Feminine Phenom"This is why I love hip-hop so much. You can say so much in one song."
If you search online for "female rapper," the first hit will be Kellee Maize, the Pittsburgh singer-songwriter who has burst onto the male-centric rap scene with her feminine rhymes.
Her website takes her thousands of online fans to downtown Pittsburgh's Market Square, which serves as the backdrop of her cleverly titled music video "Google Female Rapper." Bystanders do double takes of the long-haired blonde as she chases the camera and removes layers of heavy winter clothing until she is down to a tank top and shorts.
As she struts, she bares her soul in a rapid-fire rap:
I don't know much but I venture to prove myself wrong
to keep rewriting my songs
to unattach and play gongs
to never worry 'bout right and wrong
and instead create a space where everyone can create
let each voice be heard without hate
It took Maize years to achieve her moment in the spotlight. As a college student at the University of Pittsburgh, she immersed herself in the local hip-hop scene. She would organize events or sing backup for male rappers, saving her own songs for the privacy of her house. "I was pretty much the only girl," she says. "I didn't have the confidence."
Then her father died in 2005. And she knew she couldn't delay the dream she had nurtured since she was a little girl in central Pennsylvania, singing and dancing before she was walking and talking (or so her mother says).
In 2007, she released her first album, "Age of Feminine." The death of her father and other personal issues came pouring out in her lyrics, some of which railed against the inequalities of the world. "I was honoring the feminine," she says. "There is a feminine and masculine in everyone."
In 2010 she came out with her second album, "Aligned Archetype," a compilation of more spiritual tunes, and last year she released "Integration." Her words about bettering the world just flow out of her. "This is why I love hip-hop so much," says Maize. "You can say so much in one song."
She fashioned a sound booth out of a closet in her house in Lawrenceville, a vibrant Pittsburgh neighborhood that feeds her artistic energy. In her video "Notice the End," she is shown getting a "Love and Trust" tattoo from Octeel, who works for the Drawing Room Tattoo Parlour & Gallery in Lawrenceville. Jasiri X, a rapper who inspires Maize, also performs in the video.
Maize's career as a rap artist has been given a huge boost by her marketing firm, Näkturnal. She and her partners have focused the full force of online media and guerrilla marketing on her career.
It's worked. She's also the No. 1 female rapper on Amazon.com. "Everything we do for our clients, we do for me," she says. "I am like the guinea pig."
Pittsburgh has embraced Maize as a rapper, and she constantly gets emails and letters from fans around the world. "When are you coming to Trinidad?" a recent fan email implored.
Though Maize has been approached by a few labels, she still produces her CDs independently. She's not rich, but she's happy to earn enough to produce her music. "We want to get the music to the people," she says.
Check out Kellee's Pittsburgh.