re gonna hear me. Especially being from a crew with exceptional battle rappers, it makes sense that ferocity would shine through first.
What’s interesting to me about the new direction I’ve taken is that it mirrors the real vulnerability of Chicago. As a city, we’re more than just grit and perseverance. We’re wildly vulnerable and hold incredible depth… we just have to be willing to show that. I’m now tapping into a more hidden side of myself. I think it has a lot to do with being from Chicago. I think it has a lot to do with coming back to Chicago now, too.
“Music flows freely for me. It feels like I can just sit down with a beat or melody and freestyle. In fact, I feel like it is so easy because it’s my miracle work.”Angelenah
Is there a certain venue in Chicago you feel fosters the best environment for independent artists?
I really love the Golden Dagger. They have a lot of great practices in place that benefit indie artists who’re really looking to do things on their own, and their new space is super dope! Their staff is also really great and Donnie, the manager, is a quality guy.
Your submission bio notes you’re “a person who has walked through disaster after disaster to retrieve herself.” How do you feel expressing your emotions through the arts has played a role in your self-retrieval?
It’s not always this deep, but I feel like I have to talk about what’s weighing on my mind or heart, and if I don’t, then I’m not being truthful with myself. I don’t feel like we — people, artists, whatever — should hide our emotions. Emotions are what give us depth and show our humanity. I think by wearing my “disasters” proudly, I’ve been able to meet myself where I’m at and give myself grace to be whoever I’m going to be on any given day. I think my emotions have made me powerful.
As a multidisciplinary artist, is there one art form you’re more drawn to than others? Which one and why?
Right now I’m drawn to singing and songwriting more than anything. I love art. I love falling in love with new things, but I am in a space in my life where being a vocalist is romantically exhilarating. I want to see where this goes!
Do music and yoga overlap for you in any way?
Music and yoga overlap in every way! When I started practicing yoga, it was because I felt called to heal other women. And through my training, not only did I discover my own wounds, but I discovered just how much the “breath to body connection” helped me personally. Being better-connected to different types of breathing, being still and being in motion have all changed the way I perform, the way I write, the way I think about writing and singing. Yoga offers me a oneness with myself that I see reshaping me over and over again. I even started DJing because yoga has my playlist game so tight! And, on top of all that, it’s just fun!
How did you get started writing poetry?
I actually started writing poetry in grammar school. Already an avid reader and short story extraordinaire, I would write essays and haikus and perform them at show and tell or for my mom and siblings. I knew that I really loved it in high school when I joined Curie’s slam poetry team — which was very good — and became immersed in Chicago’s budding poetry scene. I went on to perform at Louder Than A Bomb, Brave New Voices and eventually traded in my poetry journal for a rhymebook. I still write poems from time to time, but poetry is more of my base. I love it and pay homage to it, but for me, it was just the tip of the iceberg.
How does writing song lyrics compare to writing poetry? Is your approach to each more similar or more different, and in what ways?
Music flows freely for me. It feels like I can just sit down with a beat or melody and freestyle. In fact, I feel like it is so easy because it’s my miracle work. I know I’m meant to share my voice with others, especially in this way. When I’m writing a poem, I notice there is more judgment of myself and my writing. I think that’s from being on a team and being a part of a competitive poetry scene. It makes getting my thoughts out more difficult.
Tell us about Big $ilky! How does your work in that project differ from your solo work?
Well, Big $ilky is me and my lovely partner, Psalm One. We’re a supergroup! Big $ilky was born on the cusp of the pandemic. We used to be in a group called The Rapperchicks, which saw the loss of one of its founding members in 2018, R.I.P. Henny B. After Henny’s passing, continuing on as The Rapperchicks just didn’t feel right, so we put our old group to bed while paying homage to the late Henny B and we did that with Big $ilky.
The first volume is covered with Henny’s voice and blessing, and the second and third volumes were sparked by the the murder of George Floyd and the resurfacing #MeToo movement that swept across the midwest in 2020.
Needless to say, neither Psalm or I hold our tongues. We mean what we say, and the bold aggression we lead with keeps folks on their tip-toes. The biggest difference between Big $ilky and I Don’t Regret A Thing is that you’re hearing me soften. I’m coming from a place of love with my solo music. With Big $ilky, it’s all brazen and bars.
You’re also the founder of mutual aid cooperative SHIFT MPLS. Can you tell us a little bit about the cooperative and your role within it?
SHIFT MPLS started because of the murder of George Floyd. When Floyd was murdered by MPD, Minneapolis Police Department, I was living in Minneapolis, and between the white supremacists and the police, the city took a beating. Fires swept through low income neighborhoods wiping out grocery stores, pharmacies, strip malls, etc., and the way Psalm and I saw best to help was to open our wallets and to ask others to do the same.
“Pain is my presence, pain is my heaven.”Angelenah
We ended up raising a lot of money and redistributing it back into the community. Over the last two years, we’ve thrown community events to distribute food, money, clothes and shoes, distributed mutual aid money to folks in our community, hosted yoga events and provided scholarships to Black folks wanting to go through yoga teacher training.
With all that you do, how do you make time for yourself?
In my twenties, I played with fire all the time. In my thirties, I know better. I make time for myself. I take breaks from being online, I pray and meditate a lot, I take long baths and go on dates. I spend time with my loved ones. Yes, I’ve got a lot on my bucket list, but time is fickle and I do my best to enjoy my life even while stepping up to my goals.
Tell us about your single “Drama,” which was featured in our “In Rotation” playlist for October. What is your favorite line from “Drama” and why?
“Drama” is like a dear friend, who I always knew was a gem, who’s finally being recognized for what they are: a masterpiece. I wrote “Drama” in 2018 when I was going through a rough time. Even after a year, I was still struggling with moving to Minneapolis, struggling with my relationship to myself and my relationships with those I loved. I was struggling with my lack of self-worth and confidence.
Then boom! Here comes this tour offer, and I take it. I thought I’d be rapping the whole tour, but luckily for me, the co-headliner dropped out and I got a chance to perform 45-minute sets each night. I sang my butt off, and when I did “Drama” for the first time in Austin, Texas, I knew I had something special.
As soon as the tour was over, I began reshaping the EP. I knew I’d be singing a lot more moving forward. If I had to choose a favorite line, it would be, “Pain is my presence, pain is my heaven,” because being in pain was my safe space for so long. A lotta stuff hurt me, some because that’s how the cards fell and some because I was too comfortable in self-sabotage. When I listen back, I know where I was in my life and how far I’ve come. I’m singing these songs now, but I’m in a much different place now.
What do you hope listeners will take from listening to your music or going to a live show?
I want people to listen to me and relate. I hope they’ll listen or come to a show and leave content with being messy, imperfect people and love themselves even more because of it. I want people to listen to the lyrics of my songs and feel the energy I’m sharing. I want them to love themselves, no matter what roads they’ve taken or what journey they’re on.
What should listeners be looking forward to next? Is there another project for you on the horizon?
There’s definitely a lot on the horizon for me. I have a show coming up in Iowa City with Psalm One, ShowYouSuck and greenSLLIME on Friday, Oct. 28. I’m working on a few projects at the moment, including some music that’s self-produced. And I plan to start DJing in the city very soon, so look for me at your local parties, too!
Keep up with Angelenah on Instagram, Twitter, and her website. Don’t forget to stream her music on Spotify below!
Introduction written by Makenzie Creden
Interview by Makenzie Creden, Joshua X. Miller and Morgan Ciocca
Edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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