If you’re among the nearly 7,000 people who have checked either “interested” or “going” on the Facebook event for Saturday’s day-long Burnhearts Mitten Fest, it’s possible you’ve looked upon the name Queen Tut in puzzlement. While the Milwaukee emcee isn’t yet a household name, her thrilling live shows and genre-melding debut EP, last year’s Psychedelic Traphouse, find the up-and-coming rapper adding her own distinct flare to the city’s already rich hip-hop tapestry.
With her background in poetry and fashion, an interest in Egyptian culture, and a blood connection to legendary Chicago blues singer Koko Taylor, Queen Tut’s sound is tough to pin down and her talent is impossible to deny. Before her dominion spreads to Bay View this weekend, Milwaukee Record sat down with the Mitten Fest artist to learn more about her rap roots, where she feels local hip-hop is headed, and her thoughts on performing at Milwaukee’s favorite winter party.
Milwaukee Record: Like a lot of listeners in the city, I first became aware of you in September when you released your Psychedelic Traphouse EP. I know you were featured on some songs by Lex Allen and other artists, but was that your first solo venture?
Queen Tut: Yes. It was just something that I wanted to put out to give a taste of what kind of artist I am, what sounds I like and love, and just a first impression of who I am as an artist.
MR: And what are you hoping the impression would be?
QT: People have their own ideas about what hip-hop really is and what it means to be a rapper, so I just wanted to show different elements of hip-hop and the different things that have influenced me. I’m all over the place. I’m not just in a box. I want to show people that.
MR: It seems like there are certain production elements that channel island music or something more ancient. It’s not just drums and a keyboard looped. It’s malleable and it seems like you take songs in drastically different directions.
QT: Yeah, my influences range from King Tut, obviously, and Egyptian culture—I used to want to be an Egyptologist—and African culture itself. My grandmother is Koko Taylor. She’s “Chicago’s Queen Of The Blues” so there are blues influences, jazz, and classical music [influences]. I had a lot of arts programs in school growing up, so I got to experience music deeply.
MR: And you’re involved in fashion as well? Even though you hit all these different sounds, it seems like there’s this overriding polished and sleek sound to all of it. Is there any way your background in fashion permeates into your music?
QT: Yeah. At one point, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I went to Colombia in Chicago. I was there briefly, then I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was just hanging out with all the musician kids. If I didn’t want to make a dress, I was going to make beats.
MR: So when did that ultimately start? What was your introduction to rap?
QT: My introduction to rap started really early, like, I would be listening to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and learning their verses. I was spitting the filthiest verses as a child. I would go to school and go sit with the boys and rap with them. But I stopped and I fell into poetry and was part of the poetry scene here in Milwaukee. That was cool, but I delved deep into music after a certain point of not being able to get the feelings I wanted to out.
MR: You mentioned that when you were in school you would go rap with “the boys.” People tend to think of hip-hop as a typically male-dominated art form. It was that way up until recently as well, but you and few other women are leading this movement. Are you and Zed [Zenzo] and others kind of unified in this?
QT: Honestly, these are women that I have in my circle naturally. Zecháriah [Ruffin]—or Zed—is actually one of my close friends. We hang out a lot. I met her about a year ago during the Femme Fatale show with Siren at Fire On Water. Everybody met around that time and everyone is growing. It’s exciting to see all these women blossoming. We’re all supportive of each other and we’re all about female empowerment.
MR: Are audiences and male rappers also getting behind what you’re doing? Have you ever encountered any backlash along the way?
QT: I mean, yeah, it happens. It’s obvious there are certain things you’ll hear, but it’s up to you to take that negative energy and push out something positive instead. With anything that comes at me, I just think about how I can take that trash and turn it into gold. We do our thing and we love the scene. If something negative comes at us, we’ll ignore it.
MR: The local hip-hop scene as a whole is in a really good place right now, and maybe a better place than it’s even been. To what do you attribute that? What are some of the factors that put it in this place? People working together or people venturing outside the norm and pushing boundaries?
QT: I think the success of the hip-hop scene kind of boils down to everybody here having a different experience of what Milwaukee is. Everybody has their own story to tell. You have this eclectic mix of people who come from the same place but have different stories. There’s nothing exactly like what we have going on right now, and if we don’t stay unified, people won’t be able to see that.
MR: A lot of the people at Mitten Fest this weekend will be seeing you—and local hip-hop—for the first time. Are you excited for the opportunity? Nervous? What are your thoughts going into what I assume if your first outdoor winter show?
QT: I think it’s going to be fun. Being outdoors, it has to be good. I looked at last year’s [Mitten Fest] and saw there were kids. I’m excited for the kids. I think it’s cool to expose kids to hip-hop. I’ll be up there for an hour, so it’ll be a mixture of a lot of things. Expect the unexpected.
Queen Tut will perform at Burnhearts Mitten Fest 2016 (at the corner of Potter and Logan avenues in Bay View) on Saturday, February 6. The all-ages event is free. Queen Tut takes the stage at 2 p.m.