Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne
Twenty-six year old poet/writer/ and motivational blogger, April Ma’lissia (Texas) is an internet phenomenon, clocking up thousands of views for her videos, with fans across the globe who appreciate her clever rhymes and determination to create art that will ‘uplift women’.
Before the interview I asked her to nominate a hip-hop track, or artist that has inspired her style and overall creative approach. Her choice: Tupac’s ‘Keep ya head up’ …..
HHF: Why do you love that track so much?
AM: I like ‘Keep ya head up’ because I feel like Tupac was half psychic or something, like he saw what was about to come. Everything he said in that song I see now, like that part where he rhymes: ‘Be real to our women And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies That will hate the ladies that make the babies …’ I feel like that’s what it is today.
Women, especially Black women are (pauses) I don’t want to say hated, it’s more disliked, not valued. The song really touches me, I relate to it and feel like Tupac was ahead of his time.
HHF: What do you think it was about Tupac that gave him such a different perspective?
AM: I feel like Tupac was a very open and diverse individual. He wasn’t one thing. A lot of artists today do one thing: if you’re a gangster rapper, you’re just a gangster rapper (Tupac wasn’t like that). Tupac was super way ahead of his time, that’s why I respect him so much.
HHF: Is there anything about the way that he rhymes that is inspirational for you?
AM: His passion. When Tupac delivers the message you can clearly hear it and it’s that passion I incorporate into my art, my poems; the passion. You can feel him. With his work, he can make you angry; he can make you sad. He can make you happy, you know. He was powerful; you can feel him with his words and I think that’s important for any type of art, for people to be able to feel you.
HHF: Now let’s talk about your work, can we start with your poem ‘Black woman …’
AM: Well, ‘Black woman’ is basically about the stereotypes that we fight against as black women. It’s like we have this stigma attached to us, we have to watch what we do so we don’t come off as ‘ghetto’, you know. We have to watch what we say; or how we wear our hair. There’s so much criticism. If we wear a weave, for instance, that’s not natural. But despite what a lot of people say about natural hair and embracing natural hair a lot of individuals really don’t like that (either).
It’s like a Black woman is in this maze and she’s trapped; so that’s what the poem is about.
HHF: Can you now choose part of the poem and talk about it more?
AM: Okay, let me think. ‘Lose the attitude, bitch, why the fuck are you so mean?/Miss can’t keep a man, food stamp Queen.’ At the beginning of the poem I’m coming at her, like the world is coming at her: ‘Lose the attitude, bitch. You got an attitude, why you so mean?’
Like the negative comments that people throw at black women I address that at the beginning of the poem because I want people to get enraged, to get offended by what I’m saying. I want them to feel it, because that is the pain we go through on a daily basis and a lot of times its from our brothers. People we look to, say things to hurt us.
HHF: Where do you think that racist stereotype of the ‘Angry Black woman’ in the US comes from?
AM: You know that’s society and the world we live in. People have got this idea that the US is based upon Christianity and in the Bible it speaks about how submissive the woman is supposed to be to her man, so we come from a Bible-based setting and the woman is supposed to be submissive, quiet and calm so when I speak up and get all passionate people mistake that as being angry.
Even the way I’m talking right now can intimidate somebody a lot. It makes them feel inferior like I’m too strong and a lot to handle, but that’s not the case. It’s all about society and what we were taught. The man is supposed to lead and the woman is supposed to follow so when I speak up, it often offends people and I don’t mean to offend anybody. I find myself apologizing a lot, saying I don’t mean to offend you.
HHF: Let’s talk about your work then in this context, you have lots of fans and supporters on Facebook, who do you think your audience is do you think?
AM: Women and a handful of men. And they’re from everywhere: I’ve got people in Europe, in the US, Canada, Africa – everywhere.
HHF: What kind of feedback to you get back from them, what do they like about your work?
AM: They say that I empower them, I inspire them to say the things that they’re afraid to say I say. I’m like a voice for women to speak their true feelings about everything, even the weak parts that we don’t like to admit.
HHF: That’s true you have a wonderfully strong, clear message about the need for women to love and respect themselves. Why do you think young women today aren’t as confident as they could or should be?
AM: They used to blame it on TV, but it’s all about social media now. If you look on social media what do you see, you see Kylie Jenner – she’s a beautiful woman, don’t get me wrong – and all these celebrities and they look perfect. In reality, even she doesn’t look like that.
We base our self-worth upon a picture and the amount of likes I get. If I get three likes as opposed to 300 that’s going to affect my self-esteem. So we’re basing our self-worth and our appearance and our beauty on pictures and likes and shares and it’s killing us. It’s killing the hell out of us, it’s hurting us.
HHF: Now let’s talk about how you work, how do you begin; what’s the process for you in terms of putting a poem together?
AM: There’s no specific way, I just think to myself like the way I’m talking to you right now, I just want to make a rhyme. A lot of time people don’t understand poets, I speak in their (my audience’s) lingo – I speak the language. It comes from my heart and it comes from reality. I’m not painting no pretty pictures, this is all reality.
HHF: Can you remember when you started writing poems?
AM: I was thirteen and in a classroom, the teacher was like we’re about to read this book and I want you all to tell me how you felt about the book in a creative way. And I said, okay, I’m going to make a rhyme, cause at the time. I used to listen to Jay-Z a lot and I was like I’m going to do it like Jay-Z do it, I’m going to tell my feelings but I’m going to make it rhyme.
HHF: What are your future plans, are you going to start publishing books as well?
AM: Definitely I’m going to start publishing, I’m working on a book right now – it’s a book about empowerment for young women and it’s going to appeal to young women and put a sense of hope into them and make them feel beautiful. I do the videos like a rapper, or an artist to put out videos or tracks to sell an album, I put out spoken-word videos to sell the book.
HHF: Just to finish can you talk about more of your poems, ‘Second chances’ and ‘The Butterfly affect’?
AM: ‘Second chances’ starts with ‘I’m tired of ignoring you, and I cant seem to get you off my mind/We done been through this too many times/I flip second chances, like it’s tax season/count it out like 3 4 and 5 and the thought of catching you on a 6th lie blows my high and I don’t know how to roll one so I ignore you soberly like “ahh nahh’
It’s basically what you go through in a relationship, I’ve given a man chance after chance after chance and I still can’t let go because I’m not a man-basher, a man is a good thing to have: a person who loves you and you love back is a good thing to have, so you go through these trials and tribulations and you have hope for the man that he could be for you at the end of the day.
It’s raw, it’s not about being all strong, I’m done with you, it’s about forgiveness and moving forward. You know we try to put on this front for our homegirls, yeah I’m done with him, but we texting him on the low asking when you going to come back home. That’s the reality and I think that’s why so many women relate to it.
As for the ‘Butterfly affect’ I came up with this title from the transition of the butterfly, it starts out as a caterpillar and then transforms into this beautiful butterfly. Basically that is a woman who starts out as a caterpillar, the lines are: ‘I read an article today, it said that plus size, is a size 8. Baffling to me but I read it was normally true in the fashion industry I should’ve registered it false but I cashed in for supplements that read fast weight loss.’
And she’s struggling with society, but in the end she has made up her ‘mind today I cannot leave Earth unmade so to the bully who seems to be never pleased with what he sees here’s what I have to say’ – at that point she is owning who she is and saying I’m going to be me and if you like it, or don’t doesn’t matter, I do.
HHF: What is the key message you want to give to the young women through your work?
AM: I would like young women to know, somebody can tell you that you’re beautiful all day long, but until you really get it in your head, in your soul, in your heart, until you do that, you’ll never understand just how beautiful you are.
I want to help you to do that. I feel like God created me to empower women: daughters, mothers, grandmothers; your sister, your cousin, that’s what I want so bad is for women to rise up and embrace who they are.