Interview: Houston “raptivist” Genesis Blu on balancing psychotherapy and hip hop

Rising Houston rapper Genesis Blu doesn’t seem like your typical Third Coast emcee. She’s not rapping about the things often ascribed to the Lone Star State’s unique brand of hip hop, but instead represents a unique fusion of professional life and art. She’s a psychotherapist by day, and that life is bleeding over into her raps with a laser focus on motivation, inspiration and empathy. It’s not what you’d expect, but it’s something that is most definitely needed so we used our recent trip to SXSW to catch up with the blue-haired emcee and chat about her career to date, why she prefers to call herself a “raptivist”, and her ambitions for Houston’s increasingly dynamic hip hop scene.

First off, how long have you been making music?

So I’ve been rapping since I was about 11 or 12. I started out doing spoken word poetry and then it just turned into full out rapping. By the time it was time for me to go to college I had to focus more on that so I stopped for a little while, and after I graduated I came back to it

I guess your approach to hip hop as a “raptivist” allows you to combine those two, right?

Absolutely. So it worked out in the end. Before it was like, “I don’t know how to combine these two worlds”, but it actually is a perfect mixture.

I find, with rappers in particular, the ones who have the most empathy with other individuals and also their location and setting end up making the best music. You’re a psychotherapist; how has psychotherapy helped you and informed your approach to hip hop?

Many of my lyrics come from the experiences I have because I have worked with so many different populations. And the more that we think we’re so different the more that we realise that we are so much the same. So a lot of what I say is universal. Everyone feels pain, joy, love, disappointment, anger fear – those are things I always experience in psychotherapy so why not translate that to the music because music is universal, right? You can speak to anyone through music and get a message told and touch them physically, mentally and spiritually. I love combining those things together.

Many have said that experience is one of the most important things for rappers because the more you know the more you can put into your music. I guess psychotherapy gives you a very unique incubator of that because you can take on experience from other people as well.

Absolutely. I hear so many stories, from very, very sad to very, very happy. And then also going through my own experiences growing up. Where I’m from, it wasn’t the best neighbourhood in the world, and I wasn’t around the best people so taking that into counselling and being able to translate that is a great help. When you’re talking to people and you hear their deepest, darkest fears you realise we are all the same in our fears, so I try to translate that to the music.

How much music have you put out so far?

So I had a mixtape a couple of years ago and then last year I dropped my EP. This year I’m going to be dropping my album; it’s called The Good Doctor, so I’m excited about that. It’s going to continue on the path of motivation, inspiring, speaking truth – sometimes I talk political mess to people. [Laughs] I always try to speak truth, and motivation, that’s always my goal, and to have fun. With my songs I like it to be fun but with a message.

You grew up in Houston, a city that has produced some of the best artists in the industry – Bun, Trae, Beyoncé – what are you bringing to the table to the scene and how do you plan on pushing the scene forward?

Oh that’s a great question, I have several answers. Number one, we don’t have a queen of rap in Houston. Unfortunately, a lot of the women I know that came up have never gotten that national or international attention or success. So I definitely want to put the women of hip hop in Houston on the map. Secondly, I love the culture but I think it’s time for us to progress, we can’t keep doing screwed and chopped all the time; we can’t keep talking about swingers all the time, we love it but we have so much more. It’s one the most diverse cities in American so why don’t we have different perspectives of hip hop.

So it’s not just Houston rap, it’s many different kinds of Houston hip hop?

That’s right. Houston gets kind of pigeonholed in hip hop. They don’t want to hear from us if we’re not talking about that kind of stuff. I’ve never had any syrup!

Houston’s impact has reached so far beyond hip hop. I mean, artists like DJ Screw, Michael Watts, their sound has infiltrated stuff like Miley Cyrus now and influenced the pop world. Speaking about your empathy with Houston now, how do you feel the city is positioned in hip hop and how far do you think that has come?

So if you’re going to be in hip hop and Houston and the south you have to know the history that we in the south were one of the first to say like, “I don’t need your record deal, I’m just going to pop my trunk and sell my stuff”. That was good news and bad news right, because we kind of painted ourselves into a corner like, “Oh we got this over here”. So that made it really hard for us to get the national and international attention, but what happened is that the music and the message was so strong, in artists like OutKast, that it really permeated through the other cultures – west, east, mid-west – and now you hear our sound in theirs even though we never really got the attention for that.

The south was dominating the radio while these new rappers were kids. And rappers are always products of what they grew up listening to.

Absolutely. So in that I still want to pay homage to that. Somebody like DJ screw: that was brilliant, what he did, and even knowing the people that he got the idea from, that’s pretty amazing – I want to continue paying homage to that and I also want Houston to be recognised as a big city for music just like L.A or New York. Houston should totally be that – we have millions of people, all the talent in the world. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be that way.

Tell me a bit about your 2017 EP, Bluming Season.

Okay, so Bluming Season is the EP and it came about when I was at a really dark time. I had just injured myself, I tore my Achilles and once you do that you’re done for a couple of months. You’re talking about a person who has three jobs, and I’m a hip hop artist and an activist – I can’t even be out for two days let alone two or three months. As much as I been doing psychotherapy I had never actually be depressed, so that was my first time really being able to experience what a person goes through in that state. Like, “I want to get up, I just can’t”. That helped my write even better because now I truly understand; I understood logically but now emotionally that made me empathise even more because I really got it.

The message I really wanted to convey is that no matter where you are in your struggle, you can always choose to blum [bloom]. So bluming is about coming into your own and recognising that you can follow your own guidelines, you can start whenever you want to. One of the things I always try to teach my clients is that we actually have more control then we think we do by the way we think. That starts everything, how we think. So Bluming Season is a lot about pointing out our thinking and how it relates to our feelings and actions, how we move. I wanted to motivate, inspire and of course have fun. I think we did a good job, the producers and I because we’re getting a lot of good feedback.

One thing I think rappers don’t get enough credit for is the way they grow up with this unique empathy for their environment and those within it, and using their success to enrich their communities, doing things the state government may not necessarily do at all. Because they grew up in those environments, they know what it’s like. I understand Bluming Season is a movement as well as an EP; how important is it for you to have that “it’s bigger than hip hop” approach?

That’s what it’s all about for me. I don’t need to rap, I’ve got a really good job anyway. But what I’ve realised really quickly is that in those others areas you’re preaching to the choir. I need to talk to everybody. Hip hop is one of those things where you can tell the complete truth, you can be as raw and political as you want too. That’s what people need right now because we are in such a fake bubble and someone’s gotta come along and pop it and say, “No, this is not okay what’s happening with mental health, addiction, politics, financial crises”…we have to speak on these things. That’s what hip hop is about and has always been, I don’t know why people act like it’s new. It always has been that way, a way for the underdog to be able to call things out to the floor. Absolutely, that’s what I wake up and do every day in my music; I don’t write words that don’t have value to me, and can’t be of value to someone else.

It feels like, especially for female rappers – and I hate to use the phrase “female rappers” like it’s a separate genre – it feels like with the recent success of Cardi B it’s shifting the goal posts where female rappers can be themselves and be successful. No disrespect to Nicki Minaj, but nowadays she wouldn’t have to make a song like “Superbass” or “Starships” to rule the charts. Do you feel the broader acceptance of rap and different kinds of rap benefits what you’re doing, opens up an entry point?

It can, but then they have a tendency in the industry to make carbon copies of all the same thing. So now everybody is looking for a new Cardi B. I’m very far from a Cardi B, but I love her because she speaks her truth. I think the good news is that you’re right, you can be yourself now, however that fear is that I don’t want to have to be a carbon copy. I think women are also making better business moves for themselves so that they don’t have to be at the mercy of the industry.

For a while it felt like a lot of “mumble rappers” shifted the goal posts and made it so like a rapper like yourself or Big K.R.I.T couldn’t penetrate into that success, but it now feels like there’s been a shift again.

Exactly man. It’s going to open back up, it has too because it always comes back around to hip hop. For example, in early 2000s we were doing a lot of snap music and people were like, “Oh, what’s happening here?” But then it goes away, because those guys were just in it temporarily, they just want to get their money and go. But somebody like Nas or Kendrick, they are always going to be consistently writing records that influence a culture, it’s timeless. I don’t know if I’ll be able to listen to [mumble rap] in five years, but you can always put in Kendrick, Nas and Jigga. That’s why I’m sticking to the blueprint because people are like, “Oh I can help you write this radio hit”, but that’s not important to me, the music has to be timeless. “Bluming Season”, you should be able to play in 10 years and it’s still going to be relevant because those topics always exist.

I guess it’s a big benefit that you don’t need to be rapper, as you said you have another job. So you don’t have that need for money or fear where you can make the music that you want to make.

I think that’s what scares the haters, because I don’t have to hold any punches. I’m going to be alright at the end of the day so I don’t need to kiss anyone’s butt. And the audiences that I can touch are far and wide.

Genesis Blu will release her debut album later this year. Her EP, Blumin’ Season, is now out. For more information and to keep up to date on her music head on over to her website HERE.