Memphis Rap is Life

A conversation with artist and designer Paige Hanserd on the ladies of Memphis rap

A conversation and playlist on the power of archiving, curating, sharing, and the powerful women of Memphis rap.

Tell us a little about yourself–where are you from, where are you now, where are you going?

I’m from ATL, Georgia, I currently live in the East Village in NYC, and… I’ve just moved here and basically have decided to never leave because it’s amazing and I feel entirely myself here. However, don’t get it twisted, ATL HO 4evr (FILA for the real heads). lol

We noticed a lot of museum work in your past and present. Is curation a consistent element across your work? What does the act of curating mean to you?

I went to school for Design and my first job out of school was doing design for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and I really took to being surrounded by art. There was constant inspiration. I’ve always been somewhat of a curator, I’ve been a collector of many things and many hobbies for my entire life, and studying Design helped me hone them in a bit and make a living from my ADHD lol. My mom used to say my childhood/teen bedroom looked like a museum. Growing up I was obsessed with almost every genre of music and equally obsessed with having to have an encyclopedic knowledge of each musician and performer and that carried on into movies, pop culture, interior design, fashion, food, etc. Curating is how I found my sense of self.

Does the need to archive play a role in the impulse to create for you?

What a great question. In short, definitely and I never thought of it that way, but yes. I think my brain works in an archival way, everything compartmentalized and studied. However, as I’ve gotten older I don’t feel the need to do that so much anymore. I try to work more on the impulse rather than from the need to archive or to be the expert. That’s for the youth and it’s fun and serves a defining purpose in your adolescence, but now I kind of like to be the one learning again. I don’t need to be the one who knows everything.

Mask to My Face Vol. 1 + 2

You've created and designed mixtapes of some of your favorite women in Memphis Rap, what is it that you find compelling about these artists and this genre?

Firstly I’ll say, they’re the most powerful women in the world to me. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and so naturally most of my friends growing up were white. Even though I was proud to be a Black girl and I was into my Black culture, I didn’t feel like I really had a chance to be a part of it outside of my household and extended family. Rappers like Legend Lady J, Gangsta Boo, La Chat, and Princess Loko were among some of the Black women artists who taught me who I was and who I could be and showed me a side of myself I hold sacred. They helped me navigate the world as a Black woman.

Memphis rap is life. Period. The first time I heard 3 6 Mafia I changed. Triple 6 baby. Tear the club up. I’m from Atlanta so maybe I’ll get dragged for this, but as a trap enthusiast (lol) I feel confident saying that some of the greatest Atlanta trap artists have a deep love for Memphis rap, too.

What sets the music in Memphis apart from other cities?

The flowssssssss. The ease in the style of how they rap. Shit is slow and fast, chopped and screwed all at once. The style of rapping takes on a melody of its own and adds to the texture of the production. Perfect music to smoke to. There didn’t seem to be much interest in sounding commercial or having a song on the radio in the beginning. Just friends fucking around.

If you want to impress a date or new friends put on Tommy Wright III– you can’t lose.

Rappers like Legend Lady J, Gangsta Boo, La Chat, and Princess Loko were among some of the Black women artists who taught me who I was and who I could be and showed me a side of myself I hold sacred. They helped me navigate the world as a Black woman.

Why ‘Mask 2 My Face’ for the title of your tapes?

The title came from Lady Bee and Gangsta Boo. I discovered Gangsta Boo’s version first and it’s great, but Lady Bee’s came out first in ‘94 and is a lot sicker. That mixtape is incredible, Lady Bee - Strictly For That Nigga. Lady Bee’s version is on my first MASK 2 MY FACE tape.

There's something esoteric and ephemeral about your work, is there something about cassettes that lends itself to your intentions? Are there digital mediums that feel this way to you?

I guess I enjoy making things for people who nerd out to the same things I do. Things most people haven’t been put onto yet. Not to be exclusive or anything, it’s just fun to be a part of a community with people who love what you love. It’s created a community for me to make these things and in turn, I’m able to connect to the youthful part of myself that I don’t get to access as often anymore.

One of the first Memphis rap ephemera I made was a Koopsta Knicca - Da Devil’s Playground: Underground Solo bootleg hoodie and through that I met friends who put me onto Memphis rappers I hadn’t heard of yet. Shout out to Bootsie Castillo who put me on to Legend Lady J when I sold them the Koopsta pullover <3 now we’re family.

Digital mediums don’t really have that effect on me. I’m happy they exist though, they’re important because they’re more accessible.

Tear the club up 🎤 Tear the club up 🎤

There’s no pretense or gatekeeping when it comes to these mixes, what qualities make a mixtape relatable?

I don’t know if they would be relatable to everyone, that’s what personal taste is right? If you vibe, you vibe. If you don’t, it’s not for you and that’s fine too.

What role does music play in your artistic practice and daily routine?

To be honest, despite listening to music often, I prefer to listen to a podcast or like old episodes of Real Housewives or something while I work at my day job. When it comes to my personal work, however, I like to put on a record or tape and really just engulf my space in the creative energy.

What's the music you connect to the most? Who are you listening to these days?

Jazz and Memphis rap, but lately I’ve been really into Drum n Bass and Jungle. I’m loving Goldie, 4 Hero, Aquarius, Nasty Habits, Tom and Jerry, and Dillinja & Mystery at the moment.

Are there any other genres you're interested in exploring?

Lowkey, country.

Who do you make your work and mixtapes for?

Me and hot people.

Sometimes it can feel like there's a dearth of nuanced works featuring Black women, made by Black women, does this ring true for you or is the work largely unseen and underrepresented?

Both. Artists like Lorraine O’Grady and Liz Johnson Artur should be household names. I had the pleasure and honor to work with both of them separately on solo exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and they’ve been doing incredibly important, beautiful influential work for decades. Brilliant women. It seems like only now they’re getting their recognition. It’s hard out here for us, but I think things are starting to get better. We’ll see.

The Legend Lady J