“Lord, I pray for wealth and power of all these motherf-ckers / For the DMV to reign for many moons…” (Photo Credit: Michael Anderson)
As KeLow LaTesha’s distinctively regional voice brings to life her feature on Goldlink’s album, At What Cost, one can’t help but think about how the lines of this prayer characterize the cultural shift that is taking place in their native DMV.
Historically, D.C. and its surrounding Maryland and Virginia communities have been notoriously tolerant and open to all walks of life. Yet in 2017, this ideology looked to be under attack. With an increase in gentrification, resulting in Blacks becoming a minority in D.C. for the first time in nearly 40 years, as well as a president who seems to be the exact opposite of the city now calling it home; there was an increased urgency for residents to protect their way of life from outside forces.
This imamate threat, makes the words of KeLow’s prayer feel more like a residential plea for battle graces rather than just an interesting interlude. In an interview with RESPECT.’s Country Grammar Series, Prince George’s County’s KeLow LaTesha talks about her musical career, life in the DMV, and how this region is fighting to protect their vibrant culture.
RESPECT.: “What was your life like before music?”
KeLow: “I’ve always been into music. My first project I really did was when I was 12. God Bless my older sister, but she took me to the studio, I copyrighted that joint by myself, I printed and pressed every CD, and I put it out. But, I can say I wasn’t that serious because in high school I was thinking like: ‘okay, what are my options.’ Thinking about what I wanted to do because I was really into art too. But once I realized that I didn’t want to go to college, that’s when I jumped into music like this.”
RESPECT.: “How did you learn how to do all of those things you did for your first project at 12?”
KeLow: “It was actually a teacher that reached out to me. She told me I could go to the Library of Congress and copyright my material. So at 12, I had my mom drive me into D.C. to copyright my first CD. Then my mom gave me this old pressing machine that only pressed 1 thing at a time. So, I pressed about 50 to 100 by myself, got the stickers and all that, and started moving them.”
RESPECT.: “Has this ‘self-made’ trait that you embody impacted your approach to music and the music business?”
KeLow: “I mean it just gives me motivation. Knowing I can do it myself and seeing other people do it themselves, without a label, is just motivation. I like being independent, it works for me because I know I can do it. I’m not opposed to signing, but it would have to be a partnership. Where they appreciate what I know I can bring to the table.”
RESPECT.: “D.C. has a very storied musical culture; I was wondering if this music influenced you as an artist?”
KeLow: “What comes before you, helps to birth what comes next in a sense. So growing up, especially in the DMV, I had various influences. With Go-Go, R&B/Neo-Soul, Hip-Hop, which was influenced by both R&B and Go-Go. Like, Go-Go has influenced me and every artist from here. If they say it hasn’t they’re lying. But, I also I remember growing up being influenced by alternative rock and things like that. I was never the one to know the band name or go to the concerts, but I liked certain songs that I heard. It was like: ‘this is what I like, so this is what I’m doing.’ But not everything I listen to influences what I’m making and I feel if you let it you won’t make the best thing you could have.”
RESPECT.: “We’ve talked about how the DMV has influenced you musically, but how has the culture of this region impacted your life?”
KeLow: “Being in the DMV and seeing a lot of successful minorities, as well as, being around the people I was made it so I was like: ‘yeah, I want to own my own. I don’t want to work for nobody. I want to own property. I want to keep saying where I’m from and talking about what I grew up to.’ It had that influence. It made me want to do it because I saw people doing it. It’s right there in front of me from the different business and thing. It just solidifies that I can do whatever it is I want to do. I’m not subject to be one thing and I won’t be one thing.”(Photo Credit: Michael Anderson)
RESPECT.: “So, you have some pretty big collaborations with Lil Uzi Vert and Goldlink, how did those come about?”
KeLow: “With Uzi, it was just like he heard the track, “Finna” and hit me on Instagram telling me: “yeah I want to get on that joint. That joint, yeah.” I sent him the song and he put his verse on it, then I put it out as the remix. It was just like that.
Goldlink, again like Uzi, it was random. I was just coming back home from Atlanta and we were DMing each other and he was like: ‘hey can you come by the studio?’ I went by he let me listen to the album, explain the concept, then and he asks me ‘Hey can you do this prayer for me?’ I never knew I would be doing or anything. It was completely random. But, we did that joint and it was sweet.”
RESPECT.: “Historically, the DMV has been very accepting and open to all walks of life. But with the new president, as well as being in a male driven industry, do you encounter issues because of your sexuality?”
KeLow: “It grew to a point that I’m just comfortable with myself. Even when I was younger, I’ve always been a Tom-Boy. I’ve always been this way. I’ve always had this style. This is comfortable to me. So, I’m not going to wear a dress just to make you feel comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with dresses and I’m positive I could rock one. I have before. But it’s just about me being comfortable. Now the industry is very male driven, so I have been tried, in that way, by certain people. I think it’s a combination of me not being ugly and an ego thing. They want to be the one who did what no one else could. It’s not because they like me like that. But as far as everything else, I’ve learned to be comfortable with myself. As everyone should. Some people have that confidence off bucks, but for me, it was something that was learned. But now that I have it, I want other people to see this confidence and comfortability and apply that to their lives and situations. Because you have to be comfortable in yourself for yourself.”
RESPECT.: “So what’s next for you?”
KeLow: “I’m definitely stepping more heavily into the fashion world. I want to design. I want to create different things, like furniture. I want to create different things that people can get enjoy every day and use all the time. Oh, my cooking show coming soon. I be cooking my ass off, real sh-t. I can cook. But, the show is going to show how to make healthy dishes and make healthy food choices. I really into that. I think it’s necessary for us especially as Black people. So I just want to show off all these little sides to myself. Hopefully, I can help people live better, more healthy lives.”(Photo Credit: Michael Anderson)
From the outside looking in, the DMV is a mythical land where the historically oppressed can live uninhibited by certain burdens of other realms. And with her uniquely specific accent and self-made self-confidence, KeLow LaTesha is a personification of this utopia she calls “home.” Like the DMV, KeLow possesses an eclectically sophisticated set of muses that allow her to produce one of these kind pieces. Although these influences are distinctive, the acceptance of their contributions is not only indicative of the region, but they also make KeLow the antithesis of the current governmental helm.
The recent presidential change brought with it an influx of intolerance that is not native to the DMV. This combined with a growing wage disparity has put the magical kingdom that is the DMV in danger. Yet despite this, KeLow’s embodiment of the region showcases the power that lies within the people of the DMV. True to the characteristics of the oppressed, the residents of the DMV have transformed the area from a sinking afterthought into a profitable metropolis. This is an ordained type of sorcery. The type of magical blessing that will allow the Queen of Prince George’s County, KeLow LaTesha, to utilize her talent to protect the culture of the region she loves. Thus answering her prayers, and allowing the DMV to reign indefinitely.