SHREVEPORT, La. — Brooklyn White began rapping to speak the truth and fight bullying.
As a 19-year-old black hip-hop artist from Shreveport, she combats stereotypes and hate through lyrical rhymes, and says it fuels her New York City dream.
“People say ‘Oh, you’re just doing that because you’re black, or ‘Is that what all black people do?’” said White during a recent interview at Rhino Coffee before moving to the city with which she shares a name.
Her answer: “No, not really.”
Behind her deep brown eyes is a girl longing to escape her everyday reality. She sits and smiles, and pays attention only to the details that matter. The recent high-school graduate moved recently to Brooklyn, and will be traveling between there and Rhode Island, where a high-school friend attends college.
Growing up in Highland, one of Shreveport’s most diverse communities in race and socioeconomic status, White said she heard and saw many forms of music, though her mother, Veronica Lewis, tried to keep her away from more secular and popular tunes.
She said she faced racism when middle-school classmates made fun of her “white” mannerisms.
“When you’re a little kid it’s devastating,” she said. “I’m black. I know I’m black; you know I’m black. Well what does it mean to ‘sound white?’ What does it mean to ‘act white?’”
In gym class, she said, she was often confronted because she sometimes sat with white kids and sometimes with black kids. Classmates would ask, “Who are you?” and “What are you?”
“I didn’t know how to respond,” she said. “I was just being myself.”
That was when she realized she had a voice to fight the bullying.
“So I started rapping,” she said.
Her friends started listening. Even her teachers.
“Brooklyn White became a seriously popular free-styler as well as music and video producer during her four years at Caddo Magnet,” said teacher Robert Trudeau. “She was a beloved figure because of her wit, her ever-present smile, her exemplary-Magnet costumes and her ability to articulate what her classmates were thinking.
“She is not your average rapper. She is a gifted student, an experimental artist and a bit of a pixilated mystery.”
White said she doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and as a DIY independent artist, she doesn’t have to.
“If I feel like you’re saying something to me trying to make some kind of dig at me, I’m going to let you know,” she said.
Her lyrics are raw, and sometimes rough. She intersects gritty, real life poetry with electronic beats in a fluid motion somewhat reminiscent of the popular Iggy Azalea or even a slowed down Nicki Minaj.
“She doesn’t beat around the bush,” said friend and producer William Willcox. “She’s very direct and it doesn’t feel forced at all. She’s a rapper as much as she is a soul singer. Her stuff is pretty soulful.”
Willcox, of De la Mirdster, worked with White while they were in high school together. His ambient layered tracks help move White’s lyrics, and she is grateful.
“William has helped me so much,” she said. “He’s been great.”
But it’s not just racism and stereotypes she faces, it’s sexism, too. White was one of the few female hip-hop artists in northwest Louisiana, which she describes as a man’s world when it comes to making music.
“A lot of the males treat me like I’m some kind of subordinate. They treat me like s----,” she said.
Her close friend and artist Raiven Williams, of Houston, also saw it hard in Shreveport (as well as other southern cities) to make a name for herself in the “rap game.”
“You just have to keep your head high because you know what you’re there to do,” said Williams, 23, who moved to Louisiana in 2005 from California. She said she experienced much of the same adversity, but found acceptance with a group of young artists in Shreveport. She eventually joined Nate Treme, of Shreveport, to form BloodPunch, an alternative hip-hop EDM group.
“BloodPunch was one of the first rap groups to really embrace me and expose me to their bracket,” said White. “I’m grateful for that. I thought it was really sweet of them.”
White and Williams met in 2013 and worked together on a number of projects and music videos, including “Every Man a King,” a song that looks at both the female and male perspective of music.
Williams said she was impressed with White’s social media accolades and the overall work she produced as a solo artist.
“She’s taking a risk and she’s excited about a new experience. She’s her number one fan and she’s the one driving her to be as big as she wants to be,” Williams said. “I look at her and I think ‘Wow, you have the courage to do such amazing things at such a young age.’”
White said she’s been working toward her New York move for years, with help from her mother. Her mother declined comment.
White said her mother supports her decision but stressed the importance of school.
“I want to go to Parsons,” she said, confident about the choice though she hasn’t yet applied to Parsons the New School of Design. “I feel like that’s my home.”
She said one thing that increased her drive to get to New York was the unexpected death of her close friend and classmate Eric Johnson earlier in 2013 — the first death of anyone close to her.
“It just showed me how short life is,” White said. “That’s what propelled me to take my music so seriously. It kind of destroyed me for a brief time.”
During that time she wrote “Eighteen,” a song about growing up and being yourself.
“I’m eighteen. I’m young, I’m dumb, so what. Making mistakes with every steps that I take, crying, screaming, laughing all the way. I’m eighteen.”
She said that the best advice she can give about following your dreams is, “Don’t compromise yourself for anyone.”