EMERGING BAY AREA RAPPER TIA NOMORE MAKES HARD-HITTING GIRL POWER ANTHEMS
By Nastia Voynovskaya
All photos by Nastia Voynovskaya
I first saw Tia Nomore freestyle at a warehouse party in Oakland about three years ago. Unbeknownst to anybody there, she was still a high schooler at the time. She grabbed the mic and dropped a rapid-fire verse a cappella, and the image of this fearless tomboy with an arsenal of witty disses stuck in my mind. So last year, when she was chosen for Thizzler's Bay Area Freshman 10 list (a yearly round-up of promising local talent that has helped launch the careers of artists like Sage the Gemini and G-Eazy), I knew my hunch about this precocious young rapper had been correct.
Now only 19 years old, Tia is making herself known among the current wave of rising Bay Area talent. With a string of well-received singles behind her, she's featured on Mac Tully's new song “On the Under” alongside local legend E-40. She just returned from joining Iamsu! on his “Eyes on Me” tour, where she performed with her frequent collaborator Show Banga. Iamsu! and Show Banga's music collective, HBK Gang — and seemingly everyone else in the Bay Area rap scene — treats Tia like their little sister. And since she's still learning the ropes of the music industry, she doesn't seem to mind.
While hip-hop is known as a boys' club — especially when it comes to the freestyle battles where she honed her skills — Tia has had no problem earning respect. In person she's warm and charismatic, but her sense of humor is filled with a youthful honesty that often verges on bluntness. She amplifies this take-no-shit quality of her personality in her rhymes, with stinging punchlines aplenty. Yet her messages are also uplifting: In her songs and on Twitter, she frequently touts female friendship and self-confidence.
The support Tia has been getting for her music has left her feeling energized and focused. These days, she's in the studio almost everyday with producer and engineer Exclusive of Stoop Kids Music Group, whom she fondly refers to as her sensei. Together, they're putting the finishing touches on her highly anticipated debut album, Halloween. Exclusive has made beats for a bevy of well-known artists, including Too $hort and The-Dream. But despite his and Tia's difference in age and experience, the duo's creative chemistry seems to flow naturally. I met up with them at the Stoop Kids headquarters, which is nestled between an art gallery and a photography studio in an artist-run warehouse in East Oakland.
Before they got to work, I got a chance to speak with Tia about her upcoming album, her diverse musical influences, and the importance of girl power.
Noisey: How did you get your start making music?
Tia Nomore: I never thought about making music, I just did it. I remember walking into parties when I was 16 and seeing cyphers happening. I was like, 'Shit, I could do that.' So I would go in and freestyle and say anything. I kind of studied it for a while before I went in and did my own thing.
Who did you grow up listening to?
My older brother is really into punk rock so I listened to a lot of Green Day fuckin' with him, and a lot of Peaches. I was really into Nirvana. My oldest brother listened to a lot of Mob Figaz — gangster shit. Mac Dre, Husalah, Joe Blow, cats like that. My sister was always on the R&B tip. She was an angsty teenager so I got the Niveas and the Ashantis and all that stuff. My dad plays bass, so I also listened to a lot of jazz. I was the one who stayed up all night with him to watch him play. My mom listens to a lot of Luther Vandross. I can't say that one genre influenced me fully, but I give the most credit to Mac Dre. We're from the same soil. I studied him. He had a finesse that was unthought of to me. I never played somebody back so many times just to catch what he said.
Since you were exposed to so many genres, what drew you to hip-hop as your personal form of expression?
There was a point in my life when I was just into conscious hip-hop. I thought there was power in keeping someone intrigued in a story about you just walking down the block in the hood — you know, like a relevant story that my patnas could connect to. That was hip-hop for me. It's like a hood unity, a spoken code.
You've had some pretty big accomplishments so far. You were the second woman to be featured on the Bay Area Freshman 10 list.
Shout out to Kreayshawn!
And you were recently featured on Mac Tully's new single "On the Under" along with E-40. Have these accomplishments changed the way you view yourself as an artist?
These milestones helped me realize that people fuck with me, because I didn't know! I didn't consider my music to be what I'm known for around here. It's hella tight because it makes me want to do more. It's definitely like a splash of water on my face every time someone shouts me out.
You also just came back from joining Iamsu! on his “Eyes On Me” tour.
Yeah, I went out there with Show Banga. We're homies. We have a few songs together and we share the same sensei, [the producer Exclusive]. It was fun, it was my first real tour experience. I learned a lot about myself. You see these different places and different people, and it's just hella mainey. It's just rapid networking because you're in a different city every day so you have no choice but to make new connections. I think that's what I gained from the most.
Bay Area rap has historically been pretty male-dominated. The Bay doesn't really have anyone like Lil Kim, or Gangsta Boo, or Trina. Has working in such a male-dominated genre ever posed any challenges for you?
I really don't think about it as a male/female thing. I wasn't raised on shit like that. I didn't grow up with anyone telling me, “Women can do anything” — I knew that already. Why wouldn't we? I give respect to everybody so I expect to be respected. You just have to not take things personally and handle it like any of these other niggas are doing it — that's how I do it. I was raised that way, though. The music industry and being an artist, and me being from the block is the same lane to me. The door has always been open. Fuck these niggas. No rules. I don't think about it like that.
You shout out Girl Gang a lot in your songs. Can you explain what that means and why it's important?
Hell yeah. Girl Gang is basically what I used to call my group of friends in middle school, and we're still friends to this day. I think there's a unity between all females — black, white, who cares. Girl Gang is that global girl power shit. I love it when people tweet me from other states. They send me pictures of them and all their girls together, and I'm like “Hell yeah.” I feel like some girls these days take pride in not kicking it with females. I kick it with only females because they ride for me! When females hate on each other, I'm like, “Why? Girl Gang, beezy. Be a part of this!” Who doesn't want that? It's not just my friends I was raised with. I have a Girl Gang branch in San Francisco, a Girl Gang branch in New York that I kick it with when I'm out there.
In your singles, you've rapped over a pretty wide variety of beats. You have some songs that sound more 90s boom-bap influenced and others that are more hyphy. Where do you see yourself going sonically in the future?
When I try to categorize myself, I go crazy. So I'm just like, “Hey blood, I make great slaps and you should fuck with me.” The sounds themselves come from how me and Exclusive feel that day. Half of the time I finish my verse before he finishes his beat, so we build the songs together. If he only has the bass line and the drums done and I already finished my verse, then my voice pushes him in a different direction. That's how I make music, though. If I'm gonna do a feature with someone, I really want to build and make it something we did together. I'm not just like, “Hey breh, I just did a song and I could hear you on it.” No, I'm like, “Come to the studio, meet my sensei, smoke with me, kick it.” As far as how that comes out sonically — shit, I don't know. I think that's the fun part.
No matter what kind of beat you're rapping on, your flow is very distinct. You can tell you freestyle by the way you rap.
I'm pretty witty in real life, too. I did debate in high school, so words were always my thing. I didn't fight growing up. Bitches did not want to try me because my mouth game was so crazy—pause. [Laughs.] You feel me? That's how powerful words are though.
How far along are you on your upcoming album, Halloween?
The material is there, we're just making it cohesive. It should be out this fall.
What's the story behind the title?
Everyday is Halloween. Trick or treat, bitches! Everywhere I go there's someone who's got a mask on that I have to unveil. That's everyday fuckin' with these weird ass niggas. Plus, Halloween is my shit. Nightmare Before Christmas is my favorite movie.
Are you going to tour when you drop the album?
If the people want me, I'll go see them! I'll have material ready and when I want to drop a song, I'll tweet about it and ask my fan base what time I should drop it. I feel like there ain't no rules. If I make music everyday, why can't I put out music any day I want to. There's no formula.