On The Record: Q&A With Daisha McBride

Daisha McBride’s Yafeelme And Hail of a Year EPs were featured recently for WNXP’s Record of the Week. Jewly Hight had a conversation with McBride about the two recordings.

Jewly Hight: What has music-making been like for you during 2020, the year of COVID and the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement and also your first year of focusing on music full-time?

Daisha McBride: I intended to be traveling a lot more and doing a lot more shows, but all of that definitely came to a halt. But I think also it’s given me a chance to do a lot more writing and be a little more creative and explore different sounds and do a lot of things I didn’t have time to do. I used to do maybe one to two sessions a week. So it’s definitely allowed me to make a lot more music.

JH: Did you record both of your 2020 EPs, Yafeelme and Hail of a Year, during quarantine?

DM: Mmmhmm. The only track that was made pre-COVID was the one the song I did with nobigdyl, “Get Ugly.” That track I it started in November of last year and I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with it.

JH: How did your intentions for the two projects differ?

DM: They’re both very different perspectives. Yafeelme was intended to be like, “Look, we don’t know if we’re going to be able to go outside this summer and really party the way we normally party, you know, interact, travel.” It’s definitely an EP that if the world was normal I think it would have hit a little bit different. But I think that’s a big reason why we wanted to do it: “If we can’t be out and do what we normally do, I want to at least make music that makes me feel like I am, makes me feel the good summer vibes.” And then Hail of a Year, that one was completely out of the blue. I normally would like to keep the music a little bit more like fun and lighthearted. I’ve never really gotten super political or talked about my views and things like that. But I just kind of felt like, for once, I actually wanted to talk about it and I’ve never really wanted to in my music. I just kind of felt like it would be dope to show a little bit of a different side. So it’s like the first EP, I wouldn’t say I was avoiding what was going on in 2020, but I was just trying to just be like, “This is something to distract me.” And then the second EP was like, “OK, no, we’re taking it head on now.”

JH: You didn’t devote an entire song to a message of protest. You spread bars about valuing Black lives across multiple songs on Hail of a Year. What sort of tone were you looking to strike?

DM: So the first song that I actually recorded for the EP was “Black Queen.” I recorded that one shortly after all the protest and stuff was going on. I was like, “It will be a song that helps Black women, and I’ve never done something like that.” The second song was “2020 interlude,” because it was getting towards the end of the summer. I think it was a realization, like me actually comprehending, “OK, this is really, really what’s going on.” And then “On for the Night” was the last track that I had recorded. And that one happened shortly after I’d gotten like the Netflix placement in the Forbes [coverage]. All this great stuff was happening, but I didn’t really feel like I should be celebrating, because we’re still in a pandemic. But the kind of the underlying message of that song was just, “Celebrate how you can.”

JH: I can tell from the producer tags I hear on both EPs that you made a lot of these tracks with the two producers you’ve been working with since college, Sci-Fy and Big Bruno. What do you look for from them this year? What did the collaborative process look like?

DM: The thing that I really like about working with Sci-fy and Bruno is we’re all really good friends. I could make music with anyone, but I feel like my songs come out a lot better when I actually kind of know you a little bit. Like with the “2020 Interlude,” for example. Before we even started that session, me and Sci-fy—his name is Josh—sat there for an hour, just talking about like all the craziness that was going on. He’s a keyboard player. His main instrument is piano. So I told him, “Just give me something really simple and smooth. I just want to just like talk about some things [on my mind in the song].” I think that’s the dope thing about my relationship with both of them, because we’re all actually friends and we can actually talk about things beforehand. And I think those conversations always set the vibe.

JH: When you’re given beats that are muscular but minimalist—like a strong rhythmic pattern with no chord bed—like the ones in “Get Ugly” and “Black Queen,” it seems to really hype you up and give you room to perform. Why do you think that is?

DM: It’s funny, because Bruno and Josh, they honestly hate producing those kind of tracks because they’re like, “They’re just so simple. There’s nothing there.” They’re both such musical guys and they want to add all this stuff. And I’m like, “No, I need you to give me room to breathe to rap over it.” And so they’ve slowly kind of let me do it. I think those more open beats were it’s just hella hard-hitting drums and a lot of bass, they just do something to me. It just makes me get into that kind of more aggressive zone. And I think on tracks like that, I have an opportunity to really kind of show off a little bit of who I am and like what I can do. I feel like as a female rapper, you always kind of have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder, because it’s like, “I got to go as hard as the boys.”

JH: Melodic approaches to rapping, and sometimes even alternating between rapping and singing, really rose in prominence over the last several years. What made you lean into that on these EPs a lot more than you have in the past?

DM: I’ve always had a decent singing voice, but would never really go for it. If you go back and listen to 2017 [tracks], my voice sounded completely different than it does now. It’s a lot deeper. And I think I’ve kind of found the tone that works for me. I think in the past year especially, my singing voice has come a long way. Bruno and Josh really were encouraging me in these sessions. I used to be like, “OK, well, I should probably find a singer to do the hook or to do the chorus.” And they’re like, “Why don’t you just do it?” And then we throw a little Auto-tune compression on it and, you know, it’ll work. So I think I’m slowly starting to get more comfortable with it, with each song and with each project.