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A couple of years ago, Sirah, a young, white, female California rapper, was on the rise. She was in talks with major labels. She was about to release an album. She stitched together her outfits with two-dollar thrift store finds and no Fendi. Sound familiar?
But unlike Kreayshawn, the white girl rapper who's currently soaking up the spotlight, Sirah was a firecracker onstage, bopping through casually feminist rhymes atop Bjork-like singsongs. Although she was living in a garage in East L.A. and working as a "sober companion" to recovering addicts transitioning from rehab back to their old lives, she felt on the verge. Then her manager threw her a curveball.
Two weeks after her album Smile You Have Teeth was finished, her manager and the co-producer on the record sent her a contract demanding $30,000 from the work's proceeds. Because she and the producer couldn't come to a song split agreement, releasing Smile would have led to a legal battle.
"I think he thought I was about to get signed to a major," Sirah (pronounced "Sigh-rah") says over brunch at Fred 62 in Los Feliz. She walked away from her record and L.A., heading back to her native New York.
She returned, though, with a sound that has evolved from badass beat-down rap into a an indie poppy hip hop. It's all on display in her sunny new video filmed in Griffith Park, "Double Yellow Lines."
It seems to us like a step in the right direction. She also has two songs on L.A. dubstep phenom Skrillex's upcoming album, spent a day last week writing with Young L (formerly of Lil B group The Pack) and mega-platinum power pop producer Matt Squire, and has an EP that's pretty much done. "L.A. is the only place to make music," she says. "Going to the studio in New York City, you have to pull your legs apart as you walk in the summer, and in winter you have 87 layers on. It's too hard. In L.A., you can live out of your car. I feel very safe doing that."
She actually did live out of her car, as well as use Union Station as a home base when she had nowhere else to go. She kept getting caught doing graffiti when she was young, until she realized it was "really weird to get arrested for writing your name." She says she was an alcoholic, but got clean at age 17, and has already lived through most of the music industry cliches; producers hit on her, for example, and labels told her she was too fat. "Majors would say, 'Keisha Cole's story is really sad.' And my manager would counter with, 'Have you heard Sirah's story? It's REALLY sad.'"
Though only in her early 20s, Sirah has done a lot of living already. Throw her punk rock spirit in the mix, and it's clear that despite her size (pint), you'll have a hard time pushing her around.
She still has a soft spot for rap but wants to get more into pop, along the lines of Cee-Lo Green, Bruno Mars, and Lady Gaga. She's also got a side folk project, and has been dabbling in Moombahton, the new electro-reggae dance genre. ("It's like a terydactal jumped on my face," she explains.)
Finishing her pancakes, she describes the idea for her next video. She made a castle out of cardboard, and wants to film herself in front of a green screen and insert herself in the castle. Sounds like the perfect place for a pop princess.