Vsteeze raps from a unique place. The Bronx rapper mergers her boom-bap sound with bohemian lyrics that are reminiscent of the Native Tongues movement. Her confidence oozes through on tracks as she reflects on love, her affection for music, and her family.
She found a partner in Funky DL, whose discography and impact in the UK spans decades. Their recent EP, The Honey Pack, marks their second project of the year and allows each of their skill sets to shine.
Earlier this month, I talked with Vsteeze about connecting with Funky DL, writing from a place of honesty, privilege, and more!
Noah Lyons: Funky DL is a titan in UK hip-hop. The Honey Pack is your second project together, how did you two connect?
Vsteeze: I had initially reached out to purchase a beat, but he never responded. A couple of months later, I put a freestyle to one of his beats on Twitter, and he ended up seeing it!
He reached out and ironically saw that I had messaged him. He wanted to see what our chemistry is like and work together. We hopped on zoom to feel each other out and get to know each other. He liked my Soundcloud joints and wanted to make a couple of songs to see how it feels. We just kept doing songs until we ended up with The Illac Pack.
After that, we kept it going with The Honey Pack. I think we’re onto something dope, even though we’ve never been in the same room together.
NL: Creatively, was there a different goal with The Honey Pack compared to Illac? Did you find yourself with more confidence?
Vsteeze: Yeah! I felt validated as an artist. If DL thinks I’m good then I’m onto something. The Illac Pack was really jazzy, but we wanted The Honey Pack to be the sound of summer. We didn’t have a set goal for each song but just thought about what summer feels like. Looking back, I’m more assured and confident in myself.
NL: I found it has a lot more melodic moments, especially the tracks where you sing. It gave the EP a different feel. Did DL empower you to sing, or did it just organically happen?
Vsteeze: I love that you said that because I was hoping it would feel different. We wanted to do the same four-pack EP, but I didn’t want to do the same thing…again. We like those melodic grooves. He sent me beats that have live instrumentation that inspired me to do more than just rap. You’re able to do different things and flow with it a bit more.
DL and I work so well because we never tell each other what to do. He sends me a skeleton beat, and I fill in the rest. We don’t stop each other’s thoughts which gives us room to create from a genuine place.
NL: Having an equal relationship between producer and artist has to be empowering?.
Vsteeze: DL has been producing, mixing, and mastering for over 20 years! He’s seen and done it all in music. It’s then up to me to believe in what I’m saying and remove self-doubt. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to be one thing. I’ve learned that when I truly connect with myself, I can end up almost anywhere. That’s something I’ve grown to be comfortable with, letting the truth guide me and being okay with where I end up. It all comes down to conviction.
NL: I could sense your most passionate moments came when you talked about your family, specifically your mother. What impact has she had on you as an artist?
Vsteeze: My mother is the pillar of my life. My outlook on life comes from the things she instilled in me. When I moved to Atlanta I felt deeper gratitude for her. It’s stubborn but I want to succeed because she did so much for me.
My family is Dominican, and they have a certain definition of success. I went to school for film, and she encouraged that, which for me is crazy! We don’t really encourage creative career paths. The determination I have is because of the things she taught me.
NL: I can sense that same connection with your Dominican heritage and your rapping in Spanish. Was it a connection to your mother that made you do that, or simply because you could?
Vsteeze: My first language was Spanish because of my mother. My mother is bi-lingual, but my grandparents only speak Spanish. I feel like I’m losing it because I don’t speak it as often. I just put it in to let people know where I was coming from.
NL: Who were some of the biggest influences on your style? I first thought of Digable Planets.
Vsteeze: Lots of Digable! I’ve always loved music because I grew up listening to different genres like salsa and bachata, a little hip-hop here and there. When I got to college I started digging underground hip-hop and stuff from the 90s.
We all know “Cool Like That”. I thought the video of them rapping in the jazz club was the coolest thing. My idea about hip-hop was money, cars, and clothes, I never saw it in such a poetic way. I couldn’t stop listening to them, their flow and confidence spoke to me. Around the time I found Digable, I first listened to DL. I didn’t know people were still making that type of hip-hop today.
NL: Were you surprised to learn how many people appreciate that jazzy sound? What was it like finding a community that supports what you’re doing?
Vsteeze: That’s why I was hesitant at first. I thought no one our age is listening to this.
NL: Has moving from the Bronx to Atlanta exposed you to anything new musically?
Vsteeze: I enjoy the slower pace, less claustrophobic. I felt like I had the space to flourish because I wasn’t constantly in a chokehold for time.
The culture difference is crazy because there are not a lot of Dominicans in Atlanta. Getting to meet more Black creatives opened my mind to so many things. I’ve thought a lot about how I’m coming into music as this light skin ass girl and how I’m going to be received.
That’s another reason why I rapped in Spanish. Culture and identity are so important to the way we connect to music. Ultimately the goal is to connect with people.
NL: That sense of connectivity is something you focus on.
Vsteeze: Of course, I think a lot about how I can uplift the voices of my Black and Brown sisters. There’s a lot of privilege that comes with being the face of my music.
NL: That’s a selfless way of thinking, which is rare in music.
Vsteeze: I’m trying to take my homegirls with me. I’m so grateful for where I’m at but I also have privilege because of how I look. How can I create a space where I’m bringing people with me and speaking for those people who aren’t holding the mic? That’s something that I’m still figuring out.
NL: Seems premature since The Honey Pack is still getting recognition, but what’s next for you?
Vsteeze: I honestly don’t know what’s next. A lot of people want to collab, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.
I want to keep leveraging on the traction we’ve been getting. I look forward to putting out another project with DL. We’re still developing ideas.