Pansexual Hip-Hop Artist Lady Ace Boogie Can’t Be Put In A Box

The Alien Director

Tellis wants her music to help people — whether it’s inspiring other female rappers, serving as a queer role model, or just having fans connect with her songs.

Growing up, Linda Tellis was labeled a “stud,” a term used to describe masculine of center Black lesbians. But though she at one point identified with the term, it never quite felt right.

 

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“You had a stud and you had a femme — that’s the two things that you could be — and because I’m not very feminine in my appearance or just in general, [stud is] what I identified with,” she recalls. “But there was so much toxicity in that specific culture. ‘You can’t be with another stud,’ or ‘You can’t wear this, you can’t wear that,’ or ‘You can’t be attracted to this person, you can’t be attracted to that person,’ and it never felt right for me.”

It wasn’t until four years ago that the 34-year-old hip hop artist found a label that fit and came out as pansexual.

“It did take a while for me to get into that space, to feel comfortable enough to say that I don’t care what you identify as — man, woman, whatever, nonbinary — it doesn’t matter. For me, it’s all about personality and who you are as a human,” Tellis tells GO. “But it definitely didn’t come without being in the toxic culture and first trying to figure out who I was. I kind of always felt that I was [pansexual], but I just didn’t have the word for it.”

That experience is the subject of “Free,” one of the songs on her third album, “That’s All for Now,” released in August.

“Be who I want, love who I want, free/ Girl if I want, man if I want, free/ Gay if I want, pan if I want, free/ Choose how I want, move how I want, free,” raps Tellis, who performs under the name Lady Ace Boogie.

 

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The song breaks stereotypes in more ways than one, including the fact that it is a collaboration with Christian rapper Steven Malcolm.

“For a Christian hip hop artist to be on record with someone who is talking about pansexuality and things that they don’t necessarily talk about in Christian hip hop obviously, that was also breaking a norm in a sense,” says Tellis, who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her wife.

With her new album, Tellis, who has performed with artists such as Nas, Lizzo, and A$AP Rocky, is speaking her truth — loudly. On “Free,” she didn’t shy away from being “aggressive.”

“A lot of my songs aren’t very aggressive, and for this one, I didn’t want to hold back at all about how I was feeling,” she says. “Oftentimes I feel like I’m put in this box; people assume this or assume that. And one of the things being pansexual, oftentimes even some of my friends don’t get what that means, so they automatically assume you’re a lesbian. … [Now it’s] just being able to be proud of your own decisions and not what people assume of you.”

This year has been challenging for Tellis, who used to earn nearly all her income as an artist from live performances, which she would do two or three times a week. Since the pandemic started, she has only had one live performance — a socially distanced concert for the launch party of her new album.

 

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She has found herself reflecting on the Black Lives Matter movement and the enduring presence of racism in American society. On a recent road trip to the South, her family had racial epithets shouted at them on three separate occasions, she said.

“There’s this nasty trend of people just being really, really bold with their racism,” she says. “Being a Black, queer woman, it’s something I have dealt with my entire life, but it just seems like now, more and more, it’s getting to a point of ‘Where do we go from here?’”

All that — in addition to the recent death of her father — made her feel overwhelmed, and in August, she told a local media outlet that she was retiring from working as a solo artist. But upon further reflection, Tellis has decided that it’s not her time to stop and will continue performing and recording music.

“I think it’s almost critical that I do,” she tells GO.

That comes as good news to her tight-knit fanbase in Michigan, whom Tellis loves connecting with by performing at small, local venues.

“Having intimate shows, you can just be more in touch with the crowds as opposed to being at a very large stage where there’s thousands of people — which is fine, I’m not complaining, I like to perform in front of thousands of people, but put me in front of 100 people and being able to really engage with the crowd, that’s my comfort zone,” she says.

It also comes as good news to other female hip hop artists, for whom Tellis serves as a role model in a genre that leans heavily male.

“We have such a long way to go. I feel like we’ve progressed a little bit, but just women in general in hip hop it’s a struggle, so being a queer woman in hip hop, it’s even more of a struggle because you’re put in this box,” says Tellis, who herself struggled early in her career with promoters who’d only invite her to perform in shows with other female artists. “I keep seeing these hip hop lists that come out and never have a woman-identified emcee on those lists. … They don’t include women in a lot of things, and when they do, it’s always controversial.”

“I’m trying to break that cycle for people who come after me, but it’s very difficult. It’s a lot to do with people not stepping up and saying ‘Enough is enough,’ people who actually have the opportunity to make those changes at a higher level,” she says. “It’s not a safe space. I cannot lie and say hip hop is a safe space for a Black queer woman because it’s not, and that’s really unfortunate.”

 

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Ultimately, Tellis wants her music to help people — whether it’s inspiring other female rappers, serving as a queer role model, or just having fans connect with her songs.

“When I am writing my music, when I am in the studio recording my music, when I am performing my music, it’s always in hopes to reach the person who’s on the other end.”


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