It has been said by many people that one of the greatest aspects of the Austin music scene is how communal it is, with artists regularly coming together to collaborate, boost each other and admire each other’s work. In the spirit of that, we decided to launch a series inviting artists to interview other artists from the scene. In the latest installment, two of our city’s boldest and most adventurous artists, Mama Duke and Mobley, discuss finding out what is a “like” versus a “love,” going from dealing with stage fright to being “ballsy” and embracing being an entertainer rather than strictly a musician. Check out the interview below and be sure to grab Mama Duke’s debut LP Ballsy, out now!
Mobley for Ovrld: Thank you so much for taking some time to talk to me. I’ve been following you for a few years now and it’s been a thrill watching you grow as both an artist and a “figure,” for lack of a better word. That said, I don’t actually know a whole lot about your backstory. Can you talk to me about that? How did you get into music and what has the journey looked like coming from there to your recently-released album, Ballsy?
Mama Duke: Mobley! First off, this is a full circle for me so thank you, man. I don’t come from music. Well, other than my mom blasting country and tejano music through the house growing up, no one in my family pursued music. I started rapping like I assume everyone else did: at lunch in high school while someone made a beat with the top of a Sprite bottle. Lol.
I didn’t always know I wanted to make music a career. In fact, I was enrolled as a student at the Art Institute of Houston for Photography. Once I figured out that photography was a “like” and music was a “love,” I packed up all my shit and moved to Austin. It took me two years to hit a stage due to stage fright. That shit is hilarious thinking about it now. Me? Stage fright? Lol. It was tough to get myself in the position I’m in now with the music scene. ‘Ballsy’ is my braggadocious debut album, flaunting that I found a way to break through that all as a mix-raced, queer female.
Mobley: Why did you choose Austin as the place to start your music career? Has it been what you expected or hoped it’d be?
Mama Duke: Well, I heard that Austin was the “Live Music Capital of the World” so I innocently (but boldly) thought… “That’s where my dreams are!” I think if you were to ask me this question five years ago, you wouldn’t get the answer you’re gonna get now. I’m glad that the music scene wasn’t what I thought it’d be and hoped for. I’m glad I wasn’t embraced immediately. I’m glad my sets were wrongly cut, I’m glad I had to be the opener at my first show (in Austin) and I enjoy that I’ve had to learn to maneuver in a “boys’ game.” The friction has made me a better artist. Makes for a better story too.
Mobley: Talk to me about the making of the record. What was the genesis of the concept? How did you go about making it and who did you work with? Given how single-dominated the current music landscape is, what made you decide it was worth it to make a full-length album?
Mama Duke: It was important for me to release a complete body of work because prior to this album I only had one single out on streaming platforms. Wild to think I went a huge part of my career without streamable music. I pride myself on that. The making of the record started two years ago. It was such a relief when I dropped it. It’s sort of this “Chip on my shoulder/aggressive album” and when I finally released it, I released a lot of the energy that was needed and necessary to make the album. I’ll always have a chip on my shoulder but at least the old chips are gone. Lol! Cody Kimb and Spred changed my life forever with the collaboration production. My brother J Bluuu (who also raps) also contributed to the last song on the album. I’ll forever be grateful for them.
MOBLEY: Can you talk a little more about what that two-year process looked like for you? I think when people envision an album being created, they imagine an artist going into a recording studio for a month or two and coming out with a finished album at the end of it. The reality, especially for independent artists, is usually pretty different. What did writing and recording and producing this album look like?
Mama Duke: It looked like stress. Lmfao! Putting out a complete body of work is super vulnerable. Again, the album is this super braggadocious feeling that was created from a complex and huge chip on my shoulder. “Ballsy” isn’t just an album title, it’s the mind frame I’ve had to adapt to. A lot comes with being a confident mix-raced, queer female. People try and test that shit every chance they get. This album essentially is the armor I started to build to protect myself.
The album opens up with an intro that allows me space to show and share how big this moment is for me. The first three songs are light and fun and almost taunt spectators. I put a lot of comedy in my music. Songs like “Found A Way” acknowledge my growth. My favorite line from that song is “Three whammies, to make it up I need three Grammys/ Cause I’m Black, female and gay… and somehow still found a way.” It’s really important for me to paint the picture of who I am in my music. The next songs are super aggressive. Titles like “Get Off My Dick” were super important for me. I loved/love the idea of media outlets having to bleep out the language I use. This album was 100% on purpose. It wasn’t for radio, it wasn’t for anyone. It was for me. Of course the “commercial” side of me (because there’s two sides of everyone) hesitated but if there’s one thing that this pandemic has taught me… it’s LET THE SHIT GO. Drop it. Release it. Who cares. Just post it. Don’t think. We care too much. Fuck it. Drop it!
Mobley: How have you felt about the reception? It’s obviously a hard time to be putting out music independently.
Mama Duke: It’s been great! I’m not a number watcher so I’m thankful to have a healthy relationship when it comes to that. I did however sell out of merch and the beverage (I dropped with the project) in the first 48 hours of my album drop. That’s priceless shit that I care about. People streaming your music will always rise and fall. I’m more interested in the new opportunities that come with dropping an album. The excitement of the people around you. I love that shit.
Mobley: What’s next for you? Do you have any special plans or goals for 2021?
Mama Duke: Ahhhh! I wish I could share the biggest news of my career (so far) with you but I’ll be able to shortly. Hmm… I’m dropping an R&B album in the next month or so. Us LGBTQIA+ folk need some slow shit to vibe out to. I’m excited to be working on something like that for the community. I’m just excited about the possibilities, yo. I just landed a voiceover role for “Hip-Hop Hippo” that might get picked up for another episode. The first one just hit 120,000k+ views on YouTube. My special plans this year include me tapping into things outside of music. I’ll always be a musician but I’m more interested in labeling myself an entertainer. I want to do so much more than just music.
Mobley: Congratulations! That’s all very exciting. Can you give us a hint? I understand if not. Is there anything else you want readers to know about you?
Mama Duke: I wish I could. It deserves a big reveal. I’ve waited my whole life for something like this to happen. Also. Something I want readers to know about me… Ester fucking Dean (songwriter that wrote “Firework” for Katy Perry and “Rude Boy” & “S&M” for Rihanna) just followed me on Instagram today and said I was a good songwriter. Lol. What in the actual fuck is life right now?
Mama Duke’s debut album Ballsy is out now and truly lives up to its title, serving as a ferocious artistic statement from one of the most incendiary voices in Austin hip hop. Be sure to also go pick up Mobley’s excellent new album Young and Dying in the Occident Supreme.